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Tournaments  | Story  | 10/18/2017

WWBA World keeps rolling on

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: Perfect Game

2017 WWBA World Championship Preview: Handicapping Top Teams | College Standouts | Pool Preview

JUPITER, Fla. – The elite, exclusive and invitation-only tournament now known as the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship first took on that name in late October of 1999, when the tournament then presented a fairly modest show – at least by today’s standards – to small gatherings on the playing fields in Fort Myers, Fla.

But what is interesting about the history of a tournament that has grown out of many pairs of shoes over the years and as noted on PG’s website www.perfectgame.org, is that the event’s origins can actually be traced back a year earlier to late November 1998. That was when PG’s founders staged what was called the Lone Star Showdown in San Antonio, Texas.

Perfect Game was in the very early stages of its growth into the country’s premier amateur baseball scouting, recruiting and event company in 1998, but managed to draw some top-level prep prospects to that early tournament.

One of the participants at that two-day Showdown was outfielder Cody Ross, who went on to become a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the 1999 June Amateur Draft and who played in his last big-league game in 2015 following a fine 12-year career.

“Obviously, back then, you hope and you just dream that you get a chance to play not only in the big leagues but even just professional ball,” Ross said during a conversation with PG in 2013. “You hope somebody gives you the opportunity and thinks enough of you to give you a chance to wear a professional uniform.”

That was Ross’s dream in 1998, and it’s the same dream more than 1,500 prospects on 88 teams from across the United States and Canada will carry with them to Jupiter, Fla., when the 19th annual PG WWBA World Championship begins its five-day run Thursday at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex not far from Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Considering the PG WWBA World Championship is still in its late teens, it has already assembled an impressive portfolio. When the 2017 Major League Baseball regular-season came to an end earlier this month, 636 of its alumni had made their big-league debuts; after last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, 4,472 prospects that played at the previous tournaments had been drafted.

The latter is a number that will increase considerably when the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft concludes in about eight months, an assumption based on the hundreds of high-profile prep prospects from the class of 2018 that will be competing this week; 46 of the top 105-ranked 2018s occupy spots on Jupiter rosters.

Tim Dulin, the founder and owner of the Tennessee-based Dulin Dodgers organization, first brought a team to the PG WWBA World Championship in 2001; it was a team that featured future MLB All-Star pitcher Matt Cain. Dulin has returned to the event every year since and always brings with him playoff-caliber teams.

“The event itself, you can’t describe it,” he told PG last weekend when he had one of his Dodgers teams playing at the MLB/PG Ways to Play event in Emerson, Ga. “I tell people that unless you go and experience it and see the magnitude of it and see how well it’s run, you can’t give it justice by just trying to describe it. You have to see it.”

With this being the 17th year Dulin has a team at the WWBA World Championship, he certainly has the luxury of having an enviable frame of reference. He can now watch former Dodgers that played in Jupiter once upon a time now perform at the major league level, just has he can watch players from other organizations enjoy productive, post-Jupiter, big-league careers.

Some of those players reached the highest level of the game in very short order, too. Thirty prospects from the class of 2012 that played in the 2011 PG WWBA World Championship have already made their big-league debuts.

Five of them, PG All-Americans Albert Almora and Addison Russell from the Cubs, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers from the Astros and Corey Seager from the L.A. Dodgers, were all still playing in one of the two MLB League Championship Series as this was written early this week.

Virginia-based Canes Baseball, under the direction of Jeff Petty, has enjoyed a terrific run at the PG WWBA World in recent years, winning an unprecedented three straight championships from 2013-15. This will mark the 10th year Petty has taken teams to Jupiter and this year Canes Baseball has three entrants in the field: The Canes American, Canes National and Canes Prospects.

Petty views the Jupiter event – PG moved the WWBA World Championship to the Roger Dean Stadium Complex in 2000 – as an amateur baseball smorgasbord offering up the most talented high school prospects in the land.

“if you really want to do your homework and see who’s there, you can hop on a golf cart and ride to any of the fields and see a future big-leaguer playing on just about all of them,” he said, while also speaking from PG Park South-LakePoint last weekend. “… How many future big-leaguers are playing this week in Jupiter? A hundred? Fifty? Sixty? I don’t know. But where else do you get that? I can say you don’t get that anywhere else.”

Team Elite Prime catcher Will Banfield (No. 4-ranked, Vanderbilt commit), FTB/SF Giants Scout Team shortstop Nander De Sedas (No. 5, Florida State, East Cobb Yankees shortstop Kendall Logan Simmons (No. 12, Georgia Tech), Central Florida Gators right-hander/catcher Mason Denaburg (No. 15, Florida), Canes National right-hander Austin Becker (No. 17, Vanderbilt) and Canes National outfielder Joe Gray Jr. (No. 18, Mississippi) headline the 2018s.

Nine more 2018s are ranked 20 through 30, including East Coast Sox Select shortstop Jeremiah Jackson (No. 20) and right-hander JT Ginn (No. 21, Mississippi State), Ontario Blue Jays catcher Noah Naylor (No. 22, Texas A&M), Houston Astros Scout Team/Elite Squad third baseman Tristan Casas (No. 23, Miami) and Stars Baseball outfielder Nick Decker (No. 24, Maryland); all of those players and many more were 2017 PG All-Americans.

Georgia-based East Cobb Baseball with program founder Guerry Baldwin at the helm has been sending teams to the PG WWBA World Championship since 1999, and East Cobb teams won outright championships in 2003 (E.C. Astros) and 2012 (E.C. Baseball); the Astros shared the title with Chet Lemon’s Juice in 2005.

Jamie Crane, who was coaching the Astros at last weekend’s MLB/PG Ways to Play event in Emerson, Ga., will be making his 12th trip to Jupiter this week, and spoke to PG about the organization’s long-standing relationship with the WWBA World.

“It’s an important event for us,” he said. “We’ll actually find ourselves talking about it as early as spring, about the assembly of our teams and who’s going where. We’re trying to identify younger players that need that type of exposure and that can handle that type of pressure in that environment. …

“If you can handle Jupiter with that many (scout carrying) carts and radar guns popping up with the scouts at every game, it’s a good preparation process and it’s great exposure for all of our players.”

While Dulin acknowledges that the WWBA World has transformed into this mega-event that is geared toward getting draft-eligible seniors as much exposure in front of MLB front office personnel and scouting departments as possible, and he always makes sure his Dodgers’ rosters are stocked with draft-eligible senior prospects.

But he also told PG that over the last couple of years he has been adding more and more younger players to his roster – the Dodgers’ 16-man contingent for this year’s event includes six 2019s, two 2020s and No. 1-ranked 2021 Blaze Jordan, who made his Jupiter debut last year as a 13-year-old – just to give them some early exposure. It’s just another example of how the tournament continues to evolve.

“I think the sooner that I can get them in that setting where there is pressure and there are lots of scouts right on top of you, the more mature they’ll get,” Dulin said. “And then they won’t be in awe of it when it does become time for them to make a decision whether to go to college or whether to enter the professional ranks.”

His Dodgers’ program isn’t the only one taking that approach. Twenty of the top 30, 11 of the top 15 and seven of the top 10-ranked 2019s are on rosters this year, as are seven of the top 12-ranked 2020s.

The 2019s at the very top are Indians Scout Team shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 1, Oklahoma), Canes National shortstop Rece Hinds (No. 2, LSU), FTB/SF Giants Scout Team outfielder Riley Greene (No. 3, Florida), On Deck O’s right-hander Brennan Malone (No. 5, North Carolina), Banditos Scout Team right-hander Matthew Thompson (No. 7, Texas A&M), Central Florida Gators righty Joseph Charles (No. 8, North Carolina) and Indians Scout Team outfielder Logan Britt (No. 10, Texas A&M).

Tri-State Arsenal/Blackhawks National outfielder Trejyn Fletcher (No. 2, Vanderbilt), Banditos Black right-hander Victor Mederos (No. 3, Miami) and Reds Scout Team shortstop Mac Horvath (No. 4, North Carolina) headline the 2020 class. Once again, Jupiter gives everyone an opportunity to see the best of the best.

“Just thinking back on the players I’ve seen play there and seeing them play now in the big leagues, it’s such an event for players to grow from,” East Cobb’s Crane said. “I make it a point to take my family every year because I want my son to always experience those type of players and see those types of players play.”

As far as the team angle to this event, coaches and talent scouts like Crane and the Canes’ Petty know what it’s like to be a part of organizations that have won multiple championships in Jupiter, and they both know how hard it is to accomplish such a feat.

“It’s very gratifying, but it didn’t happen by accident,” Petty said. “We put a lot of emphasis on winning. We want to teach these kids to win, not just out here but in life. … We want that kid that wants to compete and wants to win … and the long and short of it is, we want to win that event.”

Crane agreed with his counterpart: “That’s our expectation,” he said. “That’s one of the marks we try to set, to have a team that’s competitive there. I think going down there and saying you’re going to win the event, it would be very hard to predict and very hard to understand the complexity of that. It’s such a competitive event and if you have a bad couple of innings it can cost you even getting into the playoffs.”

Once the PG WWBA World Championship was moved to Jupiter in 2000 – it’s been there every year since except for 2004 when an Atlantic hurricane forced it to relocate to Fort Myers – the event really began attracting national prospects that went on to play in the major leagues.

As an example, there were 22 prospects from the graduating class of 2001 that were at the 2000 event that made it to the bigs, including guys like Chris Carter, J.J. Hardy, J.P. Howell, David Wright and Jeremy Bonderman. That number was up from five from the class of 2000 that were at the 1999 tournament in Fort Myers.

There are already five prospects from the class of 2013 that were in Jupiter in 2012 that have debuted in the big leagues: Christian Arroyo, Andrew Binintendo, JP Crawford, Tyler Danish, Clint Frazier and Dominic Smith. The PG WWBA World Championship simply brings together, with apologies, the best of the best.

“It’s like Christmas because of what we do in travel baseball it’s the most special event that there is,” Petty said. “It’s almost like a carnival. There are people everywhere, there are vendors everywhere, scouts everywhere, advisors, college coaches. The guys that are the best at what we do – as in other travel coaches – they’re all there. …

“I feel like time stops when that event is going on because everyone in our arena – our travel baseball world – is there; it’s really a lot of fun.”

Once again, Crane found himself in agreement, while adding that he wasn’t the least bit surprised that the tournament continues to march forward towards its 20th birthday.

“I think this is the best event of the year, every year,” he said. “I know that personally I look forward to it more than any other event just because of getting to see other coaches that I’m real close friends with from around the country, and then just seeing the quality of players.

“It’s the best event to me and it’s the most fun event, and we look forward to it all year long,” he concluded. “My assistant coaches all start talking about it early and we have a really good time down there because of the friends and fellowship and just the competitiveness of the event.”