USA Baseball announced Wednesday that Salt Lake Bees infielder Matt Brown and right-handed pitcher Kevin Jepsen have been named to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team roster that will compete in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
"Having Matt and Kevin play in the Olympic Games solidifies the Bees' position as one of the top teams in the Pacific Coast League," said Randy Rigby, president and CEO of Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment and the Salt Lake Bees.
"We are honored to have them selected to the team and look forward to supporting them 100 percent in their quest for a gold medal."
Brown, in his eighth pro season in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim system, played in the Pacific Coast League All-Star game Wednesday and currently leads the Bees in batting average (.326), runs scored (69) and home runs (20).
He was named PCL Batter of the Week on April 14, Angels Minor League Player of the Month in April, and also selected to participate in the 2008 Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby.
The infielder made his major league debut on May 10, 2007, and appeared in four games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season. Brown has appeared in five games with the Angels in 2008, registering one double and two RBI. The Bellevue, Wash. native was originally selected by the Angels in the 10th round of the 2001 draft out of Coeur d'Alene High School (Idaho).
"Having two of our players selected to the U.S. Olympic Team is a testament to the Angels' commitment to their farm teams," said Bees general manager Marc Amicone. "The Angels invest in their farm system, and it shows."
Selected to Team USA for the 2008 All-Star Futures Game, Jepsen is in his seventh season in the Angels' organization. He currently owns a 0-2 record and 2.76 ERA with two saves in 10 games this season, his first in Triple-A. Recalled from Double-A Arkansas on June 10, he registered a 2-1 record and 1.42 ERA with 11 saves in 25 games for the Travelers. Jepsen was originally selected by the Angels in the second round of the 2002 draft out of Bishop Manogue High School (Reno, NV).
Both players will make a first appearance with USA Baseball and are the first Salt Lake representatives since Doug Mientkiewicz in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
The U.S. team features 14 Triple-A players, seven Double-A players and one Class-A representative. The Angels are one of eight major league organizations to land two players on the Olympic roster.
"We knew going in that we wanted a veteran club a team of guys who have been battle-tested, so to speak," Team USA general manager Bob Watson said. "But we wanted younger prospects as well. Guys with the fire to go out and showcase their talents on the international stage."
Johnson, fresh off managing the U.S. squad that lost 3-0 to a World team in the Futures Game during All-Star festivities at Yankee Stadium, is ready to get to work finally having a set roster.
Johnson, Watson and USA Baseball officials met for about seven hours after the Futures Game to discuss their roster.
Johnson will get to see his team together for the first time during preliminary workouts and preparation late this month in San Jose, Calif.
The manager likes the flexibility this roster provides. He has a couple of pitchers who could fit into the closer role Knight and Stevens and LaPorta can play both in the outfield or at first base and gives the U.S. team power in the middle of the batting order.
While LaPorta realizes this experience will only boost his chances of reaching the big leagues, he's not approaching the Olympics that way.
"More so it's the opportunity to represent this great country and put on the USA jersey, and I'm just so thankful for it," he said. "It's been like a roller coaster. There have been some good things and some bad things to go on the last couple of weeks. Overall it's been exciting. ... I can't say enough how great of an honor it is to represent the USA."
Johnson was scouting Team USA in Panama in 2003 for the Netherlands and watched the loss to Mexico that cost the United States a bid. He will continue to bring that up to his players, too, as a reminder and to keep them focused on the task at hand.
In 2000, Tommy Lasorda managed the Americans to the gold medal. Milwaukee Brewers ace Ben Sheets was the winning pitcher in the gold medal game. Baseball will come off the Olympic program for the 2012 games, though officials hope to be back come 2016.
"It's not too premature to say we've got the minds turning and we're trying to work things out," Watson said. "I believe the Olympics definitely are going to want to have baseball back in the fold."
Strasburg turns 20 on Sunday and is pitching overseas for the U.S. national team as a member of the top college players in the country. He will be a starter for the Americans, Johnson said.
"He's a power pitcher in the high 90s and he throws strikes," Johnson said. "That's kind of a rarity for guys in Triple-A. Here's a guy who pounds the strike zone."
Strasburg wasn't immediately available for comment, though his coaches at San Diego State were making attempts to reach him Wednesday.
Players who weren't on 25-man big league rosters as of June 26 were eligible for selection to the U.S. team. The American roster must be set by July 22.