Week Four Report: 2019 Cape Cod Baseball League
With the calendar turning to July and tourism in full swing, the Cape League really kicks into gear halfway through the 42-game regular season. Crowds at the quaint community ballparks swell, final rosters take shape and teams begin to jockey for playoff position as the stretch run comes into view. In addition, statistical sample sizes are maturing, allowing for some data-driven assessments of players and their first-half performance in the league where “the stars of tomorrow shine tonight.”
When an elite athlete matures and gains experience, its often said the game slows down for them. For Miami rising sophomore Adrian Del Castillo, that time is now. Incredibly poised as a 19-year old, Castillo plays with a “very low heart rate,” says Wareham manager Jerry Weinstein. This past spring, Del Castillo blew up on the national scene, hitting .331 with 22 doubles and 72 RBI while posting a minuscule 8.8 percent strikeout rate in earning Perfect Game 1stTeam Freshman All-American honors. “He’s something I’ve never seen before in my life. His bat-to-ball skills are disgusting,” says Canes hitting coach Norberto Lopez. When asked if he was surprised Del Castillo produced so quickly, he shot back, “Not at all, I knew it all the way.” “He’s a special breed,” added Lopez. “When you see him, you’ll say ‘this is the guy everyone is talking about?’ No batting gloves, grabs a bat, old school, dirt on his hands and he just stands there nice and easy. ‘This is Del Castillo?’ Then you’ll see the lightning come off his bat.” Indeed, Del Castillo is so simple and reserved in his actions and demeanor that you may wonder if he has a pulse. The only thing loud is the crack of the ball off his bat. It just sounds different. During batting practice he effortlessly drops the barrel on the baseball, sending line drives to all over the yard. No doubt his hand-eye coordination is special. During game action the well-built, lefty-swinging 6-foot, 205-pounder oozes confidence in the box. Last week against a tough lefty, Del Castillo turned effortlessly on an inside fastball, drilling a sharp grounder over the first base bag and easily legging out a double. Earlier in the week he launched a grand slam on his way to a five-RBI evening. Recruited to Miami as a catcher, he’s still a work in progress behind the dish, though tools and athleticism are clearly present. He’ll benefit greatly from playing for Weinstein, widely regarded as a guru in developing catchers. Del Castillo will be key cog for the 2020 Hurricane team that some believe has College World Series potential, including our Mike Rooney, who recently named Miami to his Eight for Omaha list. Currently, Del Castillo is hitting .294 with four doubles and three homers in 68 at-bats. ___________ College head coaches will occasionally visit the Cape for some rest and relaxation while checking on their guys. For new USC head coach Jason Gill it was his chance to meet some of his Trojans. He had to be pleased with what he saw from rising-junior John Beller. Beller was solid for the Trojans last spring, posting a 3.86 ERA with 55 strikeouts over 49 innings of work. The next step for Beller is refining his arsenal. “I want to redevelop my secondary pitches so I can go into the fall and compete for a weekend starting role,” said the affable lefthander. Those secondaries were on display in a recent start against Wareham. His curveball has plus potential, a late-biting 12-to-6 offering that he threw for several first-pitch strikes. “I’ve been working with our pitching coach here, Christian Wonders, about getting to the front of it,” Beller said of his curveball’s development. “When I do, it comes out with the rotation I want, with more 12-6 action. Having developed the slider last year, I don’t want the two pitches to look the same.” Beller’s changeup also impressed, especially in facing a lineup stacked with eight lefthanded hitters. “This spring my change wasn’t always where I wanted it to be,” Beller added. “Against Wareham I was able to throw it confidently.” A pitcher and not a thrower, Beller kept hitters guessing and off-balance with a four-pitch mix spotted all over the zone. Those offerings play up with deception achieved through a funky, double-pump delivery. Add in a competitive, high-energy approach and Beller offers Gill a real nice weekend option next spring at USC. Over 13 2/3 innings, his ERA sits at 1.97 with 15 strikeouts versus just three free passes. ___________ Unlike most other sports, college baseball people tend to obsess over projection, wondering how a player will look and produce at the next level. Often overlooked are winners, guys who help their teams win right now, today, like Pepperdine’s rising sophomore shortstop Wyatt Young. Listed at 5-foot-7, 165-pounds, the Hawaii native has been an offensive dynamo for Y-D while flashing impressive defensive skills at shortstop. The type of player most appreciated watching day-in and day-out, Young is among the league leaders in runs scored and stolen bases while catalyzing the top offense in the league. The lefty swinger led off a recent game with a bunt single, jamming up the line in 3.64 seconds before eventually coming around to score Y-D’s first run. In his next at-bat, Young rolled an RBI single through the right side, giving Y-D a quick 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. On the day, Young finished 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI. Last spring Young fielded an amazing .974 as the Waves shortstop. You can see how with some of the quickest feet in the league, scooting toward grounders purposefully to get the best hop before featuring a quick-release arm with zip across the diamond. Young has become a favorite among his teammates, playing the game with a contagious vim and vigor. An All-WCC Freshman first-teamer last spring, he’ll return to Malibu and head coach Rick Hirtensteiner with even more confidence heading into the 2020 season. ___________ If it’s possible to play in the SEC, blast 15 homers with 66 RBI and yet fly under the radar, I offer you Mississippi’s Tyler Keenan. Manning the 3-hole all season, he led the offense for a Rebel team that advanced to a Super Regional before falling to Arkansas. After finishing second in last week’s College Baseball Home Run Derby, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound rising junior is back on the Cape with Harwich for the stretch run. Keenan’s calling card is clearly his bat. “He simply has an advanced feel to hit,” says Rebels hitting coach Mike Clement. “If you elevate a breaking ball, he will punish it, pull it 420-feet. If you throw a 92 fastball away, he’ll take it to left field. For a big, physical power guy, that’s rare at our level.” As a third baseman, Keenan has made only 11 errors in 240 chances (.956 fielding percentage) over his two years in Oxford. And while his range may be average, “if he gets to the ball, you’re out. His hands are really, really good and his arm is super accurate. Because of those tools and outstanding footwork, he has a chance to be an elite first-baseman at the next level,” added Clement. Those special hands also propel Keenen’s bat through the zone. Waving the stick above his head, Keenan drops his hands precipitously in the load before unleashing them through the zone with quickness and ferocity. Elite hand-eye coordination does the rest, resulting in balls that jump off his bat. Since returning from Omaha, Keenan is 6-for-14 and is currently hitting .300 for the Mariners. ___________ Every baseball fan in the city of Houston knows the name “Cruz.” Earlier generations will remember Jose Cruz, one of the best hitters in the game over his 19-year career (1970-1988) for three teams, most notably the Astros. His son, Jose Cruz Jr., became a three-time All-American at Rice University (1992-1995) before enjoying his own 12-year big league career before retiring in 2008. Following in his father’s footsteps at Rice is Trei Cruz, who hit .305 with 26 extra-base hits for the Owls last spring. Now on the Cape and playing for Falmouth, he’s raking just like his famous relatives. The strapping, 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cruz is a switch-hitter who showed distinctly different mechanics and approach from each side on this day. As a lefty – his stance wide and balanced, hands quiet and at shoulder height – Cruz belted an outside pitch for a loud opposite-field single. In his next at-bat and from the right side he showed more flair and athleticism. Waving his bat rhythmically, high above his head and using a pronounced leg-lift, Cruz whipped the bat through the zone, smoking a double off the left field fence. Defensively, Cruz continues to hone is skills and actions as a middle infielder, while his speed as a long-strider already plays well, stealing four bags and hitting .308 thus far. ___________ Sometimes a setback or two can make one appreciate what it takes to be successful. After sitting out 2017 and playing sparingly in 2018 due to injuries, Georgia’s Riley King really opened eyes last fall, drawing rave reviews from head coach Scott Stricklin and many of his teammates. Just a few months later King turned potential into production, hitting .295 with eight homers while scoring a team-leading 58 runs as the Dawgs won 46 games last spring. King combines an intriguing tool set with “an outstanding work ethic. He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve seen up here so far,” says Y-D assistant coach Justin Row, formerly an infielder with South Carolina. “I think his redshirt year at Georgia really opened up his mind in terms of ‘hey, everyone here is really athletic.’ Now it’s a matter of how hard you work and how badly you want it.” King put on a show for scouts at Fenway, staying within himself and rocketing deep gap shots, mostly to the pull side. “He’s just a guy who finds barrels,” says Row. In recent game action, King showed patience waiting on a breaking ball before grounding a sharp single up the middle. Later against a lefty, King allowed the ball to travel deep before uncorking a laser to the pull side for a ground-rule double. King is playing third-base this summer, flashing good hands and a solid arm. Add in above average speed with his unquenchable desire to improve and King is a prospect to watch closely next spring. He’s currently hitting .333 on the Cape. ___________ Few have a more elaborate pre at-bat routine than Connecticut’s Christian Fedko. Sauntering from the on-deck circle towards the dish, Fedko first scratches something in the dirt with his bat handle. He then adjusts his gloves, smooths the batter’s box with his feet, tugs on his shirt sleeves before oddly stepping toward the plate with his back foot. Now settling in the box, tapping the plate and loosely waving the stick above his head, Fedko is finally ready to strike. “Christian isn’t exactly lacking for confidence,” says Huskies assistant coach Josh McDonald. All those gyrations can lull you to sleep until Fedko attacks the baseball with quick and strong hands. Last week against Lehigh’s Mason Black, who had been unscored upon over his first 15 1/3 innings, Fedko turned aggressively on an inner-half fastball and rifled a two-RBI double down the left field line. After earning American Athletic Conference Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2018, Fedko’s plate discipline made a huge jump this past spring, as he drew 46 walks and posted a .407 on-base percentage for the Huskies. That approach is working in Harwich, as Fedko seems comfortable working deep into counts and taking a free base when he can’t find a pitch to drive. While the hit tool is advanced, improving his defense is a priority for Fedko. “Christian is there to prove to himself and others that he an everyday player in an elite league,” added McDonald. Refining his defensive actions will enable Fedko to provide on-field leadership as Connecticut transitions to the Big East conference in 2020. He’s currently is slashing .333/.404/.529 after 51 at-bats for the Mariners.