Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, May 25, 2013

'Big fish' helps Upstate 18u

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Not all of the big fish Upstate Mavericks Baseball founder/director/head coach Chris Nall tried to haul into his boat for this weekend's Perfect Game 18u East Memorial Day Classic got added to his stringer. It turns out that Nall's task of assembling a roster for the event ended up being more of a catch-and-release program than snagging the limit.

That's not to say Nall came home empty handed, however. He was, in fact, able to secure one of the biggest catches of any team at this weekend's 18u East Memorial Day. Yes, there he was, playing center field and batting third in the Upstate lineup the first two days of the tournament -- formidable 2014 prospect Justin Smith from St. John's, Fla.

Smith, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound raker who is finishing up his junior year at Bartram Trail High School and has committed to Miami (Fla.), is the No. 12-ranked national prospect in his class. He is also projected as the No. 34 overall prospect in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, No. 15 among draft eligible high school seniors.

It was kind of odd seeing Smith wearing an Upstate Mavericks 18u cap on Saturday. He spent all of last spring, summer and fall wearing the uniform of Marucci Elite.

"Marucci was doing something over in Houston this weekend and being from Florida I really didn't want to go out to Houston with school still going on," Smith told PG Saturday morning. "I got an email from these guys (Upstate) and I thought it would be a great opportunity to play with them.

"It's good to get back into baseball and play with a good team because they had major success last year here, so I think I'm going to be up for this."

The 80-team PG 18u East Memorial Day Classic and 80-team PG 16u East Memorial Classic are running concurrently through their respective championship games Monday afternoon. The Upstate Mavericks 18u came to this event for the first time a year ago and finished as tournament runner-up to the FTB Pride.

"Until I came to this event last year we had never played (the Memorial Day) weekend; we always started the first weekend in June," Nall said Saturday. "It's hard to get 18-year-olds to play baseball in the summer -- they're committed (to colleges), they've got draft stuff and it's their last summer before college. So we've found that a lot of guys like playing in this (tournament) because school is still in (session) and they're not doing the graduation stuff yet. We're able to pull our 18s together and put a real solid squad together."

Nall turned in a 24-man roster for this tournament but seven of the players didn't attend due to other obligations or conflicts. Top 2013s including national No. 156-ranked ranked right-hander Cory Thompson, a South Carolina signee; top-500 third baseman Jarrett Freeland, a Georgia recruit; and high-follow first baseman Ramon Osuna, a College of Charleston signee, all bowed out to attend pre-draft workouts.

Some highly ranked 2014s Nall had included on his roster for this event also had other commitments. They included No. 28-ranked third baseman Michael Chavis (Clemson commit), No. 239 middle-infielder Jared Datoc (Georgia Tech), top-1,000 right-hander Casey Lenoch (Georgia) and high-follow second baseman Jake Palomaki (Boston College). It's important to note all of those 2014s spend their summers with East Cobb Baseball and not with the Upstate Mavericks.

"This close to the draft, they're doing pro stuff," Nall said. "A lot of these guys play with us anyway, but this early in the year we try to put a team together to come down here; we try to assemble a team. You see a real big roster because a lot of those guys are draft guys, even some of the guys you will see here (this weekend)."

The Mavericks didn't arrive from their home base in Lyman, S.C., with a completely empty stringer, of course. Tripp Rollings, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound 2013 right-hander from Kershaw, S.C., and a Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College signee, tagged along and threw a five-inning, five-strikeout no-hitter Saturday morning.

2014 catcher and Kennesaw State commit Griffin Helms from Duluth, Ga., left his East Cobb Baseball cap behind and was one of the Mavericks 18u's top hitters after three games -- he was 5-for-9 (.556) with four runs scored. Helms is ranked 213th in the 2014 class and Rollings is a top-500 prospect in the 2013 class.

"We usually try to load up for a lot of the Perfect Game events," Nall said. "We kind of spread out and collaborate and just try to pick up the best guys we can. I've been a professional scout for six years and that helps, the connections I've got through that. We see guys and we take a shot on guys. We kind of put our group together and then we see what we need."

Smith went 3-for-8 (.375) with a double, a home run and three RBI through three games.

"It's awesome," Nall said of having Smith on board for the weekend. "Dealing with him and his parents leading up to this -- he and his parents have been absolutely wonderful. He's a super kid with super parents, and it's fun to see."

"It's definitely fun, especially getting to meet some new people," Smith said of the experience. "I'll see them down the road and see them at different events and be able to say 'Hi' to them, so it's been a lot of fun."

The Upstate Mavericks 18u lost its tournament-opener to the Hialeah Warriors 18u, 4-3, Friday night before beating the Coastal Prospects 17u, 11-0, Saturday morning behind Rollings' no-hitter. They kept the ball rolling by beating the CRFS Fire Stones, 4-1, Saturday afternoon to move to 2-1 in pool-play.

That loss in the opener may have put the Mavericks 18u behind the 8-ball a little bit, but with one pool-play game remaining Sunday morning, there is still an opportunity to make hay before the playoff field is set Sunday afternoon. Nall expects to still be playing when the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game are contested on Monday.

"We were fortunate enough to play in the championship game last year and we came up a couple of runs short," he said. "Honestly, anything less than that we'll be disappointed. The hardest thing is that team collaboration; this early in the year these guys haven't played together. ... Talent-wise there's no question we can be playing on Monday it's just if we dig down and do it."

Upstate Mavericks Baseball has consolidated for 2013, cutting down to two teams in each age group. Nall said that was done to develop more depth on each roster, and the result, he said, is that this summer's Mavericks' 16u and 17u teams are "as strong as they've ever been."

They'll have to carry on without Smith from here on out, however -- is already included on the Marucci Elite roster for the 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational June 5-9 in Marietta, Ga. After that, he expects a summer full of tournament and showcase events as he works to solidify his chances for first-round consideration in the 2014 MLB amateur draft.

"I'm expecting a great summer from everything," Smith said. "Especially with Marucci, we're supposed to have a great roster this year so I'm expecting some good things and hopefully win a couple of tournaments with them. Personally, I want to have some good success and just do whatever I can on the field that fully displays my skills."

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