In baseball, the heart of the team lies with who is on the mound. The GRB Rays of Windsor, Wis. have plenty of pitching prowess on their 17u squad, beginning with Vanderbilt commit’s Ryan Stefiuk start on day one of the 17u WWBA Prospect Meadows National Championship.
At the event, the class of 2020 boasts 155 ranked players amongst 33 teams. GRB alone has five pitchers in the top 400 nationally-ranked players, with three of them – Stefiuk, Tyler Chadwick and George Klassen – are ranked in the top 112. Stefiuk and Klassen are the top left and right-handed pitchers in Wisconsin, with Chadwick being the state’s second-best right-handed hurler.
“It’s pretty surreal, being able to roll these guys out, see their talent level and what they’re able to do,” head coach Trevor Burmeister said. “It’s crazy to think that they’re 16, 17 years old and the fact that they’re only scratching the surface in their ability. It’s really exciting for me to watch them and think into the future, what it could actually turn into when it’s really, really good now.”
In their first game of the tournament, Stefiuk struck out nine batters from Next Level Baseball en route to a 10-1 victory. Between his 87 mph fastball, a killer breaking ball and what Bermeister calls a “really good, nasty off-speed pitch,” the southpaw only allowed four hits and two walks.
“I try to go out there and dominate everybody,” Stefiuk said. “It gets me going, striking people out. I have a good curveball, so I like to throw that a lot because not a lot of guys can hit it. I try to get ahead early and then my curveball is my put-away pitch.”
While Stefiuk wanted to pitch since he was younger, Chadwick and Klassen wanted to do anything but. For West Virginia commit Chadwick, the constant stream of showcase and tournament coaches telling him to pitch was what changed his mind. Klassen, though, knew he belonged on the mound the season before his freshman year.
“I was always the hardest thrower on the team, but I really wanted to play a position,” the uncommitted Klassen noted. “Once I started throwing the ball a lot harder and being more competitive with the game [I enjoyed it].”
One year ago, Klassen committed to Purdue, his reason being the coaching staff. In June, though, head coach Mark Wasikowski announced he would be the head baseball coach for the Oregon Ducks while pitching coach Elliott Cribby accepted the job of associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for the Washington Huskies.
“Both schools are obviously really far away from me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it,” Klassen said, explaining his logic for decommitting from Purdue. “A lot of places opened up that I would have never thought possible.”
One such option is Vanderbilt, the same place Stefiuk has committed. Stefiuk was first contacted by the University of Texas, but when Vanderbilt gave him an offer when he was 15, it was a dream come true.
“I didn’t even have to think about it,” Stefiuk commented. The day after they offered, he committed to be a Commodore.
As the trio pitches for the same team, only one can be on the mound at a time. That competition fuels them to be even better.
“It’s fun, really fun,” Chadwick said. “I always try to make my breaking ball as good as Ryan’s and I like to compete with George’s velocity.”
“The fact that we’re really close makes us work even harder,” Stefiuk noted.
That chemistry does not go unnoticed by Burmeister, who said that the trio’s consistency while pitching and prepping goes a long way in their current and future successes.
“There’s a lot of kids who end up becoming committed at a young age and you don’t see the continuous improvement after they commit,” Burmeister said. “These guys have continuously improved and gotten better and better because there is more work to be done.”