Cape League serves as proving ground for MLB Draft hopefuls

Draft-eligible players use time with Cape League to prove themselves before 2024 MLB Draft
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Cotuit's Thatcher Hurd punched out six in his six innings of one run ball against the Falmouth Commodores on July 4.|Art or Photo Credit: Nola Gallagher

Janzen Keisel was not planning on coming back to the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer. Resting his arm and getting ready for the MLB Draft was the plan. That was until his 2024 spring didn’t go as well as he hoped. It was also until he knew he could spend another stint under the tutelage of Cotuit Kettleers head coach Mike Roberts.

“We just understand each other,” said Keisel, who played under Roberts last season. “He can walk out to the mound and tell me something mid-outing and I can make that adjustment, which is weird because I don't really try to think about mechanics when I pitch.”

It’s not typical for players who know they will get drafted to play summer ball before the July draft. That’s not to say it’s unheard of. For Keisel (Oregon), the decision to come to Cape Cod was a personal one, he wanted to improve his pitching mojo and look good in front of scouts.

While the Cape League is predominantly full of non-draft-eligible players, there are a select number of players who spend their precious time on the Cape to prove to MLB teams why their name should be called in late July.

“Every year in school I had quality years as far as numbers,” Keisel said. “But I felt like they weren't great years. Then every year I've come up here. It's like, ‘Oh, I've had a good year.'”

Cotuit’s Thatcher Hurd’s (transfer portal) reason for coming to the Cape sounds simple — to pitch — but also to look for a bit of redemption. Hurd, who was a crucial part of LSU’s 2023 championship run in Omaha, had a 2024 season full of ups and downs and is back with a mission to prove his stuff.

But when asked, Hurd goes with the simple answer:

“I just like pitching,” Hurd said. “So, I'd rather pitch than not pitch.”

Hurd displayed his shutdown stuff against UNC in the Chapel Hill Regional, but the command on his mid-90s fastball that he can run up to 98 mph can be spotty.

His first outing on the Cape against the Bourne Braves showed that folly, but on the Fourth of July against Falmouth, Hurd flashed his 2023 form. He allowed one run on one hit over six frames while punching out six, bringing his ERA down to 1.86.

The Cape League also attracts draft-eligible players who have seen their names soar up draft boards after breakout college seasons.

Jon Jon Gazdar is one such example. The redshirt junior out of Austin Peay State came north to be a Hyannis Harbor Hawk for a second season. Gazdar started garnering attention after slashing .405/.484/.667 in his 2024 season with the Governors. The decision of where to spend his summer didn’t take much thought.

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Hyannis' Jon Jon Gazdar speaks to the media after batting practice at Fenway Day on July 1|Art or Photo Credit: Aidan Conrad

“It was a no-brainer,” he said.

Gazdar had known for a while he was going back to Hyannis, signing back in September before his stock hit the springboard.

“I wanted to come up here and play a few weeks regardless,” Gazdar said.

From the perspective of a hitter, the opportunity to show scouts the ability to hit with the less-forgiving wood bats is an incentive to spend time on the Cape.

Other high-stock bats on the Cape include Austin Overn and Bobby Boser. Overn is another name that has soared up draft boards due to his 75-grade speed — one of the fastest in the draft — and his premium defense in the outfield has proved valuable to the Chatham Anglers.

Boser was named one of the June 22-28 Cape League Players of the Week, slashing .429/.538/.714 on his way to winning the hitter of the week honor. He is a sturdy right-handed hitter who reminds some scouts of the Reds’ Spencer Steer. With 27 homers over the past two years — a feat made impressive due to the fact he dealt with a hamate injury — there is power in his swing, as demonstrated in his play for the Wareham Gatemen.

For Gazdar, Boser and many others, the July 16 MLB Draft date is a daunting one.

“There's a lot of stuff that's out of my control when it comes to that process,” Gazdar said. “Obviously, of course, I want to hear my name called just like everybody else on this team. But… I'm just trying to take it day by day.”

It’s all about the day-in and day-out mentality of being prepared and controlling the controllables. By embracing that approach, Gazdar is attempting to chase the balance of showing scouts he’s competitive and not letting the moment get too big.

Hurd feels the same way. That’s why he came to the Cape, to bet on himself, to prove his mettle. To show MLB teams why his name should be called.

“I don't know what's gonna happen with the draft. But I didn't pitch a lot this season. So, I just wanted to pitch,” Hurd said. “Whatever happens is going to happen.”

Keisel and Hurd are two of the top arms from the Cape League, ranking as the No. 115 overall prospect and No. 248. Overn and Boser are No. 131 and No. 235, respectively. They will now join the hundreds of players hoping to hear their name called beginning on July 14.

Photographs by Nola Gallagher and Aidan Conrad