AGAWAM, Mass. -- Major League Baseball Draft-ready high school talent in Massachusetts tends to come in waves.
Four years ago, one of the Bay State’s best pitching classes ever spanned all three days of the draft board, an army of hard-throwing righties led by Lawrence Academy’s Tyler Beede, St. John’s Prep’s Pat Connaughton, and Lincoln-Sudbury’s Adam Ravenelle. All three, who chose college instead of turning pro, were picked again last June, in the top five rounds (Beede, who famously turned down $2.5 million from the Blue Jays in 2011, holds the unique distinction of being picked twice in the first round).
Historically, with long New England winters impeding the amount of live at-bats for hitters, it’s been pitchers that have had the highest profiles around here. This has mostly held true over the last three decades, carving legends from Tom Glavine to Jeff Juden to Jeff Allison, all the way to present day.
So suffice it to say, these last few years have been an anomaly. Hulking, left-handed power hitters -- not quick-twitched, right-handed power arms -- have ruled the landscape.
"Maybe it’s something in the water," laughs one American League scout, when asked where all these Bunyanesque southpaws are coming from lately.
Six-foot-4 first baseman Chris Shaw, a 26th-round pick by the New York Mets out of Lexington High three years ago, could see his stock sneak into the first round with a strong spring for Boston College. Last year’s ESPNBoston Mr. Baseball, Isan Diaz, slugged .880 from the top of Springfield Central High’s order and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a reported $750,000 last June after getting picked 70th overall. Hulking St. Sebastian’s first baseman Justin Bellinger, a bear at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, went in the 13th round to the St. Louis Cardinals, but instead opted to play college ball at Duke.
This latest prospect may be the most curious case of them all, however.
One of the most feared long-ball high school hitters in New England this spring resides at Agawam High, where expectations are high after a disappointing 2-18 campaign a year ago. The reason for the expectation rests almost exclusively on the broad shoulders of its 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior captain, Seamus Curran, a jolly lumberjack with a menacing scowl whose bat speed has crept into the triple-digits on rare occasions.
He’s one of those kids you’d show up just to watch his batting practice.
"The ball coming off his bat just sounds different," says his high school coach, Brian Rheault. "He took a round of BP in the cage [in Agawam High’s gymnasium] the other day, and everybody stopped to watch -- kids from other sports came in. Because you could hear it. It’s a different sound. It was incredible. That ball was cracking off the bat."
Some pro scouts say he could go in the first 10 rounds of June’s MLB Draft. Other scouts admire the physical tools, but think he may want to honor his commitment to the University of Rhode Island and fine-tune his game a little more.
One thing is for certain: The attention on him is about the only thing that will be undivided this spring.
Because if all goes right, the finished product could be damn near impossible to turn away from.
BASEBALL GIVETH, BASEBALL TAKETH AWAY
It wasn’t always like this for Curran.
His freshman and sophomore years, he admits, he barely touched weights, and overall displayed a careless attitude toward the sport. A talk with his travel coach with the Western Mass. Storm club, former San Francisco Giants draft pick Carl Hanselman, served as a wakeup call.
"He told me,‘I didn’t see you come in and hit once this year. Does baseball actually want to be your goal? Be professional’," Curran recalled.
From there, things took off. Curran committed to the University of Rhode Island before the start of his junior season last spring, then turned in a monster season to earn First Team ESPNBoston All-State honors. In his first 15 games of the season he registered impressive .462/.611/.795 totals at the plate, with eight RBI and four triples.
A bout with mononucleosis wiped out his final five games of the season, and then the next two months as he struggled to get his name out on the increasingly-important summer circuit. Some days, he could barely even open his eyes. Others, he found himself getting dismissed from school before 11 a.m. His weight plummeted to 205 pounds -- "I was a skeleton of what I am," he says.
The regression showed when he arrived at Bentley University to try out for the prestigious Area Code Games. After a lackluster showing, Curran didn’t make the squad, and perhaps turned off a few scouts.
Ever since then, he’s hit the weight room like a man possessed, hours mostly performed at the Powerhouse Training facility in East Longmeadow, where his friend Diaz also trained. With a rigorous weight-training regime, he brought himself back up to his junior season playing weight of 230, and then added 10 pounds for good measure.
"This winter I really worked on keeping my shoulder closed, staying on that ball and driving it to opposite field, but I kinda’ just read and adjust," Curran said.
Powerhouse owner Jon Davis marveled at Curran’s drive this winter, calling him "Pretty motivated for a kid who has the level of ability he has."
"That might sound funny, but with a lot of the higher-level guys, they’re just more talented than the other kids around them, and usually there comes a point where they get picked up and people catch them," Davis said. “But Isan [Diaz] was a regular here, his dad works here. Him and Seamus both push themselves pretty hard, and they work like they don’t have talent. I think that’s what really stands out -- they work just as if they’re a regular guy."
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Ask around Western Mass. about why scouts’ opinions are so divided on a 6-foot-6, 240-pound specimen with left-handed power, and you get the same canned answers you’ve heard 100 times before: "No two scouting reports are the same". Or, "Kids from the Northeast just don’t face the same level of competition". Or, "The limited action in this part of the country doesn’t create a large enough sample size".
But that’s just simply misleading. Tyler Beede was universally projected as a first-rounder coming out of Lawrence Academy back in 2011, and that would have held true if the prized righthander was hidden away at the most secluded high school in New England. Same for Diaz, and same for Salisbury (Conn.) righthander Austin DeCarr, players who both lived up to their top-round projections in last June’s draft.
Is it tough to measure a guy in the Northeast? Sure. But there’s also such a thing as a sure thing.
Curran doesn’t fall into said category of "sure things" just yet. But it’s also impossible to ignore his raw power, his prodigious frame, and what happens when the two are in harmony.
Take, for instance, this 404-foot home run he launched with a wooden bat at a showcase event in Jupiter, Fla., last October:
This is a 404-foot homer Seamus Curran hit in October down in Jupiter, Fla. pic.twitter.com/ss58Z1dIhX— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) April 7, 2015
The angle on the video probably doesn’t do it enough justice, but there are two things that stick out here. The first is that this pitch was low and away – Curran reached across the plate to get a piece of this one, and he didn’t even get all of it. The second is that he doesn’t stop his sprint until somewhere around third base, when someone can be heard sarcastically yelling from the stands, “Run, Seamus! Run!”
This is also part of Curran’s appeal -- feats of awe spliced with moments of aw-shucks charm.
“Seamus is a big strong left-handed bat,” one National League scout told ESPNBoston.com. “It’s a younger version of [Chris] Shaw in some sense and some ways, because he’s exactly that. He’s one of those guys that you go out and see where it plays, see how he does, and if he goes out and impresses there’s going to be someone that takes a chance on him.”
One American League scout who spoke to ESPNBoston.com gave a similar comparison to Shaw and Bellinger, but wondered how many legitimate opportunities he’ll get to impress folks this spring.
“If he shows he can handle velocity this spring, he’s a guy that you’re gonna’ have to consider,” the scout said. “But it’s also going to be hard in Western Mass., where he might not be facing a guy throwing over 82 every day. It’s a challenge to scout that.”
Where Curran falls in the draft could also come down to signability, though he declined comment when asked about how willing he would be to turn pro for the right offer.
Historically, Western Mass. is rich in baseball talent, home to some of the finest Major Leaguers this state has ever produced, from Mark Belanger to Jeff Reardon to Chris Capuano. But it also tends to be top-heavy. Before Diaz’s second-round selection last year, the last position player from a Western Mass. high school to go that high in the draft was Johnny Bedard, who back in 1970 went 13th overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates out of now-defunct Springfield Tech.
So naturally, players in the region with Curran’s physique are even rarer.
“Very few position players from Western Mass have gotten the attention [that Seamus has gotten],” Rheault said. “You can’t teach 6-4, 240, plus he’s a lefty power hitter. Look around the Major Leagues, and start counting the lefty power hitters on your hand. OK, who are they? Ryan Howard? They’re few and far in between. So they see what they see. Whether he reaches that potential or not, that’s going to be the question.”
BLUE LINE BLASTS
When Curran initially committed to Rhody over a year ago, he laughs, “I think half the school thought I committed for hockey.” (Hockey is only offered as a club sport at URI.)
Twenty-one MLB teams came to Agawam this winter to check in with Curran. Of those teams, five went to his check him out as a defenseman for the Brownies’ ice hockey team.
It’s not uncommon for pro scouts or college recruiters to go see a prospect play another sport, to get a better sense of their athletic exploits. In this case, the scouts wanted to see his torque from the blue line.
As a wide-bodied blue-liner with some shake and bake, Curran often jumped up in the offensive zone, and joined the rush in transition. He led the Brownies in scoring this winter, with 27-24-51 totals, as the Brownies reached the MIAA Division 3 State Final at TD Garden.
Seeing Curran on skates is a special kind of treat. In his 100th career point game on Feb. 19, a 13-0 win over South Hadley, Curran fired three shots that ricocheted off the goalie’s mask, then scored the milestone shorthanded on a “a real grinder goal”. Going into the corner with four South Hadley players on him, Curran ended up fighting his way out, circling the net and tapping it past the goaltender.
“I was pressing that game,” he laughed. “I feel like I must have taken 40 shots or something. I was ripping them.”
For all the raw slap shot power one would expect from a player of his stature, sometimes it’s his snapper that unlocks the most force. Behold the first goal in this highlight reel from the Brownies’ D3 West Final win over rival Westfield:
(video courtesy of MassLive.com)
When the scouts showed up to take in some puck, more often than not they came away delighted.
“They just wanted to see if I’m an athlete,” Curran said. “That’s always been a concern for scouts, whether I’m athletic enough. That kinda’ puts a chip on my shoulder, too. I can handle my position.
“That was one of my things. When you’re taking a slap shot, your body shifts to the front, and when you’re hitting you want to stay centered. So once [one scout] saw I made the adjustment from hockey to baseball, the swing and the lower half, he just thought I could make adjustments and stuff like that.”
UPHILL BATTLE THIS SPRING
A lot of Curran’s draft stock for June is going to depend on what he does in April and May. But he may not even get pitched to all that much, or at least enough to make a difference.
Rheault has already thought about this and, heck, is even contemplating batting Curran leadoff this spring, just to get him some legitimate at bats – as crazy as that sounds.
“I’ve seen other teams do this,” Rheault said. “You can’t pitch around the leadoff hitter -- or if you do, you’re going to start the game exactly how you don’t want to start, with a runner on base. I don’t know if I’ve got the guts to bat him leadoff right now, so I would say it will definitely be three. It will never be four, because he’s got to hit as many times as I can get him up to bat.”
Further working against the cause is an injury to the Brownies’ other Division 1 recruit, outfielder and LIU-Brooklyn signee Joe Mercadante, who was discovered to have been playing through a broken bone in his wrist after the injury was initially misdiagnosed.
After having surgery on April 2, Mercadante is scheduled to have screws placed in his wrist next week. Two weeks after that, he’ll be re-evaluated. At minimum, he’s looking at missing six weeks. On top of that, given the nature of the injury he may only field, and not take an at bat this spring.
Mercadante, who recorded 13-18-31 totals on the ice for the D3 state finalist Brownies, was expected to contribute at the top of the lineup this spring after registering .278/.350/.417 totals in 2014.
With an unprecedented nine Division 1 signees for the 2015 recruiting cycle so far, this is perceived to be one of the strongest seasons for the often-overlooked Western Mass. region in recent years, with favorites such as Westfield, West Springfield and Springfield Cathedral all expected to contend for a berth in the MIAA Division 1A Tournament (more popularly known as the “Super Eight”).
If the Brownies are to be part of the conversation, it looks like Curran is going to have to string together another monster spring.
Nothing that those broad shoulders of his can’t handle.
“He’s the first player that would say, ‘Let’s work outside [pitches], coach. Then, ‘Alright, now I want to work middle’, ‘Now I want to work middle-in’,” Rheault said. “High school kids usually aren’t that well-schooled. They’re not that disciplined. They don’t have that kind of a plan. They get up there and it’s like rec ball – ‘I’ll see it, and I’ll hit and it’ll look good, it’s BP’.
“His ability to translate that to the game is gonna’ be crucial this year for us, because nobody’s gonna’ put it on a tee for him. They’re gonna’ pitch around him, so if he can be patient enough to wait for that mistake, he’s gonna’ … I’ve seen our best hitters go south quickly because they want to hit, and they start chasing balls everywhere. [But] that’s not Seamus. Seamus is a disciplined hitter.”