Tournaments : : Story
Monday, July 01, 2013

Gayle enjoys Chain reaction

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As the wind picked up and the rain began to fall with a little more muscle than it had flexed just a few minutes earlier, the young top prospect from Stone Mountain, Ga., spoke as succinctly as he could. He was trying to convey his feelings about participating in the 2013 16u PG BCS Finals national championship tournament here over the past four days.

"It's been a good experience -- but it has been rainy and wet," Chain Baseball White 16u shortstop Bakari Gayle said while finding shelter from the rain in one of the dugouts at the former Boston Red Player Development 5-Plex Monday afternoon. "But it's been fine and my team has been playing real well and, of course, that's what I enjoy the most."

Heavy rain and thunderstorms wiped out all but a handful of games at the 16u PG BSC Finals while claiming the entire slate at the PG WWBA 14u National Championship on Monday. Perfect Game officials scrambled late into the evening to put together schedules that would still result in true champions being named in both events this week -- the 16u BCS Finals on Wednesday and the PG WWBA 14u National Championship on Thursday -- barring, of course, no more rain.

Gayle and his Chain White 16u teammates were making the best of the situation through Monday. White 16u finished 2-0-1 in the first set of three pool-play games, outscoring its three opponents, 23-5. It won its first two pool-play games of the pivotal second set by a combined 17-3 and was preparing to earn an automatic berth into the playoffs that would have come by beating the Houston Banditos North in a rain-delayed game Monday afternoon when play was halted for the day.

"We've had a really good run," Chain White 16u head coach Andy Burress said Monday. "You can see this is a very physical group ... and the biggest thing with this group is that we have several guys that have been here before. We brought a good group down here last year that went undefeated but we ended up tying with SWFL (Baseball 16u), and they ended up winning it all.

"But this group has probably been one of our best, as far as physical-wise -- these guys can really hit the baseball and they're athletic, big kids."

Gayle, who turned 16 in early April, is one of the more highly regarded prospects on a Chain White 16u roster that suffers no shortage of them. Gayle will be a junior at Redan High School in the fall and is ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 69 overall national prospect in the high school class of 2015.

Some of the other top guys on the Chain White 16u roster include outfielder/first baseman B.J. White (2014, Opelika, Ala.), a recent graduate of the 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase who is ranked 129th nationally in the 2014 class; and left-hander Stewart Tyler (2015, Cordele, Ga.), ranked 194th nationally in his class.

Infielder Zeke Dodson (2015, Tifton, Ga.) and outfielder Lincoln Hewett (2015, Gainesville, Ga.), are enjoying terrific tournaments at the plate, as are White and Tyler. Dodson is 8-for-14 (.571) with six RBI; White 7-for-16 (.438) with a double, triple, three RBI and seven runs; Hewett 4-for-12 (.333) with four RBI and eight runs scored; and Tyler threw no-hit, four shutout innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks and will be available to pitch again.

Gayle was relatively quiet over the first three days of the tournament, hitting .364 (4-for-11) with four singles and a .864 GPS.

Gayle's older brother, Jabari Gayle -- a top-500 national prospect in the class of 2012 -- played briefly with Chain Baseball in 2010, so Burgess knew Bakari's parents, Tony and Carmella, before he brought Bakari on board. Gayle (6-foot-2, 180-pounds) has played with Chain Baseball in other tournaments to begin the summer but this is the first Perfect Game tournament he has competed in with Chain.

"Bakari is a great kid," Burress said. "He had been playing outfield ... but all the tools are there (to play shortstop) and we've been working with him on his arm. He's one of the best kids and he works hard; we go all over and play and he's always the first one there and the last one to leave. You like to see that in kids that have the potential, because a lot of these kids that all these numbers and everything, they get to the point where they don't work anymore.

"He's really worked at his game both offensively and defensively, and he's got a chance to be really special."

This is the 10th Perfect Game event since June 2011 that Gayle has participated in, including eight PG WWBA and PG BCS Finals tournaments with the MGBA Braves, Dawg Pound and Upstate Mavericks. He was also at the 2012 Southeast Underclass Showcase in Marietta, Ga., the 2013 National Underclass-Session 3 Showcase in Fort Myers and most recently, and -- most notably -- at the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis about three weeks ago.

"The Junior National, that was a lot of fun," Gayle said. "I met a lot of people, and there are some people (at the 16u PG BCS Finals) that were on my team up there, actually. So it was real fun to experience that for the first time and I just tried to perform the best the best that I could."

Gayle did raise some eyebrows at the PG Junior National -- he ran a 6.46-second 60-yard dash, the second best clocking at the event and a time that topped his previous personal best of 6.82 seconds by a whopping .36 seconds. He also threw 83 mph across the infield, a dramatic increase on the career-best 76 mph he threw at the Southeast Underclass.

"When I ran (the 6.46-second 60) and somebody else ran close to it, it made realize that there are people around the nation that are playing ball and trying to work to get better, too," Gayle said. "It's exciting to see that there are a lot of good ballplayers out there."

Gayle said that when he was about 4 years old his father encouraged him to try every sport that was out there, mostly baseball, basketball and football. Dad left it up to the son to decided which sports he would pursue, and the young Gayle has stuck with baseball and basketball.

"I'll definitely stay with baseball," Gayle said with a laugh. "I'm a pretty good basketball player but baseball feels like it can take me further and open more doors for me than basketball can."

A 9-year-old Bakari Gayle had the opportunity to meet Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Brandon Phillips and the encounter stuck with Gayle: "He rubbed off on me and I tried to talk to him ... and I just try to carry myself like he would carry himself," he said.

Burress, the president of Warner Robins, Ga.-based Chain Baseball, has seen plenty of top prospects come through his organization over the past several years. He believes Gayle belongs in the same sentence with anyone when the conversation turns to potential.

"The tools are there," Burress said. "He's got arm strength -- he's just got to clean it up a little bit. He's got some power and some speed and he's got all the tools in the world, he's just got to keep putting it all together. I've seen a lot of kids with a lot of tools but he's got the work ethic that's going to be a difference maker for him."

Gayle, who has not committed to a college yet , is ready to make a long-term commitment to Chain Baseball. By long-term, that would mean playing out this summer and next with the organization before seeing what gifts the spring of 2015 might bring.

"It's been great," Gayle said of his association with organization. "I love my teammates and the coaches are teaching me a lot and I'm getting better every day.  ... Chain has helped me tremendously right now; I'm just trying to get better at the things that I'm not as good at as far as making mistakes that I can't make at the next level. I feel pretty good about progressing and staying in this system will take me to the top."

Foremost on Burress' mind right now is bearing down and winning the Perfect Game national championship at the 16u PG BCS Finals -- if it ever stops raining. And, keep in mind, that this is written, Chain White wasn't 100 percent certain of even securing a playoff berth.

"We all know that it's hard to win nine or 10 games in a row no matter how good you are," Burress said. "... I feel like we're going to be OK; there's some really good teams -- we've seen these teams a lot -- and we know these organizations are going to put together some really good teams. Nobody's going to come down here with the guys that can't make their high school teams."

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