Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From WWBA World to MLB

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

2013 WWBA World Championship feature content

JUPITER, Fla. – Former Cy Young Award winners and MLB All-Star pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke spent a memorable season together helping the Los Angeles Dodgers make an impressive run into the National League Championship Series.

The pair of aces have been brilliant throughout their careers – Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award in 2011 and was runner-up in 2012; Greinke won the American League Cy Young in 2009 as a member of the Kansas City Royals – and were especially effective for the Dodgers this season.

It’s a brilliance the MLB scouting community got an eyeful of in the early 2000’s when the right-hander Greinke played for the East Coast Scout Team at the 2001 PG WWBA World Championship and the lefty Kershaw toiled for the Dallas Tigers at the 2004 PG WWBA World Championship.

The 15th annual PG WWBA World Championship begins its five-day run Thursday at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. The World Championship – complete with 85 of the best high school-age travel teams from coast-to-coast, Canada and Puerto Rico and almost all of nation’s highest-ranked high school prospects – is recognized as the most heavily scouted amateur tournament in the world.

After the first 13 PG WWBA World Championships, from its humble beginnings in 1998 when the event was called the Lone Star Showdown, through the 2010 tournament, 348 alumni had made their major league debuts, and dozens – like Kershaw and Greinke – have risen to All-Star status.

More than 3,000 alumni were drafted after attending the event – including 35 first-round or first-round compensation picks in the 2012 draft alone – and nearly 7,900 prospects made college commitments after receiving scholarship offers.

“I like watching those guys as much as anybody else,” said Chris Counts, the man who operates the Louisiana All-Stars Baseball Club (the organization has had teams in Jupiter in the past but does not have one in the field this year). “I can remember going down there and watching Cameron Maybin on one field and on the other field Delmon Young, and the Uptons (B.J. and Justin) and Prince Fielder; it was fun watching all those guys when they were 16 years old.”

East Cobb Baseball out of Marietta, Ga., is the defending champion and returns this year as one of the pre-tournament favorites. Since the event established itself as a Perfect Game national championship in 2001 – and one that reaches out to the international baseball community, as well – the East Cobb Astros won an outright championship in 2003 and a co-championship in 2005, giving the ECB organization a presence in three championships.

Chet Lemon’s Juice, an organization based in Mount Dora, Fla., and headed by former 16-year big-league veteran Chet Lemon, won co-championships in 2005 (with the East Cobb Astros) and 2010 (with the Sedalia, N.C.-based Dirtbags) and was the runner-up to ECB last year. Based on history and solidified by another strong lineup, the Juice is once again considered a favorite to contend.

“Every year, we just try to put together the best group of kids and we really work them,” Lemon said Oct. 13 while guiding his younger team at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla. “Our program is a little different than a lot of other programs. All of our kids understand that to play in our program they’ve got to work and develop. … All of these kids know each other, they’ve been playing together for awhile, and the guys that come into the program understand, and their parents understand, our goal is to teach the kid how to play the game the right way.”

The individual talent on display at the Roger Dean Complex Thursday through Monday will border on indescribable. It’s a safe bet there will be a couple of more future Cy Young Award winners, MLB Most Valuable Players, MLB Rookies of the Year and scores of Rawlings Gold Glove and Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award winners in attendance. And they have big shoes to fill.

Two PG WWBA World Championship alumni who turned Major League Baseball on its head during their rookie seasons in 2012 are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Trout, the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Angels, played with the Tri-State Arsenal/Cust D-Jacks in 2007 and ’08; Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year with the Washington Nationals, was with the Braves Scout Team in 2008.

"Those were great experiences," Trout said, speaking to PG during Cactus League play in March. "Just to get out of (New) Jersey and see the competition from all across the country and to compete against other players that were doing the same things you were trying to do – get to the professional level. It was just good to get that exposure.”

San Francisco Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey was a right-handed pitcher and shortstop from the East Cobb Astros at the PG WWBA World Championship in both 2003 and ’04, and won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2010 and was NL MVP in 2012.

"(The PG events) gave me the opportunity to play against some really good competition," Posey told PG during spring training in March. "It allows you step outside your comfort zone a little bit, and I have really fond memories of those days, doing the Perfect Game events."

As for his time spent with the EC Astros, Posey said: "I just kind of did some spot-starts pitching with them; I never really played a full summer there. But I was fortunate enough to play in some of the bigger tournaments with them, and that was a really good experience."

Miami Marlins right-handed rookie sensation Jose Fernandez played in the PG WWBA World Championship as recently as 2010 and was named the event’s Most Valuable Pitcher while throwing for FTB Mizuno. Another top rookie in 2013, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Wil Myers, played on Dirtbags’ teams in Jupiter in both 2007 and ’08.

Six top prospects that played in the 2009 PG WWBA World Championship have already made their big-league debuts, including Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who played that year with the Royals Baseball Club.

The 2004 WWBA PG/BA World Championship produced 27 eventual first-round or first-round compensation draft picks, including several prospects that played prominent roles in this year’s MLB postseason, Kershaw among them.

Pittsburgh Pirates impact teammates Andrew McCutchen (Team Florida USA) and Pedro Alvarez (Bayside Yankees/Va. Barnstormers) were here in 2004, as were the Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce (Houston Heat) and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Lance Lynn (Indiana Mustangs).

The Atlanta Braves soared to 96 regular-season wins behind an all-PG WWBA World Championship outfield of Jason Heyward (2006, East Cobb Astros), Justin Upton (2003, All-Star Baseball Academy) and B.J. Upton (2001, All-Star Baseball Academy), along with first baseman Freddie Freeman (2008, Ohio Warhawks). Detroit Tigers slugger Prince Fielder joined B.J. Upton at the 2001 World Championship.

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