Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hitters churn out talent

Bryan Cooney        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A.J. Vukovich and George Klassen could represent the next wave of Wisconsin-bred talent to make a name for themselves playing on one of the top teams in the Midwest. When most think of the hotbeds of baseball, Wisconsin likely doesn’t rank high on the list of baseball pundits.

Current big-leaguers and all stars Pat Neshek and Jordan Zimmermann hail from the Badger state, and in the past two years Wisconsin natives Jeren Kendall (2017) and Gavin Lux (2016) have been selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. Jarred Kelenic will look to make it a third in 2018.

Lux, the 20th overall selection by the Dodgers, and Kelenic are alumni of the Hitters Baseball program, which is entering its 25th year of providing the chance for players across the Midwest to display their skills across showcases and tournaments across the country this coming winter.

At the 2017 WWBA Sophomore World Championship, Hitters Baseball under the direction of coaches R.J. Fergus and Ronell Coleman, have acquitted themselves quite well among a strong field with Vukovich, who has already committed to Louisville as a member of the class of 2020, leading the charge.

Vukovich, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound prospect who has already committed to Louisville, is an imposing figure at the plate and yet has room to continue to develop heading into his sophomore season.

“A.J. has a chance to be really special,” Fergus said. “He has some thump in his bat and his energy level is different than most kids. It’s hard to keep him from putting forth his best effort every day, no matter what he does. He just plays and he can really defend too.”

Even with Vukovich already having a good idea where he may be playing in a couple of years, the personal development he is still seeking can bring along more attention from schools to keep tabs on him, which can aid his fellow teammates in the hopes of getting recruited.

“I feel if myself and the other commits on the roster, if we’re winning games, other schools are going to want to watch us,” Vukovich said. “We want to make sure we are playing up to our level and play good team baseball to get these other guys looked at.”

After a successful start to the tournament with a 6-2 victory over Canes White 2020, righthander George Klassen took the ball for Hitters Baseball and carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning. His offense gave him plenty of support as Hitters Baseball defeated Team PowerNet, 5-1.

T.J. Manteful drove in the first run of the game with a two-out infield hit to score Sabastian Kloss in the third innings to put Hitters Baseball up 1-0. In the fourth, Hitters Baseball added a run on a run-scoring double off the bat of Jonah Wronski.

Vukovich was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the fifth to force home another run, and Hitters Baseball would add on two more aided by an error and a bases-loaded walk.

In the sixth, Klassen found himself in trouble after a leadoff walk and a hit batter led to allowing his first hit of the outing that cut the lead to 5-1. The righthander managed to roll a double play ball to second and ended his outing with his seventh strikeout to close out a strong performance picking up the victory.

“My mentality out there was to try and be better than the guy up there,” Klassen said. “The competition is much more advanced than what we see up in Wisconsin, and you have to raise your level up down here.”

Klassen is hopeful to continue to keep making progress and felt like from this time last season to now he took a big leap forward as he hopes to garner more attention on the recruiting front.

“It’s been a huge jump from this year to last year, and physically I definitely have some more room to grow,” Klassen said. “I’ve got a good group here to help me along the way.”

In the final game of their pool, Hitters Baseball fell behind 5-0 to the FTB Rockets 2020 before mounting a rally that would come up one run short, falling 5-4 and end up finishing second in their pool and likely short of a spot in the playoff bracket.

The primary mission for the Hitters Baseball program is to challenge its rosters by competing against the top talent from across the country. While this event may have seen its club fall short, that is what the organization has hung its hat on to challenge its players to bring their best.

“We do any major Perfect Game event because we feel our guys can go out and compete against anyone in the country,” Fergus said. “Coach Ronell has played a big part of the preparation for these kids, and he’s been an intricate part of what we do. We want to prepare them for what they’ll see in college day in and day out. If you hide them away from that, these kids are never going to excel.

“That’s how we look at things. We want to teach them how to win, how to train hard and we’re fortunate where we our with our facility we can get to train and practice year-round.”

With a program that has produced first-round draft picks and multiple Power 5 conference players year in and year out, it is clear that Hitters Baseball has the track record of churning out top level talent. Any field that has a Hitters Baseball team in it will get the attention of its opponents, because the kids from Wisconsin aren’t going to be sneaking up on anyone much longer.

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