August 2, 2012
Powerful Prospects

Courtesy of the Butler Eagle Staff Writer Mike Kilroy

SLIPPERY ROCK, PA - This season, the Prospect League has been all about offense.
From Butler to Quincy, Ind., and from Slippery Rock to Beckley, W.Va., baseballs have been finding green grass and flying over fences all over the collegiate baseball league.
Last year, the 14 teams in the league combined to hit .265 with 260 home runs and 3,855 runs scored.
This season, the clubs in the circuit have mashed 426 home runs, crossed the plate 3,981 times and are collectively batting at a .279 clip.
Why the rise in offensive production? Perhaps it has something to do with the reworking of the Prospect League schedule this season.
In year’s past, teams in the East Division would play teams in the West Division throughout the season. This year, the league opted to have its teams play only within its division, eliminating long road trips and making teams within divisions very familiar with one another.
“We’re not playing out of the division,” said West Virginia manager Tim Epling. “Our teams get to know each other a lot better. Our scheme, whatever our game plan is in that particular day for the pitcher we are facing, we keep true to our plan. There are strengths and weaknesses to everything.”
The reduced travel also has kept players fresh.
That’s one of the reasons why Butler’s Elliott Caldwell was able to break the single-season hit record in the league. Caldwell, who is batting .374 this season and was the Prospect League batting champion for the first half, has 87 hits and counting. The record was 80.
Butler has seen the biggest rise in batting average from last year to this year.
In 2011, the BlueSox were near the bottom in the league with a .239 average and smacked only 22 home runs.
In 2012, Butler has a .294 team batting average, has slugged 38 home runs and scored 331 runs — 100 more than last season.
“This entire team can hit,” Caldwell said earlier in the season. “I have confidence in everyone in this lineup. I feel like we have the best hitting and pitching in the league.”
Butler has certainly proven it can hang with the big boppers in the Prospect League.
The BlueSox have scored 20 runs in a game twice. They went on an 18-run scoring binge in a two-inning span two weeks ago and had a stretch in which they scored double-digit runs in five consecutive games.
A late addition to the team, George Roberts, is batting .430 with four homers in just 100 at-bats since coming aboard after a College World Series run with Kent State University.
Still, Chillicothe has been the standard in the hitting department.
The Paints are batting .310 as a team and have 73 home runs this season. Giancarlo Brugnoni has belted 18 homers to lead the league.
Slippery Rock, too, has seen a spike in offensive production.
Last season, the Sliders hit .234 as a team with a mere seven home runs and 213 runs scored.
This season, Slippery Rock has a .261 team average with 22 homers and 282 runs scored.
Radley Haddad may be the poster child for the rise in offense this season.
A catcher — the most physically demanding position on the field — Haddad has gotten stronger as the season has wore on. He is leading the Sliders with a .307 average after struggling at the plate in the early part of the season.
“They make this league 60 games on purpose, to see how kids are going to react down the stretch,” said Slippery Rock manager Shawn Pynn. “You look at a kid like Radley, he’s brought his average up 80 points and he’s behind the plate. He should be getting weaker, not stronger, as the season progresses. It’s really putting him on the map as far as scouts looking at him. It really says a lot about his conditioning.”
The offensive explosion also has made this Prospect League season as competitive as any other in recent memory, Epling said.
“Anybody can beat anybody on any particular day,” Epling said. “This league is that good.”