JUPITER, Fla. — The most exclusive travel team tournament in the baseball world — the 2013 WWBA World Championship — kicked-off Thursday afternoon at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex, the Spring Training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins.
On field five of the Marlins quad Thursday afternoon, dozens of scouts — college and pro — stacked their golf carts six rows deep behind home plate to see the No. 62 ranked player in the 2014 class: Team Elite’s right-handed pitcher Spencer Adams (2014, Cleveland, Ga.).
On the big stage, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Adams struck out four in two no-hit innings. He displayed good command of his fastball — throwing 22 of 28 pitches (79 percent) for strikes — while working in the 88-91 mph range with impressive late movement. Adams also mixed in a slider in the mid-80s, a pitch that Team Elite coach Brad Bouras thinks is among the best — not just in the tournament, but in the entire country.
“His slider is a great out-pitch, and is as good of a pitch as anyone’s in the nation,” he told Perfect Game Friday morning. “He’s poised, has great stuff and is very professional. We always throw Spencer in game one of a big event like this.”
With a 10-1 lead after two innings, coach Bouras turned to his bullpen, a move that will allow him to keep Adams’ arm fresh for the weekend. Left-hander Alex Troup (2014, Marmion, Ill.) and right-handers Justin Yoss (2014, Magnolia, Texas) and Micah Carpenter (2015, Hull, Ga.) combined to strikeout five batters against one hit in the final three innings to claim game one over PG Dark Green Clippers 12-2, the largest margin of victory of all 19 games played Thursday.
Montrell Marshall (2014, Snellville, Ga.) led Team Elite’s offensive outburst, putting his team on the board with a two-run double to left field in the first inning, before crushing a two-run triple to center in the second. The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder wowed scouts with his size, athleticism and bat speed. But coach Bouras admires another quality of Marshall’s above all.
“Obviously he’s a very talented player,” coach Bouras said. “But the best thing he brings to the table is his leadership. Marshall is a team player with no ego. He could go 0-for-4 but you wouldn’t be able to tell because he’s still cheering on his team. Then he has a game like this where he gets a few extra-base hits and drives in some runs, and you realize how much potential he has — not only as a player, but as an individual, too. Everything he does, the guys follow him. He leads by example.”
Just as Marshall sacrifices his ego for the good of his team, teammate Willie Rios (2014, Bradenton, Fla.) recently made a life-changing sacrifice for his baseball career. The Snellville, Conn. native moved south last month to play baseball year-round while attending IMG Academy in Florida, a decision that wasn’t an easy one to make.
“My family still lives back home in Connecticut, so it’s tough,” Rios said.” But it’s a sacrifice that needed to be made. I can see myself getting bigger and my pitching has come a long way. And even my bat, too.”
The two-way, switch-hitting Rios went 1-for-3 with a stolen base and a run scored Thursday night. He also throws in the low-90s on the mound — left-handed. The 6-foot, 185-pound Rios is expected to pitch in relief early in the tournament, making him available to start this weekend.
Starting game two Friday morning was right-hander Clarke Schmidt (2014, Acworth, Ga.), the younger brother of Clate Schmidt, a 2011 Perfect Game All-American. The younger Schmidt fanned three batters in 3.2 innings, commanding his arsenal of pitches well. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder pounded the strike zone with an explosive fastball in the 86-89 mph range, peaking at 91 with arm-side run. Schmidt also flashed a good change-up in the upper-70s and a late-breaking, mid-70s curve.
Clarke Schmidt, Team Elite
“My fastball was good, but the curveball wasn’t my best pitch today,” Schmidt told Perfect Game after Team Elite’s 5-5 tie Friday morning with Mountain West ‘14. “But I had to adjust.”
After falling behind 5-0 after four innings, Team Elite rallied with a three-run fifth and a two-run bottom of the seventh to salvage a tie. Right-hander Brooks Crawford (2015, Bishop, Ga.) struck out five in 3.1 innings of relief, and Austin Upshaw’s (2014, Buford, Ga.) two-run double in the fifth jump-started the comeback.
Despite the tie, Team Elite (1-0-1) leads their five-team pool as of Friday afternoon. Game three will be played Saturday at 12:40 p.m. against the Dallas Patriots, and they will wrap-up pool play with a Sunday morning matchup against Chet Lemons Juice.
Many considered Team Elite a tournament favorite coming in, including Perfect Game Vice President of Player Personnel and Scouting, David Rawnsley, who mentioned coach Bouras’ team among the top 20 in Jupiter this weekend.
Coach Bouras isn’t shy about his love for this squad either. Despite coaching 2013 first-round draft picks Clint Frazier (fifth overall) and Austin Meadows (ninth overall) last year, and not having top players Michael Gettys (2014, Gainesville, Ga.) and RHP Dylan Cease (2014, Milton, Ga.) — the No. 1 and No. 14 ranked prospects in the 2014 high school class — at this year’s World Championship, coach Bouras calls his squad in Jupiter this weekend his best ever.
“In years past, we’ve had some really strong teams, prospect-wise,” he said. “We had three or four All-Americans down here (last year), plus a D-I lineup. But I have more confidence in this year’s group as a baseball team. This is as strong as a baseball team as I’ve had, as far as being balanced and understanding the game and making disciplined decisions.”
While coach Bouras believes a WWBA World Championship would “solidify Team Elite as a national powerhouse,” that’s not his ultimate goal this weekend.
“What we care most about is getting our guys signed,” he said. “But that’s the toughest part of this. In years past, I’ve sacrificed strategic baseball decisions to get guys showcased, to get guys time on the field in front of scouts. That’s why we do this. Our number one goal is to get our guys signed.”
Team Elite’s Twitter account (@TeamEliteNation) claims their players have received more than 400 college scholarships and more than 75 have been MLB draft picks since 2006, numbers that coach Bouras said matches any other program in the country. And if that’s their ultimate goal, Team Elite is succeeding — with flying colors.
Eleven of the 23 players listed on Team Elite’s Jupiter roster are already committed to a D-I school, including: Austin Peay commit Imani Willis (2014, Marietta, Ga.), South Carolina commit Nick Niedert (2015, Lawrenceville, Ga.), Florida commit Alex Abbott (2014, Tifton, Ga.), Louisiana State commit Mike Papierski (2014, Lemont, Ill.) Arizona State commit Tucker Baca (2014, Suwanee, Ga.), Kennesaw State commit AJ Moore (2014, Dacula, Ga.), Spencer Adams (Georgia), Justin Yoss (Northwestern) Montrell Marshall (Auburn), Willie Rios (Maryland) and Clarke Schmidt (South Carolina).
Clarke’s decision to commit to South Carolina was most interesting, given that his brother Clate pitches at Clemson.
“It was a pretty hard choice,” Clarke said. “But when South Carolina started recruiting me, I went to their campus and just fell in love with their facilities, and the coaches there are amazing. It was a hard choice choosing between playing with my brother at Clemson and going to South Carolina, but I’ve always wanted to cut my own path and make a name for myself and not live under his shadow.
“(Clate) is my biggest influence baseball-wise,” Clarke continued. “He calms me down before every game. He even called me this morning. It’s been great growing up with an older brother like him.”
Adams’ commitment to Georgia might’ve been second-guessed after coach David Perno’s resignation in May, but new coach Scott Stricklin — who led Kent State to the 2012 College World Series — was quick to reassure Adams.
“I didn’t know what to expect (after coach Perno’s resignation),” Adams told Perfect Game following Thursday night’s start. “But after I talked to coach Stricklin, I knew I still wanted to play there.”
Like Adams, Marshall — the top-ranked shortstop in Georgia — is comfortable with his commitment to Auburn, especially after coach Sunny Golloway promised his support of Marshall’s possible decision to go pro, should the opportunity arise.
“I’m excited for Auburn,” Marshall told Perfect Game Thursday night, “but there are college scouts and pro scouts here. Baseball is the only sport you can go pro straight out of high school, so if you can, you might as well take advantage of it.”
Rios is eager to take advantage of his commitment to Maryland, which allows him to move closer to his family in Connecticut. He credits this opportunity to participating in 10 Perfect Game events, including the 2013 National Showcase.
“To be honest with you, without Perfect Game, I wouldn’t be going to Maryland,” Rios said. “Perfect Game has allowed me to see the best competition and I see how I stack up against them.”
Schmidt echoed Rios’ sentiment.
“Without Perfect Game, I don’t think I’d be committed to South Carolina,” he said.
When reminded of WWBA World Championship alumni, such as Miami Marlins 2013 Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez (FTB Mizuno, 2010) — who was a first-round draft pick eight months after his performance in Jupiter — Schmidt admitted that the 2014 draft is something he’s looking forward to.
“Playing in MLB has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” he said. “Hopefully, being here will help me reach it.”