The Great Northwest showed itself to be a pretty darn good Northwest at six Perfect Game national championship tournaments in 2012. A talented collection of prospects primarily from the states of Washington and Oregon playing in 14u, 15u, 16u and 17u events proved time and again they could hold their own against those guys from the sunshine states down south.
The players from Team Northwest, an organization put together just this past year by former minor league player turned instructor Mike Brooks, first arrived on the Perfect Game scene wearing their forest green uniforms at the 2012 17u PG World Series in Peoria, Ariz. From there, the Northwesterners journeyed east to Marietta, Ga., and finally Jupiter, Fla., leaving their mark from coast to coast.
“Everybody had such a great experience last summer with Perfect Game, at all of our age groups,” Brooks said over the telephone earlier this week. “Everybody is just champing at the bit to get started again, and I’m just starting to assemble my teams for the (2013 Perfect Game tournaments).”
The Team Northwest program is not a year-around commitment where the kids are playing together on a monthly basis throughout the summer and fall. Most of them have their own commitments to summer teams close to their homes, and got together with Brooks in 2012 for only a select few Perfect Game and USA Baseball events.
“Our region is so large, it’s just not practical to have the kids play regularly together day-in and day-out,” Brooks said. “We put these teams together as a specific-event team, and each one has its own budget and costs. For some of the kids that travel to three and four events, it can get real expensive.”
Team Northwest arrived in blazing hot Peoria the last week of July for the 17u PG World Series with a roster consisting of 12 prospects from Washington, two from Oregon and one – outfielder Kaden Tomlinson – from Arizona.
Team Northwest won its first three pool-play games, lost to the Houston Banditos, 4-3, after the Banditos rallied from a 3-0 sixth-inning deficit, and then finished pool-play 5-1-1 to move into the tournament’s final four. It lost its semifinal, 8-0, to eventual champion South Florida Elite Squad.
At the tournament’s conclusion 2013 infielder Nate Mondou, a Wake Forest signee from Lake Tapps, Wash., was named to the elite Louisville Slugger MLB Prime Nine honor squad, and was one of six Team Northwest players named to the all-tournament team.
The others were middle-infielder Garrett Anderson (2013, Puyallup, Wash.), a University of Washington signee; outfielder Cameron Frost (2013, Tumwater, Wash.), Washington State; third baseman Gabe Padukiewicz (2013, Olympia, Wash.); right-hander Kyle Rossman (2013, Puyallup, Wash.); and Tomlinson (2013, Gilbert, Ariz.).
Other top 2013 prospects on that Team Northwest 17u roster included Oregon State signee catcher/first baseman Logan Ice (Puyallup, Wash.) and St. Mary’s recruit second baseman/right-hander Clayton Gelfand (West Linn, Ore.).
“The goal was to really represent the Northwest in its entirety with the top kids, and we did a pretty good job of that as far as identifying the top kids,” Brooks said.
Team Northwest then moved en masse to Marietta, where three separate teams competed simultaneously at the 14u, 15u and 16u PG World Series’. The 14u team finished 2-2-1 in its 12-team tournament and the 16u squad finished 1-3-1 in its rain-shortened 16-team event.
The Team Northwest 15-year-olds, however, picked up right where the 17s left off, and made it to the final four before losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Gravel Baseball out of Chicago. Catcher/first baseman Tyler Ludlow (2014, Port Orchard, Wash.) was named to the Louisville Slugger MLB Prime Nine honor squad and five others were all-tournament team selections.
Catcher/right-hander Brendan Illies (2015, Edgewood, Wash.) and right-hander Logan Knowles (2014, Port Orchard, Wash.) were named to the all-tournament team both as hitters and pitchers. Illies, ranked the nation’s No. 14 overall prospect in his class, enjoyed the unique distinction of being the only Team Northwest prospect to play at both the 17u and 15u PG Series’.
"It's something new every time going to those events and playing against the best of the best," Illies said while playing at the 15u PGWS. "It's really all I want to do – I want to go far and I want to play hard against the best. Getting that experience as much as possible and having the chance of playing against those guys is just amazing."
Illies is one of those rare catcher/pitcher two-way players who projects well at both positions. His fastball has touched 88 mph, and the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder is ranked the No. 4 national catching prospect in his class.
“I’ll keep doing pitching and catching until I have to make a decision,” Illies said. “I’ll go all the way into the majors (doing both) if I have to; I’ll go as far as I can.”
A group of 2014s and 2015s also competed well at the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) back in Peoria in late September, and breezed through pool-play with a 3-0 record before losing a 1-0 decision to the So Cal Cavs in the first round of the playoffs.
Team Northwest showed up at the prestigious PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter in late October wearing uniforms with the name Dbacks NW Scout Team emblazoned on them and with several new players in tow.
There were familiar names on the roster – Mondou, Frost, Rossman, Tomlinson and Oregon recruit Reza Aleaziz (2013, Tigard, Ore.) were all there from the 17u PGWS team – and Rossman was named to the all-tournament team. The Dbacks NW Scout Team finished 3-1-1 with two wins in the consolation round.
All told, the elite tournament teams that Brooks took to a total of six national PG tournaments and several USA Baseball events in 2012 finished with a combined record of 38-20-4. Team members, coaches and parents seemed to especially enjoy the PG events.
“Just comparing the Perfect Game (tournaments) versus the other events, there was never a complaint – from the venues, to the caliber of the competition, to the way that Perfect Game runs the events,” Brooks said. “Every game, there’s a little recap on the website; the way that they scout and they evaluate, the parents were just thrilled and really felt like they were getting their money’s worth.
“We had a lot of kids that got a lot of (college) contacts and the kids are kind of getting themselves out there, so it really fulfilled the mission.”
Brooks was drafted by the Minnesota Twins right out of West Covina (Calif.) High School in 1968. He went on to an eight-year professional career in the Twins and Cleveland Indians organizations, and earned a spot on the Twins’ big-league roster in both 1970 and 1972.
He has been coaching elite Northwest area teams since 2000 and owns and operates the Diamond Players Baseball Training and Development Academy in Puyallup. His specialties are hitting and infield instruction.
“I do baseball the year around,” he said. “It’s my identity; it’s what I do.”
Brooks embraces the challenge that comes with identifying the very top kids from a very vast region of the country. He’s based in the Seattle-Tacoma area in western Washington and he admits that is where most of the talent lies, but loves venturing out to eastern and southern Oregon, western Washington and even over to Idaho where he said he’s unearthed “some real gems”.
He wants to get his tournament teams involved in more PG tournaments, but it’s difficult to bring the kids together for week-long trips during the summer; most of them have commitments to summer teams in their home region. Brooks would love to enter teams in the PG WWBA tournaments in Marietta in July, just for the exposure, if nothing else.
“There’s a (college) program for every kid,” he said. “I want the kids to be exposed to the talent level where they will get to know what they’re going to be facing at the next level; secondarily, we want to give the opportunities to be seen. The goal is to get them an education out of it – use baseball as a vehicle to get them a higher education and maybe even a career at some point, if things work out.”
If invitations are extended, Brooks expects to have Team Northwest represented at all four PG World Series events, the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) and the WWBA World Championship in 2013. And he expects to be competitive.
“All those kids want to come back and compete,” he said. “It’s a great confidence-builder for these kids to compete at that level. Our 15s, they weren’t quite sure where they belonged, but as the tournament went on they thought, ‘Hey, we can do this.’”