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Tournaments | Story | 7/5/2017

Canes bring whirlwind of talent

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

ATLANTA, Ga. – Although PG National is over, it seems like the event continues each time the Canes 17u take the field in the 17u WWBA National Championship, as they draw a plethora of scouts to watch their games.

The team is 3-0-1 so far, outscoring opponents 26-4. Joe Gray Jr. and Xavier Edwards led the offense in pool play, as Gray Jr. led the team with five RBIs, while Edwards had six hits to contribute to his team’s efforts. Carter Lohman, a Louisville commit, threw five strong innings of eight-strikeout ball in the tie against Bo Jackson Elite on Tuesday. The team is set to begin their playoff run on Thursday, and the organization has experience in winning Perfect Game events, having won the 2014 17u WWBA National Championship, and the 2009, ’10 and ’13 16u WWBA National Championships.

“We’re just an organization trying to get these kids prepared for what’s next and the next level of baseball, so [we] try and play as much competitive baseball as we can this summer and get these guys prepared for what’s next,” said Canes head coach Jeff Petty.

The organization is based out of Fredericksburg, Va., but the team is comprised of players from all over the country who come together and play. Thirteen states are represented on the roster, ranging from California to Florida and many in between.

“All of us are from different areas, so it’s cool,” Edwards said. “Not everyone can say that they met someone from another state on their team, and we have a bunch of them from all over the country, so it’s cool.”

Even with the separation, the team is able to build chemistry by riding on a charter bus all throughout the city they play in. They eat, room and even attend outside events together, such as a trip to Six Flags after being rained out on Sunday. Petty said that this method helps provide the players with what it is like traveling with their team at the next level.

“We went to Arizona, we’re here and we’ll go out to y’alls tournament in Arizona next week, and just let them try to see the whole country and broaden their horizons,” Petty said. “Some of these guys that will play professional baseball, just try to give them as many opportunities to be prepared for that.”

The team certainly boasts future draft picks, featuring eight players on Perfect Game’s top 100 players of the class of 2018, six of which are in the top 59.  Three of those players, Austin Becker (No. 16 overall), Nicholas Northcut (No. 34) and Xavier Edwards (No. 59) are all committed to the recruiting powerhouse Vanderbilt, who has scooped up 11 of the top 100 players in the class of 2018. Jared Hart (No. 142) is a fourth teammate that will be joining the three in Nashville, Tenn.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Northcut of having the other three guys committed to Vanderbilt. “Building relationships now, you can’t beat it. So, we’re going to get there and have a strong group of guys.”

All three top 100 players in that group have unique talents that they bring to the table. Becker, from Sunbury, Ohio, is a hard throwing righty who runs his fastball up to 96 mph. The 6-foot-6, 185-pound Becker shows little effort in his delivery, and still has room to grow. He joined the team in the fall of his freshman year and said that coming to the Canes was a great move for his development.

“It’s been the most fun time of my baseball career in high school,” Becker said. “Greatest guys to be around. Everyone wants to win. Great environment and I love everybody on this team.”

Before the fall, Becker had previously only topped out at 94 mph, but consistently sat around 89-91 mph. He said that he was able to take the next step physically this past offseason through his workout program.

“I’d say definitely last fall in Fort Myers,” Becker said on when he thought he took the next step. “Right before that tournament, I was working hard and lifting a lot, and I took off right there when I hit 96 mph down there at Terry Park.”

Sharing the left side of the infield behind Becker is Northcut and Edwards. Northcut, a 6-foot, 198-pound third baseman has been lauded for his hitting abilities, having been clocked at 96 mph off the bat at PG National. The Mason, Ohio native said that he just tries to hit the ball hard and do what the team needs him to do at the plate, showing his unselfish nature.

“Northcut is a ‘steady Eddy,’ just very consistent third baseman,” Petty said. “Defensively, [he’s] very good defensively. Offensively, he’s hitting in the middle of our order, he’s been very consistent all summer and also just another great kid off the field.”

The 18-year-old has been with the Canes for a year now and said that he feeds off the energy that this team provides. Although he said that he has learned a lot from the coaches, he said that he has just learned a lot by being around the other talented players on his team.

“It’s a lot of feeding off your peers,” Northcut said. “Everyone on the team can hit, and everybody can pitch and everybody can field, so you feed off each other and you learn from each other. You learn some new things that you might not have used before and feed off each other.”

While the bat is the standout tool for Northcut, the glove is the standout tool for Edwards, who possesses soft hands and good range at shortstop. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Edwards also possessed a good arm, having been clocked at 89 mph across the infield.

“I don’t say this loosely, and I’ve been doing this 12 years and have coached hundreds of draft picks,” said Petty, “to me, he’s the best defensive shortstop we’ve ever had in twelve years and I’ve thrown out comparisons to professional scouts of Ozzie Smith. I really think he’s that special. He gloves it as good as anyone I’ve ever seen.”

While he certainly possesses top-notch defensive skills, the bat also plays. A switch hitter, Edwards has been noted to barrel up balls on a consistent basis and is a line drive hitter. The Wellington, Fla., resident has continued to advance his game over the past few years, and said that coming to the Canes really helped him realize not only his talent, but the talent that is all across the country.

“It definitely just opens your eyes a little bit,” Edwards said of being around other top-ranked players. “You might be the best in your area or on your high school team, but you know there’s always someone out there that’s better than you, so you’ve got to keep working. I’ve got a bunch of great teammates that could fill in any spot at any time, so it’s just good to look at when you’re measuring yourself against other people.”

Those three were named to the Perfect Game All-American Classic watch list in addition to teammates Gray Jr., Brandon Birdsell, Emilio Rosas, Anthony Seigler and Patrick Wicklander. The selections will be announced as part of the MLB All-Star Game FanFest in Miami, Fla., on Tuesday, July 11 a.m. ET on Even though it is the watch list, Petty said that it was a huge honor just have those players recognized, but was not surprised based on the amount of talent his team has.

“This [team] is geared towards helping the high-level player that takes this extremely serious, because we do. We’re obviously flattered that we have seven on the watch list and hopefully we can continue to have that type of talent year in and year out,” Petty said.

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