Local VBL reps eager for shot at baseball showcase event

Strasburg Express manager Butch Barnes, center, has a discussion with catcher Michael Curry and pitcher Peyton Plumlee during a game with New Market in July 2016. Barnes, now the Express' director of baseball operations, will serve as an assistant coach for a traveling all-star team of Valley League players who will compete in the Southern Collegiate Showcase this weekend in North Carolina. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Major League Baseball has for some time been pushing collegiate summer leagues to collectively form regional all-star events in order to amass college talent in centralized areas for scouting purposes, according to Butch Barnes, the director of baseball operations for the Strasburg Express of the Valley Baseball League. The timing was right for the VBL to join the movement this summer after former league president Don Lemish secured funding from MLB to help cover the costs of competing in such an event.

The Valley League announced last month that it will send a traveling all-star team to this year’s Southern Collegiate Showcase, and the league revealed last week the 30-man roster that will make the trip to Kannapolis, North Carolina this weekend for the five-team, two-day competition that runs Saturday and Sunday.

The roster, which was compiled in an effort to highlight the VBL’s top professional prospects, includes eight players from the four local teams in Front Royal, New Market, Strasburg and Woodstock.

“It’s a really big opportunity for the players,” Barnes, who was chosen as an assistant coach to manager Bob Wease for the VBL’s showcase team, said last Friday. “I mean it puts them in front of not only scouts but there will probably be some cross checkers and some other people, some high-level scouts there, which they don’t normally come out here to the ballpark.

“This is to showcase the best of the best,” he added, “and that’s the way we’re approaching it here in the Valley League and I’m sure that’s the way the other leagues are approaching it too. Kind of like bragging rights.”

The Valley Baseball League will join the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, Sunbelt Baseball League and Florida Collegiate Summer League in what will be a series of games designed to showcase some of the best college baseball talent in the southeast.

Play begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Intimidators Stadium – home of the Kannapolis Intimidators, a Class Low-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox – and will conclude with the championship game at 4 p.m. Sunday. The VBL squad is guaranteed to play three games, Barnes said.

Leading the local showcase roster selections is New Market, which will send right-handed pitchers Nate Pawelczyk – the North Division starter in this past weekend’s VBL All-Star Game in Harrisonburg – and Keven Pimentel and catcher Jake Washer, who entered Monday tied for second in the VBL in home runs (four) and RBIs (24).

Front Royal will send reliever Joshua Andrews and outfielder Luc Lipcius, and Strasburg also had two selections in right-hander Zachary Peek – who is among the VBL leaders in wins (four), strikeouts (33) and ERA (1.55) – and outfielder Brandon Quaranta, who entered Monday tied for the league lead in homers (five) to go along with 24 RBIs.

Woodstock landed pitcher/infielder Cash Gladfelter on the showcase roster.

“It’s a good opportunity to come over to this part of the country and play against guys that I never really played against on the West Coast,” said Andrews, a sophomore lefty from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix who has struck out 31 and has yet to allow an earned run in 19 1/3 relief innings for Front Royal this summer. “To get that sort of exposure, it’s really nice to be able to do that.”

The VBL’s showcase roster includes 16 pitchers and 14 position players and featured representatives from 10 of the league’s 11 teams as of Monday afternoon. Harrisonburg leads all teams with six players selected to the roster, followed by South Division leader Charlottesville (five) and Staunton (four). Eighteen of the 30 players selected to the VBL’s showcase roster play in the South Division.

“I’m blessed that they picked me as one of the guys from Strasburg,” Quaranta said.

“It’s gonna be awesome playing against other leagues, other guys that were chosen from their leagues and a great group of guys from this league. Hopefully we can go down to Carolina and compete real well and put the Valley League in a good spot name-wise.”

Of the five teams competing in the Southern Collegiate Showcase, the Valley League is the largest at 11 teams. The Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, which operates out of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, consists of 10 teams, while the Sunbelt Baseball League includes nine teams from Georgia and Alabama.

The Southern Collegiate Baseball League (North Carolina and South Carolina) and the Florida Collegiate Summer League (central Florida) each have six teams.

The Valley League will open play at 1 p.m. Saturday with a game against the SCBL and can reach Sunday’s championship game with two wins on Saturday.

When asked how the VBL stacks up against its competition, Barnes replied, “I think we’ll find out.”

“All these guys are college baseball players, they all have the capability of playing really well,” Barnes said. “And this is a very humbling game. You go out there and you try to do your best and sometimes it’s good enough and sometimes it’s not. The bottom line is we’re gonna go down there and compete and we’re gonna try to win the games. We’re gonna do what it takes, and I know the players are gonna do what it takes. But in the same breath we’re trying to get everybody a little bit of time so that they can be seen.”