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2022 New England Summer Series: Team Previews


Bruce Hefflinger and Dylan Hefflinger
PBR Ohio Senior Writer and Editor in Chief/NW Scout

 

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Eight of the top organizations in New England have teamed up with Prep Baseball Report to form a new league that will benefit players and colleges alike.

The PBR New England Summer Series will begin in late June to the delight of those involved.

“College coaches can come out to see the best organizations in the area,” explained Rich Gilbride, the director of the league. “A bunch of colleges in New England have asked why can’t we get something together at one venue for them to come out and watch and we finally decided to get one together. Everyone thought it was a great idea.”

The eight-team league will play four games once a week at Fraser Field in Lynn, Ma,, a 5,000-seat venue that has played host to many minor league teams over the years. Games will be nine innings in duration and be held at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. every Tuesday beginning on June 28.

Players throughout each organization in the 2023-2025 graduating classes will participate.

“These are high-level organizations that already send kids on to play college baseball,” Gilbride said. “This will only help bring maximum exposure for players in each organization.”

The Expos, Gilbride’s organization, will be joined in the newly formed league by the U.S. 9 Prospects, GBG Hawks, J & M Baseball Academy, Northeast Baseball, New England Ruffnecks, River Rats and Team Boston. Each will play one game each week over a seven-week season, with play ending on Aug. 16.

2022 New England Summer Series: Team Previews

Expos

Rich Gilbride speaks about the organization.

There have been 10 draft picks in the last seven years. A total of 116 players have gone on to college over that same time frame. A year ago, 14 players in the Expos’ organization went on to play some level of college baseball.

“We hope to get all of our players on the college coaches’ landscape to see in the future,” Gilbride said about the philosophy of the organization. “We hope to have them recruited now at any level, be on the recruiting radar and to follow forward with recruiting them.”

The thought is that the new league - PBR New England Summer Series - will bring results in that direction.

“This gives our guys more added exposure,” noted Gilbride about what the league can provide the Expos’ organization, which this year has three high-school aged teams, a 2023 team, a 2024 team and a 2025 team. “It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about guys moving on to college.

“When we put the league together that was the idea behind it. We want to bring added eyes to it. We wanted to have a time and place for colleges to come see.”

The Expos will play at all three PBR New England events this summer along with Diamond Nation in New Jersey and NEB events. Additionally, teams in the organization will compete in a couple of events at the New England Baseball Complex and the Boston Open.

GBG Northeast Hawks

Chris Welch speaks about the organization.

An organization that started with three teams in 2010 will now have 25 this summer, with two 16U and 17U teams along with one 18U team.

“When we started our number one thing was player development,” noted Chris Welch, director of college development as well as head coach of one of the 17U summer teams. “We’ve kept that up and the result is high-level teams.”

In the beginning the youngest age group was 13U, but now it starts at 10 years of age.

“We strive to develop and I think we do a good job of developing over the winter,” Welch related. “One of the unique things we do is a four-month training program one or two times a week with individual training along with team practice on the weekends.

“Our core players come from 30 to 40 minutes away from the RBI Facility,” added Welch, whose organization is based out of Foxboro. “Our players choose to play with us while looking to improve, not just for college.”

The idea behind GBG Hawks focuses on the growth of those involved.

“Our philosophy is player development first, but that can be tricky,” Welch explained. “You try to find players that want to put the work in while finding coaches that want to make it work.”

The PBR New England Summer Series fits in well.

“We know the other organizations are really top notch,” Welch said. “We looked at our schedule and there were a lot of holes in it. This is good to fill in. It provides competitive games, but not a tournament. I think it can help with development and improvement. It’s a great opportunity for colleges to see high-level talent in the middle of the week.”

Welch also looks forward to the season ahead.

“We go into every year with the perspective of doing what’s best for the teams that year,” Welch explained. “But a lot of what we do are staples. PBR events on the north shore for sure and other tournaments.

“We as an organization don’t put focus on travel. Our top teams travel one weekend. Our 17s are doing the PBR LakePoint event this year for the first time. Other than that, there are plenty of opportunities in our area. The events we’ve done with PBR have been successful and we want to put focus on those.”

J&M Baseball Academy

Matt Walsh speaks about the organization.

Year two as a program brings plenty of promise to J&M Baseball Academy’s Matt Walsh, a former recruiting coordinator and associate head coach at Franklin Pierce.

“We have a lot of talent,” noted Walsh, pointing to a roster with players from schools like Plymouth North and Plymouth South high schools.

The organization has gone from two teams to five after a year in which seven players made college commitments, four that went on to Division II.

“We’re starting to move in the right direction,” Walsh said. “The main thing is we want to develop players and help with their recruiting to get them to the highest point they can go to.”

Walsh is hopeful that the PBR New England Summer Series provides additional exposure to help in that area.

“We’re super grateful to be part of this new league,” Walsh said. “There are a lot of big programs in there and we know we’ll be playing against a lot of top programs. It’s exactly where we want to be.”

PBR tournaments and college team camps are also on the summer agenda.

“We’re going to go to New Jersey as well,” Walsh noted. “We’re trying to broaden our travel.”

The first year as an organization was a learning experience.

“We learned about the right tournaments we want to be in and obviously PBR is a big one,” Walsh said. “We’re happy to be in this league because of that.

“I think last year our kids adapted well,” Walsh added. “They learned how to interact with each other and get along with each other.”

The new league will be another major experience for those in the organization that have the opportunity to participate in it.

“This is going to be a great thing,” Walsh concluded. “It will keep our guys in motion mid-week and get us more exposure.”

Northeast Baseball

Matt Kruger speaks about the organization.

The accomplishments of Northeast Baseball have been phenomenal.

“We’re a college development program with over 800 players moving on and over 50 going to the pros,” noted Matt Kruger, a coach who has now been with the organization based out of Harvard, Ma., for its 14 years of existence. “We’ve had guys picked in the top three rounds of the draft.

“Our number one goals are to have players move on and play at any level of college baseball while helping find the best fit for them.”

The philosophy is simple for an organization that will have 10 teams from 12U to 17U this season and had more than 25 Division I commits in the 2022 class last year with more than 40 overall.

“We try to develop guys on and off the field, guide them through the recruiting process and help them make the best decision for themselves and give them a good experience,” Kruger related.

The PBR New England Summer Series will aid the beliefs of Northeast Baseball

“This allows us to play during the week against some of the best organizations in New England,” Kruger said. “These are organizations that have some of the same goals we do, attracting as many scouts as we can.”

It just adds to the schedule for Northeast Baseball this summer.

“We’ll play a fair amount of local games plus travel,” Kruger noted. “We’re going to play in the 15U and 17U PBR Championships for the first time this year and we’re excited about that. We’re also going to host tournaments for 16U and 18U (June 10-12), so we’re trying to mix local and travel while looking to play the highest level of competition we can.

“Our goal is to play 45 or so games, so we’ll schedule 50 with weather and all. We want to play as many games as we can throughout the summer, mostly tournaments and now this league.”

The benefits of the league are enormous in the eyes of Kruger.

“We’re going to be playing high-level competition,” Kruger said. “This allows us to know who we play with good players and good coaches. It will really challenge our guys, that’s the number one thing for us.”

Ruffnecks

Steve August speaks about the organization.

The organization is now in year 19 with founder Steve August still enjoying being part of it all.

“In the spring I spend a lot of time with the 13s, that’s our entry point,” explained August, who partnered up with another to build the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough that opened in 2014. “We have five teams that start out at 13. I roam in the summer and I’m a certified college counselor as well.”

The success of the program has been phenomenal.

“Over a four-year period that preceded 2020, we had 78 percent that played at any level and 41 percent that played at the D-I level,” pointed out August, a former assistant general manager with the Red Sox.

Strong coaching is a backbone of the organization, featuring pitching coordinator Ace Adams.

“We’re lucky to have him,” August said of Adams, who has 35 years of experience in that capacity..

 With two decades of knowledge and understanding, the Ruffnecks continue to make strides as an organization.

“With two decades of doing this you have time to sharpen your focus,” August said. “Our focus is being team oriented and development oriented.”

Being a vital part of the new PBR New England Summer Series is compelling, according to August.

“I think this idea is brilliant,” August said. “I hope it’s successful. I like that it’s small. Tournaments are getting so big, the fact that this league is eight teams is great. I like that it’s mid-sized with good programs. It’s not going to be about bashing each other’s heads in, we’re playing teams with similar objectives while trying to get our kids better. This will dodge the inconsistencies that you see when you go to pool tournaments.”

It adds to the schedule that has been developed through two decades as an organization.

“We have a long history as far as where we have to be for the older guys,” August explained. “For the 13-14s we try to find good fun trips.”

Getting out of the northeast is not a big part of it for the Ruffnecks, which in 20 years as an organization has traveled to events in states such as Arizona, Texas, Missouri and Illinois.

“When we built the complex in 2014 we reduced the need to travel,” August said. “Our 17s go to Diamond Nation and we go to the WWBA and Music City with the older levels.”

Southern Maine River Rats

Marcus Crowell speaks about the organization.

What began in 2013 as an organization with youth teams has now expanded.

“This is our fourth year playing in front of college coaches,” noted Marcus Crowell, the do-it-all director of the organization who schedules practices and tournaments and coaches while also running the Hitters Count Training Facility in Saco, Me.

There are four showcase teams and three high school teams in an organization with 20 total teams between youth and middle school along with those seven.

“It’s about development,” pointed out Crowell. “We really want to help kids take the game to the next level. We give everything we can in the winter to help get them better. It’s not just in-game development, it’s about individual life lessons, becoming better baseball players and, for some, helping them reach their college and pro dreams.”

College commits from the organization now total more than 20.

“A lot of them are at Division III, but a handful are at the Division I level,” Crowell related. “The program is really growing now with four showcase teams. We want to help them find the right fit, the right home. We want to celebrate all the commitments, whether it’s D-I or D-III.”

There is a strategy behind it all.

“We try to blend everything,” Crowell explained.”There is a lot of value with team camps. You’re guaranteed college coaches and it’s easy to plan pitching. There are also events like the Boston Open with winner takes all. There is a competitive focus with a lot of value on winning.

“We try to get players to focus on playing no matter the environment. There are prospect events and PBR events. Being able to show numbers with PBR, there’s always a value to that.”

The new PBR New England Summer Series provides another avenue for the organization.

“Number one there is really good company,” Crowell said. “If you look at the eight teams it’s really an impressive list. It’s an additional opportunity for exposure and it’s on a Tuesday so it’s not going to interfere with weekends. It’s an opportunity to be seen mid-week.

“We’re excited to be in the ‘elite eight,’” Crowell added. “There will be exposure to the competition, not just exposure to coaches, so you’ve got to be battle-tested. This league will provide all of the above.”

Most players in the organization come from a 30-mile range of surrounding towns from the facility along with a few players on the New Hampshire border. Teams range from 9U through showcase.

Team Boston

Keith Forbes speaks about the organization.

The organization began under the name Team Boston in 2013 and this year there will be 17 teams.

The success when it comes to players moving on has been outstanding, with more than 100 college commits, approximately 60 at the Division I level, as well as six that have signed pro contracts.

“The first year we had 15 kids on the roster and 14 went on to  D-I,” noted Keith Forbes, a managing partner of Team Boston who also helps coach.

There are three players from the organization playing at the professional level, Max Burt, Yankees (Northeastern); Danny Metzdorf, White Sox (Boston College); Chris Sharpe, Pirates (UMass-Lowell).

“We have coaches that have been playing and coaching that are very good defensive coaches and hitting coaches,” Forbes explained. “We have one that has been doing it for 40 years. Our head coach, Jeff Mejia, was a coach at North Essex Community College, and I was in the Padres’ organization for three years. Pitching is my forte. We learn from each other.

“Our goal is to give kids as much possibility to play at the next level and teach them how to navigate it: put in work by themselves; grades; be realistic where you fit D-I, D-II or D-III; where you fit academically; being a good teammate, student and kid to make sure you’re on the right path.”

The PBR New England Summer Series will help in that regard according to Forbes.

“I think this will give us a consistent venue to go to play against the best teams in the area,” Forbes said. “When you have consistent games set up, you know colleges will be attending.

“This will also be good for our kids to get more innings on the mound and more at-bats on a consistent basis.”

The Team Boston season begins with a local eight-team tournament once the high school season ends. The 17U PBR National Tournament in Georgia is one highlight on the schedule.

“Our biggest strength is placing kids in schools where they can go and compete right away and also be successful in their studies,” Forbes explained. “Every kids’ goal is Division I, but that’s not always going to be the best fit. We do the best we can to find the right fit.”

U.S. 9 Prospects

Pete Mrowka speaks about the organization.

Formerly the Boston Prospects, the organization has been newly named but little else has changed. Pete Mrowka is back to head the administration, a position he has held since it all began a decade ago.

“We’ve been fielding teams for 10 years and I’ve been there for all 10,” Mrowka said.

Back at the outset there was just one team, but the number has now reached seven for groups 11U through 18U.

“We try to develop kids to be able to play in college and beyond,” Mrowka noted. “We focus on workouts in the winter, two per week starting in November. We keep our roster size low so kids get a lot of reps in practice and in games.”

The schedule varies from year to year.

“We play mainly in the northeast, but if we have a roster that needs to go national we’ll go there if it’s justified,” Mrowka pointed out. “In October we go to Florida for national stuff, but it’s really year by year depending on our makeup. If we have a lot of D-II and D-III players, we’ll stay here.”

The potential to be part of the PBR  New England Summer Series is exciting according to Mrowka.

“We play tournaments on weekends, so a midweek opportunity gives our pitchers live bullpens and gives our other players ABs instead of shutting down for five days,” Mrowka explained. “This will be bringing together good programs with good coaches, so we know we’ll have a good competitive level of baseball.”

Based out of Duxbury with most players from the south shore from Boston to Cape Cod, the U.S. 9 Prospects merged with a group from Connecticut run by Bran Looney, hence the change in organizational name this year.

“We’ll go with one team to North Carolina this year, but basically we’ll play in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and the new league, plus team camps at Fordham, Northeastern, UMass-Lowell and UMass-Amherst,” Mrowka noted.

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