SCRANTON — If winning baseball starts with pitching, then the six teams of the Baseball U PA Collegiate Summer League made sure to grab their aces early.
Pitchers occupied five of the top six picks of Sunday night’s draft for the new league, which hopes to start its season June 23. The picks were broadcast live over the league’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, reaching well more than 1,000 views between the platforms.
Four of those pitchers come from the Lackawanna League: Zack Klapak (Delaware Valley) went to the Steel team; Cory Wall (North Pocono) joined the Black team; Cole Stetzar (West Scranton) followed to the Vegas team; and Nate Rolka (Lackawanna Trail) topped the White team.
“There’s a lot of great players in this draft, a lot of great players in our area that a lot of people don’t notice,” said Stetzar, who was six appearances into his junior year at Saint Joseph’s University before the season was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“But I mean we’ve got a baseball town around here. It kind of goes under the radar and I think right now with this league being the only live sports that people are going to be able to watch, I think people are going to realize how good of baseball we have around in this area. I think it goes under the radar right now.”
The only position player to land in the top picks was catcher Adam Retzbach, the 2019 Times-Tribune All-Region Player of the Year from Lakeland who was off to an eye-opening start to his freshman season at Lehigh before the season was cut short. In 13 games, Retzbach batted .296 (16 for 54) with two homers, two doubles and a triple.
“I think as a catcher, as a position player, you can offer a lot behind the plate,” Retzbach said. “So, (it was) pretty cool to see.”
He’ll get a chance to reunite with former Chiefs batterymate Dominic Verrastro, a soon-to-be University of Pittsburgh righty who University of Scranton coach Mike Bartoletti scooped up with the Orange team’s second pick. They’re also familiar with the team’s third selection, Maryland southpaw Logan Ott, who homered and tossed five hitless innings in Montoursville’s state win over Lakeland in 2018.
Keystone College righty Sean Roberts, from Pope John XXIII Regional High School in New Jersey, was the No. 1 pick for Gray team, which is made up of the top Division III players who signed up. The organizers — including local Division III coaches Jaime Shevchick of Keystone, Mike Bartoletti of Scranton and Pete Egbert of Misericordia — wanted to give those players a chance to wash off any kind of stigma that comes with the level. Egbert said he’s often been frustrated over the years when trying to get his players into summer leagues, as spots are earmarked for kids from higher levels.
“We’re in it every day and we know the caliber of players and the caliber of programs that we have and the caliber of baseball at the Division III level,” Bartoletti said. “And so we just thought it was a unique opportunity to put those guys together to let them compete against the so-called ‘big boys.’ It worked out well where there’s enough balance there on that team and we think that they’ll compete.”
Roberts will have six of his Keystone teammates with him on Matt Fidati’s Gray squad. Eight others come from the University of Scranton, two from Wilkes University and one from Misericordia University.
Stetzar will have two of his Saint Joseph’s teammates — outfielder Brendan Hueth and pitcher Peter Gallo — joining him on East Stroudsburg assistant Read Brown’s Vegas team. Hueth was picked second, followed by former Lakeland slugger Matt Hayes, who is going into his first season at Fairfield University.
After Klapak, Egbert’s Steel team snagged a pair of St. John’s University hitters: former Wyoming Valley West catcher Ryan Hogan and first baseman David Williams.
Pittston Area alum Joe Stella, the 2019 Citizens’ Voice Player of the Year, will serve as Rolka’s catcher on Bucknell assistant Chris O’Neill’s White team.
Shevchick, who normally would be returning to the Cape Cod League to manage the Brewster Whitecaps, instead will lead the Black team. He was able to get three players — Wall from Fordham, Virginia Tech shortstop Fritz Genther and Marist College righty Ryan Cardona — who were supposed to be in Brewster with him had the league not canceled its season because of the coronavirus. With his fourth pick, Shevchick pulled in Genther’s Virginia Tech teammate Cade Hunter, a catcher.
“I think we’ve got a really good mix of local guys,” Shevchick said. “We’re certainly going to be competitive. And I think if the bats can probably on pace with what our pitching is going to be like — I mean, listen, this is about the kids playing and everything else, but eventually, I’m pretty darn competitive and we’re going to want to win. We’re not going to do it at the expense of any other kids, but we’re certainly going to go out there and try to win games. We’re going to do it in the right way.
“I’m just itching to get back on the field. I mean I’m looking forward to seeing an umpire. I’m looking forward to getting thrown out of a game — you can put that in the paper.”
Conor Foley goes beyond the box score with in-depth coverage of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. He has worked at The Times-Tribune since graduating from University of Scranton in 2011, and he has covered the RailRiders since 2017. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9125; or @railridersTT