Scott Ericson: FCIAC baseball producing elite talent
If we can be honest for a minute, while Connecticut has produced some good players over the years, even a few pros, it has never been known as hotbed of baseball talent.
In fact, only 201 Connecticut-born players have ever made it to Major League Baseball, according to Baseball Reference.
Compare that to 899 Texas-born players who have reached the majors.
Of those Nutmeggers who reached the majors, many are from areas east of the Housatonic and did not play in the FCIAC.
Sure, there have been players such as current Tampa Bay Ray Curt Casali of New Canaan, Craig Breslow of Trumbull, Bobby Valentine of Rippowam in Stamford, Charles Nagy of Fairfield and Mo Vaughn from Norwalk to make it from the FCIAC all the way to the show, but those players are few and far between.
Really, most years the top FCIAC seniors might go on to play at lower-level Division-I colleges like Fairfield or an Ivy League school or to D-II or III schools, with the rare gem finding their way to the SEC or ACC.
We are starting to see a shift now with more Division-I prospects coming from Connecticut than ever before and this particular senior class in the FCIAC is loaded.
“It’s great. It shows that our little part of Connecticut has a lot of talent,” said Norwalk senior and Georgetown commit Eddie McCabe said. “It is great to see players from the Northeast start to get the same respect as kids from California or Texas. The kids up here work just as hard.”
Most of the teams in the FCIAC have at least one D-I prospect on the roster with several boasting more than one.
“The skill level is so high,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “These kids are healthy, they do the right things and there are so many really good players. Kids are going to South Carolina or North Carolina from this little county in baseball. Everyone says you have to be from Arizona, Texas, but these kids are now playing at that level. I’ve had a couple Ivy league kids, a few go to schools like Fordham, but not the ACC.”
Two players right now, senior shortstop/pitcher Ben Casparius at Staples (North Carolina) and junior second baseman Dillon Lifrieri of Wilton (South Carolina) are booked to go play in baseball’s elite college conferences.
Casparius is the second ranked high school player in New England according to Baseball Prep Report and Lifrieri is rated sixth for the class of 2018.
Wilton does not just have Lifrieri as a top recruit. The Warriors are also blessed with senior pitcher Billy Black, who is signed to play at Columbia next season.
Most seasons, Black would be considered the top player in the FCIAC, and still could be its best pitcher, but with so many high-level players around it can be hard to pick out the best of the best.
Hearst Connecticut Media named five FCIAC players to watch in the preseason and Black did not make the list. Neither was Casey Brown of Darien, who is going to play at Fordham or Giacamo Brancato of Warde, who will play at Fairfield University.
What is even crazier is that despite having D-I caliber players all over the league, only current seniors Casparius, Robbie Jones of New Canaan (UConn), Michael Lisinicchia of Westhill (Post University) and current junior Marco Monteiro of Norwalk made the All-FCIAC first team last season.
So why now?
First, this group of seniors is a special class, but this year is not necessarily an anomaly.
Just look at the players coming up behind them and there are juniors and sophomores who could end up being just as good as the current senior class.
Lifrieri and Monteiro are juniors and Staples’ sophomore Chad Knight is the No. 1 ranked player in the 2019 Connecticut class and has already verbally committed to Duke.
Players are making more of a commitment to playing outside the season, playing in fall leagues and spending time at indoor facilities in the winter and early spring.
Many players in Fairfield County are also often playing on elite travel teams in the summer, putting them up against those players from Texas or Florida they may never have seen in the past.
“Kids are becoming a lot better playing in the summer because we are playing against the best kids,” said McCabe who played with Baseball U Connecticut this past summer. “We went to Georgia and played kids from California, Georgia, Texas. These are kids that play year round and it was a great experience to play those kids. I think the FCIAC is right up there talent wise.”
It all adds up to more time focusing on baseball and refining skills needed to play at the next level.
That focus on one sport may not be ideal in the grand scheme of high school athletics, but it is certainly producing higher-quality baseball players.
“All these kids are working out year-round. The overall level of play is better than it has ever been,” McFarland said. “The top kids are playing at a higher level than kids in the past. These kids practice year-round, some of them. When I was a kid I played three sports and most people played two or three sports. We didn’t have places like (BVSA) to go to in the winter there were no indoor cages, even. We would go shovel the driveway and play basketball until baseball season started. These kids are really focused and I think it is showing. There is some bad with that, too. There are issues with kids’ labrums and injuries we never saw when we were kids because we were just doing something else, we weren’t throwing baseballs all winter. But overall, it is producing better players across the league.”
Look for this trend to continue with more players from the region getting D-1 offers, playing in power conferences and even maybe even following Casali and making the majors all while the overall level of play in the FCIAC continues to go up.