"I'm not happy with the way the team is going," says a frustrated McMorris, "and there's plenty of blame to go around."
Summertime Proving Ground
The two college baseball players arrived on Cape Cod about two months ago with divergent résumés and divergent goals. Lance Niekro was better known as the son of former major league pitcher Joe Niekro than as a freshman infielder from Division II Florida Southern. Marshall McDougall was a Florida State All-America, a second baseman who in May hit six home runs in a single game.
This week, as the two pack up and head home, a lesson was reinforced: College games are a nice place for major league scouts to survey young talent, but a summer swinging wood bats in the Cape Cod Baseball League can reveal a lot more about a prospect. Niekro, who was a last-minute addition to the Orleans Cardinals, catapulted from obscurity to a possible spot in the first round of next June's amateur draft by tearing up the Cape Cod League, leading it in home runs (13) and RBIs (44) while finishing second in hitting (.360). "Those kind of numbers offer instant credibility, even if you've never seen Niekro play," says Paul Ricciarini, scouting coordinator for the Astros. "A strong showing in the Cape can make a player."
Or break one. Although McDougall put up big numbers for the Seminoles (.419, 28 homers, 106 RBIs), many scouts suspected that his production was greatly enhanced by the use of aluminum bats. The Red Sox drafted McDougall in the 26th round in June and then insisted, against his wishes, that he play on the Cape and demonstrate his prowess swinging wood before talking contract. McDougall's numbers for the Harwich Mariners: .248, 12 RBIs and a lone home run in 27 games.
"I guess this is why they drafted me in the 26th round," a frustrated McDougall said last Thursday. "There's an adjustment from aluminum to wood, but I think this was more me trying too hard."
Says one big league scout, "The kid's not a prospect." McDougall will likely return to Florida State for his senior year.
Before joining Orleans, Niekro, a 13th-round draft pick by the Phillies from George Jenkins High in Lakeland, Fla., two years ago, had planned to spend this summer in the Midwest's little-known Northwoods League. When he got the chance to play on the Cape, however, he jumped at it.
He immediately dazzled scouts with a graceful, compact swing, a good eye and power to all fields. Oddly, his 13 home runs in 44 games were five more than he hit in 50 college games with an aluminum bat. "Nobody saw this coming," said Orleans manager Don Norris, a coach at Georgia College & State University. "I didn't even know who Lance Niekro was. But suddenly he's the best player in the league—a league full of big-time college stars."
From Marlon Anderson to Scott Williamson, more than 100 present major leaguers spent time on the Cape, but the league hypes itself as the booster of the little guy. Last year Bobby Kielty, an undrafted outfielder out of Mississippi, so impressed scouts during his time with the White-caps that he recently signed a free-agent contract with the Twins that included a $500,000 bonus. "And that guy," says one scout, "was no Niekro."