Tournaments | Story | 1/15/2016

A lot to learn at MLK West Frosh

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The newly named but, in fact, 5th annual Perfect Game MLK West Freshman Championship got underway Friday at the Camelback Ranch Complex and assorted high school fields in the west Phoenix suburbs with all the usual question marks.

Freshman-level tournaments – often identified as 14u or 13u – are nearly impossible to handicap in terms of declaring a pre-event favorite simply because it's a rare happening when top prospects can be identified before many of them have entered puberty.

But it is that very absence of a “known quantity” that adds to the tournament’s appeal, especially when every coach of every one of the 32 teams in attendance seems to have the same goal in mind: Let’s get these young teenagers set down the right path where one day – maybe four years down the road – they’ll be in line for a college scholarship.

One of the early pool-play games at the PG MLK West Freshman Championship matched the fairly established SGV Hustle from Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley against the untested Inside Pitch (IP) Prospects from the (seemingly) faraway city of Regina in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

The players on this SGV Hustle roster are all eighth-graders (class of 2020) and most come from California cities like Los Angeles, La Verne and Glendora. Catcher/middle-infielder Paul Myro and second baseman/right-hander Paul Pasqualotto are exceptions, hailing from Henderson, Nev., and Las Vegas, Nev., respectively. Many of these kids have played together since they were 8 years old.

It’s a team that has enjoyed quite a bit of success at various youth levels, including winning a prestigious National Youth Baseball Championship (NYBA) championship in 2014 when playing at the 12u level. The Hustle were one of only two California-based entrants in last year’s 13u Perfect Game World Series in Cartersville, Ga., and finished with a record of 2-3-1. Just being invited to the 16-team PGWS speaks volumes of how highly regarded the team is.

“A lot of the parents like them to play in these big events so they can be seen, and we’re looking to play in a lot of Perfect Game events; it’s just a matter of getting these kids some exposure,” Prieto said. “We’ve played a lot of teams from different states – we’ve traveled a lot – and it’s a lot of fun for (the kids). It’s just nice to see someone that you don’t get to see every day.”

Inside Pitch Baseball has teams entered in all three PG MLK West Championships being played here this weekend – Upperclass, Underclass and Freshman – and program founder Morgan Reiter is being helped out with the coaching duties by former minor-leaguer Cory Hall, who runs an IP facility in San Jose, Calif. The IP Prospects Underclass team features six players that train with Hall in California while the other two rosters are stacked with Canadians.

Ten of the 14 roster spots on this Freshman team are occupied with players from Regina, Sask., with the other four coming from surrounding cities and towns; there are 13 2019s (freshmen) and one 2020 (eighth-grader).

“What we’re trying to do at Inside Pitch is just expose them to the level of baseball that they’re looking to compete at when they graduate from high school,” Reiter said. “It gives them an idea of where they need to be if they want to get that scholarship.”

Reiter said the IP Prospects organization has had about 140 kids move on to play college baseball at different levels so far, and an experience like this gives his players an opportunity to see what it takes to reach that level.

“They come down here and they see that, ‘Hey, I’m not competing just against my local guys or even my national guys, I have to be competing in North America to get those scholarships,” he said. “It’s a building block for them and we like the fact that at Perfect Game they record everything (the players) do so the college coaches can see the growth of every kid from grade 9 right up to the senior level.”

It’s obvious both coaches came into the PG MLK West Freshman Championship on the same page as far as what lessons their kids need to learn during these three or four days in the desert, and make no mistake this all about learning. Prieto is the head baseball coach at Bonita High School in La Verne and he recognizes that at this level – eighth and ninth-graders – there is still a lot of teaching to be done.

The game is not played the same way when the kids are 11 or 12 years old and still playing on Little League dimension fields. They need to learn that it’s not just who can hit the home run but who can execute and handle the bat when such a skill is necessary. He feels like he has that with this group.

“They’re just competitors; they go out there and really compete,” Prieto said of his group. “They’re tough-minded kids and we work them hard, and I think we put a good product on the field.”

Reiter first started bringing his IP Prospect teams to the PG MLKs three years ago and many of those players that started out at the 2013 14u PG MLK are playing college baseball today. The idea right now, at least for these 13- and 14-year-olds, is to build confidence while playing against some of the best kids in their age group from around the United States. Reiter also wants them to have a little fun in the process.

“The snow is on the ground where we’re from so we figure we might as well get them down here and have some fun and enjoy themselves and kind of see what they’re up against,” he said.

The SGV Hustle proved to be much more than the IP Prospects could handle in their 10-2, six-inning victory Friday afternoon. 14-year-old right-hander/third baseman/catcher Trevor Canton from La Verne was almost a one-man show-stopper, pitching four one-hit, shutout innings with four strikeouts and two walks and batting 2-for-2 with a double, a sacrifice fly, two RBI and two runs scored.

Lucas Gordon doubled, drove in two runs and scored one, and Elijah Buries, Jacob Sharp and Pasqualotto each singled and drove in a run. The Prospects managed just two hits – singles from James Hom and Nick Rein who hit one-two at the top of the order – and they received RBI from Hom and Dylan Edmands. Three Prospect pitchers struggled, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) on six hits, 11 walks, a hit batter and four wild pitches. But they will be back to fight again on Saturday.

“Our main focus at the academy is skill development,” Reiter said. “Games give us an opportunity to help the kids in a game situation but we believe in skill development. … We come down here to get some games in and let them measure and let them showcase and then we go back home and say this is what you need to work on; this is what got exposed while you were there.”

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