(Photo credit to Andrew Felper)
Major League Baseball scouts devote much of their time traveling to see prospects. This means prospects in areas like Southern California and states like Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas have an advantage over other players. Because of their proximity to each other, it is easier for scouts to fill their time on a trip with multiple prospects. This constraint is also one reason why players on Division I teams have an advantage. In their games, whether on their own rosters or that of the opposing team, there is a higher likelihood that there will be more top prospects, making it easier for scouts to see value in attending those games.
Summer collegiate baseball leagues present another option for scouts. They are, by definition, a gathering of the most promising players in the country. With each roster featuring multiple top prospects, competition is elevated and players get a chance to shine in front of scouts that might not have paid them attention in the regular season.
“It…sets the foundation to identifying players for next year’s draft,” Jamie Quolas, a CBBSN scout, said. Among CBBSN scouts survey, all agreed that a big advantage of summer collegiate leagues is the large gathering of potential prospects for scouts to check out.
These leagues also provide prospects with an experience more similar to what their professional career might look like if they get drafted. In fact, they are often known as wood-bat leagues because, unlike in NCAA play where many bats are made of composite materials (a.k.a. metal), most leagues restrict players to using wood bats. Additionally, leagues like the Northwoods league attempt to simulate a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) experience by having teams play seven days a week.
“It’s all about the competition and understanding what it’s like to be playing 48 games in 60 days. It’s kind of like Intro to Pro Ball 101,” said CBBSN scout Andrew LeMaster. “It really weeds players out who can’t handle the long days, long bus rides, lack of sleep, community outreach, signing autographs…”
This brings up another aspect of summer leagues. Depending on what league someone plays in, they will have a different experience that offers different benefits and drawbacks. With over 50 leagues to choose from, players try to find spots in leagues with better reputations, and that can pay off.
At the top of almost any ranking of summer leagues is the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL). In this year’s draft, the first three picks all played in the CCBL the previous summer. In last year’s draft, they had 10 players picked in the first round. In its long history players from the CCBL have often been drafted and made major league debuts. Current stars who played in the Cape include Chris Sale and Kris Bryant.
Our CBBSN scouts also say the Northwoods league is top tier in terms of caliber and getting alumni drafted. Professional scouts are most predominant at games for these leagues, giving players more opportunities to showcase their talent than the regular NCAA season. Other leagues our scouts have watched prospects from include the Western Major Baseball League the Cal Ripken League. Additionally, the Alaska Baseball League is popular because they are able to play baseball around the clock due to the “midnight sun” conditions in Alaska.
Summer leagues allow players more chances to develop, as well as chances to be seen. One advantage is that players from Division II and III schools could play in leagues with players from schools with more competitive rosters. This gives them a chance to test their abilities against, and learn from, other players who are at the same level as them talent-wise that they might never get the change to interact with during the NCAA season.
Additionally, for players who don’t get as many at-bats because their teams didn’t make tournaments, it gives them the chance not to miss out on time needed to mature.
“Summer leagues put players in a different environment where the players and coaches are completely different from their spring teams,” Robert Frey, one of our CBBSN scouts, said. This brings out another advantage these leagues gives players: they get another set of eyes that aims to help them improve. Though coaches at players’ colleges bring consistency because they see them most-often and work with them for the duration of their career, a fresh perspective can help a player who is struggling or point out something they never realized.
This is what CBBSN scout Pete Horner does when he coaches for the New York Collegiate Baseball League Wellsville Nitros. Horner is a pitching coach for the Nitros, and guides pitchers he sees toward improvements over the summer season.
“Summer leagues have a really good impact on player development,” Horner said. “Since the leagues are placed based more on talent it gives players more opportunity to face competition on their level and above it.”
Though there are many advantages to summer collegiate baseball, including giving fans more to enjoy, some point to an increase in overuse injuries as one reason players might elect not to play in such leagues. Either way, players have an important decision to make when it comes to their summer plans that could impact their future in baseball.