USA Baseball Part 2: Minnesota Connections
Image courtesy of USA BaseballWhen you think about hotbeds for baseball, which states do you think about? For me, I think of Georgia. I think of southern California and Florida. I don’t necessarily put Minnesota into that same category. However, seemingly each year there are a few Minnesota high school players who get drafted and more who wind up at Division I colleges.
“Any organization will tell you; where the best players are, we will find them. In the past few years, we’ve had a few players from Wisconsin. We have a couple of players from Minnesota this year. We have a player from Wisconsin.” Frank Jagoda continued. “There are good players all over the place. At the PDP League this year specifically, we’re going to be well represented throughout our country with several different states that traditionally don’t see a lot of players involved. That’s exciting. For me, as the 18U national team director, I’m excited to get in those different areas, to dig in the weeds and find those kids, find ways to get them exposure and get them into our program.”
And once they get to the PDP League, those players will be given every opportunity to be invited to the trials. The best players always tend to stand out.
What an opportunity for the kids! First, it’s an opportunity to put on the Red, White and Blue uniform with USA across the chest.
“Any time you get a chance to represent your country, you’re talking about something that’s larger than just the game. You’re talking about an entire nation that gets behind you when you go and do these things. There’s a lot of good baseball players out there. This isn’t just another travel ball tournament at some event. This is something that means much more. These are relationships you’re going to have the rest of your life. These are experiences you’re going to have for the rest of your life, and you may never get to wear the colors again. Or you’re fortunate and you’re like Joe Mauer and get to wear them four times. You just never know. This is just an opportunity. Some kids may never make the big leagues, but they got to wear their nations colors at 18 years old.”
Joe Mauer is obviously the exception to many rules. But he isn’t the only Minnesota player to play for Team USA. Mauer played for Team USA in a couple of tournaments in 2000. Here are other Minnesota players who have made the 18U National Team 20 Man roster and competed internationally.
2012 - Ryan Boldt (Red Wing)
2000 - Joe Mauer (Cretin-Derham Hall)
1994 - Jason Dobis (Little Falls)
1992 - Chris Schwab (Cretin- Derham Hall)
1991 - Ryan Kjos (Hopkins)
1989 - Tom Nevers (Edina)
1989 - Chris Weinke (Cretin-Derham Hall)
1986 - Tom Quinlan (Hill-Murray)
Recently, I was able to touch base with 1989 Team USA National Team member, infielder Tom Nevers. A year later, the Houston Astros selected Nevers with the 21st overall pick in the 1990 draft. He spent 13 seasons playing in affiliated baseball, reaching the Triple-A level, before retiring after the 2002 season.
Nevers’ 1989 team won the gold medal in Trio Riveria, Quebec, beating Cuba in the championship game. “We had a nice blend of players from all around the country. This was back in the Olympic Festival days, and it was at Oklahoma’s college campus.”
He went there to compete for his team, “I never really felt it was a tryout as I was more worried about winning the Gold on the North team, and we did that as well. We had a great, low-ego team. After the last game, they informed the players who made it, and I was fortunately one of them.”
For much of Team USA, the team’s camp was a trip north. For Nevers, he just hopped on Highway 35 and headed south. “We had a camp in Des Moines, Iowa, and played Mexico, I believe, three times before heading to Quebec.”
Representing Team USA meant a lot to Nevers, and he was unique. He was able to do so more than just once. “Wearing the USA colors is like nothing else. I was fortunate to compete internationally in hockey and baseball wearing those colors. Means a lot to me, to say the least.”
Nevers, now 47, remains busy. He sells real estate for Edina Realty in Edina. He also has a baseball training facility with two-time World Series champion Gene Larkin called Nevers Larkin Baseball (Twitter). This is their 11th year of working together and he really enjoys it. He also does some coaching on his son’s baseball team and still tries to help out the Edina Legion program when he has time.
2019 Player Development Pipeline Invitations
As alluded to yesterday and above, two players from Minnesota have accepted invitations to play in the PDP League in June. Burnsville High School junior OF/P Max Carlson and Rochester Century High School SS/P Mac Horvath will head to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in mid-June.
Horvath has been playing on the national summer baseball circuit for several years already. He has incredible speed. He is playing mostly shortstop now, but some scouts can see him shifting to centerfield in the future if it is needed because his speed will play there. He is not a bulky kid, by any means, but he has a real short stroke and can surprise by producing quite a bit of power. He also has a very strong arm with a fastball (or throw from shortstop) that can top 90 mph as well.
Max Carlson is another player who has been known nationally for a few years already. While he is a good outfielder and one of Burnsville’s top hitters, he is very intriguing as a pitcher. A scouting report might indicate that he can have real electric stuff at times. He has a fastball in the low-90s with a sharp slider. He profiles as a starter because he also have a good changeup with fade. He has a smooth delivery.
Carlson is the younger brother of Sam Carlson who was a second-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2017. He had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and recently began throwing bullpens again. He was a part of USA Baseball in 2016. He played in the 40-player trials but was cut when the 20-man roster was set.
In 2017, Carlson was playing for the Minnesota Blizzard and they scrimmaged the 18U national team.
Carlson said, “I played against the 18U Team USA team with (Ethan) Hankins, (Kumar) Rocker, (Triston) Casas, and that is kind of what led me to wanting to represent my country in the USA uniform. I was 15 at the time, and I looked up to those guys. The PDP League is the first step on that journey to making Team USA and I'm extremely excited to compete at IMG.”
While ultimately the goal for these two and the others going to Bradenton is to make the final 20 player roster and play for Team USA in South Korea in August, it’s equally important to know that these players are going to be given a great opportunity to further develop their skills.
Jagoda says, “We’re confident with what we have developmentally, the programs and processes that we have in place as an organization, we’re developing a true developmental organization for these kids as well as an opportunity to represent their country overseas.”
Much has been written at Twins Daily and elsewhere about how much technology is used on the back fields and in player development. Jagoda points out that these players at the PDP League will have the same opportunities.
Jagoda explained, “Yes, they are there to compete for their national team, but also to get better. We’re going to be using all the new data and technology initiatives. We’re going to be able to streamline and personalize developmental plans. We’ll be able to provide them feedback and instruction based on them, and we’re not going to blanket those things. Our players are really going to be able to tap in on the development side of things. We’re trying to provide a first-class development experience, and at the end of it, you might have a chance to compete for your country.”
Players will get an iPad and be sent their data and video in real time. They will be provided an experience not unlike what they might experience in professional baseball.
It is great to know that players from Minnesota have competed in international competitions and more continue to get that opportunity. The future is bright for Horvath and Carlson. Both have committed to the University of North Carolina. Both could be high draft picks in the 2020 MLB Draft. And we wish both the best as they compete and develop with Team USA in the PDP League.