The Subtle Underdogs of the Cal Ripken League

For two months every summer, the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League is home to some of the best collegiate baseball talent the world has to offer. Players come from far and wide to compete against each other and refine their skills with the hopes of someday hearing their names called at the MLB Draft.

The majority of players in the league are enrolled in Division I programs, and spend the summer trying to show they can go toe-to-toe with Division I’s elite prospects. But some of the league’s players have an even taller task at hand, vying to prove they belong on the same field as Division I prospects at all.

These are the Division II and III players that are out to defy the odds. In the 2018 MLB Draft, only 8% of draft picks hailed from Division II and III schools, while Division I prospects made up 56% of selected players. The disparity between Division I and the lower divisions is very real, but that doesn’t stop the Cal Ripken League’s handful of Division II and III players from trying to live the dream of playing professional baseball.

Daulton Martin of the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts is one of these players. Martin, a native of Lancaster, Pa., attends Tusculum University in rural northeastern Tennessee and plays for the school’s Division II baseball program. But unlike many other aspiring major leaguers in his division, Martin ended up in Division II by choice.

“I had a lot of low D-I looks, a couple of low D-I offers, and then this school that I actually went to, Tusculum, [was] the only Division II school I really talked to,” Martin said. “The campus is really nice, the baseball facilities are some of the best in the country for Division II, and I figured it was the right fit. I really liked the coach, and I went down there, and I loved it.”

Halfway into his first summer in the Cal Ripken League, Martin has noticed the impressive depth of some of the league’s pitching staffs. He sees that as the biggest difference between pitching staffs he sees at school and those he faces during the summer.

“The pitching staffs I see here are probably a little bit more deep than the ones I see at school,” Martin said. “You know, you’re not really seeing many low velocity guys [in the Cal Ripken League] compared to school.”

Along with showcasing his skills for scouts, Martin has had a chance to work with the Thunderbolts’ coaching staff to help him improve his abilities.

“They [the T-Bolts coaches] are very encouraging. They’re always pointing out tips and stuff that can help out a hitter, can help us out, [and] things they see with pitchers,” Martin said. “They’re here to win, so as well as they can develop their players, they’re going to do so in order to win the championship.”