How The Orlando Scorpions Assembled 2020's Best College Summer Ball Team
The Orlando Scorpions’ lineup Thursday night in Deland, Fla., read like an all-star team.
Center fielder Jud Fabian (Florida), the Scorpions’ leadoff hitter, is projected to be a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. Right fielder Robby Martin (Florida State), hitting behind Fabian, is also a projected first-rounder. Left fielder Reese Albert (Florida State) and first baseman Jacob Teter (Florida Southern) could next year be drafted in the top five rounds. Shortstop Colby Halter (Florida) and third baseman Sterlin Thompson (Florida), were top-200 prospects in this year’s draft class as prep players. On the mound, righthanders Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich piggybacked—a slightly different configuration than the one they use in spring at Florida, where they are the Gators 1-2 punch atop the rotation.
The Scorpions cruised to a 5-0 victory against the Seminole County Snappers, with Mace and Leftwich combining for four scoreless innings and four strikeouts.
That lineup wasn’t a one-day show. The Scorpions are a fireworks show waiting to happen all season long in the Florida League.
“It’s been awesome,” Martin said. “It feels almost like an all-star team for a summer ball league.”
The Scorpions’ lineup can also at times feature the likes of third baseman Kirby McMullen (Florida) and catchers Jacob Southern (Indiana) and Riley Walsh (Pittsburgh), all experienced upperclassmen who are collegiate regulars. On the mound, Mace and Leftwich are the stars, but righthander Nick Pogue (Florida), is another big arm from the Gators’ staff spending his summer with the scorpions. From Central Florida, the Scorpions draw lefthander Colton Gordon, the Knights’ ace, and righthander David Litchfield, the Knights’ co-leader in appearances this spring. Righthander Jackson Nezuh (Florida State), another incoming freshman, was ranked on the 2020 BA 500. Righthander Chris Mauloni started the season on the roster before he signed with the Tigers.
It is an unprecedented summer ball season. USA Baseball didn’t field a Collegiate National Team and the Cape Cod League and many others canceled their season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many players chose not to play this summer and the ones that did are often staying more local to their hometown or college. As a result, premium players are spread out across the country, instead of being concentrated with Team USA and on the Cape.
In that environment, the Scorpions, coached by Bob Rikeman, were able to assemble the most talented summer ball team this year. Rikeman is the president of the Orlando Scorpions travel ball program, which has produced the likes of Austin Martin, Brendan Rodgers and Zac Veen. He’s also a coaching veteran, including a decade as the head coach of Division II Rollins (Fla.).
“The most amazing part to me is they’re extremely receptive (to coaching),” Rikeman said. “They’re the most talented I’ve had since 1988 with Orleans and Frank Thomas and J.T. Snow. That group was unbelievable, too. But I’ve never seen a group of kids that are humble like this and want to get better. It hasn’t been difficult talking to them about anything.”
As good as the Scorpions are, there are some other teams that have a claim of being the most talented summer ball roster. The Santa Barbara Foresters, which are playing an independent schedule after the California Collegiate League canceled its season, and the Tulsa Drillers, which this year were added to the Texas League, are the other leading contenders.
The Foresters’ roster is highlighted by shortstop Matt McLain (UCLA), a potential top-five pick next year, and outfielder Christian Franklin (Arkansas), another potential 2021 first-rounder, while first baseman/lefthander Spencer Jones has that potential in 2022. The Drillers look like a Cape Cod League team and for good reason—manager Tom Holliday was able to bring some of the players he was slated to have in Chatham to Tulsa instead. They boast lefthander Hunter Barco (Florida), an early favorite to go first overall in 2022, as well as other premium 2022 pitchers Bryce Osmond (Oklahoma State), Zach Maxwell (Georgia Tech) and Brandon Sproat (Florida).
But even when compared to those rosters, Orlando stands out. The Scorpions have impressive high-end talent and depth. It is also largely a roster of players eligible for the 2021 draft, in contrast to Tulsa.
The Scorpions’ roster came together quickly following the decision of the Cape and other leagues to cancel their season. A few people in the game reached out to Rikeman to see if he would be interested in coaching a Florida League team. He’d coached in the league before but wasn’t planning on doing so again this year. Once he decided to get back in the game, filling out a roster proved to be simple.
Fabian played for the Scorpions growing up and his family is close with Rikeman. He had been slated to go to Harwich on the Cape and probably would have also gotten a Team USA invite. But when the cancellations began, he called Rikeman to see about playing in Florida and soon had joined the team. As players like Fabian, Albert and Martin joined the team, it began to snowball, and more and more talented players wanted to be a part of the Scorpions.
“Me and Reese and Robby were a few of the first ones to jump on board,” Fabian said. “After that coach Rike kept telling me he had guys calling wanting to play on our team.”
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Despite the unique situation 2020 has presented college baseball, some things remain the same. Fabian and Martin, and the rest of the Scorpions, are using summer ball as a time to improve and showcase their skills ahead of the draft.
For Fabian, who has five-tool potential and could end up as a top-10 pick, that means trying to work on a bit of everything. He said he’s starting to feel more confident at the plate after homering in the third game of the summer and he’s already walked six times and stolen three bases in five games.
Rikeman said Fabian’s character stands out as much as his talent.
“His talent is extremely obvious,” Rikeman said. “When you see a kid on Day 2 of summer league make a diving catch, it’s his character more than anything. Guys make it in professional sports because of their character. He has that it factor.”
The scouting report on Martin has always been that he stands out for his hittability, but his speed and power lag behind. During the shutdown this spring, he concentrated on workouts that would improve his speed. He this summer wants to show the results of that work as well as an ability to consistently drive the ball.
Martin is off to a fast start at the plate, going 6-for-12 with two doubles and three stolen bases in five games.
“I’ve been working on things that play into my swing,” he said. “I’ve always been able to consistently hit. It’s a little different to consistently drive the ball. I’ve been looking at video of things I’ve done the last couple years, things I can tweak with our hitting coach and everything that they see. I’m working a lot individually on things that they see in my swing and things that can improve.”
With their wealth of talent, it might be easy to joke about the Scorpions never losing a game this summer. Rikeman said even he got carried away his first day with them and for the first time in his career forgot he was a coach and wound up just watching them play.
But the focus this summer for the Scorpions is on development and staying healthy.
“College baseball, college everything is a mess,” Rikeman said. “To sit there and say you want to win a championship with this group, that’s not even a thought in my mind. I’m here for them. I want them to get out of this whatever they want, and I want to help them achieve that.”
Martin said he’s mostly just happy to be playing baseball again. But to be doing it with such a talented team that has quickly come together as a group makes it all the more special, setting up what he hopes is a fun rest of the summer.
“I was ready to get after it with the guys no matter who it was going to be,” Martin said. “But it’s awesome now getting to know the guys on a personal level and see how they go about their buisness every day.
“Hopefully, it’s not a quick summer. Hopefully, we can get all our games in.”