Perhaps no event on the World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) calendar exemplifies the incredible growth in participation in WWBA events than the WWBA Underclass World Championships. The 10th annual Underclass World Championship will be held Oct. 8-11 in Fort Myers, Fla., where all of the previous championships have been held.
The event is held each year two weeks prior to the WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., and has been billed as the underclass equivalent of Jupiter. Up until 2009 it would have been hard to support that distinction based on the number of teams at the event.
In 2003, when Chet Lemon’s Juice won the title, the event had a total of 40 teams, which included 10 “Perfect Game” teams made up of individual players put together for the event. There were only three teams from outside the states of Florida, Georgia and Alabama competing.
As recently as 2008, when the All American Prospects behind co-MVPs Nick Castellanos and Yordy Cabrera took the title, there were a still respectable 65 teams playing for the title and a much better national/regional distribution of teams represented.
The explosion of interest the past two years, though, has gone well beyond anything that Perfect Game had anticipated. In 2009 (Champion: Orlando Scorpions) there were 100 teams competing for the title and the event was forced to expand well beyond the standard Fort Myers fields at Terry Park, Red Sox 5-Plex, Lee County Sports Complex (Twins) for the first time.
This year, the championship field will number approximately 140 teams. Florida alone will be represented by 51 teams and 17 states, plus Puerto Rico, will be represented. In considering the 140 teams, one must remember that 38 primarily West Coast underclass teams played in the second annual PG/Evoshield National Championship two weekends ago in Peoria, Ariz.
So that’s literally a growth from 65 teams in 2008 playing in underclass championships in October to 178!
TALENT LEVEL ALWAYS HIGH
The level of talent at the WWBA Underclass World Championship has always been incredibly high even when there were only 40 teams competing. In 2003, with only 40 teams in the field, there were at least seven players (Adrian Cardenas, Christian Colon, Max Sapp, Andrew McCutcheon, Andrew Miller, Kasey Kiker, Jemile Weeks) who went on to become first-round draft picks.
It is still too early to tell how much future draft/Major League talent will come from the most recent events, as those players are still developing and players from last year’s championship aren’t even draft eligible until next June’s draft at the earliest.
The 2007 Underclass World Championship, with 68 teams competing, was one of the most interesting from a number of different angles. Up to that point, The East Cobb Astros had pretty much owned the championship trophy, having won 4 of the 5 championships, but despite having at least five future Aflac All-Americans and three first-round draft choices on their roster, didn’t make the championship game. The Dirtbags were heavily favored to win their first WWBA championship after finishing second or third in numerous events but were upset by the McKinney (Texas) Marshalls, a team competing in its first WWBA event.
The 2007 championship has thus far produced 11 first-round draft picks (along with five second-round picks), the most of any event thus far. They include OF Mike Trout, 3B-RHP Kaleb Cowart, RHP Zach Wheeler, OF-2B DelinoDeShields Jr., 3B Bobby Borchering, LHP Jesse Biddle, C Steve Baron, C-SS Justin O’Conner, OF Jake Skole and RHP Karsten Whitson.
The nine Underclass World Championships have produced at least six future Major League players, a number that should start literally doubling every year as more of the young players work their way up baseball’s development level. Those six players include OF Jason Heyward, OF Jordan Shafer, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, 1B Gaby Sanchez, RHP Casey Coleman and OF Andrew McCutcheon.