CAPE COD BLOG
EDITOR’S NOTE: PG Crosschecker’s Allan Simpson is spending five days in the Cape Cod League and will check in daily with some of his observations. Among other things he’ll see is Thursday night’s Cape League all-star game at Boston’s Fenway Park.
Wednesday was supposed to be an open date on the 2009 Cape Cod League schedule to give all 10 teams a chance to gear up for the all-star game, but the incessant rains that plagued the Cape earlier this season resulted in a makeup doubleheader in Falmouth. The home-standing Commodores won both contests, beating Chatham 7-6 in the opener and 5-2 in the nightcap.
It was a rare highlight in an otherwise disappointing season for Falmouth, which entered the day with a 10-18 record—worst in the league. By contrast, it was the most disappointing day in the 2009 season for backsliding Chatham, which won nine of its first 10 games, but fell to 17-16 overall with the two setbacks.
The Commodores won both games on key fifth-inning home runs by freshmen middle infielders. Second baseman Connor Mach (Missouri) drilled a three-run shot in the first game to snap a 4-4 tie, while shortstop B.A. Vollmuth (Southern Mississippi) went deep with a runner aboard in Game Two, which lifted the Commodores to a 3-2 lead which they never relinquished.
Falmouth’s ability to withstand a late-inning jam in Game One may have signaled a change in fortune for the snake-bitten Commodores. Talented freshman closer Cecil Tanner (Georgia), a potential 2011 first-rounder who leads the team in saves, came on to protect a three-run lead in the final inning, only to walk four of the first five hitters he faced before serving up a two-run single. Fortunately, he got two outs on a double-play grounder to the only hitter he retired, and Chad Sheppard (Northwestern State) bailed him out by getting the final hitter of the game to pop up as the Commodores escaped with a narrow win.
“It’s been that kind of a year for us,” veteran Cape skipper Jeff Trundy. “While we managed to pull this one out, this was typical of the kind of games that have gotten away from us this summer.”
The Falmouth-Chatham doubleheader featured the two longest-tenured coaches in the Cape—Chatham’s John Schiffner, now in his 17th season as the head man with the newly-renamed Anglers and the winningest coach in league history, and Falmouth’s Jeff Trundy, in his 11th season as the Commodores skipper.
Four scouting directors were among numerous scouts who attended Wednesday’s doubleheader, and it was apparent the one Falmouth player in the 2010 draft class who generated the most interest was Jacksonville State switch-hitting center fielder Todd Cunningham, who went 3-for-5 on the day to push his average to a league-best .395. He also tops the Commodores in RBIs (14) and stolen bases (10), and is scheduled to start in the outfield for the Western Division in Thursday’s all-star game.
To their misfortune, the assembled mass of scouts didn’t get a peek at Chatham’s two high-profile pitching arms as neither Jesse Hahn (Virginia Tech) nor Matt Harvey (North Carolina) made an appearance Wednesday.
Both pitchers, former high-school teammates who have been reunited this summer, have been the subject of much intrigue on the Cape—Hahn for producing a 98-mph fastball, the best recorded velocity in the league; Harvey for his inconsistent mechanics which have jeopardized the chance of the one-time, sure-fire first-rounder even ranking among the elite arms any longer on the Cape.
But first things first. We’ll focus on Cunningham, the one player who did play Wednesday, and stood out in the process.
Coincidentally, it’s the second year in a row that a somewhat unheralded player from Jacksonville State has become the talk of the Falmouth roster. A year ago, that player was righthander Ben Tootle, whose fastball peaked at 99 mph—best in the league in 2008.
“It’s like we’ve struck gold for the second year in a row,” Trundy said. “Todd’s been the biggest surprise on our team this summer—at least in terms of what other people’s expectations were for him. It wasn’t necessarily ours as we had a pretty good indication he could play. This kid can do a lot of things.
“He hit a couple of long home runs earlier in the year, but that’s not really his game as he can really run and play some defense, too. We’ve gotten him as fast as 3.86 down the line, and he’s been a real force in our lineup, hitting both leadoff and in the 3 hole.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Cunningham provided an indication of things to come when he led the Texas Collegiate League with a .310 average last summer, and produced a solid .339-10-47 season this spring as a sophomore at Jacksonville State. If he can continue his sizzling pace, it could mark his second straight summer league batting title.
While Cunningham has clearly enhanced his prospects for the 2010 draft with his strong summer, scouts are somewhat perplexed what to make of Hahn and Harvey—two of the premier talents on the Cape. But their exclusion from Thursday’s all-star game speaks to their lack of impact on the league this summer.
While the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Hahn has produced the best fastball on the Cape, he has worked in only 10 innings to date, all in relief, though has been relatively effective as he has allowed just two hits and three walks while striking out 12. His curveball has been inconsistent and he has been plagued by minor injuries to his pitching hand (tendonitis initially, a blister on his finger lately), but it is clear that Hahn is not going to unseat the more steady Russell Brewer (Vanderbilt) anytime soon as the Anglers closer.
Harvey, meanwhile, was in the process of moving to the bullpen himself (his 2008 role at Chatham) as he has struggled this summer as a starter. In four appearances (three starts), the 6-foot-4, 225-pound righthander was just 0-2, 7.04. The velocity on his fastball has varied wildly this summer, ranging from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and scouts who have seen him point to his inconsistent mechanics.
For all their obvious talent, Harvey and Hahn struggled as college sophomores—Harvey going 7-2, 5.40 with 130 base runners (88 hits, 42 walks) in 75 innings as the No. 3 starter at UNC, and Hahn just 1-2, 6.00 with 47 base runners (34 hits, 13 walks) in 24 innings for Virginia Tech, mostly in a set-up role.
Both pitchers have shown flashes of brilliance this summer—notably on July 4, when Harvey worked the first six innings and Hahn the next three in a game that Chatham ultimately lost 1-0 in 10 innings.
While it’s apparent, from most indications, that Hahn, despite his inconsistent track record, has become one of the league’s top pitching prospects this summer and could emerge as an early first-round pick in next year’s draft, scouts are perplexed what to make of Harvey’s apparent decline as a prospect.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way when the two were high-school teammates at Robert E. Fitch High in nearby Mystic, Conn., where Harvey’s father Ed is the longtime baseball coach.
Even though Hahn set a school record as a senior with a 0.18 ERA, he was clearly overshadowed at the time by Harvey, who set school career records for wins (21), ERA (1.08) and strikeouts (315), and would have been a near-certain first-round pick in 2007 had he not been so heavily committed to attending college. He slipped to the third round of that year’s draft, while Hahn was passed over altogether, paving his way to attend Virginia Tech.
“Both were great athletes in high school, and excelled in both baseball and basketball,” remembered Schiffner, who coached against the two while at Connecticut’s Plainfield High and is a longtime friend and coaching rival of Harvey’s father. “But Hahn kind of flew under the radar then as Harvey was getting all the attention.
“Jesse’s really stepped it up big this summer, while Matt has struggled with his mechanics. He’s been getting out front too much in his delivery. As we all know, there’s no margin for error up here and he’s gotten knocked around a bit. But he’s still been in the mid-90s at times, and I believe all his mechanical issues are correctable.
Scouts who have seen Harvey this summer aren’t so sure, though. “He has a one-piece arm action,” one National League crosschecker said, “and, quite frankly, I don’t know if that kind of delivery is correctable. We’ll just have to wait and see.”