Youth stars shine at WWBA championship

October 13th, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- They come from across the country, different accents, different cultures, different views. But the common denominator is a game they all love and take very seriously.

Nearly 50 elite high school baseball players -- from 12 states and Puerto Rico -- were selected by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball to comprise two MLB Breakthrough Series squads. These teams will participate this weekend in the World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) World Championship (18-under) and the WWBA Freshman Championship (15-under), both operated by Perfect Game, in Jupiter and West Palm Beach respectively.

The wood-bat tournaments feature some of the best high school players in the country, including the top performers from the MLB/USA Baseball Amateur Development events. Those include the Breakthrough Series, Dream Series and Hank Aaron Invitational.

Californian Mike Brown is one of the players selected to play in what is generally regarded as the most prestigious showcase anywhere in regard to drawing college and professional scouts.

A first baseman for the MLB Breakthrough Series 2020 team, Brown has learned much both on and off the field from his participation.

"Especially with the Breakthrough Series that we do, it's not a lot of times you see a team like us, full of minorities, but we're ballplayers," said Brown, who will play college ball at the University of Washington. "Especially I like how we're from everywhere in the country. Every time we're together we're a family. It's just a whole lot of fun.

"Honestly, lucky is the only way I can put it. We have a world-class coaching staff, people who have had long, successful careers in the Major Leagues, that's where we're all trying to get to."

That stellar coaching staff includes former Major League player and manager Jerry Manuel along with Flash Gordon, Lenny Webster, Tye Waller and Lou Collier.

Miles Garrett, Brown’s teammate and a right-handed pitcher from Georgia who has committed to play at Vanderbilt University, said he likes the diversity in culture with teammates from various parts of the country.

"It's different; the stuff they do, the things they say, it's all different," said Garrett, who pitched five shutout innings of two-hit baseball, striking out seven in a 2-0 win to open pool play on Thursday.

"I like to adapt,” Garrett said. “They learn from me, I learn from them. We take it back home, different sayings and all that. It's awesome. We're all from different places, and the way we can all come together as a team is really amazing. It's a miracle to be honest. And it's a great opportunity to come together and do that. I love it."

Brown went 2-for-6 with a double and a run scored for his team, which completed a 2-0-1 run in pool play on Saturday with an 8-8 tie with Northeast Pride Scout Team. The 92-team field continues with games running through Monday in Jupiter at Spring Training facilities of the Marlins and Cardinals.

Chase Davis, a University of Arizona commit, doubled, tripled and homered, drove in four runs and scored four more to lead the MLB Breakthrough Series 2020 team in the tie on Saturday. Marquis Grissom, Jr., a Georgia Tech commit, threw three innings of one-hit, shutout ball, striking out five. His fastball topped out at 92 mph.

"We've got some good players," said Del Matthews, MLB’s senior director of baseball development. "This group is very unique in that we've had a core of them for the last three to four years. So they've actually grown. They weren't as decorated when they first started playing with us. But it's a testament to their development process, how hard they've worked, and what they've been able to achieve now going into their senior years of high school.

"It's been a great evolution. It's been great to watch and be a part of. We're just excited for the guys. They're pumped up. This is the one event they put on their calendar. They love getting together. We're down in Vero Beach at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, staying there and getting a chance to practice and do some things there at the field because we're not together all year round. So we've built that cohesive bond there and it's awesome."

The MLB Breakthrough Series 2020 (15-under) team opened pool play with a pair of games on Saturday, winning one and tying another, after opening games on Friday were postponed by rain. Cam Collier hit a three-run homer in a 3-3 tie with NYC Rising Stars, and both Daniel Harden and John Martinez delivered two hits apiece, each driving in a run while scoring another in a 9-6 win over Team Elite National.

Dakylan Johnson threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless two-hit ball, striking out three in the opener before Collier and Kalani Santos combined for 2 2/3 hitless innings and five strikeouts.

The 76-team field competes through Monday in West Palm Beach at the Astros and Nationals Spring Training complex.