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Summer Collegiate  | Story  | 7/9/2011

Team USA plays 2 in Omaha

Patrick Ebert     

OMAHA, Neb. – It was hard not to feel a little patriotic watching the Collegiate National Team take on Team Japan at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. The rationale frame of mind told me I was there to see the talent on the field, a wealth of talent that will help shape both the 2012 and 2013 draft classes.

Four days removed from Independence Day, like the rest of the people in attendance, I couldn't help but feel a little excited when designated hitter Brian Johnson clubbed a solo shot over the left field fence to lead off the bottom of the ninth with Team USA trailing Team Japan 6-1. The excitement continued with the next hitter, Josh Elander, who hit a sharp single up the middle, with more and more members of the crowd chanting, 'U.S.A., U.S.A.'

Unfortunately, the scoring would end with Johnson's home run, as Team Japan re-grouped to complete a 6-2 victory over the the Collegiate National Team.

It was the second year in a row in which the two teams had met in Omaha, playing at Rosenblatt last summer before the new home of the College World Series was opened earlier this year.

The teams played two games on this day, finishing a game that was postponed by rain on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. In what turned out to be a rain delay that fell just shy of two days, game one began at 3:30 in the afternoon in the bottom of the third inning with Arizona State right-hander Brady Rodgers taking the mound to pick up where he left off.

The pitching on both sides dictated both games, as runs were hard to come by, even when ripe opportunities presented themselves.

If you have ever watched any Japanese team play, something the World Baseball Classic has given baseball fans across the world the opportunity to do, you will know the style of baseball played doesn't exactly mirror that we Americans are accustomed to. The rules of the game are the same, but games are played one pitch at a time. If you aren't prepared to grind each and every pitch, every out and every inning out, it's unlikely you're going to find yourself on top against an incredibly disciplined style of play.

And while the Collegiate National Team's patience held true during the first three games of the five-game series, game one in Omaha finished in a 1-1 tie after 10 before Team Japan took the final game.

“They're really good,” LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman said of the Team Japan pitching staff. “All of their pitchers throw cutters. They're all mechanically sound and they all pound the strike zone and throw the ball wherever they need to in any situation.

“We did win the series, but every single game was close. There were some big innings that we had that put them away at times, but they always came back. They always had heart, they never laid down, and that shows what kind of character they had. They're the best in Japan, and we're the best in the U.S., so you expect a great matchup.”

“Their pitchability is amazing,” added Cal State Fullerton outfielder Michael Lorenzen. “One of their guys was throwing a 89 mile-per-hour cutter and hitting his spots.

Those (players) are so awesome. We've gotten to know most of them, and they're having a good time, we're having a good time, and it's more than baseball right now.”

This year is a little different for the Collegiate National Team, since no international travel was scheduled. After the five-game series against Team Japan, the team's summer is over. Some players intend to head to other summer collegiate wood bat leagues, while others intend to head home to get some much needed rest.

I'm going home,” Gausman said of the rest of his summer. “Coaches order, time to rest up.”

Lorezen has similar plans.

“I'm going home and I will be working out. I have some goals that I need to accomplish for the next season. I know everyone says that you need to get bigger, faster and stronger, but I need to get bigger, faster and a lot stronger, so that's the goal for the rest of the summer.”

Perfect Game's presence

We at Perfect Game always likes to keep tabs on the players that we have directly crossed paths with. From our player of the day features to looking at how many alums are participating in the Future's Game as part of the league's All-Star Game festivities, it's hard not to be proud of just how much we are involved with every level of baseball.

Of the 22 players that took the field on Friday in Omaha, 17 had previously attended one of our events. Seven of those had been at one of our National Showcases, and two were members of the 2009 Aflac All-American Classic.

With all but two players (Kevin Gausman, Michael Wacha) participating in the two games played in Omaha, here's a quick peak at those 17 players and what they have been up to since crossing paths with ours.

Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
Appel is currently one of the top projected prospects for the 2012 draft, and is an early candidate to go first overall. It isn't a huge surprise that Appel's velocity, which sat in the upper-90s against the New England Collegiate League All-Stars at Fenway Park, has climbed as it has since throwing in the low-90s at the 2008 National Showcase. His athleticism and projectability were evident then, and he now serves as the Friday ace for a Stanford team that advanced to the Super Regionals. He wasn't as electric in Omaha as he was at Fenway two weeks ago, but threw roughly a half-dozen mid-90s fastballs down in the zone to quickly record three straight 4-3 groundouts.

Josh Elander, C/OF, TCU
A sturdy athlete with a strong, compact frame, Elander has been a promising prospect before he stepped onto Texas Christian's campus as part of the same class that included Matt Purke. He was the Horned Frogs' second leading hitter each of the past two springs, and has more power potential than his seven career collegiate home runs indicate.

Dominic Ficociello, 1B/3B, Arkansas
Ficociello's advanced approach to hitting was on display during his freshman year for the Razorbacks, leading the team in batting. A switch-hitter, his approach and swing is similar to that of former Arkansas infielder Zach Cox. Like Cox, not only does Ficociello excel at going with pitches up the middle and the other way, but he also has the ability to drive the ball down the lines. He is built tall and lean with broad shoulders, a perfect recipe to add to his current power potential.

Nolan Fontana, SS, Florida
It was just over a week since Fontana's last appearance at TD Ameritrade Park playing in the championship series at the College World Series. His defensive prowess was on display at the 2008 National Showcase, as he continues to make playing the middle infield look easy. With a patient approach and a line drive swing, Fontana served as the catalyst atop the lineup for both the Gators and Team USA.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
One of the most projectable pitchers available in the 2010 draft class, Gausman went unsigned as the Dodgers' sixth-round pick honoring his commitment to LSU. With a relatively unexperienced Tigers staff, he was asked to step in immediately during his freshman year to contribute as a weekend starter, and performed admirably. He has flirted with triple digits since topping out at 94 at both the 2009 National Showcase and the Aflac All-American Classic the same summer, and continues to have one of the highest upsides of any player eligible for next year's draft as a draft-eligible sophomore.

Brian Johnson, LHP/1B, Florida
After suffering a concussion down the stretch as part of Florida's championship series run, Johnson was relegated to designated hitter duties, a role he continued with the Collegiate National Team. With a tall, physically mature frame, his upside remains higher on the mound, but he employs one of the more advanced approaches at the plate of any college hitter. He put an easy swing on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth inning on the home run mentioned above to drive a ball the opposite way over the left-field fence.

Branden Kline, RHP, Virginia
Like Fontana, Kline was in Omaha for the College World Series, where he enjoyed a late inning showdown between Matt Price and the eventual CWS champion South Carolina Gamecocks in one of the most memorable CWS games ever played. With a tall, projectable frame and long, strong limbs, Kline sits in the low-90s with his fastball while also throwing a nasty low-80s slider. That combination led to 18 saves for the Cavaliers last spring, and may put him a position to serve as a weekend starter next year.

Michael Lorenzen, OF, Cal State Fullerton
Lorenzen is the second member of this year's Collegiate National Team that had played in the 2009 Aflac All-American Classic, and he also participated in the National Showcase the same summer. His exciting five-tool potential continues to be on display, as he was named to numerous freshman all-american teams, as well as earning Big West Freshman of the Year honors, after leading the Titans in hitting with a .342 batting average.

Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State
The 2008 National Showcase is well represented among this group, which includes Marrero, who continues to add strength, and subsequent power potential, to his lean, athletic frame. He has put up big numbers at the plate with a knack for the big hit, for both Arizona State and Team USA, since his freshman year. It was no surprise that when faced with a tie-breaker in the 10th inning of the first game played in Omaha, in which runners were placed at first and second, that Marrero was the choice of Manager Tim Jamieson to lead off the inning. Marrero is currently considered to be among the prospects most likely to be selected among the top 10 overall picks in next year's draft.

Hoby Milner, LHP, Texas
Built with a tall and lanky yet wiry strong frame, Milner was turned to pitch out of the bullpen in both games played in Omaha. He served as a stalwart out of the Longhorns' bullpen during his freshman year in 2010, and assumed a more crucial swing role last spring. Milner, who throws in the upper-80s with a big breaking curveball, may be looked upon as a weekend starter next year for a Texas team looking to redeem themselves after a quick exit from the College World Series this year.

Andrew Mitchell, RHP, TCU
Mitchell was thrust into a more crucial role for the Horned Frogs when teammate Matt Purke was shut down for a few weeks with shoulder fatigue. Mitchell continues an impressive trend of pitching wealth that Texas Christian has been developing in recent years, with a 6-1, 2.84 ERA season as a freshman. Assuming a role out of Team USA's bullpen, Mitchell continued to impress with an aggressive, bulldog approach and a very good command of a upper-80s to low-90s fastball.

Tom Murphy, C, Buffalo
A natural leader, Murphy is a good fit behind the plate at a position that is always in demand at every level of the game. Putting up big numbers in two years while hailing from a non-traditional baseball powerhouse, he had the opportunity to showcase his skills among the best college players in the nation, and made the most of that opportunity, albeit in limited duty.

Tyler Naquin, OF, Texas A&M
Naquin and former Aflac All-American Krey Bratsen formed a formidable duo for the Aggies last spring, who like the Longhorns, were ushered out of the College World Series much more quickly than either team hailing from Texas would have liked to have seen. Naquin, a left-handed hitter, has very good bat speed and easy power potential, drilling one fastball earlier in the week the opposite way high off the wall at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a double.

Matt Reynolds, 3B, Arkansas
Reynolds didn't enjoy the season that his teammate Dominic Ficociello did at the University of Arkansas statistically, but he still proved to be plenty productive at the plate. For Team USA, he showed good actions at third base with a strong arm, and making a nice charging, bare-handed play against Team Japan. Reynolds also showed good bat speed at the plate, drilling a long single to right-center in the first game played on Friday.

Brady Rodgers, RHP, Arizona State
The theme of teammates continues to grace the Collegiate National Team's roster, with 22 players coming from only 13 different schools. Rodgers of course plays with Deven Marrero at Arizona State, and was part of a talented recruiting class that included current Sun Devils Jake Barrett, Andrew Aplin and Alex Blackford. Rodgers is known more for his command than his raw stuff, and took the mound in the first game as mentioned above. He threw strikes and worked the bottom half of the zone with a 88-91 fastball, a sharp 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup that sat around 80 mph.

Marcus Stroman, RHP/IF, Duke
Entering the day recording 16 of the 20 outs via strikeout, Stroman was arguably the most exciting player on the Collegiate National Team. He generates unusual 93-94 mph velocity for a 5-foot-9, 175-pound athlete that also has served as an infielder at both the high school and college levels. His nasty low-80s slider is also a plus pitch, and after he was named the ACC Freshman of the Year for Duke in 2010, he went on to be named a Cape All-Star last summer by recording 11 saves in 11 chances for the Orleans Firebirds. Stroman earned high praise at the 2008 National Showcase for his five-tool potential and electric arm on the mound, and received MVP honors for Team USA in the series against Team Japan.

Erich Weiss, IF, Texas
It's easy watching Weiss at the plate why he was so successful during his freshman year for the Longhorns, leading the team with a .348 batting average. Like many of the Collegiate National players, he employed a very patient and disciplined approach at the plate, taking pitches while not afraid to work from down in the count while waiting for a good pitch to drive. A tall, projectable athlete, Weiss presented one of the better, pro-style bodies, and joined Ficociello and Corey Knebel on Kendall Roger's Freshman All-American team.