More than 250 players converged on Wednesday in Cary, N.C., for the start of the event held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. It may be a tournament format, with all 16 teams hoping to come away as the champion on Sunday, but it offers so much more.
"This is really the first identification event for next year's National Team," said Mark Dvoroznak, assistant director of development for USA Baseball. "The National Team Identification Series is the most all-inclusive event that USA Baseball has. We're able to reach players from every corner of the United States and give those players the opportunity to play for Team USA."
Following the event, 12 players will be selected to join the 14U development program next summer. While only a dozen players will be chosen by USA Baseball, myriad others will remain on a watch list for future teams.
That's not only for the 14U program, but also for high school programs through the Collegiate National Team. With players developing at different ages, potential in the American Elite tournament can transfer over to opportunity down the road.
"We make sure we keep in touch with the guys that show promise and watch their progress throughout the years to come," Dvoroznak said. "The best-case scenario is that we end up with kids from all these teams [who] make it all the way through the system.
"Obviously that doesn't always happen, but giving these kids the opportunity is what we're all about."
One success story coming from the strenuous selection process is that of Landon Sims. The Georgia native participated in the American Elite tournament, but was not initially selected to the 14U development program.
Sims remained on the watch list and later tried out for Team USA again. Instead of making the 14U team, Sims was placed on the 15U club as alternate. When another player suffered an injury, Sims got the call and was invited to join the team.
"I was upset last year when I didn't make the [14U] team, but I learned a lot," Sims said after working out with the 15U team at the USA Complex. "But I found out exactly what they were looking for and worked on reaching that. It was disappointing, but it made me work harder.
"I guess it worked out because I'm here now, so I can't thank them enough."
At just 13 years old, each player at the NTC has several years to carve out a path in baseball. Whether it's through playing for USA Baseball, or simply having the right person see them over the next four days, the American Elite tournament offers the players that chance.
Which players will rise to the opportunity to take the next step in their baseball future? Who will have to work harder to make it to the international stage in years to come? All of that will be revealed by the end of the upcoming weekend at the American Elite.