CHICAGO–The Cape Cod League has a reputation as college baseball’s top summer circuit, and the 2006 draft reinforced that status. The first six choices had Cape experience, as did 12 first-rounders overall.
Eight of those draft picks were pitchers, no surprise for a league known for its quality arms. The Cape has produced 27 first-round pitchers and 10 more who went in the supplemental first round in the last five drafts.
Yet what stood out most for talent observers in the Cape this summer was an unusual lack of talent on the mound. Only Andrew Brackman projected as both a starting pitcher and a first-rounder, and he made just two starts and worked 17 innings before departing for Team USA.
“There are some good arms and you’d like to have them,” an American League scouting director said. “But there are very few high-end guys.”
The outlook is somewhat brighter for position players, a weak spot in the 2006 draft. Catcher Matt Wieters joins Brackman on the short list of candidates to go No. 1 overall in 2007. His former Stratford High (Goose Creek, S.C.) teammate, first baseman Justin Smoak, is an early favorite to be the top pick in 2008 and edged Brackman and Wieters for the top spot on our annual Cape Cod League Top 30 Prospects list.
“Smoak has a chance to be a very, very special hitter,” a National League scouting director said. “And if Wieters stays behind the plate, he’s a switch-hitting catcher with a little bit more raw power than Smoak.”
|1. Justin Smoak, 1b, Cotuit (South Carolina)|
|Smoak wanted a seven-figure bonus to turn pro out of high school in 2005, and teams already are regretting not giving it to him. The first freshman to win the Cape MVP award since Matt Murton five years ago, Smoak led the league in homers (11), extra-base hits (21) and slugging percentage (.565).
He’s still filling out his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame, so there should be more power to come, and as a bonus he’s a switch-hitter. He also stars on defense, with Cotuit’s Mike Roberts calling him the best college first baseman he has seen in three decades of coaching. Smoak excels at using his feet and has soft hands.
“When you look at what he can do from both sides of the plate at his age, it’s impressive,” Falmouth manager Jeff Trundy said. “He has great power and always seems to get good swings. He never gets cheated.”
|2. Andrew Brackman, rhp, Orleans (North Carolina State)|
| Though Brackman came to North Carolina State on a basketball scholarship, he’s expected to give up hoops to focus on baseball. He reminded Cape observers of Chris Young, the former Princeton basketball/baseball star who pitched for Chatham en route to the majors.
Brackman is bigger (7 feet, 245 pounds) and throws much harder than Young. In his last outing with Orleans, his fastball sat at 93-95 mph and touched 98-99. His splitter has a chance to be a plus pitch, and he flashes a tight slider. He also repeats his delivery very well for such a tall pitcher.
“Guys with that wingspan and length out front, that 99 looks like about 105 from his release point,” an NL crosschecker said. “He can just overpower you with that fastball alone.”
|3. Matt Wieters, c, Orleans (Georgia Tech)|
| Wieters won balloting among scouts for the Cape League’s official top-prospect award. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound switch-hitter, he finished second in the league in batting (.307), homers (eight) and on-base percentage (.417) while walking more than he struck out (23 BB, 20 K).
The lone question is whether he can remain behind the plate in the major leagues. Wieters has the arm strength–he has shown a 94-98 mph fastball as Georgia Tech’s closer, though he didn’t pitch for Orleans–but his size hampers his agility and receiving.
A second NL scouting director pointed out that he’s more advanced than Jeff Clement was as a sophomore, and Clement improved as a junior to become the No. 3 pick in the 2005 draft. Even if Wieters winds up at first base, he should make an impact.
“I thought he caught all right,” the AL scouting director said. “The big thing is that he’s such an advanced bat from both sides of the plate. The bat is so good and the plate discipline is great. He had the best approach I saw on the Cape, with Smoak very close.”
|4. Joshua Fields, rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Georgia)|
| While the Cape didn’t feature as many outstanding starting pitchers as usual, there was no shortage of relievers. Fields led the league with 13 saves and won a championship with Yarmouth-Dennis.
Bourne manager Harvey Shapiro said Fields reminded him of Tim Lincecum, the Giants’ 2006 first-round pick and the Cape’s most dominant pitcher a year ago. Like Lincecum, Fields is a small righthander (6 feet, 183 pounds) with a plus-plus fastball (95-98 mph) and a very hard breaking ball (an 86-87 mph slider, to which he added tilt this summer). He generates his velocity with a quick arm and athleticism.
“He and Brackman have the best arms in the league,” Yarmouth-Dennis manager Scott Pickler said. “He picked up a wicked slider up here, too, and kids do not like to hit off of him. He’s a no-doubt first-rounder.”
|5. Matt Mangini, 3b, Hyannis (North Carolina State/transferring to Oklahoma State)|
|The top prospect in the Northwoods League last summer, Mangini won the Cape batting title (.310) and also led all players in hits (48). He focuses on making line-drive contact and using the entire field, and he has shown the ability to make good adjustments.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Mangini has the size, strength and bat speed to produce more pop than his .394 slugging percentage might indicate. The consensus is that he’ll eventually have average to plus power.
Mangini still needs to smooth out some rough edges defensively but will be able to remain at the hot corner. One scouting director noted his commitment to becoming an all-around third baseman, as Mangini jumped rope every day to increase his agility.
|6. Brett Cecil, lhp, Orleans (Maryland)|
| Cecil nearly doubled Maryland’s previous save record with 13 this spring, and he blew away Cape hitters all summer. He held them to a .184 average while posting a 40-9 K-BB ratio in 29 innings.
There wasn’t a lefty in the league who could come close to matching Cecil’s stuff. He showed a 92-95 mph fastball and an 85-87 mph slider. Though some scouts quibbled with his long-arm delivery and some softness in his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame, he still could go in the first round next June.
|7. Eddie Kunz, rhp, Falmouth (Oregon State)|
|Part of Oregon State’s national championship team, Kunz has a better frame (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) and fastball (a 95-96 heater with nasty downward movement) than Fields or Cecil. They rank ahead of him for now because they have consistently plus sliders, while his is more of an average pitch.
“I had heard he threw 96 mph, but it’s not only hard but also has great sink,” Trundy said. “His fastball is so heavy, it just chews up wooden bats. He’s a groundball machine.”
|8. James Simmons, rhp, Cotuit (UC Riverside)|
| Simmons doesn’t have a true plus pitch in his fastball-curveball-cutter-changeup repertoire, but that didn’t stop him from carving up Cape hitters. He gets good late life on his fastball and had the best command in the league (44-5 K-BB ratio in 53 innings) because he repeats his delivery so easily. His biggest need is to improve his soft curve, which is primarily a show-me pitch.
“He’s the best pro pitching prospect up here,” Roberts said. “He’s not the hardest thrower, but he’s the most polished. He’s a strike thrower who can throw his fastball to both sides of the plate extremely well and with confidence. He changes speeds well.”
|9. Shooter Hunt, rhp, Falmouth (Virginia/transferring to Tulane)|
|The top freshman pitching prospect on the Cape, Hunt led the league in strikeouts (54 in 40 innings) and held opponents to a .147 average. He operates with two plus pitches, a low-90s fastball with explosive late life and a hard curveball. If he improves his control and changeup, he could be a first-round pick in 2008.
“That was the best curveball I saw all summer,” Brewster manager Bob Macaluso said. “When he throws it, forget it.”
|10. Charlie Furbush, lhp, Hyannis (St. Joseph’s, Maine/transferring to Louisiana State)|
|Coming from Division III St. Joseph’s (Maine), Furbush was one of the Cape’s biggest surprises in 2005. Though he’s still learning to pitch, it was evident this summer that he has made strides.
Furbush hit 93-94 mph in a short Cape all-star game stint and worked at 89-92 mph for most of the summer. He’s learning to pitch more off his fastball rather than relying so much on his curveball, which can be a plus pitch at times. He also showed an aptitude for a changeup, as well as more endurance and poise.
|11. Josh Donaldson, 3b/c, Harwich (Auburn)|
|Donaldson split time between third base and catcher as a sophomore at Auburn, and he did the same for Harwich. His pro future is behind the plate, where he shows quick feet and a strong arm that allowed him to erase 48 percent of basestealers, the second-best rate on the Cape. He still needs more experience and better receiving skills, but those should come with time.
Donaldson projects as an all-around catcher, as he has strong hands, plenty of power and uses the entire field well. He finished fifth in the batting race at .302 after hitting just .277 at Auburn during the spring.
“A lot of kids take some time to adjust to wood,” Harwich manager Steve Englert said. “But as soon as he got in here, he was squaring up balls. He showed he could handle these pitchers right away.”
|12. Josh Horton, ss, Harwich (North Carolina)|
|Horton looked tired after leading North Carolina to the final round of the College World Series, but he still flashed the talent that could get him drafted as high as the second round next June. His bat is his best tool, and he has gap power, average speed and good baserunning instincts to go with it. At 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds he’s bigger than most shortstops, but he showed enough range and arm strength to make plays from deep in the hole.|
|13. Mitch Canham, c, Falmouth (Oregon State)|
|While Horton wasn’t at his best, Canham played with a lot of energy after Oregon State defeated North Carolina for the national title. A 41st-round pick of the Cardinals as a draft-eligible sophomore, he’s an athletic, lefthanded-hitting catcher with decent power and arm strength. He only has been catching for two years, and his receiving needs to improve, but scouts think he’ll be able to stay behind the plate.|
|14. Tony Watson, lhp, Harwich (Nebraska)|
|Another draft-eligible sophomore, Watson turned down the Orioles when they offered him a six-figure bonus as a 17th-round pick. Though his velocity was down 2-3 mph from the spring, he still painted the corners at 87-90 mph and showed a solid changeup and improved slider. He knows how to pitch and there’s still some room for projection with his 6-foot-4, 210-pound build.|
|15. Matt LaPorta, 1b, Brewster (Florida)|
|A strained oblique muscle led to a disappointing junior season for LaPorta, who dropped from a projected early first-rounder to a 14th-rounder whom the Red Sox didn’t come close to signing. Fully healthy again on the Cape, he again displayed the power and patience that helped him lead NCAA Division I with 26 homers as a sophomore in 2005. His bat will have to carry him, as scouts knocked the effort he put into his first-base defense, which is adequate at best.|
|16. Reese Havens, ss, Cotuit (South Carolina)|
|Another standout South Carolina freshman on the Cotuit roster, Havens has very good pop for a shortstop and nearly as much as Smoak. He also has a pretty swing but is still a work in progress at the plate because he moves his feet too much and doesn’t make hard contact as consistently as he should. He may lack a step of range at shortstop, making plays in the hole a challenge at times, and some major league clubs would toy with the idea of converting him to catcher.|
|17. Dan Merklinger, lhp, Harwich (Seton Hall)|
|Merklinger got shelled for a 11.42 ERA in four appearances as a temp player with Falmouth in 2005. He was much better this time around, ranking fourth in ERA (1.21) by locating his 88-91 mph fastball down in the zone and mixing it up with a solid curveball. His long arms and the late life on his fastball make it seem quicker than it is.|
|18. Terry Doyle, rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Boston College)|
|Doyle had quite a summer, throwing one of the Cape’s two no-hitters (Furbush had the other), ranking second in wins (five) and strikeouts (52 in 47 innings), sharing the pitcher-of-the-year award with Brewster’s Shaun Siebert and winning the final game of the playoffs. Though he’s big at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Doyle succeeds more with location than velocity. He throws four pitches for strikes, with his changeup the best among them. He usually operates at 87-88 mph but dials up his fastball when he needs a strikeout.|
|19. Jeremy Bleich, lhp, Wareham (Stanford)|
|Wareham had the two best freshman lefthanders in the league in Bleich and Riley Boening (Texas). Bleich has solid velocity for a lefty at 88-92 mph, and he holds it throughout an entire game. He tightened his curveball this summer and also earned points for his mound presence.|
|20. Nolan Gallagher, rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Stanford)|
|Gallagher, a Montana product, still has work to do, but he could pitch himself into the first round if he takes a step forward next spring. He’s a projectable 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and throws strikes with his 88-91 mph fastball, cureveball and changeup. Scouts would like to see him challenge hitters more instead of trying to sit on the corners of the plate, and to pitch more off his fastball, which touched 93-94 mph when he used it more often in high school.|
|21. Conor Graham, rhp, Wareham (Miami, Ohio)|
|Miami (Ohio) produced a second-round reliever in Matt Long this year and could have another next year in Graham. He’s still raw as pitchers go, but scouts love his 6-foot-7, 235-pound frame and 94-96 mph fastball. He’ll have to improve the consistency of his hard slider and do a better job of pitching down in the zone.|
|22. Brad Suttle, 3b, Wareham (Texas)|
|Wareham finished second to Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape playoffs, and the Gatemen could make another run at a championship next year because they started five freshmen in their lineup and three more in their rotation. Their best freshman hitter was Suttle, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder with a short, pure swing who hit five of Wareham’s 12 homers. He struggled at second base at Texas and fits better at third base, where he shows arm strength but needs better reactions and foot speed.|
|23. Buster Posey, ss/rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Florida State)|
|Posey is similar to Horton in that he’s a bigger (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), offensive-minded shortstop. He had a good summer, batting .289 as a freshman, but he’ll have to get stronger and make further adjustments. He has nice hands and showed a 91-92 mph fastball on the mound, but his range and size could lead to a move to third base.|
|24. Tyler Henley, of, Yarmouth-Dennis (Rice)|
|A 50th-round pick of the Astros in June–he went that low because draft-eligible sophomores from Rice rarely are signable–Henley had one of the best all-around seasons on the Cape. He easily adjusted to wood and batted .286/.397/.552 with seven homers and six steals, and he was one of the top center-field defenders. He doesn’t have a classic pro body (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) or an overwhelming tool, but he’s solid in all phases of the game.|
|25. Warren McFadden, of, Falmouth (Tulane)|
|McFadden homered six times in his first 19 games, then went deep just twice in his final 24 contests when pitchers started feeding him a steady diet of offspeed pitches. He has quick hands and plenty of power, though there’s some length in his swing and he’s geared to hit mostly fastballs. He’s athletic but can be an adventure in right field, and one manager compared the whole package to Wily Mo Pena’s.|
|26. Brad Emaus, inf, Yarmouth-Dennis (Tulane)|
|Emaus’ season took the opposite path of his Tulane teammate McFadden’s. After collecting just one hit in his first 26 at-bats and hitting .091 at end of June, Emaus batted .311 with six homers the rest of the way after raising his hands in his stance. He has strength and good hitting instincts, plus he plays solid defense at second and third base.
“I’m a fan of Emaus,” the AL scouting director said. “He has limited upside because he has fringe tools across the board, but he’s a gamer and plays above the tools.”
|27. Vance Worley, rhp, Chatham (Long Beach State)|
|Worley had one of the best pure arms on the Cape, especially among the freshmen, but inconsistency prevented him from ranking higher on this list. When he was on, he attacked hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball and a quality slider. When he wasn’t, his fastball dipped into the 80s, his slider was hittable and his changeup (basically a batting-practice fastball) didn’t fool anyone.|
|28. Paul Koss, rhp, Chatham (Southern California)|
|Koss was eligible for the 2006 draft but didn’t draw a nibble because he struggled mightily as Southern California’s closer, going 0-8, 6.28 with six saves. He had no problems during the summer, not allowing a run in 14 innings while holding hitters to a .130 average. Koss dominated with a 91-93 mph fastball and one of the best sliders in the league, and Cape observers were surprised no major league team signed him as a free agent.|
|29. Cory Gearrin, rhp, Cotuit (Young Harris, Ga., JC/transferring to Mercer)|
| Another draft-eligible player who went untaken and unsigned, Gearrin arrived on the Cape as a temp player and found a permanent spot on the Cotuit roster. He gave hitters fits with his low three-quarters delivery, striking out 41 in 27 innings. His velocity (88-89 mph) and his quality slider are unusual for someone who throws from that slot.
“The first time we saw him, guys came back to the dugout and said he was unhittable,” Trundy said. “When he throws his breaking stuff, righthanders are done.”
|30. Ryan Flaherty, ss, Hyannis (Vanderbilt)|
|Flaherty hit a soft .250 as a freshman on the Cape, but scouts think he’ll blossom into more of a force once he fills out his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. He makes consistently hard contact, and he should hit homers once he gets stronger and learns to turn on pitches. He has surprising range for his size but as a pro he’ll almost certainly move from shortstop to third base, a position he cedes to superstar Pedro Alvarez at Vanderbilt.|