Both Brock Guffey and Owen Diodati had plans to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, Guffey for the Harwich Mariners and Diodati for the Wareham Gatemen. When their University of Alabama baseball season was canceled in March, they held out hope for weeks that they could still trek up to the nation’s most prestigious summer baseball league.
That hope was dashed on April 24, when the league chose to cancel its season. To fill the void, the Honor the Game League began to form; with Tuscaloosa an hour away from the state border, UA players were understandably attractive commodities.
Guffey and Diodati accepted immediately.
“Little to no thought into it,” Guffey said.
Diodati and Guffey are two of 14 UA players that will be in the Honor the Game league when play starts on Monday in Meridian, Mississippi, one of few summer ball options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diodati is joined by fellow outfielder T.J. Reeves and pitcher Jacob McNairy on the Grasshoppers. Freshman pitcher Connor Prielipp will play for the Rockhounds and six members of the Crimson Tide will play for the Lugnuts: outfielder Jackson Tate, pitcher Antoine Jean, pitcher Casey Cobb, catcher Sam Praytor, pitcher William Freeman and pitcher Landon Green. Guffey will be joined by pitcher Dylan Smith, first baseman Drew Williamson and catcher/utility Peyton Wilson on the Blue Rocks.
For Diodati, it was easy to jump at the opportunity for more at-bats, since his freshman season was cut short to 55 at-bats.
“Covering that outer half and starting to use the other side of the field a little bit more,” Diodati said. “Being a more complete hitter, hitting breaking balls as well as I do fastballs, but I think the really important thing for me this offseason is the defensive side of things. I want to work on my outfield game and be a complete player. I want to help the team win on both sides of the ball.”
Diodati played almost exclusively at designated hitter in 2020, with the rare appearance in left field as the lone exception. He may be needed to start at a corner outfield position in 2021, if right fielder Tyler Gentry is selected in the five-round MLB Draft next week and elects to start his professional career.
Guffey was off to a strong start in 2020, sporting a 1.04 ERA and 13 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings, proving to be a dependable late-game arm. However, he sees the summer league as a chance to improve his game, more than continue what he had going in the spring.
“The past couple of years in my college outings, I’ve been based off of fastballs in and out and breaking ball mixed in. What I want to work on is my changeup,” Guffey said. “It’s not a pitch I’ve been very comfortable throwing the past couple of years, it’s something I feel like I need to get better about it.”
Guffey said at most he threw one changeup in a game last season; the pitch was a consistent focus for him and UA pitching coach Jason Jackson in bullpens, but throwing it against quality college hitters was another story. He hopes to develop it into a useful pitch over the summer, leaving UA as a two-pitch reliever and returning with another offspeed threat.
“I think it’s the action of it, trying to make it look like a fastball and drop out of the zone to get a chase or a roll over,” he said. “Typically it would stay flat in the zone and get hit, so I’d like to get more sink out of it and keep it in the bottom of the zone.”