New GB Baseball Men’s Head Coach, Drew Spencer, has named his first squad for a major international tournament ahead of the European Championships, which kick-off this Sunday in Turin, Italy with an opening fixture against France. Their pool also includes Olympic heroes Israel, who continue to boast a roster including former big leaguers Ty Kelly, Josh Zeid and Danny Valencia along with Detroit Tigers legend Ian Kinsler.
The Lions first squad since the departure of the long-tenured Liam Carroll brings an injection of fresh blood, and potentially a departure from the squad’s reliance of veteran pitching to see out games against quality opposition.
As with all GB squads, reliance on the co-operation of Big League organisations, added to the vagaries of international travel in the COVID era means there are a couple of notable absentees – not least recent Chicago Cubs signee, pitcher Richard Brereton and long-term GB veteran starter Michael Roth.
However, this is offset by the return and addition of a number of high-calibre performers at the top levels of Indy Ball, and a handful of highly-touted prospects from the college ranks.
These fresh names are backed by a clutch of stars from both the London Mets triumphant trip to the recent CEB Cup Qualifier such as Jordan Edmonds and Zach Stroman, long-time veterans of the GB squad including Greg Hendrix and Dan Cooper, and stalwarts from August’s best ever finish at the European u23s event in Kennard Dawson, Miguel Rodriguez and Chris Messer.
Players to Watch
Indy Ball Stalwarts
Infielder Crosby will anchor the GB offence following a career year – which included a 17 game hitting streak – with Southern Maryland at the highest level of Indy Ball in the Atlantic League, where his 12 home runs and .905 OPS place him alongside Big League veterans such as Jimmy Paredes and Alejandro de Aza and Indy Ball legends Blake Gailen and Keon Barnum amongst the league’s most feared hitters.
Crosby’s Southern Maryland teammate Blackstone makes his GB debut, bringing solid contact skills, gap-to-gap doubles power and elite level defense at second. Prior to his two year, 200 game stint in the Atlantic League, Blackstone starred in the Pecos League to earn a spot on the inaugural roster of the Auckland Tuatara in the Australian Baseball Winter League and was a teammate of Rays relief prospect Tyler Zombro at George Mason University.
Switch-hitting catcher Christopher qualifies for GB through residency in the British Virgin Islands. Across 55 games with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association, he has been good for 5 homers, and a .349 OBP after starring behind the dish for Tennessee Wesleyan in the first half of the year as the school made the NAIA World Series. The former Minnesota Twins draftee – he was selected in Round 20 of the 2016 draft out of Junior College, but elected not to sign – brings quality hitting to the lineup at a position which has long been a strong suit for GB squads owing to the presence of Chris Berset and Mike Nickeas.
First baseman Andrews was the star of the GB team at the 2019 Euros and returns to the fold having translated his outstanding form in Germany and Austria into a starting sport with the Gary SouthShore Railcats in this year’s American Association. Unfortunately he scuffled in 19 games, and GB will be hoping for a return of his hot 2019 bat in Turin.
Collegiate League Standouts
For a number of reasons, perhaps the most exciting new name in this squad is that of Rincones. The California native was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 19th Round of this year’s MLB draft out of St. Petersburg Junior College. The Padres were unable to offer Rincones a large enough bonus to break a college commitment, with many scouts predicting that he will become an even hotter property in future drafts. Rincones qualifies for GB following a spell living in Scotland as a teen where he starred for Edinburgh Cannons of the Scottish Baseball League.
Although not achieving the fanfare of Rincones, third baseman Kerry also brings high pedigree having led Division II College World Series qualifiers Northwest Nazarene in both avg and OBP during the 2021 season whilst stroking 11 home runs and bringing home more than one teammate per game. He translated this into a roster spot with Willmar in the highly prestigious Northwoods Collegiate League, whose prestigious alumni include Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and Curtis Granderson. With Willmar, where he was a team-mate of Brewers skipper Craig Counsell’s son Brady, Kerry drove in another 31 runs with an 843 OPS placing him amongst the top 50 hitters in the 22 team league.
Kirkpatrick cemented his legend with GB Baseball pitching a complete game shut out against the Netherlands in the u23 side’s 1-0 win over Europe’s most storied side. That came off the back of a starring season for Hoofdoorp in the Dutch Major League and has also appeared in the German and Italian top flights.
Canadian born Webb is a former 9th round pick for the Cincinnati Reds who spent time in their system, topping out at High-A in 2018. He formed a big part of the GB 2019 Euros squad and will be looking to do the same in Turin.
Veteran former Seattle Mariners relief prospect Cooper, who starred for the Brisbane Bandits in the rebooted Australian Baseball League, will be on standby to throw quality innings from the ‘pen. Cooper, who reached Double A back in 2011, has a storied career with the Lions having achieved important results as both a starter and reliever in Euros going back to 2012 and achieved an incredibly rare ‘zero batters retired’ save for GB in their win over Brazil in 2015’s WBC Qualifier.
Article by John McGee, one of the founders of Bat Flips and Nerds. You can follow John on Twitter @Epouvantail, but better still check out his back catalogue of excellent podcast interviews. This one with Jeremy Wolf from More Than Baseball was particularly enjoyable.
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