This small city in Montgomery County, once the home of lower-level minor league baseball, has turned into a destination for college baseball players with hopes of entering professional ball through the draft.
When 11 current or former Amsterdam players were taken in June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, Mohawks general manager Brian Spagnola was not surprised.
“We expect one out of three that come here to be drafted at some point,” said Spagnola, whose current Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League team is again among the best in the league. “We’ve got a bunch of former players in Triple-A and in the majors.
“This year, we have a couple of guys we expect to be high draft picks again.”
Why do players from Division I universities, a good deal of them who have spent their entire lives south of the Mason-Dixon Line, jump at the chance to spend a summer in a small town that most could not find on a map?
And do it year after year?
“We’ve been able to build relationships with a lot of coaches,” said Spagnola, who, with the late College of Saint Rose coach Bob Bellizzi, bought the Schenectady Mohawks franchise and moved it some 20 miles west prior to the 2004 season. “Now, coaches know when they send their players here, they’re going to play and go back to their schools a better player.
“Coach [Keith] Griffin is a big part of it, too. He has a lot of friends. People know him, and they know he takes good care of the players. He’s not going to abuse them. They want their players to play for someone who is going to make them better.”
Hunter Tackett, among the leaders in several offensive categories this season, was aware of Amsterdam’s track record of helping players improve their game.
“My coach at Auburn had a connection with the team,” said Tackett, an infielder/outfielder who opted for college after being drafted by Milwaukee (36th round) last year. “He’d sent kids up here previously. It’s a good league for us to start getting ready for next year.
“I had heard it was a good place to play, a good league. And they have had a bunch of guys drafted.”
It wasn’t always that easy.
Spagnola knew he had to get an edge if he was going to compete for the same talent as general managers from other summer leagues.
“There’s 20-something leagues out there,” he said. “The Cape [Cod League] is obviously the top league. We don’t usually compete with the Cape. Typically, a guy who was a star as a [college] freshman, you know he is going to the Cape. You don’t even call.”
It was a reserve from a Division I program that got things rolling for Spagnola.
“One year, we got a Stanford guy. It was the last guy on their roster,” said Spagnola. “Then, someone put me in touch with the Kentucky coach, and he sent me a guy.
“The next year, Stanford sent me Cord Phelps. Now, he’s in the big leagues. The Kentucky coach sent us his son the next year, and since then, he’s consistently sent us players.
“So it’s just built up. It was worth it to take the last guy on a Stanford roster.:
Among the 11 players to go in this year’s draft were two pitchers who were on the Mohawks’ Opening Day 35-man roster.
Fairfield’s Mike Wallace opened the season with the Mohawks, but was taken in the 30th round by Pittsburgh. He is currently on the roster of the Pirates’ Bristol (Tenn.) affiliate in the Appalachian League.
Max Watt never even made it to Amsterdam.
“Watt was waiting on the draft. He said he would be here the next day if he wasn’t drafted,” Spagnola said. “That whole week, he stayed in Florida at school [Lynn University] and was going to pre-draft workouts. It was time for him.”
Watt was selected in the 22nd round by Boston, and is with the Red Sox’s Gulf Coast League team.
Three players on Amsterdam’s 2014 PGCBL championship team also went in this year’s draft — pitcher Ryan Clark of UNC-Greensboro was taken in the fifth round by Atlanta; pitcher Thomas Hackimer went to the New York Mets in the 15th round; and Dartmouth first baseman Joe Puritano was a 30th-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds.
Spagnola expects Kentucky’s Zack Brown to join the list of draftees from the 2014 team next year.
“He’s a perfect example,” Spagnola said. “Zack threw maybe 30 innings at Kentucky, then came here last summer. He was throwing 91-94 [mph], but was inconsistent. You could see he wasn’t ready to pitch. He had no command.
“He threw 96 in the championship game with awesome off-speed stuff. Then he went back to school [for his sophomore season] as their No. 1. That’s kind of the guy that we get.”
Brendan Tracy is in his second season with the Mohawks.
“Last year, I had nowhere to play, then they had an injury here. When that spot opened up, my coach gave Brian a call,” said the Amsterdam first baseman, who is coming off a junior year where he hit a team-high .297 in 150 at bats for Fairfield.
“They wanted me back [this year], and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Like Tracy, Mohawks outfielder Tyler Fitzpatrick has yet to be taken in the draft. The incoming junior at Marist College hopes a good summer with Amsterdam leads to a strong 2016 season with the Red Foxes, which could lead to interest from major league clubs.
“They bring in some elite talent,” said Fitzpatrick, who hit .256 in 177 at bats as a sophomore with the Red Foxes. “The moment I was asked to play here, I jumped at it.
“They get tons of guys drafted every year. It’s a chance to play some great competition.”