Cat Scratches: Kapteyn, Wright Shine in Cape Cod League
The Cape is one of those pipeline dreams for an aspiring professional baseball player that begins on the Babe Ruth fields as little kids and blossoms into the vision of college players across the country.
First it's getting a scholarship offer, landing with a college, the MLB Draft and eventually the leap from the minor leagues to the big leagues. In between there, though, is the goal of making the Cape Cod Baseball League, undoubtedly the best collegiate summer league in the country.
Every year, the top college players in the nation compete for a chance to make a team in the Cape. For those players hoping to make the jump from college ball to the pros, a successful summer at the CCBL can be the difference between an MLB Draft selection and a fizzled dream.
The league has been such a successful launching pad that players this year turned down playing for Team USA for the opportunity to compete in the Cape. Heck, there is even a semi-entertaining movie called "Summer Catch" that features the league's mystique.
"Obviously it is the best league in the country," UK outfielder Chad Wright said.
Wright would know. As one of two UK baseball players to play in the Cape Code Baseball League All-Star Game Wednesday in Fenway Park in Boston, Wright has immediately been placed on the radar of MLB scouts across the country. Consider UK pitcher Braden Kapteyn, UK's other Cape Cod all-star representative, in that same category.
"It was awesome," Kapteyn said of the opportunity to pitch in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox and one of the most tradition-rich stadiums left in all of baseball. "To get an experience like that is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. To have the honor to be chosen to pitch there means a lot to me. It was really a great overall experience."
Kapteyn and Wright earned all-star bids to the Cape after sensational summers to date. Kaptyen, despite taking the loss in the all-star game, is 2-1 in the summer season with a 0.76 ERA. The junior right-hander surrendered a run in the all-star game Wednesday but has given up just two runs in his 13 regular-season league appearances.
Meanwhile, Wright ranks seventh in the CCBL in average (.294) and 10th in hits (32) for division-leading Cotuit in a pitching-rich league. Wright hit leadoff for the Western Division All-Stars and went 1-for-3.
"You have to come every day with your A game (in the Cape) or else the pitching will get the best of you," Wright said. "Every day you are seeing an SEC Friday-night guy, so it is more or less getting you more ready for the college season and for the SEC weekends."
Playing in Fenway and earning an all-star selection was special for both Wright and Kapteyn, but more than anything, that's what playing in the CCBL is all about - improving oneself for the upcoming season and the future.
MLB legends like Jeff Bagwell, Nomar Garciaparra, Frank Thomas and Chase Utley found stardom in the Cape and went on to sensational professional careers. Recent Cape Cod all-stars from UK, Antone DeJesus (St. Louis Cardinals) and Collin Cowgill (Arizona Diamondbacks), had success in the league and are currently in major-league systems.
Current Kentucky players Kapteyn and Wright are hoping for similar returns.
"Hopefully for next year the knowledge and experience that I have gained throughout the summer from the coaches up here, I can bring it back and help our team with some of the things we have struggled with in the past," Wright said. "I know there are some more things we want to improve on, like base running, so we have been focusing on that this summer. Coach (Brian) Green and I have already talked about stuff like that. I am really excited to get back and improve our team."
Wright and Kapteyn, a two-way player, actually faced each other Wednesday in Fenway as pitcher (Kapteyn) and batter (Wright). Their respective teams had played each other a couple of times already but without Kapteyn on the mound.
Once the opportunity finally arose in the all-star game, Wright was licking his chops for the chance to get a hit off his hard-throwing teammate.
"When I got in the box, I was kind of laughing in a way because I've been wanting to face him all summer," Wright said. "For some reason, every time we play them they haven't pitched him against us, so just getting to face him and see how his stuff has improved was really cool. It would've been better if I had gotten a hit off him and been fun to take back to school, so I guess he won this battle."
Kapteyn indeed did. After struggling with control - he hit the leadoff batter and added a couple of wild pitches before facing Wright - Kapteyn forced Wright to ground out to the second baseman.
"It is always a great experience when you get to face off with another teammate," Kapteyn said. "Chad is having a really great summer. He is proving himself as one of the top players in college baseball. To be selected to the all-star game as a position player in the Cape is a huge accomplishment and it shows how good and how much he has improved as a player overall."
But Kapteyn could be the biggest story to come from the CCBL. After serving as a dynamic two-way star for Kentucky the past two years (.306 career average to go along with 41 pitching appearances), Kapteyn said he wants to focus more on his role on the bump.
UK will certainly be in need of his bat as the program bids farewell to several offensive catalysts from this past season, but the Cats are also in dire need of a shutdown closer.
Kapteyn has displayed the ability to be that player in his first two seasons, showcasing a fastball in the mid-to-low 90s to go along with a nasty slider, but now, more than ever, he sounds ready to embrace the role.
"I still want to hit and I think I can still be an asset to the team at the plate but I really want to focus on pitching a lot more then I have in the past," Kapteyn said. "I have noticed that in the last three weeks here, when I have really focused on improving on the mound, I have gotten so much better with my control. I really think that if I can continue to improve and focus on improving on the mound I could be a huge asset to the bullpen at Kentucky."
If Kapteyn indeed becomes a shutdown closer for the Cats next spring and finds his calling card as a reliever in the big leagues, it wouldn't be the first time something big began in the Cape