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MLB World Select tour is valuable experience for Aussie prospects

Pitchers on the MLB World Select Team take instruction. The elite squad of international prospects from nine countries is touring Florida for a series of games against minor leaguers. Thomas Neumann/ESPN.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jarryd Dale is showcasing his baseball skills for the second year in a row on the Florida Gulf Coast as part of an elite team of prospects competing on a weeklong tour against young professionals.

He is one of 13 Australians on the MLB World Select Team playing in games this week against minor leaguers from the Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees organizations. They receive instruction from international coaches and try to get noticed by college recruiters and pro scouts. Two Aussies who played in the major leagues, Luke Hughes and Glenn Williams, are among the coaches participating on the tour.

If Dale, 16, plays well on this trip, he might be making a much longer visit next year -- under contract with an MLB organization.

"There is a bit of pressure," said Dale, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound shortstop. "You obviously want to play your maximum performance while you're here. It doesn't stress me out too much. There's always scouts roaming around. There's always people looking at you. As long as you play your hardest every game, you should be fine."

Last year at this time, Dale was part of an Australian U19 team that made a similar trip, playing most of the same opponents, practicing at the same field and even staying at the same hotel. From that team, three Aussies signed professional contracts: Jordan McArdle with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Ulrich Bojarski and Jack O'Loughlin with the Detroit Tigers. Dale said the U19 tour allowed him to see the quality of competition at the first rung of the minor leagues.

"It definitely opens your eyes to this level," Dale said. "I took away how hard I have to work to get to that level."

Dale, who began playing baseball at age 7, played this past ABL season with his hometown Melbourne Aces and was named the club's Rookie of the Year. He comes from a baseball family, as father Phil Dale is a longtime Olympic, professional and international coach who pitched in the Cincinnati Reds organization. One of his brothers, Ryan, is a first baseman in the Kansas City Royals organization, and cousin Jon Kennedy is a pitcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Jarryd isn't the only player on the World Select tour with a baseball legacy. Rixon Wingrove, a 16-year-old catcher from Newcastle, New South Wales, represents the fourth generation of his family to play for the Phoenix Charlestown Baseball Club. Playing for the New South Wales Country team, he was named MVP of the recent U18 national youth championships in Sydney. Wingrove enjoys playing a large role as a catcher, the position that is the closest thing to being a coach on the field.

"I want to be the guy everybody looks up to," Wingrove said. "I want to be the leader out there."

The World Select tour is a cultural experience in addition to a baseball event. Nine nations are represented on the team. In addition to the 13 Australians, there are four players from Italy, three from Germany, two each from China, France and the Czech Republic, and one each from Belarus, Spain and New Zealand.

"It's making friends, and that's what baseball is all about," Hughes said. "You get to play against guys from all over the world. I've still got friends here in America, over in Europe and in Canada and Venezuela. It's such a multicultural sport."

Jess Williams, 17, is a 5-foot-10, 161-pound infielder and pitcher who played this past ABL season for his hometown Perth Heat, where Hughes served as his hitting coach. Williams was invited on the previous U19 tour but was unable to attend because of a broken leg, and he's excited to discover what he missed out on last year.

"I just want to learn as much as I can from these international coaches and this experience and potentially gain some exposure from scouts," Williams said. "Hopefully, I'll meet some new guys as well from around the world."

Brodie Cooper‐Vassalakis, 16, is a 6-foot-2, 165-pound right-handed pitcher who played for his hometown Canberra Cavalry in the recent ABL season. The son of Australian Capital Territory baseball commissioner Theo Vassalakis, he was also part of last year's U19 tour, where he learned how important strategic pitching is against professional hitters.

"It was a good experience to learn how to pitch at a high level," Cooper‐Vassalakis said. "It wasn't just blowing people away with a fastball. It was actually learning how to pitch and mix speeds. It definitely showed me I do want to play professional baseball."

Kyle Glogoski, 18, is a 6‐foot-2, 194-pound right-handed pitcher from Auckland, New Zealand, who has something his Aussie counterparts on the World Select team don't -- experience in a World Baseball Classic qualifier. He pitched in the 2016 qualifier in Sydney, an opportunity he knows wouldn't be available to a player his age in most larger countries.

"It was one of the best experiences I've ever had, because of the coaching staff," Glogoski said. "Chris Woodward, Josh Bard and Ron Roenicke -- are all guys who are still associated in MLB. Obviously, I was the youngest, so I had a lot to learn from all my teammates. Everyone wanted to help me -- mentally and physically -- whether it was my mechanics or how to approach hitters in a different way. I learned a lot from every single person on that trip."

Glenn Williams, who reached the major leagues with the Twins in 2005, said the experience players gain on the trip will be invaluable. It's a taste of the professional life that awaits a number of them, including some who could sign contracts in the coming months.

"For these players to come over here and experience the opportunity to play against the best players in the world at their age group is something that they can't replicate anywhere else," Williams said. "Hopefully, they will leave with the context of what they actually have to do to reach the next level."