The reason for the increased number of players playing on the Cape is multifaceted, though it starts with Major League Baseball moving its draft from the beginning of June to the middle of July. That change, which began in 2021, extended the scouting process and created another window for draft-eligible prospects to play a few weeks on the Cape before leaving right before or after they were drafted.
An even bigger issue, according to some Cape League managers, is that the NCAA’s name-image-likeness policy (NIL) has opened a Pandora’s box that encourages players to transfer in record numbers.
“I’ve been doing this 50-plus years, and I’m more lost than ever in regards to the chaos of amateur baseball,” said Roberts, who has managed Cotuit since 2004.
In addition to the NIL policy, which allows students to monetize their name, image, and likeness, the NCAA in 2021 also implemented a one-time COVID transfer rule that grants student-athletes the right to play immediately upon transferring to a new school instead of having to redshirt a season.
The combination of NIL and the transfer portal has created a ripple effect that has impacted every division of college baseball as well as the Cape League.
“It’s miserable. Miserable,” said Brewster manager Jamie Shevchik. “Because now you have kids here that are in the portal that are not thinking about Cape League baseball. They’re thinking about their next school, they’re thinking about where they’re going. Coaches are hounding them left and right to come to schools. It’s a disaster for the Cape.”
‘The wild, wild West’
Roberts said college coaches were commonly seen draped over the fence down the third base line at Lowell Park in Cotuit throughout the summer. Their presence not only displayed their interest in a number of players who had entered the transfer portal, but also demonstrated how important it is for college programs to be visible at Cape League games.
Across college baseball, more than 2,500 players entered this year’s portal, according to D1baseball.com’s transfer tracker. Although all of those players won’t transfer, by entering their names into the portal, they opened themselves to be recruited by coaches around the country.
In the age of NIL, that often means a bidding war between programs competing to offer players the most money to transfer to their school.
“It’s the wild, wild West,” said Bourne manager Scott Landers. “With the money being thrown around, it’s free agency.
“It’s a tough situation for us out here and at schools, from the big dogs all the way down to Division 3, because there’s a trickle-down. With the one-time transfer and the NIL blowing up, it’s the perfect storm.
“It’s become a business, in my opinion. It’s not a loyalty thing anymore.”
College baseball programs are granted only 11.7 scholarships per year, though that money can be divided in any manner throughout the roster. According to Roberts, many transfers are given NIL deals ranging from $50,000 to upward of $150,000.
“Some schools will say if you get $150,000 you have to pay your tuition out of it, so it doesn’t count toward their scholarships,” Roberts said.
For some Cape League players, the transfer process moves swiftly. Infielder Deric Fabian juggled his phone conversations with coaches throughout the day he traveled to the Cape to join Chatham before ultimately deciding he was going to leave the University of Florida for Auburn that night.
“As soon as my name was put in the portal, I started getting calls,” Fabian said. “I had about 12 or 15 schools reach out. It was the day I was traveling up here, so I was on the plane, off the plane, on the phone with coaches. I was on the phone pretty much that whole night, it was just crazy.”
Fabian acknowledged the recruiting process was fun, but added that he wouldn’t want to go through it again. He also recognizes the portal “has some good and some bad.”
“I think it’s really good for players to be able to go to a different place and find the fit that fits them best because maybe they didn’t make the right decision at the start,” he said. “But I also think it’s a little crazy, just because it’s so easy now to transfer.”
Quality of play suffers
Although Fabian’s process was quick, other Cape League teams discovered that players in the portal wanted to leave the Cape to visit schools. Some players even shut down for the rest of the summer once they decided where they were transferring.
“What are you going to say if a kid comes up and he doesn’t have a place to play yet and he’s playing well and has a few schools that are recruiting them?” asked Cape League president Andrew Lang. “He needs to go and visit those schools.
“I don’t want any kid to feel that coming up to the Cape League is a barrier for them to improve either their draft status or college eligibility status for where they’re going to play.”
The trend of players departing the Cape — or not arriving at all — extends beyond visiting prospective schools, however.
“There’s a lot of talented baseball players that are sitting at home or that are training at a school or in a gym because their coach doesn’t want to send them out here because they are afraid they are going to go into the portal,” Shevchik said.
In addition to college coaches discouraging players to come to the Cape out of fear of losing them if they perform well, Roberts said player advisers and agents also persuade players to limit their time spent on the Cape. Especially pitchers, many of whom are on pitch counts that rarely allow them to stay with a team for the entire summer.
“When you look at summer baseball coaches, we’re about tenth in line,” Roberts said. “You start with advisers and parents, and then girlfriends, and then hitting gurus and pitching gurus, and then the college coaches, and then USA Baseball, and then the portal.
“We’re about tenth in line, so there’s no way to maintain quality summer baseball when you’re fighting that many entities that have that much more influence.”
The Cotuit skipper believes summer baseball leagues are “in a danger zone” because of the growing trend of pitchers limiting their pitch counts.
“There’s not going to be any pitching five years from now — none,” Roberts said. “No one is going to go out, they’re just going to train. The big-time players are getting NIL and they’re having to pay to come here when they’re getting paid to go to school. I just don’t think you’re going to see summer baseball at the level we see it now five years from now.”
Lang said the league’s only course of action is to try to adapt to the changing landscape.
“Until Charlie Baker as the head of the NCAA figures out what he wants to do with NIL and the transfer portal and all of this other stuff, we’re just going to have to adapt and deal with it and work our way around it,” Lang said. “I don’t think it’s impossible.”
The Cape League forged ahead while celebrating its 100th anniversary season this summer, but it’s clear the state of NIL and the transfer portal is creating headaches for the league’s managers.
“It’s killing the Cape,” Shevchik said. “It’s killing college baseball in general. The NCAA is really dropping the ball and it’s really discouraging to see the state of college baseball right now.”