For the third straight year, a pitcher claimed Baseball America’s Summer Player of the Year honors. However, the previous winners, Andrew Miller and David Price, didn’t put together an offensive performance like Luke Greinke of the Valley League’s Winchester Royals did in 2007.
Greinke won league MVP honors by going 3-1, 2.66 with 48 strikeouts in 51 innings and leading the league in hitting (.417), on-base percentage (.517) and slugging percentage (.642). He also drove in 32 runs, good enough to rank among league leaders.
Originally, the Royals weren’t supposed to get Greinke, as Auburn head coach Tom Slater was planning on sending some different pitchers to Winchester. But because of a heavy workload during the spring season, one wasn’t available, so Winchester head coach John Lowery Jr. needed an extra arm.
“I asked coach Slater for another pitcher and he said, ‘I’ll send you Luke Greinke on June 29,’ ” Lowery said. “That was too late to send him, but he said, ‘Believe me, you’re going to need a pitcher on the 29th.”
Things worked out even better for Winchester, as Slater called again and said Greinke would be arriving two weeks early on June 15. He made his first outing on June 22, throwing five innings and allowing three runs for his only loss of the season. The next day he made his positional debut and went 1-for-4.
Greinke was very offense-minded, and when Lowery would pull him from the mound, Greinke would ask if he could hit.
“He was a kid that came to play every day,” Lowery said. “He was a kid that you just put in the lineup. He never asked where he was going to play. He never did really care.”
At Auburn, Greinke has both pitched and hit, and he mostly pitched for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League last summer (3.57 ERA in 23 innings pitched). He pitched less and hit more in 2007 for Auburn, batting .314/.400/.357 in 210 at-bats. While he was eligible to be drafted as a 21-year-old sophomore, Greinke was passed over completely in the draft.
“I went into the summer knowing I had to change something,” Greinke said. “I wanted to hit for power. I changed my swing around a little bit.”
After posting just nine extra-base hits in two seasons at Auburn, Greinke created more space between his body and bat this summer and started taking stronger cuts at the ball.
“He’s always hit for a good average here,” Slater added. “He made one little adjustment with his hands because he wanted to start driving the ball more.”
The move worked, as he slugged five homers (after hitting two with metal in two years at Auburn) and added 12 doubles this summer. He also moved into a starting role for the first time in college and shined on the mound, where he’s considered a better prospect.
Producing on both ends had been a challenge for Greinke until this summer. On July 16, he made his first dual start, on the mound and in the lineup. The Royals cruised to a 15-5 victory; Greinke chipped in with 6 2/3 innings on the mound and hit a home run. His two-way prowess was the key reason Winchester made the playoffs, as he was the team’s ERA leader on the mound.
Slater says Greinke’s versatility is his best asset. It’s the reason Slater liked him so much out of high school.
“He’s a tremendous college baseball player because he can do so many different things,” Slater said. “He’s just a baseball player. You can put this guy anywhere.”
Greinke has filled several roles over the years. He was a shortstop at Phillips High in Orlando, and was Auburn’s closer during his freshman year. After logging more than 50 innings in the Valley, he will have a chance to be a weekend starter in 2008 for the Tigers. He pitches off his 88-91 mph fastball and has a good slider that he uses as an out-pitch.
“For us to get the maximum out of Luke we need to get him in the starting rotation,” Slater said.
Greinke will have good competition to make the weekend rotation at Auburn, but he also has a good source of advice, with his brother, Zack, pitching for the Kansas City Royals.
“He helps me once in a while,” the younger Greinke said. “He came down and watched me a few times, actually, and he gives a few tips here and there.”
His older brother, like Price and Miller, was a first-round draft pick. Greinke just hopes his summer dominance puts him back on the draft map.
Team USA Ends Modest Season
USA Baseball’s college national team wrapped up its 37-game, 57-day schedule with a third-place finish at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands. Team USA wore down toward the end of the summer, as pitchers Lance Lynn, Brian Matusz and Jacob Thompson left the team prior to the trip to Rotterdam because of heavy workloads, and key offensive contributors Pedro Alvarez (arm) and Logan Forsythe (stress fracture in foot) were slowed by injuries at the end of the tournament. Consecutive losses to eventual champion Cuba and second-place Taiwan ended Team USA’s run short of the finals.
Eric Campbell, USA Baseball’s general manager of national teams, said the team’s schedule was the toughest it had faced since 2004. As a result, the Americans lost their annual Japan Series for the first time ever on U.S. soil, then finished with a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Brazil en route to a 25-12 record on the summer. It was the first time since 1999 that Team USA reached double digits in losses.
“We played a really good schedule, but it says that you’re not just going to show up with Team USA and go 28-2, that’s just not going to happen,” Campbell said, referencing the team’s record from 2006. “From my standpoint, I just wanted more. I’m not disappointed in them, I just wanted more from them on the field.”
Rosters for the Pan Am games had to be submitted by June 11, so the team was selected without the benefit of trials, as in most years. Campbell said not having the trials made it difficult to determine which players were fresh and which were worn out, plus it eliminated a crucial aspect of competition vital to the national team experience. He said if a similar early roster deadline causes future issues, the national team will institute a fall trial.
Heat Is On
The Havasu (Arizona) Heat took advantage of the Hays (Kan.) Larks’ depleted pitching staff to cruise to a 14-2 win in the finals of the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita. The Heat had topped the Larks (of the Jayhawk League) in a 12-inning classic six days earlier, forcing Hays to play five games in five days in a thrilling run through the loser’s bracket.
“It was a great experience,” Hays coach Frank Leo said. “When you see a team really get after it the way our guys did, it was fun to watch that team develop. To get into postseason play and being able to run on all cylinders was great.
“We ran a little short on pitching in the championship game. They had a very good hitting ballclub, an outstanding hitting ballclub.”
The Heat outscored their opponents 64-14 in the tournament, with catcher Cody Neer (Florida) leading the offense. Neer batted .400 with two homers and six RBIs in six games.
TCL In Turmoil
Just days after Preston Clark’s (Texas) suicide squeeze propelled Coppell to a thrilling 2-1 win against McKinney in the decisive third game of the Texas Collegiate League championship series, controversy gripped the league.
The (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram reported that seven of the league’s nine teams planned to drop out of the league, but the TCL responded by suing the teams to prevent them from leaving. TCL teams cited high membership fees as a major obstacle to balancing the books, and one franchise claims to have lost more than $50,000 a year since the league began, according to the paper.
The TCL, which has established itself as one of the most talent-rich summer college baseball leagues in the country since its inception in 2004, contends that the league is in no danger of folding.
“The Texas Collegiate League is continually focused on providing the best summer league experience for the top professional prospects from colleges throughout the country,” the TCL said in a statement. “In only four seasons, TCL has become one of the premier summer collegiate leagues in the nation, and TCL plans on continuing that prestige for 2008 and beyond. While TCL continues to pursue its legal remedies and damages against the withdrawing teams, TCL will move forward with league expansion and will do all it can to ensure that 2008 will be another great season for everyone involved.”
• Athletes In Action (the AIA Fire) won the Alaska League title for the first time, finishing 24-11 in league play and winning the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker with Mat-Su, which also finished 24-11. The Fire got a 7-4, 17-inning victory on the season’s last day that allowed them to tie the standings and win the title.
The third-place Kenai Peninsula Oilers represented the Alaska League in the NBC World Series as AIA Fire and Mat-Su declined to attend, citing the nearly $300,000 in travel expenses required.
“I’ve been (to the NBC) three times,” Fire general manager Chris Beck said. “It’s a fun tournament (but) I don’t think it is what it used to be.”
The Anchorage Bucs also participated in a postseason tournament, beating the host San Luis Obispo of the California Collegiate League in the first-ever WASABI (Western Association Summer Amateur Baseball Invitational) tournament.
• The Rockville Express beat Bethesda 4-3 in the finale of the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate League to win their first league championship.
• Ripken League member Youse’s Maryland Orioles won the AAABA Tournament in Johnstown, Pa., for the fifth straight year, with righthander Josh Squatrito (CC of Baltimore County-Catonsville) picking up the victory in the title game with a complete-game two-hitter.
• Dubois had the best record in the four-team Central Illinois Collegiate League at just 25-23, then won the league’s postseason tournament to sweep to an undisputed championship. Bombers outfielder Brandon Knox (Creighton) was the postseason MVP by going 5-for-7 and scoring four runs in the two games.
• Vienna (39-5) and Fairfax (33-11) were neck and neck all season, then faced off for the Clark Griffith League tournament championship, with Vienna scoring a 6-2 victory. The Senators scored five runs in the eighth inning with a bunt single, error, wild pitch, three walks and a balk.
• Thomasville won its second straight Coastal Plain League championship with a walk-off home run by Jorge Castillo (Louisville), beating Peninsula 4-3. Castillo was the tournament MVP as he added a grand slam in a semifinal game against Martinsville.
• Leesburg won the Florida Collegiate Summer League championship at Tropicana Field’”home of the Devil Rays’”with a 6-0 victory against Altamonte Springs, its 15th victory in their last 17 games. Five Leesburg pitchers combined on the shutout, striking out 16 in a combined four-hitter.
• Columbus swept to the 2007 Great Lakes League title, beating Southern Ohio 3-2 and Delaware 6-1 in the league playoffs. Righthander Adam Samson (Wooster, Ohio) pitched six shutout innings in the title game against the Cows.
• Beatrice posted the M.I.N.K. League’s top record (24-5), then beat host Clarinda 4-2 to win the NBC regional title. Both teams went to the NBC World Series representing the league and went 2-2.
• Like Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League (see page 44 for a complete Cape wrap) and Thomasville in the CPL, Vermont went back-to-back with its second straight New England Collegiate Baseball League title. With 3,432 fans in Montpelier on hand, the Mountaineers got a complete-game one-hitter from Mike Gaggioli (Georgetown), as the lefthander struck out 12 and took a no-hitter into the seventh. Gaggioli struck out 20 in two playoff victories.
• Elmira, which went 16-7 in the second half of the regular season, went undefeated in the NYCBL playoffs, beating Glens Falls 9-5 in the title game.
• Waynesboro entered the Lineweaver Cup tournament as the top seed, then rallied with three runs in the eighth inning to win 6-3 in the fourth game of the Valley League championship.
• Moses Lake followed up the West Coast Collegiate League’s best regular-season record (29-13) by beating Corvallis 3-2 to sweep the best-of-three championship series.
Contributing: John Manuel.