Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Weaver sets pace for Braves

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – The golf carts were all powered up and already being put to good use bright and early on Thursday morning, a day that started with some early rain but stayed dry and breezy throughout the rest of the morning and into the afternoon and evening.

The Roger Dean MLB spring training complex was the place to be on this fall day on Florida’s east coast, just as it has been since late October of 2000, when it first hosted the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship.

It was Opening Day at this year’s edition of the PG WWBA World, which over the last 18 years has become known simply as “Jupiter” in the tight-knit community of travel team baseball. And on this morning, in one of the early time slots, a lot of those scout-driven golf carts were headed over to the Cardinals’ side of the complex (the Marlins occupy the other half) to watch an exhibition game between the Braves Scout Team/East Cobb and the Louisiana Knights.

Both of those teams boast rosters brimming with elite talent, but there is always an aura of intrigue surrounding the East Cobb name. It’s a program that won this exclusive, 88-team tournament outright twice (2003, 2012) and shared it another year (2005).

This Braves ST/East Cobb roster features 13 prospects from the classes of 2018 and 2019 that are ranked in the top 295 nationally, a number that includes Perfect Game All-American Cabera Weaver. An outfielder with break-away, clock-stopping speed, Weaver usually plays for Marquis Grissom Baseball Association (MGBA) teams but was more than happy to put on the Braves jersey this weekend.

“It means a lot (to be a part of this team),” he said Thursday. “You’ve got to bring all your talent (to the team) because there’s a lot of great players in the dugout and they’re coming out ready to play just like I am.”

The Atlanta Braves and East Cobb Baseball (ECB) have enjoyed a strong relationship through the years, ones based on proximity and mutual admiration. Many of the East Cobb coaches work as associate scouts for the Braves, including BST/EC manager/head coach Jamie Crane.

The affiliation between professional and amateur baseball entities makes perfect sense since most of the young prospects in the ECB organization come from the Southeast and have more than likely grown up as Braves fans.

Crane has been coaching in the ECB organization for more than a dozen years, and he remembered that when the ECB squad was called the Dodgers Scout Team at this even a year ago. He told PG on Thursday that it felt rather odd to have a bunch of Georgia boys wearing Los Angeles Dodgers uniforms.

“It’s been a long-time affiliation with the Braves, and there are and have been several guys, East Cobb alumni, that play in the Braves system all the way up to the big leagues,” Crane said. “For our current players, that kind of gives them that target for where they want to be.”

Many of those names of past players are well-known, guys like Jason Heyward, Dansby Swanson, Nick Markakis, Kyle Davies, Brandon Phillips and Tyler Flowers. Just to drive the Braves-East Cobb connection home even further, Fred McGriff – who enjoyed three All-Star seasons while playing with the Braves (1994-96) – was the team’s third base coach Thursday morning.

The overwhelming majority of the players on the roster call Georgia home, but roster spots are also filled by prospects from South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Maryland. Many are part of the East Cobb Baseball family and others – like Weaver – play with other programs; some were brought on board after recommendations from other Braves’ scouts.

Nine of the players were on the East Cobb Astros or the East Cobb Baseball squads that played in last week’s MLB/PG Ways to Play event at PG Park South-LakePoint in Emerson, Ga. Georgians Garrett Wade (No. 87, Auburn), Keyshawn Askew (No. 184), Logan Cerny (No. 222, Troy), Cooper Stinson (No. 265, Navy) and James Parker (No. 292, Clemson) were among the top 2018s in that group; Hunter Barco (No. 11, Virginia) was the top 2019.

Other top-200 2018s on the roster are Ben Harris (No. 101, Virginia), Davis Sharpe (No. 181, Clemson) and Connor Pavolony (No. 195, Tennessee). Caleb Reis (No. 160, High Point) joins Barco as a highly regarded 2019 and the lone 2020 on the roster is a good one in Josh Shuler (No. 20, uncommitted).

“This is a real solid group, and even though some of them haven’t played together recently they’ve played together at some point during the careers,” Crane said. “They’ve got a familiarity with each other and that seems to be the driving force; most of these kids are very excited about this group,

“They’re pretty tight,” he added. “We have players that have ridden down here together that don’t even play with each other during the summer.”

Crane also called this team “battle-tested” in the sense that all of these guys have played in big PG WWBA tournaments and many are back in Jupiter for at least a second straight year. The head coach likes having players who have been here before because they aren’t as likely to be overwhelmed by the environment. Weaver played here a year ago with the Royals Scout Team.

“I feel a lot more relaxed this year; this is more like you’re just playing baseball now,” he said. “You’re playing against the best of the best down here and it brings out the best in a lot of people.”

Weaver is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound center fielder from Decatur, Ga., and a senior at South Gwinnett High School who has risen to No. 56 in the national class of 2018 prospect rankings. Physically, it’s next to impossible to watch Weaver play and not be reminded of another standout Georgia prep who this past summer helped the Minnesota Twins reach the American League Wild Card game.

In fact, when Byron Buxton was patrolling center field for Georgia-based Round Trip Baseball in the summer of 2011, he was listed at 6-foot-3, 175-pounds. The best 60-yard dash time PG recorded for Buxton was 6.57 seconds. Weaver ran an electric 6.27-second 60 at last summer’s PG National Showcase, and the scouting report from that event noted his many talents.

“(Weaver has a) long and lanky build, lots of room to get stronger, very projectable physically. Can really run … has solid fielding fundamentals, fields the ball out front with good direction and footwork and makes accurate throws. Right-handed hitter, deep late load, gets timed up well with a direct path to the ball; shows a feel for the barrel and makes consistent hard line-drive contact, very fluid swing, could really develop as a hitter with more present strength.”

Crane first saw Weaver perform when the player was 13 years old and playing on one of MGBA’s 16u teams and was duly impressed. Marquis and Antonio Grissom are good friends of Crane’s and often work together to the benefit of their young prospects.

“Just the way he moved around the balls and ran the bases, it was just fun to watch him play, even at that young age,” Crane said. “We’ve maintained some dialogue and we’ve been friends somewhat since then.”

Crane batted Weaver in the lead-off spot in Thursday’s exhibition game, which seemed like a bit of a no-brainer considering the young players’ speed and ability to make contact. Crane is quick to point out that the kid is not only a PG All-American centerfielder who can run like a rabbit, but also a fine young man and good student with a great personality who loves the game and loves to play it hard. He could be the centerpiece of just about any team here this week.

“A guy like that pushes everybody else,” Crane said. “This is as high a level as you can get in amateur baseball, so it does push every kid to get to the next level; it’s a fun, competitive environment. This is as close as they’re going to get to professional baseball without getting to professional baseball.”

The prospects in the Braves ST/East Cobb lineup embrace a challenge of this magnitude. Crane is confident it’s a collection of players talented enough to win any game it plays, as long as they don’t succumb to the oldest of all baseball bugaboos: beating themselves.

Although Weaver is considered one of best draft eligible prep prospects in the country, he understands failure and he’s probably been on a team or 10 that at some point has beaten itself. It is for that reason that he likes an event like Jupiter, when he can meet new people, go at it face-to-face with some other very talented prospects and hopefully become a better ballplayer in the process.

“You’re going to have failure out here and you’re going to learn from it. This is the place where you can really learn from it,” he said. “I’ve had some failures in previous years and I just kept going and kept learning from it. I trust the process and I love it.”

Like most top prospects that have played on heavily scouted stages offered by events such as the PG National Showcase and the East Coast Pro Showcase, Weaver has become increasingly comfortable putting his talents on display in front of thousands of interested and influential eyes from the scouting community. He’s back in Jupiter, and he’s embracing the entire experience.

“I hope to take away from it what I need to learn, what I need to do to grow (my game) and what I need to work on,” Weaver said. “These are all great players out here and they all want to do the same thing; they’re all here ready to play.”

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