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All-Star Game Report: 2019 Cape Cod Baseball League

With three-quarters of the regular season in the books, we enter the stretch run with approximately 10 games remaining before the playoffs begin August 2. At the same time, the Collegiate National Team concluded their season Sunday and some members are expected to find their way back to the Cape for the sprint to the playoffs and postseason. Position players who started their summers on the Cape and may return include Alec Burleson (East Carolina/Bourne), Alika Williams (Arizona State/Bourne), Holden Powell (UCLA/Cotuit), Nick Loftin (Baylor/Hyannis), Lucas Dunn (Louisville/Hyannis), Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State/Chatham) and Luke Waddell (Georgia Tech/Y-D). Here are last week’s top Cape League performers heading into the All-Star break.

A major highlight of the Cape League summer season is the annual All-Star Game, showcasing the Cream of the Cape, 60 of the leagues’ best performers in front of thousands of fans and countless scouts. This year’s game was played Sunday, July 21 at 106-year old Eldredge Park in Orleans, Mass., home of the Orleans Firebirds. On a sweltering day with temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index even higher, the “stars of tomorrow who shine tonight” put on a show, a high-quality, tightly contested affair that ended in dramatic, walk-off fashion. The East came from behind, scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the game-winner an RBI-single coming from Alabama’s Brett Auerbach. The East defeated the West 6-5 in front of over 5,200 spectators.

The festival-like, game-day atmosphere included a home run hitting contest, featuring Baron Radcliff (Georgia Tech), Oraj Anu (Kentucky), Hunter Goodman (Memphis), T.J. Collett (Kentucky), Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) and eventual winner Tyler Hardman (Oklahoma). The righty-swinging 6-foot-3, 210-pound Sooner was dialed in, consistently crushing pull-side missiles with a lower launch angle, ultimately defeating Collett and Kavadas in the final round. Hardman’s massive power is no surprise, having hit seven homers this summer, or one every 13.7 at-bats, second-best in the league. That rate is significantly higher than Hardman produced last spring in Norman, Okla., when he hit a total of six, or one every 36.5 at-bats. That power surge has come with a slightly higher K-rate (33.7% vs. 25.7% for Oklahoma), but given how coveted raw power is at the professional level, scouts will gladly accept a few more whiffs for more taters. Pitching and defense dominated the first three frames, with the only hit provided by Pepperdine’s dynamic shortstop Wyatt Young, who entered the game as the Cape leading hitter at .366. Early impressive glovework was provided by a pair of Falmouth infielders. In the first inning, shortstop Hayden Cantrelle of Louisiana ranged far to his left, snaring a sharp grounder headed for center field, then flipped it cleanly with the glove to second baseman Nick Gonzales who completed a super-slick double play. The Ragin’ Cajun continues to impress this summer, hitting .303 with 15 stolen bases while leading all Cape second baseman in fielding percentage at .967. In the second, third baseman Trei Cruz of Rice charged a slow roller, picked it and threw a dart all in one motion to retire Christian Fedko of Connecticut. Cruz played primarily shortstop last spring, but has worked at second base, third base and shortstop this summer. He’s proven himself fully capable at all three spots, and that versatility plus his proven bat (.327, 9 stolen bases) make him an attractive fit at the next level. One of the most impressive arms this summer has been Notre Dame’s 6-7, 225-pound right-hander Joe Boyle, who retired all three batters he faced in the second inning. Working from a high three-quarters slot and severe downhill plane, Boyle’s delivery and arm action is smooth without much effort. The result, though, is breathtaking, as the fastball sat 98-99 and bumped 100. That gas was poured in with some of the highest spin rates recorded on the Cape, and one that statistically suggests a ton of swing-and-miss. Indeed, Boyle has whiffed 23 hitters this summer in only 11 2/3 innings. But as impressive as the heater is, his slider may be an even more effective offering. “He can take a little off, or put something on it. I haven’t seen a good swing against it all summer,” says Harwich pitching coach Steve Gruenberg. “It’s about as plus of a pitch as I’ve seen up here.” Having walked more than one per inning last spring for the Irish, the knock on the 19-year old Boyle has been command, which has improved only slightly this summer. Fine tuning his two-pitch mix while adding a changeup would make Boyle even more attractive at the next level, either as a potential starter or slam-the-door closer. Boyle was relieved by Wake Forest’s 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-hander Jared Shuster, one of the top prep pitchers in New England out of New Bedford, Mass., just off the Cape. Shuster had a rough 2019 in Winston-Salem, giving up 31 extra-base hits over 68 innings, including 12 starts. He also averaged an impressive 12.4 strikeouts-per-inning, indicating some good stuff is clearly there. There’s no doubt Shuster has found his form with Orleans, silencing wood bats to a sickly .130/.193/.208 opposition slash line while posting a 0.78 ERA. He retired the side in order, featuring a 91-93 fastball he threw to both sides of the plate, including to the glove side on the hands of right-handed hitters. While also flashing a nice, wide-breaking 11-to-5 curve, Shuster’s calling card this summer has been his changeup, a 78-80 piece that consistency induces hitters to chase in the dirt. “Jared really benefitted from talking with Al Leiter when he was here early in the summer,” said Orleans manager Kelly Nicholson. “Al stressed throwing left-on-left changeups, and Shu has totally bought into that. It’s been a game-changer and a plus-plus pitch.” His command has been superb all summer and in this inning as well, throwing 10 strikes versus just one ball, striking out Dallas Beaver before getting Trei Cruz and Braiden Ward to pound balls harmlessly into the ground for easy outs. Shuster will be an arm to watch next spring and heading into the 2020 draft. Both teams scored single tallies in the fourth behind two of league’s top hitters. Texas A&M’s Zach DeLoach (.362) dropped an opposite-field, broken-bat single to plate Gonzalez before Max Troiani (.364) of Bentley answered with an RBI single of his own, scoring Daniel Cabrera of LSU. In the fifth, the Cape’s own Cody Pasic, now playing at Maine, launched a pull-side bomb down the right field line for a 2-1 West lead. Pasic grew up in Cotuit, Mass. and around the Kettleer program, attending youth clinics before later serving as the bullpen catcher. Homerless all of 2019, Pasic saved his first bomb for the All-Star Game, on his mothers’ birthday no less. That ball is now secured in Pasic’s childhood home, where he’s sleeping in his old bed for the summer. Dreams do come true on the Cape. In the sixth, UCLA’s Matt McLain entered the game for the West and immediately turned on a hanging slider, launching a two-run moonshot homer over the new scoreboard at Eldredge Park. Few incoming 2019 freshman faced higher expectations than McLain, the 25th overall selection in the 2018 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. And while he had some moments in Westwood, McLain finished the season hitting just .203 while the Bruins’ season ended at home in disappointing fashion, losing a Super Regional to eventual national runner-up Michigan. That debut seems like a distant memory as McLain has become one to the best overall players on the Cape and among the leaders in batting average (4th, .325), OPS (4th, .952), runs scored (4th, 21) and RBI (9th, 19). He’s driving the ball with authority to all fields, has legged out two triples and swiped five bags without being caught. Watch him day-in and day-out and you begin to appreciate just how strong the 5-foot-9, 175-pound McLain really is. His upper body is thick and cut, while his stout legs provide a solid foundation at the dish and in the field. Arizona State’s 19-year old shortstop Gage Workman, a rising junior who we profiled back in Week Three, made his first plate appearance in the seventh. Still growing into an already impressive 6-foot-4, 205-pound body, Workman has logged more than 600 at-bats as a collegian, including over 225 with wood over the last two summers. Now an experienced switch-hitter, Workman is a potential five-tool player who opened his shed on this night. First from the right side, Workman blistered a 365-foot laser over the center fielder’s head and watched it roll towards the 434-foot sign. With Noah Campbell (South Carolina) aboard, Workman turned on the jets, never stopped around third base and scored when the throw sailed over the catcher’s head. Perhaps generously, the official scorer ruled it an inside-the-park home run. Four batters later, Alabama’s versatile Brett Auerbach drilled a game-tying RBI single, leaving the highly entertained crowd buzzing as the game went to eighth knotted 4-4. Auerbach does it all for Brewster, having played outfield, second-base and catcher while catalyzing the offense from the leadoff spot. He leads the Whitecaps in runs scored, walks, sacrifices and stolen bases. After two years at Saddleback JC in California, Auerbach played in all 56 games for Alabama last spring, splitting time between third base and catcher. He hit .270, reached base at a .365 clip and stole 9-of-12 bags. Much more will be expected in 2020 when Brad Bohannon looks to significantly improve the Crimson Tide’s 7-23 mark in the SEC last spring. In the eighth, McLain was back at it. Facing the physical, side-arming right-hander Dawson Merryman from Midland College, the Bruin went down and pulled a low slider for an RBI single. That produced yet another lead change as the Western Division dugout celebrated in raucous fashion. Now leading 5-4, the West went to the bullpen for Jacksonville’s beastly 6-foot-2, 230-pound right-hander Trent Palmer, who didn’t exactly dominate for the Dolphins in the ASUN conference, giving up 68 hits in 61 1/3 innings of work. However, Wareham manager Jerry Weinstein saw something he liked during preseason tryouts and gave Palmer a shot. Fast forward to this summer and Palmer’s fastball has drawn raves from scouts. He didn’t disappoint here, offering 93-95 high-octane heat delivered with above average spin to the two batters he faced. They had no chance, as he attacked both sides of the plate, including an explosive sizzler in on the hands. Palmer’s breaking stuff has been less consistent this summer, but here the 77 mph slider showed tight, late-breaking action, inducing a futile swing-and-miss strikeout. If that’s not enough, his other strikeout came on a fading 82 changeup. There’s no question Palmer is a bulldog with a closer’s mentality, fearlessly challenging hitters while flashing a rather sadistic grin. With the blazing heat and sauna-like humidity dissipating just a bit, most the crowd remained on edge for the bottom of the ninth inning as Workman approached the plate. Now hitting from the left side against Connecticut’s Karl Johnson, he scorched a 1-2 fastball to the right-center field gap. Once again screaming around the bases, Workman forced a center field error and cruised into third base with no outs. After Brady Smith (Florida) was hit by a pitch, Ben Ramirez lined an RBI single up the middle, tying the game at 5-5. Then Cincinnati’s electric, blonde-mulleted Joey Wiemer Jr’s sent a deep fly to right field, moving Smith to third base and setting the stage for Auerbach. On the first pitch, he sent the game-winning RBI single through the right side, emptying the East dugout to greet him under a shower of water bottle spray. McLain, Workman and Auerbach shared MVP honors as fans spilled onto the field to meet players, take pictures and savor a special summer night of college baseball.

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©2017 by Stuart Murray