By Matt Forman
Behind stout starting pitching and a potent offense, the Newport Gulls swept the Danbury Westerners for their fifth New England Collegiate Baseball League championship. Daniel Wright (Arkansas State) and Pete Kelich (Bryant) combined to pitch 16 innings in the best-of-three series, allowing just three runs on seven hits while striking out 24 to keep Danbury at bay. Jeff Melillo (Rutgers) and Kasey Coffman (Vanderbilt) went a combined 9-for-19 with three long balls, two doubles and six runs scored, as Newport banged out 27 total hits. The Gulls' postseason stars were the same group that led them to a 31-10 regular-season mark; though none made the league's Top 10 prospects list, they all received mention from the league's managers, who named 45 players to be considered for this list.
Similar to other summer college leagues, pitching was down in the NECBL, which led to inflated offensive statistics and many broken records. Melillo, for example, set the league's on-base percentage record with an absurd .548 mark. And like last year, the league didn't feature any top-flight talent--like Mark Appel, Mike Olt and Stephen Strasburg of recent vintage—but there was plenty of depth. More than 40 scouts attended the league's all-star game.
No. 1 Prospect: Alex Haines, lhp, Vermont (Jr., Seton Hill, Pa.)
The NECBL pitcher of the year, Haines went 5-2, 0.90 in 40 innings with 54 strikeouts and just six walks, in a year when the league's collective slugging percentage was .433 and collective ERA was 5.23. For Haines, a common refrain became: "You go to Seton Hall, right?" Opposing managers and hitters quickly learned of Division II Seton Hill, located in Greensburg, Pa., where he landed after being lightly recruited out of high school 15 minutes away.
Though several managers joked Haines "came out of nowhere," he was named the WVIAC's pitcher of the year after going 7-2, 4.24 with 108 strikeouts in 70 innings for the Griffins this spring. A 6-foot-4, 215-pound physical lefty, Haines passes the eye test. His fastball sits at 90-93 mph with arm-side run, and he touched 96 in a one-inning stint starting the all-star game, in which he threw 12 straight fastballs in an empty frame. Haines' offspeed stuff is improving, and as one manager said, "He dominated the league by throwing fastballs, and fastballs only," though his changeup improved dramatically throughout the summer. His curveball is a work in progress. He worked to introduce a cutter late in the summer.
Haines had Tommy John surgery as a junior in high school, and though his fundamental delivery could be smoothed out, his arm action is clean. He has continued adding strength, and he long-tosses from pole-to-pole before starts. One scout projected Haines would be a top-five-rounds pick in next year's draft.
Rest of the Top 10:
2. Danny Collins, 3b, Laconia (Jr., Troy)
3. Yale Rosen, of, Newport (So., Washington State)
4. Grant Kay, 2b, Keene (So., Iowa Western CC)
5. Scott Squier, lhp, Holyoke (So., Hawaii)
6. Vince Conde, 3b, Laconia (So., Vanderbilt)
7. Max Pentecost, c, Holyoke (So., Kennesaw State)
8. Cole Peragine, ss/2b, Vermont (So., Stony Brook)
9. Nic Manuppelli, rhp, Laconia (Jr., Youngstown State)
10. Artie Lewicki, rhp, Keene (Jr., Virginia)
Photo of Alex Haines by Roger Crowley