In a season marked early by bad weather and rainouts, a scintillating late-July All-Star Game and a tight race for the batting title, the 57th Cape League season in the Modern Era came to a close August 9 as Cotuit swept Harwich to win the 2019 title.
Cape Cod League Playoffs
Harwich was the last team to clinch a playoff berth before riding quality starts from Connor McCullough (Kansas State), Antonio Menendez (Wake Forest) and Jacob Palisch (Stanford) in rolling over Chatham and YD to win the Eastern Division Title. Dylan Neuse (Texas Tech) and Hal Hughes (LSU) rose to the occasion in leading the offense.
In the West, Cotuit eliminated Wareham and upended title-favorite Falmouth behind the arms of Sean Sullivan (Cal), Richard Brereton (Emory), Trey Holland (University of the South) and Cape Cod’s own Chris Holcomb (Tulane), while Kentucky-bound Oraj Anu and league MVP Nick Gonzales (New Mexico State) did damage at the dish.
The Championship Series opened with an epic, 15-inning, 5:02-minute thriller in front of 4,832 fans at Harwich’s Whitehouse Field, featuring numerous lead changes, outstanding defense and a go-ahead, top-of-the-15th inning RBI single by Gonzales. Harwich took a 6-4 lead into the ninth, but high-octane closer Joe Boyle (Notre Dame) couldn’t slam the door. Mason McWhorter (Georgia Southern) smoked a one-out RBI single to cut the lead to 6-5. Then, down to their last out, Adam Oviedo (Oral Roberts) chopped a bouncer over the third baseman to tie the game, setting up Gonzales’ heroics some two hours later.
Cotuit wasted no time jumping on the Mariners in game two, setting an early tone that ultimately carried the day. A 407-foot pull-side blast by Matt Mervis (Duke) preceded Casey Schmitt’s (San Diego State) tater one out later, giving the Keetleers a 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Schmitt added another moonshot homer in the fourth, earning him MVP honors in the playoffs. The 18-year old Sullivan provided a solid 6 1/3 inning start, capping an outstanding summer and helping Cotuit win its 17th Cape League championship in front of 3,517 at historic Lowell Park.
Trend of Earlier Departures for Pitchers Continues
Scouts have lamented the downward trend of Cape League pitching over the last few years, as it seems most top college arms are being shut down earlier than ever. In fact, over the last five years the number of pitchers reaching 40 Cape League innings has plummeted from 12 in 2015 to none this year. The early season weather and cancelations forced most teams to play every day over the last few weeks of the summer, placing even more strain on pitching staffs. Not coincidentally, Cape League scoring has risen steadily since 2015.
Milestone Victories for Long-Time Cape League Managers
Three Cape League managers reached significant milestones this summer. Yarmouth-Dennis’ Scott Pickler, a 2019 ABCA Hall of Fame inductee, won his 500th Cape League game on June 21. Over the years Pickler has coached the likes of Chris Sale, Buster Posey and Walker Buehler. Jeff Trundy of Falmouth notched his 450th career win on July 25, a figure reached with help of former Commodores like Khalil Greene, Jacoby Elsbury and A.J. Pollock. Finally, Kelly Nicholson of Orleans earned win No. 350 on July 13, aided along the way by stars like Matt Wieters, Brandon Crawford and Marcus Stroman.
Cape Cod League Regular Season Awards
Most Valuable Player: Nick Gonzales (New Mexico State)
Consistent, elite productivity was the hallmark of Gonzales’ 2019 summer, as he reached base safety in his last 25 games while leading the league in OPS, runs scored, doubles and triples. A batting title was also within his grasp, ultimately finishing second, while punishing both right (.333) and left-handed (.380) pitchers. If that isn’t enough, Gonzales also stole six bags without being caught while showing the range and defensive actions of a MLB-caliber second baseman.
Top Pro Prospect: Austin Wells (Arizona)
Last year MLB scouts voted Vanderbilt’s JJ Bleday as the Cape’s Top Pro Prospect and he blew up in the spring, hitting 26 homers on his way to the fourth overall selection in the 2019 MLB draft. Wells, the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound catcher/outfielder with outstanding athleticism and a high-end hit tool. He calmly commands the strike zone, patiently waiting for fastballs he can punish to all fields, finishing among the league leaders in slugging while homering seven times. Still, the 19-year old Wells seems capable of even more power down the road. Coupled with above average speed, a snappy arm and positional flexibility, the draft-eligible sophomore seems destined to hear his name called early on day one of the 2020 MLB Draft.
Outstanding Pitcher: Ian Bedell (Missouri)
Bedell consistently dominated opposing hitters all summer, yielding just two runs and three extra-base hits over six starts and 32 1/3 innings. In fact, those two runs and two doubles came in the same inning on July 5 when Bedell was touched up by Orleans. Otherwise the righthander was perfect over the regular season. Missouri’s top closer last spring, Bedell introduced a nasty 82-83 changeup this summer to complement a lively 91-94 fastball and sharp 12-to-6 curve, rounding out an elite three-pitch mix necessary to be an effective SEC weekend starter. Bedell, who skipped his senior year of high school after participating in the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic, has a projectable 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, making him a highly desirable 20-year old draft prospect next spring.
Batting Title: Zach DeLoach (Texas A&M)
While most regard Nick Gonzales the best overall hitter in the Cape, a few leaned toward DeLoach, who nipped Gonzales for the Batting Title on the last day of the season at .353. A bit of an enigma after two seasons at Texas A&M, including hitting just .200 last spring, the lefty-swinging 6-foot-2, 200-pounder also flashed power and speed this summer, posting the league’s third-best OPS (.969) while swiping 8-for-11 bags for Falmouth. With newfound confidence gained over a highly successful summer, it will be interesting to watch DeLoach perform for Texas A&M leading up to the 2020 draft.
Sportsmanship Award: Max Troiani (Bentley)
Every summer there are a few stories of lower division players who begin as a “temp” only to earn a contract spot and flourish in the toughest summer collegiate league in the country. That goes for outfielder Max Troiani of Division II Bentley, a small school in the Boston suburbs. One of the most consistent hitters all season, Troiani ended his campaign at .345, third-best in the league. Athletic but raw, the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder has good speed, a quality arm and power potential, making him an interesting project at the next level.
Outstanding Relief Pitcher: Zach Brzykcy (Virginia Tech)
Part of being an elite closer is physical presence with an attitude on the mound, and Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-2, 225-pound righty Zach Brzykcy fits the bill. Earning seven saves in just 10 appearances, Brzykcy dominated from the back end, allowing only five baserunners all summer while silencing opponents to a sickly .114 batting average. After walking one per inning last spring at Virginia Tech, Brzykcy found his command for Falmouth, whiffing 14 batters with just one free pass. He provides the Hokies with a top-end closer heading into the ACC next spring.
Top New England Prospect: Jared Shuster (Wake Forest)
Perfect Game ranked the New Bedford, Mass. native the 43rd-best lefthander in the country coming out of Tabor Academy, located just off-Cape in Marion, Mass. Last spring Shuster struggled for Wake Forest, posting a 6.49 ERA over 68 innings. However, with the help of former MLB star Al Leiter, an annual summer visitor to Orleans, Shuster perfected a wipeout changeup he’s comfortable throwing to both right and lefthanded hitters. That offering helped play up his fastball/curve combination, resulting in vastly improved command and a 1.41 ER