Summer Collegiate : : Story
Freshmen aplenty in NECBL ASG
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Mass.—The New England Collegiate League played its annual all-star
game here Wednesday at historic Fraser Field. Two nights later, and
less than 10 miles away, the Cape Cod League will stage its all-star
contest at venerable Fenway Park in Boston.
the close proximity of the two games, both played in long-standing
structures, and the relatively-close geographic proximity of the two
New England-based summer college leagues, there are contrasting
differences in style and perception between the leagues.
Cape Cod League is the grand-daddy of all summer leagues, having been
created in 1885. With its ability to attract the top college talent
in the nation over the last 25 years, it stands head and shoulders
above any summer league in terms of prestige.
the same 10 franchises over the last quarter century, none located
more than roughly an hour’s drive from each other, the Cape is also
the standard for continuity and travel comfort in summer-league
NECBL is a relative newcomer on the block, having been formed in
1994. It has always played in the forboding shadow of its mighty
neighbor and has been challenged from the start to keep pace in all
phases, both on and off the field.
benchmark franchises like the Newport Gulls and Keene Swamp Bats, the
league has seen a constant shuffling of its 12 teams, which are
spread among all six New England states with travel up to six hours
for franchises on the league’s outer periphery.
while about 2,000 fans took in Wednesday’s all-star game at Fraser
Field, a recently-refurbished structure that was originally
constructed in 1940, about 10 times that many are expected to see the
Cape League’s all-star contest Friday at Fenway.
if the fledgling NECBL has any kind of an image issue, it may be only
in its comparison to the Cape Cod League. By almost any other
standard, the league measures up favorably with any summer league in
I know is that we’re in the top two among summer leagues in the way
we are funded by Major League Baseball,” says league commissioner
Mario Tiani, a general manager in the league for 10 years at Danbury
before taking over the helm of the league five years ago.
leagues like the Northwoods and Coastal Plain are also on the short
list of established summer leagues, but they have different,
for-profit business models and as a result receive no compensation
from Major League Baseball. That means that the NECBL and Cape Cod
League, the two New England neighbors, are at the top of the MLB
bragging rights might normally be at stake with such a ranking, but
Tiani downplays any sense of competition between the two leagues.
don’t personally look at the closeness of the leagues as an issue,”
he said. “It’s strictly a geographical thing. We are our own
program. We do our own thing. We have a good relationship with the
Cape, especially as it pertains to players and contracts. Together,
we give New England quite a baseball focus during the summer that I’m
not sure exists elsewhere.
we’re in competition at all, it’s probably in the off-season, in
the recruiting season, when we are often going after the same
the pursuit of similar players, the most noticeable difference
between the two leagues almost always comes down to talent. The
NECBL’s talent base, while impressive, generally falls short of the
high-profile base normally found on the Cape.
two dozen scouts attended Wednesday’s NECBL all-star game, but that
number will likely be upwards of 100, including scouting directors
from roughly half the major-league teams, for Friday’s Cape League
Cape has a documented history of producing a steady diet of
first-round picks for the following year’s baseball draft, while
the NECBL rarely has a player that becomes a first-rounder the year
after he plays in that league. And it is unlikely to produce a
first-rounder, or even an early-round pick for the 2012 draft, based
on the talent on display at its showpiece event Wednesday.
that’s not to say that the game was short on talent. To the
contrary. Future pro-level talent was readily evident on both sides
of the East vs. West confrontation, won 3-1 by the East in a
of the NECBL and its evolution as a player development source for
professional baseball, most of the better players in the game were
college freshmen who won’t be eligible for the draft until 2013.
fact, there may not be another summer league in the country that
year-in and year-out has as much quality in its freshman crop as the
NECBL. In all, 26 freshmen were selected to play in its all-star
game, more than any other demographic.
NECBL has become a steppingstone league,” said one New
England-based scout who took in Wednesday’s game and has followed
the league closely over the years. “You see a lot of guys here that
you’ll typically see in the Cape a year from now.
are a lot of players here and in the Cape that you know will play at
a high level down the road. The players in the Cape are just a little
further along at this stage of their development. You’ll see a lot
more big arms on Friday at the Cape all-star game than you will here,
especially in the pitchers that work the sixth, seventh and eighth
innings. That’s where you see the depth. The better arms on the
Cape are just a little stronger, a little more physical than what you
normally see here. The position players are a little more polished.”
contrast, the Cape Cod all-star game will feature just 10 freshmen.
It will be dominated by sophomores primed for next year’s draft.
refutes the notion that the NECBL is primarily a steppingstone
league. He insists that his league makes no differentiation in the
class of player that it typically recruits.
recruit the best players that we can, regardless if they are freshmen
or juniors,” Tiani says. “We’re not a feeding ground for the
Cape, that’s for sure.”
the best pro-level talent on the field Wednesday was generally in the
no freshman stood out as a probable future first-round draft pick,
seven of the 10 starters for the West squad were freshmen. Only three
starters on the East squad were freshmen.
surprisingly, experience prevailed as the East team utilized its
older players to grab an early 3-1 lead and made it stand up after
non-starters liberally entered the game for both teams in the fifth
and sixth innings.
was a freshman for the East team, though, that secured game MVP
honors. Newport shortstop Jack Reinheimer (East Carolina), who was
hitting just .256 with no homers on the season for the Gulls and was
installed as the No. 9 hitter in the game by Newport coach Mike
Coutts, who managed the East team, drilled a key, one-out double to
the fence in the third inning to highlight his team’s two-run
outburst that led to an early 2-0 lead. He later came around to
also handled three ground balls flawlessly in the field and was the
middle man in turning a double play.
other freshmen whose talent stood out Wednesday for the Eastern
Division were North Shore outfielder Eric Jagielo (Notre Dame) and
Newport first baseman Tim Kiene (Maryland), two lefthanded power
threats who hit in the 3-4 holes in the order. Both have enjoyed
solid seasons to date, with Jagielo hitting .338-2-23 and Kiene
first baseman Trey Mancini (Notre Dame), hitting .313-7-33 on the
season, was the biggest power threat of all the freshmen in the
starting lineup for the West, but the best power source of all was
probably Danbury outfielder Tyler Horan (Virginia Tech), who came on
as a reserve but showed the best bat speed of anyone while walking
and striking out in his two plate appearances. Horan (.337-10-28)
leads the NECBL in home runs.
best freshman arm in the game belonged to 6-foot-6 Keene righthander
Jeff Thompson (Louisville), who started the game for the West and
didn’t allow a base runner in his only inning of work. He was one
of six pitchers whose velocity peaked at 91 mph. On the season,
Thompson has fanned 49 (second in the league) in 35 innings.
freshman, Laconia righthander Chris Costantino (Walters State, Tenn.,
JC), also reached 91 mph while retiring all three hitters he faced in
the fourth, two on strikeouts. But Costantino is not technically a
freshman like others in the game as he was drafted this year out of a
junior college. He was a 43rd-round
pick of the St. Louis Cardinals.
who threw a no-hitter earlier this month and then fanned 14 in his
last start before the all-star game, was one of nine different
Eastern pitchers who threw an inning apiece. They combined to strike
out 11 Western Division hitters
freshmen were everywhere Wednesday, this year’s crop may have a
tough time measuring up to the NECBL’s vaunted 2010 class that
included Newport righthander Mark Appel and shortstop Kenny
Diekroeger, both Stanford products, and Keene outfielder Jeremy Baltz
(St. John’s), judged the league’s three best prospects a year
the NECBL’s 10 best prospects a year ago, as compiled by Perfect
Game, nine were rising sophomores and all moved on this summer to
play in the Cape Cod League, though Diekroeger subsequently elected
not to play this summer.
who had the two best prospects in the NECBL a year ago in Appel and
Diekroeger, both projected first-rounders in 2012, has his Gulls in
first place this season and coached the East to its win Wednesday. He
stopped short of comparing this year’s freshman crop in the league.
was a pretty special crop we had a year ago,” he said. “We’ve
still got some good freshmen in the league this year, including some
players like Conrad Gregor (Vanderbilt) that weren’t picked to play
here. But I’m not sure I see that kind of young talent overall in
the league this year.”
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