Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, August 01, 2012

EC Astros 16u chase rich history

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MARIETTA, Ga. -- The tradition-rich and talent-laden East Cobb Astros 16u are the unofficial hosts for this week's 16u Perfect Game World Series. They've welcomed 15 more top 16u teams from all across the country to their very own East Cobb Complex, located here in the north-Atlanta suburbs.

Each day during the 16u PG World Series' six-day run, the players on the Astros' roster will slip on a jersey that could be very similar to the one Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward wore during his prolific run with the EC Astros from 2004-06.

Dozens of others Astros have moved on to play professionally and hundreds have graduated into the college ranks. This current crop of Astros,  almost all native Georgians like Heyward, knows the organization's history and what it means to wear an Astros' jersey.

"It means a lot when you think about all the tradition and everybody else who's worn these jerseys," 2013 top first baseman/outfielder prospect Randolph Gassaway said late Wednesday afternoon. "You want to follow what they've done and just play hard."

This version of the EC Astros 16u is also doing what past editions did: a lot of winning. They won their first three games here Tuesday and Wednesday by a combined score of 22-5. Sitting at 3-0, the Astros were the clubhouse leader in the Pool E standings with two other teams having an opportunity to join them after completion a couple of late games Wednesday.

This is basically the same East Cobb Astros 15u group that had so much success a year ago. It won both the 2011 PG WWBA 15u National Championship here in Marietta and the PG 15u BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla. Eight roster spots on the 16u team here this week are filled by players that were on the rosters for those two championship teams.

This is also the same team that finished as runners-up at last month's PG 17u BCS Finals and advanced to the quarterfinals at the PG WWBA 2013 Grads or 17u National Championship in Marietta.

The 16u Perfect Game World Series is being held simultaneously with the 14u and 15u PG World Series, with the vast majority of the games being played at the East Cobb Complex (a handful are played at area high school fields). The only other East Cobb team in any of the three tournaments is the East Cobb Astros 14u, playing in the 14u PG WS.

"Playing on our home field -- and we've played so many games this year under our head coach Guerry Baldwin -- all of the guys on our team are enjoying this and it's a great time out here," 2014 top middle-infield prospect Ryan Gridley said Wednesday. "There's a lot of tradition to live up to playing at East Cobb here. Now we're playing this big tournament in our park and there's a lot to live up to, but I think we're doing a pretty good job so far."

Gridley (Milton, Ga., HS) is among several Astros prospects who ranked quite high nationally in the class of 2014; he comes in at No.  84. The highest ranked 2014 prospect is outfielder/first baseman Kel Johnson (home schooled, Palmetto, Ga.), a Georgia Tech commit who is ranked No. 22. This is Johnson's 15th Perfect Game event -- he was named the MVP of the 2011 15u BCS Finals.

"This is a big event with a lot of good teams here and we'll be playing some real good competition," he said. "With Perfect Game, you always know there is going to be some good competition with some big games while you're playing for a (national) title."

Gassaway (Riverwood International HS, Atlanta) is ranked No. 80 in the class of 2013 and is uncommitted. This is Gassaway's 16th PG event and one he's looking forward to.

"This is good competition and we all look forward to good competition," he said. "We really like the challenge."

Gridley is off to a hot start through the Series' first three games, going 5-for-11 (.455) with a double, triple and four RBI. Gassaway went 3-for-4 with three RBI and three runs scored in the two games Wednesday and Trey Harris (2014, McEachern HS, Powder Springs, Ga.) -- the 116th-ranked national prospect in his class -- was 5-for-8 (.625) with three RBI and three runs in three games.

The pitching staff has combined to post a 0.74 ERA in 19 innings. Ethan Walker (2014, Arlington Country Day, Jacksonville, Fla.), Max Wotell (2015, Marvin Ridge HS, Marvin, N.C.) and Timothy Salvadore (2015, Phillips Academy, Hopkins, Mass.) combined to allow two earned runs on 14 hits with 20 strikeouts in 17 innings.

"We've won them all so far and that's about all you can ask for," Johnson said. "We've been playing hard and it's been a long summer but we've been keeping up the energy."

It should be noted that Jason Heyward's much younger brother Jacob Heyward (2013, Eagles Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.) is listed on the Astros' roster but didn't play in the first two days. Dazmon Cameron, a 2015 also from Eagle's Landing and the son of 17-year MLB veteran Mike Cameron, is also on the roster and has played.

The Astros will head into Thursday full of confidence while also knowing they can only get better by playing in events such as the 16u Perfect Game World Series.

"We've played in some (non-PG) events this year that will have some good teams in it but you end up some playing some other (lesser) teams before you really get into it," Johnson said. "This event is really elite where you're going to face pitching and good arms everyday and it's been good."

Gridley agreed:

"When you play great competition it definitely amps up the level of play we have every single day. We've played so many games it's tough to get up for some of them, but when you have this tournament with so many good teams, it gets us amped up."

And as an uncommitted top prospect, Gridley has also noticed the college recruiters and pro scouts staking out the action.

"There are a lot of guys on the team who are still uncommitted, so when we have a lot of exposure -- especially at this tournament with a lot of good teams like this -- it helps all of us out," he said. "Even with the guys who are already committed (to college) it's helps them pro-wise."

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