Story by Zach Leach
Every year, Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft is an event of great meaning for Cape League fans and players alike, as the stars of tomorrow begin their official journey through the ranks of the MLB.
It is a source of great pride for the CCBL, as a new class of former summer heroes joins the already vast group of alumni in the majors. Just last year, 11 of the 30 players selected in the first round had Cape League ties, and by the end of day one of the draft, a total of 23 former Cape Leaguers were already off the board. Among the highlights of last year’s draft were Mark Appel (Y-D, ’11) and Kris Bryant (Chatham, ’11) being selected first and second overall, respectively, to the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, and former Cape League MVP Phil Ervin (Harwich, ’12) going 27th overall to the Cincinnati Reds. Just recently, Kyle Crockett (Orleans, ’12), who was selected 111th overall by the Cleveland Indians, became the first member of the 2013 draft class to make his MLB debut.
So what is in store for this year’s crop of Cape League prospects? One can make a strong case that the 2014 class has a chance to top last year’s group in number of first-round draft picks. Here are qw players to watch that are likely to hear their names called early when the MLB Entry Draft opens Thursday, June 5 at 7 p.m.:
RHP Aaron Nola, LSU (Harwich, 2012)
The first name may be one of the least recognizable for Cape League fans, as Nola made only two appearances for the Mariners in the summer following his freshman years at Louisiana State, before leaving to play for the U.S. Collegiate National Team. But in 11 innings of work for Harwich, Nola brought home two wins, allowing only one run and striking out 15 batters. He had an ERA of 0.82 and a WHIP of 0.640 when he departed. The righty has an MLB-caliber arsenal of pitches, which he throws with elite command. Nola has the best chance of being the first CCBL alum drafted in 2014.
LHP Kyle Freeland, Evansville (Hyannis, 2013)
Freeland was one of the most dominant arms in the league last summer, as he led all pitchers with 48 strikeouts. In nine regular season appearances, he threw 40 innings and posted a 3-2 record with a 2.25 ERA and 1.080 WHIP. The All-Star was the ace of the Harbor Hawks staff, and led them to a share of the West Division regular-season title. In his one playoff appearance, Freeland was at his best, throwing seven shutout innings and striking out 10 opposing batters. The southpaw shows impeccable control, and has a nasty fastball that he compliments with an above-average slider and curveball. He is a consensus top-10 pick.
C Max Pentecost, Kennesaw State (Bourne, 2013)
The 2013 Cape League MVP is without a doubt the best catching prospect in this year’s draft, and has all the makings of a very special player in the future. Last summer, Pentecost finished in the top five in the league in batting average (.346), home runs (6) and RBIs (29), coming awfully close to winning the Triple Crown. He also finished near the top in slugging and on-base percentage. He was the first catcher to take home MVP honors since Jason Varitek did it 20 years ago, and his upside may be even greater than the former Red Sox star. Pentecost carried a Braves offense that was anemic at times last summer, and established himself as a leader in the clubhouse as well. Not only is Pentecost a much better athlete than most catchers, but he is also a smart and professional player with a great mind for the game. Throw in a smooth swing and excellent plate discipline, and you’re looking at a potential star.
LHP Sean Newcomb, Hartford (Wareham, 2012-13)
Newcomb is the perfect example of a player who didn’t bring his best stuff to the Cape League, but clearly benefited developmentally from his time here. In two stints with the Gatemen, Newcomb didn’t create the kind of hype that many eventual first-rounders do. He joined Wareham at the tail end of the 2012 season, throwing 6 1/3 innings in four relief appearances and ended up with an ERA of 7.10. He also allowed a run on two hits in his one postseason inning for the eventual Cape League champs. Returning to Wareham in 2013, the Middleboro, Mass., native made six appearances for the Gatemen, posting a 1-2 record and 4.43 ERA in 22 1/3 innings. However, despite summer struggles, Newcomb has been one of the most talked about players in college baseball this spring. He was the last eligible starting pitcher in Division I this year to allow an earned run, maintaining a 0.00 ERA for more than 40 innings to start the season. Newcomb may have the best fastball in the draft, routinely reaching the mid to high 90s on the radar gun. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he is the power lefty everyone wants.
OF Derek Fisher, Virginia (Harwich, ’13)
It seemed as if Derek Fisher was always on base for the Mariners last summer. This makes sense considering he led the league in on-base percentage, while batting .333, driving in 21 runs, and stealing 13 bases. Fisher can do it all, yet many still question his fundamentals. There is no question about his athleticism and baseball sense, so the question is if he can produce at this level already, how good could he be with some fundamental changes to his game? He’s already a five-tool player, so where do you go from there? Fisher may need some developmental attention, but he has huge potential going forward.
RHP Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina (Hyannis, 2012-13)
Despite upcoming Tommy John surgery, Hoffman is still being talked about as a potential top-10 pick; he’s just that good. In his first season with the Harbor Hawks, he was named an All-Star, and for good reason. Hoffman posted a 2.40 ERA and 1.030 WHIP, while also striking out 30 batters in 30 innings. He was the highlight of an otherwise bleak season for Hyannis in 2012, and they were happy to invite him back last summer. In 24 1/3 innings of work, Hoffman went 2-0 with a 3.69 ERA and a stunning 33 strikeouts before leaving the team. Hoffman overpowers batters on a consistent basis, with a dominant fast ball and a professional changeup. Hoffman was at one time considered the second best collegiate pitcher in the draft, and while the injury has likely prevented a top-five selection, he will surely be selected within the first thirty picks in Round One.
C/1B Kyle Schwarber, Indiana (Wareham, 2012-13)
Schwarber was the leader of the Wareham team that took the Cape League title in 2012. He was the heart and soul of the clubhouse, and a dynamic presence at the plate. Finishing amongst the best in the league in average (.343) and RBIs (38), Schwarber was one of the most prolific hitters during a season in which offense dominated pitching all summer all around the league. Less than a year removed from his CCBL Championship, Schwarber led Indiana to its first ever appearance in the NCAA College Baseball World Series. He returned to Wareham following this feat, and posted good numbers yet again, batting .432 in nine games. Had Wareham made the playoffs, Schwarber’s draft stock may have risen even higher. He is possibly the best power bat in the draft. Expect big things from this hulking hitter.
1B Casey Gillaspie, Wichita State (Falmouth, 2013)
If anyone is challenging Schwarber as the biggest bat in this year’s draft, it’s Gillaspie. The brother of the Chicago White Sox’s Conor Gillaspie, the 2007 Cape League MVP, Casey was part of a stacked offensive lineup for the Commodores last summer. He led all Cape Leaguers with eight home runs and was also among the top 10 league leaders in RBIs, batting, runs scored, slugging and on-base percentage. An all-around dangerous hitter, Gillaspie appears to have a ceiling similar to his Major League sibling, but should be drafted higher than Conor, who was selected outside of the first round. Gillaspie is big and strong, and with a solid stance and raw power, he should be a threat to pitchers for a long time.
RHP Erick Fedde, UNLV (Y-D, 2013)
Midway through the 2013 season, there was no better pitcher in the league than the Las Vegas native Fedde. He was a work horse for the Redsox, throwing 30.2 innings in five starts and posting a 2.34 ERA with 26 strikeouts. However, Fedde left just before the All-Star game, which he would have likely started for the East, to join the U.S. Collegiate National Team. Fedde made a name for himself for being able to throw a lot of innings without seeing any change in his performance. However, it may have caught up with him, as he is scheduled for Tommy John surgery soon. This should not stop him from being a first round pick though, as he has natural talent. While Fedde is mature beyond his years in his knowledge of the game, he still needs to work on filling out his lanky frame. This should help to add some velocity to his pitches. One pitch that needs no work is his devastating slider. The question is not if Fedde will develop into a star, but when he will.
OF Bradley Zimmer, San Francisco (Cotuit, 2013)
Zimmer’s clutch play last August earned the Kettleers a Cape League title and earned him Finals MVP honors. Zimmer is at his best in the field and on the base paths, but managed at the plate last year as well, batting .281 and slugging .406 in sixteen games. His stats were even better during the collegiate season this spring, and he is well on his way to following in the footsteps of his brother, Kyle, a top prospect for the Kansas City Royals. Zimmer is definitely a project, but with some work on his fundamentals and some more time filling out his frame, Zimmer has the potential to be a five-tool player in the big leagues.
IF Alex Blandino, Stanford (Y-D, 2012-13)
A two-time Cape League All-Star, just about every CCBL fan has heard Blandino’s name once or twice. Putting up nearly identical numbers in back-to-back regular seasons, All-Star games, and post-seasons, it’s almost crazy how consistent this Y-D fixture is. 2012 saw Blandino earn an All-Star selection with a .312 average, 30 runs, and 24 RBIs, followed by a .350 average, two homers, and 10 RBIs in the playoffs. Then in 2013, he made the midsummer classic with a .308 average, 19 runs, and 17 RBIs, with an outstanding .375 average in the Red Sox’s short playoff stint. Blandino handles himself like a professional both in the field, where he has played all four infield positions, at the plate, where he has exemplary patience and a smooth swing, and in the clubhouse. A lucky team will call his name in the first round and get a mature, talented ballplayer.
LHP AJ Reed, Kentucky (Harwich, 2012-13)
Reed’s Cape League history is an interesting one. As a dominant force on the mound in 2012, he showed off his pitching skill with a 3-0 record, 38 strikeouts, and a 2.20 ERA that was good enough for third best in the league. When he returned to Harwich for the 2013 season, his roll had changed. He made five starts, posting a 1-2 record, 3.60 ERA and 21 strikeouts, but it was his bat that was the new focus. Through July and August, Reed made 18 starts in the field, with11 RBIs and six extra-base hits. His experience and skill both on the mound and at the plate makes him an interesting prospect, a rare two-way player. Scouts evaluate him as both a hitter and a pitcher, and he could very well be drafted in the first round over some better pitching talents because of his potential at the plate.
While they might not go in the first round or even on Day 1, don’t forget about Falmouth sluggers Rhys Hoskins (Sacramento State) and Kevin Cron (TCU), and Mariners ace Aaron Bummer (Nebraska). These were three of the best players in the league in 2013, and present great value for whichever teams takes them.