Tournaments | Story | 7/9/2017

BPA off to 3-0 start in WWBA

Steven Walters        
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – For some people, knowing what they want to do for their career comes at a young age, but that was not the case for Jared Sandler, the founder of the college development program at BPA Baseball.

“I think sometimes you fall into what you love to do,” Sandler said. “I had no idea that this was what I wanted to do with my career and my life, and I just liked it. I like working with kids and I love baseball, so it turned out to be a good fit.”

Sandler, the head coach of the 16u BPA team, was born in Calabasas, Calif., and played at San Jose State University. Having that experience led him to creating the BPA program about 10 years ago. The organization started with just one team, and they have grown a lot in that time as they currently have around 20 teams.

“Been around about 10 years now and just trying to help kids get better, so we’re a little bit different than some of the other bigger organizations,” Sandler said. “We don’t go out and recruit, we’re trying to make the guys in our organization better and last year was a great class. We had 22 seniors commit to colleges this past year, so it was great.”

Part of that 2017 class included Hagen Danner, Nick Pratto and Hans Crouse, all of whom were selected within the first two rounds of this year’s MLB Draft. The Orange County, Calif.-based organization has also produced other top prospects such as Kolby Allard, J.P. Crawford and Ryan McMahon.

“Ultimately we’d like to make guys big leaguers, but we want to help players get to be the best that they can be, and so if that means you can be a good Division I baseball player, than that’s what we want to help you do, if it’s be a good Division II baseball player, whatever it is, we’re just trying to maximize and get the most out of the guys and help them find schools that are the right fit and help them to be able to go and transition into a college program where they can be not only a contributing member of the team, but a good member of the university.”

Currently, seven players on the 16u BPA squad have committed to colleges per Perfect Game. One of those players is Vanderbilt commit C.J. Rodriguez, who came over to BPA as a 13-year-old. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound catcher stands out on both sides of the ball. At the plate, the righthanded hitter possesses good bat speed and is very line drive oriented. Behind the plate, he shows good catch-and-throw skills. What is even more impressive is that the 17-year-old did not even start catching until a few years ago and credits Sandler for conversion to the position.

“It’s been really, really awesome,” said Rodriguez, who is ranked as the No. 49 player in the class of 2019. “Jared turned me into a catcher, I wasn’t a catcher before, so he ended up transforming me into a catcher when I first came to him, and ever since then it’s kind of been uphill from there. I’ve just gotten better every year I’ve been with Jared, and ultimately got me with Vanderbilt.”

The former infielder has made a solid transition to wearing the tools of ignorance, as he has a pop time of 1.84 seconds and has been clocked at 80 mph behind the plate. While some parts have come easier than others, Rodriguez said that he has really had to work at specific parts of the position to get to the point he is at today.

“Hardest part would probably be blocking, because as an infielder, you always use your hands, you never really use your body,” Rodriguez said. “That was one thing that Jared really had to work with me with was blocking. The quick release catcher throw, it came naturally for me form the infield, but other than that, it was just blocking.”

Throwing to Rodriguez is teammate Dutch Landis. The Arizona commit possesses a fastball up to 91 mph, while also stands out with the bat at third base. The righthanded hitter is ranked as the No. 55 player in the class of 2019 per Perfect Game, and the No. 1 third baseman in Nevada. After coming over the program at 12 years old, Landis attributes his evolution as a player to the work that he has done with Sandler in addition to being around other top-ranked players.

“I’ve gotten a lot better. I was a middle infielder and then [Sandler] really turned me into a great pitcher and third baseman, and ultimately an even better hitter than I am pitcher,” Landis said. “He’s such a great person with the mechanics and stuff.”

The team is back at Georgia for the 16u WWBA National Championship, a tournament that they have attended for the past few years. In 2014, BPA Demarini Elite won the 16u WWBA event and are hoping to do the same this year.

“I love Georgia,” Rodriguez said. “This is probably my favorite tournament of the year, mostly because of the fields. I love coming back here and playing at these fields. The competition’s the best and you can’t really ask for anything more.”

Sandler said that the tournament provides the team an opportunity to face top-notch competition in addition to exposure, especially to teams that might not be able to come out to California to watch them play.

“We actually have a lot of kids that either go to SEC schools committed to SEC schools, and so certainly, being in California, we have some guys that want to come play out [in the east] and exposure’s really good for that. It’s just a great event. Great teams and the atmosphere’s really good,” Sandler said.

A 3-2 win against Viper Baseball Academy in their third game pushed their record to 3-0 with three games to go in pool play. They have notched two shutouts so far, behind strong pitching performances by Landis and Joshua Hahn. Landis threw five innings, giving up three hits and four walks, while striking out six hitters in a 4-0 win against Elite Squad 16u Select on Saturday. In their second game, Hahn, the No. 111 player in the class of 2019, notched a no-hitter against the Home Plate Chili Dogs, striking out 12 batters over seven innings in a 2-0 win. Jared Jones received the start on Sunday, giving up just one earned run over 4 2/3 innings and also added an RBI to help his cause. Sandler said that the pitching and defense has been strong, but he hopes the bats wake up as they continue their journey through the tournament.

“We’re a little slow with the bats, hopefully we’ll swing it better [moving forward], but played really good defense and Dutch and Hahn threw a lot of strikes [on Saturday],” Sandler said. “We threw a lot of strikes and took care of the baseball, so hopefully we can do that and swing it a little bit better.”

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