San Diego Union-Tribune - P.K. Daniel
Major league pitching prospect Cody Poteet drives a couple hundred miles each weekend to participate in a spring baseball league for high school-age players. Poteet attends Christian High in El Cajon, but he won’t be with his former teammates when the Patriots begin play this week in the San Diego Section playoffs.
“I’m happy with my decision to play in the ABC League,” said Poteet, who committed to UCLA before his junior year. “It was the best option for me.”
Poteet is still among a small minority, but he appears to be part of a growing trend. While travel or club baseball teams have existed for years, these programs usually haven’t conflicted with the high school season.
That changed in 2009 when an established baseball academy in San Bernardino decided to offer a spring league for high school-age players. ABD Academy founder Mike Spiers began the ABC League as a result of a dispute within the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section. Some schools, Spiers claimed, were not allowing out-of-season club or showcase participation.
The ABC League, which is mainly a wood-bat league, provides an alternative. Five of the 13 spring league teams are fielded by the ABD Academy. Other club teams make up the rest of the league.
ABD’s signature team is the Bulldogs. Its roster contains five San Diego-area players, including Poteet, a former All-San Diego Section pick who helped Christian win a Division IV title as a freshman.
“I wish Christian the best of luck in the playoffs,” said Poteet, who was chosen last summer to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park.
Mike Poteet, Cody’s dad, said his 17-year-old son is able to pitch in front of scouting directors every week who come to see multiple prospects.
“They wouldn’t be doing that at the other venue,” he said. “(Cody) wants to pitch in the big leagues. He goes to (Christian) for academics, not baseball.”
San Diego high schools lost 15 players this year to the ABC League, including all-section pick Robby Nesovic, who didn’t play for Grossmont amid a variety of disagreements between Dan Nesovic, Robby’s father, and Foothillers coach Jim Earley, who resigned last week.
“Of course I miss my teammates, but that’s about it,” said the younger Nesovic, who has a scholarship to UC Santa Barbara.
Reasons vary for playing in the spring league — academic ineligibility, exposure to college and major league scouts, conflicts with high school coaches, etc.
Not surprisingly, high school coaches don’t favor the spring league. Longtime Francis Parker coach David Glassey said while he’s OK with out-of-season club teams, he’s not a fan of players giving up their high school baseball season.
“It is important for student-athletes to play and experience high school baseball,” he said. “The coaching and teaching of the game is far superior at the high school level than at the club level.”
Spiers said ABD Academy employs coaches who have played and coached at all levels of baseball, from former major league and college players to high school and college coaches.
San Diego Section Commissioner Jerry Schniepp also opposes the alternative spring league.
“It’s disheartening to me that a student-athlete would forgo the overall high school athletic experience to participate on a club team during the high school season,” said Schniepp. “I understand, appreciate and support club sports, but there are still some very special things about playing for your school that you can’t get anywhere else — and you only get those opportunities once.”
Said Granite Hills coach James Davis: “They’re missing out on playing with their friends at their school and representing their community against other communities in San Diego County. Any athlete will say one of the great thrills of high school athletics is playing for your school, playing with your friends.”
Despite the opposition, Spiers hasn’t had trouble locating players willing to pay hundreds of dollars to fill his rosters.
“We’ve actually had to turn away players,” Spiers said.
Exposure to scouts remains a top attraction, but at least one National League scout, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, wasn’t impressed with what he saw during a recent ABC League game. He said the environment didn’t resonate like a high school game. There was no crowd or much concern over winning and losing.
“As a scout, you want to see how a kid reacts to winning and losing,” he said. “You didn’t get that feeling at those games.”
Spiers said it’s the quality of players that attracts college and major league scouts nationwide.
“The majority of those players will go in the major league draft,” said Spiers, who added that most players on the remaining ABD teams could play at the Division I collegiate level.
The NL scout disagreed on both counts.
“Bull,” he said. “He might have two or three kids drafted off his signature team. You have a couple of high-end players and some very average high school baseball players.”
Most of the San Diego players commute to the games, which are in Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties. Spring league teams don’t practice during the week. That’s on the players. The focus is on the games. The players typically play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, accounting for 32 innings, far more than an average high school team during the regular season.
But the intangibles are missing, said the NL scout. He said the players were involved as individuals and not for the good of the team.
“I have talked to many university and many pro scouts who are very leery of a kid who chooses that route,” said the NL scout.
Meanwhile, Spiers said he’s planning to continue fielding teams next spring.