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Hampton’s League got talent: Pro scouts evaluate players in Westhampton

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Some of the tools of the trade for a baseball scout.
AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO It was ‘Scout Day’ last week for East End summer league players.

“Does it translate to the pros? That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” John Ceprini said.

A scout for the Cincinatti Reds, Mr. Ceprini was speaking about the process professional judges of baseball skills go through when practicing their trade.

“Should I follow this kid?  Is he a plus runner, a plus fielder, does he have bat speed?” he added.

Mr. Ceprini, along with his colleagues, Cesar Presbott of the New York Yankees and Larry Izzo of the Mets, were at Aviator Field in Westhampton for “Scouts Day” last week, closely watching players from the seven-team Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL).

Stopwatches timed foot speed in the 60-yard dash and radar guns gauged pitches. But there was no technology involved to assess athleticism, throwing accuracy, fielding ability, power and bat control; that was left to the experienced eyes of the scouts.

After beginning with the 60 yard dash times, which were run in pairs, the players moved to the skills competition. Outfielders set up in right field behind a yellow cone and made two throws each to second base, third base and home plate, with the Shelter Island Bucks Matt Sinatro (University of San Francisco) showing off a powerful and accurate arm.

Play then moved to the infield, where players like Shelter Island’s Jesse Russo (SUNY Old Westbury) were asked to set up at shortstop and field several sharp grounders and throw to first on the move. First baseman were asked to field both short and long ground balls and to make throws to second and third. They also fielded the throws from the infielders.

Although this was not a game situation, the pressure to perform was palpable. A fielder has four or five shots at making an impression, so a couple of poor throws or a fumbled pick-up can give a bad impression. The same applies when players are up for just six or seven swings of the bat.

Buck Brian Goulard (Fordham) and Sag Harbor Whaler Manny Ramirez Jr., (University of San Francisco) son of the former Red Sox great, put on displays of power when it was their turn at the plate.

“Manny’s losing a few in the bushes,” commented one onlooker.

Major League reps use this day as an indicator of who they want to see in game action. Mr. Ceprini said he looks for a player with a plan at the plate; someone who isn’t just up there hacking, but approaches each at-bat with a purpose.

“If I see a kid I want to follow,” The Reds’ scout said, “I’ll make sure to see him in a college game.”

Twenty-four players from the HCBL were selected in the 2016 MLB draft, a high water mark for a league that has increased its draftee count in each year of its existence.

The journey from high school or college into the pro ranks of baseball is often arduous. Depending on the major league team, there can be up to five levels on the first way station of professional baseball, called “Single A.” Each of those rosters carries about 25 players. Of those 100 to 125 players, one player, on average, will reach the next level (AA). Players at all levels of the minors are evaluated every day by the same scouts who visited Westhampton last week.

The HCBL is growing stronger every year, but it will always be in competition for players with the more established Cape Cod Baseball League.

“This is going to be a good league,” Mr. Ceprini said. “Success breeds success and if players like Nick Ahmed [former Westhampton Aviator currently starting for the Arizona Diamondbacks] speak highly of their experience in the league, it will only get stronger.”

At the moment, the HCBL can boast three players in the majors, including Ahmed, who played his college ball at UConn. Former Youngstown State pitcher Phil KLein, who starred for the Sag Harbor Whalers in 2008, is currently on the Texas Rangers roster, and Nick Tropeano, who played for Stony Brook University and the Riverhead Tomcats in 2009, is pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.