Five Summers on the Cape

by Greg in


Editor's Note: James Stewart has been a frequent commentator on CodBall over the years. When we learned he was about to publish his own book, Five Summers on the Cape about the Cape Cod Baseball League, we invited him to preview the memoir here. In this exclusive post Jim provides an introduction to his book and a free sample chapter. Visit Jim's website to get a copy of the book. Hey, post a comment about the book to CodBall and Jim will select a lucky reader to get a free copy of his new book!

by James Stewart

I moved to Hyannis in August of 2006, just as Yarmouth-Dennis was wrapping up their second Cape League championship in three years. I had heard of the Cape League, being a baseball fan, but I really did not know that much about it. Over the course of the next five summers, I was to find out a great deal about it, and it is this knowledge that I want to share in this book.

The scene that pops into my head is the one from "Field of Dreams," when Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones pick up the young Archie Graham as they travel across country. Archie talks about playing baseball for the town team, and how the folks in town will even help him find a job. This is what the Cape League was, and to an extent, still is, though there are some subtle changes that are taking place.

It is very much a town based league, with the locals showing great devotion and support for "their" team. The teams are non profit, but still have expenses that need to be met, which come through fund raising, donations and corporate sponsorship. The fans are part of the team, not just because they watch the games, but because they serve on the board of directors, they volunteer to run events at the games, or they open their homes to the players for the ten weeks or so that they spend on Cape Cod.

The 2012 major league draft is taking place this week, and after only 15 rounds, many players with Cape League experience have been selected. Thirteen players from Hyannis alone have been picked, a record for Hyannis since I started following them in 2007 for this stage of the draft. The most remarkable statistic so far is that of the first 60 players chosen, 25 came from colleges. Of those 25, 20 played on the Cape. While it is unfair to try and project into the future with these players, there are a few that stood out for me in 2010 and 2011. Keep your eyes on Yarmouth-Dennis’ Mike Zunino (Florida), drafted by the Mariners, Cotuit’s Victor Roache (Gerogia Southern), drafted by the Brewers, Orleans’ Marcus Stroman (Duke), drafted by the Blue Jays, Bourne’s Travis Jankowski (Stony Brook, about whom I wrote in the first chapter of this book), drafted by the Padres, and Hyannis’ Kevin Plawecki (Purdue), drafted by the Mets. Although I am no scout, these players were ones who impressed me during my last summer on the Cape.

The game of baseball is the same whether you watch it in Hyannis, or Honshu, or Honolulu. Three strikes and you’re out, nine innings make up a game…you know the routine. But there is a special feeling when you walk through the entry to a Cape Cod League field. It isn’t because you haven’t bought a ticket. It isn’t because you’re watching the best amateur baseball in the world. It is the sense of community that overwhelms you, the connection that the team has with the spectators and the local businesses. It is the idiosyncrasies one finds in setting up a lawn chair down the third base line in Cotuit, or spreading a blanket on the outfield berm in Chatham. For two to three hours, you are part of a community, and the events unfold before you in a way that is very familiar to you, but without the extra glitz and glamour.

There are no fancy competitions between innings at a Cape League game, no mascots running around the field on scooters, no fireworks shows and concerts connected with the games (except in Hyannis, where on the Fourth of July, you can see the fireworks over the harbor from the field). What you have is pure baseball, played by some of the best college players in the country. And the players are visible around the town, a real part of the community.

The players interact with the community on a daily basis, and, most importantly, in the setting of the game. I have seen youngsters whose eyes light up when one of the players walks through the stands with an intern, selling tickets in the 50-50 raffle. Going on the field after the game ends to meet the players, take pictures, and get autographs is a part of the Cape League, and all fans enjoy the opportunity this provides. Sometimes, a player will have friends or family visiting them, and you get to chat with them as well. In 2011, I met some of Eric Stamet’s relatives after one of the games. It turned out they were from the Akron area, where I had worked prior to moving to the Cape, and we had a lively discussion about the Catholic high schools in Akron.

The real impetus for the league is the sense of volunteerism. Teams are organized through a board of directors and various committees, which meet throughout the year. People are encouraged to attend and voice their opinions, but also to become a part of the team, by helping out in some tangible way. It might be to help with finances, or sponsorship from local businesses, or serving as a host family. There are so many different ways that one can become involved, and when you come to the games, you see these people, because they are part of the team.

Perhaps the best example of volunteering came at the end of the 2011 season, when rain inundated the Cape as the first round of playoffs was ending. Hyannis was hosting Falmouth in the third and final game, when rain turned McKeon Park into a swampy mess. But people from all over the Cape came to help work on the field to make it playable. You can read more on that in the chapter of memorable games, however.

The Cape League is truly unique, and very much part of the fabric of this country. If you are on the Cape during the summer, make a point of taking in a game or two. The cost is minimal, the entertainment value is high, and the ambiance is very laid back. If you haven’t been to the Cape, you really should look at making a visit. Besides baseball, there is so much to do in the summer, the climate is very temperate, and the people are friendly. As the league says, ”Where the stars of tomorrow shine tonight.”

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Chapter Eleven: The Draft

When writing a book about the Cape League, one must spend some time looking at the annual Major League Baseball draft, since so many of the players from the Cape League end up being drafted by major league clubs. When you attend a Cape League game, you will see lots of scouts behind home plates with their radar guns, stop watches and notebooks, checking out the talent on display. One of the real advantages of baseball on the Cape is that the teams are so close to one another. With three teams (Brewster, Cotuit and Yarmouth-Dennis) not having lights, on some days it is possible for a scout to watch five or six innings at one of those venues and then zip over to another Cape League venue for an evening match up. With only 44 games each year and players coming and going all the time, the presence of the scouts is one that is immediately noticed.

The Cape League prides itself on producing prospects for the major leagues, and when you pick up yearbooks for the various teams, you will find pages devoted to alumni of the teams in both the major and minor leagues. Most of the players will take three or four years of seasoning in the minor leagues before they make the breakthrough. It is the rare prospect (Tim Lincecum of Harwich in 2005 or Chris Sale of Yarmouth-Dennis in 2009) that makes a rapid rise to the big leagues, but the Cape League teams are, of course, quite proud of their role in the development of these players. I had the pleasure of watching Sale pitch several times in 2009, and you could tell from his command and his attitude that he would move through the minor leagues very quickly.

This was best summed up by Bourne pitching coach Josh McDonald, when asked about what separated players on the Cape, "One is talent. I'm not saying that guys in this league don't have it, but there is a step above. Alex Wimmers was a step above, Chris Sale was a step above. Kevin Munson was a step above. The other thing is the ability to use that talent and pitch. You can be a thrower and throw 98, and you don't know how to spin a breaking ball, or how to set a guy up, go in and out. Then you get a guy like Alex Wimmers or Chris Sale ... they throw 98, but they know where they're putting their curveball, their changeup. They know how to pitch to batters."

This chapter will look closely at the drafts from 2008 through 2012, checking on players who played on the Cape and are now making their marks in professional baseball. 2008 is the first draft in which players that I saw were picked, although several in that year (Justin Smoak being the immediate player that comes to mind) played on the Cape in 2005 or 2006, when I was not watching games. Not surprisingly, the players that have risen to the major leagues as this is written were mainly drafted in 2008: it does take a few years for a player to develop from the Cape League, even if they happen to be at the top of their class.

Special focus will be given at the end of the chapter to players that have already appeared in major league action, as well as those who are near the top of their organization’s prospects, as rated by Baseball America. I am using the 2012 Prospect Handbook as the most up to date information on the players. Many of the players appeared in the Baseball America Top 30 Prospects from the Cape League. This indicates both the level of the competition and the prowess of the scouts that check out the players during the Cape League season.

John Wylde did some calculations in 2007 and 2008 to see how the Cape Cod League fared in the major league drafts over the previous years. It is perhaps worthwhile to examine his work briefly, before looking in more detail at the 2008-2012 drafts. Wylde

used the Top 30 Prospects for each team in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook and found that the percentage of prospects from four year colleges rose from 40% to 47% in the period 2003 to 2006. This should yield increased total of Cape League alumni playing major league baseball in this period.

Wylde also examined the number of players on major league rosters each season, and found them to be remarkably consistent. The Cape League usually has around 200 players in the major leagues in any given season, taking into account the numerous injuries and promotions from the minor leagues that happen during the year. The Cape League also usually provides about 25% of the players drafted out of college each year by the major league organizations. The next highest percentage from a summer college league produces 5% of the draftees. This explains why he Cape League is the place to be for summer baseball for players and spectators alike.

Before delving into the specific drafts, it is important to recognize that baseball drafts are quite different from the other major sports. The players will all spend time in the minor leagues, honing their trade. The top draft picks are not guaranteed a spot on the major league roster. Indeed, a study of first round picks from the past twenty years would probably find a large number of players that never made the grade in the major leagues, whether through injury or other problems. The Cape League takes great pride in the advancement of their players in professional baseball. It would be interesting to study the Cape League players drafted over a ten year period and see how they fared in professional baseball.

The 2008 draft was a bonanza for Cape League alumni. A total of 231 players from the Cape were selected, but the first round was where the league truly dominated.

Of the thirty players picked, ten were high school players and thus had no opportunity to play on the Cape. Of the remaining twenty, fourteen played on the Cape, while five of the remaining six were scheduled to play on the Cape, but opted instead to play for Team USA. Thus, nineteen of the first round picks, almost 2/3 of the round, had some connection to the Cape.

Leading the way in selections were the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox with four players: Buster Posey of Florida, Jason Castro of Stanford, Gordon Beckham of Georgia, and Joshua Fields, also of Georgia. Posey, Castro, and Beckham all have already played at the major league level, although both Posey and Castro suffered injuries in 2011 which saw them miss a large part of the season. Fields is currently playing with Boston’s AA franchise in Portland, Maine. Scott Pickler, the manager of Yarmouth-Dennis, said this about the multiple selections: "It's pretty easy when you saw what happened in the draft. You put the puzzle together and hope the pieces fit."

Posey was selected with the fifth overall pick by the San Francisco Giants, moving quickly through the giants’ farm system. He appeared in seven games at the end of the 2009 season, but made his real impact in 2010, after playing for two months with Fresno of the Pacific Coast League. He moved up to San Francisco, where he hit .305 with 18 home runs in 108 games, winning Rookie of the Year honors for the National League, and helping lead the Giants to the World Series championship with fellow Cape League alumni Tim Lincecum, Pat Burrell, and Brian Wilson. Although he suffered a serious knee injury in 2011, he is expected to play a key role for the Giants for years to come.

Beckham was the eighth overall pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2008, moving even quicker to the major leagues, playing all of 2008 at Kanapolis of the South Atlantic League. In 2009, the White Sox promoted him to AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte, where he hit over .300 in 175 at bats. Chicago then brought him to the majors for the remainder of 2009, where he hit a solid .270 in over 100 games. Although his average has slipped the last two years, he remains a regular with the White Sox and should remain in their line up in 2012.

The Houston Astros selected Castro with the tenth overall pick. After rising steadily through the Houston farm system from 2008 through 2010, Castro debuted for Houston on 2 June 2010, catching 67 games for them in the last half of the season. Like Posey, he suffered a knee injury in 2011, missing the entire season, but is back with the team as spring training opens in 2012. Time will tell with both Posey and Castro how much their injuries will affect their abilities as catchers, but both seem to have the hitting tools that will enable them to find a position somewhere else if they are unable to catch regularly. The Falmouth Commodores, runners up to Yarmouth-Dennis in 2007, had three players selected in the first round: Aaron Crow of Missouri, Bret Wallace of Arizona State, and Christian Friedrich of Eastern Kentucky. With such a wealth of talent from two organizations, it is easy to see why they were successful during this time period. Crow was unable to agree terms with Washington and instead signed and played for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent North American League. He was drafted and signed by Kansas City in the 2009 draft, rising quickly through their organization, pitching in both

the Carolina (high A) and Texas (AA) League in 2010. He spent the entire 2011 season with Kansas City, relieving in 57 games and posting a 2.76 ERA.

In 2009, the numbers from the Cape rose slightly (234 Cape players drafted), but the impact on the major leagues has already been great. Nine Cape League players were selected in the first round of the draft, with Dustin Ackley (North Carolina), Drew Storen (Stanford), and Aaron Crowe (Missouri) already making an impact in the majors.

Crowe, as already mentioned, did not sign in 2008, but is now a member of the Kansas City pitching staff. Storen sped through the Washington National’s farm system, working his way to AA Harrisburg by the end of the 2009 season and doing brief stints with both Harrisburg and Syracuse (AAA) at the start of 2010, before being placed in the Washington bullpen, where he became the closer in 2011. In his two years in the majors, Storen has already appeared in 127 games with an ERA of 3.10

Dustin Ackley, however, was the true star of the draft. Selected second overall, he only played 12 games for Harwich in 2008, hitting .415 with two home runs, ten RBIs and a slugging average of .707. Ackley arrived late on the Cape late because the Tar Heels were one game short of playing for the College World Series title, losing to eventual champion Fresno State. Despite his relatively short stay on the Cape, Ackley was rated as one of the top pro prospects in the league.

Ackley was a player that was looking at playing for Team USA in 2008, but ended up coming to the Cape for his brief exposure. As Harwich manager Steve Englert said this about Ackley early in the 2008 season: "I’ve been really trying to sell the Cape to these two guys (Ackley and Tommy Medica of Santa Clara). There’s tremendous exposure received through MLB Scouts by playing in the league. They haven’t said yes to the national team, so we are keeping our fingers crossed."

 

 

The Seattle Mariners drafted him with the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, signing him late in the 2009 season. He started the 2010 season with AA West Tennessee, but moved to Tacoma of the AAA Pacific Coast League for the second half of the season. He started 2011 again with Tacoma, but was called up by Seattle, making his debut on 17 June 2011. In 90 games for the Mariners, he batted .272 and finished sixth in the voting for Rookie of the Year. The Mariners have been discussing moving Ackley to the outfield for the 2012 season.

The Cape League enjoyed a banner year in the 2010 draft, with 251 Cape alumni selected during the draft. This represented 25% of the college players selected. The first

round numbers remained stable, with nine Cape Leaguers being picked in the draft. One out of every three major league players who played college baseball also played in the Cape League.

Cape League commissioner Paul Galop had this to say after the 2010 draft: "The fact we have such a high percentage of players that have been or become drafted is a real tribute to all the hard work that so many people do on Cape Cod. We are so proud that we have been able to offer a unique opportunity to the finest collegiate baseball players nationally with a successful track record of furthering their careers through the draft."

Although it is still very early for an assessment of this draft, Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast) of Yarmouth-Dennis has already had an impact with the Chicago White Sox, who picked him with the thirteenth pick overall. As Jim Martin, general manager of Yarmouth-Dennis said, "He was probably the best pitcher in the league last year (2009). He is a great kid who comes from a great family. We had a great time with him last year." I had a chance to chat with Chris near the end of the season, showing him some of the pictures I had taken of him, including some at the All Star Game at Fenway Park. He is as Mr. Martin described him.

Sale won the BFC Whitehouse Pitcher of the Year award. He was named the Eastern Division MVP in the All Star Game, pitching one inning. He had a 4-2 record, starting nine games and pitching 55 innings for Yarmouth-Dennis, striking out 57 batters (leading the league in this category) with 9 walks.

During the 2009 season, I had the pleasure of watching Sale pitch several times. I have already commented at length on the playoff game he pitched at home against Cotuit that season- one of the best games I have seen. Watching him pitch was watching a surgeon at work. He was not particularly over powering, but had an excellent command of his pitches and put the ball where he wanted it. As a left hander, speed is not as big a consideration, but the location of the pitches and the variety of his pitches kept hitters off balance. His one inning in the All Star Game was brief, but very effective.

With the White Sox, Sale moved quickly through their farm system, with four games at Winston-Salem (Carolina League) and seven at Charlotte (International League) and only a total of ten innings pitched. This shows how far advanced he was. In 2010, he appeared in 21 games in relief for the White Sox, posting a 1.93 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. In 2011, he pitched in 58 games, with an ERA of 2.79 and a 1.11 WHIP.

Baseball America has projected that he will enter the White Sox rotation at some point over the next few years.

Although no other Cape alumni from the 2010 draft have yet appeared in the major leagues, it is only a matter of time before players like Yasmani Grandal (Miami), Alex Wimmers (Ohio State), Gary Brown (Cal State Fullerton), and Zach Cox (Arkansas), to name a few, make a mark on major league baseball. It is far too early to make any definitive statements about the quality of the draft. Players like Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham, and Chris Sale are truly the exceptions that move quickly through a team’s farm system and make an immediate splash. But that has always been the nature of baseball. Few players are able to move straight into major league competition without some seasoning in the minor leagues.

The 2011 draft was one of the weaker ones, as far as top talent on the Cape was concerned, although 258Cape Leaguers were drafted. Only eight Cape players went in the first round of the draft (out of 18 college players drafted), with the first Cape Leaguer

being George Springer of Connecticut at #11. Springer played two years with Wareham. In 2009, he hit .261 with three homers and 25 RBIs. In 2010, he improved to .288, but only played in 16 games. Springer was followed by Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech), C. J. Cron (Utah), Matt Barnes (Connecticut), Kolton Wong (Hawaii), Joe Panik (St. John’s), Levi Michael (North Carolina), and Mike Mahtook (LSU). 2010 was the season I probably saw the least action on the Cape, due to family issues, but of the players above, Wong was very impressive, taking league MVP honors, hitting .341 with 22 stolen bases, 46 hits (3rd in the league in all three categories. He had a .426 on base percentage and a .452 slugging average.

These players have all had less than one full season of professional baseball, so it is very premature to make any sort of assessment about where they will end up professionally. With luck, we might see one or two of them make an appearance in the major leagues by the end of the 2012 season, or, more likely, in 2013.

To finish up this chapter, and my look at the way the Cape League works, I plan to look at a few players that I saw during my five seasons watching baseball on Cape Cod and their progression towards major league baseball. There can be little doubt that their time in the Cape League has had some influence on this progress, and it was my great fortune and pleasure to watch these young men before they entered professional baseball.

One of the first players to catch my eye on the Cape was Yonder Alonso, a slugging first baseman from Miami, playing for Brewster in 2007. He hit. 338 with four home runs, 25 RBIs and a league leading .468 on base percentage for the Whitecaps and was named the #2 Cape Cod League prospect (behind Aaron Crow) by Baseball America. He came to the Cape having been named second team All American, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in home runs, (18), runs batted in (74), on base percentage (.519) and slugging percentage (.705). A scout said of Alonso in 2007: “"From the hitters, he would have to be right there at the top. I've seen 10 or 12 at-bats and they've all been good ones.

He went a while without a homer, but I saw him hit some 400-foot outs. He seems to have fun playing." His manager in Brewster, Bob Macaluso, said before a 2007 Whitecaps’ game: "He does what you ask. Tonight, I'm asking him to play left field. He wants to play other positions to improve his game. He's been the first baseman, the DH and he works at third (taking ground balls) during pregame. He warms up the pitchers when he's (the DH). He's always looking to get into the action. He's a disciplined hitter, a hard-working kid who works at his game.” It is this type of activity that the scouts notice and add to their reports about players. Such dedication helps in evaluation of talent. Alonso said this about playing on the Cape: "When I got into college ball, I wanted to play for Team USA or on the Cape. The competition's great here. In summer ball, you don't really hear much about the fans, but here everyone knows you. It's awesome." I only saw Alonso in two or three games, but in one of them in Hyannis, he hit a big home run and showed the power that he had. With a very small sample size, I eagerly anticipated the draft in 2008 and was very pleased to see him picked seventh overall by Cincinnati.

His size and ability at the plate were enough to convince me of what he could do. Alonso’s background is interesting. He was born in Cuba, but came to Florida at age seven when his father, Luis, managed to get out with the help of Yonder’s maternal grandfather, who had left Cuba for Miami in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. The boatlift began because of an economic downturn in Cuba and was aided by many Cuban-Americans. Fidel Castro agreed to the action, and boats left Cuba for Florida from April to October of 1980. Fifteen years later, Alonso and his family managed to make it to Florida. After being drafted by the Reds, Alonso began the slow steps up the minor league chain. In 2008, he split twelve games between the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) and the Florida State League (High A). After starting 2009 back in the Gulf Coast League, he moved through Sarasota and ended up with Carolina in the AA Southern League, where he hit .295 in 29 games. Carolina was his starting point in 2010, with a stop in Louisville (AAA International League) before arriving in Cincinnati for 22 games at the end of the season. A major problem for Alonso was that his size really limited him to first base, despite his efforts in Brewster to master multiple positions.

The Reds had the 2010 National League MVP at first base (Joey Votto), so 2011 was a season in which the team tried to find a solution. Alonso played half the year back in Louisville, with the other half across the Ohio River, where he hit .330 in 47 games with five home runs. Unfortunately, the Reds were unable to find a way to get both Votto and Alonso into the lineup together, so the Reds dealt him with Brad Boxberger and Yasmani Grandal (both also Cape alumni), along with Edinson Volquez to San Diego for Mat Latos. 2012 may be an impact year for Alonso, who should be the Padres’ starting first baseman.

Baseball America says in their 2012 Prospect Handbook that he is an above average hitter, with a good sense of the strike zone. Cincinnati believed that he had plus power, a trait which he showed in his limited appearances in the major leagues. James Darnell (South Carolina) was one of the stars for the 2007 Hyannis Mets. He had been chosen for Team USA, but chose to come to Hyannis for the summer, putting up solid numbers for the third placed Mets (.250 batting average, with eight home runs and 25 RBIs). He led South Carolina to the Super Regionals in 2007, batting .331 with nineteen home runs. He was named to the Western Division All Stars and hit a solo home run in the game at Wareham. Playing for Hyannis, I saw a great deal of Darnell during the 2007 season, his second on the Cape (he also played with Hyannis in 2006). I saw him as a player who was solid defensively, with some pop in his bat, and the possibility of hitting for average. As already noted, the Cape League is very much dominated by pitching: lower averages are to be expected.

San Diego drafted Darnell in the second round of the 2008 draft, sending him to Eugene (Northwest League) for a brief stint at the end of the year. He split 2009 between Fort Wayne of the Midwest League and Lake Elsinore of the California League, putting up an average over .300 with 20 home runs and 81 RBIs. After a brief appearance back with Fort Wayne, 2010 and most of 2011 saw him learn to hit AA pitching at San Antonio of the Texas League. After a short stop in Tucson of the Pacific Coast League, Darnell earned promotion to the majors, playing in 18 games for San Diego at the end of 2011..

Baseball America rates him #13 among San Diego prospects for 2012, and adds these comments. He has suffered injuries the last two years, but showed particular improvement in 2011, with a 1.038 OPS at San Antonio when he was promoted to Tucson. He helped his cause by turning on more early count fastballs in 2011. He hit a career high 24 home runs last year at three levels, showing an ability to pull the ball. He will probably start 2012 at AAA, playing both third base and left field.

This flexibility may help him earn a spot in the major leagues. AJ Pollock (Notre Dame) played a stellar center field for Falmouth in 2008, winning league MVP honors after hitting .352 for the Fighting Irish and being a batter very difficult to strike out. He batted .377 for the Commodores, finishing second in the league to team mate Jimmy Cesario. He had a .455 on base average, as well as a slugging percentage of .556. Pollock, a native of Hebron, CT, was chosen as the center fielder for the Western Division All Star team, and visited Fenway Park in recognition of that achievement. There he said, "It's awesome. I come here a lot because I'm from New England, obviously. But walking on the field will be pretty exciting. I'll probably have some friends from home at the game, so it's going to be pretty fun."

Falmouth manager Jeff Trundy said this about his outfielder, who also visited Fenway as a select group of Cape prospects for Red Sox scouts: "I was told A.J. had a great day and really set himself apart from many of the other guys. Obviously, they're all good players, but he kind of made a statement with regard to how good he is. He's not only a hard worker, he's also a mentally strong kid who doesn't let a bad at bat affect the next one. I think that's the thing I've been most impressed with, is his consistency in regard to his approach."

Pollock was an impressive player in all aspects of the game when I saw him in 2008. Although he does not have the power of a Yonder Alonso, his batting, speed, base running and fielding are very good, and he is a player who always seems to be hustling to help the team. He was a real spark plug on a Falmouth team that finished second behind Cotuit, tied with Bourne. The Commodores beat the Braves in a one game playoff, before losing in three games to Cotuit in the Western finals. Pollock played a key role in extending the Falmouth season as far as it went. Arizona drafted Pollock with the 17th pick of the 2009 draft and sent him to South Bend of the Midwest League, where he hit .271 in 63 games.

After missing all of 2010 with an injured elbow, Pollock led Mobile (AA) to the Southern League championship in 2011 with a .307 batting average and 36 stolen bases. In 2012, Baseball America rates Pollock the #5 Diamondback prospect, noting his package is greater than the sum of its parts. He is a blue-collar player with good instincts and hits well to the gaps. He is the organization’s best base runner, even though his speed is average. He should start 2012 in AAA, and with progress, could feature in the Diamondbacks’ team by the end of the season. They see him as a regular player in the future. In fact, he has been called up by Arizona in late April of 2012 because of injuries on their major league roster. Gary Brown (Cal State Fullerton) played in Orleans during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

He struggled in 2008, hitting .222. but was an all star for the Firebirds in his second year, hitting .310 and leading Orleans to a playoff berth. The Firebirds beat arch rivals Chatham 4-3 in the first round, one game playoff at Eldredge Park. In the game, Brown was 2-2 with a run scored and a run batted in. Unfortunately, in the next round, they were swept in two straight games by the Bourne Braves, who went on to win the 2009 championship.

I had the opportunity to see Brown play a few games each year, and it is clear that in his second year, he adapted to the use of wooden bats and the strength of the pitching he faced on the Cape. He impressed me with his bat control and his hitting stroke- not a player to give a team a lot of power, but one that will get on base and start things off. I met him during the 2009 All Star Game at Fenway Park, when I was getting a bat signed by both teams. The lines were long, and the players were only here for about 25 or 30 minutes, but Brown seemed very interested in my bat, which had already been signed by a dozen All Stars. He gave one of the cleanest signatures of all the players on the bat, which is set aside with bats from the 2008 and 2010 All Star Games, as well as a Hyannis Harbor Hawk bat for 2011.

 

 

San Francisco drafted Brown with the 24th overall pick in 2010, and he spent a total of twelve games with their Arizona League team and Salem-Keizer of the Northwest League because he signed his contract at the 15 August deadline. He earned promotion to San Jose (California League) for the 2011 season, where he hit. 336 in 131 games and played in the 2011 Futures Game, where he went 1 for 2.

The Giants turned down the Mets when they asked for Brown in return for Carlos Beltran during the 2011 season, settling on another player. Baseball America in 2012 rate Brown as the Giant’s #1 prospect, putting big expectations on a player who has not yet played above Class A. His manager in San Jose, Andy Skeels, said, “He competes and finds ways to beat you. That, to me, weighs very favorably and heavily on whether he’ll have what it takes to succeed at the major league level.” He is showing gap power and flashes of pulling power, but the Giants love his consistency at making contact and then wreaking havoc when he gets on base (53 stolen bases at San Jose in 2011).

The Giants are not rushing Brown, especially after dealing for Melky Cabrera, and will start Brown at AA Richmond in 2012. It is possible he could be promoted to AAA Fresno, or even added to the major league roster as a late season call up. At this point, the Giants think Brown will move into center field for them at the start of the 2013 season, and will hold a spot there for years to come.

To finish the players, I must return to the two young men I got to know in the summer of 2011 through their host parents, Wendy and Dan Johnson. Both Nick Wittgren (Purdue) and Justin Gonzalez (Florida State) had good seasons for the Harbor Hawks in 2011 and took back memories of the Cape to their campuses in the fall of 2011. Both are looking forward to their upcoming season in college and the 2012 draft, where they hope to be picked early and begin professional careers in the summer of 2012. Seeing them up close on a regular basis in 2011 and meeting some of their friends and families showed me two young men wanting to make that next step from college into professional baseball. Whether they make it depends on a lot of factors, not least of which is their own talent. But character, attitude, and general breaks in their favor also play a key role.

At this point, there is no way to tell what might happen with either one of them. It has been fun following both of them this spring as the college seasons have started. Being connected through social media and following games through INTERNET broadcasts keep me up to date with their progress during the season. Seeing Purdue meet Florida State in the NCAA tournament (whether a regional or the College World Series) would be a fun experience. To make it even better would be to have Nick facing Justin in the ninth inning with the game on the line, each of them already knowing their professional future and perhaps thinking about their time together with the Johnsons in Centerville and ice cream at Steve and Sue’s when they played together for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the summer of 2011 in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Such is the joy of the league. If you are near the Cape from mid June to early August, come and take in a game. You won’t be disappointed.

The 2012 major league draft is taking place this week, and after only 15 rounds, many players with Cape League experience have been selected. Thirteen players from Hyannis alone have been picked, a record for Hyannis since I started following them in 2007 for this stage of the draft. The most remarkable statistic so far is that of the first 60 players chosen, 25 came from colleges. Of those 25, 20 played on the Cape. While it is unfair to try and project into the future with these players, there are a few that stood out for me in 2010 and 2011. Keep your eyes on Yarmouth-Dennis’ Mike Zunino (Florida), drafted by the Mariners, Cotuit’s Victor Roache (Gerogia Southern), drafted by the Brewers, Orleans’ Marcus Stroman (Duke), drafted by the Blue Jays, Bourne’s Travis Jankowski (Stony Brook, about whom I wrote in the first chapter of this book), drafted by the Padres, and Hyannis’ Kevin Plawecki (Purdue), drafted by the Mets. Although I am no scout, these players were ones who impressed me during my last summer on the Cape.