From Pony-13 World Series champion to Eastlake’s newest millionaire

Eastlake’s youth baseball royalty includes, from left, Ricky Tibbett, Nick Maldonado, Preston Fleming, Walker Lannom, Dante Schmid and Keoni Cavaco. Photo by Phillip Brents

How much was winning the 2015 Pony-13 World Series and playing in the 2016 Colt League World Series with Chula Vista South worth to Keoni Cavaco?

Enough to make him Eastlake’s newest millionaire.

Cavaco signed on the dotted line for $4,050,000 after coming to terms with the Minnesota Twins on June 11 following his selection in the first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball amateur draft as the 13th overall pick.

Cavaco graduated from Eastlake High School two weeks ago after helping lead the Titans to this year’s San Diego Section Open Division championship title.

He is now in Fort Myers, Florida, with the Minnesota organization’s rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins.

It pays to excel at the highest level at whatever age group.

Former Padre Adrian Gonzalez, a 2000 Eastlake High graduate, received a $3 million signing bonus with the Florida Marlins as the No. 1 MLB pick. As a senior with the Titans, Gonzalez hit .645 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI.

Cavaco hit hit .433 with eight home runs and 16 stolen bases to go along with a 0.67 ERA on the mound.

“I’m just happy for him,” Eastlake coach Dave Gallegos said in regard to Cavaco. “The school, the program, it’s all good. It shows that good kids are coming out of the program.”

Cavaco, 18, caught the eye of the Twins scouting department during a workout at Angel Stadium.

“I think (I need to) just mature, overall, my game,” Cavaco told the website. “Just as a human being and just get bigger and stronger like these (Major Leaguers) here. I know my talent’s good enough to compete with these guys right now. I’ve just got to get bigger and mature more.

“It’s a dream come true to me, seeing everything and knowing that I could be a part of it very soon.”

When asked how long he expected it to take to reach the majors, Cavaco answered with a grin, “I give myself three years.”

Chula Vista South finished 20-0 in its history-making run to the 2015 Pony-13 World Series championship. Cavaco hit .538 with a team-leading 29 RBI. He led the team with two hits in the 4-1 championship game victory against the Dominican Republic.

What does he remember about winning the Pony-13 international championship?

“That was a long time ago,” Cavaco confessed with a smile. “I was happy. That was the first time the league had won it. It was incredible.”

Cavaco remembers the trip to Lafayette, Indiana, for the Colt League World Series more vividly.

The CVS entry was the youngest group there but still managed to make a 1-2 showing in the 10-team international tournament before being eliminated by more experienced teams.

“It didn’t bother us,” Cavaco recalled about the two-year age disparity. “We were used to playing up.”

Cavaco called it “fun” to represent his high school.

Even more meaningful memories are sure to lie ahead.

Extra bases
The Titans actually had two MLB draft picks this year as SDSU junior center fielder Julian Escobedo, a 2016 EHS grad, was selected in the 17th round by the Cleveland Indians.

Escobedo joins former Hilltop High School standout Greg Allen in the Cleveland organization after signing with the Indians.

Allen, another former Aztec, went two-for-five with a double, a single, scored one run for the Columbus Clippers as they defeated the Rochester Red Wings, 9-8, in an International League game on Tuesday.

He’s collected 10 RBI and one home run in 27 games with the parent Indians so far this season.

Escobedo played in 159 career games with 139 starts for SDSU and earned 2018 All-Mountain West Second Team honors. He hit .318 as a sophomore and showcased his power hitting this season with nine doubles, five home runs and 32 RBI.

Bonita Vista’s youth baseball royalty, from left, Lucas Marrujo, Nate Nankil, Josh Bruce, Omar Cordero and Bulla Villegas. Photo by Phillip Brents

Play ball!
Youth baseball royalty was scattered throughout the Metro Conference this season drawn from players who competed in the Little League World Series for Eastlake Little League (2013), Sweetwater Valley Little League (2015) and Park View Little League (2016).

Eastlake’s 2019 Open Division championship team included five players from that high achieving group: senior Ricky Tibbett (Eastlake Little League), sophomores Walker Lannom and Preston Fleming and juniors Nick Maldonado and Dante Schmid, all from Sweetwater Valley.

Bonita Vista’s 2019 Division II semifinalist squad featured four former LLWS players on its roster: junior Nate Nankil (SVLL), freshmen Lucas Marrujo and Josh Bruce, and sophomore Omar Cordero, all from Park View.

Add to that list juniors Eric Nakano and Bubba Villegas, who won a Pony-13 World Series title alongside Cavaco.

In fact, Nankil is a two-time youth baseball world champion after winning a Pony-13 World Series championship with the Emerald Diamond all-stars in 2016.

What do they remember the most?

“Bonding with the team, everyone got close,” Marrujo recounted.

“Playing on those fields in front of a lot of people was fun,” added Nankil, competed alongside Tibbett at this year’s San Diego Section all-star game.

“The dorms are where we had the most fun,” Cordero interjected.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Villegas summed up.

“It feels great knowing that it wasn’t a fluke winning just one (championship),” Lannom said. “To know my coaching staff throughout my life will be able to get me to places I want to get to and my teammates will continue to work hard (is reassuring). But most importantly it shows character between our community and the support we have behind us no matter which team we are on.”

Nankil hit .324 with 17 RBI and posted a 0.97 ERA in 11 pitching appearances for the Barons this season.

Other players from Chula Vista South’s Pony-13 world championship team who went on to play at the high school level include Fisher Pyatt (St. Augustine), Antonio Garcia (Chula Vista), Bradley Mookini (Olympian), Arnold Escano (Olympian), Emilio Luna (Castle Park) and Diego Martinez (Castle Park). Jake Rose played water polo at Eastlake.

Garcia was the winning pitcher for CVS in the championship game victory against the Dominican Republic.

“It was a fun experience,” Garcia said. “We all came together as a family. You played with these guys but now they’re on other teams. It’s fun to play against them in high school.”

Luna, who will continue his baseball career at Cal State San Marcos, hit .516 with 10 triples, seven RBI and 29 runs scored in 22 regular season games for the Trojans.