2017 Cape Cod League Preview
The 2017 MLB Draft is behind us and the College World Series is about to begin in Omaha. But never fear, as usual premium talent has descended upon Cape Cod. The Cape Cod League has long been one of the best summer leagues for collegiate baseball and this year should be no different.
The 10-team league began play on June 14 and will conclude with the championship series Aug. 9-12. Here is a preview of just some of the talent that will take the field this summer for each of teams in the league.
Yarmouth-Dennis The Red Sox are looking to do something that hasn't been done since 1975—win four straight Cape League titles. Scott Pickler and the Red Sox have built a dynasty in recent years with strong college bats. Yarmouth-Dennis faces a tall task in replacing the likes of Kevin Smith (Maryland), Deon Stafford Jr. (St. Joseph's) and Will Toffey (Vanderbilt) if it wants to be the last team standing once again.
Position Player: Alfonso Rivas • Soph. • OF • Arizona
Rivas slashed .371/.483/.531 this spring, and led his team in on-base percentage and was second in batting and slugging behind former Falmouth Commodore J.J. Matijevic. Rivas had 20 extra-base hits and walked more than he struck out (39-36) in his sophomore season with the Wildcats. While listed as an outfielder, he split his time between right field and designated hitter for Arizona, and pitched 11.1 innings across 12 appearances. With a good swing and a smart plate approach, Rivas can follow the trend of Kevin Newman and Matijevic as recent Wildcats to come to the Cape and put on a show.
Pitcher: Sean Hjelle • Soph. • RHP • Kentucky
Y-D was able to contend in 2016 with middle-of-the-road pitching. Its 3.64 team ERA was good for fifth in the league, but its staff was able to shine in the playoffs (1.89 ERA). But the Red Sox can't count on another postseason breakthrough, and Kentucky's Hjelle will help bring a steady presence to the mound. At 6-foot-11, Hjelle is the leader in the clubhouse for tallest man on the Cape. He's also likely to be the most dominant man on the mound in Yarmouth-Dennis. The 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year, Hjelle was 11-3, 3.75 with 99 strikeouts. He pitched seven innings in the Wildcats' regional win over Ohio on June 2, and allowed just three runs and struck out three. He tossed an additional 3.1 innings of scoreless relief to send Kentucky to the super regionals just three days later in a win over N.C. State. Hjelle's workload might be worrisome (he's up to 103.1 innings pitched on the season), but if managed properly, he has the potential to be a lethal force on the mound for the Red Sox.
Falmouth Commodores The Commodores took Yarmouth-Dennis to three games in the Cape League championship last summer before losing, and will look to #WinItForTrundy once again. Jeff Trundy and Falmouth finished the regular season with a league-best 29-15 record, and were led by a trio of Lipscomb players—Jeff Passantino, Brady Puckett and Michael Gigliotti—all of whom were drafted this week—as well as Arizona's J.J Matijevic. Falmouth had one of the deepest lineups and pitching staffs on the Cape last summer, and it will look to replicate that once again this year.
Position Player: Alec Bohm • Soph. • INF • Wichita State
The Commodores were never short of the longball in 2016. They tied Brewster with a league-leading 30 with the help of Tyler Lawrence (seven home runs) and Willie Burger (four). Bohm will join the squad this summer after launching 11 home runs and slugging .519 for the Shockers this past spring. In two years with Wichita State, the 6-foot-5 third basemen showed consistency at the plate, and slashed .303/.346/.489 as a freshman, and .305/.385/.519 as a sophomore. Bohm has history of hitting well in summer leagues (he hit .330/.407/.552 with 11 home runs last summer in the Coastal Plain League).
Pitcher: Jon Olsen • Soph. • RHP • UCLA
UCLA's Sunday starter, Olsen posted a 2.86 ERA in 15 starts for the Bruins. He struck out 80 batters and walked 31 in 85 innings. Olson lasted five innings or longer in 11 of his 15 starts, including 7.2 innings against San Diego State in regionals. He allowed just two runs in the no-decision. Trundy will look to replicate his fearsome starting rotation from last season of Passantino, Puckett and Holy Cross' Brendan King, and Olsen will likely be thrown into the mix.
Harwich Mariners The Mariners were arguably the Cape's most well-rounded team last summer. Their 2.00 ERA led the league by far, and they finished second in batting average (.264) and third in home runs (25). Steve Englert was gifted with a talented starting pitching staff led by Hunter Williams (UNC), Packy Naughton (Virginia Tech), Shane McCarthy (Seton Hall) and B.J Meyers (West Virginia).
Position Player: Cameron Simmons • Soph. • OF • Virginia
Harwich had two Cavaliers cemented in their lineup in 2016—Pavin Smith and Ernie Clement. Both were named to the East all-star team, and helped lead the Mariners to the top seed in the division come August. Naturally, Englert and the Mariners were quick to return to Charlottesville when they filled out the 2017 roster. Cameron Simmons will join Harwich after slashing .359/.437/.574 with the Cavaliers as a sophomore. He smacked nine home runs and finished second on the squad in RBIs with 57. He and Cavs teammate Jake McCarthy (.336/.426/.509, 27 stolen bases) will look to replace the formidable duo that Smith and Clement formed last summer. McCarthy, however, will play for Team USA prior to joining the Mariners.
Pitcher: Cullen Dana • Soph. • LHP • Seton Hall
The Seton Hall-Harwich pipeline might be the strongest on the Cape. Recent years have seen Sal Annunziata (2014 Cape League home run derby champion), Shane McCarthy and Zach Schellenger (2016 All-Stars) don Mariners uniforms. Dana is in the perfect position to succeed. In his sophomore season with the Pirates, Dana went 5-3, 3.40 and struck out 91 batters. With a fastball in the 87-91 mph range, a 12-to-6 curveball and a fading changeup, he has a solid, three-pitch mix.
Wareham Gatemen After one season with the Gatemen, Jerry Weinstein took his talents back to the minor league to manage the Hartford Yard Goats, Colorado's Double-A affiliate. That leaves Don Sneddon, Wareham's former third base coach and hitting instructor, as the team's third manager in just as many years. Wareham will look to replace LSU's Cole Freeman, the winner of last year's batting title (.374 average), and BYU's Colton Shaver, whose eight home runs led the league.
Position Player: Tristan Pompey • Soph. • OF • Kentucky
Pompey, the brother of the Blue Jays' Dalton, was a statistical beast for the Wildcats in 2017. Up through the regional, he slashed .368/.471/.554, led the team in hits (95), walks (45) and hit the second most home runs (10) behind Cape League alum Riley Mahan. A third-team All-American, Pompey thrived against some of the nation's toughest competition to lead the Southeast Conference in hits. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Pompey's skills at the plate are matched by his intimidating size.
Pitcher: Brett Conine • Soph. • RHP • Cal. State Fullerton
Conine returns to Wareham after posting a 3.96 ERA for the Gatemen in eight starts last summer. The Titans' closer in 2017, Conine posted a stingy 1.56 ERA with a 37-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 40.1 innings of work, the righty racked up 14 saves, two of which came in the Stanford Regional against the host Cardinals. Conine has the ability to make batters swing and miss and doesn't hand out many free bases, both skills that will garner him plenty of opportunities on the Cape.
Bourne Braves The Braves went just 21-21 under the direction of Harvey Shapiro, but fought their way to the West division finals before losing to Falmouth. Between Evan Mendoza (N.C. State), Connor Wong (Houston) and Justin Yurchak (Binghamton), Bourne had a stacked lineup of talented batter to go along with a pitching staff that posted a 3.64 ERA.
Position Player: Jeremy Eierman • Soph. • INF • Missouri State
Eierman was one of the driving forces behind Missouri State's impressive season. Through the NCAA regional, the sophomore racked up 21 home runs and 15 doubles, all while hitting .312/.429/.662 with a 1.091 OPS. The dynamic Eierman added 14 stolen bases and 38 walks, en route to a spot on the All-America third team. Eireman batted just .192 with the Braves in 2016, but far more is expected this summer.
Pitcher: Patrick Raby • Soph. • RHP • Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt had a top-flight rotation in 2017, spearheaded by first-round pick Kyle Wright and Raby. Raby posted a 2.36 ERA through the regional, fourth-best among Southeast Conference starters and best on the Commodores. He held opponents to a .223 batting average, and struck out 85. The 6-foot-3 righty will join a Bourne squad which was in the middle of the pack for pitching in 2016 (3.57 team ERA).
The 2016 Whitecaps could be best described with four words: all offense, no pitching. The Whitecaps ranked first in home runs (30) and average (.265). Getting opposing batters out, however, proved to be a lingering issue. The Whitecaps tied for last in ERA (4.44) and let opponents hit .273 against them.
Position Player: Julian Infante • Soph. • INF • Vanderbilt
The Vanderbilt sophomore appeared in 25 games for Brewster last summer, and batted just .205 and struck out 31 times. But the spring of 2017 was a different story as Infante slashed .328/.396/.539, hit 11 homers and drove in a team-high 65 runs. If he can improve on his sophomore summer as he did his sophomore spring, Jamie Shevchik will have a potent bat to help the Whitecaps repeat as the league's top offensive squad.
Pitcher: Sam Bordner • Soph. • RHP • Louisville
Bordner did not allow a run in 19 of his 20 appearances for the Cardinals in the spring, striking out 32 and holding opponents to a .132 average. He's exactly what is needed to aid Brewster's pitching woes. Bordner pitched just 36.1 innings this spring, and with a relatively fresh arm, he'll be able to pitch deep into Brewster's season.
Hyannis Harbor Hawks Hyannis lost its final eight games, missed the playoffs and finished the summer with a 17-27 record. The Harbor Hawks are hungry to avenge a disappointing final few weeks of the 2016 season. Hyannis will need to replace a pair of big bats—Dylan Busby (Florida State) and Zach Rutherford (Old Dominion).
Position Player: Ford Proctor • Soph. • INF • Rice
In his first season with the Harbor Hawks, Ford Proctor was one of the few consistent batters in the lineup. He hit .286 and smacked six doubles, and was named one of the top prospects on the Cape. He returned to Rice and slashed .311/.408/.450 with four home runs and 19 doubles. He had six hits in the Baton Rouge Regional.
Pitcher: Tyler Myrick • Frosh. • RHP • Florida International
Myrick made an immediate impact in his freshman season with the Jaguars. The righty made 10 starts for Florida International (15 appearances overall) and posted a 3.73 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched. The Florida native will play a vital role on Chad Gassman's pitching staff, either in the rotation or the bullpen.
Cotuit's biggest issue last summer was its inability to score. The Kettleers batted .214 as a team—last in the league—and scored the fewest total runs (141). Aside from Stanford's Quinn Brodey (.326 average, 11 doubles, three home runs) there weren't too many big bats in the lineup. If Cotuit wants to win more than just 15 games this summer, it will need more than just one batter who produces runs.
Position Player: Nelson Maldonado • Soph. • OF • Florida
Maldonado slashed .331/.472/.507 for the Gators this spring, along with seven home runs and eight doubles. If the success he saw in the spring translates to the summer, Cotuit won't nearly be as run-hungry as it was in 2016.
Pitcher: Mike Byrne • Soph. • RHP • Florida
Byrne proved to be a versatile, shutdown reliever out of Florida's bullpen this spring. The righthander from Orlando posted a 1.76 ERA and held opponents to a .214 batting average. He became the team's closer by the end of the season and recorded 15 saves. What helps Byrne's case this summer is his light workload in the spring. He only pitched 56.1 innings and he could follow the same path as his teammate Brady Singer did last summer. Singer pitched 43.2 innings for the Gators in 2016, and made just one start in 23 appearances. He went on to post a 0.81 ERA in four starts for the championship finalist Falmouth Commodores.
Orleans Firebirds Orleans was led in 2016 by Adam Haseley, Brian Miller and Riley Adams, three players who were drafted in the top three rounds this week. Kelly Nicholson and the Firebirds will be left to replace the prominent bats that will soon be playing in the pros.
Position Player: Jimmy Herron • Soph. • OF • Duke
Herron has been nothing short of consistent. After slashing .324/.418/.440 as a freshman, he returned to Duke and hit .326/.412/.474 with five home runs and 17 doubles in his second season. He was drafted as a sophomore-eligible player in the 31st round by the Yankees, but is likely to return to school. While he won't be able to replace the four big bats Orleans lost by himself, he's be a valuable piece at the top of Nicholson's lineup.
Pitcher: Josh Hiatt • Soph. • RHP • North Carolina
After redshirting as a freshman at Chapel Hill, Hiatt made the most of his first season on the mound. In 32 appearances, Hiatt recorded 13 saves and a 1.90 ERA and was a first-team All-American.
Chatham Anglers The Anglers had the opportunity to play the Cinderella role on the Cape last summer. They squeezed into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season as the fourth seed in the East, and knocked off top-seeded Harwich in three games. Despite the late push, Chatham struggled at the plate (second fewest runs scored in the league) and on the mound (third highest ERA). John Schiffner will need more consistency out his players to be more than just a late-season upstart this summer.
Position Player: John Aiello • Soph. • INF • Wake Forest
A returning Angler, John Aiello slashed just .189/.265/.217 in 34 games last summer. But this spring he hit .329/.422/.636 with 18 long balls and 17 doubles. If he can show similar production, he'd be a weapon in Chatham's lineup.
Pitcher: Caleb Gilbert • Soph. • RHP • LSU
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Gilbert was 5-1, 2.74 and held opponents to a .202 batting average for Paul Mainieri's club. Gilbert throws in the low-90s and posted a 50-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Gilbert might be best utilized in a long relief role for the Anglers, although he could be stretched out into a starter. Either way, Schiffner will have a versatile righty to work with who only pitched 42.2 innings for LSU.