YARMOUTH, Mass.--When James Kaprielian entered in the eighth inning of the Cape Cod League all-star game throwing 92-94 mph heat, the mass of scouts behind home plate at Red Wilson Field instantly perked up. The buzz was palpable.
“We used to get excited about 98,” one scout lamented. “Now it’s 94.”
Kaprielian, a rising sophomore for UCLA who is stretching out as a starter for Yarmouth-Dennis this summer after working in middle relief during the spring, was the only pitcher to hit 94 mph in Saturday’s all-star game. Just three other pitchers--righties Dan Savas (Illinois State) and Matt Troupe (Arizona) plus lefty Kyle Freeland (Evansville)--reached 93.
Last year, two pitchers touched 95, four bumped 94 or better, and six threw 93 or better. In 2011, six pitchers reached 94 or better.
Velocity isn’t everything, of course, but the lack of premium arms on display Saturday was magnified by the final score--9-3 in favor of the East Division all-stars. Usually, power arms airing it out for one-inning stints dominate this premier showcase of college baseball talent, keeping scores low. Last year, for instance, the game ended in a 1-1 tie. The two teams haven’t scored more than five combined runs in any of the previous four all-star games.
“I think that the bats have been here all year,” said Y-D coach Scott Pickler. “I don’t know if it’s a lack of pitching--if guys aren’t sending their Friday and Saturday night guys here--or something else. There hasn’t been that guy up here. You’ve seen a few closers. The kid (Jeff) Hoffman for Hyannis, who wasn’t here tonight, he’s pretty special. But the (Tim) Lincecums, the Andrew Millers, I don’t know if those guys are here this year.”
A few of the Cape’s biggest arms--led by Hoffman (East Carolina), Kyle Funkhouser (Louisville), Chris Oliver (Arkansas) and Logan Jernigan (North Carolina State)--weren’t at the all-star game, either because their performance was lacking or because they just hadn’t registered enough innings. Scouts may have grumbled about the lack of premium velocity, but it’s hard to blame league coaches (who select the all-star teams) for rewarding the top performers. And it’s not like the game was filled with soft-tossers; 16 of the 18 pitchers who made one-inning appearances topped out at 91 or better. They just did not show special stuff, by and large. “I was very disappointed with the lack of arms,” said one national crosschecker, echoing the consensus.
Kaprielian and Freeland showed the best stuff of the lot. Kaprielian complemented his heater with his usual 82-84 mph power slider, helping him work a 1-2-3 frame. Freeland, a wiry 6-foot-4 lefty, worked at 90-93 and showed a very good slider at 79-83.
But the bats stole the show Saturday. If this Cape crop is lacking in marquee arms, it makes up for it with a nice supply of physical power hitters, several of whom showed well Saturday.
The MVP for the victorious East squad was Chatham’s J.D. Davis (Cal State Fullerton), who broke open a 5-2 game with a three-run homer to left-center in the sixth. Davis added a double and a run in the eighth to finish 2-for-2 with two runs and three RBIs. Earlier in the day, Davis clobbered seven home runs in the first round of the home run-hitting contest to tie Hyannis catcher Skyler Ewing (Rice). Ewing then mashed six more in the final round to win the event, while Davis went homerless in the final round.
“Me and Skyler really duked it out--it was good for him,” Davis said. “I played with him last summer in the Northwoods League, so I was glad for him.”
Davis said his NWL experience was a crucial turning point for him, as he erased the bitter taste of his poor freshman year (when he hit .229) with a strong summer. He hit .318 as a sophomore and boosted his OPS from .702 to .843, and he has carried that performance over to the summer, hitting .309 with two homers and 17 RBIs.
“I wanted to come out here and repeat what I’ve done all year,” Davis said. “I wanted to hit for average, because that was my biggest key--scouts would say, ‘He can’t hit for average, can’t play defense.’ So that was my goal, to come out here and hit for average, play solid ‘D.’ The power’s always going to be here, so I wasn’t too worried about trying to hit home runs out here.
“I really came through, I adapted, I grew up out here, found out who I was, what I’m capable of doing. So it’s humbling to be out here; there are 250-plus guys out here, and it’s just great to be one of the top guys.”
Y-D third baseman Alex Blandino (Stanford) has proven to be another top guy in the Cape, hitting .352 with 10 doubles. The East MVP in the all-star game last year, Blandino had a strong case to repeat, going 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI doubles. He ripped a go-ahead double to center in the third, then added another double off the left-center wall an inning later.
Blandino, who saw his Stanford OPS drop from .894 as a freshman to .793 as a sophomore, was better in the second half of the spring than he was in the first half, and he has really taken off this summer.
“I tried to just get back to basics, work the middle of the field, put a barrel on it and hope good things would happen,” Blandino said. “It’s worked so far.”
Pickler said Blandino has gotten much better since his all-star 2012 campaign for Y-D.
“His approach at the plate is way different--he’s not coming out of his shoes every time,” Pickler said. “He’s got a better approach at the plate, that’s the main thing. He’s stopped using his shoulders as much and started using his hands a lot better; he’s made a big adjustment with his hands.”
Two of the West’s premier sluggers, Falmouth right fielder Dylan Davis (Oregon State) and Falmouth first baseman Kevin Cron (Texas Christian), also performed well. Davis singled in each of his first two at-bats, while Cron drove in a run with a fielder’s choice in the first, then ripped a two-run double down the left-field line in the fourth. That earned him West MVP honors.
Factor in mashers like Ewing, Casey Gillaspie (Wichita State), Rhys Hoskins (Sacramento State), Trevor Mitsui (Washington), Derek Fisher (Virginia), Chris Marconcini (Duke) and Connor Joe (San Diego), and it makes for a nice collection of physically imposing hitters.
“These are big, physical guys,” Pickler said. “That’s the difference: there are some big, physical people in this game today. Maybe guys are learning to swing better because of the BBCOR (bats) too. I really believe that. You used to get a lot of guys that wanted to lift the ball. But I think it’s improved swings, I really do.
“Of course, anything can happen on one day--you never know. And they’re playing at (hitter-friendly) Y-D today. But it was a good day, and the wind was blowing out, so maybe the ball jumped a bit better than it usually does.”