PEORIA, Ariz. - Houston Banditos top outfield prospect Nicholas Banks appeared slightly wide-eyed before the Banditos played their tournament opener at the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series late Tuesday afternoon.
The tournament showcases 16 of the top 17u teams in the country, and those teams' rosters are filled with more 130 of PG's top-500 national prospects in the class of 2013. The talent level is abundant, and Banks (2013, Tomball HS, Texas) certainly took notice.
"To be here with the best of the best, the competition isn't going to be any better (anywhere). This is the top of the top" Banks said late Tuesday afternoon from the Peoria Sports Complex, the spring training home of the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. "It's going to be fun playing against the top kids in the nation."
Just imagine how impressed Banks will be in just less than three weeks when the stage gets even bigger.
Banks is one three members of head coach Ray DeLeon's Houston Banditos team here this week that will be playing for the West Team at the 10th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings at PETCO Park in San Diego on Aug. 12.
The other Banditos selected are first baseman/right-hander Kacy Clemens (Memorial HS, Texas) and right-hander Kohl Stewart (St. Pius X HS, Texas).
"To get (invited) out to the All-American Classic, I can't even put it into words what it means to me," Banks said. "It's something I've dreamed of since I was little, so to be chosen as one of the top (prospects) in the nation, words can't describe how you feel about it."
Banks (6-feet-2, 195-pounds) is ranked the nation's No. 35 overall prospect; No. 4 in the state of Texas. He's spent his high school years playing in front of professional scouts and college recruiters at PG events - he has committed to Texas A&M - and feels like he won't be rattled in San Diego.
"There's always pressure because there's always people watching you and there's always people (who want to see) if you're going to fail or if you're going to higher than what you're expectation is," he said. "But you get to play at relaxed level because they already know what you can do; that's why you're there."
Banks is going to get another big opportunity to play in front of the scouts here this week. The 17u PG World Series really gained traction in the last couple of months as the top teams confirmed their commitment to the event. All 16 teams played their first of seven pool-play games Tuesday night, and the top-two finishers from each eight-team pool will move into the final four Saturday morning.
"This is the No. 1 tournament that we've ever been to. This is it," DeLeon said. "This is by far the best event so far that's I've been associated with. Every team here is loaded and every team has a lot of top arms."
The Banditos opened the tournament with a 4-3 win over the Indiana Prospects, a game in which Banks contributed an RBI double in the second inning. DeLeon used three pitchers including starting right-hander Mark Ecker (Sandra Day O'Connor HS, Texas), who work 6 1/3 innings, allowed three runs on two hits while striking out nine, but struggled with his control while issuing eight walks.
DeLeon said the coaches were going to have to carefully manage their pitchers, taking into account their workload and the 100 degree-plus heat. It was 106 when the 5 p.m. games started on Tuesday.
"We're going to have to be careful, but everybody's loaded with pitching, and as the old saying goes, good pitching beats good hitting," DeLeon said.
The Banditos, with their three PG All-Americans, came into the 17u PG World Series as one of the favorites to reach Saturday morning's semifinals. They won the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 17u National Championship two weeks ago in Marietta, Ga.
"In Marietta, we were just in the right place at the right time," DeLeon said. "We got in the right bracket, we won the right games and we happened to win at the end. It was all right there for the taking and we just happened to put some wins together. At the end of the day, winning that tournament put a target on our backs down here. We're going to see everybody's best pitcher, which is OK. We're ready for it and we've got some good arms ourselves and we're just going to try to give it hell."
Banks was named to the 17u National Championship's All-Tournament team as both a position player and a pitcher. He was 12-for-30 (.400) with four extra-base hits and 12 RBI at the plate and pitched seven innings of one-hit ball with eight strikeouts.
"It was a really good tournament for our team because we didn't actually have all of our stud pitchers there," Banks said. "It was a good team win and it was a good individual (tournament) for everyone, too. Everyone helped out."
This is Banks' seventh Perfect Game event since 2009 after not participating in any in 2011 because of some injury issues that he has completely put behind him. In addition to the PG WWBA 17u National Championship, Banks also stood out at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June.
"I've felt really good about my summer, getting invited to the Perfect Game National (Showcase) and I had a good tournament in Georgia," he said. "This is going to be the real test though. This is where all the big dogs are at."
DeLeon feels like he has one of the "big dogs" in his kennel with the athletic Banks.
"He's a gamer; he's a leader. He leads by example," DeLeon said. "He's a kid that can do it all; he's an outfielder and he's also one of our pitchers, and he's definitely a great kid with a lot of upside. He can beat you with a lot of different tools."
Banks was not wide-eyed when he committed to Texas A&M and head coach Rob Childress. He knew early on that he wanted to end up in College Station.
"I've talked to every single coach at A&M, and all of them I have the utmost respect for," he said. "They have all new facilities and the atmosphere there is just unbelievable. And (playing in) the SEC, that's big. That's one of the top baseball conferences in the country. That had a lot to do with it but A&M was one of my top choices even if they had stayed in the Big 12."
There is still something for the Banditos to attain before Banks ever steps foot on the A&M campus, and depending on how the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft plays out, he may never arrive in College Station. The high level of the competition at the 17u PG World Series has left even the veteran DeLeon a little wide-eyed.
"We're just honored to be here with the Maruccis of the world, with the East Cobb Braves, with the Canes; we're just happy to be here with all those teams," he said. "Being part of this is an honor; this is the best of the best of the best of the best in the country."
Banks likes the Banditos' chances of playing Saturday morning.
"You have to have high expectations, because against kids like this, if you're not confident you're just going to get shutdown," he said. "You have to come in with the mentality that you're going to play better than anyone."