Kevin Copp, a member of the Wareham Gatemen broadcast team and rising senior at the University of Georgia majoring in broadcast journalism and English, took some time to do a little Q&A with Behind the Plate. He provided some great insights on the Cape Cod League, the Wareham Gatemen, and the 2 Hoosiers currently playing for the team. Kevin and his broadcast partner, Alex Perlman, do an excellent job covering Gatemen baseball, and fans can listen to their broadcasts while watching live games here. Thanks to Kevin for his contribution to the coverage of IU baseball.
Cape Cod League/Wareham
Let’s start off with a history lesson first. Can you tell us a little about the Cape Cod Baseball League and in particular about the Wareham Gatemen?
The Cape Cod Baseball League is an amateur collegiate baseball league based in 10 small towns around Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The league has its origins in the late 19th century, though most attribute the start date of the "modern" era of the CCBL to 1923. The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of eight officially sanctioned summer baseball leagues aided and recognized by both Major League Baseball and the NCAA. The Cape Cod League has been able to maintain its reputation as a premiere place for rising sophomores and rising juniors to showcase their talent for three major reasons. The first is the introduction of wooden bats. Many talented hitters struggle to make the adjustment from aluminum to wood, keeping batting averages low and favoring pitchers. This gives scouts the added advantage of seeing how the best hitters in the college game stack up using major league equipment. As it is often said, there are no cheap hits with wooden bats. The Cape Cod League's greatest advantage is the proximity of its teams to one another, as the longest possible trip between any two fields, Wareham to Orleans, is only 48 miles. This allows scouts to see multiple games in one night without having to travel far at all, in some cases less than 10 minutes from one field to the next. The combination of these two factors keeps the best talent in the college ranks coming back year after year, which gives the CCBL its greatest advantage. In this league, every pitcher is one of the best on his team, and the one through nine batters in the lineup are nearly all one through four hitters on their college squad. There is no way to duplicate the sheer quality of players on both sides of the diamond, which many scouts liken to A or AA minor league baseball.
The Wareham Gatemen joined the Cape Cod Baseball League in 1963, and since 1988, when accurate records of the 10 current teams came into existence, the Gatemen are the winningest franchise in the league. They are second only to the Chatham Anglers with six championships in the modern era, the most recent titles coming in 2001 and 2002. Wareham has fallen on tough times in recent years, finishing with the worst record in the league in 2007 and 2008, but their 15-12-4 record as of this writing has them in a tie for first place in the Western Division. The Gatemen earn their unusual nickname because the town of Wareham is actually not on Cape Cod; rather, the town is called "the gateway to the cape."
1) As of Tuesday morning, Alex is hitting just .203 with just a single homerun and only 8 RBI’s in 79 at-bats this summer. Can his struggles at the plate be attributed to wood bats and top notch pitching, or is there something else at play here?
As I mentioned above, the adjustment from aluminum bats to wood is the ongoing storyline of the Cape Cod Baseball League season. Alex's struggles at the plate, especially with regard to power, are not unique to him. Though it seems low, his .203 batting average is just three points lower than the team's overall batting average, which is .206. In the first preseason game of the year, against the Lowell All-Americans of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, Alex launched a home run into the bleachers beyond the fence in left center. After that blast, it was surprising to see Alex wait so long for his first long ball of the regular season, which occurred in a 5-1 victory over Harwich on July 15. I'm sure that many Indiana fans will be surprised to hear that Dickerson actually has more triples than home runs this season. He is hardly the fastest runner on the team, but Alex is among the league leaders with two triples so far this year! Dickerson's sheer power almost works as a disadvantage in this league - many hitters who get used to the long ball in college have a tough time shortening their swing and hitting for contact in this league, and Alex is second on the team in strikeouts with 27. This has been a problem for the Gatemen as a whole, as the team is leading the league in home runs (16) but is last in batting average (.206). Alex is hitting just .100 against left handed pitchers, which seems to underline his need to stop trying to pull the ball over the fence and look for more singles.
2. Alex was almost exclusively a DH for the Hoosiers this season, but he has seen a lot of time in the outfield for the Gatemen this season. How has he played defensively? Do you see him as a guy who could potentially be an everyday outfielder come next season?
Especially for the Gatemen this season, it is a common occurrence to have players bounce around and start at different positions out of their comfort zone in the Cape Cod League. It's not surprising to hear that Alex was used mainly as a DH last year for Indiana, as his first couple of games out in left field were an adventure, to say the least. He dropped an easy fly ball in a preseason game against Holyoke and was crossed up a few other times early in the season, but he has committed only one error this year, which is tied for the least among regular outfielders. With the addition of Connor Rowe from Texas, Alex is playing less left field and seeing more games in the DH role over the last couple of weeks, but he is hardly a liability when he is out in the field. Though we haven't seen any highlight reel-worthy diving catches, he has made a couple of nice running grabs, and I don't think it would be out of the question to see him in the outfield in Bloomington this coming spring.
1. Blake is probably the frontrunner heading into next season for the #1 spot in IU’s rotation. Aside from the stats he’s put up, what have you liked out of Blake so far this summer?
Blake's numbers this season (1-2, 3.07 ERA, 19 K, 9 BB in 29.1 IP) haven't been overwhelming, but on the days where he is on, he is one of the most dominant pitchers on the Gatemen roster. One major adjustment for pitchers is the schedule of playing baseball games every day, compared to weekend series in NCAA baseball with one or two midweek games, usually against non-conference opponents. Further complicating the adjustment into pitching on every fifth day, as opposed to being the Friday, Saturday, or Sunday starter, has been Wareham's inability to settle into a definite rotation. The probable starters have changed with regularity, and even at this point - almost 2/3 of the way through the season - there are at least eight pitchers on the roster that could easily be classified as being "in the starting rotation." Further complicating the matter is the fact that the weather has been so horrible in Massachusetts this summer. The July 21 game against Bourne, which Blake was scheduled to start, became the 10th game to get postponed this year - that's 10 postponements and 31 games played at this point in the season. With all that said, it's no wonder that Blake has been a bit inconsistent.
This season, Blake's success or failure has all ridden on the curve ball. Blake's fastball, compared to the other starters on the team and in the league, is below average in speed, generally falling somewhere in the high 80s to low 90s, but he possesses a devastating curve ball. When it has a sharp downward break, he is able to get hitters to chase at a ball that ends up in the dirt. This was the case in Blake's most recent outing, a no-decision against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox where he pitched 7.1 innings, giving up one run on five hits, striking out seven against just one walk. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, but Blake exited with Wareham ahead 2-0. That occurred on July 12, and it was the longest outing by any Wareham starting pitcher all season when it happened. Further illustrating my earlier point about inconsistency, Blake has not started a ballgame since that July 12 outing. The trouble we have seen with Blake is the days where he is unable to throw his curveball regularly for strikes. The pitch has a tendency to stay up in the zone and tail away from right-handed hitters. If he can't get the strike called on his curve, it becomes easy for hitters to sit on the fastball, which is average to below average in speed, compared to other CCBL pitchers.
2. A good portion of the IU faithful probably don’t realize that Blake will be a draft eligible sophomore next season (since he is older for his class). That being said, have there been a lot of scouts in attendance when he pitches? Based on what you have seen out of Blake thus far, do you think he is a candidate to be taken in the higher rounds of next year’s draft and leave IU after only 2 seasons?
Being a 26th round pick out of high school, Blake already brought with him to Indiana (and to Wareham) a solid pedigree, and he has not hurt his stock a bit by coming to the cape and facing the toughest hitters in the country. He may get two or three more starts this season, depending on how Wareham chooses to manage its abundance of starting pitching down the stretch. One or two more outings like his last start against Yarmouth-Dennis will drop his ERA firmly back under three. Judging by his numbers (59 K in 77.2 IP) with the Hoosiers last season, it's not altogether surprising that he has mainly relied on his defense rather than racking up huge strikeout totals this year. I think being the top starter for Indiana this year is a role that Blake will relish, and looking at the pedigree of the 2009 Indiana draft class (two pitchers taken in the first and supplemental first round), Blake is in a spot to be noticed. Ultimately though, I think coming back for one more year on the cape, especially in a role where he could be the go-to guy in a rotation, for Wareham or another team, would serve Blake best in the long run. With a few extra starts under his belt, and the chance to establish some more consistency with his devastating off-speed pitch, Blake could be an all-star on the cape in 2010 if he elects not to sign.