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Tournaments | Story | 7/22/2016

GBG a constant contender

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MESA, Ariz. – Contending for Perfect Game upper-class national championships has become an annual rite of passage for every new group of the Los Angeles-based Garciaparra Baseball Group (GBG) who find themselves awaiting the start of their senior year in high school.

The GBG Marucci team that is at this weekend’s exclusive 17u PG World Series is certainly no different. It has already enjoyed a ton of success at PG underclass events in past years – several players also played up in select PG upper-class tournaments – and they know what’s required to be successful.

2017 outfielder/left-handed pitcher Daniel Cabrera is a case in point. Although the 6-foot-1, 185-pound, No. 61-ranked Louisiana State recruit calls River Ridge, La., home, he started playing with GBG at last year’s 17u PG World Series, joined them again for the 2015 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., and is back in the fold this weekend.

Cabrera was front-and-center for GBG Marucci’s 17u PGWS opener Thursday against the always talented Dallas Patriots, and watched top 2017 right-handers Alex Gallegos (ranked No. 188 nationally) and Andres Alvarez (No. 230) combine on a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory. The final score did not surprise Cabrera in the least.

“We’ve got really good pitching and we (play) really good defense,” he said Friday from the Cubs Baseball Riverview spring training complex before GBG went out for its second pool-play game of the tournament, this one against the Elite Baseball Training/St. Louis Pirates.

“All we have to do is score a few runs and our pitching can take over a game for us,” Cabrera continued. “We just want to go out there, have fun and play hard. We want to score a few runs, let the pitchers work, and just have fun and win ballgames.”

It’s worth noting that Cabrera made his comments before GBG played its second game, because it was much more of the same Friday afternoon as it had been Thursday morning. 2017 left-hander John Michael Beller shutout the EBT/Pirates on three hits in 6 1/3 innings of work, striking out two and walking four in a 2-0 win. 2017 righty Cardinal Fernandezees got the game’s final two outs to extend GBG Marucci’s scoreless inning streak to 14 two games into this five-day tournament.

Party-poopers and nit-pickers will point out that GBG scored only three runs itself in those two wins, and that is a point well-taken. But there is no denying the pitching has been outstanding.

“You have to have guys who can pitch and throw strikes, especially with the new pitch-count rules when you’re trying to save arms,” GBG Marucci founder/head coach Michael Garciaparra said when asked what a team needs to do to win the championship at elite, invitational-only tournament like the 17u PGWS. GBG finished as a runner-up here a year ago.

“So we’ve told these guys, hey, you’ve got to keep your pitch-counts low, throw strikes and trust your defense because I brought some of the best defenders that I (was able to),” Garciaparra continued. “Pitch to contact, let (the opponent) hit it and trust your guys, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Based on recent history, the chances are good things will continue to go pretty well for GBG here this weekend. And that’s written with the knowledge GBG still has tougher-than-nails pool-play games remaining against Arizona’s T-Rex Baseball, California’s San Diego Show and Utah’s Mountain West ’17. But this GBG Marucci roster is stacked with six prospects Perfect Game ranks in the top-260 in the class of 2017, and 16 that have committed to NCAA Division-I schools, so positive results are usually expected.

Cabrera heads the list of highly ranked players at No. 61, followed closely by No. 105 outfielder/middle-infielder Jonny Deluca (an Oregon commit), Gallegos, Alvarez, No. 252 shortstop Tristan Hanoian (Texas Christian) and No. 257 catcher Adam Kerner (San Diego).

One of the most positive aspects of this GBG team is that most of the guys have been summer and fall teammates for two or three years now. They know each other well, they have each other’s backs and they’re going to expect to get the most out of each other on a regular basis. That can be a pretty powerful tool at an elite event like the 17u PG World Series.

“We’re pretty laid-back but when it’s game-time, we’re serious,” Cabrera said. “It really is all about having fun. It’s a great time playing with GBG; it’s my favorite team to play with.”

Many of the top 2017s on this roster – Cabrera, Deluca, Kerner, Alvarez and Gallegos among them – were on the GBG teams that finished in the top-four at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., last October. There are three 2018s and one 2019 on this GBG team’s roster this weekend, getting their feet wet as underclassmen at a premier upper-class event.

“The first time you ever go to Jupiter it can be a very shocking thing to see, with all the golf carts and hundreds of people looking at you and radar guns going off left and right,” Garciaparra said. “If you haven’t had that feeling before it can be a little nerve-racking.

“The fact that those guys got to experience that, they kind of know what to expect coming into the next year when they get to an event like this. I call it a little bit of a dry run for them.”

The fall season that is approaching will be the fifth that Michael Garciaparra and his father Ramon have fielded teams at Perfect Game tournaments under the GBG banner. The program has grown into one of the country’s most successful and respected organizations and has essentially created its own culture.

“My father always taught (brother) Nomar and myself that it’s not about you, it’s about the team and it’s about competing every day,” Garciaparra said. “If you help your team win you will shine, and college coaches and pro scouts will see that. The college coaches and the pro guys only want winners and guys who will compete.”

Garciaparra, a Southern California area scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, readily admits that scouts and coaches are in love with tools, but if a player is a winner who has shown he can compete at the highest level, there is no reason for anyone in those positions not to like that prospect. When Mike and Ramon Garciaparra go looking for players to fill their GBG rosters, they are looking for winners; they are looking for competitors.

They can teach the fundamentals, but that’s kind of the easy part. They can also teach a young player a lot about winning and how to win properly. Playing hard and respecting the game are paramount in the GBG organization and that is instilled in the players from the moment they put on the uniform.

“It’s a great feeling just putting on this jersey,” Cabrera said a uniform top that on this day had a script “Garciaparra” stitched across the front. “Just playing with this great team, I know that anytime we step out on the field we could beat anybody who we’re playing against. As long as we play hard we have a great chance every time out.

“We know that everybody on this team –and everybody who is at this tournament – they’re all great players. We just want to play as hard as we can and try to win it all.”

GBG Marucci is just one of 24 top 17u teams at this PG World Series, and Garciaparra and his players know exactly what that means. The head coach preaches to his guys that they absolutely cannot afford to take not only an inning off but a single pitch off when facing teams of this caliber. He tells them that he himself expects to be fully exhausted at the end of these games being played in a 115-degree temperature just from coaching, so he expects them to be totally exhausted, as well, when they’re done playing.

“The core of this group understands our values and everything that (GBG) stands for,” Garciaparra said. “They’ve been with us long enough to try to exude that and show the other guys what they need be like. We’re here to win – we’re not here for ourselves we’re here to play as a team – and we play as a team, hey, we’re all going to look good.”

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