E.A. Sports Today

Blue Sox 16U winners

UPDATED: Green creates winning run, nails down second save in 16U title game; prospect-laden TPL National 17U wins 18U division

Excel Blue Sox' Landon Green (R) goes through the signs with catcher Dalton King. (Photo by Connie Green)

Excel Blue Sox’ Landon Green (R) goes through the signs with catcher Dalton King. (Photo by Connie Green)

Championship Games

15U: Indian Springs Stingers 10, Alabama Legends 7
16U: Excel Blue Sox 2, Central Alabama Baseball Asso. (CABA) 1
18U: The Prospect Lab (TPL) National 17U 10, Indian Springs Stingers 2

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Landon Green is a player with tools his Excel Baseball coaches say will take him places, and he had them on display this weekend.

The rising Helena junior found a way to get on base, used his speed to create scoring opportunities and pitched a solid seventh for his second straight save as the Excel Blue Sox beat CABA 2-1 Monday to win the 16U title in their season-opening Excel Memorial Wood Bat Classic.

Green had five hits in 10 at-bats in the Blue Sox’ five games, but his sharp eye at the plate drew several walks, and no sooner had he reached base he was gone for second. He stole five bases.

That’s the way he created what proved to be the winning run in the Blue Sox’ second straight 2-1 tournament win.

It was the third inning. He walked, stole second, then took off for third and rode home when the catcher’s throw got away. The Blue Sox stole seven bases in the championship game, the first six off left-handed CABA starter Will Collins of Hueytown.

“This is a big summer to get noticed and step up our game to get it to the next level,” Green said.

The Blue Sox went 4-1 in the tournament and won the championship after losing their first game. Manager Logan Crook had only been with the team a few days when it lost the opener, but he wasn’t discouraged.

“I hadn’t been around any of these guys until that first game, really,” Crook said. “I got one practice with them last weekend. We got beat first game, it was a tough game, a close game, but they came back and dominated the next two and the two after that. It was good to see that.

“Everybody played hard. We could’ve won that (first) game very easily. We scored one, (but) could’ve scored five or six if we just had a couple hits fall. I wasn’t concerned at all after that first game, because we have a bunch of guys who grind.”

The Blue Sox got strong pitching throughout the tournament, giving up three runs or fewer in four games and never more than four in any game.

White Plains’ sophomore Andrew Cronan got it started. He threw four shutout innings, gave up three hits and pitched out of two jams with runners in scoring position. The Blue Sox gave him a 1-0 lead in the second when Brock Swafford singled home Taylor Morrow, then added Green’s run in the third.

Oxford sophomore Tate Adams followed with two innings of one-hit relief in his first mound appearance of the summer season and Green closed, retiring CABA in order in the seventh, ending the game with a strikeout.

“Everybody who’s pitched has been phenomenal,” Crook said.

The Prospect Lab excels

They didn’t come all this way to finish second.

The TPL National 17U team, based out of Biloxi, Miss., proved itself the class of the tournament’s largest division when it run-ruled an Indian Springs Stinger team that beat it earlier in the tournament 10-2 to win the 18U title.

The winners pounded nine hits and took advantage of several Stinger errors to jump out to a 7-0 lead after two innings.

“We play hard, we play aggressive and we have fun,” TPL director of player development Matthew Paul said. “For us it’s about creating a solid foundation for the rest of the summer. We want to create a standard, that’s what this program is about.

“We want our players to feel like whenever we step on the field that we’re here to win, we’re here to play hard, we’re here to get better. We’re not just here to play the game, but we’re here to dominate the game and create a standard for this program.”

TPL stands for The Prospect Lab and this team has plenty. Leadoff man Bubba Thompson is a projected second- or third-round draft pick next June. Cleanup hitter Thomas Johns is committed to UAB. Three-hole hitter Joe Gray Jr. is getting looks from throughout the SEC and is projected first-round pick in two years.

Thompson, an Auburn commitment from McGill-Toolen, had two hits and two RBIs in the championship game. Johns singled home a run. Gray made something happen every time he came to the plate. He also hit a homer off Oxford High School earlier in the tournament.

“Joe is an Adam Jones-type player for me,” Paul said, referring to the Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder. “He’s going to be a guy who can hit in the middle of the lineup, play center field and be a run producer. I think he’s going to be an adequate centerfielder at the major league level some day.

“Depending on what happens the next couple years, if he continues to develop as a player he’s a sure-fire first-round pick. He’s a potential five-tool player at the major-league level.”

Paul knows of where he speaks. He spent two years as a player in the Dodgers’ minor-league system and the past eight as a scout. He is currently a scouting consultant for the Washington Nationals. His Birmingham-based partner, former Auburn captain Travis Coleman, is the Midwest scouting supervisor for the MLB Scouting Bureau.

Gray already has offers from LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State. He has always seen himself going to college, but if the opportunity is right in a few years he knows the pros can always write his education into a contract.

This summer, however, his focus is all about continuing to develop.

“I want to progress and define myself as a player, as a hitter,” he said. “I want to grow at the plate and be more disciplined, basically grow all around.”

Excel Blue Sox first baseman Ethan Whitley (18) is poised to catch CABA's Tyler Carter off-guard in Sunday's 16U championship game. (Photo by Connie Green)

Excel Blue Sox first baseman Ethan Whitley (18) is poised to catch CABA’s Tyler Carter off-guard in Sunday’s 16U championship game. (Photo by Connie Green)

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