Northwest Regional Preview
in certain parts of the country always provides a new set of
challenges. In college baseball the NCAA instituted a uniform start
date for teams at the Division I level in an attempt to level the
playing field since northern teams have difficulty getting outside or
even finding indoor facilities to practice, much less play games
during the winter months.
high school players across the country are presented with a
completely different challenge in that the their entire state doesn't even
field a baseball program at the high school level.
such as Montana and Wyoming are among those that don't field high
school baseball teams, making it that much more difficult for players to
gain the exposure necessary to play at the college level and/or draw
the interest of scouts to be selected in the MLB draft.
such states aren't known for producing high level talent, but that
hasn't been the case in Montana the past few years.
the 2011 draft approached, two players from the Northwest emerged that
had a real chance to be taken in the early rounds of the draft. One
of those, Brandon Nimmo of Cheyenne, was the New York Mets first round pick, becoming the highest drafted player from Wyoming. Another, Ben
Roberts of Missoula, Mont. was ranked as the 79th best high school player in the nation which led to him being selected
in the seventh round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Roberts and the
Diamondbacks did not agree to terms, as Roberts opted to honor his
commitment to Washington State where he currently has red-shirted
during his first year in college.
year there are three members of the high school class of 2012, Justin
Black (ranked 328th nationally), Caleb Frare (385) and Andrew Sopko (491) ranked among Perfect Game's top 500 prospects. For the most part, these players need to take
it upon themselves to make sure they are recognized by the scouting
and college recruiting communities, as it is rare for those involved
in those industries to come to Montana in an attempt to unearth
American Legion baseball is big in these states, that doesn't always
help young players gain exposure, placing an increased importance on traveling
either to locations with a warmer climate or to Washington where more
scouts are located.
in California have scouts that live there, but I have to travel to
get seen,” Justin Black recently said when asked about the
obstacles he has to overcome given that he's from Billings, Mont. “I
went to a pro day in Seattle for a weekend where all of the Northwest
scouts were, and they watched me worked out. It's good in that it
pushes me to get better.”
only do such players have to travel, but they also have to be
creative in the way they work out, pushing themselves harder than
most in an attempt to fulfill their dreams.
wake up in the morning at 4:30 to run and do yoga,” Black added of
his daily routine. “When I get out (of school) I'll go work out
for two hours and then I'll hit for two or three hours. So it drives
me, because I want to make it. I want to be one of the people known
for baseball in my area. It would be a great honor, and it helps
push me further.
I started hitting at a facility downtown, I had a cage in my barn.
It's not heated, so it would be below zero outside, and we had some
space heaters that didn't do anything. I would go hit with my dad
and our head coach, and I did that in sub-zero degree temperatures.
My coach would say, “If you can hit a ball in sub-zero, you can hit
a ball when it's 80 degrees.”
pitcher Caleb Frare of Miles City, Mont. has similar experiences
trying to get his repetitions to improve his game.
dad worked for a trucking company and we used to throw in his shop,”
Frare said. “It was about 120 feet and me and my friend would go
in there and throw.
"The club team I play for put a cage and a mound
in an old grocery store. There's a cinder block wall that we can
throw against. Our club team works on low throws, so you build up to
throwing 300 feet on a line. If you threw too high you're going to
break a light.”
when players do put in the time and effort to improve as baseball
players, they also have some local pressures to overcome. American
Legion offers a legitimate opportunity for players to get time on the
field, but not always against advanced competition since they don't
travel out of the state.
Legion ball is big here,” Frare added. “However, my coaches when
I was about 10 felt that we weren't getting enough reps, so they
started this club team.
have to play out of state a lot. Montana club ball is highly frowned
upon, and because of that on our schedule we have no teams from
Montana. We play teams from Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, North and
South Dakota. We got out to Spokane (Wash.) every year. We go down
to the College World Series and play a tournament there. We get very
few home games and a lot of away games, and none of them are in our
Black and Frare as well as Missoula, Montana's Andrew Sopko were
teammates as part of the Northwest Scout Team organized by Langley
Blaze Head Coach Doug Mathiesen that participated in the 2011 WWBA
World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. last October. Black and Frare
find themselves playing a lot together at such events, even if their
hometowns are 150 miles apart from one another.
Black and I have played on a lot of teams together,” Frare said of
his experience in Jupiter. “We don't travel together, but we end
up at a lot of the same places.”
just really enjoyed it,” Frare continued. “I wanted to get down
there for the exposure because it's the biggest tournament in the
nation as far as scouting goes.
knew whatever team I had to pitch against that I'd have a good team
to pitch against. I pitched really well, as I pitched against the
No. 2 team in the nation (the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team). That showed really well for me,
as the scouts there weren't really from my area, but if they submit
their reports saying, “there's this kid from the Northwest or
Mountain West region in Montana, we need to get on him,” that
really helps me. I just had fun pitching against a really good
is the best of the best, so that was pretty big to be able to go, so
I was pretty fortunate to get to play with that team,” Black said
of his experience playing with the Northwest Scout Team.
experience has already led to more opportunities for both young
players. Both were selected to travel with the Langley Blaze during
their annual spring trip to Arizona, although Frare is unable to make
the trip. For the second straight year, the Langley Blaze will be
playing the Dominican Prospect League team next Monday on March 19 at
the Brewers spring training facility in Maryvale, Ariz. This creates
yet another opportunity for the players to showcase their abilities
in front of a large contingent of professional scouts.
I was down (in Jupiter) I played pretty well in front of the Head Coach for
the Langley Blaze (Doug Mathieson)," Black said of the opportunity to travel to Arizona. "I hit a home run and a triple in
one game that he watched and he was really impressed. (At the Arizona Fall
Classic) I broke the 60 (yard dash) record, and he just really liked
the way I played I guess and wanted to give me another shot to go play for him.
Hopefully it will further my career in baseball.”
such as Justin Black also have to travel to events to get noticed by
recruiters if they wish to continue their baseball careers such as fellow Montana native Ben Roberts, who is currently doing so at the college level at Washington State. Black has
committed to play for Nebraska, while Frare has signed with Utah.
was down in Omaha for the Cornhusker Classic,” Black said of how
his decision to commit to Nebraska transpired. “I was killing it,
I didn't get out at all. (The Nebraska coaching staff) heard my name
buzzing around and the hitting coach came and watched me play and I
played really well in front of him. I came back up here and they
offered me a scholarship that I couldn't turn down. From everything
they told me it was exactly where I wanted to be. I feel it's a
really good fit for me.”
while playing professional baseball is the ultimate goal for so many
young players, most of them recognize that playing in college is
often a necessary step and overall platform needed to accomplish that
been a lot of fun here getting in the swing of college baseball,”
Roberts recently said of his transition to playing at the college
level. “It's not quite what I'm used to, but it's good stuff."
Roberts' baseball career path progresses is a good resource for
players such as Black and Frare to take note of, as Roberts is one
step ahead of them and has gone through similar trials and
tribulations as a native of Missoula. Here is a recent account from
Roberts making the connection between what he had to do as a high
school player that led up to where he is at today as a freshman at
played my summer ball in Montana with my team. Things went pretty
well there, and I got drafted by the Diamondbacks, but we didn't
quite get things worked out with them. We didn't see eye-to-eye on a
deal, so I decided to come here and hopefully I'll come out in a few
years and begin my pro career.
out of Montana the talent level isn't too high there. We don't have
the higher caliber level pitching that most guys around here do. It
was a little bit of an adjustment, and I struggled a little (in the
fall), but my coaches have told me that I have come miles and miles
since then. I'm working on my swing, seeing some better pitching,
and it's going really well this spring. All aspects of my game have
been coming along, and my coach is pretty happy with how well and how
fast I'm improving. They brought that to my attention and said they
were excited for the next couple of years and what I could bring to
the team. I was excited to hear that from them.
think one of the main things is to get in some kind of baseball in
the fall. I came over to Washington a lot in the fall to play in
front of the scouts, which is where I got noticed. There are no
professional or collegiate (scouts/recruiters) that come over to the
Montana area, so it's really difficult to get noticed.
played on the Kansas City Royals Scout Team with Scott Ramsay.
That's where Spencer Allen (Washington State recruiting coordinator)
found me recruiting, and that's where I got a lot of attention from
scouts. That really helped. I also went to a couple of showcases
here and there that I got invited to, including yours (the 2011 PG
National Pre-Draft) in Iowa that was a big help too.
State) gave me a scholarship offer, something I was very appreciative
of and that meant a lot to me. I felt like I would get more out of
going to school. Even if baseball doesn't work out for me, my
education will kick in and I'll be able to get a job.
haven't even been here for a year, and all of my teammates and all of
the people here at Washington State are really good. If I have any
problems with anything in life, whatever it is, everyone is really
open, you can just come in and talk with them. My teammates are
really good guys, and now they're going to be life-long friends. I
think that's one of the biggest thing so far that has impacted me,
the people that I have met and how they've helped me out.
experience) is a big thing. Just being around better baseball and
knowing and seeing the little things that I may have never done make
a really big difference in the long run. The better caliber of
baseball is helpful, as I learn just by watching the other guys that
have been with the team for three or four years that have already
gone through what I am.”
so many of these players to be successful, not only do they have to
be dedicated to the game of baseball, but they also need the support
of their parents to gain the experience necessary for them to reach
parents provide the most support,” Black said. “They're the ones
paying the money for me to travel and to allow me to go to Arizona
and Florida. I'm going back to Arizona a week from today with Coach
Mathieson and the Langley Blaze. I played on the Seattle Mariners
Scout Team this fall, so the scouts (in the area) have seen me play
and play well.”
also recognized the support he has received from his family.
want to thank my dad, because he told me, “I don't care what you're
going to be, but you're going to be the best thing you can be.
Whether that's a truck driver or a baseball player or an astronaut,
you're going to be the best.” That stuck with me for a long time.”
uncle has given a lot of time to be my pitching coach,” Frare added
of the support he receives from his family. “He uses NCAA
mechanics, nutrition, mental/emotional, all of that and he's done a
very good job educating himself and certifying himself to teach it
and help me master what I need to do to get better.”