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Tournaments | Story | 1/15/2016

PG MLK West, East jump-start '16

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Renamed but not revised, the Perfect Game MLK Championships are returning to the west Phoenix suburbs for a fifth straight January, and this year will have a new and younger sidekick simultaneously trying to gain a foothold on the other side of the country.

The Perfect Game MLK West Upperclass Championship, PG MLK West Underclass Championship and PG MLK West Freshman Championship – formerly known as the 18u, 16u and 14u PG MLK Championships, respectively – will be played Friday through Monday (Jan. 15-18) at the Camelback Ranch Complex and seven West Valley of the Sun high schools. Monday is a national holiday to observe the birth date of American Civil Right leader Dr. Martin Luther King.

The inaugural PG MLK East Freshman Championship and PG MLK East 13u Championship will also be played Friday through Monday at the Player Development 5-Plex, Terry Park and Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Fla.

This marks the fifth year the West PG MLK Championships will serve as the opening events on Perfect Game’s jam-packed annual tournament schedule. All three of the tournaments have grown in size and stature through each year of their existence and a record 97 teams from across the United States and Canada will take part this weekend.

The PG MLK West Upper features 32 teams from 13 states – Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and Tennessee among them – and Saskatchewan, Canada. The home-state favorites AZ Prowlers won last year’s 18u event and do not have an entrant this year, but the runner-up DBacks Elite Scout Team (Ariz.) and semifinalists Minnesota Blizzard (Minn.) and North East Baseball (Mass.) return locked and loaded, albeit with a largely different of cast of characters.

Eighteen of the 20 2016 or 2017 prospects on the North East Baseball roster have signed with or committed to NCAA Division I schools and the other two have signed with juco powers. Most are ranked in the top-500 nationally with 2017 Louisiana outfielder Jacob Pearson (No. 26, Mississippi State), 2017 Arkansas right-hander Evan Hooper (No. 158, U. of Arkansas) and 2016 California third baseman Blake Diggle (No. 192, Southern Cal) heading the list.

Minnesota Blizzard 2016 boasts a roster with three prospects that were named to last year’s 18u PG MLK all-tournaments team playing for either MN Blizzard Blue or Black, and two others that were named all-tournament at the 2015 16u PG MLK playing with the MN Blizzard Blue. Those prospects, include 2017 Minnesota right-hander/outfielder Samuel Carlson (No. 130, Florida).

Additionally, the AZ T-Rex Baseball Club (Ariz.) and the San Diego Show (Calif.) – the champion and runner-up of last year’s 16u PG MLK – have teams in the PG MLK West Upper this weekend. Their rosters include several players that earned 16u PG MLK all-tournament team recognition in 2015.

Six members of the AZ T-Rex Baseball Club, among them 2017 Arizona right-hander Boyd Vander Kooi (No. 108, Oregon). West Virginia 2018 right-hander/outfielder Levi Kelly (No. 28, Louisiana State) is also on the T-Rex roster.

2017 California third baseman Jose Cerda (No. 440, San Diego State) from the San Diego Show was named the Most Valuable Player at last year’s 16u PG MLK and is back with the Show in the PG MLK West Upper this weekend. 2017 Cali right-hander/first baseman Kyle Hurt (No. 11, Southern Cal) was named to the 16u all-tournament team last year and also returns for the Upper.

Other teams bringing considerable firepower to the PG MLK West Upper include DBacks Elite Scout Team (Ariz.), Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball 2016s (Wash.), Phenom Soldiers (Calif.) and the West Coast Braves (Calif.).

2016 Arizona left-hander Chaz Montoya (No. 445, Arizona State), the Most Valuable Pitcher at last year’s 18u PG MLK while pitching for the AZ Prowlers, is with the DBacks Elite Scout Team this weekend.

Other top DBacks include 2017 Arizona right-hander/corner-infielder Trey Dillard (No. 105, uncommitted), 2017 California shortstop Greg Lewandoski (No. 128, uncommitted), 2017 Arizona right-hander/corner-infielder Quinn Flanagan (No. 136, Arizona) and 2016 first baseman/outfielder Chad McClanahan (No. 187, Arizona State).

Pacific NWRB 2016s continue a tradition of very talented teams and prospects making the trip to the desert from the Great Northwest. 2016 Washington shortstop Morgan McCullough (No. 108, Oregon) 2016 Oregon right-hander/third baseman Kenyon Yovan (No. 132, Oregon) and 2016 Washington shortstop Brady Whalen (No. 169, Oregon) standout this year.

The WC Braves are led by Californians 2017 right-hander/infielder Danny Zimmerman (No. 114, uncommitted) and 2017 catcher Nathan Webb (No. 135, UC Riverside).

The Phenom Soldiers 16u have three prospects ranked in the top-118 in their respective class: 2018 California left-hander/outfielder Patrick Wicklander (No. 72, Dallas Baptist), 2017 Texas right-hander/first baseman Stephen Keller (No. 101, LSU) and 2017 California third baseman Spencer Torkelson (No. 118, Arizona State).

The highest ranked prospect at the tournament, 2018 No. 2 right-hander/third baseman Brandon Birdsell from Willis, Texas, is playing for the Prospects National Team-Titan Bats (Texas). 2017 Minnesota right-hander/corner-infielder Jimmy Ramsey (No. 180, Oregon) is with the Twin Cities Baseball Academy (Minn.).

Thirty-three teams from 10 states and Canada make-up the PG MLK West Underclass Championship field, a group that includes three Minnesota Blizzard teams (15u, Black, Blue) from Vadnais Heights, Minn.; two NorCal Baseball squads (2018, Black) from Pleasanton, Calif.; two Pacific Northwest Regional Baseball teams (Navy, Royal) from Seattle, Wash., and two Team California teams (Team Cali, USA) from Carlsbad, Calif.

None of those squads enter the event as the favorite, however. That distinction belongs to Riverside, Calif.-based Phenom Signature 16u, one of the best underclass teams in the country. Its roster features eight 2017s and 2018s ranked in the top-224 nationally and two 2019s ranked Nos. 34 and 35, although there is some duplication.

Signature 16u top 2017s Stephen Keller and Spencer Torkelson are also listed on the Phenom Soldiers’ roster that is entered in the PG MLK West Upper, although 2017 Ohio catcher Brock Mathis (No. 164, Louisville) and 2017 Texas middle-infielder Trent Brown (No. 207, Texas) are unique to the Underclass roster. Top 2018 Patrick Wicklander is also listed on both rosters.

2018 Pennsylvania outfielder/right-hander Nick O’Day (No. 16, Texas Christian), 2018 Nevada catcher Austin Wells (No. 81, Stanford) and 2018 Arizona right-hander Conner Thurman (No. 124, uncommitted) are on board with the Signature for the PG MLK West Under. The top 2019s, both from California, are third baseman/outfielder Jordan Keller (No. 34, San Diego State) and first baseman/left-hander Spencer Jones (No. 35, uncommitted).

The San Diego Show’s No. 11-ranked 2017 Kyle Hurt is on both Upper and Under rosters for this weekend. Other top-50s in the field include 2018 Indiana shortstop Tim Borden (No. 43, Louisville) with the Pacific NWBR Royals, and 2019s Colorado catcher/outfielder Dominic Tamez (No. 28) with the Colorado Yard Dawgs and Washington middle-infielder Carter Young (No. 49) with WW Sweets (Wash.).

None of the four organizations that placed teams in the semifinals of last year’s 14u PG MLK have representatives in this weekend’s PG MLK West Freshman Championship but there is no shortage of talented teams looking to grab the title.

Thirty-two teams from 10 states and Canada will be on hand including traditionally strong entrants like the San Diego Show, Team California, Team Citius (Texas and New York), AZ Athletics, CBA (Calif.) and the hearty Maryland-based Crab University.

The PG MLK East Freshman Championship field includes 10 teams, eight from Florida and one each from Georgia and Pennsylvania. Five teams – three from Florida and one each from Georgia and Ohio – will compete for the PG MLK East 13u Championship crown.

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