Players and programs always search for ways to present and separate themselves. It is the nature of competition. The question for players is how to get noticed. On Thursday, June 17 Ruffnecks from the classes of 2022, 2023, 2024 (and even one 8th grader, class of ’25) awoke early to get to the NEBC by 7:30am for a 5 hour SCOUT DAY that included everything colleges would want to see. This was not a “showcase.” It was a SCOUT DAY… and far more valuable. And none of this would have been possible without the extraordinary facilities (3 fields) of the NEBC.
Position players took a full, five rounds of batting practice. Assembled into two segments, half the position players hit for 50 minutes, while the other half ran 60 times and heard from several pro scouts and college coaches about what scouts look for and evaluate. The two groups then flipped, and did the same in reverse. Pitchers reported at 9:00am to begin preparation with Ace Adams. Close to 9:45 the day transitioned to positional work with outfielders making throws and infielders & catchers conducting a crisp session of the Ruffnecks “Cover Drill,” which we use for development and skill work. It is much faster than a traditional infield/outfield drill and presents infield and catcher skills more efficiently than typical showcase-type formats. Most importantly, all the offensive and defensive skills and abilities of Ruffnecks were on display for the eyes of many college recruiters in attendance. The day culminated with a 7 inning Red vs. Blue game that featured 14 different pitchers who threw one inning each. The game was legit, spirited, and again… presented players who play hard, run hard, enjoy each other.
Ruffnecks began their stretching routine promptly at 7:30am under the supervision of EPS Trainer Brandon Smith, a former MLB strength and conditioning coach. A steady flow of college coaches from the New York-New England region began to arrive. We give a shout out to head coach of Northeastern University, Mike Glavine, who personally attended following a successful run at the NCAA Regionals. More than 25 Division I, II, and III coaches attended. Every one of the 30 printed “Scout Packets” was taken. More were requested! The packets provided player profiles, GPA, test scores, contact information and more.
Four MLB teams were represented: Red Sox, Yankees, Detroit, and Oakland. Matt Hyde of the NY Yankees coordinated the pro scout efforts. Ray Fagnant (Red Sox) added his usual, positive, messages to players. Ron Vaughn (A’s) and Jim Bretz (Tigers) focused on the hitting sessions. They provided on-the-spot feedback, and full evaluations (which they are writing). None of this was ordinary. It was extraordinary. The pro scouts did more than just show up. They actively engaged. As Jim Bretz said to the players and to several Ruffnecks coaches, “We found a number of players here that will certainly be on our ‘Follow List‘ over the next year, two, or three.”
Ruffnecks Coach Toffey roamed among the college coaches, answering questions and gathering feedback. Ace Adams, a veteran pitching coach for over 30 years in the pros, bent the ears of college coaches about the pitchers. And of course, Ruffnecks Coach John Brickley, himself a veteran MLB scout shared information and gathered feedback from scouts and college coaches. Feedback from colleges was overwhelmingly positive. We will do it again in 2022! Without a doubt, we discovered another terrific way to serve Ruffnecks players. Save your money on the next “showcase” that sends an email! What else could an aspiring baseball player ask for other than to present himself in a setting like this?
More than 30 Ruffnecks in the classes of 2022, 2023, and 2024 reported to the NEBC at 7:30 am on Tuesday, June 8 for the start of two weeks of comprehensive workouts… Spring Training style! Utilizing multiple fields at the New England Baseball Complex, players on the oldest three Ruffnecks teams are getting ready to go for a summer of return-to-normal. Two consecutive weeks of three and a half hour time slots provide the foundation for prep work in advance of a long summer of baseball and travel.
The program learned something from the hardships Covid dealt last year. We learned that there is value in hunkering down to take a couple of weeks in early June to go about the business of preparation. Position players take regular batting practice, daily. There is nothing more valuable that to hit on a field with a full complement of screens and plenty of baseballs. For position players, seeing balls-off-bat is an important preparation tool. The Ruffnecks program is blessed with the space and facilities of the NEBC. Multiple fields means that more can be accomplished in a professional setting. Each morning the players are stretched by members of the EPS Northborough staff. The stretching period lasts a full 30 minutes. It is a rigorous start to every session. BP Groups hit while position players get their work in shagging and breaking down skill work with coaches. Pitchers enjoy the banter, work, and information with Ace Adams. All pitchers currently at the workouts have finished their seasons in the past two to three weeks. This means they need to get back into routines and the rhythms of preparing to pitch, pitching in games, and recovery. Several pre-season scrimmage games are also scheduled.
Speaking of pitching, Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom made an unannounced visit to the Thursday, June 10 workout. Strom and Ace Adams worked together in the Cardinals, Tigers, and Astros organizations. The two remain close, and Ace quietly asked Brent if he would come to practice to speak with pitchers. It turned out to be more than a pep talk about pitching. Strom spent a couple of hours at practice. He took pitchers to the bullpen, and walked and talked through some important aspects about delivery, arm angles, and pitch selection. Coach Strom presented an incredible amount of information.
Ruffnecks Pre-Season culminates in a scheduled Scout Day on Thursday, June 17. The morning session will be manned by several professional scouts and college coaches from the New York-New England Region. Hitters and position players will have ample opportunity to gather their measurables and present themselves. The program will conduct a Red vs. Blue game in which 14 to 16 pitchers will throw an inning. Indeed, Ruffnecks Pre-Season is put together with considerable thought and a plan. Several college coaches have already roamed in and out of the practices. It is nice when someone with the stature and the baseball “eye” of Brent Strom stops in, and compliments Ruffnecks players by saying “It is good to see a group of ‘old school’ baseball kids go about their business.” We will take that as an endorsement for sound preparation… Spring Training Style.
Warmer weather brings a transition to summer and tournament baseball for the Ruffnecks program. The 13U and 14U Ruffnecks enjoyed a busy spring, primarily at the NEBC, where field conditions are predictable and the weather has a diminished impact on the ability to play or practice. We finally get to see the faces of players as they enjoy baseball with relaxed mask regulations and the approach of summer.
The 13’s are at the midpoint of their first year in the program. With 25 games under their belt, experience begins to settle into their play. The team continues to gel. And despite a small roster, the 13U Ruffnecks got their first taste of tournament baseball with considerable success by reaching the championship game in the NEBA Tournament. The first month and a half of the Ruffnecks experience is challenging for the best of players. The 2021 group has positioned itself as well as possible for the transition to warm (even hot) summer weather and tournament baseball. Memorial Day weekend presents the first challenge, as the 13U Ruffnecks travel to Rhode Island to compete in the 14U Division of the Firecracker Patriot’s Event. Several consecutive weekends of tournament baseball follow, bringing the 13U ‘Necks into mid June. By the end of July the team’s body of work may include as many as 60 or more games. Not bad for coming off a year of a pandemic!
The 14U Ruffnecks have pushed themselves to make up for lost time. Under the guiding hands of Coaches Beverly, and through joint practices with the 13’s, a pre-season with older Ruffnecks, and an extended Ruffnecks coaching staff, this group of players has absorbed considerable baseball experience in 2021. Making their progress more impressive is the fact that they are playing with one real catcher in Matthew Ulicny. Unfortunately, Sam Caulfield was lost to a broken thumb (his return is expected in June). The pitching staff has done a remarkable job. Brendan Norton, Owen Ellsworth, Cole Pastore, and Jeremy Krendel have led the way with impressive starts in a variety of circumstances. Tommy Hennessey, Will Forman, Drew Reagan, and William Goggin have also contributed meaningful innings in competitive situations.
The 14’s have played an independent schedule during the spring of 2021. It has turned out to be the best thing for the players as individuals and as a team. Opponents have been a combination of prep school JV teams, combination of HS 14, 15, and even 16 year olds (prior to the late start for MIAA schools), and solid 14U teams in several events. The weekend of May 15-16 the 14’s traveled to the New Balance Border Battle in Concord, NH to compete in its first, real, tournament action. The team surrendered only 4 runs in Pool Play, and advanced to the Championship Bracket in the playoff round.
Summer and Tournament season is on the doorstep. Memorial Day Weekend is the starting point for the 13U and 14U Ruffnecks.
Thursday, June 17 is Ruffnecks Scout Day for players in the classes of 2022, 2023, 2024. With the late start of the MIAA schools seasons, and the end of all the Prep seasons in late May, the Ruffnecks program has chosen to conduct a Pre-Season from June 8 to June 18. The focus is on preparation, skill work, getting healthy for the grind of summer, and the June 17th Scout Day at the NEBC from 8:00am to Noon. More on Scout Day and the start of the full Ruffnecks summer program is coming!
The 2021 Spring season is almost back to normal! Masks continue to cover faces, but we are playing baseball. This is most evident among the 13U and 14U Ruffnecks rosters where both teams have played a robust schedule through April. As the weather warms in May, both teams should log as many as 35 to 40 games before the start of summer! This is a hopeful trend. There is nothing quite like game experience for development of baseball knowledge and skills. We are grateful to see Ruffnecks enjoying themselves and playing ball.
The 13U Ruffnecks feature a 14-man roster. This 13U squad is benefitting from the “full experience” of the Ruffnecks spring season. It is marked by participation in the NEBA League, a confederation of 5 programs focused on competitive weekend series. In 2021 all the games are held at the New England Baseball Complex. This provides a high degree of certainty, flexibility, and confidence that a field is always ready and playable. So far, the newest ‘Necks show good athleticism and talent. The mix of versatile players and depth in pitching is valuable for the overall development of the individuals and the team.
The 14U Ruffnecks are playing catch up. They missed the formative experience in 2020 that the 13s currently benefit from. Part of the catch up plan is a challenging spring schedule that includes competition against school JV teams and opponents with rosters comprised of 14, 15, and some 16 year old players. The 14’s also play several NEBA opponents and in 14U “round robin” events in April and May that replicate the feel of tournament play (tournaments are not approved in Massachusetts). The 14U roster benefits from a coaching staff led by Jon Beverly and includes pitching coach Ace Adams who serves as the 17U pitching coach during the summer. Ace’s experience includes 30 years in professional baseball as a pitching instructor with several MLB franchises. Other members of the Ruffnecks coaching staff also contribute based on their availability, including catching coach Matt Milano. The squad is a tightly knit group that continues to get better. It features a solid pitching staff that has depth. It will be interesting to follow the development of this group of 14s.
Who could not enjoy this moment? The last time spring baseball was played took place in 2019. That thought numbs us. But on Wednesday, March 24, a high school level baseball game took place in New England as the Dexter-Southfield varsity hosted a combined roster of high school Ruffnecks in a 9 inning game. This was not an “off the radar” event. Indeed there were plenty of radars at the game in the hands of nearly 40 MLB scouts and associates who came to see an outstanding prospect from Dexter, Josh Baez. Whether or not the game was an unofficial “first” high school game in our region is of little importance. There was no media. No evening news reports. What is important is that the Dexter-Southfield team is a first-class baseball program, and that the game was surprisingly competitive, close, and well played. It featured sharp and generally good pitching, competitive at-bats, and error free defense. Of course players like Josh Baez attract attention, and deservedly so. But Major League scouts do not hang around for nine innings of baseball in the middle of March after they have seen their prospect UNLESS the quality of play piques their interest. This game kept most around for the entire day!
Ruffnecks coaches Ace Adams and John Brickley both have decades of experience in Major League Baseball. Ace, as a pitching coach for multiple organizations; Brick as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. So it is no surprise that they happily enjoyed some baseball banter with old friends and counterparts from professional baseball. For the current scouts, Ace and Brick added an unexpected legitimacy to the day. This was evidenced by the regular visits to the side of the Ruffnecks dugout to inquire about a young Ruffneck or a lanky pitcher with good arm action… Or simply to share an observation, insight, or comparison about a player from either dugout. It was baseball in New England with excitement, adrenaline, and an intangible intensity not to be expected from a high school game in late March… especially in New England with Covid still lingering.
The Ruffnecks roster was populated by just 11 position players, including three catchers: Malcolm Whitfield, Diego Taveras, and James Benestad. All three worked pens and cycled into the game for 3 innings each. They hit in the lineup the entire time. The infield was built around two freshmen, Nolan Colby and James Henshon (at 3B and 2B), and cemented by 2022 Mark Henshon (SS). They played sharply. Newcomer, Caleb Kirkpatrick anchored 1B. The outfield featured two other freshmen, Sean Watts (RF) and Jeremy Auren (CF). They were tested regularly by well hit balls off the bats of a powerful Dexter lineup. Left field was platooned by two Ruffnecks vets, John Tully and Scooter Beverly (both 2022’s). Both Tully and Beverly also pitched.
Nine pitchers threw one inning each (for each team). And while nothing could match the dominance of Josh Baez in the top of the first inning (FB=96 mph), the pitching was surprisingly crisp and effective on both sides. Beverly threw the first for the Ruffnecks, kicking off the dust after a year away from the mound. He was competitive. Danny Collins pitched a sharp 2nd inning, exhibiting a strong, controlled delivery. Jack McLaughlin pitched the 3rd. He is bouncing back from 2020 arm troubles, but showed that he will be ready to go this spring and summer. Dagen Darnell threw the 4th and controlled the game. Oisin Lee showed strength in pitching a sharp 5th with 3 K’s. John Tully pitched the 6th and looked ready and prepared to have a terrific 2021. Ryan Bendremer competed well in the 7th, giving up no runs. Matthew DeBenedictis threw a clean 8th with only 10 pitches. Oren Liebenthal pitched the 9th, and although he was hit around by a strong lineup, he gained invaluable experience. Dexter’s Roster included two Ruffnecks: Ryan Grundy and Eddie Morrissey.
The offense was surprisingly effective. The Ruffnecks got production from all parts of the lineup. Henshon, Whitfield, and Caleb Kirkpatrick earned the privilege of facing Baez in the top of the 1st. They all showed aggressive, bold swings, but understandably, fell to the highly touted prospect from Dexter. Nolan Colby tripled. Tully got a hit. Beverly hit the ball hard. Watts got a hit. James Henshon got a hit. Mark Henshon hit several balls very hard. Auren swung the bat well. Kirkpatrick hit the ball hard and had a hit. Overall, the ‘Necks were on the bases, put the ball in play, and played a solid game. Those who participated and those who watched enjoyed a great first baseball day of spring. It was start to a hopeful 2021 baseball season.
Week of June 21-25
(See Team Schedule Page)
Thursday, June 24 thru
Sunday, June 27
15U & 16U Ruffnecks
16U PG Super25
(See Team Schedule Pages)
13U & 14U Ruffnecks
at Xaverian Bros
(See Team Schedule Pages)
Monday, June 28 thru
Wednesday, June 30
15U, 16U, 17U Ruffnecks
17U PG Super25
(See Team Schedule Pages)