Hal Hughes (Harwich '19) SportsPx Photo
The 2021 MLB draft has been moved to mid-July providing the basis for a script never before written by the Cape Cod Baseball League. Players now have the option of playing half a summer on the sunny shores of Buzzards Bay and then all of a sudden be swept into the world of professional baseball overnight. This means teams may have to remake their roster halfway through the season as the playoffs near.
This chance will give players who didn’t have the spring they planned for, the ability to pad their draft status. It will also give scouts one last chance to have a close look at who their franchise will be taking.
Rice University shortstop Hal Hughes, who played for Harwich in 2019, will be back on Cape Cod to take full advantage of this opportunity.
Before Rice, Hughes played for LSU for three seasons compiling a .199 batting average. He has always been a defensively-minded infielder, though. One might not look at his stats for the first time and be blown away by his abilities in the batter’s box, but it’s because Hughes focuses on consistency game in and game out.
Following his sophomore season was when he headed to the Cape to play for the Mariners. Upon his arrival in mid-June, Hughes’ struggles at the plate continued.
“I struggled the first couple weeks and that really set me back, but I ended up finishing pretty strong,” said Hughes. “I was happy about the way I ended the summer, offensively, but I’m more of a defensive first player. I played great defense all summer. I think I only made, one error.”
In Hughes’ first 19 games, he only managed seven total hits and one RBI. But as soon as late July rolled around and game intensity began to heat up, Hughes started to swing the bat and was rewarded. In the final 17 games, including playoffs, Hughes recorded 15 hits and eight RBI’s. This second half success came in 11 fewer at-bats than his seven first-half hits came in.
It was the second half of the summer which Hughes remembers fondly for both himself and his team. “We made a nice little playoff run at the end there,” he said. “We didn't have a great regular season, but we got hot at the right time. So I would say that playoff run and playing in the championship game was really cool.”
Harwich made the playoffs with a 21-21-2 record; fourth out of five seeds in the East, sneaking a playoff berth over Brewster. They went on to knock off first-place Chatham in two games and annihilate the YD Red Sox in two games (only allowing two runs total during the second round matchup). In the first game of the championship, the Mariners were one out away from pushing Cotuit to the brink, but former Kettleer Adam Oviedo singled in the tying run. Harwich would go on to lose that game in the 15th inning and the series the following day.
Despite the championship loss, Harwich’s playoff run left a good taste in the mouth of Hughes and his performance down the stretch gave him some hope for his future career.
“I carried those guys!” he joked. In the playoffs, he hit .318 with a home run. Of Mariners players who registered 20 playoff at-bats, Hughes’ average was second highest. “To be able to have some success in that summer, really gave me some confidence as a player,” he said.
He carried that confidence into his next season at LSU, hitting .154 in 11 games during the COVID shortened spring. However, if the past is any indication of Hughes’ in-season tendencies, the more the season progresses, the better Hughes performs at the plate. 11 games are just not large enough of a sample size to judge him on.
When the draft came in June, Hughes, like many, thought it was finally his time. “I was hoping to [get drafted],” he said. “It was tough the way things worked out, you know, that's something you never expect for the draft to be cut that many rounds. But it is what it is… I think everything has worked out.”
The short draft created a domino effect no one had expected. It altered the paths of thousands of baseball players, but not only because they didn’t hear their name called. Suddenly, college teams had players returning for another season when they were planning to offer that spot to an incoming freshman.
At LSU, an overload of talented infielders prompted Hughes to look for other options for likely the most important baseball season of his life. He settled on Rice; a team that had just lost their shortstop to the draft (Trei Cruz, Falmouth ‘19, drafted by Detriot). “It just ended up being a really good fit for me and it was the best thing for me to do personally,” he said. “I loved my time and at LSU. I had a great three years [and] a great experience. So there's no bad blood.”
In the fall, Hughes also made another decision; to return to Cape Cod for a second season. Even though it will likely only be for half the summer, Hughes can’t wait to get back to New England. “I always think ‘wow, it'd be awesome to be able to do it again,’” he says in reference to his Cape League experience. “[Now] I'm actually getting that chance, so I'm really looking forward to it. I'm just gonna soak it all in and enjoy it as much as I can.”
The last time he stepped foot on Whitehouse Field in Harwich was in 2019. “I hope that they remember me,” he says. “I wanted to win that summer for those fans… We came up a couple games short, but I think it would be really cool to win a championship for those people.”