Tournaments | Story | 10/13/2019

PGAA's call Jupiter home

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Yohandy Morales (Perfect Game)

JUPITER, Fla. – First round, second round and quarterfinal round playoff games were contested at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship at the Roger Dean MLB spring training complex on Sunday, so PG decided to use the early part of the day to catch up with a handful of PG All-Americans whose teams had advanced in to the 32-team bracket-play.

There were 16 prospects that met that criteria, so there were plenty to choose from. What follows are some snippets from conversations with three of these highly regarded class of 2020 prospects, and it’s uniquely interesting to hear how often these top prospects use the word “brotherhood” when describing their Jupiter experiences.

Yohandy Morales

It didn’t take long for Yohandy Morales to get acclimated to his surroundings at the PG WWBA World Championship late Saturday morning.

He walked into the Roger Dean Complex through the entrance on the Cardinals’ side of the MLB spring training facility, greeted every one of his Banditos Scout Team 2020 teammates who had already gathered with a hand-slap and a quick hug and then began walking toward the batting cages a fair distance away.

As he made that stroll with another Bandito, he stopped frequently along the way to greet players from other teams – no one was a stranger it seemed. The more he walked, the more people he interacted with, including adults. But the fellow players meant the most.

“It’s a brotherhood; these are all my brothers,” Morales told PG after he arrived at the cages. “Throughout the year you play with most of these guys, so you see what’s up with them and it’s an amazing experience. You’re with a lot of your friends and brothers that you’ve been through a lot with.”

Morales is a 6-foot-4, 195-pound 2020 shortstop/third baseman from Miami, and a senior at G. Holmes High School. He came into Jupiter as the No. 21-ranked overall national prospect in his class and is a U. of Miami commit.

If Morales seems at ease in this environment, there’s good reason for it. He was at both the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship and the PG WWBA World Championship with the underclass and upperclass Banditos Scout Teams in 2018, so he can afford to take the “been here, done that” approach to these super-sized scouting events.

“This is probably the best tournament that I’ve ever been to,” he said. “All the scouts, the atmosphere, all the amazing teams that we play. There’s really a lot of competition around here, so it’s my favorite event of the year.”

That’s saying something considering this is the 24th PG event Morales has attended during his career, and his sixth PG WWBA tournament with Ray DeLeon and the Houston-based Banditos Baseball organization.

The program extended its reach into Florida several years ago but this Banditos Scout Team 2020 roster was not representative of that. It was all Texas boys with a handful who call Louisiana towns home, and also Morales, the only Florida kid who can stand up and be counted.

“This is a Texas team but I’ve been with them for a while and I’ve stuck with them,” he said. “I love this group. It feels like I’ve played with them my whole life so it’s like a brotherhood.”

He said the same thing about the players he met while in San Diego at the PG All-American Classic, many of whom he’s had a chance to catch-up with this weekend. He called the Classic a “major league experience” and when he found out he had been selected to be a part of the event, he said he was “joyful” and “speechless.”

Morales also told PG he was thrilled to be in the company of so many other prized prospects in San Diego, 20 of whom carried rankings even higher than his No. 21. Not that he noticed.

“I don’t worry about the rankings and all that,” he said. “I want to be me, myself, and show everybody the type of player that I am. I’ve been working on staying back on balls and it’s been working pretty well this tournament.”

As Morales’ profile has continued to rise and shine, there have been comparisons made to San Diego Padres superstar third baseman Manny Machado; he’s been made aware of them.

“I’ve heard (the) Manny Machado (comp) a lot,” Morales said. “I like Manny Machado … and I follow him and I watch a lot of highlights on him, so I model my game (after) him. But it’s crazy to hear that from people; at the end of the day I want to be myself, Yohandy Morales.”

The Banditos Scout Team 2020 earned the playoffs’ No. 7 seed after fighting their way past three pool-play opponents by a combined score of 15-5 but then ran into some misfortune. The highly regarded and highly touted MLB Breakthrough Series 2020 team was tied in its final pool-play game on Saturday and relegated to the playoffs’ No. 26 seed; it was the Banditos’ first-round opponent.

The result was a 3-1 setback in which the Banditos managed just one hit – a lead-off solo home run from Tre Richardson in the bottom of the first – that sent the Texas boys (plus Morales) packing.

Morales was pretty darn good here, though, smacking a double and collecting three singles in nine at-bats (.444) while driving in four runs. That’s not a bad way to close-out a PG career.

“Perfect Game is amazing,” he said. “They’ve treated me and everybody else here very well.”

Jake Deleo

Based on past performance alone, the simple act of slipping on a Dirtbags’ uniform at the PG WWBA World Championship can be an inflating experience. It is, after all, a North Carolina-based program that has won two Jupiter championships in the last 10 years.

It is an especially enjoyable happening for top Connecticut outfield prospect Jake Deleo, who began playing for Andy Partin’s Dirtbags in June.

“It’s been so much fun this entire year, (playing) summer ball, fall ball with all the boys,” Deleo told PG on Sunday, speaking from the Cardinals’ side of the Roger Dean MLB spring training complex. “It’s been awesome playing with such a really good team with really good coaches that push you every at-bat, every game to be even better.”

Deleo, who calls Norwalk, Conn., home and is a senior at Avon Old Farms High School, is back in Jupiter for a second straight year, having earned all-tournament recognition last year while playing for the U.S. Elite 2019 National.

He is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound prospect ranked No. 33 nationally, a top guy from the Northeast who has committed to Georgia Tech.

“Playing in Jupiter is really cool just because there’s so many scouts, so many people here to watch you,” Deleo said. “You get to play your game and you get to show people what your game is really about.

“It’s about what you do best and you get to show it off in front of all of these people and try to win a (PG) national championship,” he continued. “It’s definitely one of the cooler tournaments and probably the coolest tournament of the year.”

Deleo especially enjoys strolling around the Roger Dean Complex and running into a lot of guys he’s played with or against throughout the summer and early fall.

The Dirtbags played an exhibition game with the Scorpions Founders Club on Thursday morning and Deleo looked over into their dugout and saw Michael Brooks, Dylan Crews, Jack O'Dowd and Zac Veen, fellow PGAAs that he has become pretty close with since the August Classic.

“So it’s been really cool to just walk around and see guys, and laugh and talk about what’s going on,” he said.

Deleo was active on the national showcase circuit this summer, attending the PG National, the East Coast Pro, the Area Code Games and, of course, the PG All-American Classic. He was impressive at every stop but it is high-stakes tournament baseball that brings out Deleo’s best.

“Those are fun to play in because it’s baseball and you’re showing off what you can do, but I thrive best in the competitive games where it’s win or go home,” he said. “You know, stealing bags and just doing the little things that help propel your team to victory.”

The Dirtbags went 2-1-0 in pool-play and went into the playoffs’ as the No. 22 seed. They rallied to beat the No. 11 Reds Midwest Scout Team 8-5 after trailing 4-0 in a first-round game, and then used a combined four-hit, eight-strikeout from 2021 left-hander Merritt Beeker and 2020 righty Declan Champey to get past No. 27 Baseball U, 1-0, in the second round.

Deleo went 5-for-13 (.313) with a double, four singles, five RBI and three runs scored in those first five games.

“It’s a loose dugout but everybody is right in the game,” he said of playing with the Dirtbags. “We’re playing as hard as we can but we’re not tight, and even in big games it’s like we’ve all kind of been there, we’re experienced, we’ve played in a lot of playoff games against a bunch of really good teams, so we’re used to it.”

This 18-year-old from Connecticut has an air of maturity about him, both when he plays and when he speaks. He knows this is his 25th and final PG event of his career, which is kind of bittersweet for a kid who will fit in well at academically stringent Georgia Tech, but who, as a highly regarded draft prospect, may never see a classroom there.

“Coming here I was kind of dreading it,” Deleo said. “Not because I dreaded playing baseball – baseball  is the most fun thing to do for me – but I dreaded it being the first of the last. My first game is going to be my last first game at a Perfect Game tournament.

“You go to other tournaments and they’re fun and you play baseball but these are something special because Perfect Game has built such a name; all the top competition and all the top players are here.”

Brandon Fields

By the time Saturday night rolled around at the PG WWBA World Championship at the Roger Dean MLB spring training complex, top two-sport phenom Brandon Fields could have already considered it a pretty darn good weekend.

He was here on Thursday and got an at-bat in the Giants Scout Team-FTB’s 5-4 pool-play opening win over Team Georgia 2020 National. He then high-tailed it back home to Orlando so he could join his football teammates at Dr. Phillips High School for a rivalry game against Olympia High School.

The Dr. Phillips Panthers prevailed in that game by a 38-3 count, thanks in no small part to a 172-yard, two touchdown performance from Fields, a star senior running back who has designs on possibly playing both baseball and football at South Carolina, where he has committed.

He got back here early enough on Saturday to play in the GST-FTB’s third pool-play game and slugged a solo home run as part of a five-run sixth inning that lifted FTB to a 5-2, pool championship-clinching victory over the Dallas Tigers, giving the Giants ST a No. 12 seed in the playoffs.

“I’ve always liked playing two sports since a young age,” Fields told PG on Sunday, speaking from the Marlins’ side of the RDC. “I was watching documentaries of Deon Sanders and Bo Jackson even back then … and I enjoy it. I love every facet of it.”

As at home as Fields may feel on the football field, he seems especially at home here in this environment. The 6-foot, 200-pound outfielder with bulging thighs and biceps to match, certainly looks the part of a premier two-sport standout.

It’s not unreasonable to think that both Gamecocks’ baseball coach Mark Kingston and football coach Will Muschamp would put out the welcome mat for this young man.

“There are definitely thoughts of doing both,” Fields said. “I like what Kyler Murray did at Oklahoma, I thought that was pretty cool, so I’m going to keep with it.”

But this is about baseball now, and Fields is one of 16 2019 PG All-Americans who helped his team reach the 32-team playoffs at this prestigious PG national championship tournament.

“This is definitely a neat environment; it’s very competitive,” said Fields, the ultimate competitor. “You want to come out here and have a good showing and win a ballgame with your boys. This is a brotherhood if you grew up playing with a team or with other guys from around the area. I definitely enjoy playing in this event.”

This is the 32nd PG event of Fields’ career and the third one he’s played with the Giants Scout Team-FTB this year. He had previously suited-up with them at the PG WWBA 17u Florida World Series in early June and again at the PG 17u Elite Championship in late July, where he earned all-tournament honors.

Fields also stood out at the PG National Showcase in June, running a 6.50-second 60-yard dash and throwing 93 mph from the outfield.

In the time that’s he’s been able to spend at the Roger Dean Complex, Fields has enjoyed interacting with many of the other 2019 PG All-Americans in attendance, being able to watch once again how these top 2020 prospects go about their business.

“It’s cool, but it’s humbling, too,” he said. “Seeing all these guys and the way they compete it makes you want to compete even more. Having a chance to play with (PGAA) Mario Zabala, he pushes me to play better and we push each other, so it’s definitely pretty cool.”

The Giants Scout Team-FTB opened the playoffs by beating the No. 21 Rawlings National Scout Team, 4-1, in the first round, and then stopped No. 28 Baseball Northwest 2020 in the second round.

2020 right-hander Jovan Gill (Stetson commit, No. 143-ranked), threw a complete-game three-hitter, allowing one run and striking out 11 with one walk in the win over Rawlings NST. 2020 righty Grayson Moore (Vanderbilt, No. 87) followed with a five-inning, six-strikeout, one walk four-hitter in the shutout of Baseball Northwest.

Fields doubled, singled, walked, drove in two runs and scored one in the Rawlings NST victory; in four games he went 3-for-7 (.429) with a home run, double, single, three RBI and three runs scored.

“We have a staff of arms that can really throw it,”  he said. “Position player-wise, we can all hit line drives, wreak havoc on the base paths, we can score at any time and get a rally going; we’re dangerous.”

While Brandon Fields continues to bounce from baseball fields to football fields (his last name suits him well, doesn’t it?), he’ll continue to make the mental adjustments needed to adapt to two very different sports.

There are things that translate very well between the two, of course, tangibles like speed, agility and vision, and also having to perform under some very bright lights with thousands of eyes watching your every move.

“It definitely brings out the best in me but I don’t really try to focus on that; I just try to play my game,” Fields said of the hundreds of scouts sitting in golf carts at the RDC. “For me, I don’t let it get to me because I feel like I can always be cool under pressure.”

“It’s really been a lot of fun,” he added. “this isn’t new to me, but this last high school experience is definitely one to remember, especially to be able to do it at Perfect Game event.”

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