DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball announced on Thursday multiple changes to the National Team Championships, including the addition of a 16U age group at the annual event in Arizona, as well as the addition of a 16U National Team Development Program (NTDP) to the national team programming slate for 2018.
The 2018 National Team Championships in Arizona will start on June 15 and will now feature a 16U age group in addition to its 14U, 15U and 17U age groups. The 17U tournament will take place from June 15-22, followed by the 15U age group from June 22-29, and finally, the 14U and 16U tournaments will be played concurrently from June 30-July 7.
"We are excited to enhance the National Team Championships with the inclusion of the 16U age group starting in 2018," Senior Director of Baseball Operations Ashley Bratcher said, "Given USA Baseball's history with this age group, we know the talent is outstanding at this level, so we look forward to adding it to the already-elite National Team Championships player-pool."
USA Baseball had a long successful history at the 16U level through its 16U National Team, which competed from 1997-2011 before the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) changed its youth championships age discipline to 15U. In the fifteen-year history of the program, Team USA made it to the championship game of every international tournament it appeared in, taking home 11 gold medals - including nine in World Championships - and three silvers. In addition, eight of those teams went undefeated in international play.
In connection with the addition of a 16U age group at the National Team Championships, USA Baseball has also added a 16U discipline to its National Team Development Program for the 2018 season; providing national team-level opportunities to all youth players ages 14-18.
The 16U NTDP will feature athletes selected from the 15U National Team Identification Series (NTIS), the newly created 16U National Team Championships and through recommendations from professional scouts, USA Baseball task force members and collegiate, high school and youth coaches. Like the existing 14U and 17U NTDPs, the 16U program will invite 40 athletes to participate in skill development sessions, which include guest speakers/instructors and Stars vs. Stripes intrasquad games.
"The National Team Development Program provides an unparalleled national team-level experience and we're excited to expand that opportunity to players at the 16U age level," said Paul Seiler, Executive Director and CEO of USA Baseball. "This addition will also allow athletes to stay in touch with the USA Baseball organization between the national team age levels, developing their skills before possible consideration on a future national team.
"The exposure to future national team staffs, as well as college and professional scouts, the NTDP offers is invaluable for these athletes as they look to grow their game and compete internationally in the future."
At age levels where there are not international competitions, the National Team Development Program offers an unmatched developmental opportunity to better prepare athletes for potential future national teams and ingrain them in the USA Baseball organization. It also serves to help young players accelerate their maturation and readiness for the next step in their respective baseball careers.
Since the program's inception in 2012, 64 national team development program attendees have earned spots on national team rosters at the 15U, 18U and Collegiate national team levels. Additionally, in the five years that NTDP participants have been eligible, 21 players have been selected in the first five rounds of the MLB First Year Player Draft.
In addition to the changes at the National Team Championships in Arizona, the event in Florida will feature an enhanced schedule in 2018. The 14U, 15U and 17U tournaments will now be played in separate weeks, reducing the total number of days each age group will participate than in previous years however still providing teams the same amount of games.
The National Team Championships in Florida will also start on June 15 with its 15U tournament from June 15-20. The 17U age group will follow, competing from June 21-26, and the event will finish with the 14U age group, which will run from June 27-July 1.
For more information on the National Team Championships and the NTDP, check USABaseball.com and follow @USABChamps_East, @USABChamps_West and @USABaseballNTDP on Twitter. Registration for the 2018 National Team Championships will open on Friday, November 10.