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Summer Collegiate : : Story
Cape Cod ASG lacks star power
Allan Simpson        
Published: Saturday, July 30, 2011

BOSTON -- The annual Cape Cod League all-star game is often an indicator of the strength of the college crop in the following year’s baseball draft. If Friday’s game, played at Fenway Park, is any kind of reflection, the pool of college talent in 2012 may be unusually thin.

“I think this is the weakest talent I’ve seen in a Cape Cod League all-star game in 10 years,” said one scout, echoing the sentiments of many among some 100 scouts who took in the game. “The talent in the league isn’t especially strong this year anyway, and I don’t think the league did an especially good job of identifying what talent there is.”

The Eastern Division beat the Western Division 4-1 in a lackluster, loosely-played affair befitting the lack of front-line talent in the game. Appropriately, the East scored the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the second inning on a calamity of misplays.

With two outs, Yarmouth-Dennis third baseman Stephen Piscotty (Stanford) singled for the East. His Y-D teammate, Mason Katz, (Louisiana State) then doubled into the left-field corner, and when Piscotty attempted to score on the play the relay throw from Hyannis shortstop Eric Stamets (Bradley) sailed over the head of Bourne catcher Patrick Cantwell (Stony Brook), enabling Piscotty to score easily.

Hyannis righthander Scott Firth (Clemson), backing up the play, then retrieved the errant throw and promptly heaved the ball back into left field attempting to nail Katz at third. Katz easily completed his romp around the bases on the play, completing your classic Little League home run—not one expected in a Cape Cod League all-star game.

“We made a couple of mistakes in the second inning,” said West coach Harvey Shapiro, manager of the Bourne Braves. “They probably should have gotten one run on the play, but we threw the ball around a little bit.”

The East added another run in the third and salted the game away in the fifth when another Y-D player, outfielder James Ramsey (Florida State), went deep, depositing the ball over Fenway’s distant right-field wall.

Nine East pitchers, working an inning apiece, stopped the West on just three hits, none after the third inning, while striking out 11.

The lone West run, scored in the first inning, was the result of yet another misplay. Bourne outfielder Travis Jankowski (Stony Brook) and Stamets opened the inning with consecutive singles, only for Orleans first baseman Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State) to throw the ball on Stamets’ bunt hit into the third-base bleachers attempting to nail Jankowski going to third.

In all, three of the five runs in the game scored as a direct result of errant throws.

If that comedy of errors didn’t speak well for the 2012 draft class, it also didn’t sit well that the two players whose performance stood out most in the game, Ramsey and Harwich righthander Carter Capps (Mt. Olive, N.C.), were members of this year’s draft class.

Ramsey, a 22nd-round pick of the Minnesota Twins, was named MVP for the winning East side, while Capps, a supplemental third-round pick of the Seattle Mariners, flashed the highest velocity in the contest, reaching 97 mph several times and touching 98 once.

If all goes according to form, both Ramsey and Capps will be signed by their respective teams by the Aug. 15 signing deadline and won’t be available for next year’s draft. Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara was one of several scouting directors on hand Friday, and nodded his approval after watching Capps strike out three batters in his one overpowering inning of work, though one of the strikeout victims reached base on an errant third-strike that eluded the catcher.

Capps, who also recorded the highest velocity at last summer’s Coastal Plain League all-star game (97) and was selected the NCAA Division II player of the year this spring as a draft-eligible sophomore as a starter for Mt. Olive after going 14-1, 1.75, reportedly is asking for a signing bonus of $500,000—more than the combined amounts of the player drafted immediately ahead ($250,000) and behind ($240,000) him.

In 12 relief appearances this summer for the Mariners (the Harwich Mariners), the 6-foot-6 Capps, who enrolled in college as a catcher and red-shirted his freshman year while making the transition to the mound, is 3-1, 0.43 with one walk and 24 strikeouts in 22 innings. He would be a welcome addition to the 2012 class if he doesn’t come to terms with the Mariners.

Given the talent on display Thursday, it’s possible that no player in the game will be selected in the first round of the draft a year from now.

That would be in stark contrast to the 2007 Cape Cod League all-star game, when five players who appeared in that game, were among the first 10 players drafted a year later. Or even last year, when 17 of the 18 pitchers used in the game were clocked at 90 or better, and contributed significantly to this year’s draft crop, considered a landmark for the depth of college arms available.

By contrast, just 13 pitchers topped 90 mph Friday, a majority of whom aren’t even in the 2012 draft class.

“I don’t think we saw one first-rounder for next year’s draft here tonight,” grumbled one scout.

The consensus best talent at the Cape this summer has been Cotuit shortstop Deven Marrero (Arizona State), who missed much of the season while participating with USA Baseball’s college national team. Marrero was unavailable to play in Friday’s all-star game after being hit on the hand by a pitch earlier in the week. With a bone bruise on his throwing hand, Marrero was unable to swing a bat properly, or grip a baseball sufficiently on a throw.

Though he was considered day-to-day earlier in the week, Marrero returned home when it was determined he wouldn’t be able to play in the game. The Kettleers only have four games remaining in their season and have little chance of making the playoffs after winning the Cape League championship a year ago with Marrero playing a pivotal role at shortstop.

Marrero may even be a candidate to go first overall in next year’s draft.

“He was the only sure-fire position player I saw on the Cape this summer who will go in the first round next year,” another scout said. “Defensively, he could play in the big leagues right now.”

Marrero’s absence from the game left scouts looking at his Cotuit teammate, outfielder Victor Roache, as the best available prospect in the 2012 draft class. But the powerfully-built Roache, who led the nation’s Division I ranks in home runs this spring as a sophomore, slugging 30 for Georgia Southern, was a disappointment at the plate.

He was a non-factor in the Home Run Derby that preceded the game, hitting just two long balls over Fenway’s Green Monster, and went a quiet 0-for-3 during the game, striking out twice, though his out one was a deep fly ball to the base of the center field fence.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Roache has torn up the Cape this season and remains a threat to win the first triple crown in the league’s modern history, though his average has tumbled in the last week from a league-best .365 to .328 (third in the league, five points behind the leader) after going 3-for-24 with 13 strikeouts in the seven games leading up to the all-star game. With just four games remaining on the Cotuit schedule, Roache has six homers (tied for second, one off the lead) and a league-leading 28 RBIs.

“He’s got legit power,” a scout said, “but he can be pitched to. He’s got some holes in his swing. And the one thing that he’s done in the last week is get off his disciplined approach. I think it’s clear that he has been pressing a bit.”

While scouts generally say that Roache rates only as a longshot to be drafted in the first round in 2012, based mostly on what they have seen of him this week, they acknowledge that he could end up being selected in the top round if he can duplicate his 2011 performanace as a junior at Georgia Southern. The remainder of his game is considered playable, and his bat that will have to carry him.

Not only was Marrero missing from the All-Star Game, but so were several other prominent prospects in the league like catcher Mike Zunino (Florida), acknowledged as the best catching prospect on the Cape; righthander Mark Appel (Stanford), potentially the league’s best arm, and first baseman/lefthander Brian Johnson, probably the best two-way prospect. None was selected to play in the game.

All three, coincidentally, play for Yarmouth-Dennis, and though they’ve all played only a portion of the 2011 season for the Red Sox, they are expected to give Y-D a significant boost down the stretch and into the Cape League playoffs, which start next week.

Appel and Johnson were late arrivals to the league because of their participation with Team USA, while Zunino wasn’t available until early July because of Florida’s participation in the College World Series championship series.

Zunino has played in just 11 games for Y-D, and is hitting .303. Johnson is batting .316-1-8 in 11 contests, while going 2-0 in three pitching appearances. A third Y-D position player of note that also wasn’t selected, third baseman Matt Reynolds (Arkansas), also played with Team USA before rejoining the Red Sox, and is hitting .320-2-19 in 20 contests.

Appel is just 0-1, 2.25 in two starts for the Y-D, but with a 96-97 mph fastball, has the kind of stuff that would have made scouts sit up straight Friday and take notice. He is considered a first-round lock in 2012.

Roache was the only player among the six that participated in the Home Run Derby that turned around and participated in the all-star game. Chatham first baseman Richie Shaffer (Clemson), who won the competition, and Hyannis outfielder Adam Brett Walker (Jacksonville), who tied for second, are considered potential first-rounders for the 2012 draft. They are representative of the kind of talent missing from the all-star game.

Righthanders Kevin Gausman (Louisiana State) and Marcus Stroman (Duke) are two more arms of note from the 2012 draft class that would have been difference-makers Friday. Both started the season on the Cape before joining Team USA, and were among a number of top arms that were expected to return to the Cape following their appearance with the national team. They elected not to, further depleting the 2012 talent pool available for Friday’s game.

Moreover, Harwich outfielder Austin Wilson (Stanford), who isn’t eligible for the draft until 2013, may be the best five-tool talent on the Cape this summer with his combination of raw power, speed and arm strength. He also was selected to participate in the Home Run Derby that preceded the game, but not the all-star game itself.

So instead of notable position prospects like Shaffer, Walker, Wilson and Zunino, the all-star game featured 10 of the league’s top 11 hitters by batting average. For all their projectable talent, Shaffer (.275-5-20), Walker (.220-3-16, league-leading 52 strikeouts) and Wilson (.215-1-11) were notable exclusions.

“Major League Baseball funds this league in six figures,” said another scout in attendance, “and it’s not right that some of the best prospects in the league aren’t playing in the game. You can’t go by the stats to pick an all-star team.

“I don’t remember seeing a Cape League all-star game with so many pitchers who couldn’t crack even 90 mph. It’s inexcusable to see pitchers out there at 86-87 mph in a game like this when you’ve got arms like Appel that aren’t even selected. The league has simply got to do a better job of including the best prospects.”

Were it not for some late politicking by Mike Roberts, coach of the defending champion Kettleers, Marrero and another of his best prospects, righthander Chris Beck (Georgia Southern), probably would not have been selected at all to participate in the game. Beck was a late addition to the West squad.

Because of his participation with Team USA, Marrero got only 46 at-bats this season. Beck is 2-3, 2.12 with 39 strikeouts in 47, and ended up touching 95 mph in the game, while mixing his fastball with an impressive assortment of off-speed pitches.

Capps turned in the best velocity in the game, and while he likely won’t be a member of the 2012 draft class, many of the other quality arms used in the game won’t be eligible for the next year’s draft, either. West starter Ryan Eades (LSU) and reliever Bobby Wahl (Mississippi), who worked a scoreless seventh, were both clocked at 95 mph. But both are just freshmen and won’t be eligible for the draft until 2013.

Though the game was lacking in the number of power arms typically seen in the Cape League all-star game, the nine East pitchers had little trouble with the West lineup. Jankowski led off the game with a single up the middle off Harwich lefthander Taylor Rogers (Kentucky), and it was the only hit the West garnered in the game that left the infield.

Stamets got the other two hits for the West, one by beating out a first-inning sacrifice attempt that led to his team’s only run; the other on a ground ball that the shortstop had trouble getting out of his glove.

Over the last seven innings, the East squad pitched to just one batter over the minimum, that coming with Capps pitching in the seventh on a swinging third strike that eluded his catcher. Orleans righthander Trevor Gott, a freshman from Kentucky and the Cape League leader in saves, closed out the game by striking out two of the three hitters he faced with fastballs that peaked at 94 mph.

“Their pitching was a little bit better than ours,” Shapiro said, “and it showed up in the score.

HOME RUN DERBY LACKS EXCITEMENT

Despite the presence of some of the top power threats at the Cape in the league’s Home Run Derby, the event created little buzz. The playoff round, scheduled to pit the top two hitters from the preliminary round against each other, was even cancelled to assure the all-star game itself would not be delayed.

With a light drizzle during the Derby, and the threat of additional, heavier rains later in the evening, along with the game being televised, there was an urgency on the part of the league to start the contest on schedule.

Shaffer ended up winning the competition as he drilled six home runs over Fenway’s Green Monster before recording his eighth out. His closest competitors, Walker and Wareham first baseman Daniel Palka (Georgia Tech), finished with three apiece.

The player given the best chance to win the competition, Roache, went deep only twice as he got few pitches that he could drive, with most of the offerings not even in the strike zone. He looked at significantly more pitches than he offered at.

The same fate befell other competitors, a contributing factor in why the preliminary round lasted longer than anticipated, leading to cancellation of the final round.

SURPRISE MVP SELECTIONS

Ramsey earned MVP honors for the victorious East squad by launching a fifth-inning home run that expanded his team’s lead to 4-1. He also drew an eighth-inning walk.

Despite the presence of all the elite pro-level talent on the Y-D roster, Ramsey leads that team in batting (.327) and home runs (6) on the season.

Righthander Konner Wade, a rising sophomore at Arizona, was selected MVP of the West squad, despite throwing an inconsequential eighth inning, walking one and striking out one. His fastball reached 93 mph.



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