Tournaments | Story | 7/2/2016

Talent drives FTB to success

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – FTB Tucci improved to 2-0 in the 17u WWBA National Championship after a 4-0 shutout of the Columbia Angels on Saturday. FTB is a young team, not having played together for long this summer, but they are full of talented prospects.

Tanner Burns and Oraj Anu lead the way as some of the top players in the country and under consideration to be Perfect Game All-Americans. Burns is the No. 3 righthanded pitcher for the class and is committed to Auburn whereas Anu is the No. 4 outfielder nationally and is committed to Florida International.

Burns is a hard throwing righthander from Alabama. He has huge arm speed and sat in the low-90s with his fastball but bumped it up to 95 in this game. He finished the afternoon with three shutout innings of one-hit baseball.

“I like getting ahead in the count,” said Burns. “I hate pitching late in the count so I try to pound the zone. One pitch outs and two pitch outs are nice.”

Anu is a big power hitting outfielder. Sitting 6-foot-3 and 210-pounds, Anu uses his big swing to take advantage of his power that he flashed at the Perfect Game National Showcase.

“I go up there and anything I see over the plate I want to hit far and hard,” said Anu. “I usually don’t steal a lot of bases but wherever I hit the ball I run as hard as I can.”

Both players have had a busy summer up to this point. From the PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., to the Tournament of Stars in Cary, North Carolina, being a highly ranked prospect can induce a lot of travel. While all of these summer showcases and tournaments can be overwhelming, that doesn’t suppress the team’s appetite for a ring.

“It’s an honor to be selected for all those accomplishments,” said Anu. “It doesn’t change how I play. I still go out there and play hard and I still want to win a ring.”

Manager Jered Goodwin had nothing but praise of his two superstars. He feels that both players are not only talented but that both are outstanding young men.

“Tanner is new to the team and he’s fit in great,” said Goodwin. “Physically he’s gifted but getting to know him he’s a special human being. He’s a good, religious kid that comes from a great baseball family, with his dad being a college coach. He’s fit in absolutely spectacularly and everything we ask of him he’s done. The same can be said of Oraj. He’s been with us a couple of years and has gone from the 16u to the 17u and he ended up being the MVP of the Perfect Game Underclass (World Championship) in the fall. He’s really come into his own. When we first got Oraj he wouldn’t talk and now he won’t shut up. He loves the relationship part of the team and how we push our clubhouse to be and he wants to be a leader. I’m tremendously proud of how he’s blossomed. Tanner and Oraj are great human beings and, as a coach, that’s the best thing I can say about someone.

Goodwin believes that the key to success in this tournament for FTB lies not within game strategy but team chemistry. Talented teams can be undone by the lack of chemistry but Goodwin is confident that chemistry helps build championship teams.

“The chemistry is going to be the biggest key,” said Goodwin. “Having each other’s backs. Some years we’ve come with some of the most talented rosters and haven’t gotten out of pool play; some years we come with solid rosters and the chemistry has been great and we’ve made great runs. I don’t think it’s as much the X’s and O’s but the team chemistry that determines how great a team is going to be.”

Because of all the previously mentioned tournaments and showcases, FTB has not had a lot of time together as a team. The biggest challenge for this particular team, according to Goodwin, will be building and maintaining team chemistry.

“We’re still trying to figure out the chemistry,” said Goodwin. “Early on in the summer we had everybody go to National (Perfect Game National Showcase) and then everyone went to TOS (USA Baseball Tournament of Stars) so we’re only six or eight games deep into our season. The one thing I’ll say is that this team has gotten along really well together. It’s been fun for the coaches to watch them grow this early on in the tournament.”

Leadership goes hand-in-hand with team chemistry. The importance of not only leadership by example but of vocal leadership to a team cannot be undersold. Goodwin will be looking to see who on his team rises to the occasion to set the example.

“The crazy part is they’re at the age where it doesn’t matter how talented you are but we’re going to need leaders to step up to demand more out of the team,” said Goodwin. “Are one of these guys going to step up to be a leader and demand a certain type of toughness on the field? I think that’s going to be more important than any level of talent.”

After Saturday’s win, FTB has certainly started off the tournament on the right foot. With many scouts and coaches in attendance, many players feel a pressure to perform. This isn’t the case for FTB. Their players know that they work hard and their efforts will be not only appreciated but observed. A lot of their players have college commitments but that doesn’t change their style of play.

“Even though I’m committed I’m still going to play hard,” said Anu. “My goal is to get drafted. I’m not going to big league it, I’m going to play 110 percent in front of everyone. I love this game.”

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