Tournaments | Story | 7/18/2016

US Elite focuses on development

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – US Elite is an aggressive-minded organization that has its roots in the Northeast. With players based out of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, the program has expanded from its New York roots to become one of the elite organizations in the Northeast. On the baseball field, currently participating in the 15u WWBA National Championship, manager Jason Ferber preaches an aggressive approach to help his team develop.

“We’re looking to win every game in three different categories: we like to out-energize teams, out-hustle teams, and out-class teams,” said Ferber. “If we do all three, whatever the scoreboard says at the end, it’s okay. If we win all three of those things we’ve had a successful day.”

Founded a few years ago by National Director Mark Helsel, US Elite approach is to develop, prepare, and showcase players for college coaches and scouts. Ferber preaches a style similar to that of the Division I college game in order for his players to have a smooth transition to the next level.

“US Elite was founded by Mark Helsel, he’s the National Director of our program,” said Ferber. “It was a culmination of years of experience in the business. He was with a few organizations before he took off with this one and three years ago he started US Elite. We’ve had over 150 Division I scholarships awarded to our players and over half of those have been to ACC schools. We do a pretty good job or promoting our players and getting college coaches come to watch them. It’s nice to win championships and we like doing that but our main goal is to get our guys college scholarships.

“We want to make the transition from high school baseball to Division I baseball a little more seamless for the guys. We focus on discipline, leadership, communication skills and all the qualities that college coaches look for to transition to the next level.”

Exposure is the main focus of the organization. Winning championships is a great achievement – this team specifically was the national champion of the USA Baseball 15u Futures Tournament – but to US Elite winning is simply an ancillary benefit to their primary goal of readying their athletes for the college game.

“It's (strategy) centered on me being able to schedule out our pitchers to showcase to college coaches,” said Ferber. “A lot of times I don’t deviate from my original plan. For example, in this game even though we were up eight runs I still threw Aaron Feld, who is a very good pitcher. I’m not just going to throw a guy up to eat innings. I don’t do that because there’s too many college coaches watching and we want to make their time efficiently spent. We play a lot of small ball because we take our philosophy from a Division I philosophy and they do it.

“We try to make the transition seamless and know that they can use the bunt for a weapon, hit and runs, and delayed steals. We like to watch exciting baseball games; we don’t like guys going to station to station. We don’t really care if a guy gets thrown out at second or third to end the inning because we like aggressive moves.”

While winning isn’t the ultimate goal of the tournament, US Elite is in pretty good shape to do some damage as they are tied for first place in their pool. Feber plans to keep his team focused and to ride the three-game winning streak they’re on.

“We have to ride the wave of momentum,” said Ferber. “We can’t get caught sleeping out here. A lot of times in the tournament environment you start winning and guys get a little overconfident. You can be beat if you don’t play the game the right way with everyone doing their job. It’s basically keeping a selfless mentality, if you need to sacrifice a guy over or swing through a hit and run then that’s what you do. We want to put pressure on defenses and our pitchers to throw strikes. If any of my pitchers walk two guys in a row then they’re out. We’re trying to throw 15 pitches for three outs every inning.”

Two of the top players on this team are Troy LaNeve and Thomas Schultz. Both players are committed to Vanderbilt and have been big contributors for this team. Schultz, the No. 86 overall player for the class of 2019, stands at a tall 6-foot-5 and sat 84-86 on the mound on Monday. He attacked both sides of the plate with his fastball and mixed in a curveball that showed good depth. He finished with 2 2/3 scoreless innings pitched and left the game with his team up 6-0.

“In the first inning I was spotting my fastball pretty well and keeping it low in the zone,” said Schultz. “I dropped in a couple of curveballs and I tried to keep them off balance. The defense played well for me. We’re starting to gel, our first game we tied and that was the game we got to know each other. Every game we get closer and we hung out all day yesterday.”

LaNeve, the No. 8 overall player for the class of 2019, wasn’t a major offensive contributor but added a run scored and an RBI. He battled in his at bats and forced opposing pitchers to have to earn every pitch they threw.

“We realized that it was a bit of a slower pitcher,” said LaNeve of the team’s offensive approach at the plate on Monday. “We went back up and adjusted and by the third or fourth inning we were crushing balls to the gaps.”

There is a good possibility that LaNeve and Schultz will be playing with each other for quite some time. They’re both 2019 graduates and are in the same recruiting class to play at Vanderbilt together. They’ve grown to become close friends and playing baseball together seems to only strengthen their bond.

“We’re in the dugout knowing that we’re going to be with each other for the next eight-plus years,” said Schultz. “It makes it a lot more fun.”

Schultz and LaNeve are excellent examples of the US Elite philosophy coming to fruition. Both are extremely talented athletes who have been showcased and now have college commitments. Their focus, along with US Elite, will now be to develop and adapt to the college game in order to be polished by the time they make it to campus.

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