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Summer Collegiate : : Story
N. England prospect reports
Allan Simpson        
Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Official League Website

League Strength: ***

New England Collegiate Baseball League top 40 prospects (list)

The New England Collegiate League often gets lost in the formidable shadow cast by its prominent neighbor, the Cape Cod League, when it comes to national prestige, but the Cape is the only summer college league in the country that has a decided edge when it comes to fielding high-end talent.

At worst, the NECBL is the fourth-ranked league in the hierarchy of the nation’s strongest summer leagues, after the Cape, Northwoods and Coastal Plain leagues. But none of those leagues boasts the depth of younger talent that is typically found each summer in the NECBL.

A majority of players on the accompanying list of the league’s top prospects are rising college sophomores, too young to be eligible for the 2012 draft—and too young, generally, for the tastes of leagues like the Cape, Northwoods and Coastal Plain, whose emphasis is on more-experienced college sophomores and juniors. In many cases, the best NECBL players will simply move on to the Cape or USA Baseball’s college national team a summer later, essentially cementing the NECBL’s reputation as a steppingstone league.

The 12-team NECBL excels at identifying elite college freshmen, players with unmistakable talent but who may not be quite ready for the faster pace of competition found on the Cape and in other established leagues. Righthander Stephen Strasburg, then a relative unknown out of San Diego State, played as a freshman in the NECBL in 2007, two years before he became the most-decorated draft pick in baseball history.

A year ago, Stanford freshman righthander Mark Appel was the league’s top-ranked prospect. After splitting this summer between Team USA and the Cape, he is an early favorite to be the first college pick in the 2012 draft.

The top-ranked prospect this year, predictably, is another freshman righthander with a high upside, Keene’s Jeff Thompson, though he was not the slam-dunk No. 1 selection that Strasburg and Appel were. A strapping 6-foot-6, 265-pound University of Louisville product, Thompson is built more like a defensive end but his fastball routinely reached the mid-90s this summer. Unlike Strasburg and Appel, Thompson led his team to a league title.

While Thompson headlines an impressive crop of young arms, the most distinguishing feature about this year’s NECBL talent pool is the unusually large number of quality position prospects—12 of the top 17, to be specific. The best such talent is Newport outfielder Conrad Gregor (Vanderbilt), who like Thompson is an Indiana high-school product.

Many long-time observers said there was more offense in the league this season than in any year they can remember, and a total of 22 qualifiers for the league batting title, including the sweet-swinging Gregor, hit .300 or better.

Danbury set a league record by hitting .298 as a team, and two Westerners outfielders,
Andrew Garner (Tulane) and Tyler Horan (Virginia Tech), led the circuit in the three triple-crown categories. Garner hit .384, while Horan was tops with 11 homers and 35 RBIs. Both players cracked the list of the league’s top prospects, as did a third Westerners outfielder, Tanner Kreitemeier (Iowa Western CC). Dane Opel (Missouri), a fourth Danbury outfielder, narrowly missed inclusion.

No one position ended up being as strong, though, as catcher and that point was driven home when USA Baseball’s college national team lost to an NECBL all-star squad 3-2 in an exhibition game at Boston’s Fenway Park in late June. Holyoke catcher Tom Murphy, the top power-hitting prospect in the NECBL, hit a long home run over Fenway’s Green Monster off USA ace Kevin Gausman, and subsequently was added to the Team USA roster.

In the process, he became the third NECBL catcher picked up by Team USA, though it was only for a five-game trial. Coincidentally, Holyoke’s other catcher, Ronnie Freeman (Kennesaw State), joined Team USA earlier in the summer but ended up returning to Holyoke shortly after Murphy joined the national team.

Murphy and Freeman, both rising juniors, factored prominently into the league’s list of best prospects—
Keene’s David Lyon (Kent State), the other catcher who got called up to Team USA, did not. The more powerful Murphy was ranked No. 3, the more-finesse-oriented Freeman No. 7. Three other catchers also cracked the top 40.

Beyond Murphy and Freeman, the only other non-freshman to rank among the league’s top 13 prospects was Sanford righthander Tyler Mizenko, who gained notoriety as the NECBL’s No. 1 prospect with the same club in the summer of 2009. Mizenko’s fastball was clocked in the mid-90s in a closing role at the time, but he rarely repeated that velocity last summer in the Cape, or in two subsequent seasons at Winthrop, and slid to the 28th
 round of this year’s draft after a mediocre season as a starter.

Rather than sign immediately with the San Francisco Giants, Winthrop elected to return to the NECBL, the site of his past glory, and had another dominant summer as his fastball returned to the mid-90s. He subsequently signed with the Giants for $100,000.

The Newport Gulls, a perennial power, posted the best regular-season record in the league (29-14) and had the most players on the list of top prospects (7), but the Gulls failed to win a playoff game for the first time in team history. They lost two straight quarter-final games to the Laconia Muskrats, even as they had won 12 straight games entering post-season play. Newport’s unexpected slip-up opened the door for Keene to win its third league title, and first in eight years. The Swamp Bats won a tightly-bunched Western Division race, then went on a 6-2 roll in the playoffs.

Keene swept Laconia in the best-of-3 championship series, in what was an all-New Hampshire final. The Swamp Bats were powered in the post-season by Thompson, who went 2-0, 0.71 in two starts and equaled his regular-season win total, and catcher/DH Brett DeLoach (Georgia), who hit six home runs with 15 RBIs. DeLoach, No. 29 on the accompanying list, nearly equaled his regular-season home-run total of seven in eight post-season games.

FAST FACTS

Year League Established:
1993.
States Represented in League: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont.
No. of Teams in League: 12.
Regular-Season Champion (best overall record): Newport Gulls.
Post-Season Champion: Keene Swamp Bats.
Teams, PG CrossChecker Summer 50/Final Ranking: No. 5 Keene Swamp Bats; No. 19 Holyoke Blue Sox; No. 25 Newport Gulls; No. 48 Danbury Westerners.
No. 1 Prospect, 2010 (per PG CrossChecker): Mark Appel, rhp, Newport Gulls (Stanford; played with Team USA, in Cape Cod League in 2011).
First 2010 Player Selected, 2011 Draft: Dan Gamache, 3b, Newport Gulls (Auburn; Pirates/6th round).

Most Valuable Player:
Chris Costantino, rhp/3b, Laconia Muskrats.
Top Starting Pitcher: Ben Mount, rhp, Newport Gulls.
Top Relief Pitcher: Michael Dimock, rhp, Newport Gulls.
Top Prospect (as selected by league): Jeff Thompson, rhp, Kenne Swamp Bats.

BATTING LEADERS (League games only)

Batting Average:
Andrew Garner, of, Danbury Westerners (.384).
Slugging Percentage: Tyler Horan, of, Danbury Westerners (.651).
On-Base Average: Billy Beresznewicz, of, Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide (.452).
Home Runs: Tyler Horan, of, Danbury Westerners (11).
RBIs: Tyler Horan, of, Danbury Westerners (35).
Stolen Bases: Brian O’Grady, of, Vermont Mountaineers (25).

PITCHING LEADERS (League games only)

Wins:
Taylor Williams, rhp, Keene Swamp Bats (6).
ERA: Jacob Lee, rhp, Newport Gulls (0.66).
Saves: Kyle Grana, rhp, Vermont Mountaineers (11).
Strikeouts: Chris Costantino, rhp, Laconia Muskrats (60).

BEST TOOLS

Best Athlete:
Alex Glenn, of, Holyoke Blue Sox.
Best Hitter: Conrad Gregor, of, Newport Gulls.
Best Power: Tom Murphy, c, Holyoke Blue Sox,
Fastest Base Runner: Kyle Johnson, of, Newport Gulls.
Best Defensive Player: Jack Reinheimer, ss, Newport Gulls.
Best Velocity: Damien Magnifico, rhp, Laconia Muskrats.
Best Breaking Ball: Ryan Harvey, rhp, Holyoke Blue Sox.
Best Command: Ben Mount, rhp, Holyoke Blue Sox.

TOP 40 PROSPECTS

1. JEFF THOMPSON, rhp, Keene Swamp Bats (Louisville/SO in 2012)
SCOUTING PROFILE: Thompson went undrafted in 2010 out of an Indiana high school, but was very much on the radar of every big-league club. With his raw athleticism and projectable frame, though, his appeal extended beyond baseball and there were college football and basketball teams also courting his services. He received scholarship offers as both a defensive end and power forward, but chose to play baseball only at nearby Louisville, where he was born. The strapping 6-foot-6, 260-pound righthander worked mostly as a reliever as a freshman for the Cardinals, posting a 2-1, 2.75 record with 18 walks and 43 strikeouts in 39 innings. Moved into a starting role with Keene this summer, his talent blossomed. Though he went just 2-2 in eight regular-season starts for the Swamp Bats, he posted a 1.90 ERA, and struck out 53 in 38 innings while walking 15. Opponents hit just .197. Thompson started the all-star game for the Western Division squad, and played a key role for Keene in the playoffs as the Swamp Bats rolled to their first league title in eight years. He won both his post-season starts, capping his stellar summer in his last outing by blanking Holyoke over six-plus innings, while striking out 10, as Keene won Game Three of the Western Division finals, 4-0. Thompson’s fastball was inconsistent as a starter, peaking at 94 mph at times, though was more customarily in the 90-92 range, occasionally dipping into the high-80s. No matter what the velocity, the pitch stood out with the way it jumped on hitters. His 79-81 mph slider was generally a dominant pitch, especially for a pitcher with his experience, and he made strides this summer in developing his changeup. Though he gets excellent downhill angle on his pitches, and has a live arm with a free and easy delivery, Thompson still has work to do in refining his mechanics and streamlining his big frame. In particular, he struggled when pitching out of the stretch. Once he makes the necessary adjustments, he should easily add even more velocity to his fastball, and possibly even pitch in the mid- to high-90s one day. More than any player in the league, he oozes projectability.


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