ANNA – Anna's Rawley Hector, already a top collegiate prospect before he's started high school, has added another gem to his resume: Pitcher on USA Baseball's prestigious 15U National Team. Rawley learned of his selection to the 20-man squad on Friday, Aug. 4, after a week of intense evaluation at National Team Trials in Cary, North Carolina.
“It's indescribable,” Rawley said by phone, shortly after learning he'd been named. “I'm very excited. I get to go represent my country in an international setting. It's awesome.”
The newly-constituted lineup will continue training in Cary, Aug. 5-8, before heading to Cartagena, Colombia, for the 2017 COPABE Pan American Championships, an event Team USA has won the last two years. That competition will conclude Aug. 21.
Rawley was one of 72 Top 15-and-under baseball players from across the country invited to participate in these trials, July 30-Aug. 4, at USA Baseball's National Training Complex. Phase 2 started on Wednesday, Aug. 2, after the field had been narrowed to 34 prospects. On Friday evening, the final roster was announced to the players in a ballroom at the hotel where they'd been staying. Rawley's name was the fourth from the last one called.
“My heart rate was up, I have to admit that,” he said. “I was nervous, I was sweating. When they announced my name it was just a big relief.”
As for the overall experience, “It's been unforgettable,” Rawley said. “Honestly, it's been a grind too. You start off playing with 72 of the best baseball players in the country. You've got to find a way to stand out, not only on the field but off. … And I've missed my family like crazy, but it's making me grow into a man. In Major League Baseball — hopefully, if I get there — you can't see your family for a long time either. … I'm full of happiness right now. I'm ecstatic.”
The 6-2, 162-pound right-hander — who's also a solid infielder and can swing the bat — said he felt early on that pitching was going to be his ticket onto the squad.
“To make the National Team, I had to go out there and pitch,” he said. “Luckily, everything was 'on' this week. I feel like I've had my best stuff this week.”
His fastball clocks in the high 80s and he's quite confident in his changeup, even on a 3-2 pitch.
“It's crazy,” Rawley's father Joey Hector said by phone from his home in Anna after getting the news from his son.
“It's a little bit surreal, I guess,” Hector said. “It's a wonderful feeling, for sure.”
Hector, head coach of the Anna Coyotes baseball team, said Rawley toyed with him a bit before announcing the roster results.
“When he called, he says, 'What are you doing?' I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He says, 'What are you doing?' I say, 'I'm waiting for you to call!'”
Finally, Rawley came out with it: “Dad, I'm on the National Team,” which brought Hector to tears, he said. Rawley's mom Amy, on the road taking his sister Maddie to school at Arkansas State, soon got a call as well.
With his selection, Rawley won't be home now for another two-plus weeks.
“You hate that he'll be gone so long,” Hector said, “but at the same time it's a deal where you're glad he's gone. Because if he was here instead of there, he'd be miserable, I can tell you that.”
Besides the usual evaluations, like a player's swing, speed and arm strength, these trials used a Major League Baseball tool – Prospect Development Pipeline Testing – which employs advanced technology to measure items like player agility, bat speed and reaction time. Plenty of live-game action as well as leadership and character-building training were also part of the assessment package.
Last year, Rawley made USA Baseball's 14U National Team Development Program team and played in Panama for two weeks where he led the squad in RBIs and batting average. There, in a tense final-day game with Columbia, he pitched a solid 3 1/3 innings, allowing one hit and one unearned run as the Americans rallied late to win.
“I can't thank God enough for making me a part of the 20 athletes,” Rawley said. “It's a great group of guys that they're sending out to Columbia.”