Nine games into its schedule, this summer’s USA Baseball Collegiate National team is starting to take shape. With an 8-1 record through nine games and a recent series sweep over visiting Chinese Taipei, manager John Savage is starting to get a good feel for his team during a five-game series against Cuba that started Sunday night at the National Training Complex in Cary that will also include games in Durham and Charlotte.”I think, pitching wise, we throw the ball well,” Savage said. “We have some swing and miss stuff, so there is strikeouts there, which obviously helps defenses and runs scored and all the things that you want on the mound. Offensively, there’s some guys that have swung the bat; we’ve showed a little power, which is good.”We’re pretty versatile, pretty left-handed. We do have the option to throw up six, seven, eight lefthanders at a right-handed pitcher. Defensively, we’ve been just OK. I think that would probably be the biggest disappointment, just in terms of defense. To beat Cuba, we’ve got to play better defensively.”For a group of promising young college baseball players, spending their summer wearing the stars and stripes is an opportunity to raise their profiles and gain valuable experience going into their draft years.”It’s a substantial resume builder,” Savage said. “You play on the college national team, it’s a year before your draft. You get a lot of high end looks from very influential people in Major League Baseball. That’s one positive. Playing against international people is certainly a positive. It’s a little bit different style, wood bats, playing with some of the best players throughout the country is another great part of the summer. Getting coached by different coaches. …”Next June, when these guys are up for the draft, the fact that they played for USA Baseball and got scouted very heavily, certainly will help them going into the draft. They have the whole spring to improve that status. I just think being a USA baseball player is a big deal at the end of the day, not only for confidence, for your resume, and then just your full experience, it can really help you in a lot of different ways.”For the CNT, international travel is usually a part of the summer agenda. This summer, however, the team has gotten the opportunity to show off the local baseball facilities in the area to top international opponents, starting with Chinese Taipei and now with Cuba coming to town.”It has almost like a little Yankees feel to it,” Savage said. “They are an organization that is deep in winning and deep in producing players. … It’s cool, it’s great. It’s certainly going to be a challenge, and having them coming over here, I know they restarted in 2012, I think it’s a really neat deal for our players.”In terms of raising their draft profiles, competing against a talented, experienced Cuba team will be a great opportunity for the USA kids. It will be a tall task, however,”The physicality of Cuba, the experience of Cuba, they’re very competitive,” Savage said. “They’re grown men. Our guys will have to step up a little bit. Chinese Taipei was a good team, but I think all the anticipation is Cuba is more than that. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge, and it’s going to be fun to see how young guys step up and meet this opportunity and challenge.”In order to knock off its rivals, Team USA will need to continue to play to its strengths while improving upon aspects it has struggled with so far.”Defense, I think we definitely have to play better defense,” Savage said. “We’re coming together offensively, I think we’re swinging the bats, we’re putting better at bats together. We’re playing better team offense.”We really have to maintain our ability to pitch. For us to well this series, we’ve really going to have to pitch, upgrade our defense, and keep that offense going against really premiere pitching. We’re going to have our hands full, but our guys are excited. They know what it means to wear the uniform and to play Cuba. We’ve got to play sound, fundamental baseball, and we’ll have a chance.”Game one of the series goes Sunday night at 6 p.m. at the National Training Complex in Cary.
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