In 2017, the Wareham Gatemen reached the Western Division Finals for the first time since 2012. At the fulcrum of the Gatemen’s success were a bevy of players that are bound to hear their names called when the Major League Baseball Draft gets underway this evening.
Headlining the group is Tanner Dodson. Dodson, a two-way star out of California Berkley, took home the Thurman Munson Batting Title last summer as a member of the Gatemen hitting .365 in 29 games. While manning the duties in center field this past spring, meanwhile, Dodson hit .320 with 12 doubles and 27 RBIs.
What enamors scouts most about Dodson, however, is his live arm once he takes the mound.
On the mound for Wareham, Dodson showcased some of that high-level velocity touching as high in 96 miles per hour in a few outings out of the bullpen. This past spring at Cal, Dodson set the single-season program record for saves with 11 while spinning a 2.48 ERA.
“He just has a live arm,” said Wareham pitching coach Jim Lawler. “It just comes out of his hand like you would not believe.”
Dodson heads into the draft this week widely regarded as a top 100 prospect with a focus on pitching professionally.
“It’s all about pitching at the next level for me,” said Dodson. “I’ve loved my time hitting and being a two-way guy, but I know where everyone wants me to be.”
Dodson is not the only Gatemen whose performance on the mound is likely to lead to an early call in this year’s draft.
Griffin Roberts, a right-hander out of Wake Forest, completed a relatively smooth transition from the bullpen to the Friday night role this spring for the Demon Deacons. Roberts, who was drafted last spring as an eligible sophomore following a dominant season as Wake Forest’s closer, improved on his development that began last summer with the Gatemen en route to becoming one of the top starters in the ACC.
To go with his hard four-seam fastball and terrific slider, Roberts has incorporated a quality changeup and two-seam fastball. After being named a Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star in 2017, Roberts followed it up with a 5-4 spring, striking out 130 hitters in 96.2 innings and allowing just a .221 batting average against.
MLB Pipeline named Roberts’ slider the best in this year’s draft.
“He knows the slider is his out pitch and so when the time comes, that’s what he throws,” said Lawler. “But he also has a very good two-seam fastball while working on that changeup.”
Roberts credits the easy move to the starting role to his time with Wareham.
“Coming up there last summer was a huge help,” said Roberts. “It helped me change my mental approach and routine, and more importantly just work on other mechanical issues to help me make the transition easier.”
Joining Dodson and Roberts who expect to hear their names called due to their talents on the mound are Miller Hogan, Brett Conine, Noah Zavolas, Grant Wolfram, and Aaron Hernandez.
Hogan was the Gatemen’s number one starter during his time on the Cape. Over 25 innings he allowed just 14 hits en route to a 1.08 ERA. This past spring with St. Louis, Hogan was equally as impressive going 10-4 with a 2.64 ERA. He allowed 82 hits in 105.2 innings.
“What makes Hogan the real deal is he is a pitcher not just a thrower,” said Lawler. “He throws 86-88, but when he wants to and needs to he can throw 92. He has got four pitches and is not scared of anybody.”
For the second straight spring, Conine has made his name as Cal State Fullerton’s closer. Conine’s two-pitch mix of a solid four-seam fastball and hard breaking ball make him one of the top closers in the country. After leading the Titans to the College World Series last season, Conine’s performance on the mound once again has Cal State Fullerton heading back to the Super Regionals.
A two-year Gatemen, Conine worked on the Cape with Lawler on developing his changeup for when its time to move on to professional baseball.
“It’s been tough coming out of the bullpen to be able to work on that third pitch,” said Conine. “So being able to go up there and work with coach Lawler was huge when it comes to looking towards the next step.”
This year, Conine has 10 saves out of the closers role and a 4-1 overall record.
Hernandez was a relatively unknown commodity when he made his first appearance for Wareham, but that changed quickly when he assumed the role as the Gatemen ace come the postseason last summer. Out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Hernandez features a live arm that Lawler says can up to as high as 98 miles per hour.
This season with the Islanders, Hernandez struck out 102 hitters in 83 innings.
Offensively, Willie MacIver, Jaren Duran and Luke Bonfield headline the group.
MacIver is at heart of a Washington team who has surprised many by reaching this year’s NCAA Super Regionals.
A Cape League All-Star in his own right as a member of the Gatemen, MacIver missed a majority of this season with a wrist injury but has still posted respectable numbers hitting .246 in 36 games with two home runs and 23 RBIs.
Duran, a senior out of Long Beach State, had his top collegiate season as member of the Dirt Bags. While manning the duties in the middle infield, Duran hit .302 with two home runs and 22 RBIs and led the team with 42 runs scored.
Arkansas solidified a spot in the Super Regionals for the second straight season on Sunday night and once again, Bonfield has his fingerprints all over the Razorbacks success. Bonfield who spent time both in 2016 and 2017 with the Gatemen before being sidelined with injuries, has hit eight home runs with 34 RBIs while holding a team-high .442 on-base percentage.
As the draft approaches, however, some of the top stars like Dodson note that it’s all about tuning out the noise.
“The MLB guys do a pretty good job during the season of just letting you play,” said Dodson. “It’s out of your control now. Whatever happens happens, and I know I just cannot wait for whatever opportunity I get.”