Patriot Trio Heads to Spring Training
A day before leaving for Mesa, Ariz., and the training base of the Chicago Cubs, Dillon Maples stopped at a familiar spot: the field house at Pinecrest High School.
“All the coaches here have molded me, and along with my parents at home have made me the person I am today,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve been home for a while, so I’m ready to go out there and make things happen.”
An all-state baseball and football player at Pinecrest, Maples carried a workout binder from the Cubs that he was going to share with Patriot football coach Chris Metzger. He would also be getting together with baseball coach Jeff Hewitt.
It will be the first spring training for one of three former Patriots now playing professional baseball.
The right-handed pitcher signed for a $2.5 million bonus with the Cubs after being selected in the 14th round of the Major League draft last June. James Baldwin III, a fourth round choice of the Dodgers in 2010, is beginning his third year of pro ball. The center fielder has been in Glendale, Ariz., attending a Dodger mini-camp since Feb. 5.
Seth Maness, another right-handed pitcher, who earned All-American recognition and broke the record for career wins at East Carolina, was the 11th-round pick of the Cardinals last June. Reached by phone during a break from workouts with his former college team in Greenville, he indicated he is leaving for the Cardinal base in Jupiter, Fla., on March 5.
All three begin this phase of their careers with high expectations of their own and from others. Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com’s draft and prospect expert, ranks Maples No. 5 among Cub prospects and Baldwin No. 10 for the Dodgers.
Last fall, Maness was named Cardinal Nation/Scout.com’s top first-year starting pitcher in the Cardinals’ minor league system.
In his analysis, Mayo describes Maples as a pitcher who could be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He worked out with the UNC football team as a punter and kicker until early August before making the decision to pursue a baseball career.
His pro experience is limited to several appearances made during the Cubs instructional league in Mesa last fall. In his first game, he struck out five in two innings. The next time out he didn’t make it through an inning.
“I think I was feeling like, ‘Wow, pro ball isn’t really that hard,’” Maples told MLB.com. “I got the big smack in the face the next time out.”
Maples has traveled from coast-to-coast and into Canada as an amateur. He got another nudge experientially last month when he trained with big leaguers like Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman at the Athletes Compound at Saddlebrook near Tampa, Fla.
“If I hadn’t gone to the instructional league I’d be going in a lot more nervous,” he said of spring training. “I’m pretty comfortable with Mesa.”
Training about 25 minutes away at the Dodger facility in Glendale is Baldwin. Maples figures he will probably get together with his former Patriot teammate at some point.
Based upon his first 96 games in pro ball performing for the Arizona League Dodgers in 2010 and the Ogden Raptors last summer, Baldwin appears to have the potential to be a 30/30 type player (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases) who can score and knock in 100 runs.
MLB.com’s Mayo writes, “While his father was a pitcher in the big leagues, this Baldwin is a very toolsy center fielder with a ton of upside and a long way to go. He started showing the ability to tap into his raw power a bit in 2011, and there should be more to come.”
As the son of Pinecrest alum James Baldwin Jr., a pitcher in the majors for 11 years, most of it with the White Sox, the left-handed batting Baldwin grew up watching how then-White Sox stars like Frank Thomas and Mike Cameron went about their work.
On Jan. 4, he became a big brother, when his mother, Sharon Baldwin, gave birth to Alexander. One of the things he has been working on with the Dodger coaches this month is bunting. He looks forward to Maples’ arrival.
“It’s going to be a wonderful experience sharing baseball with someone I grew up with,” he said by phone on Friday.
The skills of Maness may be the most refined of the three as a result of the four years he spent at East Carolina competing against the best hitters college baseball has to offer. He finished his Pirate career with a record of 38-11.
“Despite being their fourth hurler taken,” Brian Walton of Cardinal Nation/Scout.com wrote about Maness, “he became the organization’s most-traveled newly-signed player this season. Maness was also the system’s best first-year starting pitcher in our view.”
Starting out for the Cardinals at their Batavia (N.Y.) farm club last summer, Maness pitched a scoreless inning in the New York-Penn League All-Star game before being promoted to Palm Beach in the Florida State League. He picked up his first pro victory there. Just 10 days later, the Cards moved him again to the Quad Cities River Bandits of the Class-A Midwest League.
In 53 innings across the three levels, he struck out 42 and walked only five, compiling an ERA of 1.53 while holding batters to a combined average of .194.
“I’ve seen a lot, but I’m not sure anything can prepare you for it until you actually get down and do it,” he said of going to spring training for the first time.
One of the unknowns for the former Patriots is where will they call home when the minor league seasons get under way in May and June. All three major league clubs have Class A teams in the Midwest League.
Maples thinks he could start out at Peoria of the Midwest or Boise of the Northwest League. “I don’t really care where I go,” he said. “The main thing is that I pitch well wherever I go.”
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