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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Keefe makes return trip to ME

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – East Cobb Baseball founder/owner/manager Guerry Baldwin always makes sure that a couple of dozen of his organization’s top underclass prospects make their way down to Southwest Florida in the days immediately after Christmas each year.

The occasion is the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, which on Thursday began its three-day run at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex. The 16th annual PG Under-Main Event kicked off in chilly and foggy conditions, but by lunchtime the late December sun had burned off the fog and warmed the air, and the day moved on until the thermometer topped 80 degrees by mid-afternoon.

Although the sun set on another beautiful day, the sky was still gray when one of the two East Cobb teams, 12-Orange, arrived at jetBlue Park late Thursday morning for its batting practice session, not long after the players had completed the workout segment of the showcase on the complex’s back fields.

Among the 12-Orange’s leaders was top 2019 middle-infielder Spencer Keefe, a 6-foot-3, 208-pounder from Canton, Ga., who is a rising junior at Woodstock High School. Keefe, the No. 206-ranked national prospect in his class and a Georgia commit, is a veteran among his teammates here this weekend, having also attended last year’s PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event and earning Top Prospect List recognition.

“Some of these other guys haven’t done this before so they were a little nervous coming in,” Keefe told PG not long after completing his BP session. “I’ve done this before, so I wasn’t really nervous.

“This is a lot of fun, but it does change your mind-set a little bit,” he continued. “You have to go out and show off a little bit more. (The attention) is more directly on you and you have to show off your skills a little bit more; the spotlight is on you.”

The athletic Keefe wasted little time in sure he shined in that spotlight. He ran the 60-yard dash in 6.59-seconds, not only a personal-best but an event-best as well.

Keefe likes to take some time off from the game in the late fall, but then gets into the gym. The winter, he will tell you, is the time to become physically stronger and according to his dad, Jim Keefe, he’s added about eight pounds of muscle to his frame in just the last three months. Just in time, it would seem, for the Main Event.

“For him, it’s just a matter of coming out here and seeing where he stands with his peers,” Jim Keefe said Thursday morning. “But he loves it; he can’t get enough of playing baseball. He finished with his high school season on a Wednesday and started with Guerry on that Friday.

“We’ve had some down-time since November and he was really itching to get down here,” he added. “He’s a diehard. He’s an absolute diehard.”

This weekend’s National Under-Main Event is the 30th PG event Keefe has participated in since making his debut with the East Cobb Astros at the 2015 13u PG Southeast Super Qualifier at PG Park South-LakePoint in Emerson, Ga.

He has been named to 10 all-tournament teams in his PG career, all while playing with the East Cobb Astros, to go with the TPL recognition he earned at last year’s Main Event, his only other showcase experience. Climbing up onto the bigger stages seems to bring out the best in Keefe.

“It makes me want to perform better,” Keefe said. “When I get in front of all these people I want to show off. I want to show all my strengths, so it definitely does help.”

Keefe got his start in baseball when he was 6 years old and his mom, Julie, signed him up for a local youth team. Turns out he took to the game like a fish to water, stayed at it and developed into a high-level national prospect.

His appearance at the PG Under-Main Event speaks volumes of his dedication to the game. “He just verbally committed to UGA, and we just think this is a good opportunity to come down and keep building his skills, showing where he stands and showing that he’s still putting the work in,” Jim Keefe said.

“This is a good event,” Keefe said. “I want to come out here and increase my numbers because I feel like I’ve gotten better over the past year. This is fun to do after Christmas, to come down here with the good weather and get in some more baseball.”

As should be expected, Keefe is eagerly looking forward to his junior season at Woodstock HS this spring – the Wolverines finished as Georgia Class 7A state runner-up in 2017 – and is also looking forward to the summer of 2018 that will lead into his senior year in high school.

He is already hoping to receive an invitation to the PG National Showcase and even expressed hope that an invitation to the 2018 PG All-American Classic in San Diego might be forthcoming. He would have to improve considerably from the No. 206 spot he currently occupies, but nothing is out of the question with six more months to improve and gain ground.

“I would definitely like to be invited to San Diego,” Keefe said. “That would be really cool so I’m going to work hard for it, just to get there. I want to do really good next summer so I get that invitation. … I don’t really follow the rankings, and I just play hard and try to think I’m the best one out on the field no matter what the rankings say.”

Spencer and Jim Keefe feel as they owe a debt of gratitude to Baldwin and the East Cobb program for helping Keefe reach a level of play where he can dream about being invited to the PGAAC. It was Baldwin who encouraged the Keefes to come down to Fort Myers this weekend, and Jim Keefe said that was all he needed to hear.

“Guerry is very well connected, he understands what people are looking for both at the collegiate level and the MLB level,” he said. “Spencer just did a workout with the Brewers not long ago … and we’ll see how far that goes. Guerry has high expectations, but we’ll see.”

Spencer Keefe feels like he’s been with the East Cobb organization “my whole life” and his development over the years is there for everyone to see, including the members of the Perfect Game scouting department, which is out in force this weekend.

“From my freshman year up until now I’ve definitely improved a lot; I’ve definitely gotten better,” he said. “All my numbers have gone up and I just feel more fluent with the game.”

The thing Jim Keefe appreciates most about the East Cobb program is the high level of expectations it puts on its players. The East Cobb Astros program has won dozens PG national championship tournaments through the years and it does that by expecting nothing but the best from its young players while also putting them face-to-face with the country’s other top prospects.

“I think that’s really been one of the biggest contributors to how far Spencer’s (progressed),” Jim Keefe said. “He’s always been playing at that elite level.”

Spencer Keefe will spend Friday playing in standard showcase games at the jetBlue complex with his 12-Orange/East Cobb teammates, and will cap off the weekend with coach-pitch games on Saturday, just in front of New Year’s Eve celebrations.

On Thursday, he was only grateful for being given the opportunity to play baseball under the warm and invigorating sunshine at the end of December for the second straight year.

“I just want to have a good time down here and enjoy it because high school ball doesn’t start for a while,” Keefe said. “This is once a year and I want to enjoy it down here while I can and have some fun. I love being around people with the same goals that I have, and it’s fun; it pushes me.”

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