Tournaments | Story | 10/26/2020

Roos American '23 rock the Worlds

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Aidan Miller (Perfect Game)

JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., the MLB Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox, served as the host venue for the 2019 Perfect Game 14u Select Baseball Festival, an all-star weekend for 40 of the top age-eligible 14u prospects who had been invited to the event to showcase their skills.

Held over the Labor Day Weekend, that 14u Select Fest featured the talents of four elite prospects who had spent the summer of ’19 playing for the Tampa-based Top Tier Roos American 2023, a team that was starting to generate headlines based on its wonderful winning ways.

Third baseman/right-hander Aidan Miller, middle-infielder/right-hander Cade Kurland, shortstop/righty Steven Milam and catcher/outfielder Colton Wombles were all at jetBlue Park that weekend after helping the Roos American 2023 finish 39-6-3 during the summer.

There isn’t much an outstanding player enjoys more than being around other outstanding players and that was certainly the case for Miller, Kurland, Milam and Wombles. A full summer spent rubbing shoulders with dozens of other top guys from the class of 2023 (and older) had rubbed off on the quartet and honed their humility.

“I think the way these kids process that is the right way,” Top Tier Roos American 2023 manager/general manager Jason Miller told PG during a telephone conversation late last week. “They’re not looking for accolades from it; they don’t think they’re better than their other peers in the dugout or the other kids across the diamond.”

A statement of fact, to be sure, but it’s also true that after taking part in the PG 14u Select Fest, that quartet and a close and comfortable group of around five or six other teammates proved time and again from October 2019 through October 2020 they were among the best nationally in their 15u/16u age group.

It started when they took home the title at the 2019 PG WWBA Freshman World Championship in West Palm Beach, Fla., continued through a challenging but successful summer of 2020 and culminated with championship-caliber performances at a pair of WWBA World championships in Fort Myers.

More specifically, the Top Tier Roos American 2023 captured the crown at the PG WWBA Sophomore World Championship the last week of September and then reached the final-four at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship the first week of October; the same 10-man roster was used at both events.

“The Underclass, for us, was kind of icing on the cake,” Miller said when asked to reflect on that amazing two-week stretch in Fort Myers. “We went into that kind of limping from the Sophomore and obviously did a lot better than I think anybody expected us to do; that was a lot of fun.”

Eight of the top guys who played key roles on the ’19 Freshman World championship team were on this year’s Sophomore World championship team, including Miller, Kurland, Milam and Wombles; Miller was the MV Player at the ’19 Freshman and the other three were ‘Elite’ all-tournament team performers.

Aidan Miller, Jason’s son, is an Arkansas commit ranked the No. 3 overall national prospect in his class and the No. 2 third baseman behind Georgia product Cam Collier. Shortstop Cade Kurland is a Florida commit ranked Nos. 14/3; shortstop Steven Milam is an LSU commit ranked Nos. 29/6 and catcher Colton Wombles is an Auburn recruit ranked Nos. 33/6.

Milam was the MV Player at the WWBA Sophomore World and a co-MVP at the WWBA Underclass World. He was joined on the all-tournament team at both events by Miller, Kurland, Wombles, catcher/infielder Kodi Deskins (No. 121, Miami); right-hander/outfielder Anthony Gualemi (No. 141, uncommit); right-hander/infielder Liam Peterson (t-1000, uncommit) and left-hander/first baseman Cristofer Walley (No. 455, uncommit); right-hander/utility Tommy Haggerty was all-tournament at the WWBA Sophomore.

And that’s it, really. Include left-hander/outfielder Wesley Mendes (No. 91, uncommit), righthander/utility Landen Maroudis  (No. 216, N.C. State) and right-hander/middle-infielder Landon Dorman on that list and you’ve got the entire Roos American 2023 roster.

“It’s a special group,” Jason Miller said. “They all pitch for the most part, they all are willing and able to play multiple positions and for me, as kind of the architect of putting this team together in the beginning, they’re all made up of the same character. They’re all about team-first and winning. They’re always willing to do whatever they need to do … for the greater good of the team.”

With this team, Miller explained, it all starts with the makeup of the players and their families that have remained committed to the program. It’s not uncommon in today’s travel ball world to see players jump from team to team with each new season and some may even switch in-season. The Roos American 2023 have been fortunate in that this group has stayed mostly intact the last two seasons.

“Obviously, because of how they perform on the field they all have that tremendous opportunity to play at the next level and possibly beyond that,” Miller said. “From a player and family perspective, everyone was really comfortable in their own skin to know that the grass wasn’t going to be greener someplace else.”

The Top Tier Roos program is based in Tampa and is an affiliate of the Top Tier Baseball organization that is headquartered in McCook, Ill. Its players start out playing in the Kangaroo Court Roos youth program at the 9u through 14u level and then change uniforms and become Top Tier Roos.

The TT Roos field four competitive teams in the 15u, 16u and 17u age divisions and Jason Miller acts as the director/general manager of the Florida operation in addition to his coaching duties.

The group of players that formed the core of this 2020 version of the Roos American 2023 first came together at the 10u level and have grown and prospered as a unit for the past half-decade. It’s a team that really entered the Perfect Game arena at a full sprint after winning numerous national championships at the 11u and 12u level.

Playing under the Kangaroo Court Roos banner the team claimed three PG Youth Tournament Championships at the 11u and 13u levels, one each in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It was also at the 13u level that the team moved up to the 60/90 fields and immediately started earning the respect of their opponents – and college recruiters.

After winning the PG 13u Fall World Series in 2017, the Roos finished as runner-up at the 2018 PG 13u World Series. Miller was the MV Player at the event and Deskins and Kurland joined him on the all-tournament team.

They took the next step the following year when they claimed the championship at the PG 14u World Series with Wombles bringing home the MVP award; Deskins, Kurland and Miller were also all-tournament.

“From my perspective, in the biggest of the events at the time in each of those age groups for this team, they’ve demonstrated they were the last team standing for the most part,” Jason Miller said. “You can’t win ‘em all, but the big ones we kind of plan for every year.”

The head of steam the team built from winning the WWBA Freshman World Championship title in October 2019 dissipated quickly when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all baseball activities in the spring and through early summer.

Once PG was able to get its tournament schedule up and running, the Roos American 2023 jumped out of the gate and finished as co-champs with a 6-0-1 mark at the PG 15u National Elite Championship in Hoover, Ala. (the scheduled championship game against 5 Star National 15u Dobbs was rained out).

The next stop was the PG BCS 15u National Championship in Fort Myers the second week of July where they finished 6-2-0 after a loss in the quarterfinals. The Top Tier Roos headed to Sanford, Fla., a little over a week later to compete at the PG 15u World Series where they were forced to face an unfamiliar reality: no playoff berth.

Despite outscoring their five pool-play opponents by a combined 27-12, a pair of one-run losses left them with a 3-2-0 mark and in third place in the final pool standings. Miller couldn’t recall another tournament at which this team had failed to advance out of its pool, dating back to when they were playing at the 11u level. It proved to be a wake-up call.

“We had experienced success but I think experiencing some adversity in the (PG) World Series was good for us to get our mojo back heading into the fall,” he said. “They were hungry – they were hungry to get back out there and get after what they thought was theirs.”

What followed was an 8-0-0 run to the championship at the WWBA Sophomore World and a 6-1-1 run to a third-place finish at the WWBA Underclass World. The TT Roos American 2023 wrapped up the PG summer and fall seasons with a combined 39-7-3 record, with one of the ties coming from the rained-out championship game at the 15u National Elite Championship.

The roster is built around Florida kids, most of whom live and go to school in the Tampa Bay area. Wombles joined the program from his home in Salem, Ala., while Milam is the real outlier, calling Las Cruces, N.M., home.

It was no accident that Milam, the No. 1-ranked 2023 prospect in New Mexico, wound up playing with the Top Tier Roos American 2023, Aidan Miller and Milam had been teammates on USA Baseball national teams since their 12u playing days.

They were also teammates – along with Wombles – on the USA Baseball 15u National Team that won the gold medal at the 2019 WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup Americas played in Mexico. Milam has been part of the Top Tier Roos program for a full year now and has been an obvious difference-maker.

With Milam at short and Kurland at second, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented up-the-middle tandem at the now-16u level. Add Miller at third and you have three 2023 prospects ranked Nos. 3, 29 and 14 looking left to right from home plate.

“It’s a lot of fun to watch and I think from a scouting perspective or a fan perspective, to watch the way those guys carry themselves and with the instincts they have … is special,” Jason Miller said. “You can’t really coach that in-game. These kids have the makeup for that, they understand the game and it’s fun to just sit back and watch them do their thing.”

Jason Miller, a catcher and righ-handed pitcher, was a 24th round draft pick of the Rangers in the 1994 MLB June Amateur Draft and played one season in the minor leagues. Now an entrepreneur in the Tampa Bay area, Jason and his wife Jennifer are also the parents of former PG standout Jackson Miller.

Jackson was a second round pick of the Reds right out of J.W. Mitchell HS in New Port Richey, Fla., in this year’s truncated draft. Jackson also played in the inaugural PG 14u Baseball Select Festival in 2016 making he and Aidan the only brothers invited to the event in different years (twin brothers have played in the same year).

“They’re both very special baseball players and they’ve been in the right environment to experience as much success as they’ve had,” Jason said of his sons. “They’re just super humble and for me that’s the key.”

The Top Tier Roos American 2023 will head into the 2021 PG summer season with an even bigger head of steam than they had coming into the delayed 2020 season. Imagine how much the players’ level of play will be enhanced next summer if they’re given the opportunity to enjoy an uninterrupted high school season in the spring.

The Roos American will presumably return with their four 2019 PG Select Fest alumni intact, a quartet of talent that has already excelled on so many of amateur baseball’s biggest and brightest stages. They and their Roos American teammates not only have learned how to win important baseball games but their experiences have taught them how to win with humility.

“When you’ve got that kind of a mix of talent and character and makeup it makes for a special recipe and that’s what we’ve experienced,” Jason Miller said. “It’s been a lot of fun coaching these kids since they were little. … We’re super excited about going into ’21; for us and this group, we’re getting close to the end of the road.”

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