College baseball prospects get chance to be seen

Baseball event to showcase prospects

Brian Spagnola can still “hit ’em where they ain’t,” as the old advice from Hall of Famer “Wee Willie” Keeler goes.

He noticed a gap, a void left by the defunct Empire State Games, and just as a good directional hitter, decided to fill that gap.

He was talking with friend Dennis Healy, former pitching coach at Wake Forest University, and they came up with a plan to host the inaugural Empire State Prospect Games in August 2015, once again giving baseball players from New York state a chance to perform in front of a large number of college coaches and scouts.

“The Empire State Games was where it was at, from a recruiting standpoint,” said Spagnola, director of the Empire State Prospect Games. “You saw every kid you wanted. Granted, these days, there’s a lot of travel tournaments and things like that, but nothing where you can represent your region and is a statewide event like that.”

The event will take place between Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam and the field at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown the weekend of Aug. 14-16. There will be three tournaments — one each for the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 — contested by teams from four regions.

Region coordinators have been hired to put teams together from the Hudson Valley/New York City region, Adirondack region, Central New York region and Western New York region. Starting in 2016, Spagnola expects to have six regions competing, separating New York City from the Hudson Valley region and adding Long Island as a region.

Region coordinators, listed on the event’s website (www.empire­, have already started to receive recommendations from high school coaches. There is no open enrollment, as players will be chosen and invited. However, players are free to seek an invite.

“We leave that up to each region coordinator,” Spagnola said. “There are certainly going to be a lot of invites going out, but they’re big regions, and there’s no way to know everybody. It’s not open enrollment, so if somebody’s interested, they have to maybe get a couple recommendations or set up a tryout. There’s really no one way to come up with a team.”

There also will be a skills workout and home run derby for each of the three groups. The workout is similar to a pro combine, where players can showcase their skills outside the action of a game.

“It’s good because, as college coaches know, you can’t always see a kid just in a game and you can’t always see a kid just in a workout,” Spagnola said. “You might have a kid in a showcase workout who runs a great 60 time and has a great arm, but in a game, might be a bit behind, and vice versa. There are kids who won’t blow up a radar gun or a stopwatch, but at the same time, they’re great baseball players. College coaches will be happy to see both.”

The website lists the colleges that have already committed to scouting the event, including two dozen Division I schools. Spagnola said once he and the other organizers reach out to mid-Atlantic schools, he expects the number of commitments to exceed 100. He also expects up to a dozen pro scouts could find their way to the event.

To deal with all that attention, and also to aid those players and their parents who maybe don’t get as much attention but still want to attract recruiters, there will be a recruiting seminar given for each of the three groups.

“Most parents don’t know the process and how scholarships work, how many scholarships there are, what you have to do, when you can contact coaches, when they can contact you,” Spagnola said. “It’s a very complicated process, and most parents, how would they know that? For them to sit down for 30 minutes to an hour and get educated on the process, that will be great for them.”

Spagnola said the city and the recreation department in Amsterdam have been helpful in setting up the event and securing facilities. Events like this one are part of the reason turf was installed this year at Shuttleworth Park, in the first place — to bring people, and their money, into the area for tournaments.

“Without the turf, it would be very difficult to do this, just because of rain and things like that,” Spagnola said. “It would be tricky. That was a big part of it, to draw people here.

“We’re talking probably 200 hotel rooms, and we think 200-something players, plus the college coaches and families. That should bring a lot of people into town for that weekend, for sure.”

Categories: Sports

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