by Aaron Fitt/Baseball America
CHATHAM, Mass.—After taking in the Cape Cod League all-star game at Fenway Park on Friday, I stuck around to catch some more action around the Cape. Here are some observations from the final week of the league’s regular season.
• Stony Brook dominated the America East Conference this spring, going 22-2 to win the league by four games and finishing the regular season 41-10 overall. The Seawolves were upset in the AEC tournament, ending their season shy of regionals, but a number of Seawolves have made noise in the Cape League. Three Stony Brook players made the league’s all-star game, including catcher Patrick Cantwell and center fielder Travis Jankowksi of Bourne, who started for the West team.
Two Seawolves led Orleans to the East Division title on Wednesday, the last day of the regular season. All-star righthander Tyler Johnson allowed just one hit over 6 2/3 scoreless innings to get the win in the first game of a doubleheader against Chatham, clinching the division. Johnson pitches primarily off a mid-80s sinker with serious life, and he effectively mixed in a slider and changeup.
“When I’ve got all three pitches working, especially with these kind of defensive guys behind me, it makes it real easy to pitch,” Johnson said. “I just like to throw that (sinker), let it do its thing and get some ground balls.”
Johnson’s Stony Brook teammate, second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum, powered the Orleans offense, singling home a run in the fifth and driving a three-run homer to right field on a fastball from Trae Davis (Baylor) in the eighth, breaking the game open. Tissenbaum, who hit .344 as a freshman and .343 as a sophomore for the Seawolves, entered the day hitting just .216 with one homer, but his disciplined approach never wavered, as evidenced by his 14-9 walk-strikeout mark.
“I told him I was really proud of him for maintaining that good attitude and work ethic,” Orleans head coach Kelly Nicholson said. “He played a lot for us last summer, and he was really good. He can hit. He’s a good baseball player, and I think he’s gotten a lot better defensively. He’s going to walk more than he strikes out, he puts the ball in play—really a good contact guy.”
Ace Nick Tropeano may be gone, but there is a lot of reason for Stony Brook to be excited heading into next season—as this summer illustrated.
“We had a real good year this year at school, and unfortunately we got left out of the regionals, but we’ve got a lot of good players up here,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we’re opening the world’s eyes to our team and what we can do. It’s been real fun, especially seeing my teammates do well up here too.”
• Orleans’ corner infielders, Matt Duffy (Long Beach State) and Ben Waldrip (Jacksonville State), each arrived in the Cape League as temporary players, but each earned a spot on the roster, and each wound up starting in the all-star game. Duffy was one of the summer’s great breakout players, and heading into the season-ending doubleheader he was hitting .354, just a point behind league leader Dane Phillips of Chatham. Duffy finished at .346, three points behind Phillips, who actually finished just behind Yarmouth-Dennis’ Stephen Piscotty (Stanford) for the batting title.
“Duffy had a huge summer,” Nicholson said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s a good baseball player. He can play second, short, third, you can probably run him into the outfield. Our backup catcher signed today, and (Duffy) told me he could catch. He’s just a hard worker. He’s a great, great Cape story.”
• Phillips is a great Cape story, too. His quiet lefthanded stroke helped him hit .337 as a freshman and .339 as a sophomore for the Cowboys, but he was even better with a wood bat this summer. “As far as hitting goes, he’s just been immense,” Chatham coach John Schiffner said. “He’s just had a tremendous summer—hitting the ball where it’s pitched, going opposite field, clutch hits, everything.”
Phillips played DH for much of the spring at OSU, and he showed off a great arm from right field against Orleans, gunning down Andrew Aplin (Arizona State) by a mile at the plate on a single to right. But he spent the bulk of the summer catching, and he made great strides there.
“What’s really been impressive to us is he didn’t catch that much at Oklahoma State, and we gave him a chance to get into the catching rotation,” Schiffner said. “He really struggled at first, but he really improved behind the plate to where we had no problem putting him back there at all. I think that’s a big step in the right direction for him. He’s a player; there’s no question he’s a player. The fact that he can catch and he’s lefthanded, he’s going to go quite a ways in pro baseball.”
• Wake Foret lefthander Tim Cooney gave Chatham six strong innings against Orleans, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out six. He hit his spots with a high-80s fastball and mixed in a nice, sharp 11-to-5 curveball. He was replaced by another ACC product, North Carolina righthander Cody Penny, who struck out two batters in a perfect inning of work. Penny’s stuff was outstanding—his fastball had good arm-side run, his knuckle curve was devastating, and he used his slider effectively down and in against lefthanded hitters.
“Penny’s good. He struggled when he first got here, maybe because he was a little rusty,” Schiffner said. “But the last three or four outings he’s been very good. He throws a curveball and a slider; the curveball’s the thing that goes, ‘Zoom!’ and just drops. The slider sets that up, and the fastball’s pretty good, pretty lively. He’s done a nice job for us.”
• The summer has been full of growing pains for two pillars of Stanford’s top-ranked 2010 recruiting class. Righthander A.J. Vanegas of Yarmouth-Dennis and outfielder Austin Wilson of Harwich faced off Tuesday, and both players continued to struggle, as they have for much of the summer. Vanegas, my preseason pick for Freshman of the Year heading into 2011, struggled with his command for much of the spring, finishing 1-0, 3.35 working mostly in a relief role. Heading into his final regular-season start this summer for Y-D, Vanegas had issued 15 walks and struck out 19 in 22 innings, while going 0-1, 3.27. His stuff was good against Harwich; his fastball darted all over the place, but he struggled to hit his spots with it, and opposing hitters simply laid off his hard slider, which was frequently in the dirt. When he finally did throw it for a strike, the Mariners hit it hard. He was pulled after giving up four hits over two-plus innings.
Vanegas did win his one battle against Wilson, getting him to line out to right field in the second inning. Wilson finished 0-for-3, dropping him to .202 on the summer with 26 strikeouts and six walks in 89 at-bats. Wilson has mammoth raw power, but clearly he’s still learning to make consistent contact.
• Another player with huge raw power is Yarmouth-Dennis DH Brian Johnson, but his power is quite a bit more usable at this stage than Wilson’s is. Team USA’s coaches raved about how quickly Johnson adjusted to wood bats during his brief stint with the national team, saying he took the best batting practice of any player on the team. Against Harwich righty Devin Burke (Duke), Johnson blasted a towering three-run homer that soared into the trees behind the right-field fence. The majestic shot brought a grin to Johnson’s face as he rounded third base.
• Johnson’s Florida teammate, catcher Mike Zunino, left Yarmouth-Dennis after 11 games on the heels of a long, grueling spring, but backup catcher Derrick Chung (Sacramento State) made the most of his opportunity to play. Chung, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound converted shortstop, showed outstanding athleticism, arm strength and savvy in Y-D’s 7-3 win against the Mariners, and he also delivered an RBI single in the second. Defense is Chung’s calling card, though. In the third, he received a throw to the plate from left field too late to tag the scoring runner, but he immediately fired to second base to get John Wooten (East Carolina) trying to stretch his single. The next inning, Chung caught Mike Garza (Georgetown) trying to steal second, then showed good range to catch a tricky foul pop-up by Alex Swim (East Carolina).
• Virginia’s keystone combination also stood out in that game, as shortstop Chris Taylor delivered a sacrifice fly, double, single and stellar defense for Y-D, while second baseman Keith Werman went 2-for-3 with a perfect bunt single and a sharp single to right field for Harwich. Taylor dazzled on a ground ball by Wilson deep into the hole in the fifth inning; the shortstop made a diving stop, then threw from one knee to get the out at first base.
• Wareham had to piece together its pitching down the stretch. Ace Justin Amlung (Louisville) went home before the all-star game to negotiate with the Reds but wound up deciding to return to school. Another top starter, Bobby Brosnahan (Michigan), had his summer cut short when he hit his head on a garbage can in the dugout trying to dodge a foul ball and suffered a concussion. And No. 3 starter Barrett Astin (Arkansas) went home early when his mother had a medical procedure. But Monday, lanky righthander Luke Farrell (Northwestern) gave the Gatemen a huge boost, delivering four innings of no-hit, shutout relief in a 6-3 win at Bourne. Farrell—a 6-foot-6, 200-pounder with a loose, whippy arm action—struck out six and walked four. His summer got off to a strong start, but he slumped in the middle of the season. He finished strong, though.
“Luke’s been working hard in the pen,” Wareham head coach Cooper Farris said. “He made some adjustments with his offspeed pitches. He had a lot of depth on his breaking ball today, and he got a lot of strikeouts with that pitch. That’s something we’ve been working on with him; it’s gotten better.”
• Wareham DH Daniel Palka (Georgia Tech) had a huge day against the Braves, going 4-for-4 with a double into the right-center gap and two RBIs. Everything he hit was hard, as has been the case much of the summer. The game raised Palka’s average to .330, and he also has excellent power potential. That was on display in the all-star home run derby, where the lefthanded-hitting Palka hit three balls out to spacious right field at Fenway Park. Two of his homers went into the bullpen, and another cleared the pen.
“Not many lefthanders can hit it out there,” Farris said. “They always tell us not to bring lefthanders to the home run derby, but I thought he had a chance to get a few. If that Green Monster had been in right field, he’d have hit probably 10.”
• Kyle Farmer (Georgia) showed off nice range and a strong arm at shortstop for Bourne, and he has followed up his strong spring with a steady summer defensively. Farmer fielded .960 for the Bulldogs as a sophomore and was fielding .956 for the Braves. Bourne third baseman Colin Moran (North Carolina) was fielding just .917, but he did look good defensively against Wareham. With a runner on third base, Moran made a perfect charging play on a slow chopper to get the out at first base and save a run. And of course Moran—the national Freshman of the Year—has continued to hit this summer, batting .289 and earning a starting spot in the all-star game.