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August 28, 2007

Wait 'Til Next Year

Cape Cod League Prospects, Part One

by Bryan Smith

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The nation's best summer league earned its reputation in 2007, boasting depth that (outside of Team USA) the other summer leagues combined couldn't touch. However, it was a strange year for the league, as no one stepped up to be the easy pick for its top prospect, while most of the talent was confined to one team, Falmouth. Commodores coach Jeff Trundy emphasized it was merely the summer that the "stars aligned," and he doubted it would happen again.

I attempted to talk with as many Cape coaches as possible this summer, and after gathering their input, I have created a ranking of the 30 best 2008 draft-eligible prospects in terms of long-term value. College coaches had no input in these rankings given their bias, so I merely stuck to the words of the coaches. Kevin Goldstein is likely to chime in with where the scouts and the coaches differ on at some point, and these players will all be re-evaluated and cross-checked next spring. Warning: the following piece is going to come in two parts, and is more to be used as a resource for next June's draft than anything else.

1. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami (Brewster)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   210  .376  .519  .705  64  31  13   3
Summer   151  .338  .468  .497  36  25   6   5

Alonso earns the role of top prospect mainly on default, as the league's higher-ceilinged athletes failed to impress. Alonso, on the other hand, hit from the day he joined Brewster and never looked back. Coaches love Alonso's approach at the plate, probably the best in the league in years, as he draws a lot of walks and never gets cheated. He'll struggle a bit against southpaws, but few expect it to be a long-standing problem. Alonso is agile enough to check in as average at first base, though he lacks the soft hands that scouts love. Alonso should be a first-round pick next June because he'll always post a high average and OBP, but whether he has a future hitting 20 or 30 homers will dictate how high.

2. Luke Burnett, RHP, Louisiana Tech (Falmouth)


2007      ERA   IP    H   K   BB   HR
Spring   4.93  91.1  72  115  65   10
Summer   4.18  23.2  20   41   7    1

It should really come as no surprise that the league's most imposing player (6'8" and 260) was the subject of league coaches' most outspoken hyperbole. One insisted Burnett was better than Andrew Brackman in 2006, another that he was as dominant as Craig Hansen in 2004, when the St. John's closer didn't allow a run in 22.1 innings. However, while Burnett's Cape performance wasn't Brackman or Hansen's equal, his stuff is better than that of the similarly-sized Brackman, and his fastball will play better than Hansen. A starter for Louisiana Tech in the spring, Burnett is better-suited for relief, where he can use his intimidating fastball (94-96 mph) about 70-80 percent of the time. That's because Burnett will sometimes flash putaway sliders and splitters when ahead in the count, he doesn't use them that reliably often enough, and the pitches are really best suited to follow a slew of fastballs, a recipe most effective in relief.

3. Buster Posey, C, Florida State (Yarmouth-Dennis)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   246  .382  .453  .520  32  27   4   4
Summer   128  .281  .361  .375  13  21   4   2

The blow felt in Tallahassee after losing Stephen Drew was softened when Florida State landed Buster Posey as a recruit, perhaps the nation's top two-way athlete who played an athletic shortstop but was also a dominant right-handed pitcher. However, the Seminoles ultimately decided Posey's future was as a hitter, closing Posey's pitching career before he threw in a game. Last fall the team also decided to end Posey's career at shortstop, moving him behind the plate. The decision has reinvigorated Posey's prospect status, as scouts say Posey looks like a veteran behind the plate. With more experience Posey will be special defensively. As a hitter, Posey has a short, quick swing with good contact skills and 10-20 home run power. That's more than enough to be in next June's first round.

4. Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri (Falmouth)


2007      ERA    IP    H    K   BB   HR
Spring   3.59  117.2  109  90   33  N/A
Summer   0.67   40.1   19  36    9    2

By looking at a player's frame, delivery, and arm action, scouts have long been able to find pitchers that are minor physical changes away from increases in velocity. The ace of Missouri's staff this spring, Crow succeeded on Missouri more on his command and pitchability than the relatively ordinary 90 mph velocity of his fastball. However, this summer Crow grew into himself in a way that scouts had never projected. His coach at Falmouth, Jeff Trundy, said that Crow was seeing an increase in velocity each month, pitching at 92-94 mph at the start, then sitting at 93-96 mph, and finally touching 98 by summer's end. Given that Crow learned how to succeed at much slower velocities and using his plus change and average breaking ball and cut fastball, he could be a first-round arm if he retains mid-90s velocity next spring.

5. Chris Friedrich, LHP, Eastern Kentucky (Falmouth)


2007      ERA   IP    H   K   BB   HR
Spring   2.09  81.2  44  101  36    4
Summer   3.68  37    28   52  24    0

Friedrich's curveball was likely the league's single toughest pitch to hit, and pitching off his curve gave him considerable success. However, Friedrich must still prove his other offerings to scouts before the first round becomes a guarantee. His fastball velocity (88-91 mph) is sufficient because it's played up by his curve, but he must command the pitch better. Also contrasting the curve with a better change would further enhance the value of his true 12-to-6 out pitch. Pitchers like Rich Hill, Sean Marshall, and even Barry Zito have found big league success with similar repertoires, and the latter likely represents Friedrich's draft day ceiling. It's high praise, but when the pitch is on and in control, his curve is good enough to merit the comparison.

6. Dennis Raben, OF, Miami (Orleans)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   218  .280  .378  .514  32  57   3   1
Summer   151  .298  .426  .510  25  44   3   0

Without question, Raben is a fun player to watch on the field, and as a result drew much praise from coaches around the league. The Miami outfielder traded blows with Gordon Beckham all June for the league home run lead, only to fall behind when more of his fly balls dropped in for doubles in the season's second half. However, Raben's power certainly ranks among the league's best, and his ability to turn around a fastball was a constant topic of discussion. However, as good as Raben can look, he can also look foolish, striking out far too often; his struggles against good southpaws and good breaking balls create two significant weaknesses, which might reduce Raben to nothing more than a platoon player. However, he'll stick in right field and has some good True Three Outcomes potential, so with a good spring he'll make a good sandwich-round pick.

7. Brandon Crawford, SS, UCLA (Orleans)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   248  .335  .405  .504  25  58  11   1
Summer   132  .189  .262  .326  13  45   8   3

Crawford makes this list on reputation, because in terms of leaving an impression on coaches, he otherwise wouldn't belong in the top 30. However, he entered the league as its top prospect, and the only player in the league with legitimate top-ten-pick potential. Between this spring and last summer on Team USA, scouts saw flashes of all five tools in Crawford. Those tools are still present in Crawford's game, but two years of college have done little to polish his game. Crawford has an elite throwing arm and good speed, but he makes too many mistakes, both in the field and on the bases. He has a quick swing that produces very good power on contact, but he swings and misses far too often. Few college players have more actual dollars hinging on their spring performances.

8. Reese Havens, SS, South Carolina (Cotuit)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   234  .274  .337  .389  21  42   3   4
Summer   156  .314  .371  .487  14  29   7   4

Expectations for Havens were high upon his entering South Carolina, but with a .379 slugging percentage in two years with aluminum bats, he has largely been a disappointment. However, after altering his swing by dropping his hands, Havens had as good an end to the season as anyone in the league. He worked very hard to get better, also beginning to use his bottom half more for power. Ultimately, Havens could probably be a very good defensive third baseman, because his athleticism is a tick below average for an up-the-middle player. Whether the alterations to his swing have a lasting impact on his power remains to be seen, but they'll have to for Havens to decide college was the right decision.

9. Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia (Yarmouth-Dennis)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   228  .307  .399  .570  31  33   6   6
Summer   155  .284  .370  .529  17  40   6   1

The league's MVP for the month of June, Beckham proved this summer that the power he'd shown in two springs at Georgia translates to wood. However, while Beckham would appear to have extra value for his status as a shortstop, few in the league believed he'll stay at the position in the long term. One coach compared Beckham to Brandon Inge, a former collegian with big power who moved to third base. Beckham is also similarly flawed, with a lack of patience and a long enough swing to consistently rack triple digits in strikeouts on a season. Inge's profile was enough for him to wind up getting picked in the second round of the 1998 draft, and if Beckham has another good spring for the Bulldogs in 2007, he should wind up in the same spot.

10. Evan Crawford, LHP, Auburn (Harwich)


2007      ERA   IP    H   K   BB   HR
Spring   5.91   67   84  43   33    5
Summer   0.67   27   17  41   12    0

Behind Burnett, Crawford was the league's most dominant closer, while also learning the role after starting most of the spring. His success relieving, both at the end of Auburn's season and subsequently with Harwich, has inspired Crawford to request the role as a junior, and the Tigers coaching staff has obliged. Crawford has a quick-tempo delivery, and he succeeds as a closer by attacking hitters more with his low-90's fastball. With a combination of two breaking balls, Crawford is death on left-handed hitters, especially with his slow, big-breaking curve. If Crawford continues to improve his fastball command and slider consistency, Auburn could have one of the nation's best closers next spring.

11. David Adams, 2B, Virginia (Falmouth)


2007      AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  BB   K  SB  CS
Spring   226  .372  .454  .522  31  37  10   4
Summer   169  .302  .382  .420  18  30   9   5

Adams' makeup came up almost inevitably when his name was brought up, in part because volunteered to move across the keystone during much of June while first-string shortstop Joey Wong was winning a championship with Oregon State. Adams' first month turned out to be rather forgettable, as he didn't really work out to well at shortstop, and his OPS dipped well below 600. However, when Wong arrived and Adams returned to his natural position at second, everything turned around. Falmouth coach Jeff Trundy insists Adams' poor June at the plate was a matter of bad luck as much as anything, and it does seem as Adams' good second half was aided by a stronger BABIP as much as his first half was undermined by a poor one. Adams has every tool without any one of them shining in particular, but with Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks battling injury problems, Adams could be the first second baseman selected in the draft in 2008.

12. Aaron Shafer, RHP, Wichita State (Falmouth)


2007      ERA   IP     H   K   BB   HR
Spring   2.23   84.2  69  90   23    6
Summer   4.26   38    35  30   19    3

Shafer is the mound version of Brandon Crawford, an anticipated star from the day he arrived, the one pitcher with top-ten-pick potential. Unfortunately, also like Crawford, a lackluster summer merely leaves Shafer in the general first-round mix. On paper, Shafer has an outstanding profile-a lanky 6'4" body, a clean delivery that should turn his 88-92 mph fastball up to 90-95, and one of the Cape's best changeups. But something didn't work in the summer, as Shafer uncharacteristically struggled with his command of his fastball, and he made no progress with the same sort of breaking ball issues that plague fellow Shocker Mike Pelfrey. A good spring will rocket Shafer back into the mix for the first college right-hander off of the board, but like Crawford, he's going to have to get his nails dirty for big dollars.

13. Ryan Perry, RHP, Arizona (Orleans)


2007      ERA   IP     H   K   BB   HR
Spring   6.35   34    47  35   13    1
Summer   4.15   21.2  21  30   10    0

One of the Cape's Cinderella stories almost never got that opportunities, as Perry was a late addition to the Orleans roster after a different Wildcat pitcher opted to not make the trip. Perhaps it was destiny, as Perry turned his disappointing sophomore season around. He was up to 95-96 in nearly every outing, and touched 98, showing one of the league's best fastballs, potentially its best. But it's not quite all there yet, because like his poor spring, Perry proved far too hittable for the stuff he possesses. The biggest problem is a matter of command-if Perry isn't missing out of the zone he's missing in it, leaving too many fastballs up. Also, to become a top-flight reliever Perry will need to make progress with his slider, as the fastball-fastball-fastball approach won't work forever.

14. Bryce Stowell, RHP, UC Irvine (Hyannis)


2007      ERA   IP    H   K   BB   HR
Summer   3.72  38.2  32  44   13    4

As bad as Ryan Perry's sophomore season was, he does not have the least impressive college resume on the list. That honor is Bryce Stowell's: 16 1/3 innings, 22 hits, 13 earned runs, eight walks, and that was in 2006. With that, Stowell's career as a Pepperdine Wave ended unceremoniously, and he transferred to UC Irvine. Next season Stowell will replace the weekend rotation spot left by Wes Etheridge, a definitive upgrade in terms of stuff. Stowell could be defined as a sinker-slider guy given his low 90s two-seamer and inconsistent power slider, but that would be selling him short. Stowell also touched 95 with a four-seamer, but also showed a below-average change. There's work to be done, but Stowell attacks hitters with early-round quality stuff, making him the Anteaters' best prospect almost overnight.

15. Josh Lindblom, RHP, Purdue (Cotuit)


2007      ERA   IP    H   K   BB   HR
Spring   4.13  56.2  66  51   10    2
Summer   4.46  38.1  38  47   20    2

Certainly the best pitcher on a poor Cotuit staff, scouts saw a glimpse of Lindblom's future while watching him pitch in relief all summer. Lindblom didn't dominate at Purdue the way he was expected to after transferring from Tennessee, but it appears he may have been miscast the whole time. Scouts have always thought highly of Lindblom, mostly because of the foundation in his arsenal-one of college baseball's best fastballs. In relief work, Lindblom could dial up his heat into the 91-95 mph range, but also gained praise for both the movement and command he has on the pitch. Relieving will likely have to be his future, as the right-hander hasn't progressed with his secondary stuff at all in college. He throws both a slurvy breaking ball and below-average split-finger too often, but he is still likely to be drafted high next June on the basis of his fastball.

Bryan Smith is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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