Tom Sox top summer team
Traditionally, college summer leagues are very tight-knit with the communities the teams reside in. Providing locals a chance to see some of the top college baseball players in their backyard can offer a glimpse of the next wave of potential big leaguers.
The Charlottesville Tom Sox of the Valley League had a first-year manager with hometown roots. Dating back to his days as a high school standout at Monticello High School, and playing a key role in two College World Series trips for his hometown Virginia Cavaliers, 30-year old Corey Hunt seemed like the perfect fit to steer the ship.
Now the head coach at his former high school, Hunt led the Tom Sox to a 32-10 regular season mark, and Charlottesville marched through the Valley League postseason, defeating Strasburg 2-1 in the third and deciding game of the league championship series for the organization’s first Valley League crown.
That honor went a long way into Perfect Game’s decision to name the Tom Sox the Summer Collegiate Team of the Year in just their third year of existence on the summer baseball landscape.
“The chemistry the kids had from the start along with the tight ship that our manager Corey Hunt conducted went a long, long way,” Tom Sox general manager Mike Paduano said. “This is a huge honor for our organization and everyone played a part in it from the temporary players we had that turned into full-time guys all the way up ladder. It was the best summer we could have imagined.”
Hunt’s extensive ties to Charlottesville played a large part in the approach he took with managing college players for the first time. Embracing what the team did on and off the field, and the impacts it had on the community, was something Hunt really wanted to impart on his players.
“Kids sometimes don’t realize the type of impact they can have in the local community when playing summer baseball,” Hunt said. “Being from the area, I have seen how much it can mean.
“When little kids got to watch our team, I tried hard to get them to pay the right way. I went in with the philosophy of letting the guys play and not get in their way too much, and from day one I saw that we were just one team that played for each other. That’s what pleased me the most with this group.”
The balancing act for any players competing in summer leagues is for the organizations to get as many opportunities to play as possible, something Hunt did a great job of providing for his club.
“It’s hard to balance the expectations one player may have of himself along with the emotions of maybe not getting the playing time they would like,” Hunt added. “You want to make sure the guys get the reps they need out there, and I think we did a good job on that front, particularly with our pitching staff.”
On the mound is where the Tom Sox excelled the most, and incorporating a pitching system that suited the toughest questions of managing arms off of a long season in a summer league paid huge dividends for all parties.
“Our Vice President Jeff Burton came up with the idea of what he called ‘The Pitching Caring System,’ which would utilize two starting pitchers and one reliever to work through the entire game,” Paduano explained. “We would have a bridge guy in case one of the starters didn’t have his best on a given night.
“It worked out really well obviously. We want to build relationships with the colleges that send their kids to us, knowing that we are going to take care of their arms and be treated right.”
Hunt had not worked with a system for pitchers like that before, and was more than pleased with the end result.
“I really enjoyed how the system panned out,” Hunt said. “Our pitching coach Sam Bashioum did an outstanding job managing the staff; we wouldn’t have had the success on the mound if it wasn’t for him. Our guys could really go out and focus on their jobs, from the starters to the relievers and work on what they needed to.”
The Charlottesville team ERA checked in at 2.96, a full run better than the next closest team. The Tom Sox posted five shutouts and the entire pitching staff allowed just seven home runs in 42 games.
One righthander put up eye-popping numbers from the Charlottesville bullpen in University of Richmond junior Layne Looney. The Dallas, Texas native struck out 41 batters in 24 1/3 innings for the summer and allowed a mere eight hits. In Looney’s first two outings, he allowed six runs, but the final 10 outings saw him toss 19 scoreless innings to end the season.
“Layne doesn’t leave much in the bag when he’s out there on the mound,” Hunt said. “He’s a shorter guy at 5-foot-10, but has an extremely live arm. He really made a difference in the bullpen role with his three-pitch mix and controlled the running game with his tempo.”
The catalyst for the Tom Sox for the duration of the summer was a player not from the Power 5 conferences in which many Charlottesville players came from. Division III College of Wooster’s Michael Wielansky was always an underlooked prospect even coming through the high school ranks, but has turned himself into an All-American caliber player at the Division III level and jumped right into the Valley League and kept on hitting.
“Mike showed up with the right mindset from the onset, and we just plugged him into the lineup and let him go,” Hunt said of his star player. “He did what he was supposed to do. The game rewarded his hard work that he puts in, and he is deserving of all of the accolades he gets.”
Wielansky hit a blistering .432 in 37 regular season games, with 18 doubles, four triples and four home runs, and he also drove in 34 runs. In seven postseason games, Wielansky went 13-for-32 (.406 average), and scored the game-winning run in the deciding game in the championship series against Strasburg. Wielansky earned the Valley League MVP for his efforts.
Vinnie Pasqualino, coming off of a strong freshman campaign at Old Dominion in which he batted .321 with 17 doubles and 38 RBI, picked up where he left off in the spring by batting .336 in 31 games. The Moseley, Va. native went 10-for-29 (.345) in the seven postseason games for Charlottesville.
The versatility of another standout from the D-III ranks would impact the Tom Sox on the mound and at the plate in Randolph-Macon College’s Rick Spiers. The Chesterfield, Va. native batted .333 in 30 games, but was outstanding as a righthanded pitcher as he registered a 0.74 ERA in 36 2/3 innings for the summer. Similar to Wielansky and Pasqualino, Spiers took his game to another level in the postseason, going 2-0 on the mound while closing out the championship game by firing 2 2/3 scoreless frames in the Tom Sox’ 2-1 victory against Strasburg.
“Rick’s one of those sleeper, fantasy draft type of guys you love to have,” Hunt said. “He was incredibly versatile for us. We had a two-game stretch in which he tossed five or six innings on the mound and threw him out to play shortstop the next game and picked up a few hits. He’s got the poise you want in a player and was a clutch performer all summer.”
Given the organization’s situation being an up-and-coming team, Paduano has seen what bringing higher quality players did to not only his Tom Sox, but the Valley League as a whole in 2017.
“I think the goal for the Valley League is to get to that next level to become the best league outside of the Cape Cod League for colleges to send their players to,” Paduano said. “The general managers in the league have upped their recruiting efforts to bring kids from the bigger conferences in. For our club, the first two years were tough sledding.
“Winning helps a ton to bring people out to the ballpark. We want to make this a long-term effort to make the city of Charlottesville a baseball town.”
With a hometown man at the helm in Hunt and a breakthrough season under their belts, the Tom Sox may have the perfect mix to become a mainstay among the college summer ranks for years to come.
2017 PG/Rawlings Summer Collegiate Team of the Year Finalists:
• Bethesda Big Train (Cal Ripken)
• Corvallis Knights (West Coast)
• Top Speed Baseball (Golden State)
Previous PG/Rawlings Summer Collegiate Teams of the Year:
2006: Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Cape Cod)
2007: Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox (Cape Cod)
2008: Santa Barbara Foresters (California)
2009: Forest City Owls (Coastal Plain)
2010: Eau Claire Express (Northwoods)
2011: Bethesda Big Train (Cal Ripken)
2012: Newport Gulls (New England)
2013: Brazos Valley Bombers (Texas)
2014: Lakeshore Chinooks (Northwoods)
2015: Edenton Steamers (Coastal Plain)
2016: Yarmouth-Dennis (Cape Cod)