IMG's Wood Bat Summer League develops baseball talent for the next level

jdill@bradenton.comJune 21, 2014 

BRADENTON -- It's tons of youth baseball packed in a six week window, with one caveat: the games and practices involve wood bats.

The annual IMG Academy Summer Wood Bat League brings players aged 13-18 years old from all around the country and abroad beginning with Sunday's check-in day for the camp.

Over the next six weeks, participants will train six days with four games each week. The high school group plays games Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a double header scheduled for Saturdays. The 15-and-younger group plays Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

"It's very different than a traditional summer league or an exposure league in the sense that there's a huge development component to it," IMG baseball director Dan Simonds said. "Not only are the kids playing games in a very much competitive environment, they are also getting coaching."

That coaching focuses on baseball fundamentals and a packed schedule: campers go from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, with a slight break until an hour of

The added dimension of using wood bats only enhances how players can perform within their high school program and the BBCOR aluminum bats.

"They are really learning to use the good part of the bat, to get the head of the bat out," Simonds said. "I think it trains them, with using the wood bat it really trains them to use their hands, to take their body out of the swing, to shorten up their swings. All the things we're looking for to develop a hitter."

Going against wood bats is also beneficial to pitchers, albeit the effects aren't as great as it is for the hitters due to the BBCOR bats taking away some of the fear that hurlers had of pitching inside in the past.

"I think that fear factor has definitely diminished now," Simonds said. "I don't think you see it as prevalent as it used to be, where guys would just not come inside with those old bats. … But it does get guys to really work the inner half of the plate."

The total cost for the venture ranges between roughly $8,000-$10,000 for boarded high school students and about $5,750-$7,750 for boarded 15-and-younger students. It's about $6,500-$8,000 for non-boarded high school players, while running approximately $4,700-$6,250 for non-boarded 15-and-younger campers.

The price range depends on the duration the player is staying, whether it's just for the league or also for the preseason and postseason portion.

Despite the lofty price tag, the investment seems to be worth it when looking at the last Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two alums of IMG's Wood Bat League, Michael Suchy and Weston Davis were drafted earlier this month.

Suchy, a Southeast graduate, was taken in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Davis, who capped a stellar spring senior season with Manatee that featured a 1.35 earned run average and 56 strikeouts against 16 walks in 52 innings pitched, was selected in the 11th round by the Washington Nationals.

"For those that are fortunate enough to play in the professional ranks, I think they have a chance to spend six weeks using a wood bat so it's not something they aren't accustomed to," Simonds said.

Teddy Herman is back for a fourth year at IMG. The rising junior is based in New York, and has adopted the training from the wood bat league in every facet to improve his own game.

"Everything I learn down there allows me to self-police myself," Herman said. "Nutritional habits, weight room habits - I'm able to implement them back in New York, share them with my teammates and it's helped us as a team get better, and individually, for me, I've gotten better."

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