Playing for Team USA Or On The Cape Counts For A Lot
If history is any guide, several Top 10 Prospects from the Cape Cod League and the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team this summer will become first-round picks in 2018. Of the 128 college position players drafted in the first round this century, 107 played in the Cape or for Team USA the summer preceding their draft years. That’s 84 percent.
Sorting those first-round college position players into three tiers based on overall selection number, we find that slightly more top-20 overall picks suited up for Team USA, rather than playing in the Cape, as rising juniors.
Among this group of first-round college position players, only Team USA’s Dansby Swanson in 2015 went No. 1 overall. Team USA alums also were more likely to go No. 2 overall than their Cape counterparts. Their ranks include Rickie Weeks (2003), Alex Gordon (2005), Pedro Alvarez (2008), Kris Bryant (2013) and Alex Bregman (2015), compared with Dustin Ackley (2009) and Nick Senzel (2016) representing the Cape.
In fact, major league teams preferred Team USA players to Cape players by a margin of 13-5 when choosing a college position player with a top-four overall pick. Granted, many Team USA alums also are Cape alums, too, having played there as rising sophomores.
While position players from both summer-league sources were similarly popular as top-10 overall picks, just the mere fact that they showcased for scouts and other decision-makers on the Cape or with Team USA counted for a lot. Just two college position players in the past 18 drafts went top 10 overall without playing in the Cape or with Team USA the preceding summer: Hunter Dozier and Andrew Benintendi.
Dozier, a Stephen F. Austin shortstop, played in the Northwoods League in 2012, batting .257/.337/.380 in 59 games. The Royals drafted Dozier eighth overall in 2013 as a signability pick to free up money to sign supplemental first-round lefthander Sean Manaea . . . the Cape’s No. 1 prospect in 2012.
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Benintendi burst on the scene as a draft-eligible sophomore outfielder for Arkansas in 2015, when the Red Sox selected him seventh overall. He didn’t play summer ball after his freshman season in 2014 to focus on improving his strength and conditioning.
Dating back to the 2000 draft, Dozier and Benintendi are the only exceptions to the rule that the very best college position players secure their top-10 draft status on the Cape or with Team USA.
Making Sense Of Cape Stats
The Collegiate National Team plays a short exhibition schedule and doesn’t participate in a league format that makes statistical accounting easy. The Cape Cod League, on the other hand, provides complete statistics back through 2000 on its Web site. The league also plays about twice as many games as Team USA, boosting the size of the sample, and thus the reliability of the data.
The following analysis considers all college position players who: (1) were selected in the top three rounds of the draft from 2001 to 2017, and (2) batted at least 100 times on the Cape in the summer preceding their draft year.
Using a basic version of the index statistic adjusted OPS+, which compares players’ on-base and slugging percentages with the league averages, we learn that the following 10 players performed the best with a bat.
Batting success on the Cape clearly does not correlate with future pro success. Of the above group, only Matt Wieters and A.J. Pollock produced lengthy, productive big league careers. The Reds’ Nick Senzel, currently at Double-A Pensacola, is one of the top prospects in baseball and has a chance to join them.
Twenty-four players from this group have produced at least three wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com, in their careers.The best future big leaguers who fall outside the group, i.e. those drafted outside the top three rounds, are Kevin Youkilis, Michael Bourn, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Jason Bartlett.
On the flip side, the following 20 players drafted in the top three rounds performed the poorest with a bat in the Cape the preceding year, according to adjusted OPS+.
|13||Adam Brett Walker||1B||2011||142||82|
Not many players record an adjusted OPS+ lower than 90 (in 100 or more PAs) in the Cape and then go on to become top-three-rounds picks the following spring. In fact, the above is the entire list since 2000. What's more, not a single player on the list has broken through to be an impact player in the big leagues.
That could be bad news for prospect-eligibles who appear here, namely Harrison Bader of the Cardinals, Brian Anderson, now a third baseman in the Marlins system, and Stuart Fairchild, a Reds second-rounder from Wake Forest this year.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, two players who scuffled on the Cape in 100 PAs or more and have gone on to achieve in the big leagues: shortstop Brandon Crawford (77 OPS+ in 2007) and outfielder Brandon Guyer (63 OPS+ in 2006).