The 2020 draft season officially kicked off last Monday when Cape Cod League play began. Early in the Cape season is fun and frustrating for those of us looking to catch as much of the draft talent over the course of the summer. On one hand several top names are already here. On the other players you expected to report get invites to team USA, while others find themselves in Omaha chasing the dream of a National Championship with their teammates. Often temporary players fill the rosters, some are pleasant surprises while others are there for a quick run of a few games.
That said, there’s no baseball in the world I enjoy more than the Cape Cod League. The parks are bare bones, and often remote, but the energy in each game — as players look to push their already heady status while others look to get themselves on the radar — is tough to replicate. Once the College World Series ends, more players matriculate to the Cape, peaking in early to mid-July. There is one early June wrinkle that makes up for it, for a few weeks you often get a handful of Team USA players whose teams crashed out of the Regionals or Super Regionals. Players like Andrew Vaughn, Spencer Torkelson, and Bryson Stott were examples in 2018. Cole Wilcox and Logan Allen seem to be this year’s beacons. I missed Logan Allen by a day this week, but I have made it my mission to get to Orleans for Wilcox’s start this week, possibly his last with the Firebirds. As luck would have it, while writing this verbose introduction, I was informed Spencer Torkelson has been activated by Chatham. I will catch Tork this week, don’t sweat it. Enough with the future, let’s take a look at what was doing in my Cape Cod Baseball League looks over the last week.
Jack Conlon, RHP Chatham Anglers - San Jacinto (2020 Draft)
The San Jacinto right-hander has a unique backstory as a fourth-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles back in 2017. Conlon wasn’t offered a contract after the O’s saw something troubling on his medical report. This was the first time since 2010, a prep player was declared a free agent post-draft. The negotiations with other clubs heated up, with the San Francisco Giants offering him a deal, but much like his Orioles negations the contract fell through.
With the dreams of going pro out of high school dashed, Conlon headed to Texas A&M. Things did not go as planned during his freshman year at College Station and the tall righty headed to notorious JUCO pitching factory San Jacinto. Conlon’s 2019 season was a rough one (6.87 ERA in 18.1 IP). He returned to Chatham this year, and I caught his first 2019 turn on the circuit.
The first thing that sticks out to you about Conlon is his tall, long and lean pitchers build. Despite his size he doesn’t have great extension and utilizes a tall and fall delivery. His mechanics are easy with few moving parts, as he delivers the ball from a high three-quarters arm slot. It’s borderline over the top at times, but he shows very good arm speed. His fastball gets good downward plane, and he looks to drive weak groundball contact. The fastball sits in the low 90s, with very little effort at the point of release.
The issue with Conlon’s fastball is it’s relatively straight, showing average major league spin rates on the Trackman data and it was consistently barreled. His secondaries consist of a curveball in the mid-70s, and a low-mid-80s changeup. Each shows nice gloveside run as his curveball gets sweepy, almost slurvy at times, and his changeup showed some fade and tumble. Conlon’s command and control could use some fine-tuning as he consistently missed gloveside with his fastball.
Evan Justice, LHP Cotuit Kettleers - NC State (2020 Draft)
As funky a lefty delivery as you’ll see, Justice short strides, but manages to get good back leg drive from a near jump at one point. His arm slot is low three-quarters and he uses it to create deception. His arm action is longer, but he puts it to good use hiding the ball well before he begins his motion toward the plate. He features a deep pitch arsenal showing a fastball in the 88-91 range, touching 93 a handful of times, a changeup in the low 80s, and two breaking balls with a curveball 75-78, and a slider at 80-81.
The fastball and slider tunnel well together both showing vicious armside run, while the curveball is a classic 12-6 bender. His changeup showed some fade and tumble mostly working with the curveball and changeup off the plate to right-handed hitters. His fastball command could still use some improvement, but he showed the ability to work effectively with it high and low in the zone. Overall, Justice fits a back-end starters profile, with his deception and deep pitch mix being his carrying strengths. Linked here is come video from his pen a few days later.
Austin Vernon, RHP Chatham Anglers - North Carolina Central (2020 Draft)
Coming into the Cape season, I targeted Vernon as one of my potential sleepers on the Chatham roster. A massive house of a man at 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, Vernon is an imposing figure with a big fastball to match.
There’s a ton of effort through his mechanics, as they start with an easy leg lift before giving way to a violent motion toward home plate, with a bit of a head knock at the point of release. He extends well and shows some sneaky athleticism for a big man. Vernon came out pumping 95 through his first few at bats, but once he was tasked with pitching from the stretch his velo dipped to 92-93. The fastball showed above average spin rates topping 2400+ a few times. He pairs his above-average heater with a slurvy curveball that showed nice depth and some tilt. Likely a pen arm long term, but with Vernon’s long frame, nasty mound presence, and some Bartolo jiggle in his belly, he’s hard not to love.
Jospeh Nahas, RHP Cotuit Kettleers - Georgia Southern (2020 Draft)
Another Cotuit arm with a short stride and a deep arsenal of pitches, Nahas was one of the strongest performers over the first week of Cape Cod League play. He went twice over the course of the week, two turns of three innings each, only allowing four baserunners to reach (2 hits and 2 walks), while striking out nine across his two outings.
Nahas comes over the top working consistently low in the zone and throwing strikes. HIs fastball is relatively straight but deceptive spin helps him work high in the zone, and good downhill plane for a sub 6-foot-2 arm allows him to change eye levels and keep hitters off balance. His curveball is a 12-6 bender, he buries effectively under the hands of right-handers, while his slider and changeup were at their best off the plate, or inside to lefties. He snapped a few curveballs with high spins rates, making him an uncomfortable, but unassuming at bat for hitters. Nahas has the kind of stuff that the naked eye may take for granted.
Haydn King, LHP Chatham Anglers - UNLV (2020 Draft)
A stout left-hander that delivers from an easy motion with a little hitch in his plant leg before release. He mixes four pitches, but leads with his fastball (88-90 T91) and curveball (75-78). He mixed in a slider and changeup, each of which sat in a similar velocity band. His three quarters arm slot allows him to add cut to his fastball, which makes it an effective pairing with his slider, and keeps righthand hitters off balance when using his curveball. Looked good in my first take as King went three clean innings while striking out three and facing the minimum. Second time out he struggled with his control and command and got beat up by Wareham.
Kyle Nicolas, RHP Cotuit Kettleers - Ball State (2020 Draft)
The numbers won’t back up this claim, but Nicolas is the most electric arm I’ve caught down the Cape in week one. His mechanics are pretty clean with some violence at his release, but it’s hardly problematic. Pitching from the stretch, Nicolas delivers the ball from an over the top arm slot, using his strong lower half to get great drive with his back leg. As for the pitch mix, Nicolas worked mostly off his plus fastball which sat 94-95 touching 96 a few times. The fastball shows nice downward plane and glove-side run. He pairs his plus heater with two above average breaking balls that flash plus with a low-mid-80s slider and curveball in the upper-70s, both recording above-average spin rates (2500+), as did his fastball. He mixed in a changeup for good measure but he used less of it than his other secondaries. All the stuff is here, ignore his regular season numbers — Nicolas is electric.
Luke Bartnicki, LHP Chatham Anglers - Georgia Tech (2021 Draft)
Came into the game late and only faced one batter. He flashed an average low-90s fastball with run, and broke off a changeup (see at bat below). Low three quarters armslot with a nasty amount of run on his fastball. Would like to see more of Bartnicki, but he was too fun to not include at least a few notes and video. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds he has the body of a starter, and I’d be interested to see if Georgia Tech stretches him out in 2020.
Jackson Wolf, LHP Cotuit Kettleers - West Virginia (2020 Draft)
A tall drink of water with a Chris Sale like build and delivery. However, the comps end there as Wolf’s stuff and ability to miss bats is not in the same galaxy. That’s not to say he’s an arm without upside. His fastball sits 88-90 touching 91-92 with tail and twist giving the pitch some life, he showed above average spin when he threw the heater high in the zone.
Despite the subpar velocity I’m comfortable putting his fastball at a 50 with some promise to flash above average. He paired the pitch with two secondaries a mid-70s curveball and a low-80s changeup. His curveball is a little bit more slurvy with an 11-5 shape, the changeup showed nice downward break, and was very effective working on the outer half of the plate to right hand batters. He struggled with his fastball command in the first frame, but came out in the second and looked near-flawless when it came it hitting his spots. If Wolf can locate his pitches, and add a few ticks onto his fastball he’ll have a future as a back end arm.
Nick Gonzalez, 2B Cotuit Kettleers - New Mexico State (2020 Draft)
Diminutive second baseman with a strong muscular frame, led all of D1 in batting average this season, but many doubted if it was legit due to the friendly confines of his home park. Let me say, after catching Gonzo a few times, it’s legit. A great eye at the plate and an advanced approach, you don’t get Gonzalez to swing at junk. Lightning fast hands with a compact, violent swing, Gonzalez’s barrel looks to eat. He showed power to all fields hitting an opposite field homer, missing another by a few feet, and then just missing another to his pull side. Gonzalez is an average fielder, he moves well to both his right and left but at times his hands leave something to be desired. With above-average athleticism I can see his defense improving over time. He’s an average-above-average runner now, and shows good base-running acumen.
Adam Oviedo, SS Cotuit Kettleers - TCU (2020 Draft)
Talented offensive shortstop with quick hands and a compact swing, without a lot of moving parts, though it’s more a contact + approach profile than a power + contact profile at present. He shows enough bat speed, and a strong enough frame that he may get to his power. For now a more linear bat plane limits his fly balls, when he does look to elevate it’s mostly to his pull side. Did have some issues with spin down and away, but it was a limited look. Looked solid in his plays in the field, with an at least average arm, wasn’t really challenged enough to get a read.
Kaden Polcovich, SS Chatham Anglers - Oklahoma State (2020 Draft)
A Oklahoma State transfer, Polcovich ate the first few days of the season seemingly getting his bat on everything. A switch-hitter, Polcovich showed quick hands and the ability to adjust mid-swing. He stayed back on breaking balls, and showed the bat speed to catch up to fastballs. Some loft in his swing, making loud contact several times against the Cotuit staff, putting balls deep into the outfield, and just missing a homer to right-center on a well struck double. Decent run times out the box, Polcovich is a name to watch this summer.
Drenis Ozuna, OF Chatham Anglers - Oklahoma-Wesleyan (2020 Draft)
A big-bodied, power-hitting corner outfielder, Ozuna can get eaten by spin but showed the ability to drive anything left up in the zone or over the plate. Easy raw power, with some slight adjustments to swing potentially unlocking more over the fence pop. I had never met a Drenis or heard of Oklahoma-Wesleyan, now I’m interested to see more. An off-the-radar power bat for 2020.
Oraj Anu, OF Cotuit Kettleers - Kentucky (2020 Draft)
A switch hitter that shows plus power from both sides of the dish, Anu homered twice in first week and recorded multiple balls at 100+ mph exit velocities. He’ll get a little long with his swings, but he gets decent drag through the zone. He starts with his hands high by his ear which I think adds to the length of his swing, but he drops his hands in his load and looks to elevate. He’s a hitter that recognizes his weaknesses and tends to stay away from pitches off the plate. This will lead to a somewhat passive approach, and the swing and miss in my looks seemed to be at it’s worst from the left-side. He has a strong power-hitter’s build, but the body will need some maintenance. You cannot pitch this kid inside as a lefty, he will make you pay.