If evidence is needed that a travel ball team that plays together and then stays together will ultimately win Perfect Game national championships together, look no further than at what the Dulins Dodgers program’s top 16u team in 2019 has been able to accomplish.
When the Dulins Dodgers 16u Ince – a squad that will be known as the Dodgers 17u Prime in 2020 – rolled to the title at the 2019 16u Perfect Game World Series in Sanford, Fla., in late July, they cashed-in on a trifecta of sorts that had never before been completed.
The championship at the 16u PGWS was the third straight PGWS title claimed by founder Tim Dulin’s 16u squad, which boasted a roster of top prospects from the class of 2021 with a handful of key 2020s also in the mix. What was essentially the same group also won championships at both the 14u PGWS in 2017 and the 15u PGWS in 2018.
The goal for 2020? That, of course, will be winning the 17u PG World Series out in the Phoenix area in July to complete a PGWS superfecta, thus cementing this Dulins Dodgers team’s name in the PG record books.
The players that comprise the rosters’ core have been together since their 12u season in 2015 and Dulin told PG last week that “it’s been a joy” watching them mature and hone their skills over these past four years.
By bringing this group together five years ago and then being able to keep them together throughout their middle school and high school careers has resulted in a dynasty of sorts, at least when it comes to winning titles at prestigious Perfect Game World Series events.
This Dulins Dodgers group finished a combined 18-2-2 while winning the 14u PGWS in 2017, the 15u in 2018 and the 16u in 2019. It went a combined 58-13-5 overall during those three seasons, a record that included a 21-3-2 mark this year. The Dodgers 16u Ince also finished 8-2-1 after a quarterfinal loss at the PG WWBA 16u National Championship and went 6-1-0 at the PG WWBA 17u NC in 2019.
Dulin founded the Dodgers organization in the Memphis, Tenn., area in 1990, and the program has won numerous Perfect Game tournament championships at every age level over the last 30 years. This is despite the fact that Dulin and his staff have never constructed a roster with a “win at all costs” mentality.
“My ultimate goal is not to win (championships), it’s more to get our kids placed in the right college fit,” Dulin said during a pre-Thanksgiving telephone conversation last week. “If they’re fortunate enough to get drafted and make a run at the big leagues, that’s great too, but I think because our staff is made up of guys who have been there-done that, it’s all about the players. It’s not about the coach or about a staff member’s ego.”
Dulin has been helped tremendously in the last couple of years by the addition to his staff of former Chicago White Sox manager Terry Bevington. He also welcomed on board Chris Godwin, a young man who was a part of Dulin’s first Dodgers team in 1990 and who now runs the Dodgers’ 20-team Texas operation based in Dallas.
As a staff, the men work to keep the rosters relatively small which maximizes each players’ opportunities. The program has avoided the practice of flying in elite pitchers from across the country just to throw in one big game because even if you win the game, Dulin wonders, what has really been accomplished long-term?
“To me, at the end of the day, when you win something that’s as special as a Perfect Game World Series … it’s all about the process and the chemistry that you’ve built throughout the year or throughout the years; so for us, we’ve kept this core group of kids together,” he said.
“Then with the 20 teams that we now have in Dallas we added a key components there with guys that are not only really, really good baseball players but just huge makeup,” he continued. “And they all bring something to the table.”
PG All-American Blaze Jordan was the face of the Dulins Dodgers 2021 Prime team these past four years. He was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 class for at least two years, then decided to reclassify as a 2020 last spring.
The slugging corner-infielder and Mississippi State signee is now the No. 2 ranked prospect overall in the 2020 class. He was named to the all-tournament team at the last four PGWS events he participated in and was the Most Valuable Player at the 15u in 2017.
Jordan was pulled in a lot of different directions over the past two years with various obligations brought about by his high national profile, so there were times he wasn’t able to be at a tournament with his Dodgers’ teammates.
And while Dulin would have loved to have Jordan hitting in the middle of the lineup at every game, it also allowed other players to step up and show what they could do, which proved to be very valuable as the seasons went on.
Alford is a 2021 corner-infielder, an Auburn commit ranked No. 165 nationally; Ince is an infielder/outfielder/right-hander, a Mississippi State recruit ranked No. 250. Both prospects were on all three PGWS championship teams and Ince earned all-tournament recognition at all three.
They are not alone in helping lead this team to PGWS glory. 2020 right-hander/infielder Lane Forsythe, a Mississippi State signee ranked No. 440 nationally, was also all-tournament the last three years and was named the MV Pitcher at both the 14u and 16u PGWS in 2017 and 2019.
Braden Montgomery, William “Pico” Kohn, Ryan Ginther, David Jeon and Dylan Leach are among the 2021s on the Dodgers’ roster who earned multiple all-tournament selections at the conclusion of each respective PGWS. Montgomery, an outfielder/middle-infielder/right-hander and Stanford commit ranked No. 71, was all-tournament each of the last two years but is now playing for the MLB Breakthrough Series program.
Kohn, a left-hander and Mississippi State commit ranked No. 74 in his class, was also named all-tournament at the 15u and 16u PGWS. The left-hander/outfielder Ginther (Vanderbilt, No. 137) was all-tourney in ’17 and ’19 and the catcher/third baseman/right-hander Jeon (Rice, No. 268) was cited in ’18 and ’19; Jeon was also the MV Player in 2018.
Other notable 2021s that contributed to the PGWS titles through the years and will be relied upon heavily in 2020 include Texas right-hander/infielder Rawley Hector (Texas A&M, No. 18), catcher/infielder Dylan Leach (Arkansas, No. 282), left-hander/first baseman Tayler Montiel (Mississippi St., t-500) and left-hander/first baseman Chandler Benson (Nebraska, t-1000).
2022 outfielder/middle-infielder Dakota Jordan, a multi-sport standout who has committed to Mississippi State, is ranked No. 66 in his class.
“The big thing is we’ve got a lot of different personalities (on this team). We’ve got quiet guys that play really hard but they’re quiet; they’re not vocal leaders,” Dulin said. “They compete really, really hard. From the time they were 12 we’ve really treated them much like they do in (professional baseball). There’s not a lot of screaming and yelling going on. …
“We try to explain to the kids when they’re as young as 12 to define who you are as a player; become really good at being the best you can be,” he continued. “If everybody does that then ultimately at the end of the day you get good results and we’ve been fortunate to do that.”
Dulin was a fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1985 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Memphis and played seven seasons of minor league ball, including four at the Triple-A level.
He learned the right way to go about his business from some outstanding managers through the year, citing the late Johnny Oates – who managed both the Orioles and the Rangers from 1991-2001 – as being especially impactful.
“Some of the best managers I ever played for were smart enough to get out of the way and just let guys go play, and that’s kind of what we do with this group,” Dulin said. “I’m trying to explain to them mental things that will hopefully help them as they get into college and pro baseball.
“We have a lot of fun,” he added, “and that’s the rules in pro baseball: be on time, play hard and have fun. We try to just keep it simple and go with that approach.”
The months of November and December definitely represent the offseason but that doesn’t mean the amateur baseball world goes into hibernation. Travel team organizations are deep into the planning stages for the 2020 season, trying to keep tabs on their current players while also opening the door for newcomers.
Dulin told PG that he and the other coaches stay in constant touch with the players who are part of the Dodgers program, especially those who are a part of what will be the Dodgers 17u Prime team in 2020. With so many of these players having already committed to their college of choice, he wants to make sure they stay true to the task at hand.
“I think a lot of times the culture tells you that once you’ve committed … these players will think, well I’ve got my scholarship now,” Dulin said. “What I have to explain to them is that it’s really nothing more than a pinkie promise. The school likes you enough to make you that offer and they’re banking on you to continue to progress over the next couple of years.”
Thanksgiving is now in the rearview but the joys of the holiday season will be with us for the next month. This is a good time for everyone to take a step back from the on-field, day-to-day baseball stuff and catch their collective breath while continuing with their winter workout regimen.
Impactful 2020s like Blaze Jordan, Lane Forsythe and a handful of others have moved on from this Dulins Dodgers 16u Prime team. It is now time for this talented core of 2021s to take control of this train and see if they can bring the coveted 17u PG World Series championship home in 2020. That promises to be a Herculean task.
“Each year, it becomes more and more difficult to win it,” Dulin said. “It was difficult at 14 but at 15 it’s harder – you’re facing better competition; you’re facing bigger rosters. At 16 it’s the same way and this year is going to be even more difficult because there are lots of good teams, lots of great pitchers that we’re going to see throughout the country.
“Any time you go into an elimination game … if you don’t come ready to play and you can’t pitch it and make plays and get timely hitting you’re going to come out on the losing end of it.”
When it comes to finding their way at PG World Series events, the “losing end” has been foreign territory for this group of Dodgers.