Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chin Music: The Cape League And Your Fantasy Team

Cape Cod. That's the hook that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and flexes Massachusetts’ bicep as a warning to, I think mostly just the British, not mess with the state. Cape Cod is known for its beaches and is home to “verdant greens[…]warm golds [and] pampered whites” and of course the Kennedys (not to be redundant). But for your sake, my sake and the sake of this article, Cape Cod is the home to the success of your future fantasy baseball team: the ten team Cape Cod Baseball League. As a wooden-bat NCAA summer league, every team on the Cape is made up of college All-Stars, so the league's All-Star game is truly the best of the best of collegiate baseball.

In late July 2005 I showed up at McKeon Park in Hyannis, home to the Cape League’s Hyannis Mets where I was a lowly intern fresh off my first year in college. The sun was barely up but the stadium parking lot was packed. Like any league, the Cape League rotates the venue for its All-Star game among the ten teams (I'll just go ahead and contradict myself by mentioning that this year's game is at Fenway Park). In 2005 the game came to Hyannis. I threw on the startling bright orange Hyannis All-Star Game shirt everyone got and started the morning off with my typical pre-game grunt work before my boss called me into the television production truck. College Sports TV (CSTV) was airing the game and needed someone to hold the radar gun that would display each pitch’s speed on screen for the game. That someone turned out to be me.

An entire area was cordoned off behind home plate in anticipation of the two dozen or so scouts expected to be on hand. I sat in my position behind home plate and over the course of an hour scouts filed in wearing their typical PGA-style wadrobes: polo shirts, khaki pants, sunglasses and the occasional visor. I struck up a few conversations and made some small talk until the game started.

The Hyannis Mets turned out to be the worst team in Cape League history in 2005. As one of their interns, the only time I got to see other players was when they came to town. This game was a chance for me to see the best players all in one place, and much like the scouts, a bunch of players peaked my interest.

Current Red Sox prospect, but then-North Carolina Tar Heel Daniel Bard (1.25 ERA, 82 SO in 65 IP that season) started the game with two quick outs before giving up a single. Stepping to the plate in the clean up spot was a skinny middle infielder from Long Beach State named Evan Longoria, who finished that Cape League season at .299 with 8 home runs, 35 RBI and an OPS of .831. He calmly stroked a double down the left field line. After another walk, Bard got out of the bases loaded jam unscathed. It was fitting that Longoria was one of the few notable offensive players in a game controled by future Major League pitchers.

As the game went on, it was dominated entirely by the pitchers. From my position directly behind the backstop I could see as nasty curves, even nastier sliders, and pure heat left even the league’s best hitters seemingly hopeless. My radar gun lit up. It made it to triple digits only once, but if a fastball came in below 93 it was an oddity.

A relatively short pitcher from the University of Washington hit 97 and 98 consistently. People seemed to know little about him coming out of high school (he was drafted in the 48th round), but his performance that day in the Cape League All-Star game announced his arrival. His stuff was filthy and combined with his 0.69 ERA and 68 strikeouts over 39.1 innings that season, the scouts took notice. Three years later that same Tim Lincecum won the National League Cy Young.

A tall lanky lefty from UNC threw sliders to left-handed batters that seemed as though they were going to hit the batter in the backside, only to tail back across the plate, leaving scouts to do nothing but chuckle at what was happening. He ended up with a 6-0 record (in a 44 game season, mind you) with a 1.65 ERA and 66 strikeouts over 49 innings. That pitcher was recent disabled listee Andrew Miller, whose career hasn’t panned out according to plan so far, but who has the skill set of an ace, if he can just figure out a way to harness it.

Then came a tall pitcher from Cal who made my radar gun hit triple digits. As a closer in the league, he struck out 24 in 14.2 innings. Despite being drafted as a starter, Brandon Morrow quickly reverted back to his reliever days and he’s closing for Seattle now.

It’s not surprising that the game was 0-0 into the top of the ninth. With current Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson on the mound (1.15 ERA, 39 SO over 31.1 IP that season), Evan Longoria came through with his second hit, advancing the eventual winning run to third. The run, almost rightfully so, scored on a double play. There would be no game winning RBI. The final 1-0 score line was fitting for a game the featured so much young, future Major League talent. It was left up to the scouts to vote on the game’s MVP. Most just wrote in each other’s names, or wrote “the pitchers.”

Every summer since 2005 I have worked for the Cape Cod Baseball league in some capacity. In 2006, the All-Star lineup included Baltimore’s Matt Wieters, Texas’ Justin Smoak, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, and Cleveland’s Matt LaPorta (who, for example, actually struggled his last year at the Cape, especially compared to his college seasons), all of whom are among the best prospects in all of baseball. In fact, after a few weeks of the 2006 a few of my co-workers and I each chose the player who we thought would pan out to be the best pro. One chose Wieters, the other chose Smoak. I chose Tulane outfielder Warren McFadden, but only because his at-bat music was “Apache” by the Sugarhill Gang. It's fair to say that the contest is now down to the two of them. The two former co-workers now work for the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays, so I guess that’s where a keen eye for talent gets you.

The 2007 game included Buster Posey for a second time, along with current White Sox second base prospect Gordon Beckham (who, surprisingly enough for a kid from Georgia, dresses like he’s about to go yachting, or be a part of a Ralph Lauren catalog) and up and coming Reds prospect Yonder Alonso.

So what’s my point in all this? If you’re looking for the next big sensation, or just the next solid professional for your fantasy baseball team, start paying attention to the Cape Cod Baseball League. This isn’t even a new trend. Since the 1988 Cape League season that featured Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Jeromy Burnitz, Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon, Denny Neagle, and J.T. Snow, the Cape League has been churning out future Major Leaguers every year. At the very least you should take a glance at how prospects did there; it’s a very good indicator of how they will do with the big boys a few years later (the Cape League uses wooden bats. The Big Leagues use wooden bats. There’s a little bit of a correlation there). It’s done wonders for my fantasy team. Just ask the people who thought I was insane for taking Tim Lincecum and Evan Longoria well before anyone else thought they should be taken last year in my 2008 fantasy draft. Even take a look at last week’s Fensts’ Farm Report, you’ll find a bunch of the aforementioned Cape Leaguers in there too.

Many of the 2007 and 2008 crops of Cape League All-Stars haven't even been drafted yet. But glance at who played in the game the last two seasons, or just take a peek at some of the league leaders, you’ll be seeing their names early and often come this June’s draft (like Aaron Crow, Kyle Gibson, Grant Green,Tim Wheeler, A.J. Pollock and Rich Poythress...and Dustin Ackley who, albeit due to injury, didn't even make the All-Star team). It may not be for a while, but I would suggest drafting some of them in your 2011 fantasy draft, they may just key your team to your fantasy league championship.

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Chris said...

It was miserable working next to you most of the year with the glass pane separating us in the fieldhouse. You were getting paid and I... well I was doing whatever I was doing

Brian Doyle said...

Fieldhouse = press box...right? I'm pretty sure you were mostly Slingboxing your way to a championship ring thanks mostly to Angelo Songco.

Kevin said...

Nice story, check out my blog

Marc Edelman said...


Your posts on the Cape league never cease to amaze me. Great stuff!

Do we have any stats on the top players all-time on the Cape League? How many of them went on to become Evan Longoria level players? How many simply disappeared?

Again, this is great stuff!

Chris said...

Can I get an Aaron Morse Cape Cod Card? Stats on the back would include league leader in freakouts and fewest games called.
Maybe a Steve Englert card with a picture of him setting the field on fire?

I will miss the Cape this summer, I'll have to come back and be a guest in the both with your boy Matt from WBZ.

John said...

I clicked over to Fenst's post, but I didn't see anything about Daniel Bard.

Brian Doyle said...

Chris: Don't forget that he'll be a league leader in most phones borrowed and most blown broadcast saves.

Who really needs a card is that WBZ kid. All he needs is a sunburn and a few drinks in him and he's the next Bob Lobel.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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