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Tournaments | Story | 10/8/2015

Marucci Elite expects 'deep run'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The roster Chad Raley assembled for his top-tier Marucci Elite team competing at this weekend’s Perfect Game WWBA Underclass World Championship could be the envy of any other organization down here. For lack of a better word it is simply, well, elite.

There are at least 15 class of 2017 prospects ranked in the top-500 nationally, including four that fit in comfortably in the top-94. Nine of those ranked prospects have already made commitments to prominent NCAA Division I baseball programs ranging from the University of Miami in the east to Arizona State University in the west.

Raley calls it perhaps the most “complete” rosters that he has ever brought to this this tournament, which is saying a mouthful considering Marucci Elite won back-to-back national championships at the PG WWBA Underclass World in 2010-11.

The Marucci Elite program director and head coach comes into this tournament – which kicked off Thursday afternoon and runs through Monday afternoon – with the same limitless energy and desire to succeed he’s always had, and he’s going to need the extra adrenaline over the next five days.

There are actually three Baton Rouge, La.-based Marucci teams at the Underclass World this week. Marucci Elite and Marucci Baseball have rosters filled only with class of 2017 prospects while Marucci Elite 16s is all 2018s all the time. Raley expects big things out of all three.

“Each team is kind of assembled in a different way,” he said Thursday from the Player Development 5-Plex, about an hour before Marucci Elite played its tournament-opener. “We’ve got all the pieces for each of the three teams to make deep runs in the tournament, and that’s what we expect.

“We always expect to do well, it’s just a matter of if the kids mesh and turn into team quickly and get comfortable with each other.”

To help facilitate that, the Marucci coaching staff set up a “group text” for its teams and the players have been texting each other for more than a week. It was really not intended to be anything more than jump-start the “getting-to-know-you” phase of team-building and it appears to have succeeded in establishing a solid foundation.

The Marucci Elite team planned a “players only” dinner Thursday night and Raley has encouraged them to put their phones away and avoid sending end text messages to their friends outside of the team. The idea, after all, is to become friends with the kid sitting next to you at the dinner table or in the dugout.

“We’re really trying to hammer home the team aspect of baseball and not so much the showcase aspect,” Raley said. “The showcasing of baseball right now kind of drives me nuts; I’d rather teach the kids how to win baseball games. The (college) coaches will come and watch them anyway – if you have good players, they’re going to come and watch.”

There two classifications of prospects on the Marucci Elite roster: the high school juniors that have made their college choices and the high school juniors that haven’t yet taken that step; it seems certain all of them will in the next year or so.

The Elite’s top prospects include standout outfielder/first baseman Jacob Pearson from West Monroe, La. (a Mississippi State commit ranked No. 24 nationally); right-hander/outfielder Robert Touron from Miami (U. of Miami, No. 49); middle-infielder Gabriel Holt from Bonaise, Ga. (Winthrop, No. 75); and third baseman Raymond Gil from Miami (U. of Miami, No. 96).

Other top-200 through top-500 prospects with D-I commitments in their pocket are outfielder Jordan Anderson (Alabama), catcher Cordell Dunn (Texas Tech), left-hander Brandon Murphy (Arizona State), right-hander Niels Stone (Florida Gulf Coast) and left-hander Dennis Yingling (Missouri).

Although those players have already made their college plans, Raley feels it’s very important for them to be here if for no other reason than to experience winning in the context of true team baseball.

“Anytime you can play baseball against good competition you’re getting better, you know,” he said. “For a lot of these kids that are already committed, it’s important that they continue to compete against good players. Anytime you get to play the game, you’re going to get better, and that’s the big thing for me is just playing competitive baseball against good ballplayers and continuing to learn.”

For a standout performer like Pearson, being here at this event was a no-brainer: “I always love to come out and play baseball and you need to get the reps in while you can,” he said Thursday. “You can only play baseball for so long so you have to play as much of it as you can right now.”

Pearson is one of four or five roster members that played with Marucci Elite over the summer so he’s very familiar with program. He said that several of the players from summer roster play football in the fall and that was a big reason so many new guys were brought on board for this tournament.

“You come out here and meet a bunch of new guys, that’s the best part of the game,” Pearson said. “I meet so many new people every summer and that’s just part of it. You see them later on in life and you say, ‘Hey man, I played against you.’”

And it’s not only playing against other ballplayers that Pearson enjoys –he also looks forward to learning from them. By learning, he doesn’t necessarily mean picking up tips regarding technique or fundamentals, he means picking up an attitude, the mindset of what it takes to be a leader.

“If you have one guy that’s going out there and showing his best everybody else is going to follow that guy because they want to be like that guy; they want to get where that guy is because he’s the best,” Pearson said. “If you have a slacker, everybody notices that and they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be like that, we’re going to be like this (other) guy because he’s the best.’”

Several of the players on the premier Marucci Elite team were with Raley at this event last year when they were high school sophomores. Most play with different teams throughout the summer but then reunite under the Marucci umbrella for the big October tournaments like this one and the PG WWBA World Championship two weeks hence in Jupiter, Fla. Raley understands the importance of putting the uncommitted kids on the biggest stages.

“We have some guys that I feel like are under-the-radar prospects that nobody has really heard of and I look for them to make a name for themselves nationally at this event,” Raley said. “That’s what I’m hoping for some of these guys that maybe haven’t had the same opportunities of some of the other guys. They maybe haven’t been to as many PG events and I look for them to thrive and get a little more recognition.”

Brendan Cellucci, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound left-handed pitcher from Wyncote, Pa., near Philadelphia, has not flown completely under the radar as his No. 351 national prospect ranking attests. He lists seven prominent schools from the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conferences as colleges he’s interested in, but has not yet made a commitment.

“This is a new team I’m playing with and I’m very excited to meet all these guys and perform in front of a lot of college coaches, and hopefully win a tournament,” he said Thursday. “I really wanted to get in front of some of the college coaches that haven’t seen me as much down here, and I’m glad that I could come down. But mostly I just wanted to come down here to play.”

Cellucci was the starting and winning pitcher in Marucci Elite’s 10-2 tournament-opening victory over Gallagher Team Mizuno Thursday. He didn’t allow a hit or an earned run in three innings of work, striking out six and walking two. In fact, he, Stone and Yingling combined a five-inning no-hitter, although Stone walked four and gave up an earned; he and Yingling each struck out two.

Although he played at the PG WWBA Under World last year for All-Star Baseball Academy Select, Cellucci’s experience this year has been new and different. He arrived in Southwest Florida traveling on his own – his parents we’re able to make the trip – so he’s staying with Raley and a couple of other teammates who also came without their parents in tow.

“It’s so much fun to see all this talent from all around the country,” he said. “Sometimes I get to see some of my buddies from where I live up in Philadelphia who are down here as well playing for other teams, and it’s always nice to see other good players.”

The one positive character trait every good player shares is the will to win and Raley has a way of making that trait rise to the forefront in his players. It seems that just putting on the Marucci Elite uniform can bring out the best in a young player.

“We’re a nationally recognized team and it’s fabulous to come out here and play for Chad,” Pearson said. “There are tons of people who come out here to watch us play and it’s a real honor. We come out here and we’re expecting to get the best from the other teams and we’re expecting to give out our best as a team.”

Raley spent the weeks leading up to the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship hammering home the concept of “team” to his young players; stressing that teams win championships. And teams playing for championships do so with a concerted air of confidence.

“We expect to be here the last day with all three teams,” Raley concluded. “That’s always been our expectation and we always feel like we can win the whole thing; this group is no different than any other year.”

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