Some baseball experts in Iowa swung and missed when they evaluated Elliot Su, a 11-year-old sixth-grader from Rochester.
He plays on a Triple-A travel team, and that team had a tournament that conflicted with Minnesota's tryouts for USA Baseball's National Team Identification Series. Su went to Iowa's tryouts instead, and his father, Andrew, says things didn't go well in the Hawkeye State.
“Elliot got cut, even though there were only four or five kids in his age group,” he said. “We sort of forgot about it, and then we went to a Minnesota Twins summer baseball camp, and one of the coaches there asked if Elliot had done USA Baseball.”
That coach saw something he liked in Elliot, so he made some calls. Shortly thereafter, the powerfully built Su was wowing coaches in Illinois during the second round of the Midwest tryouts, where he was named to the Midwest region's team that would play in the NTIS Champions Cup in Cary, N.C., in August.
That's when things got really intense. More than 1,200 players took part in the Champions Cup, which is an 18-day, 144-game marathon of team tournaments, drills and evaluations of players' speed, strength, agility, throwing velocity, etc. – something akin to an NFL combine for youth baseball players.
Again, Su showcased his talents.
Just 72 players earned spots on USA Baseball's six national teams, which range from age 12-and-under to 17-and-under. Su is one of just two Minnesotans who made the final cut, and he's the only player from the 10-state Midwest region who made the 12-under team.
“I knew I did well, so I was just hoping to make it onto the team,” Su said. “I was really excited when I got the news.”
Ryan Yahnke, who was a catcher at Winona State and has been coaching Su for three years, said the sky's the limit for the sweet-swinging, hard-throwing player.
“There just aren't many 11-year-olds who have the tools he has,” Yahnke said. “He's got a strong arm, and he throws the ball with velocity that most pitchers his age don't have. He's got a strong base, and he's a left-handed hitter who drives the ball. There's just a lot of pop in his bat. Plus, he's got a knack for the game, with good instincts. He just understands how to play baseball.”
This is the first time one of Yahnke's players has tried out for the USA Baseball program, and Yahnke said he isn't surprised by Su's success. “When we play good teams from Wayzata or Brooklyn Park, people know about him,” he said. “And if they don't – well, you just have to watch one at-bat, or watch him pitch one inning, and you can tell he's a good player.”
Still, Yahnke knows there is room for improvement in Su's overall game. “He's 11 years old, so he makes mistakes,” Yahnke said. “His swing gets long. Sometimes he doesn't move his feet when he's playing shortstop. As is true for any player, his greatest success will come when his work habits exceed his natural ability – which he has plenty of."
At the moment, the Su family isn't exactly sure what his achievement will do to their calendar during the next year. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on USA Baseball's program, and a lot of questions have yet to be answered about what will happen in 2022.
But Andrew Su is hoping for an eventful year for Elliot. “I think his USA Baseball team will scrimmage against elite travel teams as a way of getting the kids together,” he said. “And then next summer, they hope to have a tournament in Taiwan with teams from Asia, Latin America, Europe. The USA team would have to qualify for that tournament, but we've gotten our passports renewed, just in case.”
Even if the international tournaments don't happen, 2022 promises to be a year filled with high-level baeball for Elliot Su, and Yahnke has great expectations for him.
“This is just the beginning for Elliot,” he said. “I love coaching him, and this experience is going to be just awesome.”