2016 Florida Collegiate Summer League Preview
2016 Florida Collegiate Summer League Preview
Phil Chinnery, Florida League Staff
Orlando, Fla. – When the first pitch is throw at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium on June 2nd, it will mark the beginning of the 13th Florida League season. As one of only eleven leagues in the country partially funded by Major League Baseball, the Florida League has seen the talent level and attendance at games grow almost every year. More than 325 players have been selected in the MLB draft since 2004 (an average of 27 players per season) and attendance in 2015 topped the 70,000 mark league wide. For a league that has only six teams, those numbers certainly speak to the first-class product both on the field and at the ballpark.
The Sanford River Rats won their fourth Whiting Cup in 2015, and will bring another talented roster to the table this summer as Head Coach Kevin Davidson will take over as skipper of the club. Davidson, a former 23rd round pick of the Houston Astros in 2002, is the all-time winningest coach in Florida League history with 133 victories. That number will surely increase in 2016 with a roster that features players from schools like North Carolina, Dallas Baptist, Alabama, Mississippi State and Miami. Headlining the group are two-way star and Golden Spikes Award semi-finalist Darick Hall of Dallas Baptist, JUCO phenom and former Royals draft pick Reed Hayes of Walters State (TN), and former Alabama Prep Player of the Year Brock Love.
Ken Kelly, who coached the River Rats to the title last summer, is taking his 30+ years of coaching experience to Altamonte Springs to head the Boom. Similar to Coach Davidson, Kelly has a serious eye for talent, bringing in players from all over, including outside of the country. 2015 Florida League MVP Santiago Espinal has kept his batting average above .430 all season for Miami Dade, and will lead the Boom offense (unless he signs out of the draft). Joining Espinal in Altamonte is his teammate from last summer, Kevin Santa, who attends D-2 powerhouse Tampa. Santa had a slash line of .441/.504/.657 before an injury slowed him down in late March. Michael Cruz of Bethune Cookman will provide serious power in the middle of the lineup. The junior backstop leads the MEAC conference in homeruns with 12.
The DeLand Suns will be coached by former Stetson University pitcher Rick Hall. DeLand’s last title came in 2012, and Hall will look to add another trophy to the collection this summer. The 2016 Suns roster will include a trio of Wildcats from Kentucky, that includes Joe Dudek, Tyler Marshall and Zach Reks. A pair of corner infielders in Justin Franklin (Daytona State) and Brett Brubaker (Mars Hill) should provide some pop in the lineup as well.
Ten players from last year’s Leesburg Lightning roster will once again don the black and gold under the tutelage of head coach Rich Billings. The offense will be led by Flagler backstop Igor Baez and former Marlins draft pick Clay Simmons out of USF, who was selected by Miami in 2013 in the 11th round. Drew Peden will anchor the pitching staff along with Call Graham. Peden attended Daytona State this spring and is transferring to Florida Atlantic next season. Graham had been a valuable arm for Santa Fe College, one of the top JUCO programs in the country.
New head coach Jay Welsh takes over the Winter Garden Squeeze as they look to bounce back from their last place finish in 2015. Cody Burgess (Polk State) has some of the best wheels in the state, racking up 40+ steals while hitting .350 this season. Austin Mauer (Lake Sumter) will provide the power in the lineup after enjoying a great season at the plate (.410/.459/.649). Both Burgess and Mauer are transferring to D-2 power Florida Southern in the fall. On the mound, look for Josh Jimenez, an NC State transfer, to lead the way while Steve McClellan (West Florida) plays the role of closer.
The reach of Scotty Makarewicz and the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs goes from the midwest to the northeast and all the way back down to Florida. The Dawgs have won two of the last three Florida League championships, and will rely on 2015 Florida League All-Star and Georgia RHP Trevor Tinder to lead them back. Trevor McKenna, who leads Savannah State in strikeouts, will also chip in on the mound. The team will have plenty of offense to work with thanks to Josh DeBacker (Wichita State), Alex Young (Grand Valley State) and Conrad McMahon (Maplewoods CC).
Competitive play isn’t limited to the six teams in the league. The Florida League and Sunbelt Collegiate League partnered up three years ago to establish the Southeast Prospect Showcase, featuring the top prospects from each league in an exhibition played in front of pro scouts. That tradition will continue this summer, with the Southern Collegiate League joining in as well. For the past two years, Florida League teams have also had the opportunity to challenge the Korean University Baseball Federation, a group of collegiate prospects from South Korea. The Florida League will add another special exhibition series in 2016 when the U.S. Military All-Stars take on all six Florida League teams over a two-week stretch.
The Florida League has many ties to Major League Baseball. The championship game is played at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, each summer. Former coaches in the league include Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola and two-time Manager of the Year Davey Johnson. Sixteen former players have made it to the big show, including N.L. Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and N.L. batting champion Dee Gordon. In addition, more than 30 current and former MLB players attend the annual Celebrity Golf Tournament fundraiser each November. Past attendees include Hunter Pence, Jose Bautista, Kyle Schwarber, David Price, Gary Sheffield and dozens more!
For more information about the Florida League, visit floridaleague.com and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (@floridaleague).