05/31/2018 10:00 AM
Matt Pierce (Siena)
With 64 teams selected to the NCAA Tournament on Monday, the road to Omaha nearly underway, but it also marks the beginning of something else – the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Played across Upstate New York, the 13-team wooden bat league is one of the best in the country with top players from all levels of college baseball. The 48-game season begins June 1.
League President Robert Julian credited the talent, coaches, fans, and atmosphere of the PGCBL for being a one-of-a-kind summer league.
“A number of our players ultimately are drafted or signed to professional contracts,” Julian said. “It’s an opportunity for college players to showcase their talent. It’s an opportunity for fans to see a very good quality of baseball in smaller communities. Our baseball is important to keeping baseball as a part of the American culture.”
The PGCBL allows players to focus solely on baseball to craft their skills for the future, which is only intensified by the Perfect Game brand.
“It’s a healthy relationship for both Perfect Game and for us because it puts their brand out there in a league that is well regarded and well respected,” Julian added. “For the players, it gives them a degree of legitimacy as a potentional prospect that they might not get if they were in other leagues.”
This season, the league will be split into three divisions for the first time: the East (Albany, Glens Falls, Oneonta, Saugerties, Amsterdam), the Central (Adirondack, Watertown, Utica, and Mohawk Valley) and the West (Elmira, Jamestown, Newark, and Geneva).
Each team will play 24 home games and 24 road games. The regular season ends July 31 with seven teams advancing to a three-round postseason. The top two teams from each division will advance to the playoffs along with the team with the next best record. From there, the top overall seed will receive a bye with the wild card team playing in a one-game playoff with the two-seed from their same division. The semifinals will be three-game series with matchups based on win percentage, followed by a best-of-three series to decide the championship. The 2018 PGCBL All-Star Game will be July 18 at Historic Dunn Field, home of the Elmira Pioneers, for the third time.
The Watertown Rapids will be playing in their inaugural season, while the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs will be looking to repeat as PGCBL champions.
Last year, the DiamondDawgs upended perennial powerhouse, the Amsterdam Mohawks, in the divisional finals to eventually win their second championship in three years over the Jamestown Jammers of the West Division. The DiamondDawgs fought back from a 2-0 deficit in the second inning and overcame a 4-4 tie in the third inning to eventually win 8-4 behind a solid bullpen effort.
Russ Olive (UMass Lowell), the 17th-ranked PGCBL prospect, led the DiamondDawgs in batting average (.324), runs scored (38) and hits (55), while totaling a league-leading eight home runs and 42 RBIs. Joe DeSarro (Southern New Hampshire) had a team-leading five wins, while the pitching staff featured three players with sub-2.00 ERAs and three more pitchers with over 40 strikeouts.
As for other teams around the league, the Albany Dutchmen return two 2017 First Team All-PGCBL selections in pitcher Matt Pierce (Siena) and Nick Estrella (Azusa Pacific). Estralla batted .308 with 13 extra-base hits last year while Pierce dominated on the mound going 8-1 with a 1.71 ERA to earn 2017 Pitcher of the Year.
The Dutchmen also could get a huge addition from John Malcolm, a top high school prospect and 2018 Vanderbilt commit. Malcolm, a 2017 Perfect Game All-American, is the best high school prospect from his home state of Michigan. He is ranked among the top 200 draft-eligible prospects and could be a key piece to the Dutchmen roster.
The Amsterdam Mohawks, who have won four championships, will get back soon-to-be D-III All-American Toby Welk, among others, who is hitting a video-game-like .492 with 13 home runs and 57 RBI for Penn State Berks. The Mohawks may also add PG All-American Lenny Torres, Jr., a hard-throwing righthanded pitcher that is a potential first-round pick.
The Glens Falls Dragons will get back starting pitcher James Varela who went 11-1 with a 2.40 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 13 starts for Division II LIU Post. The junior started eight games for the Dragons a year ago, racking up 37 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings.
Freshman James Ramsey from Kentucky, could be the next pitcher from the SEC to lead the Elmira Pioneers, following in the footsteps of Ole Miss closer Parker Caracci and Kentucky ace Sean Hjelle. In his first year in Lexington, Ramsey lead the team in appearances while striking out 42 batters in 36 innings.