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Tournaments | Story | 1/17/2015

Dbacks Elite must-see viewing

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Members of the Major League Baseball scouting community most certainly got the memo when it came to must-see viewing at the 18u Perfect Game MLK Championship Friday and Saturday afternoons at the Camelback Ranch spring training complex.

The two games played in a pair of 11:30 a.m. time slots both featured the Phoenix-based Dbacks Elite Scout Team, a squad featuring a roster bursting at the seams with highly ranked and highly regarded high school seniors (there are a handful of underclassmen) from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.

Seventeen of the prospects have committed to NCAA Division I programs, including six 2015s that have signed with Arizona State. But the 30 or so MLB scouts that assembled for the Dbacks Elite’s first two games at the 18u PG MLK weren’t there to evaluate how the young prospects’ talents would translate to the college game. They were looking ahead to the June Amateur First-Year Player Draft.

Jake Williams, who works in the Arizona Diamondbacks scouting department and coordinates the organization’s elite high school scout teams, said on Saturday that he received a lot of help from the D’backs’ Four Corners (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah) area scout Doyle Wilson in assembling this particular team. On paper, it’s a work of art.

“There is plenty of draft talent here and the game (Friday) was pretty well covered by our organization as well as others,” Jake Williams, who acts as the team’s field manager, told PG before Saturday’s game. “We knew that when we put (this team) together that maybe it’s a last chance for those guys that may be on the fringe for the draft or maybe some people are still deciding to really push themselves up to another level leading into the high school season.

“For us, it’s a chance to evaluate but it’s also a chance to see where these guys are at and get them ready for their high school seasons.”

When Jake Williams refers to “draft talent” on the roster he has brought here, he is most likely speaking of seven class of 2015 prospects Perfect Game has ranked between Nos. 42 and 288 in its national prospect rankings.

Leading the way is Peoria, Ariz., outfielder Tyler Williams, one of those six Arizona State recruits that has reached No. 42 in the rankings. Right-hander Javier Medina out of Tucson has signed with Arizona and is ranked No. 177; outfielder Blake Perkins from Litchfield Park, Ariz., is another ASU signee ranked No. 182; righty Saturino Santa Cruz from Sahuarita, Ariz., is an Arizona signee ranked No. 188.

Glendale, Ariz., shortstop and Arizona State recruit Alejo Lopez comes in at No. 218 in the rankings; Las Vegas, Nev., right-hander/third baseman and UNLV signee Samuel Pastrone comes in at No. 272, and Scottsdale, Ariz., third baseman and Oregon signee Matthew Kroon is ranked No. 288.

“Our first step is reaching out to the guys in the state, especially the ones we’re familiar with, the ones that played on the Scout Team this past summer and fall,” Jake Williams said when asked how the team was put together. “Unfortunately, a couple of them went with some other teams and we had to reach out and replace them, but there is so much good talent in Phoenix and throughout Arizona that we could have stacked (the roster) with all instate talent.”

Even if a few keepers wriggled off the Dbacks Elite’s hooks, they were still able to land the biggest one in Tyler Williams. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder fills a uniform as handsomely as any high school prospect out there, and he not only looks the part but plays the part, having run the 60-yard dash in 6.54-seconds last year’s PG National Showcase seven months ago.

Perfect Game not only ranks him as the No. 42 national prospect in his high school class but also No. 84 in its Top 250 2015 Draft Prospects Rankings (college, junior college, high school), rankings that were last updated on Nov. 28.

He was certainly all smiles wearing the Dbacks Elite Scout Team’s red uniform Saturday morning, feeling right at home at a Cactus League complex that is about a 20-minute drive down the 101 Loop from his home in Peoria.

“It’s fun playing ball anytime, especially in Arizona,” he said. “As long as I’m not in Colorado or somewhere Northeast, I’m good. This is just a short drive for me down here; I’m glad I don’t have to go all across town and be worried about being tired or anything; I can just come out here and do what I have to do.

“I really like all the competition that’s here and there’s a lot of exposure (to the MLB scouts) out here,” he continued. “I just really like getting out here and getting (in front of) all this exposure and going out doing well.”

Tyler Williams has been playing with the Dbacks Elite Scout Team at various high level tournaments for the last three or four years. Back in the early years he was playing with a host of standouts a few years older than him that went onto become low round draft picks or highly regarded NCAA Division I players.

“Being with all those guys really made me think to myself that I’m actually with these guys and going with these guys, and playing with them is making me better,” he said. “I’m glad that I was able to see what top-round picks look like so I was able to get out here and show what I can do.”

Williams, the prospect, has certainly made an impression on Williams, the scout and coach (the two are not related).

“He’s just a natural raw athlete,” Jake Williams said. “From a scouting perspective, when you speak about all those tools, he’s got them and they’re powerful. He’s a big-bodied kid and he runs extremely well, and he has a bright future. Our organization is excited about him, as well as a lot of others, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him develop and coach him, it truly has.”

Of the other highly ranked 2015s on the Dbacks Elite roster, Perkins came in at No. 188 and Medina at No. 229 in the 2015 Top 250 Draft Prospects Rankings. With five months to go until the draft, those rankings are bound to change and it’s possible more of these Dbacks Elite players could climb the list.

Lopez, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound shortstop from right here in Glendale, might be one of those prospects Jake Williams referred to as “fringe” when it comes to the draft. It is players like him that stand to benefit the most not only from a strong showing at the 18u PG MLK but also an exceptionally strong high school season.

“I love to wake-up to baseball every day and I’m getting the chance to do that,” Lopez said of being at Camelback Ranch this weekend. “It’s the same game out here and I’m just looking forward to doing my own thing and to support my teammates, also. I feel well prepared for this.”

Lopez moved to the Valley from Canada three years ago and even though he was playing baseball before he made the move his game, as can be imagined, improved tremendously after he got to the desert. The few PG tournament events he played with the Dbacks Elite have proved most beneficial. He also thinks the team has a great chance of winning the 18u PG MLK Championship title.

“We all play together and we all like each other, so it’s a nice thing to be able to play with them,” he said. “We have pretty good talent so I’m looking forward to winning that.”

The Dbacks Elite got off to a good start at the event with a 9-0, five inning win over MN Blizzard Black on Friday and a nail-biting 1-0 win over Baseball Northwest on Saturday.

Incredibly, they had only three hits in the win over the Blizzard with Lopez going 2-for-3 with a triple, four RBI and two runs scored; Williams tripled and drove in two. Medina worked three hitless, scoreless innings, striking out four and walking three.

Logan Boyer, a 2016 catcher from Chandler, Ariz., ranked No. 121 nationally in his class, came through with an RBI single in the bottom of the third inning and that was all the Dbacks Elite needed in their win over Baseball Northwest. Pastrone and 2016 right-handers Casey Legumina and Austin Wood combined on a seven-inning one-hitter, with eight strikeouts and two walks.

“You can tell, on January 17th, that they really love this game and they’re out here when they probably shouldn’t be; they should be taking a little bit of break,” Jake Williams said with a smile. “But they’re out here and they’re bringing a ton of energy, and they really enjoy playing for this organization that’s put a lot into this tournament for them, and you can tell they’re appreciative.”

Jake Williams is only seven or eight years older than the players he coaches but has enough of a history and pedigree to demand their respect. He was an alumnus of four PG events in 2007 and 2008, including the PG Junior National Showcase in ’07 and the PG National Showcase in ’08.

He was drafted by the Diamondbacks out of South Mountain CC in Arizona on both 2009 and 2011, finally signing with them in 2011. He played in 59 minor league games in 2011 and ’12 before hanging up his cleats and went to work in the D’backs’ scouting department.

To top it off, Jake Williams’ father is Matt Williams, a five-time National League All-Star who is about to begin his second season as the manager of the Washington Nationals. That’s a lot of street cred in the eyes of these young prospects but really all his personal experiences do is make Jake Williams more appreciative of the prospects’ talents.

“I’m still pretty young so I think back to high school and these kids are miles ahead of where I was,” he said. “It’s very fun to see where the level of competition is and how it’s developing, especially in this area. It’s a small-reaching area, this Four Corners, compared to the United States but you can see a jump forward in talent and jump forward in competition level, and it’s refreshing to see.”

It’s quite possible, of course, that Tyler Williams will be joining Perkins, Lopez and three of his other Dbacks Elite teammates at ASU in Tempe in the fall, but Williams also has the best shot of being selected in the top three or four rounds of the draft.

“As of right now I haven’t really thought too much about the draft because right now I just want to enjoy my senior season (in high school),” he said. “The draft is going to take care of itself, so when it happens that’s when I’ll start thinking about it. I’ve been very pleased because at first I wasn’t one of the best players in any way. I’m really pleased with the progression I’ve been able to make up to this point.”

That’s music to the scouting community’s collective ear, and one the big reasons so many turned showed up for the Dbacks Elite Scout Team’s games on the first two days of the 18u PG MLK Championship. Expect them to return for more must-see viewing on Sunday and Monday.

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