Brandon Cipolla (Photo courtesy Watertown Wizards)
From Perfect Game USA
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Watertown Wizards had high hopes for this summer, and for good reason. Their roster includes six all-stars, third-most in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. But with just two regular season games remaining they are in sixth place with an 18-26 record.
“We think we’ve really underachieved,” Owner and General Manager, Todd Kirkey said. “But that’s because we think our league is pretty good too.”
The Amsterdam Mohawks sit atop the league standings at 35-10, with a comfy nine-and-a-half-game lead over second place Newark Pilots. Both teams have already clinched a playoff berth. Two games separate third through fifth-place Glen Falls (26-20), Oneonta (24-21) and Mohawk Valley (23-21), who are fighting for the last two spots this week.
While a playoff run is no longer a possibility for Watertown, they are one of two teams (Amsterdam being the other) with two players who rank in the league’s top 10 in ERA and batting average.
Left-handed pitcher Rene Solis (St. Mary’s) is tied with Amsterdam’s Chandler Shepherd for the league-lead in ERA (1.31). Solis’ batting average against (1.72) is second best in the PGCBL, while his 49 strikeouts rank sixth.
This season as a sophomore at St. Mary’s, Solis was a finalist for the Tino Martinez award, which is given to the Division-II player of the year.
“He reminds me of Tom Glavine, he’s that exact same type of guy,” Kirkey said of Solis. “He doesn’t break 85-86 mph, but we kind of make fun of his changeup because it stops in mid-air, you just don’t see it coming.”
Freshman Nick Bradley (Western Michigan) ranks 10th among qualified starters with a 3.74 ERA, and has been Watertown’s No. 2 pitcher this summer.
Donald Walter (Cal Poly Pomona) and Jordan Enos (Holy Cross) lead the team in batting average with marks of .340 and .339, respectively. Walter is also fifth among the league’s qualified batters in slugging percentage (.536) and total bases (82), and is second in runs scored (42). Enos is tied for fourth in the league with 15 doubles.
Cole Gleason (Wabash Valley C.C.) leads the team with 40 starts and is third with a .327 batting average.
And then there’s Brandon Cipolla (Holy Cross), one several players who returned from last year’s team.
“His swing is playable now,” Kirkey said. “He puts the same swing on every pitch and has power to all fields. He just stands out. Maybe I’m being biased, but I think he’s the best position player in the league.”
Cipolla missed several weeks last summer with a broken cheekbone after a throw from shortstop hit him in the face while running down the first base line. Following a standout season with Holy Cross, Cipolla is batting .281/.434/.459 with five homers and 14 stolen bases in 135 at-bats for Watertown this summer. He’s also tied for the league lead with 35 walks and was one of two players who homered in the PGCBL All-Star Game last week.
The center fielder says he’s improved mentally this season, not only at the plate but on the base paths as well. Like Cipolla, the level of play across the league has gotten better this year.
“I think the competition is very good in this league,” Cipolla said. “Just judging by the All-Star Game the other day, I was talking to some of my teammates, and we were really happy with the competition. It’s a great league, a top-tier league. It’s definitely one of the better spots to be in the summer.”
Cipolla will enroll for his junior year as a political science major at Holy Cross this fall. While the Cape Cod League may be an option for him next summer, Kirkey thinks his future is even brighter.
“If he wants to stay at Holy Cross and graduate, that’s going to be his choice,” Kirkey said. “But I don’t see how he couldn’t get drafted next year.”
Assuming Cipolla doesn’t return to Watertown next summer, his absence will be one of many changes. Traditionally, the Wizards have targeted freshman, who after a year at college and a summer in the PGCBL go on to dominate in other leagues the next year. Kirkey vows to recruit more experienced players next season, and plans to use Perfect Game’s scouting services to do it.
“Getting that big-time first-round guy, that Stephen Strasburg type so the PGCBL can say we had him, that’s our next big step,” Kirkey said. “We need that guy that’s on TV every day”.
Kirkey says the Wizards have always been “ahead of the curve” with marketing the team and getting players involved with the community. They do a free camp with the local YMCA and visit schools, for example.
Building the league-wide reputation is important as well. And that requires players spreading the good word.
“One thing I think our league has tried to prove is that we can get good players from the SEC and we can get kids that are junior college, NAIA and D-II and D-III guys,” Kirkey said. “That’s important, because the players go back and tell their coaches, ‘This is where we need to send guys.’ If those guys don’t go back and tell their teammates how good the league was, then we’re fighting an uphill battle.”