(OOSTERHOUT, The Netherlands)— About six months before the 2017 Collegiate Baseball League Europe (CBLE) season begins, the Sant Boi Barcelona Falcons roster is assembling. Manager Mike Graham has 11 commitments as the Falcons prepare for the club’s sixth season of CBLE baseball.
Six players who were members of the Falcons’ CBLE West Division championship team last year are planning to return—Albright College’s Jimmie Gentry, Bixie Baseball Academy’s Dave Janssen, University of Mary Washington’s CJ Cummings, Virginia Wesleyan College’s Connor Graham, Eastern University’s Mac McGrath, and UMBC’s Jake Fedorczyk.
In addition, the Falcons have picked up commitments from prized new recruits Brian Reed of the Rochester Institute of Technology, St. Lawrence University’s Isaac Lewis, and high school players Blake Thrasher (Calvert HS, Md.) and Drew Bailey and Bailey Burleson, both of Tennessee scholastic baseball power Summertown HS.
Thrasher, Bailey and Burleson played together at Summertown and with the Tennessee Tigers travel team. And six Falcons play together on Graham and head coach Chris Cummings’ Maryland RBI advanced skills development team in Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU) baseball’s Mid-Atlantic Wood Bat League.
Graham said the Falcons focus on signing impact players for specific needs—position by position, guys who hit for average or power in the order for their college, travel and high school programs, who can stretch the bases, do the glove work, along with a mix of frontline pitchers and relievers.
Cummings and Graham are not stereotype diamond heads. They’ve been coaching together nearly 20 years and both hold the MLB Coach Certification and advanced academic degrees. Cummings has a Master’s, while Graham is equipped with a PhD and two Master’s degrees.
In addition to the CBLE, in seven years coaching AAU’s Maryland RBI they have won 230 games together, a record three consecutive Maryland AAU State Championships and earned a Maryland record-setting number of five consecutive AAU National Championships invitation-only or automatic bids, including one appearance.
Graham is a longtime member of the Society for American Baseball Research© and proponent of sabermetrics—advanced mathematical and statistical analyses to evaluate and compare players’ performance such as On-base Percentage, etc.—like in the book/movie Moneyball about MLB Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane.
It’s a way to do comparative analysis and strengthen our scouting and recruiting,” Graham said. “Baseball since the mid-1800s has always used stats, but the game is evolving in the computer age. Sabermetrics is about looking at the sport objectively—mathematically. It’s a tool in the toolkit for building team excellence in the aggregate, position by position.
We were strong in all phases of the game last year but the difference maker was our pitching and defense,” he said. “We led the league in many defensive categories and had four pitchers and three of our starting eight position players make the All-Star team.
The Falcons’ team batting average of .304 ranked first in the CBLE last year. They were first in fewest strikeouts, OBP and runs scored and finished second in OPS and hits. Barcelona was 11-4-1 for the season.
At the plate, the players that return hit .318 together against the best that every opponent could throw at them and accounted for 52 percent of our run production,” Graham said. “Plus they’ll have another year of weightlifting, training and development, and playing experience under their belts.”
Barcelona is known for pitching dominance in the CBLE. “The league’s past two Top Gun pitchers of the year wore the Purple and Silver,” Graham noted—American Brandyn Vogtsberger (Towson University, Md.) in 2016 and Canadian Branden Kuzyk (University of Winnipeg, MB) in 2015.
Last year’s Falcons pitching also included MLB Prospect Guide select Stewart Rich (NCAA Division II Georgia College & State University), a former East Cobb Astros travel-select team teammate of Atlanta Brave Danby Swanson, MLB’s No. 1 pick in 2015; Northwest Missouri State University’s Nikko Pablo, two-time NCAA D2 Pitcher of the Week and last season’s Falcons Player of the Year; and Maryland Anne Arundel Community College’s Dominic Stanbery, AAU All-America.
The pitching staff is rebuilding this year. Barcelona is looking for 2-3 more pitchers who throw in the 80s or higher. The Falcons’ pitching program, designed in consultation with MLB, international and college baseball colleagues, uses a conservative four-man starting rotation that holds pitchers to a hard cap of pitch count and innings pitched.
We get our frontline guys out there the fourth day. But, instead of letting him pitch as deep into a game as possible, you hold him to a limited regular amount of work and support him with 1-2 relievers. That protects the pitcher and has earned us the trust and confidence of the players’ college coaches.
The Falcons are increasing the number of two-way players—those who can pitch and play a position in the field. “This helps the pitching staff’s depth after a long string of games,” Graham said.
Everything seems to be coming together and we’re feeling good about the way the offseason has been progressing,” Graham said. “It’s possible with the experience returning, we might be improved in some areas.
Certainly we’re going to need everybody firing on all cylinders in the summer. The league is consolidating this year from six teams to four so the competition is going to be good. We are building this year’s roster to flex, which gives Coach Cummings a lot of combinations to work with.”
Seven of the 11 Falcons commitments play at college baseball programs, one is a MLB academy player and three play high school.
Sant Boi Barcelona Falcons 2017 roster (so far):
Pitchers: Bailey (Summertown), Burleson (Summertown), Cummings (Mary Washington), Gentry (Albright), Fedorczyk (UMBC), Lewis (St. Lawrence), Reed (RIT), Thrasher (Calvert)
Infield: Bailey, Burleson, Cummings, Gentry, Janssen (Bixie), McGrath (Eastern), Lewis, Thrasher
Outfield: Burleson, Graham (Virginia Wesleyan), Lewis, McGrath
Registration for CBLE 2K17 is Open at http://www.cble.org/applytoplay.