06/25/2014 6:51 PM
Charles Leblanc (shown here hitting against Utica) is just one of the high school seniors playing in the PGCBL this season. (Photo Courtesy/Warren Shelmidine)
Story by Chris Real, Perfect Game USA
It’s called the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, but in a new concept that has started since partnering with Perfect Game, graduated high school seniors who plan on attending a two-year or four-year university are allowed to play in the PGCBL with Perfect Game’s approval.
“It’s a concept that we developed with Perfect Game over the last couple of years where we’re looking to take the high school players who really are ready for college level baseball, they have nothing left to prove and want to start prepping themselves for the college fall ball program they are going to walk into as soon as they hit the campus,” PGCBL President Jeff Kunion explained.
Kunion said that Perfect Game sends scouting reports and recommendations to the PGCBL of players who have played in various Perfect Game tournaments and showcases. Since its early days, this concept has continued growing each season.
“It’s being planned as we had in mind when we joined forces with Perfect Game; so it’s been there from the onset,” Kunion continued. “I think each year we’ve developed it to a greater level bringing more and more high school players who are referred by Perfect Game into the league.
“The first year may have been one or two, then three or four. Now I think there are probably more than half a dozen.”
Each team in the league is given two open slots for these high school players and according to the PGCBL website, five of the nine teams in the league have at least one graduated high school senior on their roster: Adirondack, Albany, Glens Falls, Newark, and Watertown.
Hunter Thomas, an infielder for Adirondack, has played in one game thus far getting in three at-bats going 1-3 with a run scored and a walk.
Ernie Clement, one of Albany’s two high school players, has one at-bat and made the most of it, hitting an RBI double and scored a run as well. Ben Lee, the second incoming college freshman for Albany, is still waiting for his first taste of action, but is still gaining valuable experience being in the PGCBL.
“There’s no guarantee a player is going to get a lot of ABs or is going to throw a lot of innings, it’s just that he has the opportunity like every other player to show that he can get some playing time,” Kunion said.
Ryan Dodge of Glens Falls has started in eight games thus far getting six hits in 24 at-bats and has six RBIs.
Charles Leblanc of the Watertown Rams, who has started in six games and played in eight, has five hits in 25 at-bats. He also has two doubles, three RBIs, and two runs scored.
Jack Gerstenmaier of the Newark Pilots is one such player who has gone through the highest ranks of Perfect Game tournaments and showcases, and is now preparing himself for his freshman year at the University of Virginia.
As a member of the EvoShield Canes travel team, one of the premiere travel programs in the country, Gerstenmaier was immersed in Perfect Game events and was a participant at the 2012 Jr. National Showcase and the 2013 National Showcase. The EvoShield Canes participated in the Perfect Game National and World Championships from 2011-2013 and were the champions of the 2013 Perfect Game 17u World Series in Goodyear, Arizona.
“It was awesome playing for a big name like EvoShield,” Gerstenmaier said. “It was a lot of pressure but we all did what we were supposed to do, we played together as a team. Just the talent on that team; so many guys got drafted and are going to huge D-I schools. It was great to be able to experience that and [be] a part of that.”
He said participating in Perfect Game events helped him as a player to face the best competition.
“I’d say that Perfect Game does a really good job getting people exposed,” Gerstenmaier said of his PG experience. “Playing in the tournaments like the Perfect Game National and Jr. National and the Perfect Game World Series definitely prepared me for coming into a league like this because the pitchers you would face in those tournaments were just insane, especially in the National and the Jr. National. Everyone there deserved to be there. Everyone was throwing in the upper-80s and lower-90s.
“I’m definitely glad I was able to go to those tournaments and experience that. I’m thankful for Perfect Game for putting on such good events.”
During his senior year of high school, he said he went out for his high school’s football team in the fall just because it was his senior year, but it took away from his baseball reps. That caused him to miss the pretigious 2013 WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., an event his EvoShield Canes teammates won.
He noted the coaches at the University of Virginia wanted him to get some reps before stepping on campus which is how he got involved with the PGCBL.
“UVA, [Head Coach Brian] O’ Connor, he wanted me to get reps this summer and play ball and get ready for the grind of college baseball,” Gerstenmaier said. “That’s one thing I definitely realized coming into this league, is it’s a whole new level from high school. You’re playing every day; you’re working out, living on your own. It’s definitely different but it’s good.”
That’s another thing Gerstenmaier said he has noticed, a big difference from high school and facing college competition, is the pitchers can effectively throw every pitch.
“The off-speed pitches are a lot better,” Gerstenmaier explained. “In high school I’d say I would rarely see a changeup that I would be like ‘wow that’s a good pitch.’ In this league so far, I’ve really seen pitchers use a third pitch to get you out, which I’m definitely not used to. I’m used to just being able to sit fastball, curveball or slider, so it’s been a big difference.”
So far early in the season, he has started seven games and played in eight. He currently possesses a .385 batting average getting 10 hits in 26 plate appearances, with two doubles, four RBIs, and nine runs scored. He said his first PGCBL at-bat came when he entered the game against Glens Falls, and when the game went into extras, he got his opportunity.
“I just tried to not think too much and try not to do too much and just let it play out; do what I’ve been doing my whole life and play baseball and not think about the pressure. It was fun,” Gerstenmaier said.
Outside of baseball, Gerstenmaier is adjusting to living on his own with the grind of the PGCBL schedule and said he enjoys the city of Newark, N.Y.
“It’s great, we get a pretty good crowd every game and you can tell the town gets into it, and Colburn Park is a really nice field. The coaching staff is awesome and all the players really welcome me, so it’s been fun,” Gerstenmaier said. “It’s definitely a grind, we’re staying in some community college dorms and they’re really nice, but it’s about a 40 minute drive to the field every day.”
“I’m responsible for myself so I have to grocery shop, which is something I’m not used to,” he said with a laugh. “It’s worth it for sure; it’s an adjustment period of playing every day and doing that stuff all on your own. It’s definitely been good for me.”
The concept of having high school players in the PGCBL has been a success in the early stages for both players and league officials, and Kunion said he plans to keep the concept growing.
“We would like to expand it,” Kunion said in regards to the future of this concept. “We look to bring in more of these graduating high school seniors to try and get to the point where we have two of these quality kids on each one of our rosters.
“I think it sets apart from a lot of other collegiate leagues which either don’t let the high school kids play or are starting to because they’ve seen that the PGCBL does it. But they don’t have the kind of scouting access to the quantity of high school players that we have through Perfect Game.”