Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sunshine and opportunities

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – In the many years Mike Brooks has been assembling national championship-level teams to attend most, if not all, of Perfect Game’s most prestigious tournament events from coast to coast, his Washington-based Team Northwest squads have never been a disappointment.

This weekend, with his entrant into the 3rd annual 18u Perfect Game MLK Championships that is being played at the Camelback Ranch spring training complex and at several area high school fields, Brooks may have outdone himself.

Brooks, the baseball director and national event head coach for Team Northwest, is also an associate Northwest scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. And this year, the players on all three Team Northwest squads here – there are also entrants in the 14u PG MLK and 16u PG MLK Championships – are getting even more opportunities to perform than in past years. There will be more on that a little later in this article.

This Team Northwest 18u roster could be described as nothing short of mouth watering in the eyes of the professional scouts in attendance at this event. Fifteen of the 18 players on the roster – 12 high school seniors with three juniors in the mix – have signed with or committed to NCAA Division I schools, five with Oregon State.

Nine of those prospects are ranked in the top-500 nationally in either the 2014 or 2015 classes, and a few should get consideration in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft. The team was primarily assembled by Team Northwest player recruiting coordinator Rob Tomlinson, who Brooks said worked the phone tirelessly convincing most of the top guys from the Northwest corner of the country to come along for the ride.

“This is mostly kids that are used to doing these high-end events,” Brooks said Saturday morning from the L.A. Dodgers side of Camelback Ranch. “They come together and it’s like a reunion every time they get together and they love playing together; it brings out the best in each one of them.

“… Like I’ve always tried to do – we want to present the best of the Northwest at these events and this about the best of the Northwest right here,” he continued. “Just about everybody that the scouts are really looking at and that the college coaches like are here.”

Team Northwest opened play at the 18u PG MLK on Friday with a 12-0, five-inning demolition of the So Cal Cavs Blue. It followed that up with a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Blizzard Blue Saturday morning.

2014 right-hander Drew Rasmussen, an Oregon State signee out of Colbert, Wash., ranked No. 199 in his class, threw three perfect innings with seven strikeouts in the win over So Cal. Branson Trube, a 2014 outfielder and Gonzaga recruit from Meridian, Idaho, smacked a two-run home run in the bottom of the first and finished with four RBI and three runs scored.

“You get down here in the warm weather and you can loosen up a lot easier than you do up north; that made it pretty easy,” Rasmussen said. “I had a pretty good ‘D’ behind me, which was fun; we have a pretty good team so everything went well.”

 Trube was also grateful for a chance to play baseball in 78-degree weather in the middle of January: “I was kind of antsy sitting (at home), just being locked in a gym for the whole winter up there in the Northwest and then being able to come down here and experience the weather. I went out there and I got a good pitch to see and I drove it.”

2014 right-hander Gage Burland from Otis Orchards, Wash., drew a lot of attention from scouts in his start against the Blizzard Blue Saturday morning. A 6-foot-2, 190-pound Gonzaga recruit ranked No. 158, Burland threw four hitless shutout innings with seven strikeouts and one walk, and saw his fastball reach 92 mph.

The most highly ranked player on the roster is 2015 catcher and right-handed pitcher Brendan Illies, at No. 54th nationally. Illies, from Edgewood, Wash., has committed to North Carolina.

“It was real fun to get the invite and I’m happy to play with some of the guys I got to play with this summer,” Trube said. “Just being able to play baseball a couple more times before the (high school) season starts is always good.”

Added Rasmussen: “I’m pretty sure I’ve played with everyone on this team. Everyone’s got a common goal and everyone’s got a similar talent level, so it’s a lot of fun. It’s been really beneficial (being with Team Northwest) because you play the best talent. You come down to these types of events earlier in the year and you get a chance to get outside. It’s a great experience just because the competition and the quality of play is so high, and then you’re expected to elevate your level of play.”

The other opportunities Team Northwest players from the 16u and 18u teams will be afforded this weekend comes from mutual agreements reached through Perfect Game, the Kansas City Royals, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Team Northwest.

While at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October, Brooks struck up a conversation with Josh Hallgren, the new Northwest area scout for the Royals who will be evaluating players from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada.

The 2015 and 2016 prospects from Team Northwest will take part in workout sessions in front of Hallgren and other Royals’ scouts while they pick the Royals-affiliated Northwest team for this summer’s Area Code Games. About a half a dozen of the Team Northwest 2014s will take part in separate workout sessions in front of scouts at the same time up in Surprise.

 “(Hallgren) needed to identify all the younger kids for next year’s Area Code (Games), and we knew we were going to be here (at the PG MLKs), too, so it worked out great,” Brooks said. “What we’re doing is combining a workout where (Hallgren) will be looking at them for the Area Codes and I’ll be looking at them for Jupiter (in 2014), and then we also have a fall scout program with the Diamondbacks.

“What we’re doing is, we’re cooperating together for everybody’s benefit – primarily the kids to give them opportunities to do stuff like this,” he continued. “And because we were able to assemble such a quality group of kids, a lot of the Northwest scouts are down here that didn’t necessarily plan to be here originally.”

Brooks praised PG and Camelback Ranch officials who allowed Team Northwest to have an on-field workout session in front of a large gathering of scouts on one of the fields after play had concluded Friday afternoon.

“The scouts just absolutely loved it,” Brooks said. “(At home) right now, everything we do is indoors, so it’s tough for (the scouts) to really see the ball carry and see the kids throw and run.”

The spectacular wintertime weather in the desert Southwest is mentioned frequently during any conversation with players and coaches from northern states: “We’re all dealing with the whole weather factor up in the Northwest,” Trube said. “It’s always good to get out here because we can all just let loose and play in the sun and have fun together and win games.”

It’s a bonus that Brooks knows his players appreciate, and that’s why he will get them to the Valley of the Sun anytime the opportunity presents itself, especially during the winter months.

“Our high school season starts pretty soon and most of them won’t have been outside until now,” he said, before adding with a laugh: “Some of them haven’t seen a blue sky in four or five months, so we worked on pop-ups the other day for them to see the ball in the air. We just don’t get this opportunity.

“They’re not all in mid-season form so we’re keeping the pitch-counts low and making sure everyone gets in and gets to play. But this is just a great opportunity for the kids to get outside and get some sunshine and get some great competition.”

And, of course, win some games. Many of the top 18u teams from California, Arizona and Texas are at the 18u PG MLK Championship, but the guys from the Great Northwest know they can compete.

“We’ve got a high quality team which makes it more fun, and we expect to win, which is always nice,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve got an athletic team so … plays are being made and people are making things happen on the base paths, so it’s real fun.”

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