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Summer baseball: Southern graduate Leffew makes waves on the Cape – Salisbury Post

Summer baseball: South graduate Leffew causes a stir on the Cape

Published on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, 00:00

By Mike London
[email protected]

HARWICH, Massachusetts – The port city of Harwich, Massachusetts, experiences a sharp population increase each summer, from 13,000 to 37,000 residents, as tourists and vacationers flock to Cape Cod.

One of the notable guests this summer is a 19-year-old left-handed pitcher from Wake Forest University who consistently throws 96 mph in the elite Cape Cod Baseball League. His name is Haiden Leffew, and local baseball fans will remember him as one of the key players on South Rowan High's path to the 2022 3A state championship. That was his junior season. He had a 0.82 ERA, struck out 128, and swung his bat with authority.

“Man, I miss hitting,” Leffew said with a sigh. “They let me do BP at Wake Forest. That made me miss it even more.”

So what is the July weather like in New England?

“A light breeze, not a cloud in the sky, 24 degrees, perfect weather,” said Leffew, who may have a future as a meteorologist.

Leffew's teammates at Harwich include East Rowan graduate Chance Mako.

Leffew and Wake Forest teammate Blake Morningstar are living with a sports-loving host family run by John Scheffler, a former baseball player and professional golfer whose house is a sports museum.

“You wouldn't believe the pictures he has,” Leffew said. “He played golf with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. He taught Tiger Woods a lesson when Tiger was 13.”

A young left-hander with a strong 6'2″ frame, 220 pounds, and a .96 batting average is generating excitement among MLB scouts. Usually, left-handers rely on their natural movement, while right-handers apply more pressure. A left-hander with a firecracker brings the guys with the notebooks, radar guns, and laptops to Harwich games whenever Leffew is scheduled to pitch.

Leffew's final appearance, his third of the summer, was no disappointment. He pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings for his first CCBL win, allowing two hits and recording eight strikeouts.

“It felt good to keep pitching in a game,” Leffew said. “I just kept hitting the zone. I made contact early for quick outs. I attacked hitters better than I did in my first two appearances. Our coaches stress throwing a strike on the first pitch and getting the lead. Hitters here are still getting used to swinging with wooden bats, and they don't have much of a chance if you can get the lead. I can work both sides of the plate. I can get them inside with hard stuff or outside with soft stuff. I just have to stay out of the middle of the zone.”

In high school, Leffew dominated with his fastball. Most hitters couldn't reach it, and he rarely had to use anything else except against 3- and 4-hitters.

At Wake Forest, where he played in one of the top two college leagues in the country, Leffew had to get used to a lineup that consisted only of 3- and 4-hitters in high school. There are guys in the ACC who can hit any fastball.

But Leffew has evolved as a pitcher since fans saw him pitch for South Rowan.

“My fastball velocity has gone up a couple of points and I can now stay consistent at 95 and 96,” Leffew said. “My changeup has gotten a lot better. I can throw it for a strike anytime now. My cutter is progressing. My control has improved. My weight hasn't changed much, but I've gained some muscle mass. As far as my behavior on the mound, I think I can still be a little scary out there. I'm excited.”

Leffew can get emotional when he's pushing. He loses his temper.

As a freshman, he pitched in 18 games for the Demon Deacons, starting three times and having 38 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings.

He went 3-0, with those three wins coming against North Carolina A&T, Liberty and Coastal Carolina. He struck out eight hitters in his college debut against UNC Greensboro. He was a great pitcher in a relief appearance against Clemson, with opposing hitters hitting .221 against him that season.

“At the beginning of the season, I was starting in midweek games against the mid-majors, doing pretty well and then I moved into a relief role,” Leffew said. “Relief is totally different because you don't know when you're going to start. You might warm up, get hot and be ready to go, but then you sit back down and cool down. Then you do it all over again. So it's tougher than being a starter and I'd never done it before, but I've learned to deal with it.”

Leffew soaked up his knowledge by watching Chase Burns, a Wake Forest teammate who will be a first-round draft pick and millionaire in about 10 days.

“Chase was fearless at bats,” Leffew said. “He wanted to throw 100 every pitch. He had that wild mentality.”

Perhaps the most memorable game of Leffew's first season came in March in Charlottesville, Virginia. Michael Massey, one of Wake Forest's standout pitchers, was suffering from a back problem and was unable to throw, so Leffew got the ball on short notice for a start on Sunday against the Virginia Cavaliers. He only managed eight outs, but it was another step in the learning process.

While there is a lot of activity in the transfer portal right now, Leffew is excited to be back on the mound for Wake Forest. As a sophomore, he could play a major role. The experience at Cape Cod, where he faces college all-star teams every time he steps on the mound, can only help him.

Ranked as the second-best high school left-hander in North Carolina in 2023, Leffew is eligible for the MLB Draft in 2026. If he stays healthy and continues to hone his skills, he has a chance to be selected early.

Ironically, one of the best players Leffew has faced this summer is the one he knows best: Kane Kepley, the Liberty outfielder who was Leffew's high school teammate, plays for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in Cape Canaveral.

Kepley doubled when he faced Leffew.

“We played Kane's team twice,” Leffew said. “The first time he was second in right field. The second time he was first batter in center field. If you look at the outfielders at the big schools here, they're almost casual, catching balls before a game. Not so with Kane. He dives after every ball. He sprints after every ball. He's totally out there all the time. He was like that in high school in practice, too, and that ambition is what will separate him from a lot of other guys.”