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Edited by John Manuel
Cape Cod performance catapults Beattie toward rare draft air for Division II player
Eric Beattie wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in the Cape Cod League.
The righthander headed up North as one of just a handful of Division II players in the league. Sure, he was fresh off leading D-II and tying a University of Tampa record with 15 wins and had faced solid Florida competition in high school and college, but the Cape boasted the best of the best.
“I thought there the guys were going to be bigger, stronger and hit better,” Beattie said. “Then I saw the other pitchers, and I knew I could compete with the other pitchers. I knew if they could get hitters out, I could get hitters out.”
That was an understatement. Beattie got nearly all of the hitters out that he faced; he went 4-0, 0.39 for Bourne, recording the second-lowest ERA in league history. His performance came in front of the usual throng of scouting personnel in the Cape, rocketing him up the prospect radar and likely into the first round of this June’s draft. “He elevated himself as much as anyone for the 2004 draft,” one scouting director said. Another mentioned Beattie first among the league’s pitching prospects, a class that included Rice stars Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend and Philip Humber as well as Vanderbilt’s Jeremy Sowers.
Beattie succeeded there by simply keeping the same game plan that made him the D-II pitcher of the year earlier in 2003, when he went 15-3, 2.55. He pounded his heavy, 87-92 mph, two-seam sinking fastball in on hitters’ hands, then went away with his greatly improved changeup before finishing them off with a curveball that has improved from a loopy, 68 mph offering in high school to a power hammer at 75-78.
Beattie delivers each of those pitches with impeccable control, compiling a 51-6 strikeout-walk ratio in the Cape after posting a 105-23 mark during his sophomore season. “He puts the ball where he wants to put the ball—with sink and velocity,” Tampa coach Joe Urso said.
Gaining velocity was the last step in Beattie’s evolution into first-round material. He pitched most of his career at Riverview High in Valrico, Fla., in the 83-86 mph range and was barely considered a draft prospect. However, the lack of juice on his fastball forced Beattie to learn the importance of setting hitters up by changing speeds and locations. Then he started hitting 90 and 91 during the final days of his prep career.
The scouts who earlier had written Beattie off doubled back to see him again, but he had already decided to keep his commitment to Tampa, a school just a 20-minute drive from his home with a baseball program that has won three D-II national championships in the last 11 years. The Devil Rays still selected Beattie in the 47th round in 2001 and tried to persuade him to attend junior college so they could chart his progress and sign him as a draft-and-follow.
“I knew I was going college. I wasn’t mentally ready. I had never been away from home,” said Beattie, who has commuted to Tampa during his three years there. “I wasn’t going to be ready in just one year so I didn’t want a junior college.”
The maturation process has treated Beattie well. He now pitches with an impressive feel and polish and has greatly improved his secondary pitches with the help of Tampa pitching coach Sam Militello, whose Tampa season wins record he tied last year. Beattie has also added 15 pounds to his slender 6-foot-3 frame and now weighs 190 pounds.
Beattie stands to become the sixth D-II player drafted in the first round since 1988, when Tampa’s Tino Martinez (Mariners) and Bill Bene of Cal State Los Angeles (Dodgers) were both drafted. The last D-II first-rounder was Diamondbacks righthander Jason Bulger in 2001 out of Valdosta (Ga.) State.
Beattie got off to a middling start, as 50 scouts watched him give up three runs and seven hits over five innings to get a win against Eckerd in his debut. In his second outing, he lost to Georgia College & State University, giving up three runs and four hits with five strikeouts in five innings.
“He’s made people aware that there are a lot of great Division II players,” Urso said. “His success (in the Cape) has also opened some doors for us to get more players there.”
Working For The Label
Earning the Division I label from the NCAA means a lot to some college athletic departments. They’ll jump through hoops to improve the level of competition and to get the national exposure that goes with being a D-I school—not to mention the money that flows from the D-I men’s basketball tournament.
Northern Colorado is the nation’s newest D-I baseball program, at least according to the NCAA’s most important measure—the RPI rankings. The Bears petitioned the NCAA to be counted in the RPI this year to help them put together a competitive schedule that wouldn’t break the bank, and their petition was granted. So Northern Colorado will play 39 games against D-I opponents in 2004, and their games will count in the RPI.
Two other schools—Dallas Baptist and Utah Valley State—also are making the transition. Dallas Baptist, following Northern Colorado’s lead, petitioned in January to have its games counted in the RPI for 2004, and the motion was approved. Utah Valley State, meanwhile, will count in 2005. Northern Colorado and Dallas Baptist will be eligible for the NCAA baseball tournament in 2008, while Utah Valley State won’t be eligible until 2010.
Dallas Baptist, making the move from Division II, began its second season as a transitional D-I program by splitting a two-game series with fellow Metroplex denizen Texas Christian. Baseball is the featured sport at Dallas Baptist, which hopes several factors will help it become a factor in the crowded Texas baseball landscape.
“We have an aggressive vision for the future,” Patriots coach Mike Bard said. “We’re going to have a full 11.7 (scholarships) allotment. We’re putting baseball out front as a flagship for the school; we don’t have football or basketball. We think there’s plenty of talent in the Metroplex to go around.”
Dallas Baptist had enough talent last year to go 36-26 against a D-II schedule while finishing first in the Heartland Conference, though it was ineligible for the league title as it was leaving D-II. Instead, Dallas Baptist played in the National Christian College Athletic Association’s tournament and won its national championship. The Patriots will play in the NCCAA postseason again this year.
“We have 38 guys on the roster, and it’s almost a completely new team from two years ago when we started the transition—there’s only three guys remaining overall,” Bard said. “It’s a Christian school; we’re going to recruit players with a spiritual basis in their life, and we’ve been able to do that while playing good, competitive baseball.”
Utah Valley State is actually making a bigger leap of faith than Dallas Baptist, as the entire school makes the transition from junior college to four-year school. As coach Steve Gardner put it, “We explored Division II, but it wouldn’t cost much more money to go D-I, so we just decided to jump in.”
The Wolverines hope to jump into a conference soon and could land in the Mid-Continent, which already includes nearby Southern Utah. Utah Valley State’s cause is helped by the fact it has a basketball program, but like Dallas Baptist, it has baseball at the forefront of the athletic department. The Orem-based school is spending more than $2 million to build 2,500-seat Parkway Crossing Stadium (named after a nearby student housing complex after its owners donated $1.7 million). The Wolverines will share the park with the Pioneer League’s Angels affiliate, currently based in Provo just to the south.
Gardner hopes the big ballpark, scheduled for groundbreaking in late February (weather permitting), puts the program in the big-time. The field’s planned dimensions read like a typo—449 feet to the wall in left-center field and 413 feet to right-center. The center-field wall will be 435 feet away, with the wall 325 feet to left and just 307 to right.
“Pitchers are going to like it,” Gardner said with a straight face. “I don’t know if I would as a hitter, but pitchers are going to love it.”
Gardner says he has some arms to take advantage of the spacious dimensions, starting with junior righthander Jason Ward, who also will take advantage of the school’s evolution into a four-year academic program. Ward spent his first two seasons at Utah Valley State and has been drafted three times, once out of high school and in both years of juco ball. He returns to front the rotation after going 9-2, 1.48 with 68 strikeouts in 60 innings last season.
Ward and the Wolverines will face a schedule with 22 Division I opponents, as well as NAIA champion Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State. And 53 D-I games are already on tap for 2005.
“We tried to get on the phone as much as possible to schedule teams, and we’ve had a lot of success,” Gardner said. “It’s amazing how many people already know.”
That’s the whole point of going D-I, so the move already has worked for the Wolverines.
Cal State Fullerton coach George Horton confirmed that outfielder Shawn Scobee was going to transfer to Cosumnes River (Calif.) Junior College after he was left off the travel roster for the Titans’ season-opening trip to Stanford. Scobee, a 2002 fifth-round pick of the Cubs, didn’t play much as a freshman and asked to transfer so he could get more playing time.
However, Scobee’s decision came too late—he had played in Fullerton’s alumni exhibition game and would not have been eligible to play in ’04 for anyone but the Titans. “He handled the whole situation as well as you can, so his coaches and teammates welcomed him back to the team,” Horton said. Scobee then helped Cal State Fullerton sweep visiting Nevada-Las Vegas in its next series. He went 3-for-7 in the series and hit his first home run in the second game. “We have a lot of talented outfielders, so no one is guaranteed any playing time. Who knows if he’ll be able to keep it up,” Horton said. “But we’re tickled he was able to come back and contribute.”
Preseason first-team All-America catcher Jeff Clement was expected to be limited to DH duty for Southern California after coming down with mononucleosis, after the Trojans returned from their trip to Cuba. Clement batted .298-21-53 as a freshman.
Baylor suspended sophomore righthander Mark McCormick, a preseason third-team All-American, indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Coach Steve Smith declined to elaborate on the reason for McCormick’s suspension. “He will continue to practice with the team,” Smith said in a statement, “but he will not compete until the suspension is lifted.” McCormick, considered one of the top prospects for the 2005 draft, went 6-2, 5.32 as a freshman last season with 66 strikeouts and 50 walks in 64 innings.
Notre Dame lost another top pitcher when righthander Jeff Manship was scheduled for Tommy John surgery. The freshman from San Antonio, who pitched for USA Baseball’s junior national team last summer, wasn’t able to pitch in the fall with elbow soreness, and rest didn’t heal the injury. He joins junior righthander John Axford, who tied for the team lead in victories last season, on the shelf with Tommy John surgery.
Florida Atlantic hoped to move junior Jeff Fiorentino from the outfield this year, and he worked primarily at catcher in the team’s fall drills. But a pulled quad muscle forced him back to the outfield for the team’s opener against Florida A&M. Freshman Justin Martin stepped in and may have Wally Pipped the Fiorentino experiment behind the plate, going 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in his debut. Fiorentino played outfield the whole weekend but could still go behind the plate as he returns to full strength.
Rice unveiled its national championship banner during its alumni game, and the Owls nearly suffered a setback in the contest. Junior righthander Josh Baker took a line drive off his foot while pitching but was not expected to miss any time with the injury.
California sophomore Adam Gold was off to a strong start, winning his first two starts as the Golden Bears opened to 4-2. The righthander capped a three-game sweep of Brigham Young by striking out 10 in five scoreless innings of a 7-4 victory. He followed that performance by beating ninth-ranked Long Beach State 3-1 to avoid a sweep. He struck out seven and allowed one earned run on five hits over 71/3 innings.
Stanford junior Mark Jecmen, one of the nation’s more enigmatic talents, showed why he vexes coaches and scouts in his first two starts. He beat Cal State Fullerton to cap a Cardinal sweep with five solid innings in a 3-1 victory, striking out three for his first college win. The next week, the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder didn’t get out of the first inning against Fresno State, giving up three hits, two walks and three runs without recording an out.
A pair of Armstrong Atlantic (Ga.) State righthanders generated early buzz among scouts by lighting up radar guns and opponents. Senior Jon Dobyns, an All-American in 2003, touched 94 mph and threw in the 90-92 range with a solid slider in his first two starts. Junior Marcus Barriger, a transfer from Kishwaukee (Ill.) Junior College, was putting up similar numbers on the radar gun while featuring a plus split-finger fastball. Combined, the duo was off to a 4-0, 0.00 start in four games, with 38 strikeouts and just seven walks in 26 innings.
Kansas (7-2) got its first no-hitter since 1980 as five Jayhawks combined to strike out 11 in an 8-0 win at Texas Southern. Lefthanders Scott Sharpe and Ryan Knippschild went three innings apiece while lefties Jacob Jean and Sean Land and righty Clint Schambach finished up with one inning apiece.