The Valley Baseball League recently took a team of its best talent to Kannapolis, N.C. for the Southern Collegiate Showcase, where the VBL performed well against some of the other top summer collegiate leagues in the region. In an event intended to highlight some of the top prospects for a large scouting contingent in attendance, the VBL roster included three Division III players who have been having success against opposition primarily from higher levels.
Michael Wielansky (College of Wooster), Joe Burris (Christopher Newport) and Rick Spiers (Randolph-Macon) are all teammates this summer on the Charlottesville Tom Sox, and were all selected for the Showcase event.
Wielansky, who now stands 6-foot-1, was always small in high school; he was barely over 5-foot-tall as a freshman and didn’t grow much until after his junior year. He didn’t even get his first serious D-III offer until the fall of his senior year, and was committed to Wooster by the time he got some mild late interest from bigger schools.
He led Division III in runs (69) in 2017 as Wooster was ranked in the top-10 for most of the season, reaching as high as #5 during a 36-10 campaign. “It was a great season with a very close group of guys,” he said. The second baseman was named a first team All-American and a Gold Glove winner by the ABCA.
Wielansky came in red-hot to begin the 2017 VBL season, leading the league in practically every offensive category early on. “The pitching velocity was a big difference,” he acknowledged. “But playing baseball is ultimately the same at all levels- just see it and hit it.”
Joe Burris actually did go to a major Division I program, committing to Virginia Tech for the fall of 2013- the same team his father played for. But the coach who recruited him left for a job at Oklahoma before the beginning of that school year, leaving a different situation than Burris had expected.
He eventually transferred to Christopher Newport, where he was a first team All-State and second team D3baseball.com All-Region selection this spring, going 3-0 with three saves and a 1.11 ERA.
“Talent-wise, there are a lot of guys who could go either way,” Burris said of his experience playing for both D-I and D-III schools. “You’re going to find talent anywhere.”
Rick Spiers wasn’t highly recruited by any D-I programs despite a successful high school career that included two Conference Player of the Year awards. He went to Randolph-Macon, where the Yellow Jackets were ranked as high as #6 this season. “It’s been fun playing for a nationally-ranked program every year,” he said. RMC was ranked #2 in the nation for over a month in 2016, including a thrilling 2-1 victory over Wooster in the NCAA tournament where Spiers got the complete game victory despite Wielansky reaching base twice for the Fighting Scots.
“There is definitely a little bit of a size difference,” Spiers said of his summer in the Valley League. “Other than that it’s just playing baseball. I’m just trying to have fun and enjoy it.”
Interestingly Spiers may be known more as a hitter in his college career, where he has been a regular starter in the outfield since his freshman season. He is batting .309 with three homers for the Tom Sox, but has emerged as a pitcher and was selected in that role for the VBL’s All-Star Showcase team.
All three played a role in key situations down in Kannapolis, as the Valley League went 2-0 on the weekend. Spiers (in a 6-0 win over the SCBL) and Burris (in a 3-2 victory vs. the Cal Ripken League) worked out of bases loaded jams on the mound. And Wielansky drew a walk as part of a come-from-behind rally in the bottom of the ninth in the win vs. Ripken.
The trio has also had success all summer with the Tom Sox. Wielansky led the VBL in hits, runs scored, doubles and triples through the opening three weeks of the season, and his current .425 batting average would be the highest in the league in over a decade. Burris has a perfect 0.00 ERA, two saves and just one walk in nine relief appearances, and Spiers is 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA. It’s also worth noting that another D-III product, Johns Hopkins’ Sean McCracken, is 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA and 20 strikeouts in five starts for the Tom Sox this summer, while Randolph-Macon’s Cole Migliorini has two homers and 19 RBIs in 29 games for Charlottesville.
Photo Credit: Jimmy McCumber