GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One of the most imposing rosters posted at this weekend's 18u Perfect Game MLK Championship is also one of the most imposing rosters that will be posted during the 2013 Southern California high school season.
The Los Angeles-based So Cal Cavs roster is nearly identical to the one that Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., will post this spring. When the Cavs opened play at the 18u PG MLK Championship Friday afternoon, the players were proudly wearing the Cavaliers' royal blue and scarlet uniforms with the name "Serra" scripted across the front.
It's a team filled with top-caliber 2013 and 2014 prospects, led by a trio of highly ranked players who call Los Angeles home and who would fit comfortably in a spot in the batting order at just about any high school in America.
There's no need to start the conversation anywhere else but with 2012 Perfect Game All-American Dominic Smith, a left-handed, sweet-swinging first baseman and outfielder who may also do some pitching this weekend. Then let the talk drift toward 2014 outfielder/right-hander Marcus Wilson before settling in for a rest with 2014 outfielder Denz'l Chapman.
Smith needs to introduction. The 6-foot, 200-pound Serra High School senior is ranked No. 2 nationally (No. 1 at first base) in the 2013 graduating class and has invoked gasps with his play ever since first appearing at the 2011 Perfect Game California Underclass Showcase. There is really no reason for him to be here -- PG scouts have been convinced of Smith's unlimited potential for more than two years -- but yet here he is, getting ready for his final season of high school baseball.
"This is a group of guys from my high school down in Los Angeles, and we decided to enter this tournament in the preseason to get ready for the (high school) season," Smith said after the Cavs beat the Bluegrass Stars, 13-1, in four innings late Friday afternoon.
"I just want to win this tournament for my guys so we can start the season on a good, positive note," he said. "I'm just coming out here to have fun and enjoy my team and bond before the season starts. This is my last year and this is the last time I get to travel (to a PG event) and play with these great guys."
This will not be the last time Wilson and Chapman travel to a PG event. They are both juniors at Serra but are at the Camelback Ranch Complex with the So Cal Cavs this weekend for the same reasons as Smith.
Wilson said he just transferred to Serra High School right before coming on this trip, a move that made what looks to be one of California's top high school teams even better. A 6-3, 170-pound primary outfielder, Wilson is ranked No. 56 nationally (No. 11 at his position) in the 2014 class and is looking forward to playing with his new high school teammates.
"That is my new home and I love it here," he said. "This is a good way to prep ourselves for the (spring) season and just get some AB's. It's a good tournament too; it's just the perfect place to be and I wouldn't want to be anyplace else."
Chapman (5-10, 180) comes into the tournament ranked No. 72 nationally (No. 14 outfield) and is attending his seventh PG event. In 2012 alone he attended the 2012 PG National Games in San Diego, the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) here in the Phoenix area playing with GBG Yak Baseball West, and the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., playing with GBG Yak.
"I'm here so that I can show Perfect Game that I've gotten better," Chapman said matter-of-factly. "I also want to show everybody that we're a good team because a lot of people look at us as under-rated and I want to show them we play as a team; we have good team chemistry."
Chapman jumped into everybody's radar at the PG California Underclass Showcase held in November, 2011. On what a PG scouting report described as a "rough track", Chapman ran a phenomenal 6.36-second 60-yard dash, blowing away the rest of the field.
"I'm a pretty fast guy and I've gotten faster as the years went on," he said. "The field was pretty bad that day but you still have to go out and show what you can do. You can't make excuses in this game, you just have to show what you can do."
Chapman said he has never ran track -- although he'd like to -- because its season runs the same time as the baseball season.
The So Cal Cavs pounded out 11 hits and scored 12 earned runs in their tournament-opening win. Smith was his usual phenomenal self, going 4-for-4 with three RBI, two runs scored and two stolen bases while Chapman walked three times, scored twice, drove in a run and stole two bases. Wilson started slowly at the plate, going 0-for-3.
Khalil Denson (2013, Los Angeles) was 2-for-3 with two RBI, and pitched three innings of three-hit ball, striking out six. Trent Hammond (2013, Manhattan Beach, Calif.) went 2-for-3 with a double, three RBI and two runs scored.
"We swung the bats well and we just played good as a team," Chapman said. "I was very impressed with our results."
"Everybody on this team from the top to the bottom can just flat-out hit," Wilson added. "If somebody has a bad day it doesn't really matter because everybody's here to pick you up."
Smith looked like the most relaxed athlete on the field during the game. This is his time -- maybe his last time -- to play the game he loves free of stress and other people's high expectations.
"I'm just trying to take it all in and enjoy baseball right now and just have fun," he said. "This is a child's game and it's meant to be played and have fun, and a lot of kids put too much pressure on (themselves). I want to have fun and keep enjoying the game, because at the next level it's more of a business and it's taken way more seriously. I just want to keep it even and have fun and play hard like always, and just enjoy the last four or five months of my (senior year)."
Juniors like Wilson and Chapman are determined to make sure the seniors like Smith, Denson and Hammond go out on top this spring. That's the main reason this trip to the desert in the middle of January was so import to these players from Serra High School.
"I just like being with my team; I love these guys and these are people I like to be with," Chapman said. "It's good for us to just get away and get better at bonding as team. This (tournament) is very good just to show where we're at, but when we get home we're going to work even more because there's still a lot of little stuff that we have to work on."
Smith is likely the only player on the So Cal Cavs roster that needs to pay attention to the early rounds (re: first round) of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft in early June. He has signed his letter of intent at Southern Cal, but PG pegs him as the No. 21 overall (college, juco, high school) prospect in the draft this year, which means he is a very likely first-rounder. He chooses to ignore the draft conversation as much as possible.
"I try not to look at those things and put too much pressure on myself. If you look at those things you're going to drive yourself crazy," he said. "One day, one (mock) draft has me here and the next day another (mock) draft has me here; it's all speculation and it's all opinionated. I just go out and play my game and have fun, because a lot of kids get caught up in what everybody has to say and that ends up hurting them in the long run."
Instead, Smith and his teammates are concentrating on taking an 18u PG MLK Championship gold championship trophy back to L.A. with them when the tournament concludes Monday afternoon.
"We played well, we hit the ball pretty good, we pitched well, played great defense, and this should be a great tournament for us," Smith said after Friday's win. "It's good for us to show what we can do and show Perfect Game how good our team really is."
Wilson said winning and enjoying the entire tournament experience go hand-in-hand.
"We always expect to do well; we always expect to win," he said. "Especially with this team, this is a really good group of guys so we always expect to win. We'll come out and play our hardest and have fun. That's the most important thing."