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Week Three Report: 2019 Cape Cod Baseball League

One of the many benefits of playing in the Cape League is participating in Scout Day, held annually at historic Fenway Park, just 75 miles or so to the north. That event happened Thursday on a glorious, warm and cloudless summer day.

Starting at 9am and continuing deep into the afternoon, players from all ten teams showcased their skills in front of more than 75 MLB scouts, running sixty-yard dashes, participating in infield/outfield drills and lastly, taking several rounds of batting practice.

While we didn’t see every swing, many players flashed awesome power, sending balls deep over the Green Monster and all around the venerable yard. Some of the noteworthy bangers were Hunter Goodman (Memphis/Hyannis), Riley Tirotta (Dayton/Y-D), Gage Workman (Arizona State/Brewster), Taylor Smith (Incarnate Word/Falmouth), Joey Wiemer (Cincinnati/Harwich) and perhaps most impressively, Baron Radcliff (Georgia Tech/Falmouth), who blasted many home run balls, including one that traveled at least 450 feet to dead center-field.

Speaking of raw power, the Cape League was featured prominently in the College Home Run Derby, which took place Saturday at Omaha’s Ameritrade Park. Participating were T.J. Collett (Kentucky/Brewster), Michael Rothenberg (Duke/Harwich), Chris Lanzilli (Wake Forest/Harwich) and Tyler Keenan (Ole Miss/Harwich), who finished second in the event to champion Griffin Doersching of Northern Kentucky.

Finally, by this time next week all Cape rosters will be “locked”, meaning temporary players will either be released or signed to contracts, binding them to those teams for the remainder of the summer.

As a high school sophomore and after a long discussion, Gage Workman and his parents decided it was best for him to graduate a year early, necessitating the youngster to carry a heavy course load over his remaining three semesters. Despite that strain, Workman flourished in the classroom, earning a 4.1 GPA before enrolling at Arizona State as a 17-year old in the fall of 2018.

“My parents always pushed me to do as well as possible, whatever I’m doing”, said Workman.

With that head start, the precocious Workman has already experienced over 400 D1 plate appearances for the Devils and now returns for a second season on the Cape with the Brewster Whitecaps.

Last summer Workman was thrown into the Cape League fire and, not surprisingly, struggled over the first 6 weeks. “I was playing tight, pushing to get hits, pressing about not doing well. Towards the end I told myself to play my game and relax, that I knew I’m good enough to play here. I learned to play loose”.

Success followed, as Workman belted 4 homers over the last two weeks, including a dramatic, walk-off, two-run playoff blast that extended Brewster’s season. “I didn’t want to end the year as the last out. I was just trying to find the barrel to keep our season alive”.

Workman took that loose approach back to Tempe in the spring and became a key contributor to the Devils potent offense, hitting .330 with 8 homers, earning honorable mention All-Pac 12 honors.

Now 6-4 and packing 205 lean pounds on that frame, Workman possesses striking athleticism, quick twitch actions and an impressive toolset that continues to develop. A switch-hitter with all-fields power, Workman believes he’s “a little be more consistent left-handed, but when I do get to it from the right side, I feel like I have more pop”. His glove has improved and his arm plays well anywhere on the left side of the infield.

This summer Workman wants to further sharpen his mental game, “learning myself a little better, playing in the moment, pitch-to-pitch, then just flushing it and moving on to the next at-bat”. That mindset, coupled with proven production and continued physical maturation will make Workman a tantalizing 20-year old package for the 2020 MLB draft.

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During a warm sunny day at a serene Cape League field, sometimes you’re startled awake by elite actions, leaving you to marvel “who is that guy?”. On this day, “that guy” was Brandon Pfaadt, a right-hander from Bellarmine University in Lexington, KY.

To steal a line from “Bull Durham”, Pfaadt “announces his presence with authority” with his imposing 6-3, 220-pound frame and fearless, all-business attitude. He works quickly, attacks the zone and is comfortable pitching backwards while featuring a nasty arsenal.

His slider appears special, a sharp, late-breaking 79-83 mph wipeout piece with recorded spin rates in the 2600-2700 range. Coupled with a lively, high-spin 89-92 fastball that comes out of the same slot, Brewster hitters were completely overmatched in four innings against Pfaadt, going hitless while whiffing 5 times.

There’s no doubt Pfaadt belongs in this league, and his numbers to date prove it. Over 12 scoreless innings of work, he’s allowed only two harmless singles, whiffing 16 batters while allowing just 4 free passes.

Last week Bellarmine University announced its plan to move up to Division I in 2020, becoming a member of the ASUN Conference.

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While being the son of a MLB star comes with benefits, it also brings pressure and unrealistic expectations. For California’s second baseman Darren Baker, son of Dusty, he’s beginning to understand who he is as a player while leveraging a high baseball IQ.

Slightly built as a youngster, Baker’s game featured defense and speed while his offense lagged behind. “A lot of people thought he’d be too small to play this game” said Cal hitting coach Noah Jackson. “He wasn’t quite as strong and he hit the ball in the air quite a bit”.

That’s changed as Darren has added “strength and an appreciation of his own talents, which are his outstanding bat-to-ball skills”, continues Jackson. “His strike-zone discipline is really growing, and a lot of that comes from watching Andrew Vaughn, one of the best guys controlling the strike zone of any young hitter I’ve seen in my life. Darren has become much more selective”.

That approach helped raise Baker’s on-base percentage last spring, allowing more opportunities to unleash his speed, swiping 21 bags without being caught once. “Darren does a lot of homework, watching film, studying pitchers and their tendencies with runners on base, knowing what their pickoff-move looks like. He’s a student of the game, and his work ethic is second-to-none”.

Defensively, “the game comes easy to him. He understands what our pitchers are trying to do, has great anticipation and with a quick first step, covers a lot of ground”.

For Wareham and manager Jerry Weinstein, Baker is currently hitting .298 in the two-hole behind Washington’s Braiden Ward, forming one of the most exciting 1-2 punches in the league.

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No one burst on to the 2019 SEC scene quite like Tennessee outfielder Alerick Soulaire, who earned 1st Team All-SEC honors after slashing .367/.466/.602 with 11 homers, helping the Vols earn a Regional bid for the first time since 2005.

Originally committing to Arkansas and then recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello, Soularie opted to attend San Jacinto College after Vitello took the Tennessee head coaching position. Once reunited in Knoxville, Soularie worked hard on his strength & conditioning, adding 20 pounds of muscle to a still lean and lithe 6-foot frame.

“I wasn’t really surprised with how quickly he contributed on offense”, said Vitello. “Alerick is a special talent with the bat. He has really quick and incredibly strong hands. He can allow the ball to travel deeper than the average guy. Allowing that to happen more often can turn his greatest asset into his greatest strength.”

While Vitello was impressed with Soularie’s defense and base-running, he’s looking for further development of those skills, as “little things really matter in our conference. Execution is critical to win in the SEC”.

Standing straight up in the box, his hands held high, Soularie looks like a cobra ready to strike as he goes into his load. He’s already flashed some of the most impressive exit-velocities in the league while still getting used to the wood bat. He’s currently hitting .207 for Brewster.

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Early in the season when “temps” are needed to fill rosters, many Cape League coaches look to northeastern players to fill the void, saving on travel costs while giving young men a chance to chase their dream in front of family and friends.

Such was the case for outfielder Max Troiani from Bentley University, a Division 2 program competing in the all wood-bat Northeast-10 conference.

“He came highly recommended from a northeast scout, telling me Max could play in this League” said Orleans manager Kelly Nicholson. A physical specimen at 6-1, 215-pounds, Troiani has some legitimate tools. He can run (consistently timed in 4.3 range from home-to-first), possesses a solid outfield arm and is proving he can handle Cape pitching, hitting .347, currently 4th best in the league.

An outstanding student, Troiani started the summer as an intern with a Boston investment bank, thinking his temp status wouldn’t keep him away from work for long. Now, after recently offered a full contract to play in the Cape all

summer, Troiani faced a choice – go back to work in Boston, or pursue his dream on the Cape.

“It was probably the toughest decision of my life. It came down to opportunity and happiness. I have only 6 weeks left to play in the Cape versus 50 years to sit at a desk. I’m also very happy here, playing left-field in Orleans. I actually made the decision in the 3rd inning, just embracing the crowd and the game and what it means to play in this league”.

There are countless “temp-to-contract” players who go on to become MLB draftees. Troiani appears on his way.

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The Florida Southern baseball program is led by alumnus and Cape League Hall-of-Famer Lance Neikro, a 2nd round selection in the 2000 MLB draft who played 195 games for the San Francisco Giant before retiring in 2007.

In 2013, Niekro took over the Division 2 power based in Lakeland, Florida, producing two recent MLB draftees in right-hander J.T. Hintzen (10th round, 2017) and left-hander Logan Browning (24th round, 2018), son of former Cincinnati Reds star Tom Browning.

The next Moccasin to be drafted is likely 6-6, 230-pound Jacob Teter, a slick-fielding, lefty-swinging first baseman with juice in his bat. “I hate comparing people to big leaguers, but I kind of see him as an Eric Hosmer. Lefty, tall, big body with a little bit of a long swing, level, but with power. The bat speed is there, and using torque with his size, the home-runs will undoubtedly come. He’s loose, flexible with really quick hands. That’s a good combo” says Niekro.

At the plate, Teter looks comfortable and athletic, featuring a wide-stance with good knee-bend, allowing him to get lower and derive power from his legs. “You see guys who have that size and power, but their stiff, and they can’t turn on an inside pitch. He can because of his flexibility.

In addition to the bat, Teter has already flashed outstanding glove skills, preventing several infield throwing errors with deft scoops around the bag. “When we signed him, we knew defensively he was going to be the best defensive 1st baseman we’ve evr had”, added Niekro.

“Jacob has come along faster than we expected. And with his Cape performance, he could be moving himself into the top-5 rounds” in the 2020 MLB draft.

Teter has hit in seven of his last eight games, raising his average to .373, second base on the Cape.

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After a solid 2018 freshman season for South Carolina, infielder Noah Campbell blew up last summer, slashing .364/.456/.636, leading the league in OPS and earning All-Cape League honors.

With the Gamecocks losing talent from the 2018 Super Regional team and given his outstanding summer, Campbell was expected to carry a big load for the Gamecocks this spring. However, “he kind of fell into a rut early and was never able to climb out of it”, said head coach Mark Kingston.

“Coming off such a productive summer as a hitter he may have taken his speed for granted. When he struggled with the bat this spring, he didn’t have other weapons to help counteract his struggles with the bat”.

Turning that speed into productivity is Campbell’s primary goal this summer. “We want him to become more fearless, be able to drop a bunt-hit down at will, steal more bases. Really, we just want Noah to get his mojo back”.

Campbell is off to a good start, stealing 5 bases without being caught. He’s also back hacking impressively with wood, evidenced early from the left-side after crushing a 95-mph fastball from Georgia right-hander Cole Wilcox, sending it 407 feet for a loud three-run homer.

He’s currently hitting .360 with 2 homers, 7 RBI and a .515 on-base percentage.

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©2017 by Stuart Murray