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Written by Mark Firkins
Baseball is said to be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a sport whose season begins in February with spring training and the fall classic now ends in November. However, any fan of the minor leagues knows that summer and the season goes by way too quick. This is especially true if you’re a fan of and follow the NY PENN League. Their season begins in mid June, ends Labor Day, and plays 75 games. While the season may be short, the talent and play on the field is excellent. Most players are fresh from the June MLB draft and/or promoted from the parents club Rookie Leagues; The Arizona, Appalachian, or Gulf Coast Leagues.
With 14 teams in 3 divisions, you’re bound to catch the same teams and players with regular frequency. I have been fortunate to attend 24 NY PENN League games so far this season, 14 of them featuring the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians). My faithful travel companion and youngest son Travis (14) is usually by my side at these games. He’ll act as my score keeper, second pair of eyes, and someone knowledgeable to bounce ideas off of. Without telling each other we decided to each pick out a few players that impressed us, pay a little more attention to, keep notes on and compare our findings. After our 8th or 9th Scrappers game we shared our findings. Amazingly, as if we read each others minds we each had picked two of the same players.
Even more remarkable, our notes and comparisons were unbelievably similar for these two players. We each chose Pitchers, Cameron Mingo (RHP) and Alex Royalty (RHP).
Here’s what we found together:
Cameron Mingo pitched for Princeton in the Ivy League and was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an undrafted free agent in August 2016. In his 2 seasons he has pitched in the Arizona, NY PENN, Midwest, and Eastern Leagues (rookie to AA level). He has logged 140 innings pitched, a 4.00 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 89 strikeouts, and rarely gives up the long ball.
He features a sinking fastball that regularly sits in the low 90’s and one that registers plenty of ground outs. Mixed with a slider and curve ball, Cameron keeps plenty of batters off balance and guessing at his offerings.
At 6′ 4″ and 185 lbs. Cameron is a lean figure on the mound. The first time I saw his pre game bullpen warm ups and then in game action, there was something about him that was all too familiar to me. Not surprising, as sometimes I feel we share a brain, Travis had the same reaction. Cameron’s stance on the mound, arm angle, wind up from the stretch, delivery and stature on the field is remarkably similar if not identical to Indians Pitcher, Josh Tomlin. Coincidence? Maybe. However Josh Tomlin is the Indians longest tenured player, well respected in the organization, and even shared the bullpen and played with Cameron in Mahoning Valley in 2017 when he was on a rehab assignment there. While I’m sure it’s more of a coincidence, being compared to Josh Tomlin can only be viewed as high praise. I can certainly see Cameron filling and playing that same role in the Indians organization.
Alex Royalty was drafted in the 8th round this past June. A college product from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Alex earned many collegiate honors including the 2017 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Pitcher of the Year and 2018 CAA All Tournament Team.
Drafted in June and after a brief 4 game appearance in the Arizona League he was promoted to the Scrappers. He has started 5 games in the NY PENN League, and is on a relatively low pitch count for now as he gets stretched out and prepared for longer appearances later in August and the fall. Through 5 games he has pitched 15 innings (exactly 3 innings each game), owns a 2.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 16 strikeouts.
Travis and I once again compared notes and again, wrote down the same thing, curveball. Alex heavily relies on and uses the curveball to get hitters out. We saw him pitch a few weeks ago on July 22nd. He logged three innings, threw 47 pitches total, 38 which were off speed and/or a variety of curveball. While I’m not an expert at identifying pitches, I was definitely able to tell the difference in some of Alex’s. He throws the classic straight curve that breaks down and away from right handed batters. He throws the 12-6 curveball that features plenty of top spin and breaks from the batters shoulders to ankles. Alex also featured a slightly faster pitch with excellent tailing action that I assumed to be a slider.
After his exit in the 3rd inning Alex headed for the bullpen along with Scrappers pitching coach Jason Blanton. I wandered down to that area of the field to see what he might be doing after his impressive start. After some arm and leg stretches, Alex and coach Blanton each held a ball, compared grips, and the coach appeared to be showing him something with his legs. Alex then threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen. I was able to hear the pitching coach tell him what to throw and yell out “knee up!” telling him to get his left knee/leg higher in his wind up. Of the 15 bullpen pitches thrown? You guessed it, curveballs.
Travis and I have viewed plenty of other players from many teams that we each have notes for, ideas on and plan on collaborating together for future articles. I always tell him, every one of these players we see has a story, has a dream, has something to offer to the game of baseball, and one day, one of them will make their MLB debut, and we’ll be able to say, we saw them play in the NY PENN League. Cameron Mingo and Alex Royalty are the boys of summer that we remarkably found similarities together for this article. A pitching style and comparison to an established Major League pitcher belongs to Cameron. An impressive, hooking curveball graces Alex. As summer winds down and Labor Day is only a few short weeks away, our chance to see some of the games youngest talent is unfortunately coming to an end. Have Travis and I possibly spotted future MLB players in our corner of the baseball world? As we do for every minor league player we’re fortunate enough to see in action, we certainly hope so.