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Friday, December 29, 2017

Crews cruises into Main Event

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Every school day morning since the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, Dylan Crews has walked the halls and sat down in classrooms at Lake Mary (Fla.) High School. A sophomore from Longwood in the Orlando Metropolitan Area, Crews will also soon begin his second season as a member of the Lake Mary Rams baseball program.

Crews splits his school days between Lake Mary HS and TNXL Academy in Longwood, getting his academic training in the morning and his baseball training in the afternoon. In the summer and fall, he puts on a Scorpions Baseball uniform and chases Perfect Game national championship trophies with his Scorpions teammates. This routine is notable because it mirrors that of one of Lake Mary’s and the Scorpions’ most notable alumni.

As recently as the spring of 2015 it was 2014 PG All-American Brendan Rodgers, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Colorado Rockies, who was walking the halls of Lake Mary’s HS and slipping on a Scorpions uniform.

Although a 5-year age difference kept the two from meeting each other at Lake Mary or with the Scorpions, they have since become friends. Rodgers, a top prospect in the Rockies’ organization, trains at TNXL during the offseason.

“I see Brendan Rodgers almost every day,” Crews told PG this weekend. “We get to talk to each other and bond with each other. … He’s one of the top people that I look up to and everybody that I know is always comparing me to him. That’s who I look up to and want to be like.”

He is off to a good start. A 6-foot, 170-pound right-handed hitting outfielder and an alumni of the inaugural PG 14u Select Baseball Festival during the Labor Day weekend in 2016, the 15-year-old Crews has climbed into the No. 5 slot in the PG class of 2020 national prospect rankings.

A Louisiana State commit, Crews was speaking from jetBlue Park where he is competing this weekend at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event alongside another 430-plus prospects from the classes of 2019, ’20, ’21 and ’22.

The PG Under-Main Event rolled around on the calendar at the perfect time for Crews, who spent the last two or three months in training without seeing any live pitching during that time. He wanted to be here to not only face that coveted live pitching but also to hang out with the friends he made from across the country while playing travel ball with the Scorpions organization.

“That’s what I live for, just hanging out with people that have the same goals in life as me,” Crews said. “We’re all trying to make it to the top level the best way we can, and hopefully we can all play together in MLB one day.”

Although Crews still has two full summer and fall PG seasons to compete in (2018, ’19) before he graduates from high school, this is already his 29th PG event. He has been named to nine all-tournament teams and has been included on three showcase Top Prospect Lists, including last summer’s PG Junior National Showcase, one of only 30 2020s so honored.

He is here this weekend with his parents, George and Kim Crews, who are enjoying the early stages of this baseball ride to the fullest. The loyalty the Crews’ show toward PG is humbling.

“Out of respect for the Ford family and for Perfect Game, and for what they’ve done for our family, we’re going to support them at any events that they have,” George Crews said. “What Ben Ford and Jerry Ford and Mrs. (Betty) Ford have all done for our family – and what they do for all these kids – is remarkable. … It’s a great, great, great thing that they’re doing.”

The fact is, Dylan is doing a lot of the heavy lifting himself. His PG trophy case is already chock-full and is certain to grow over the next two-plus years. At his point in his still burgeoning career, Crews counts his invitation to the 2016 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival – a nationally televised all-star game for the top 40 14u age-eligible players in the country – as his defining moment.

“It was a blessing and honor to play with the best of the best at that time,” he said. “I bonded with them and I learned new ways about how they got better and better … and it was just a blast.”

Dylan Crews played football right through his eighth-grade year but then put the pads away to concentrate on baseball. George Crews was a baseball player himself, and enjoyed a two-year career at Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) before being sidelined by injuries and obligations.

George and Kim are both very supportive of their son, taking Dylan everywhere he needs to be and doing whatever is necessary to aid his development. George also uses the experiences he gained as a college player, and tries to work with Dylan as much as time allows.

Having already experienced so much of the PG life just since the fall of 2015, George Crews has developed an understanding of why attendance at a showcase has become so important.

A prospect uses his play to gain notice amongst the PG scouts with the hope of entering the rankings and then needs to build on that foundation. The rankings provide nothing more than a barometer for the players to see how they compare with their age-group peers, after all, and Crews currently compares very favorably.

“Right now (Dylan) is number-5 in his class and he wants to be number-1, and the only way you’re going to do that is to participate in these events,” George said. “And having him work with kids that are even younger than he is and showing them how he works and how he handles himself, I think that’s as important as him doing his own thing at these events.”

Tournament play with the Scorpions has been equally beneficial. His association with the program has helped him both in terms of development and exposure, and the development has been enhanced because the directors and coaches within the organization have allowed him to play up an age-group. He was with the Scorpions 2019 Prime this past summer.

“Every day I try to get better and better and learn new things and get to the top level as quickly as I can,” Crews said. “When I do play up and I do good I feel like I can play at my own level even better.”

Added George Crews: “You take the two entities, Perfect Game and the Scorpions, and it’s just a win-win for all the kids on the Scorpions that are coming to these events.”

Before the whole college recruiting process really began in earnest for Crews, he made a list of everything he wanted from the college of his choice. He was looking for a father-figure coach, a program with a great fan-base and one that plays in the Southeastern Conference. The program headed by Paul Mainieri at LSU ranked a perfect 10 in all three criteria.

That just seems to be the way things are working out for the young Crews. His hard work is making it possible to achieve his goals, even if there is a lot more hard work in front of him.

The PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, occurring right here in the middle of his sophomore year in high school, represents just another rung on the ladder that the entire process has become; that isn’t lost on Crews.

“I just come out here and I try to have as much fun as I can,” he said. “I like seeing what happens when I do my (workouts) and I try to develop and show more every time that I come out here, and hope for the best. Coming out here early in the morning and playing baseball is the only thing I wish for every day.

“I play a lot more relaxed now that I’m committed and I’m just having as much fun as I can. These days are going by so fast so I’m just trying to enjoy them every single day.”

When George, Kim and Dylan Crews leave Southwest Florida Saturday afternoon, George hopes his son can head home with a sense of satisfaction, knowing he had a good time and that he was able to meet some new people and make some new friends.

“And when he leaves,” George said, “I hope the coaches and scouts can say, yeah, he’s a good ballplayer but he’s even a better kid. That’s what I’m all about.”

Only time will tell if Dylan Crews is able to continue to walk in his new friend Brendan Rodgers’ footsteps, and if his game and work ethic will continue to develop to the point where he, too, will be accepting a paycheck for playing the game that he loves so dearly. But that’s a long way off; there’s plenty of time to ponder the future of a 15-year-old.

“I just try to get better and better every day,” Crews said. “I want to come out here and enjoy time with my friends and keep developing every single day.”

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