Cape Cod League Notebook

The Cape Cod Baseball League is the most prestigious college summer league. The atmosphere is outstanding, as games are free to attend, and there are always high-round talents spread out throughout the 10 teams in the league. This year, many evaluators note that the league lacks in-your-face impact talent, but there are plenty of quality prospects that can be projected to develop into major league contributors, and a handful of players who seem likely to develop into regulars.

Orleans Is Really Good

The Orleans Firebirds have assembled a team so talented that it's a problem. Manager Kelly Nicholson has to squeeze legitimate pro prospects into the lineup, and regularly has to bench very good players. The group of outfielders includes Bryan Reynolds (Vanderbilt), Willie Abreu (Miami), Ronnie Dawson (Ohio State), Austin Miller (Loyola Marymount), and Kyle Lewis (Mercer). Reynolds is a switch-hitter with some of the best plate coverage of any player in the class, armed with bat speed and a smooth downhill bat swing from the left side. Abreu is a massive human being with some swing-and-miss issues down in the zone but above-average to plus raw power and a plus throwing arm in right field. Lewis, meanwhile, has been one of the biggest risers of any prospect this summer.

While there is some truth to the narrative that Lewis burst onto the scene this summer, he wasn't exactly an unknown commodity. He hit .281 as a freshman in 2014 and began to fill out his 6-foot-4 frame. This past spring, He swatted 17 home runs at Mercer and received buzz from scouts as Baseball America began to put feelers out for the 2016 class. In Orleans, however, Lewis has really proven himself to be an early round type of talent. He has at least plus raw power and exceptional bat speed. In recent weeks, he's expanded the strike zone a bit and shown a propensity to go after the high fastball above his hands, which he can drive a long way even when he's underneath it.

Mechanically, there’s a lot going on in Lewis’ swing, with a hand raise to start his load before dropping down and loading his back elbow heavily. At times the drive in his back elbow can lead to blazing hard contact, but it also sometimes leads him to generate topspin to his pull side, especially when he's out front on a pitch. Still, his combination of bat speed and strength is among the best in the 2016 draft class, and he's made steady progress throughout his time at school, allowing scouts to dream on his offensive potential.

Lewis throws well from the outfield and moves well for right field, with better speed in the outfield than on the basepaths. Out of the box, he posts well-below average run times, taking fullback-like strides with powerful landings that look like they actually cost him speed. He's a high ceiling talent with a lot of tools to work with.

Outside of the crowded outfield, Orleans has one of the league's best defensive catchers in Sean Murphy (Wright State). Murphy is a physical specimen at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, but very mobile behind the plate, with a smooth left hand and good strength in his feet. He sets an extremely low target, with his rear end nearly touching the ground. Murphy has made catching look easy, and has handled a very good staff that includes Eric Lauer (Kent State), Mitchell Jordan (Stetson), John Kilichowski (Vanderbilt), Kyle Serrano (Tennessee), Corbin Burnes (St. Mary's) and solid relievers. Murphy also has strength and bat speed at the plate, with the ability to generate hard contact to his pull side in games. Murphy can loft the ball deep to the opposite field in batting practice but has yet to show the ability to do so in games. He has some swing and miss but has legitimate upside as a hitter. The Orleans pitching staff is really good. Here's the quick skinny on some of the arms Baseball America has had eyes on in the past week:

• Lauer: Athletic, low 90s lefty with exceptional fastball command and deep extension towards his target. He's especially proficient at locating his fastball above hitters' hands for swinging strikes. Also has a late-diving curveball and sharp slider.

• Jordan: Every one of his pitches moves late and he has very good feel for the bottom of the strike zone and is really good at hitting his spot down and away. Jordan's fastball works mostly at 88-91 with heavy sink, and he throws a late-breaking curveball that has consistent spin and flashes hard bite. He also has feel for a changeup, which he likes to spot down and away from lefties, but the pitch lacks the consistency of the rest of his arsenal. Jordan has allowed just one earned run in 38 innings, striking out 41 and walking just five in the process.

• Kilichowski: Tall lefthander with fastball that creeps into low 90s. Late 1-to-7 curveball and feel for changeup. Had significant pro interest this season at Vanderbilt, but made it clear that he had no desire to sign as a draft-eligible sophomore. He was drafted in the 39th round by the Cubs.

• Serrano: The son of Tennessee coach Dave Serrano, Kyle has sharp stuff. Multiple sources tell Baseball America that he has reached 96 mph with his fastball at times this summer, but he was more 89-92 (touching 93) in his start on July 15. His fastball command is lacking, and he often misses up or down, but has avoided missing his spots in the zone. Serrano has a slow tempo delivery, and swings his front leg open and hops down into foot strike, making his delivery tough to repeat. He can generate heavy sink on his fastball at times. Serrano's breaking ball has good pro potential, with exceptional depth and flashes of above-average bite, but its spin is inconsistent and he often uses the pitch as more of a chase pitch, rather than competing for strikes in the zone. If he figures things out, Serrano could be very good, but there are significant obstacles for him to overcome.

• Burnes: Fastball worked 93-94 and touched 95 early. Physical 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame with a bit of room to add strength. Potential for above-average breaking ball, with tight spin and a late second-gear, diving towards the ground just as it approaches the hitting zone. Curveball showed consistently average bite and flashed better at times, though he used it mostly as a chase pitch below the knees. Burnes also mixed in a changeup, showing the ability to hit his spots down and to both sides. He ran out of steam later in the outing, sitting more at 90-93 and losing his feel for the strike zone. Throws from a somewhat artificial higher three-quarters arm slot, with some lean to his glove side. Finishes his arm action across his body with recoil.

• Have we mentioned that Orleans is good? They also have an intriguing two-way player in southpaw Carmen Benedetti (Michigan), who can reach 94 with his fastball and has solid command of the bottom of the strike zone.

Into The Woods

Stephen Woods Jr. (Albany) has an intriguing arm and the raw stuff to project as a starter, but his issues with fastball command have prevented him from stepping forward as one of the top arms in the class. Woods was a sixth-round pick by the Rays in 2013 out of high school in Long Island and opted to attend Albany instead of jump-starting his professional career.

In a relief outing for the Gatemen on July 14, Woods showed intriguing fastball velocity, sitting comfortably at 91-93 and touching 95 mph. Scouts have seen Woods reach 96 at times this summer, but velocity isn't really his issue; he has a moderate stride and pitches with his core, and he has yet to quite find a consistent release point. Woods' fastball worked mostly to his arm side in this outing, once missing extremely far outside. When he did locate to his glove side, he often elevated the pitch and saw one such pitch demolished for a hard double off the bat of Orleans' Sean Murphy.

Woods also threw a tight-spinning downer breaking ball which has the makings of an out pitch, but he'll have to stay on top of it more consistently, as it has a tendency to loop upwards as he releases it, looking very different from his fastball out of the hand. Woods threw one changeup in this outing, spotting it at 87 mph at the knees for a swinging strikeout against Bobby Dalbec (Arizona).

The Perfect Specimen

It's a bad pun if you're familiar with Errol Flynn's work, but there's another Perfect Specimen in Hyannis shortstop Errol Robinson (Mississippi). Robinson has long impressed scouts with his defensive ability, and he's performing well offensively this summer, hitting .304 in just over 100 at-bats. Scouts rave about his lateral range and quick first step, and he projects as an above-average or better defender. At the plate, he has a short downhill swing geared for sharp-but-shallow fly balls or hard ground balls up the middle.

Robinson teams up with Hyannis catcher Jake Rogers (Tulane) to form one of the better defensive units in the league. Rogers is an outstanding receiver, already framing pitches well and showing the ability to make any type of grab to either side of the plate, making it look easy as he scoops low pitches to his left. Rogers sets a very low target and pitchers are comfortable throwing the ball in the dirt when Rogers is behind the plate, knowing that he’s likely to catch the ball and that his solid-average arm will neutralize the running game. Offensively, Rogers has a short, inside-out stroke, but lacks elite bat speed. He can put a charge into a ball from time to time, but his defense will always be his bread and butter.

Vanderbilt Has Good Players

Jordan Sheffield (Vanderbilt) has made three starts for the Brewster Whitecaps, showing exceptional stuff each time out. He has been famous for quite a while, and was regarded as an early-round candidate out of high school before needing Tommy John surgery as a senior. On July 17, Sheffield showed outstanding stuff in a start at Orleans, though he is still learning how to best use his arsenal. His fastball sat 96-98 the entire night, at times dipping to 95. In the second inning, Bobby Dalbec saw a 98-mph heater out over the plate and shellacked it 400+ feet out to center field. Sheffield also showed outstanding promise with his curveball and changeup. His breaking ball worked in the low 80s with consistent above-average bite from either 11-to-5 or 12-to-6. At its best, it was a plus pitch, with late dive and the ability to compete for strikes in the zone. At its worst, Sheffield’s breaking had more fringy spin, and he used it as a chase pitch. Overall it was closer to plus than it was to minus, and projects to develop into an above-average pitch. Sheffield’s changeup was also very effective, working in the mid 80s with feel to both sides of the plate and deceptive arm speed. Sheffield throws from a higher three-quarters arm slot with elite arm speed. He has a moderate stride that he can repeat, and he stays well balanced as he delivers. His arm action begins with an abbreviated arm circle and slight wrap in the back, and its very smooth through release, though there is some recoil in the arm as he finishes. Sheffield will sometimes elevate his arm slot on his breaking ball, giving the pitch more of a downward shape, and his arm speed allows the pitch to maintain deception. Will Toffey, Jeren Kendall, and Ben Bowden are three others having strong showings this summer, in addition to the previously mentioned Bryan Reynolds and John Kilichowski.

Senzel Putting Things Together

Brewster third baseman Nick Senzel (Tennessee) is one of the most intriguing position players on the Cape this summer, thanks largely to his impressive hit tool. Senzel is one of the few hitters in this year’s draft class that can consistently line the ball to the opposite field in batting practice, whereas many often poke the ball with high trajectories to the opposite field. Senzel has a short swing with a slightly downhill bat path. He can sometimes chase the pitch up and in, and but when the ball is thrown in the strike zone, Senzel can get to it.

At present, the Volunteer drives his swing with his upper half, and there’s room for him to add even more power as he learns to create more separation in his swing, an impressive fact given that he already has the ability to drive the ball out to center field. Senzel is surehanded at third base and he has quick feet. On the basepaths, he posts average or better run times from home to first base, often in the 4.25 area. Senzel’s performance this summer has him among the top players in the class, though he does have a track record of performance, as he has hit over .300 in each of his first two seasons at Tennessee, he played in the 2012 East Coast Pro Showcase, and he played at the storied program at Farragut (Tenn.) High.

Northeast Yankees Strut Their Stuff

The Yankees Area Code team, which includes the top high school prospects in the Northeast region, took a brief tour in New England, playing one game on the Cape and another in New Hampshire as a brief tuneup before many of the players throw on Rangers uniforms and participate in the East Coast Pro Showcase (coming up on July 27). The squad took on Orleans in a seven-inning exhibition game on July 16. It is a banner year for the northeast, with high ceiling talent in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Projected No. 1 overall candidate Jason Groome (Barnegat (N.J.) High) got the start for the Yankees and showed his usual intriguing stuff, with his fastball touching 95 early and his breaking ball and changeup both showing promise. His curveball snapped off earlier and had less bite than it had at PG National or the Tournament of Stars, but the pitch was still effective and had deep 1-to-7 shape. After the game, Groome said that he didn't quite feel comfortable with how he repeated the back of his arm action on his curveball, but that he had confidence in his changeup. Groome also confirmed that he will return home to New Jersey for his senior season and attend Barnegat High. He spent his junior year at IMG Academy.

Many of the top position players on the squad are already well-known. Daniel Bakst (New York) continues to show bat speed and power, and Jimmy Titus (Connecticut) has a knack for low-trajectory backspin. Announcing their presence in the national amateur scouting community, however, were Brandon McIlwain (Pennsylvania) and Kobie Taylor (New Hampshire).

McIlwain made noise with a strong tryout for the team back in June and followed that up with a solid performance at PG National, where he showed a solid all-around package of tools. McIlwain is still raw baseball player, as he's focused more on football in recent years. He has a football scholarship waiting for him at South Carolina, but he's showing a very high ceiling on the diamond. Facing the lefty Kilichowski, the righthanded-hitting McIlwain punched an outside fastball into the gap in right-center field for a double, but he was thrown out attempting to go to third. At PG National, he hit a booming shot off the wall in left field and was also thrown out going for third. He's far from his ceiling as a baseball player, but his athleticism and upside are undeniable.

Taylor, meanwhile, took a very solid batting practice and showed solid in-game ability. One of the few uncommitted players on the roster, Taylor will likely be scooped up by a power conference school in the coming weeks. He has a short and smooth downhill stroke, and surprisingly good timing for a player of his age and cold weather roots. He has legitimate over-the-fence power to his pull side, a strong throwing arm, and showed good speed on the base paths. Taylor says he has ran the 60-yard dash in about 6.6 seconds, which is an above-average time.

In game action, Taylor went with an 86-mph fastball from Kilichowski and shot a fly ball to right center field for a base hit. He will be a very interesting player for scouts to follow at East Coast Pro and the Area Code Games. Taylor has a good idea of what he's doing mechanically, saying that he has worked hard to smooth out a hitch he previously had in his swing. He has a barn in his back yard and often spends his evenings hitting off a tee in the barn. Taylor did not receive significant interest from any Division 1 baseball programs until this summer. He says that Clemson, Wake Forest, and Bryant have shown interest in him this summer, and sources tell Baseball America that SEC schools are now recruiting Taylor as well.

Ten Others To Watch
There are so many interesting players with tools to be seen on the Cape. Here's a quick list of other players to watch out for going forward, in no particular order:
Sheldon Neuse, 3b/rhp, Harwich (Oklahoma)
Luke Persico, of, Chatham (UCLA)
Garrett Williams, lhp, Chatham (Oklahoma State)
Reid Humphreys, of, Bourne (Mississippi State)
Cameron Vieaux, lhp, Harwich (Michigan State)
Ricky Thomas, lhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Fresno State)
Blake Tiberi, 3b, Hyannis (Louisville)
Conor Costello, rhp, Falmouth (Oklahoma State)
Heath Quinn, of, Falmouth (Samford)
Michael Paez, ss, Cotuit (Coastal Carolina)

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