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Tournaments | Story | 5/26/2018

PST cool, confident at 18u WMD

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jared Thomas (Perfect Game)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – While gathering on the Dodgers’ side of the Camelback Ranch MLB spring training complex on a sunny, breezy and extremely comfortable – spectacular, really – Memorial Day Weekend Saturday morning, the players and coaches from the Padres Scout Team seemed to exude a cool confidence.

The PST’s presence here was necessitated by their participation in this year’s Perfect Game WWBA 18u West Memorial Day Classic, and on this morning, they were set to play their second game of the tournament. And, it just happened to be against their next-door neighbor from Mesa, Ariz., the Angels White 18u. On the second day of the tournament, the Padres were all-in.

“Every time I go to a PG tournament, I want to win it all,” standout PST catcher/outfielder Jared Thomas told PG before the two teams took the field. “And to be honest, I want to win an MVP; I always want to do the best that I possibly can.”

It’s that attitude – that cool confidence – that makes the Padres Scout Team one of the favorites to win the whole thing this weekend. These guys want to be one of three teams to take home WMDC championships on Monday – there is also play in the 14u and 16u age divisions.

The Padres are under the direction of former big-league catcher Kelly Stinnett, a laid-back, low-key baseball man who has experienced the game at every level imaginable: youth leagues, high school, college and professional. This team has seemed to take on he and his coaching staff’s personality, and it’s definitely a winning one.

“We’re just a group of guys that like to be at the baseball field and I think the kids like to be around us,” Stinnett told PG Saturday morning. “It’s a great group of kids. They’re very competitive and obviously with the results they’ve had on the field, they’re pretty good players.”

The Padres Scout Team official roster for this event lists 23 players, 17 from the class of 2019 and five 2018s. Fifteen of the players are from Arizona – most from cities in the Valley – seven are from California and one from Utah.

Thomas epitomizes the high skill and energy levels each one of these guys brings to the fight. A 6-foot-, 180-pound left-handed hitter from Lakewood, Calif., he is ranked No. 129 in the class of 2019 national prospect rankings (No. 11 catcher) and has committed to the University of Miami on the other side of the country.

Some of the other top 2019s on the roster include Wes Burton (Santa Monica, Calif.; No. 414; Ole Miss), Riley Carter (Carlsbad, Calif.; No. 441; Air Force) and Seth Spencer (Moreno Valley, Calif.; No. 447, San Diego State). Adam Parra (Chandler, Ariz.) and Mikie Welch (San Diego) are both uncommitted 2019s ranked in the top-500 nationally.

Thomas, who will be a senior at Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, Calif., in the fall, enjoys playing with school friends and classmates during the spring in the rugged CIF Southern Section Division 3, but enjoys his time with his Padres Scout Team teammates just as much.

“Right from the first game, we have this instant connection,” he said. “We just take that and use it to our advantage; it really helps us.”

The Padres Scout Team program – it stands on its own and has no official association with the San Diego Padres – first came together in 2014 when the organizers began networking with potential prospects; and a talent pool of sorts was assembled with a little help from MLB area scouts.

When PST officials decide they want to be part of a PG tournament and are accepted into the field, they send out invitations to players within that talent pool to gauge interest and determine what kind of roster can be built for that particular event.

The program has enjoyed success at PG’s western events through the years, and teams called the Padres Scout Team won the championship at the 2016 14u West MLK Championship and was the runner-up at the 2017 16u West MLK Championship.

Seven players on this year PST’s roster were also rostered on that 2017 16u West MLK Championship runner-up squad, including all-tournament selections Thomas, Brenden Blakeman (Queen Creek, Ariz.), Treyjen Meza (Green Valley, Ariz.) and Cooper Rust (Sandy, Utah).

The core of this roster has probably played together at as many as a half-dozen PG WWBA tournaments over the last couple of years, according to Stinnett. He called it “kind of cool” to see how they come together in the dugout at the start of a new summer season and greet each other warmly with fist-bumps and hugs, just showing how much they enjoy being around each other.

The Padres won their first two games at this tournament, beating the Phoenix-based Canyon Thunder Black, 7-5, on Friday before topping the Angels White 18u, 8-3, on Saturday. Nothing statistically from any one player really jumps off the page after those two wins, but Stinnett likes the horses he has in the stable for the long run.

“At any of these events nowadays with the pitch-counts, you’ve got to have arms,” he said. “With this group, I think we’ve accumulated some pretty good arms that throw strikes, that can spin it a little bit. And (on Friday) our defense was flawless, even with the kids that have taken a little bit of a break from their high school ball; the bats are a little bit behind right now but hopefully we’ll catch up today.”

Stinnett was the 11th-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 1989 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Seminole Community College (Stanford, Fla.) and went on to play parts of 14 seasons in the big leagues with eight different clubs; he was with the Diamondbacks for four of those seasons (1997-99, 2005).

Last year, when Benedictine University at Mesa – a four-year school with an NAIA affiliation – decided to start a baseball program it hired Stinnett to be that program’s first head coach.

The first thing Stinnett and the other PST coaches tell the players is that the staff is just going to let them go out and play; hopefully they can show scouts and college recruiters what they have to offer while also having a whole heck of a lot of fun in the process. Bunting is avoided, every player has the green light on the base paths and the catchers call their own game.

“We’re not going to micro-manage you in any way, because … this is to showcase you,” Stinnett tells them. “Perfect Game is out to watch you – they’re not out to watch me anymore, I’ve done what I had to do – and I think (the players) appreciate that we’re here for them. We’re going to let them play as freely and as loosely as they can to be successful.”

Based on his own experiences playing collegiately and professionally, Stinnett feels an event like the 18u PG WWBA WMDC gives these high school players a realistic taste of what baseball life is going to be like at the next level.

The biggest benefit for the players is that they’re given the opportunity to surround themselves with elite talent and they’ll even get to perform in front of pro scouts who are filling their notebooks with details about their play.

That enables the young prospect to get his information not only into PG’s extensive prospect database but also the big-league clubs’ databases as they prepare to go through their senior year in high school.

When working with his players at Benedictine University, Stinnett tries to treat them like professionals, at least in the context of being held responsible. They have to go to class, they have to get up and be on time – in short, show accountability – and he treats his teenaged players on the Padres Scout Team the same way.

“We just tell them to go out and play hard and don’t take anything for granted, especially those guys that have already committed,” Stinnett said. “You’ll see it a lot with these guys that are going to a big four-year school and you get there and it’s like holy cow, this is a little bit different animal that I’m used to. … So, that’s the one thing that we really, really try to talk about is don’t take it for granted – somebody’s always out to take your spot.”

Thomas is among the players who has learned to take nothing for granted during the early years of a baseball career that has the potential of lasting many more years.

He has been invited to the prestigious PG National Showcase, held June 14-17 at the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. By accepting the invitation, Thomas has put himself right there in the mix with the best of the best from the national class of 2019.

“I’m honored to be at it, playing with the best players in the country,” he said. “I’m excited for it.”

It might seem odd that a young prospect from Lakewood, Calif., just northeast of Long Beach, would end up at the University of Miami. But that’s where Thomas will be heading after he graduates from high school, depending on how the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft plays out.

The connection was made during his freshman year in high school, videos were sent west to east, a visit to Coral Gables was arranged and just like that Thomas was a Hurricane. “They offered me, and it just went on from there,” he said.

It’s possible that the one thing that caught the collective eye of the Miami coaching staff is that Thomas is a certified winner. He has been on teams that won a combined five PG WWBA championships and he’s been named to nine PG all-tournament teams.

And that line he used about winning the Most Valuable Player Award this weekend? Well, he knows from where he speaks. Thomas already has two MVP plaques in his trophy case, one from the 2015 PG WWBA 14u WMDC he won playing for BPA and another from the 2016 PG WWBA 15u National Championship while playing for the Banditos Black.

Call it playing with a cool confidence, a character trait he hopes to share with his Padres Scout Team teammates and one they can use to carry them to an 18u WMDC championship Monday afternoon.

“Making new friendships out here is a lot of fun and the competition is great,” Thomas said of the PG tournament experience. “I feel like I learn something every time out because it’s great competition. PG (tournaments) always have the best players … It’s fun to be around these guys that have the same goals and know where they want to be.”

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