Tournaments | Story | 7/3/2016

Slammers grow at national level

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – Colorado is not normally known for being a baseball state. With only two Division I college programs in the state that field a baseball team, Clint Zavaras, manager of the Colorado-based Slammers, has worked hard over the past decade to improve the quality of Colorado baseball and to compete with traditional powerhouse states like Georgia and Florida.

“When we first started this program, about 13 or 14 years ago, we were lucky to have two or three D-I guys total in the state of Colorado,” said Zavaras. “Over the years we’ve grown and the coaching around Colorado has gotten better and in turn our program has gotten better. Last year we had 44 seniors and all 44 got a college scholarship for baseball. Sixteen or 17 of those guys had D-I scholarships. So now we have this group and the next group of 2018s who will end up being another 15-18 D-I guys and hopefully that will stay from here on out.

“We still get the token ‘You’re a good team from Colorado,’ but we’re just a good team and we compete all over the place.”

One of the latest examples of the talent in Colorado is righthanded pitcher Caleb Sloan. Sloan is the No. 10 righthanded pitcher in the class of 2017 nationally (he’s ranked 32nd overall) and has a power fastball that has reached 94 mph, as it did on Sunday at the 17u WWBA National Championship in a game against the Georgia Jackets. Sloan, a former football player, has embraced his notoriety and loves the game of baseball.

“I started playing baseball when I was four years old,” said Sloan. “I was mainly a football player for a long time and then I started working with Clint (Zavaras) and the Slammers. Baseball became everything for me, I started working and practicing every day. I love this team, I love the players, I love the coaches, traveling with everyone is so much fun.”

The summer has been full of travel and showcases already. After performing at the Perfect Game National Showcase – where he impressed with a 90-94 mph fastball and low- to mid-80s slider – the TCU commit is in Georgia to compete against some of the most talented players in the country at the 17u WWBA National Championship.

“This summer has been crazy,” said Sloan. “I knew it was going to be long but I didn’t know it was going to be this much fun. I’m not at home much but I love traveling with my team and meeting new people. Throwing on the road is so much fun. The (recruiting) process was very exciting. TCU was my place because I have a lot of family in Texas, that’s where my parents are from. It’s been exciting, I really love the process.”

His work ethic and desire to be great have rubbed off on his team and his coaches. Zavaras calls Sloan the “hardest worker on the team” and he sets an example for the rest of his teammates to follow.

“Caleb has, in the last six or seventh months, started to come into his own,” said Zavaras. “He’s always had arm strength the question was would he pitch enough to be that kind of pitcher. He’s a good strike thrower and his slider is coming around. The best thing about Caleb is that he works harder than anyone else on the team. The other kids look at that and realize if he has to work hard then they do too. He’s a good leader that way.”

Joshua Dudden went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and five RBI in the Slammers' run-rule win on Sunday
The Slammers program has produced many notable names recently, including Arizona College World Series standout and third-round pick Bobby Dalbec. Joshua Dudden is another player who has blossomed under Zavaras and his program.

“I’m only 5-11 and I don’t try to do too much,” said Dudden. “Just see a pitch and hit it. I take what the pitchers give me and the whole team does that too. We don’t have a lot of big, I think half of our team is under six foot, we’re not big but we put good wood on the ball and hustle. We’re a good team and there’s been a lot of good Slammers team in the past. Bobby Dalbec in Arizona for example, but it’s very exciting.”

Zavaras also had high praise for his middle-of-the-order bat. In a 16-1 barrage over the Georgia Jackets National, Dudden went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and five RBI.

“Josh is the rock in the middle of our lineup,” said Zavaras. “He’s not a big kid but he’s got a little pop and plays really good defense. He’s been our most consistent hitter, tons of RBIs, and when guys are in scoring position he generally delivers. Josh has worked himself, over the last eight months, into a solid D-I type middle infielder.”

With the win over the Georgia Jackets the Slammers are now 3-1 in their pool and have shown they are a quality team. The game ended after three innings due to the run rule, and Sloan threw only 2 2/3 of those, on 44 pitches, meaning he could make another appearance in this tournament depending on how far the Slammers advance. Zavaras says that the most important part of tournaments like this is that the players compete against other elite teams and realize that they are good enough to win games.

“The best part about this tournament is that our kids realize they can compete,” said Zavaras. “They grow up hearing how great kids from California, Texas, or Florida are and we get a chance to play against them and that helps our guys realize that they’re good too. They start to find their place in the baseball world. Our best players in Colorado are as good as the best players anywhere in the country, there’s just not as many of them. They grow up competing now as opposed to 10 or 12 years ago when there wasn’t enough talent to push our top guys. It’s good for us to travel and our kids learn that they fit in with the rest of the country.”

Going forward, Zavaras preaches clean baseball. He knows his team needs to not make mistakes and capitalize opportunities in order to reach bracket play.

“For us, when we get out of Colorado and start playing better competition, we have to make sure we’re playing the game correctly so when we have a chance to score we make sure we put runs on,” said Zavaras. “We’re really good defensively so when we make plays we’re tough to beat. We want to put pressure on the other team so maybe they’ll make a mistake. We try to play a clean game every time whether it’s offense, defense, or pitching. If we can take care of that we’ll have a chance to win almost every game.”

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