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Wareham, Rice dominate Cape Top 30 list

By Jim Callis
August 15, 2003

Yarmouth-Dennis first baseman Wes Whisler was the best prospect in the Cape Cod League last year, joining Mark Teixeira as the only freshmen to attain that status since Baseball America began ranking talent in the nation's top summer amateur circuit in 1990. Managers and scouts alike marveled at the power packed in Whisler's 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame.

This year, Cape observers again shook their heads in amazement while watching Whisler. This time, they were wondering what happened to his stroke. Whisler hit just .162 with one homer in 32 games, and pro teams now consider him more of a prospect as a lefthanded pitcher.

Whisler wasn't the only disappointment. Two-time defending champion Wareham assembled perhaps the most talented pitching staff in league history--four of its members made our Cape Top 10--and had the best position-player prospect as well. But if rain hadn't wiped out a game the Gatemen were losing on the final day of the season, they would have tied for the league's worst record.

One constant, however, was the success of Rice righthanders Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend and Philip Humber. After pitching the Owls to the College World Series championship, they weren't in peak form but continued to establish themselves as prime draft picks for 2004. Humber didn't fare as well as Niemann and Townsend, the league's top two talents, but didn't hurt his stock.

"I've ranked Niemann, Townsend and Humber in every possible order the last two years," an American League scouting director said. "They could all go in the top five picks next year."

1. Jeff Niemann, rhp, Harwich (Rice)

2-0 0 0.00 4 19.1 17 2 0 8 19
After tying an NCAA record by going 17-0 for the Owls, Niemann didn't allow an earned run in 19 innings for Harwich despite shelving his nasty slider. Niemann wanted to take a break from the pitch, so he went after hitters with a 91-95 mph fastball and improved curveball. The downhill angle he generates with his 6-foot-9 frame makes it difficult to lift his pitches.

2. Wade Townsend, rhp, Wareham (Rice)

1-3 1 1.82 5 29.2 21 8 6 9 39
Scouts tabbed Townsend as the Cape's best prospect in the league's own survey. He has the most consistent velocity of the Rice stars, usually working at 90-94 mph and reaching 97. Though he focused on improving his knuckle-curve and changeup this summer, hitters rarely got good swings. If there's a concern about Townsend, it's that he was immature and easily rattled with the Gatemen.

3. Andy LaRoche, ss/1b, Wareham (Grayson County CC)

26 92 15 30 4 0 6 18 .326 .364 .565
Despite missing half the summer after breaking a bone in his left leg in a collision at first base, LaRoche opened more eyes than any position player on the Cape. He has a lot going for him: hitting ability (.326 average), power (tied for third in the league with six homers), arm strength, instincts, even bloodlines (father Dave was a two-time all-star, brother Adam played in the 2003 Futures Game as a Braves first baseman). His range is fringy at shortstop, but he makes the routine plays and easily could handle second or third base if needed. After drafting LaRoche in the 39th round in June, the Dodgers signed him for supplemental first-round money once the season ended. He would have attended Rice had he not turned pro.

4. Jeremy Sowers, lhp, Wareham (Vanderbilt)

4-3 0 1.20 9 67.1 47 17 9 17 64
A Reds first-round pick out of high school, Sowers ranks as the Cape's top southpaw prospect for the second straight year. He's just 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, usually pitches in the high 80s and tops out at 91--but he's all pitcher. He can spot his fastball, curveball and changeup wherever he wants and has exceptional feel for pitching. His pickoff move also is deadly. "He can pitch without his best stuff," a National League East crosschecker said. "He can exploit a hitter's weaknesses better than anyone on the Cape. You know day in and day out what you're getting with him. He can throw three pitches for strikes, any time."

5. John Mayberry Jr., of/1b, Yarmouth-Dennis (Stanford)

24 73 6 27 5 1 0 10 .370 .439 .466
Another high school first-rounder (Mariners, 2002), Mayberry lost his starting job this spring as a Stanford freshman yet hit .370 on the Cape with a line-drive swing. The son of the former Royals all-star is an athletic 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, and should get better with more playing time. "Every time that kid is at the plate, you shudder," Falmouth manager Jeff Trundy said. "He hits balls so doggone hard."

6. Mark McCormick, rhp, Wareham (Baylor)

2-1 2 2.12 7 34.0 20 9 8 18 41
Of all the talented arms he had at his disposal, Gatemen manager Cooper Farris said McCormick was the best prospect. He's a classic power pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and a hard (though inconsistent) curveball. Not as polished as the pitchers ahead of him on this list, he needs better command and mound presence.

7. Philip Humber, rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Rice)

1-4 0 5.28 6 30.2 27 19 18 14 35
After winning the deciding game of the CWS, Humber went 1-4, 5.28 for Y-D. He used more of a drop-and-drive delivery and a lower arm angle than usual, but got straightened out in time to showcase a low-90s fastball, one of the better curves in the league and a strong changeup in his final start.

8. David Purcey, lhp, Orleans (Oklahoma)

4-1 0 1.88 9 52.2 27 14 11 28 60
Purcey had the best physical package among Cape southpaws, with a 91-95 fastball, 80-83 mph slider and a 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame. His command is still an issue but was better than he showed as a draft-eligible sophomore this spring. The Yankees drafted him in the 17th round and can sign him until he returns to class. "I know he's inconsistent," a NL Central crosschecker said, "but the stuff coming out of his hand was electric."

9. Chris Lambert, rhp, Chatham (Boston College)

3-3 0 2.12 9 51.0 23 18 12 23 56
A high school shortstop, Lambert has pitched for just two years. Though his 93-97 mph fastball was his lone reliable pitch, he limited hitters to a .136 average. His power curveball buckles knees when he throws it for strikes, which is only sporadically. If his command and secondary pitches don't improve, he'll project as a late-inning reliever.

10. Jason Neighborgall, rhp, Wareham (Georgia Tech)

0-5 0 3.81 12 28.1 15 17 12 29 37
Neighborgall had the best pure stuff of any Cape pitcher, with a fastball that sat at 95-97 mph and reached 102, plus a curveball that can freeze hitters. He once fanned league home run leader Joey Metropoulos on three pitches-and Metropoulos' bat never left his shoulder. But Neighborgall's delivery and command are all suspect, which is why he went 0-5, 3.81 and walked more than a batter per inning. "He has as good an arm as there is in the United States," a National League scouting director said. "It's just electric stuff and he's still not filled out physically. There's more to him."

11. Eric Beattie, rhp, Bourne (Tampa)

4-0 0 0.39 7 46.1 23 4 2 6 51
Though Beattie led NCAA Division II with 15 victories during the spring, he wasn't well-known outside the scouting community. That changed after he was named Cape pitcher of the year and posted a 0.39 ERA, the second-lowest in league history. For an encore, he pitched eight shutout innings against Hyannis in the playoffs, allowing just two balls hit out of the infield while fanning 12. Beattie has a lot of heavy life on his 90-92 mph two-seamer, generating more downhill plane than would be expected from a 6-foot-3 frame. His curveball and command ranked among the Cape's best, and his changeup was an effective third pitch. His velocity improved from 86-88 earlier in the summer, and there's room for projection with his 175-pound build. "He elevated himself as much as anyone for the 2004 draft," the AL scouting director said.

12. Jonathan Zeringue, of, Orleans (Louisiana State)

32 127 21 36 8 1 3 22 .283 .328 .433
Zeringue has a good chance to be the first Cape position player drafted in 2004. A White Sox third-round pick as a high school catcher, Zeringue was always an offensive standout and now plays the outfield. He needs to shorten his swing and tighten his strike zone, but he's loaded with power and has fewer holes than the league's other sluggers. His arm strength gives him a chance to play right field.

13. Justin Maxwell, of, Bourne (Maryland)

43 153 18 47 5 1 2 17 .307 .392 .392
Maxwell didn't have a Cape gig lined up after the college season, and Bourne signed him out of a tryout camp. Six-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he quickly established himself as the best athlete in the league, drawing physical comparisons to Dave Winfield. He's a center fielder with solid or better tools across the board, though he'll need to get stronger and pull more pitches to realize his power potential. Maxwell also has outstanding makeup, as he's a top student and won the Cape's 10th player award.

14. Garrett Mock, rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Houston)

2-3 0 4.17 7 36.2 26 20 17 17 48
Houston lost two first-round pitchers (Ryan Wagner, Brad Sullivan) to the pros but has another ace in the making in Mock. His command was spotty at times, but he was lights out in front of a bevy of scouts at the Cape all-star game. He has size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and two plus pitches (91-93 mph sinker, power curveball) in his favor.

15. Kyle Schmidt, rhp, Bourne (Georgia Tech)

2-2 0 0.55 8 49.0 28 7 3 18 63
If there's such a thing as a crafty righthander, Schmidt is it. He's not spectacular at 6-foot-2 or with an 88-90 mph fastball, but he thrives with an above-average curveball and the ability to locate his pitches down in the strike zone. He's transferring from Georgia Tech to South Florida.

16. Zach Jackson, lhp, Hyannis (Louisville)

6-0 0 1.88 8 52.2 42 11 11 10 48
Jackson is a bigger (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), less accomplished version of Sowers. He has an uncanny ability to pitch inside with an 87-90 mph fastball, thanks to its 6-8 inches of armside run. He keeps hitters off balance with a plus changeup, though his curveball is inconsistent and easy to read because he slows down his arm action. Another transfer, Jackson's destination for his junior season hasn't been finalized.

17. Garry Bakker, rhp, Cotuit (North Carolina)

2-0 0 1.76 9 51.0 36 12 10 21 48
Bakker saved his best for last, fanning 14 in 7 1/3 innings (including 11 of his first 12 outs) against Hyannis in his final outing. His bread-and-butter slider was 82-83 mph, while his fastball was harder than usual, sitting at 90-91 mph. He's not tall, but scouts like his sturdy 6-foot-2 frame. "That slider kept disappearing at the plate," Hyannis manager Keith Stohr said. "We looked foolish. Guys were just waving at the ball."

18. Jeremy Slayden, of, Falmouth (Georgia Tech)

34 121 14 28 4 1 5 13 .231 .314 .405
Slayden never has been completely healthy on the Cape, battling hamstring problems in 2002 and an infected foot this summer. He wasn't at his best, but scouts liked his stroke enough to project him as a first- or second-round pick next year. He has power, works counts and uses the whole field. "He scares me when he swings the bat," Cotuit manager Garrett Quinn said. "It's a good swing, and you don't dare throw him a curveball because he'll crush it. He hits the curve as well as anyone in the league."

19. Matt Macri, 3b, Brewster (Notre Dame)

36 122 23 21 4 1 7 16 .172 .348 .393
Scouts liked Macri more as a pitcher coming out of high school, when he would have been a first-round pick had he been signable. After having Tommy John surgery as a Notre Dame freshman, Macri is now destined to be a hitter. He had an all-or-nothing summer, leading the Cape in walks (30) and finishing second in homers (seven) while batting .172 and fanning 40 times in 122 at-bats. Macri has plenty of bat speed and power, but he needs to tone down his uppercut and propensity for pulling pitches. He looked better at third base for Brewster than he did at shortstop for Notre Dame, and has the arm and the power for the hot corner.

20. Luke Hochevar, rhp, Cotuit (Tennessee)

1-1 6 1.10 11 16.1 16 6 2 3 21
Quinn called Hochevar the most polished freshman he had seen since he had Kyle Sleeth two years ago. Like Sleeth, the third overall pick in the 2003 draft, Hochevar is a Colorado native and potential first-rounder. He throws downhill at 6-foot-4 and has a deceptive arm action that makes it that much more difficult to hit his low-90s fastball, plus slider and good changeup.

21. C.J. Smith, 1b, Cotuit (Florida)

10 142 18 36 10 2 5 20 .254 .308 .458
Smith could be the first college first baseman drafted in 2004 if he doesn't sign as a sophomore-eligible sixth-rounder with the Pirates. He initially struggled with wood before his bat speed picked up, and he was as dangerous as any Cape hitter in the last two weeks. Smith tied for the Cape lead with 17 extra-base hits. A decent athlete, he might be able to move to an outfield corner.

22. Jeff Frazier, of, Chatham (Rutgers)

44 180 15 45 11 1 2 22 .250 .277 .356
Frazier was Maxwell's closest rival for the best package of tools on the Cape. Frazier has a quick bat and is very projectable at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. But scouts aren't as sold on Frazier's swing or approach, as he lacks balance and discipline. His brother Todd, a high school outfielder and the hero of Tom's River, N.J.'s run to the Little League World Series title in 1998, has a chance to be a solid 2004 draft pick as well.

23. Billy Mohl, rhp, Falmouth (Tulane)

3-2 0 1.62 6 39.0 21 9 7 4 35
Mohl is yet another righthander who thrived without lighting up radar guns. One of the youngest players in the league, hitters couldn't touch his 86-89 mph sinker or slider because he changed speeds and locations at will. He's projectable at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, though the AL scouting director wondered whether his arm action would allow him to eat up innings as a starter. "The big thing to me is his mound presence," Trundy said. "He doesn't get rattled. He's a freshman, and you never know what you're getting with a freshman, but nothing bothered him."

24. Joey Metropoulos, 1b, Falmouth (Southern California)

42 148 25 36 4 0 11 21 .243 .356 .493
At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Metropoulos was the strongest player on the Cape and topped all hitters with 11 homers and a .493 slugging percentage. "When he slams the ball, he slams the ball," the NL Central crosschecker said. He's not particularly athletic, but his power is hard to come by and he's willing to take a walk.

25. Mark Sauls, rhp, Hyannis (Florida State)

1-2 0 2.38 13 45.1 29 14 12 25 49
A Twins third-round pick out of high school in 2002, Sauls has improved over the last year and could become a first-rounder in 2005. While he's not very projectable at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he has improved his arm action and cleaned up his delivery. All three of his pitches (90-93 mph fastball, hard slider, changeup) dart to one side of the plate or the other. Sauls needed just 95 pitches to blank Bourne on two hits in Hyannis' playoff opener.

26. Brad McCann, 3b, Harwich (Clemson)

33 127 17 36 10 1 2 16 .283 .328 .425
There was debate as to who projected better at third base, McCann or Falmouth shortstop Darryl Lawhorn (East Carolina). McCann outhit Lawhorn by 79 points and is proven defensively at the hot corner. He makes better adjustments and uses the whole field better than Macri or Lawhorn.

27. J.C. Holt, of, Brewster (Louisiana State)

33 134 25 52 6 1 1 9 .388 .423 .470
Though it's hard to get scouts interested in a sub-6-foot outfielder, it's also difficult to dismiss the 5-foot-9 Holt after he won the Cape MVP award and batting title (.388, the highest average since Mark Smith hit .408 in 1990). Holt projects to have a better pro future than 5-foot-10 Sam Fuld (Hyannis/Stanford) or 5-foot-11 Trevor Crowe (Yarmouth-Dennis/Arizona) because he has plus speed. He needs to draw more walks to make better use of it, and some scouts think he'd be helped if he moved back to second base, where he played as a freshman at Louisiana State.

28. Cesar Nicolas, 1b, Orleans (Vanderbilt)

42 152 20 37 11 1 5 28 .243 .365 .428
Undrafted after a disappointing junior season, Nicolas became one of four Vanderbilt players to make the Cape's postseason all-star team, joining Sowers, Wareham third baseman Warner Jones and Chatham shortstop Ryan Klosterman. Nicolas still showed holes in his swing and flailed at curveballs, but his power was undeniable-especially when he dominated the home run derby at the all-star game. He topped the Cape in RBIs (28), tied for the lead in doubles (11) and extra-base hits (17) and was named playoff MVP after Orleans swept four games to win the championship.

29. Bill Bray, lhp, Orleans (William & Mary)

2-1 4 1.44 18 25.0 22 6 4 2 29
Chris Ray parlayed a strong Cape performance in 2002 into getting drafted 74th overall in 2003, making him the highest pick in William & Mary history. That gives Bray something to shoot for. He doesn't throw as hard as Ray, but he got his solid average fastball in on hitters and touched 94 mph. His velocity pales in comparison to his late-breaking slider and pinpoint control.

30. Justin Meier, rhp, Yarmouth-Dennis (Louisiana State)

1-1 6 1.19 14 22.2 13 3 3 4 42
Meier's 42-4 strikeout-walk ratio is all the more eye-popping considering that he was a freshman and pitched just 23 innings. He gets great run on his low-90s fastball, backs it up with a plus slider and has learned to use his changeup. At 6 feet and 210 pounds he doesn't figure to add more velocity, but he doesn't need to.

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