Orleans Enters Cape Cod League Season As Favorite

With the Super Regionals wrapping up and eight teams punching their tickets to Omaha, the college baseball season is quickly winding down. And while many summer leagues across the country are entering their second week of play, the Cape Cod League is gearing up for its Opening Day on Wednesday.

For most teams on the circuit, rosters will not be finalized until after the conclusion of the College World Series, but with temporary contracts and players who are finished with their seasons, the Cape’s Opening Day is one of the most anticipated events of the summer in New England.

The Orleans Firebirds enter the summer as one of the most interesting teams to follow, with a roster made up of some of the elite freshman and sophomore prospects in the country. Orleans’ roster boasts two of the most successful relief pitchers of the spring, though the Firebirds will have to wait until their College World Series trips end to bring them on board. North Carolina’s Trent Thornton led the Tar Heels’ bullpen in innings as a freshman this spring while posting a 10-1, 1.24 record through 80 innings. UCLA reliever David Berg went 7-0, 0.88 in 71 innings. It will be interesting to see whether Thornton or Berg make an appearance in the Cape this summer after shouldering such heavily loads during the spring.

In terms of pitching depth, Orleans should be in good shape with the duo of Matt Troupe (Arizona) and Philip Pfeifer (Vanderbilt) at the top of the depth chart. Troupe and Pfeifer logged 38 and 63 innings, respectively, and should be able to build on their successful springs, which saw the two combine for 10 wins. There also should be innings for Southern California freshman lefty Kyle Twomey, an unsigned 2012 third-round pick of the Athletics, and Duke lefty Trent Swart (4-4, 2.75).

Offensively, the Firebirds are also potent, with Vanderbilt’s Vince Conde and UCLA’s Kevin Kramer penciled into their lineup. Conde produced a slash line of .307/.380/.458 during his sophomore campaign, and should help Orleans from the start, with the Commodores dropping the first two games of its Super Regional against Louisville. Kramer, another member of the Omaha-bound Bruins, has paced the UCLA offense with a .279 batting average.

Around the league, the names to follow are abundant. Nick Burdi of the Chatham Anglers is one to keep an eye on, after the Louisville flamethrower hit 100 mph earlier this season. Chatham will have to wait until the conclusion of Louisville’s College World Series run to get Burdi off the mound, but if he does indeed make the trip, you can bet his appearances will be well attended.

Harwich has two intriguing 2014 draft prospect catchers in Virginia Tech’s Mark Zagunis (.341/.433/.543, 19 SB) and returning Mariner Brett Austin, who will be delayed by the College World Series. Since turning down the Padres after being drafted 54th overall in the 2010 draft, Austin has served at the Wolfpack’s primary catcher, and has been a key piece in the youth movement that has N.C. State in its first College World Series since 1968. Austin has hit .258 in 2013 with 36 RBIs and has started every game for the Wolfpack. Joining Austin in Harwich will be Kentucky’s two-way sophomore A.J. Reed, who was among Kentucky’s offensive leaders in 2013 with a .280/.378/.519 slash line and 13 home runs. Reed also started for the Wildcats, posting a 4.04 ERA through 82 innings on the mound. Harwich also features Virginia sophomores Derek Fisher, an outfielder, and shortstop Brandon Cogswell, who missed the postseason with a broken finger, and Notre Dame two-sport athlete Pat Connaughton, a 6-foot-5 righthander who also plays basketball.

Austin’s teammate Trea Turner will also make the trip to the Cape, joining Yarmouth-Dennis following the Wolfpack’s run in Omaha. Turner leads N.C. State in 2013 with a .378 batting average and will surely give Y-D one of the league’s best baserunning threats after leading the nation in 2012 with 57 steals in 61 attempts. When Turner arrives, he’ll join fellow ACC talents such as Florida State freshman D.J. Stewart and Virginia outfielder Brandon Downes (.316/.393/.569, 10 HR), as well as Florida catcher Taylor Gushue (.269/.349/.419).

Other familiar names include the longtime Wareham coaching staff with Cooper Farris managing and Ron Polk serving as an assistant. Mike Roberts returns as Cotuit’s manager.

The summer will undoubtedly produce its own unexpected storylines, as last year did, when the talk was the increased offense and lively balls in the league.

“The balls for 2013 are consistent with the balls for numerous years prior to 2012,” league commissioner Paul Galop told the Cape Cod Times. “Last year’s baseballs were within the guidelines of quality control, but at the high end, thus the increase in offensive production.”

The nation’s premier college prospects battle for the Arnold Mycock Championship Trophy with hopes of becoming one of more than 975 Cape League alumni to reach the majors. All 10 teams will be in action Wednesday to kick off the 44-game regular season schedule, which runs through Aug. 4 and is highlighted by the Cape League all-star game on July 27 at Y-D’s Red Wilson Field.

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