Tournaments | Story | 5/31/2019

From the Midwest to the Southeast

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Kendall Diggs (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – There are a multitude of teams from the southeast in the field at the 2019 Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational this weekend. However, one team made the 800 mile trek from Overland Park, Kansas to the Marietta, Georgia area. 

It’s the Royals Scout Team 16u squad. Led by head coach Shon Plack, the Royals are associated with the Kansas City Royals major league team where the best players from the midwest in the states of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are put together for a training opportunity.

“We’re trying to prepare these kids with more than just the exposure, but also with the development piece to baseball,” Plack said. “We have a 15 and a 17-year-old team as well. Our 17-year-old team will be down here, and it’s more geared towards our draft class. This team is really a developmental, committed, high-end players in our region to be able to get them to that 17-year-old age group.”

The team is put together using midwest area scouts and word of mouth from players. One glance at the current roster for the Royals Scout Team 16u team, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s littered with the top ranked players of the 2021 class in those four aforementioned states.

For Plack, though, that talent on the field is just one part of the equation. The other part is the off the field requirements that come with the travel from crossing multiple states.

“We believe that the player development has a lot to do with player management,” Plack said. “When we can get out of town and have these kids manage themselves, instead of being an individual, they’re more of a team when they can get out of town. They have to be on time for meals. They have to be on time for game times. They do their laundry, so there’s a lot of player management that goes on, and we can get out of town and get on the road and be a team. 

“There’s a lot of upside to more than just developing the game. These young men have to take care of some stuff on their own and know how to do that before they get to pro ball or to college.”

The glue that holds the team together both on and off the field is third baseman, Kendall Diggs. Diggs is the No. 1 ranked player in the 2021 class in Kansas. He’s now in his third year of playing with the 16u squad for the Royals Scout Team. 

So far through two games in the tournament, Diggs is 4-for-6 with two singles, a double, a triple and four RBIs out of the two-hole. He’s uses a smooth lefthanded swing to spray line drives to all parts of the park.

“I’m just trying to stay patient and stay up the middle,” Diggs said. “I usually get in trouble when I’m trying to pull, pull, pull.

“The competition down here is a lot better than it is up in KC. It’s really fun coming down here with all of our friends playing.”

For Diggs, his presence extends far beyond than just the ability that he presents at the dish and at the hot corner. Over the past three years with the Royals Scout Team, he’s aware of everything that entails the program.

“He was doing this as a 14 year old,” Plack said. “He’s kind of a vet in all of this, and he’s very well put together not just on the field, but he takes care of himself off of the field as well with nutrition and sleep and just how he manages his daily routine. He brings that experience to the other guys that this may be new for.”

On the mound for Friday afternoon’s 10-2 triumph over BigStix Gamers 2022 was Zachary McKinnis. The 6-foot-2, 182-pound righthanded hurler tossed all five innings, surrendering three hits, two runs, and one walk while striking out four batters.

McKinnis, a Missouri commit, is the No. 5 overall player from the Show Me State.

“I felt pretty good,” McKinnis said. “It was first outing of the year. My curveball was really working for me early, and kind of later my fastball. 

“It’s a great experience. Our whole team is like brothers, kind of like family… It’s just a blast to come down and play the best competition we can.”

Plack noted that it wasn’t the low- to mid-80s fastball or the sweeping curveball that impresses him the most about McKinnis, but his cerebral approach when he takes the bump.

“Zach McKinnis is academic and he’s a competitive guy,” Plack said. “That’s a great mixture and the stuff that we’re looking for for our kids. He picks up and learns quickly.”

And so the two month grind for the Royals has officially begun with a 2-0 start in pool play. It’s a model that not only takes a large chunk of commitment from the players to participate in the long travel distances, but also the parents who allow their sons to embark on the experience for the summer while traveling at times with them along the way.

“We have good buy in all the way up and down,” Plack said. “The parent piece of this is just let us have your kids for two months, and they turn their kids over to us. That’s the commitment that’s probably the biggest is trusting us with their son. It doesn’t go overlooked.”

It’s the team-aspect of baseball that the Royals emphasize throughout the entire process. Each player on the roster is one of the best 16-year-olds from their respective states, but it takes a cohesive unit to come together and compete at a high level in the Perfect Game tournaments like the Royals have been able to do in the past.

“We have to make sure we’re having these kids be better all-around baseball players instead of just the showcase tools that we can show off at any showcase,” Plack said. “We need to be the competitive team that the skills present.”

The Royals Scout Team really are a travel organization unlike many others. It’s a wild ride for these players in another summer they’ll never forget.

“It’s an honor,” Diggs said. “It’s a blast. I love it every summer.”

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