Tournaments | Story | 7/10/2018

Royals ST brings energy to BCS

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Robert Moore (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Life on the road and away from home can sometimes take its toll on a body, but it’s a fact of life during the first three weeks of July for the top-tier 17u travel ball teams that are invited to play in a trio of Perfect Game national championship tournaments.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based Royals Scout Team is here this week giving it a go at the PG 17u BCS National Championship and its ballplayers are continuing to prove that a little travel and time spent sleeping in hotel room beds can not only be endured but enjoyed.

“You can’t complain,” top 2020 shortstop Robert Moore told Perfect Game Tuesday morning, speaking with a big smile on his face from just outside Field 2 at the Lee County Player Development 5-Plex. “It’s summer, you get to play baseball, and maybe the only thing better to do would to be at home fishing.

“You get a little tired physically, but the fact that you love to play and you get to do it every day, it washes out with the idea that you’re tired.”

The Royals Scout Team has been on the road and staying in hotel rooms 19 of the last 20 days and still have a couple more weeks to go before returning home. Is it a grind or, as Moore expressed, is it just an essential element of doing something that you not only love but have a great deal of passion for?

“I still love to do it no matter what, but eventually your body starts feeling it,” top 2019 infielder Christian Cairo said Tuesday. “And even though your body starts feeling it, you just love to be with the team and you love to be with the players; it’s awesome to be around it.”

The Royals dropped a 7-6 decision to the Florida Burn 2019 UHit in the opener of their first three-game pool-play set Monday morning but bounced back to knock-off the Signature Park Thrashers, 6-2, later in the day. They topped the Lights Out Baseball Club-Orloski, 8-0, early Tuesday afternoon.

Quinton Hall (.556, 2B, 2 RBI), Moore (.364, 2B, 3 RBI) and Drew Mackie (2 1Bs, 4 RBI) have been the get-on-base, run producers during the first three games; 2019 right-hander Matthew Moriarty threw a five-inning, five-hit, two-strikeout shutout in the win over Lights Out.

The Royals came here directly from the PG 17u WWBA National Championship in the north Atlanta suburbs where they won their pool with a 6-1-0 record, won a first-round playoff game and then were eliminated in the second round with a 2-1 loss to the 643 DP Cougars 17u.

“The experience is awesome at LakePoint, and we played pretty well,” Briggs said. “I think the hardest thing for youth players at any age-group is being able to focus day-in, day-out, and I liked having the opportunity to play one game every day. It’s very college-like, very professional-like and our kids, overall, handled it pretty well.”

Briggs said the most difficult things for any team to handle that is on a long road-trip like the one the Royals are on is for the players to bring a high dose of energy to their play every day.

There may be some jet-lag – it’s certain there will be fatigue and minor aches and pains – but regardless of how each player feels physically, he is still going to be asked to bring a certain energy level to the field when asked to do so.

“We preach to them that they’re not going to be 100 percent every day but that doesn’t mean you can say, ‘I’m out’; you keep going,” he said.

Added Cairo: “We have the pitching, we have the hitting and it’s just a matter of putting it all together and mixing it with the energy. If we bring the energy, then we’re going to have a good day.”

The official Royals Scout Team roster is made up of 13 prospects from the class of 2019 and four more from the class of 2020. The majority live in the greater Kansas City Metropolitan Area – both on the Kansas and Missouri sides – although there are players who are from Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

The team was assembled with the help of the Kansas City Royals scouting department – Briggs is a part-time scout for the organization – and it really is a group effort.

“We look for kids that would fit the mold, but also kids that we want to get to know,” Briggs said. “We tried to put together a team that we feel like could compete on a national level but it’s also (an effort) to get to know some of these kids.”

Ten of the rostered prospects have committed to NCAA D-I schools and 13 are ranked in the top-500 nationally in the 2019 and 2020 classes.

Cairo, an LSU commit from Clearwater, Fla., is the top 2019 at No. 181. Marcus Smith (Michigan, Kansas City, Kan.) is at No. 246, Quinton Hall (Wichita State, Shawnee, Kan.) is at No. 383 and Braxton Bragg (Nebraska, Kansas City, Mo.) comes in at No. 455.

Six 2019s – Daniel Hammond (Prairie Village, Kan.), Mateo Martinez (Wichita State, Wichita, Kan.), Carter Rustad (San Diego, Kansas City, Mo.), Drew Mackie (Texas Tech, Liberty, Mo.), Cameron Hansen (Hendersonville, Tenn.) and Kirby Connell (Tennessee, Blacksburg, S.C.) – are all ranked as top-500s.

The 2020s are led by the uncommitted Moore (Leawood, Kan.) at No. 20, Kevin Karstetter (Florida Atlantic, State College, Pa.) at No. 173 and Heston Tole (Arkansas, Bowie, Texas) at No. 174. The roster has stayed intact throughout the summer, although there have been add-ons from time-time.

“With any team there are leaders, and we’d like to grow more leaders,” Briggs said. “We’re trying to develop people, so if we develop good people and they become leaders, then we get more energy on the field and we feed off each other and everything becomes a much more positive experience.”

Obviously, the players have gotten to know each other very well and the experience is something that will ultimately help them down the road.

“We’re hard-working but fun; we have fun with it,” Cairo said of the group’s personality. “We get done what we need to get done and then we enjoy every minute of it with each other. … We come out here as a family competing with each other and pushing for each other and pulling for each other and giving it our best effort all the time.”

After winning 7-of-9 games in Atlanta last week and two of their first three here to kick off this week, the Royals Scout Team is feeling good about carrying some momentum into its next three pool-play games Wednesday and Thursday. Momentum – and the confidence it brings – is huge in PG national championship events like the 17u BCS.

“You take it pitch-by-pitch and you build up good innings and you end up getting wins, and you try to stack those up; it builds team chemistry,” Moore said. “Obviously, we’re with the team (members) every day, we eat dinner together and we have roommates, so you can build off of each win.”

On days like Tuesday when the Royals only played the one game in the morning, Moore said the players will go back to the hotel where they are given several hours of personal time to pretty much do what they want to do before dinner.

They might do something together as a team during the evening hours, maybe take in a Fort Myers Miracles game or something along those lines. And, although separated by a year in school and a lot of geography – Moore is from Leawood, Kan., and Cairo from Clearwater, Fla. – the two infielders have become good friends.

“Me and Christian can play up the middle and it’s fun to play with him. We both kind of build off of each other and we try to one-up each other in the infield because we like to think we’re pretty good,” Moore said with a laugh and a smile.

Briggs and the other people responsible for putting this team together – Robert Moore is the son of the K.C. Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, who was spotted at the 5-Plex Tuesday morning – are thrilled they have been given the opportunity to put their guys from the Midwest up against the top guys from the Southeast and other regions.

As a hitter, Briggs contends, you have to face the best arms that are out there, and his hitters from Kansas and Missouri got to do just that both last week in North Georgia and this week in Southwest Florida.

“The goal is always to win but it’s also to develop people,” Briggs said. “We want to develop players to help them on their path where ever it is, professional or college baseball. We believe that every single one of the kids on our roster will play college baseball.”

The hardest part, he went on to say, is for the young players to realize that just because they might be committed to a certain school the job is finished. The reality is they have to continue to work in order to get where ever it is they want to go.

If the opportunity presents itself to head off to pro ball right out of high school? It’s going to be a real big struggle. Plan to head off to college programs in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 or any other level? That will be a struggle, as well.

“We want to help them understand that they’ve just got to keep going,” Briggs said. “Whatever personal skills they have … will help them much further down the road than what your (baseball) talent level is.”

“There’s always something new to learn” Cairo added. “When you think you’ve got it figured out, there’s always something new. Baseball is really humbling and it humbles you (quickly), especially when you think you’re on top of the world; you never know what’s going to happen.”

This same Royals Scout Team roster – with a couple of additional arms added for pitching depth – will be in the Phoenix-area next week to take part in the 17u Perfect Game World Series. It’s PG’s most exclusive 17u tournament event with invitations extended to only 35 of the top programs in the country, many from the West Coast.

The Royals Scout Team players and coaches are especially excited about attending the event because it is being held at the Peoria (Ariz.) Sports Complex this year, the MLB spring training home of the Mariners and Padres. Peoria is not far at all from the K.C. Royals’ spring training complex in Surprise, Ariz., and the team will have access to the Surprise facility to hold practices and do workouts.

They’re hoping to use both the PG 17u WWBA and the PG 17u BCS as launching pads into the 17u PGWS and rightfully so. Because of its exclusivity, winning national championship rings at the PG World Series has become somewhat of a bucket-list item for the nation’s top travel ball programs.

“We’re really trying build off of this (event) and take it to the World Series in Arizona,” Moore said. “We don’t want to completely burn our pitching (here) but we want to get our at-bats in; we want to have some confidence going into the World Series.”

And, hey, what’s another seven days on the road when you’re amongst friends and family and playing the game you love.

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