Tournaments : : Story
Saturday, May 24, 2014

D-backs Elite follow their leader

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The lineup that young Arizona Diamondbacks Elite Scout Team field manager Jake Williams put out on the field Saturday morning for their second game at the 18u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic wasn’t as star-studded as anticipated before the tournament began.

There are no worries, however. With the Phoenix-based D-backs Elite Scout Team’s deep roster coupled with the 23-year-old Williams’ pedigree, the absence of a couple of top-notch prospects from their lineup or pitching rotation does nothing to diminish the pre-tournament buzz surrounding this squad.

“This is a good tournament and we’re going to be playing good teams,” Jaxxon Fagg, a first baseman and outfielder ranked as Arizona’s No. 9 overall prospect in the class of 2015, said Saturday morning. “There’s real good chemistry on this team and everyone is good friends with each other. I look forward to playing with this team every summer just because I like everyone.”

Not everyone was able to make it this weekend do to obligations such as high school graduation. But with top  2015s onboard like Fagg (ranked No. 383 nationally, uncommitted); outfielder/right-hander Luke Eigsti (No. 150 nationally/No. 5 Arizona, Alabama-Birmingham commit); middle-infielder Jeremy McCuin (top-500/15, Arizona State); shortstop A.J. Graffanino (t-500/13, Washington) and left-hander Cameron Ming (t-500/28, Arizona) the D-backs Elite Scout Team should carry on nicely. Throw in No. 159/1-ranked 2016 Jordan Williams and they look stronger still.

Manger Jake Williams utilized the Arizona Diamondbacks’ in-state, area scouts to assemble a roster comprised of many of the top-ranked guys in the state of Arizona primarily from the class of 2015, with a sprinkling of 2014s and 2016s. Again, they’re not all here, but that may not matter all that much.

“We do want to put together a competitive lineup, and most of all we want to get guys that we can really develop,” Williams said. “We went after the top crop of juniors and sophomores – there were a couple of seniors added from last year, some potential draft guys – and we tried to go about it as professionally as possible.”

Last year’s D-backs Elite Scout Team was very sophomore-heavy which means most of this team’s juniors have a summer of playing together under their belts. The players are comfortable with one another and when they get together for the summer, they are able to relax and just play ball and develop alongside fellow high-school players who are performing at their same level.

This D-backs Elite Scout Team won its 18u PG WWBA Memorial Day opener on Friday, beating Scottsdale-based Team NuttyBuddy Select, 6-1; McCuin was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.

 They came back early Saturday afternoon with a 10-0, five-inning win over ADP Baseball out of Fresno, Calif., with McCuin again going 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and three runs. 2015 right-hander Jeremy Norris and 2015 lefty Conlan Myers combined on a five-inning no-hitter, with Norris throwing three perfect innings and striking out eight of the nine batters he faced.

“I’ve been really looking forward to (this event) because it’s the first tournament that I’ve got to play with the Diamondbacks this summer,” the D-backs Luke Eigsti said. “We have a good team and we think we can beat anybody we play.”

All of the D-backs Elite Scout Team players just finished up their Arizona high school seasons with varying degrees of success. Several of the guys attend the same Phoenix-area high schools but for the most part they’re coming in with different experiences from their spring seasons. Williams won’t allow that to alter his expectations.

“We still require the same things at practice and at workouts and in these games; we know what caliber of player they are, so obviously the expectations are higher,” he said. “If they’ve had a little bit of success during the (high school season) we expect it to roll through. We want them to carry over the confidence and develop into something we can take a look at as an organization.”

Williams brings a lot to the table in terms of what he can offer his young players – despite being only six or seven years older than most of them. He himself is an alumnus of four Perfect Game events in 2007 and 2008, including the PG Junior National Showcase in ’07 and the PG National Showcase in ’08.

“(Those events provide) quality reps in front of guys that are important, in front of the guys that you want to see you,” Williams said of his PG experiences. “Perfect Game does a great job in gaining exposure for every single player that comes out here. … It helped me personally and I think it’s helping these guys a lot, too.”

Williams played junior college ball at South Mountain CC (Ariz.) and was drafted by the Diamondbacks in both 2009 and 2011 before finally signing with them in 2011. Williams, a first baseman, played in 59 minor league games in 2011 and 2012 and then called it a career.

“Ultimately, we’re preparing professional players; that’s the goal,” he said. “Whether they end up signing and playing professionally or end up going straight to college, we want them to have that professional mindset. I always draw off my experiences in minor league baseball; it’s something that’s beneficial for them and they get to learn from it.

“It’s definitely a different perspective but I think I connect with them on a younger level, if that makes sense,” he continued. “I get to share my experiences with them and I think it’s benefitted them. I think they feel a little more comfortable with a younger guy at the helm, which is nice, but at the same time I still demand the same respect as any other manager would.”

It appears Williams has earned that respect from his players.

“He’s awesome; he’s a really good coach and it’s really fun,” Eigsti said. “He pushes us hard and makes us run hard and do everything right. You learn a lot and he does a real good job of conveying what his experiences were like, and this has been a really good experience playing with the Diamondbacks. It has a really, really professional feel to it and it’s run just like a pro program; it’s awesome.”

A lot of that professionalism can be traced to Williams’ bloodlines. His father is Matt Williams, a five-time MLB All-Star with the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks who this year is enjoying his first season as a major league manager with the Washington Nationals. The younger Williams tries to speak with his dad as often as possible but it isn’t always easy.

“He’s harder to get a hold of then the President,” Jake said with a laugh. “We spoke briefly last week and he said he was proud of me, and I appreciate that. He’s supporting me with this and he thinks I’m in a very good position, and it’s the same with him. He’s in a good spot over there … and he’s excited. It’s good to have him back in uniform and back on the field.

“He’s the reason that I know the game the way I do,” Williams continued. “I definitely would not be in the position that I’m in without him. He was my teacher, he was the one to keep me in check when I got out of line, so I owe most if not all of my baseball career to my dad, and I’m not ashamed to say that all. I’m proud to have learned from him.”

Now Jake Williams has taken it upon himself to pass onto the high school-aged players currently under his watch the lessons he learned – and continues to learn – from his father and everybody else in the world of baseball that has influenced him.

He really only asks one thing from his players, and if they follow his lead the guys that are here this weekend just might have an 18u PG WWBA West Memorial Day Classic championship in their hands on Monday.

“We want to leave here and have people say, ‘Wow, those guys play hard,’” Williams said. “We want to leave here with the respect of other teams and the respect of the scouts watching, and that’s the overall goal. We want to get these guys seen, obviously, and get them to the next level, but we want to keep a positive reputation with this club. The reputation that I want to go after is that we work our butts off.”

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