New Jersey’s major leaguers like Summer Camp, too

By Bob Behre | June 30, 2020

Garden Staters Mike Trout, left, and Tommy LaStella produced big for the Angels in 2019.

Five NJ Super 17 players out of Diamond Nation are among the 14 New Jersey natives who will open Summer Camp with a Major League Baseball team on Wednesday.

The long wait for baseball of any kind ends when MLB opens camp on July 1 and, three weeks later, begins its truncated 60-game season. Teams announced their 60-man Summer Camp rosters on Sunday.

Of course center fielder Mike Trout of the Angels, the game’s best player, and the Mets righthander Rick Porcello are the most prominent NJ Super 17ers to graduate to pro ball and star in the major leagues. They are joined by fellow Super 17ers Mike Ford of the Yankees, righthander Anthony DeSclafani of the Reds and first baseman Matt Thaiss of the Angels.

Matt Szczur, another Super 17 player, was released by the Phillies on Sunday, but don’t be surprised to see the Lower Cape May and Villanova grad get picked up by another club in need of a versatile outfielder.

Longtime Diamond Jack Mike Ford had a productive rookie season with the Yankees.

Trout and Thaiss, a rookie in 2019, are joined on the Angels team by St. Joseph (Mont.) grad Tommy LaStella, who had a breakout 2019 campaign in which he was selected to the American League All-Star Team. Ford jumped out onto the MLB stage, too, in 2019, hitting 9 HRs and driving in 32 runs in 181 at bats filling in at first base when the Yankees had a rash of injuries. Ford also boasted a .362 on-base percentage.

All Trout did in 2019 was lead the American League in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS on the way to his third MVP award. Trout is a Millville High grad. Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, went 14-12 in his fifth season with the Red Sox before signing as a free agent with the Mets. Porcello has been one of the game’s most reliable starters, posting a 149-118 career record over 11 seasons in which he started at least 31 games nine times. The 6-5, 205-pound Porcello pitched scholastically for Seton Hall Prep.

Former Super 17 player Matt Thaiss of Jackson burst onto the MLB scene as a rookie it 2019.

Thaiss, a catcher in high school at Jackson Memorial and college at Virginia, played both third base and first base for the Angels in 2019 when he came up and hit 8 HRs and drove in 23 runs in just 147 at bats. His fellow Garden Stater and teammate on the Angels, LaStella was batting .300 with 16 HRs and 44 RBI on July 2 when he fouled a ball of his right shin and fractured his tibia. LaStella had just been named to the All-Star Game, which was played a week later. Interestingly, Thaiss was called up from Triple-A to replace LaStella on the roster.

DeSclafani, in his fourth season as a starting pitcher with the Reds, went 9-9 in a career high 31 starts and a career high 166.2 innings. He struck out an impressive 167 batters and walked just 49. He posted a 3.89 ERA. DeSclafani was graduated from Colts Neck High and University of Florida.

A pair of longtime major leaguers out of New Jersey, relief pitcher Sean Doolittle and third baseman Todd Frazier will be important cogs on their teams this summer. Doolittle won his first World Series championship with the Washington Nationals in 2019, coming up huge in some big postseason spots. He was 6-5 with a 4.05 ERA in his eighth major league season. Doolittle boasts an impressive 3.02 career ERA in 390 games.

Frazier, the Toms River South and Rutgers grad, hit 21 HRs, drove in 67 runs and batted .251 in his ninth MLB season. After two seasons with the Mets, Frazier was signed in the off-season by Texas.

Lefthander Devin Smeltzer of the Twins and righties Zac Gallen of the Diamondbacks and Heath Fillmyer of the Royals lead the next generation of talented young ball players from the Garden State now making their way in the major leagues.

Bishop Eustace grad Devin Smeltzer shut out the Yankees over 3.1 innings in a 2019 playoff relief stint.

Smeltzer may have been a rookie but he certainly didn’t look like one when he shut out the Yankees over 3.1 innings of relief in his team’s Game 2 playoff loss to the Yankees. Smeltzer looked equally composed and tantalizing as he struck out four Yankees. The Bishop Eustace grad would first come up to the big club at the end of May and would get six starts, going 2-2 in 49 innings, posting a 3.86 ERA.

Fillmyer showed how tough he can be when the Royals called him up in 2018 and he went 4-2 with a 4.26 ERA. The Holy Cross (Delran) and Mercer County College grad battled a shoulder injury in 2019 when he went 0-2 with an 8.06 ERA before he was sidelined in May. Expect to see Fillmyer filling some big innings for the Royals this summer.

Gallen was called up by the Marlins on June 20 and inserted into the starting rotation. He was traded later in the summer to the Diamondbacks where he was also placed immediately into the rotation. The Bishop Eustace grad went a deceiving 3-6 in 15 starts in which he accumulated 80 innings while striking out 96 batters and walking 36. He posted a 2.81 ERA.

Gloucester Catholic grad Mike Shawaryn made his MLB debut with the Red Sox last June 7. He would make 14 appearances, all in relief, and post a 9.74 ERA, mostly due to one forgettable relief outing. The Maryland grad, however, showcased a live fastball that he leaned on to strike out 29 batters in 20.1 innings while walking 13.

Livingston High and St. John’s University grad Frank Schwindel climbed up the Royals chain with a consistent bat, but after going 1-for-15 in an early season cameo in 2019, he was released and signed a minor league contract with the Tigers. The first baseman will now get a shot in Detroit as part of its Summer Camp roster.

St. Joseph (Met.) and Notre Dame University grad Brandon Bielak hasn’t been called up to the major leagues yet, but he did debut in spring training this year with the American League champion Astros. Bielak was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in six spring training innings before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the sport down. The righthander has impressed the Astros staff enough to be included on their 60-man Summer Camp roster. Bielak went 11-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 20 starts bouncing between Double- and Triple-A in 2019. He struck out 119 and walked 50 in 121.2 innings.

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