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Week One Report: 2019 Cape Cod Baseball League

On Monday, June 10 the Cape Cod Baseball League began its 56th year of the so-called Modern Era, which commenced in 1963 when the NCAA formally sanctioned the circuit. Comprised of 10 organizations split into Eastern and Western divisions, a 42-game regular season is followed by three rounds of playoff action beginning Aug. 2. The All-Star Game is scheduled for July 21 at Eldredge Park in Orleans, Mass. Rosters remain in flux for the entire summer, especially in the first few weeks as many “contract” players are either still playing in the NCAA Tournament, assessing professional opportunities after the recent MLB draft or trying out for Team USA. In their place are “temp” players getting an opportunity to earn a permanent roster spot while gaining valuable exposure in front of scouts. Toward the end of the summer some pitchers will reach workload limits and be shutdown, often replaced by arms from other summer leagues. Taken together, the heart of the season occurs in July, after rosters are locked, crowds swell & MLB scouts arrive in throngs. Pitchers often enjoy an early advantage as hitters adjust to the wood bat while trying to develop advanced barrel awareness. In addition, hurlers experiment more with pounding the inner-half with less fear and gain an appreciation for breaking bats. That battle usually evens out over the course of the summer. We’ll talk to coaches, players, scouts and other sources to bring you player development & performance insights through weekly columns, regular tweets & other means of communication.

Florida International University Head Coach Mervyl Melendez has landed several outstanding recruiting classes over his time in Miami, including the No. 10 class of 2017 when the headliner was left-hander Logan Allen. A 16th round draft pick out of high school, Allen earned Freshman All-American honors in 2018 before boosting his performance further this spring, posting a 3.11 ERA over 84 innings, with 120 strikeouts and only 25 walks. Melendez was impressed with Allen’s strikeout totals this season. "Logan’s changeup has always been a plus pitch since he was little, but his fastball is the one he’s throwing by hitters more often than not,” he said. “It’s a late riser with plenty of life and very tough to hit up when it’s up in the zone.” Always a strike-thrower, Melendez said the key for Allen this spring was his willingness to attack all over the zone, including backing hitters off the plate when necessary. The result was a meaningful reduction in extra-base hits allowed while dropping his opponent’s batting average from .262 to .231. After a superb outing on Opening Day when he struck out seven without walking a batter over five innings, we saw Allen six days later and he didn’t disappoint. Working quickly with purpose, he started by striking out the first five batters he faced and never looked back over six shutout innings, striking out 10 in total while walking just one to earn the win for Harwich. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, it’s Allen’s sturdy lower half that powers serious leg drive off the rubber, taking strain off the arm while promoting repeatability that’s at the heart of his command. He attacks the zone with a lively 89-92 mph fastball, fully commands a fading 80-82 mph changeup and adds a sharp, downward 77-80 mph wipeout curve, all delivered through the same tunnel with similar arm action. Allen’s attack mode was on full display in one four-pitch sequence vs. Georgia Tech’s talented lefty-swinging Baron Radcliff, getting his attention immediately with a fastball that buzzed up and in. That was promptly followed with another heater down & away, painting black for a called strike. Allen then mercilessly ended the at-bat with two wicked breaking balls that started in the zone before diving in the dirt, inducing Radcliff to chase both for the strikeout. Several scouts were left murmuring to themselves as they jotted notes. Allen may make one more Cape League start before leaving for Team USA around June 25. ___________ It was a forgettable 2019 for Long Beach State as they finished 14-41, won only three road games, ultimately costing head coach Troy Buckley his job. One bright spot was starting left-hander Adam Seminaris, who ate up 94 quality innings over 14 starts, providing some stability and consistency to a beleaguered Dirtbag staff. His first outing for Orleans was nearly flawless, allowing just one hit over five innings in a brisk 54-pitch (40 strikes) appearance. "“I just wanted to attack their hitters, I’m not looking to pitch around anyone,” Seminaris said after the game. He does so with two and four seam fastballs that clocked at 87-89 mph, nicely complimented by a superb changeup and curveball. Working swiftly, Seminaris kept hitters off balance all night while consistently missing barrels. He’ll be an important piece for new head coach Eric Valenzuela as Long Beach State looks to get back on track in 2020. _________ News broke this week that University of North Carolina’s Benjamin Casparius, a native of Westport, Conn., has returned home and transferred to Connecticut, joining Jim Penders’ program in the fall. Less certain is when he will become eligible for the Huskies. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Casparius offers physicality & two-way potential for the Huskies, who will likely plug him into the middle of the batting order, man a corner infield spot and find high-leverage situation to use his power arm. In the early going for Falmouth, Casparius is 4-for-11 with four RBI while tossing one scoreless inning in relief. _________ One of the beauties of the Cape League is seeing top-flight talent regardless of their school’s status. Case in point is infielder Mason Dodd of Belmont Abbey College, a Division II program in Belmont, N.C. The stout lefty-swinging infielder has hit for the cycle in his first 22 at-bats with six runs scored and five RBI. Against Brewster, we saw Dodd loop an opposite field single in his first at-bat, and then later with the bases loaded, scald a drive over the center fielder’s head for a bases-clearing triple. He looks to have quick hands through the zone, obvious power and surprising athleticism for a 6-0, 210-pounder. Dodd’s teammate and fellow Crusader, right-hander Beck Way, has also performed well for Cotuit out of the bullpen. _________ Long-time manager Jeff Trundy welcomes back Louisiana-Lafayette’s star shortstop Hayden Cantrelle for a second summer in Falmouth. Like many freshman hitters in the Cape, Cantrelle struggled in 2018, hitting .174 in 86 at-bats. It didn’t help that he lost weight over an 81-game, 6-month grind, admittedly finishing the summer with a worn-out body. With the help of a newly-employed Ragin’ Cajun staff nutritionist & rededication in the weight room over the winter, Cantrelle has transformed his body into a lean, muscular 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. Legitimate power followed (nine home runs, .504 slugging percentage) this spring without sacrificing any of his game-changing speed (28-32 stolen bases). In addition to added power, Trundy has been impressed with Cantrelle’s leadership and advanced approach to his business, setting a positive example for his new teammates as they adapt to the rigors of the Cape. On the field, the next step for Cantrelle is consistency, especially with the glove, after he committed 15 errors last spring playing more than half his games on artificial turf. Showing he can continually make routine plays over 60 days on less than perfect Cape fields will undoubtedly boost his draft stock in 2020. ___________ In Columbia, S.C., 2019 was expected to be a rebuilding year for Mark Kingston and South Carolina. Perhaps the most productive new piece was 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder Andrew Eyster, a two-time MLB draftee and transfer from Santa Fe Junior College who led the Gamecocks in batting average (.309) while belting 10 homers. He really came on late in the spring, finishing with seven multi-hit games over the last 11 games. While the 2019 Gamecocks launched 75 homers in 56 games, the team strikeout rate of 24.5 percent was unacceptably high for Kingston. Eyster can help bring that figure down next spring as he gains more experience versus elite pitching. Eyster is off to a great start for Y-D over his first 15 at-bats, pounding two doubles and a homer in hitting .533. __________ Few Cape Leaguers this year arrive with more anticipation than New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales. A consensus All-American, Gonzales led the nation in batting average while slashing a ridiculous .432/.532/.733. Those numbers are even more impressive in the context of a low, 13.6 percent strikeout rate. Listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Gonzales has a strong lower half that when coupled with quick hands through the zone makes his power numbers understandable. He also appears to see the ball well out of the pitcher’s hand, is patient in not chasing bad offerings and seems comfortable hitting deep into counts. Defensively, Gonzales appears well-suited for second base, showing good athleticism, flashing those quick hands through the transfer while offering an accurate, side-arm throwing motion. Naturally, people are quick to point out that Gonzales benefits from playing in the launching pad that is Presley-Askew Field in Las Cruces, which sits almost 4000 feet above sea level. How he performs for Cotuit with a wood bat and in the heavy sea air is one of the more intriguing storylines we’ll follow this summer. __________ You never know when you’ll see elite athleticism jump out on the field. It happened Friday night when 6-foot-6, 205-pound switch-hitter Allbry Major of Xavier put on a show, defining what a major league prospect looks like. A two-way talent and the 2018 Big East Freshman of the Year, Major scuffled in a brief Cape stint last summer. This spring he took those learnings and boosted his power stroke for the Musketeers, as his slugging percentage increased from .386 to .488 while maintaining the K-rate. On this night, Major displayed his full toolset in going 3-for-5, including a double, scoring a run & stealing a base. With the bat, his load features a pronounced wrist cock before unleashing whip-like action through the zone, producing good bat speed and a ball that jumps off the barrel. The result to date is a league-leading four doubles in just 14 at-bats. Most impressive was how Major turned his speed tool into game-changing production. After lining a shot over the second baseman’s head and watching the outfielders amble to the ball, Major never wavered around first base, turned on the jets and beat the throw to second with a head-first dive. Two pitches later he tagged up on a medium-deep fly to center field, getting underway impressively for a man his size and easily beating the throw with another head-first dive. If that’s not enough, the Cotuit left fielder closed his night sprinting 50-60 feet toward the gap before making a sensational diving catch, much to the delight of the crowd. Speed, aggression and good judgement are a dangerous combination. Major is a player to keep your eyes on this summer.

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©2017 by Stuart Murray