With so many games postponed earlier this summer due to weather, the final few days of the regular season include many doubleheaders, placing a strain on pitching staffs as they prepare for the playoffs that begin August 2. It’s also timely to look at the races for the Cape League batting title and ERA leader. Here’s how things stand with a handful of games to go.
While most scouts departed after the all-star game, a few are still here to see how players handle the dog days of summer, when they’re tired, homesick and ready for a break after playing competitive baseball since mid-February. In that context, here are this past week’s top performers.
Not much went right for South Carolina in 2019 after they started the season 14-3, struggling thereafter before going 4-11 down the stretch to miss the postseason. Without question the season’s highlight came in early March as the Gamecocks won the always hotly-contested Palmetto Series against in-state rival Clemson. But even that accomplishment came at a steep cost as Friday starter Carmen Mlodzinski suffered a broken foot while delivering a pitch, ending his season after just 10 1/3 innings of work.
The Gamecock’s loss turns out to be Falmouth’s gain as the Commodores get a fully healthy and determined Mlodzinski for the summer without an innings limit. He’s made the most of his opportunity, striking out 40 versus only four walks in 29 1/3 dominant innings of work. More impressively, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder has allowed only one extra-base hit within a microscopic WHIP of 0.65.
Last Friday night the right-hander took the ball for the red-hot Commodores and overwhelmed Orleans by primarily mixing two elite pitches: an explosive 95-96 tailing fastball offset with a high-spin and a late-breaking 11-to-5 curveball. On occasion, Mlodzinski even toyed with an 88-89 cutter he fired on the outer half, further baffling hitters. He commanded all offerings beautifully, throwing 45 strikes among his 59 pitches, and was never threatened over five innings of work.
That arsenal is delivered with aggression and purpose as the native of Hilton Head, S.C. attacks fearlessly with medium-low effort through a three-quarters slot. Looking at radar data, Mlodzinski’s offerings emerge from the same tunnel and don’t “split direction” until well towards the plate, leaving hitters little time to recognize the pitch. When contact is made, it’s weak. In fact, two of Orleans five hits on the night were bloopers off broken-bat jam jobs. Hitters just don’t barrel him up.
There are also no signs of the foot injury as Mlodzinski burst off the mound on a grounder to first base, showing impressive athleticism for a big guy in covering the bag for a putout.
The rising junior will be huge factor for the Gamecocks and Mark Kingston as they look to bounce back next season.
After hitting .318 and stealing 28 bases as a freshman at Boston College in 2018, Chris Galland battled nagging injuries last spring and never really got going, ending the season at .269. Now healthy and after a mid-summer swing tuneup, Galland is back in form, earning a spot on the Eastern Division All-Star team.
Entering 2019 off his freshman success, Galland may have put too much pressure on himself.
“I think I set my expectations too high,” the Sudbury, Mass. native said. “In the fall I put on a bunch of muscle, trying to increase my power. I became too big and probably lost a step.”
Compounding the added weight, he rolled an ankle early in the season and later tweaked a hamstring, further robbing him of his greater asset, game-breaking speed.
“I wasn’t going to change my game because I like to play aggressively, try to take extra bases,” added Galland. “But my speed was a bit down, and unfortunately, I got thrown out a bunch.”
Despite playing well for Harwich last summer, Galland started here as a temp, fighting off some other talented outfielders to earn a full-time spot. Then, in midseason, he went cold, seeing his average fall to .222.
“I was struggling, and my dad suggested I make a trip home to see Ted Novio, my hitting coach since I was a kid,” said Galland. “My front shoulder was flying open and I was getting beat in, pulling off pitches. Taking about 100 swings with Ted, a guy who knows my game best, really helped.”
Now barreling more balls with more authority, Galland has seen his OPS increase over .100 points since that July 10 meeting, raising his average to .278.
While the hit tool is solid, Galland’s speed is what’s truly special. Having shed the excess weight and now fully healthy, he’s back to putting pressure on the defense, stealing bases (13-15) and covering a ton of ground in the outfield.
“I’m finally understanding the kind of player I am, and I don’t want to get away from that. It might sound crazy, but I want to get even faster.”
A rising junior, Galland looks forward to taking a more active leadership role for Boston College, a young team boasting one of the most talented sophomore classes in the ACC. The Eagles’ program is clearly on the rise and one to watch in 2020.
It’s hard to imagine a Cape League pitcher arriving without having faced a single college hitter in his career, but that’s the case for Kansas State’s Connor McCullough, who sat out last spring after transferring from Arkansas in the fall of 2018.
The 6-foot, 185-pound righthander has been superb for Harwich, posting an ERA of 1.05 with a 29:8 K:BB ratio over 25 2/3 innings.
“For someone who didn’t throw against a live hitter all spring, he’s just a stud,” said Mariners pitching coach Steve Gruenberg.
With a short arm circle and quick action, McCullough produces a lively 89-92 fastball that he commands all over the zone. Playing off that heater, however, is his best pitch, a filthy curveball.
“It’s a true 12-to-6 curve with a 2700 spin-rate, an absolute hammer he can throw in any count,” added Gruenberg.
Equally impressive is McCullough’s competitiveness and demeanor. “He’s very mature on the mound, especially for being as young as he is. Nothing seems to faze him.”
This was evident last week when facing Cotuit without his best stuff. Throwing only 42 strikes among his 76 pitches, McCullough showed real grit in the fifth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, he fell behind Kentucky-bound Oraj Anu 3-0, before fighting back to induce a harmless ground ball, ending the threat and his scoreless outing, ultimately earning the win.
The next step for the 19-year old is developing confidence in a third pitch to round out his arsenal, providing Kansas State head coach Pete Hughes with a viable Friday guy in the Big-12 conference.
California baseball took a step forward under second-year head coach Mike Neu, posting a 17-11 Pac-12 record last spring that included the programs first Regional appearance since 2015.
One key returning piece is rising sophomore Sean Sullivan, a wiry 6-foot-1, 165-pound right-hander with confidence and moxie to boot. He proved his worth early, earning a high-pressure save at LSU in front of almost 11,000 Tigers fanatics, a real confidence booster for the Bears.
Later in Oregon State’s Goss Stadium, another extremely hostile environment, Sullivan turned “opener” on a Friday night, tossing two scoreless innings and setting the tone for a big win versus the Beavers. He finished 2019 with four saves in 26 1/3 innings while taking some licks, including six homers, on his way to a 5.88 ERA.
“He had a typical freshman year, inconsistent, with one good outing followed by a shaky one,” said Bears pitching coach Matt Flemer. “But he learned from every single one of them, finding something he could improve on.”
Sullivan was mostly a two-pitch guy, depending on an above average fastball-slider mix while struggling to find a changeup.
“He had a feel for it in the Fall and then for whatever reason, couldn’t find consistency in the spring,” added Flemer. “We started messing around with a splitter, something that goes straight down and plays off the fastball. Interestingly, the feel he gained from the splitter actually improved his changeup, getting his fingers and pressure points on the ball where they needed to be.”
That changeup is blossoming, an 81-82 offering with real fading action. It’s also helped Sullivan’s lively 89-92 fastball, especially up in the zone where it jumps on hitters for swings and misses. The slider is legit, a sharp 81-83 piece with 10-to-4 action that he’s throwing with confidence and command, even spiking a few, inducing hitters to chase.
The results have been eye opening for the lean and loose 18-year old, as he’s held opponents to a paltry .264 slugging percentage while posting a 34:5 K:BB ratio and 2.17 ERA.
While it remains to be seen what role Sullivan fills next spring, there’s no question he’ll be a real weapon for the Bears.
If there’s a Swiss-army knife in a baseball uniform it has to be Chatham’s do-everything Kaden Polcovich, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound demon who plays several positions while beating you from both sides of the plate.
A top-recruit for Nick Mingione at Kentucky in 2017, things didn’t work out and Polcovich ultimately landed in Niceville, Florida at JC power Northwest Florida State College. After two solid years there, Polcovich has committed to Oklahoma State, where he’ll play for head coach Josh Holliday and his brother, former MLB-star Matt, who was just hired as an assistant coach.
So it only makes sense that Polcovich is playing for their father this summer, Tom Holliday, manager of the Chatham Anglers.
Polcovich is the type of player you really appreciate after watching him over the summer, realizing there aren’t many weaknesses in his game. It starts with the bat and one of the prettiest left-handed swings on the Cape.
“I grew up a natural right-handed hitter and began switch-hitting in eighth grade,” said the Edmund, Okla. native. “After spending countless hours working on the left-side, I’m probably more comfortable there now.”
One area of focus for Polcovich is plate discipline as he leads Chatham in numerous offensive categories, including average (.288), runs scored, doubles and RBI.
“I stuck out a lot last year in junior college (54 times) so I’m trying to cut down with two-strikes, trying to put the ball in play,” Polcovich said. “I’ve figured out you don’t have to do as much here with the guys throwing so hard, just get on time, being short to the ball.”
Furthermore, Polocivch can also run, evidenced by going home-to-third time in 11.78 seconds after smoking a line drive down the right field line, easily beating the throw for a triple. Defensively, there are few positions Polcovich can’t play, having spent time at third base (3 games), second-base (11) and in the outfield (23), committing only one error thus far.
Given the MLB trend of larger pitching staffs and shorter benches, the versatility Polcovich offers would be very attractive at the next level.
“Kaden reminds me of Ryan Freel, a guy I coached with the Reds, a valuable utility guy with speed and power,” said Chatham assistant coach Randy Whisler. “I think Kaden can play in the big leagues someday.”
After suffering a serious leg injury playing soccer in high school that required surgery and implantation of a rod and plate, Northeastern infielder Ian Fair sat out 2017 to recover.
As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Fair burst on the scene, hitting .305 and earning Colonial Athletic Association co-Rookie of the Year honors as the Huskies earned a Regional berth for the first time since 2003. Then, after having the hardware removed in January, Fair blew up in the spring, slashing .357/.419/.520 with eight homers and eight stolen bases.
“He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever coached,” says Huskies head coach Mike Glavine. “He is on the barrel, all the time. He has tremendous hand-eye coordination and flat commands the strike-zone. I call him a poor-man’s JD Martinez. From load to contact, he’s extremely efficient to the ball and does most of his damage to the right-center gap.”
Starting the summer as a temp, Fair played just two games before being released on June 17. Back home, taking swings and staying ready, the call came again on July 5 and he’s been in the Hyannis lineup ever since, hitting .375 in 72 at-bats. That productivity is doubly impressive playing for a team hopelessly out of the playoff picture.
“He loves the process, the challenge of every at-bat and practice,” added Glavine. “No at-bat bothers him. He has that ability to just flush-it, and go one to the next one.”
Now fully healthy and cleared to play in the field, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Fair with 6.9 speed has even more upside ahead.
“I expect every part of his game to take another tick up next spring,” projects Glavine. “His power numbers should increase again, and I think he can steal more bags.”
If that’s the case, Fair can look forward with excitement to the 2020 MLB draft.
There’s an awful lot to like in the 6-foot, 180-pound package that is Parker Chavers of Coastal Carolina. A fast-twitch, premium athlete, he possesses a shiny tool set with proven productivity, a career .319 hitter with 22 bombs during his first two years in Conway, S.C.
Last spring as a sophomore Chavers’ power numbers really jumped, belting 15 homers with four triples. That power has carried over this summer, with eight doubles and five home runs, earning Chavers a spot on the Western Division All-Star team.
But take one look at his spray chart and you see almost all of his damage comes to the pull side.
“Guys can be effective with a changeup and really good fastball away against him,” says Coastal Carolina head coach Gary Gilmore. “The key for him is to become a left-center field approach guy, not get too pull happy.
“He’s wiry strong and has a super quick buggy-whip swing, with great suddenness to the ball. He doesn’t have to cheat to handle inside stuff. We’d like Parker to hang in the same spot just a little longer, letting the ball get deeper, before pulling the trigger.”
On defense, Chavers patrols center field with grace and aplomb, easily gliding into gaps to track down would-be extra-base hits. The glove is complemented by a solid, accurate arm that carries, one that has gunned down a few greedy baserunners this summer.
Should Chavers maximize his offensive potential in commanding the entire strike zone and driving balls the other way, he’ll follow former Chanticleer outfielder Billy Cooke, an eighth-round draft choice in 2017 by the Seattle Mariners, to the next level.