A weekly list of the top six performers of the 2014 season
By Zach Leach
What a point we have reached here this season. With just ten days of regular season games left and All-Stars selected, end of the year awards are still very much up in the air. By this time last year, the decision had really been whittled down to a two-horse race between Max Pentecost and Rhys Hoskins for MVP, while this season has not presented such clear cut candidates. The recent departures of Hunter Cole, Billy Fleming, and Edwin Rios have helped to slim the group somewhat, but it’s still a tough call. As for Outstanding Pitcher of the Year, Matt Hall still leads, but recent strong pitching performances have greatly expanded the group chasing him. It’s going to be a fight to the finish, and the next week and a half will definitely be worth watching closely. Following Sunday’s All-Star game, there will be just one full week left, and thus one last “Players to Watch” segment. After that, it’s up to the selection committee to make what right now appears to be some of the hardest hardware decisions in years.
Ian Happ (Cincinnati)
Outfielder, Harwich Mariners
.322 BA, 19 R, 21 RBI, 3 HR, 8 SB
Happ, a now two-time Cape League All-Star, should be no surprise to anyone with his presence atop the list this week. Happ made both the pre-season and Week One editions of “Players to Watch”, and has been hovering just outside the top six all season, quietly leading the Mariners to another strong season. This past week was his best of the season though, and with his stats among the league-leaders and his team among the best in the league, Happ has re-emerged as a true MVP candidate. This past week, he batted .444 to raise his season average to .322. He now finds himself in the top five in the league in RBIs, slugging, and on-base percentage and is the first player this season to have over twenty stolen bases and over five stolen bases. Happ also provides a ton of value in the field with his flexibility and skill. He is hands-down the most valuable player on his own team, so now the question is whether his team can be the best. Keep an eye out for Happ as Harwich fights for the division down the stretch.
A.J. Murray (Georgia Tech)
Infielder, Chatham Anglers
.313 BA, 22 R, 26 RBI, 5 HR, 5 SB
Murray continues to impress on the field and on paper, and has been the best power bat on the Cape this summer. He currently leads the league in RBIs and is in the top five in home runs, slugging and extra-base hits. His five stolen bases and .313 average show that he’s more than just a big bat though. Murray has succeeded in every aspect of the game this summer, and shows no signs of slowing down. However, that doesn’t mean that his MVP chances will continue to increase, as he has a couple factors working against him. The first, and most obvious, is his team’s performance. The Anglers have been the worst team in the league over the last two weeks, and are now just two games ahead of Brewster for the final playoff spot in the East. Missing the playoffs or even limping in could severely hinder Murray, so he needs to find a way to pick up the rest of his team down the stretch. The other interesting storyline potentially hurting Murray’s case is the recent success of Chris Shaw (Boston College), who suddenly leads the league in home runs and trails only Murray in RBIs. Even if Chatham does rebound before the postseason, could it be more Shaw than Murray leading the charge?
Matt Hall (Missouri State)
Pitcher, Falmouth Commodores
37.2 IP, 3-0, 1.67 ERA, 40 K, 1.12 WHIP
Despite a recent streak of pitching success around the league, it’s hard to make a case against Hall at least being the leader for Outstanding Pitcher of the Year. Starting simply with just the workload, he is tied for third in the league in innings pitched and is one of only five pitchers to have made seven starts. In those seven starts, Hall has yet to lose and has only allowed seven earned runs. His 1.67 ERA is fourth among qualifiers in the league, third among starters, and first among starters with over five starts. Add in that he is eighth in the league among qualifiers in WHIP, and second in strikeouts with more strikeouts than innings pitched, and it’s awfully hard to see his All-Star selection being his only achievement this season.
Rob Fonseca (Northeastern)
Infielder, Y-D Red Sox
.351 BA, 17 R, 17 RBI, 4 HR, 1 SB
With Hunter Cole gone, the Red Sox needed a pickup from their other big-time players like Fonseca, Jordan Tarsovich (VMI), and Andrew Stevenson (LSU) to keep their hot streak going, and they got it in a big way from Fonseca. Over the past week, he batted .500 and hit two clutch home runs, and has become the new leader of a talented Y-D offense. He is now the league leader in slugging percentage and third in batting and on-base percentage. Fonseca deserves all the credit and recognition in the world for coming from a small program at a local school and transforming into a powerhouse hitter and a key part of a true contender, but in reality the presence of Tarsovich and Stevenson and even the departed Cole will be a sticking point when it comes to the MVP decision. As 2013 proved, the Cape League is no different than any other league when it comes to a Most Valuable Player. Relative numbers trump total numbers every time, and a player who puts up good numbers while carrying their team has the edge over a player who puts up better numbers but as part of a strong balanced offense, and that is the case with the 2014 Red Sox.
Kevin Newman (Arizona)
Infielder, Falmouth Commodores
.375 BA, 14 R, 17 RBI, 1 HR, 8 SB
The 2013 batting champion is still in position to be the 2014 batting champion, and if that happens, Newman may just be the MVP by default for being the first player in Cape League history to win back-to-back Thurman Munson Awards. Since returning from Team U.S.A, Newman has helped the Commodores to become a real contender for the second year in a row. He seems to constantly be on base and making things happen, and the stats back him up, as he not only leads the league in batting, but is in the top five in both slugging and on-base percentage. He has had more of power presence this year than last, which also helps his case. Newman’s numbers don’t look like those of a player who missed almost two weeks, and that in itself is impressive. Newman is the dark horse right now for Most Valuable Player.
Kolton Mahoney (BYU)
Pitcher, Orleans Firebirds
32 IP, 3-1, 1.68 ERA, 41 K, 0.94 WHIP
Mahoney narrowly edged out an ever-growing list of pitchers who have slowly risen to the top to challenge Matt Hall. He keeps his spot on the list because of his impressive strikeout numbers, a league-leading 41 strikeouts and 11.53 K/9, and his ability to keep runners off the base paths better than anyone else, with a 0.94 WHIP and .183 batting average agianst, both which lead all starters. However, Mahoney is on a slippery slope, as being excellent has become insufficient in such a tight race. East All-Star starter Jordan Hillyer (Kennesaw St.) of Chatham does not yet qualify for ERA, with only 27 innings pitched, but if he did, his 1.00 mark would lead all starters by a wide margin. Currently in first is Y-D’s Justin Jacome (UC-Santa Barbera), who has a 1.55 ERA and, like Hillyer, is 4-0. Also, don’t forget about shocking All-Star snubs Zach Erwin (Clemson) and Michael Boyle (Radford) of Harwich, who have similar number too. Mahoney has to be perfect down the stretch, as do all of these pitchers, to sort out who the most Outstanding Pitcher of the Year really is.
Dropped out from Week Four: Richard Martin Jr. (Florida), Bourne Braves
Hunter Cole (San Francisco Giants), Y-D Red Sox