Tournaments : : Story
Monday, June 24, 2013

Their Prospects are looking up

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There were several teams participating in this week's 18u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament that woke up Monday morning knowing that some very important work needed to be completed in the hours ahead if their stay at the tournament was to be extended.

The All American Prospects weren't one of them. They could have slept-in soundly Monday morning if they wouldn't have had to play the last of their six pool-play games at 9 a.m. They could have rested peacefully with the knowledge they had already clinched their second pool championship and secured a berth in the 18u PG BCS Finals 16-team playoff field.

The Prospects won the pool championship with an 8-0 win over OTC Baseball on Sunday. They could  have lost to the South Florida Storm Blue Monday morning and still played in Tuesday's first round of the playoffs, but dusted off the Storm Blue, 13-1, just for good measure. The win will give the Prospects a higher playoff seed.

Prospects co-founder and 18u manager Frank Schaffer wasn't available Monday morning, but assistant coach Mike Conger took some questions from PG just before the start of the game against South Florida.

"We're going to try to put it all together to win (this tournament)," Conger said. "We're a little slack on pitching but with today's game (not being a must-win) we don't have to throw any of our main guys, so we'll be able to save them for the (playoff) games."

The AA Prospects did just fine without those "main guys" doing the pitching, and were completely dominant during the second set of three pool-play games. They finished 2-0-1 and outscored three opponents 23-13 in pool games Friday and Saturday; they turned up the heat in their three games Sunday and Monday, finishing 3-0 and outscoring their opponents 33-3.

"We've got a good team and we're playing good," standout outfielder/left-handed pitcher Jason Popovich said Monday. "Everybody's having fun and we're winning games."

Most of the guys playing for the All American Prospects at the 18u PG BCS Finals this week played under the Xcel Baseball banner the last two years, but Schaffer -- one of the original founders of the AA Prospects in 2005 -- decided to bring them back together under the Prospects name for another run this summer, according to Conger. This is not the All-American Prospects final summer of competition, only the final summer Schaffer will be involved with the organization.

"We brought a few of the (2012) 17u Prospects players over and combined them with the guys from Xcel Baseball, and that's our team," Conger said. "All these guys have played together for a long time. Shoot, I've known all these kids since they were 10 years old."

The Prospects organization is based in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and nine players on the 24-man roster that was submitted for this tournament call that city home. There are also quite a few from nearby Vero Beach.

Popovich (2013, Hobe Sound, Fla.) is a 5-foot-8, 155-pound left-handed dervish who put on an MVP-caliber performance in the Prospects' first six games. He batted 12-for-19 (.632), with four doubles, a triple, five RBI, 12 runs scored and an almost unheard of OPS of 1.584; he also stole six bases.

"I've been swinging it good," said Popovich, a man of few words but an even dozen hits. "(My teammates) have my back so I've got their back; it's perfect."

His teammates have been pretty good in their own right, especially offensively. The Prospects enter the playoffs hitting .401 (63-for-157) as a team, with 24 extra-base hits and a combined 1.069 OPS. Other standouts at this tournament include:

Alvin Swoope (2012, Port St. Lucie, Fla.) -- who spent a red shirt year at Florida State this past year but was granted a release from his scholarship and is looking for another school -- 7-for-14 (.500), six RBI, eight runs scored, 1.325 OPS; Michael Conger (2014, Port St. Lucie), 9-17 (.529), four RBI, 1.176 OPS; Peter Crocitto (2014, Palm City, Fla.), a Miami commit, 7-17 (.412), four RBI, five runs, 1.053 OPS; Nick Snyder (2014. Palm City, Fla.), 8-13 (.615), six RBI, three runs, 1.258 OPS; and Andrew Colderone (2013, Stuart, Fla.), a Florida Tech commit, 6-for-17 (.353), four doubles, triple, five RBI, six runs, 1.156 OPS.

Right-hander Brian Dominguez (2013, Port St. Lucie, Fla.) was the most effective pitcher, working five innings of two-hit ball while allowing no runs and striking out nine.

"These guys are just a bunch of team players and we have some solid leaders on the team," Conger said. "A guy like Popovich, of course, he's just a sparkplug for the whole team; he's a fireball. Even playing at different high schools and then playing summer ball together, they've known each other since their little league days."

Popovich said he's been playing with basically this same group of guys for most of the past four years. "I love all of them," he said. "We've won a couple (of tournaments) but nothing real big; hopefully we'll win this one. We want to beat everyone."

Seven players on the Prospects' roster have already committed to or signed with colleges of their choice and, surprisingly it would seem, Popovich isn't one of them.

"I'm going to keep playing with these guys (this summer) and (which ever college) wants me, I'll play there," he said. "I'll play anywhere I can play at."

When contacted by telephone Monday afternoon, Schaffer said:

"It's just unbelievable to me that a kid like (Popovich) is still looking for a school. He puts the ball in play, he runs everything out; I actually have to calm him down and say, 'Hey, don't go head first into every bag' -- he plays every game like it's a championship game and that's an admirable trait."

The All-American Prospects organization has a rich history of getting its players connected with colleges that are good fits. It also has graduated a lot of players into professional baseball in its nine years of existence.

"That's what this whole thing is about -- it's about the kids," Conger said. "It's not about the coaches ... it's all about getting the kids in front of colleges and hopefully get them someplace to go so they can continue on with their dreams.

"These events are all beneficial to them, because this is where they get seen," he concluded. "All we do as coaches is get them together before the summer and let the kids get on the field and do their thing."

Be sure to check back here Monday night for complete playoff pairings for the 18u PG BCS Finals and 13u PG BCS Finals.

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