Tournaments | Story | 10/22/2017

FTB/Giants joins the elite 8

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

JUPITER, Fla. – It’s a question that comes up often at national amateur baseball scouting events like this week’s Perfect Game WWBA World Championship. What happens when a team that was assembled for the expressed intent of showcasing its members individual talents is asked to stop showcasing?

In many cases – perhaps most cases – the answer, in New Jersey parlance, is simply “fuhgeddaboudit.” Asking a collection of all-stars to come together and perform as a well-oiled machine in the pursuit a deep run at PG national championship tournament is often met with mixed reviews, and sometimes they aren’t favorable.

The FTB/SF Giants Scout Team spent two of the last two days at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex standing tall as a contradiction to that perception, and on Sunday morning they successfully completed the first leg of what can be an intense journey.

That was when they put their 2-0-0 pool-play record on the line against a 2-0-0 Canes Prospects unit and came away with a 5-3 victory and a pool championship. After outscoring their three pool opponents by a combined 18-7, the FTB/Giants ST earned the No. 11 seed in the 32-team playoffs, which began Sunday afternoon; the Canes Prospects got an at-large bid and the No. 28 seed.

“We’re going to try to keep it rolling; the team is doing pretty well,” PG All-American and FTB/Giants ST shortstop Nander De Sedas said Sunday morning. “The pitching staff has been awesome and the hitting, we could be doing better, but we’ve been getting the job done. We just need to keep it going into the playoffs and then just keep working as a team.”

In the pool championship-clinching win over the Canes Prospects, PG All-American outfielder Preston Hartsell delivered a two-run double and Alec Sanchez managed to drive in a pair of runs on a groundball fielder’s choice.

Carson Palmquist and Eric Linder pitched the first five innings of scoreless, three-hit ball, striking out eight and walking one. Palmquist threw the first two innings, allowing two hits and striking out four.

“I wanted to go out there and throw as many strikes as possible and let my fielders (do their jobs),” Palmquist said. “It’s a lot fun. This is a good team and it’s fun to win, and this is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. It’s awesome playing with these guys; I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

In the first three games, Sanchez went 4-for-7 (.571) with a double and three RBI; Hartsell was 3-for-7 with a double and three RBI, Huberto Torres homered and drove in three and Maxwell Romero Jr. doubled and drove in two.

Head coach Alan Kunkel used 10 pitchers to throw the 19 innings, meaning fresh arms should not be a problem in the playoffs; they combined to allow five earned runs (0.14 ERA).

“Our pitching staff has been great and we’re batting 11, which is a lot of guys, but all of us have been producing,” Hartsell said. “The coaches have been good about getting us ready for every game, too, so it’s been a pretty complete effort.”

At its core, the FTB/SF Giants Scout Team is a showcase/all-star team. The roster is boosted by the presence of the PG All-Americans De Sedas, Hartsell and Jonathan Gates, certainly a sound foundation on which to build.

De Sedas is the No. 5-ranked prospect in the 2018 class and has committed to Florida State, while Hartsell (No. 44, Southern California) and Gates (No. 47, Miami) are right behind; Hartsell is from Versailles Newport Coast, Calif., one of eight non-Floridians on the 25-man roster.

“I’m probably one of the newer members to come over to FTB but I feel like they’ve really accepted me into the family,” he said. “Everyone’s out here striving to achieve the same goals, and I love playing with these guys."

Twenty-two of the 25 prospects have committed to NCAA Division I universities, most to Florida schools like Florida, Florida State, Florida International, Florida Gulf Coast, Miami and South Florida. Other schools on the lengthy commitment list include Mississippi State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Louisville and Vanderbilt.

Right-hander Franco Aleman (No. 64, Fla. International), middle-infielder Raynel Delgado (No. 78, Fla. International), outfielder Kendrick Calilao (No. 97, Florida) and right-hander/corner-infielder Justin Stewart (South Florida) are among the other highly ranked 2018s on board. Outfielder Riley Greene (No. 3, Florida) heads a list of three top-500 2019s.

“We’ve had great chemistry coming in,” Kunkel said. “And it’s interesting because most of these don’t have an extensive amount of time playing with one another, but they’ve just jelled. They’re a likeable group, they like each other and the have fun.

“it’s not the loudest group I’ve ever had but they do enjoy being in the dugout and being out here and they enjoy the opportunity to build those relationships.”

Kunkel and his staff told the team right at the beginning of the tournament that they had all done enough showcasing and now it was time to go out and win a championship. The coaches made sure that everyone who wanted to pitch was given the opportunity to be seen during pool-play, and that the pitching rotation would be adjusted once the team moved into bracket-play.

“We’ve got 25 kids here from all over the country and winning is important to them, and we’re grateful that it is,” Kunkel said. “We’re grateful that we have 25 really good kids that come out with great character and integrity and want to win something.

“We won’t reset (for the playoffs), we’ll try to find that right mix and we’ll go with the lineups that we’ve had,” he added. “We’ll trust the kids, trust their bats, trust their ability to defend and go with the guys that are throwing strikes.”

Trust is what binds this team together, and its paid dividends. When a top prospect can trust the adults he is associated with and knows they trust him in return, remarkable things can happen. The FTB program under George Gonzalez has always promoted that and thousands of young prospects have benefitted from their association with the program.

“They’ve worked with me and they take care of every single one of us (on this team),” De Sedas said. “Every time you get to play for FTB it’s just a fun time. The winning, the coaching staff are great people and there just isn’t any better team to play for.”

The PG WWBA World Championship is in a class by itself in terms of the attention it draws from the MLB scouting community, and the players that wear FTB uniforms or some variation thereof, have always felt at home and generally done pretty well here. They don’t necessarily find the biggest of all stages intimidating after performing on them so often, and are able to settle-in.

“This is a great experience,” De Sedas said. “During the summer I was around a lot of scouts, and being here you try not to pay attention (to the scouts) and just keep playing your game. Just have fun and do the best that you can.”

Added Hartsell: “Looking into the stands, it makes it seem like that much more of a bigger stage, but in between the lines it’s still the same game that we play every day.”

Despite the comfort level its players might enjoy, an FTB team has never reached the championship game at the PG WWBA World Championship. The FTB/SF Giants Scout Team and No. 6-seeded FTB Tucci both gained spots in bracket-play Sunday and give the program two teams among the top-11 seeds.

“We’re going to have to continue to play flawless baseball,” Kunkel said when asked what his team needs to do to make this ride continue into Monday’s quarterfinal, semifinal and championship rounds.

“At this type of event where everybody’s good, we’re going to have to continue to make routine plays and throw strikes,” he said. “Minimize punch-outs and force guys to make plays on the offensive end and give us an opportunity to score some runs.”

The Mississippi-based East Coast Sox Select earned the No. 1 playoff seed, with the Georgia-based Nelson Baseball School, the Texas-based Banditos Scout Team and the New Jersey-based Tri-State Arsenal/Blackhawks National going at Nos. 2 through 4.

Much like when leaders reach the back-9 at Augusta National Golf Club on the Sunday of the Master, it could be said the PG WWBA World Championship is just getting started with the arrival off the playoffs. That’s what the cynics amongst us might say, anyway.

Alan Kunkel is not among the cynics, but another message he tried to convey to his players was that this is a business trip. He told them they’ve been placed in a situation and a scenario where they’re going to receive a lot of attention and a lot exposure – and yes, the scout-filled golf carts whizzing around from field-to-field can be a distraction – but it’s also an opportunity to showcase the fact that they simply love playing the game.

“We just encourage them to go out, act like they’re 12 (years old), go play the game and play it hard,” he said. “Smile whether you strikeout or hit a home run, and enjoy it. Enjoy the time, build relationships, and at the end of the day they might not remember this event, but they will for sure remember the relationships they fostered and they built in the dugouts.”

Elite 8 ready to get after it Monday morning

The playoff rounds of 32 and 16 were played late Sunday at the Roger Dean Complex, which set the eight-team field for Monday’s quarterfinal round. When all the baseball had been played after a nearly 16-hour day at the old ballpark, the quarterfinal pairings looked like this:

No. 8 AZ D-Backs Scout Team (Ariz.) vs. No. 1 East Coast Sox Select (Miss.); the No. 28 Canes Prospects (Va.) vs. the No. 20 Dallas Tigers (Texas); the No. 18 Ohio Warhawks (Ohio) vs. the No. 7 Canes American (Va.); and the No. 14 Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team (Ontario, Can.) vs. the No. 11 FTB/SF Giants Scout Team (Fla.).

There were two notable upsets in the round-of-16 based on the seedings: the No. 14 Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team got past the No. 3 Banditos Scout Team (Texas),  2-1, and the No. 28 Canes Prospects topped the No. 12 Ontario Blue Jays (Ont.).

Looked at from the point of view of the seedings, there were five major “upsets” in the round-of-32, with five of the top 10 seeds being eliminated:

No. 2 Nelson Baseball School (Ga.) got pounded by No. 31 5 Star National (Ga.), 9-2; No. 4 Tri-State Arsenal/Blackhawks National (N.J.) got clipped by the No. 29 San Diego Show (Calif.), 3-2; the No. 5 Sandlot Scout Team (Okla.) was a 5-4 loser to the No. 28 Canes Prospects; No. 6 FTB Tucci (Fla.) fell to the No. 27 Scorpions Prime (Fla.), 6-4 and No. 10 North East Baseball (Mass.) got dumped by No. 23 BPA (Calif.), 8-4.

Those upsets, coupled with the other results, left an interesting round-of-16 that featured only two teams from Florida – the No. 27 Scorpions Prime and the No. 11 FTB/SF Giants Scout Team – left standing. By the luck of the draw, they played each other in that round with the FTB/Giants moving on into Monday.

The rest of the final 16 consisted of three teams from California (BPA, Dodgers Scout Team/Team Citius, San Diego Show), two teams from Canada (Ontario Blue Jays, Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team), two from Texas (Dallas Tigers, Banditos Scout Team), two from Virginia (Canes National and Canes American) and one each from Arizona (AZ D-Backs Scout Team), Georgia (5 Star National), Mississippi (East Coast Sox Select) and Ohio (Ohio Warhawks).

The eight-team quarters feature two teams from Virginia (Canes American, Canes Prospects) and one each from Arizona (AZ D-Backs Scout Team), Mississippi (East Coast Sox Select), Texas (Dallas Tigers), Ohio (Warhawks), Ontario, Canada (Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team) and Florida (FTB/SF Giants Scout Team).

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