PHOENIX -- The prospects playing for the Phoenix-based Dbacks Elite Scout Team have put in their time this summer determined that their dedication will be rewarded this weekend. And that reward would be realized right in their own backyard.
The Dbacks Elite Scout Team is one of 14 Arizona-based teams competing in the 4th annual Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) at the Camelback Ranch Complex in Glendale, Ariz., and at the Goodyear (Ariz.) Ballpark and Recreational Complex.
The tournament begins its four-day run on Friday (Sept. 14) and concludes with semifinal and championship games on Monday (Sept. 17) at the Goodyear Park Complex. The complete tournament schedule with any updates can be found by clicking here.
The 56-team field is comprised of top travel teams from 11 states, including 28 from California and the 14 from Arizona. There are teams coming from as far away as Maryland and Georgia, and three from the Midwestern states of Iowa and Minnesota.
Dbacks EST head coach Micah Franklin feels good about his talented team's chances of fending off the out-of-state interlopers and keeping the Perfect Game national championship trophy in Arizona.
"They're a pretty strong group and they've been with us most of the summer," Franklin said this week. "They've been playing hard and working really, really hard, so this should be a good tournament for the kids."
With most of the best upper class travel teams from the West in attendance, it is next to impossible to pick a favorite. California-based powerhouse organizations like the defending tournament champion San Diego Show, San Diego Gamers, ABD (Boxers, Bulldogs), So Cal (Dirtbags, Elite, Mavericks), Yak Baseball and Southern California Bombers (2013 Black, 2013 Red) all expect to contend for the title.
AZ Baseball has four teams in the tournament -- Angels Black, Pro 17, Pro 18 and Sabercats Pro -- based in Phoenix, Chandler and Scottsdale.
But Franklin has assembled a roster that includes six prospects already committed to NCAA Division I schools. Among those are left-handed pitcher/first baseman Cody Bellinger (2013, Chandler, Ariz.), an Oregon commit ranked as the No. 62 top national prospect in the class of 2013, shortstop Riley Unroe (2013, Mesa, Ariz.), a Southern Cal recruit ranked No. 70 nationally and shortstop Brantley Bell (2013, Phoenix), who is uncommitted
Bellinger is the son of Clay Bellinger, who played in 183 games over four big-league seasons (1999-2002), mostly with the Yankees. Unroe is the son of Tim Unroe, who played in 79 games over parts of five seasons in the late 1990s for the Brewers, Angels and Braves and Bell is the son of Jay Bell, a two-time MLB All-Star during an 18-year big-league career with five clubs, primarily the Pirates and Diamondbacks.
Other D-I commitments on the Dbacks' roster have come from catcher Benjamin Rodriguez (2013, Scottsdale, Ariz., Pepperdine); right-hander Michael Westra (2013, Scottsdale, Santa Clara); right-hander Patrick Murphy (2013, Chandler, Ariz., Oregon); and right-hander Ryan Castellani (2014, Phoenix, UCLA). Castellani is ranked No. 14 nationally in the class of 2014.
Franklin is quick to point out that his team will face a terrific challenge, even while playing at home in the Valley of the Sun.
"It's one of those grueling times of the year for the kids," he said. "They're about a month into the school year here in Arizona, and they're trying to catch up on all their work, and at the same time trying to catch up with their bodies after playing all summer.
"They did all their summer games, traveled all over, did the showcases that they needed to do to get seen, so their bodies are tired (and) their minds are probably tired, but they're still working as hard as they possibly can on the field."
The PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) has grown into one of the most prestigious fall tournament in the western part of the country. Already there are eight alumni of this event that have made it to major leagues, including the Nationals' Bryce Harper (2009 Upperclass) and the Royals' Eric Hosmer (2007).
Two-hundred and forty-nine alumni have been drafted in the top 10 rounds since 2007 -- when the event was known as the WWBA National Invitational -- including eight from last year's tournament. Paul Blackburn (Cubs) and Shane Watson (Phillies) were both 1st round compensation picks.
"It's gotten bigger and bigger every year," said Franklin, who works in the scouting department for the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I had to cover it scouting-wise the first year it was out here and each year it's gotten bigger and bigger as more teams have started jumping into it."
The San Diego Show is the tournament's defending champion and head coach Brian Cain could be bringing in an exceptional group that includes three 2012 Perfect Game All-Americans.
Left-handers Stephan Gonsalves (2013, San Marcos, Calif.) and Ian Clarkin (2013, San Diego) are both University of San Diego commits and just last week helped Team USA's 18u National Team to the XXV ABAF 18U Baseball World Championship in Seoul, South Korea. Middle-infielder Gosuke Katoh (2013, Poway, Calif.) has committed to UCLA. None of the three were listed on an abbreviated Show roster submitted to PG early this week.
The Cedar Rapids-based Iowa Select Black offers intrigue with six Division I commits, including 2012 Perfect Game All-American left-hander/first baseman and Florida recruit A.J. Puk (2013, Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Puk is ranked the nation's No. 20 top prospect in the class of 2013.
The Iowa Select Black roster also includes right-hander Derek Burkamper (2013, Muscatine, Iowa) and lefty Benjamin Miller (2013, Clive, Iowa), both Nebraska recruits, and first baseman/right-hander Keaton McKinney (2014, Ankeny, Iowa), the No. 71 top national prospect in his class who has committed to Arkansas.
Franklin is simply looking for the Dbacks Elite Scout Team to go out and bring home a championship.
"I'm hoping that they play as hard as they possibly can for me," he said. "Like I said, it's a tough time of the year for the kids ... but there is no excuses now for the Arizona kids. They've been through a whole summer and that's kind of new for the Arizona kids, but they've done it all year now and they should be able to go out and do it."
The 2012 Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) will follow on the heels of the Upperclass, running Sept. 21-24 at Goodyear and at the Peoria Sports Complex. Mountain West 2013 won last year's Underclass event and is in this year's Upperclass field.