Catfish Notes: Steve Larkin 'had a blast' in 2019 and is already looking toward 2020

Cape Catfish manager Steve Larkin looks to the dugout during the recent Prospect League West Divisional playoff game against the DuPage Pistol Shrimp at Capaha Field.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

Emotions were riding high following the Cape Catfish falling to Chillicothe in Game 3 of the Prospect League Championship Series Tuesday at Capaha Field including those of manager Steve Larkin.

“It’s over for now,” Larkin said. “It hurts right now. But after a week, I’ll be ready to be back in that dugout.”

The Cape leadership was already proactive in that regard, as it extended Larkin’s contract through next season earlier this month and he said Tuesday he was “pretty sure that I am going to be back.”

Under Larkin’s leadership, the Catfish tied the Prospect League record for victories (44) and won the West Division.

“We are thrilled Coach Larkin will be with us again next year,” team CEO Jim Limbaugh said at the time in a release. “Steve’s quiet leadership helped create a record-setting inaugural season.”

Larkin had played a role in constructing the 2019 roster, however general manager Mark Hogan, utilizing his extensive network of contacts throughout collegiate baseball, did the majority of that work.

Hogan had said earlier this summer he would like Larkin to take on a bigger role in that moving forward.

“We’ll collaborate on it,” Larkin said of Hogan. “If (pitching coach David Lawson and assistant coach Josh Meyer) are back, we’ll all get together and work on the roster and hopefully get a lot of these same players and see how it goes.”

Despite the loss in the season finale, Larkin said this was a fun and productive summer for him professionally.

“I had an absolute blast,” Larkin said. “And winning helped a little bit.”

Larkin was in his first season as a manager after spending last year, ironically, with Chillicothe as its hitting coach. He said moving over to the top spot was significant in a lot of ways.

“It’s very different,” Larkin said. “I learned a little bit about being the manager, making (quick) decisions… and I made some mistakes. But I am going to try and learn and be a whole lot better.”

Getting defensive

Catfish outfielder Ellison Hanna II wanted to develop his game in a myriad of ways this summer and the Indiana State senior-to-be displayed that growth in the final inning of the season.

With a Chillicothe runner on third base in the ninth inning, a Paint hitter connected for a fly ball that was falling quickly into shallow left-center field. What looked to be an easy RBI hit turned into an out as Hanna chased it down.

“He’s a big, strong kid already,” Larkin said recently. “He’s an athlete and he has worked on his defense so much. He gets good jumps in batting practice and runs down fly balls.

“He’s just being a better player.”

Hanna got a good jump on that fly ball and sped quickly to the open space. He went to the ground and slid while making the catch to end the scoring threat and the inning.

“I’ve started to use the mental part of the game and the scouting reports and where kids would typically hit the ball,” Hanna said. “I’ve been able to use my brain out there and be in position way before plays would even happen.”

McNeely feels at home

The final game of the 2019 summer didn’t turn out well for Cape pitcher Bryan McNeely.

The Southeast Missouri State sophomore-to-be allowed the most runs (five) than he had all season in taking the loss to the Paints. However, the fact that he got to pitch all summer in front of his family and friends resonated with the Scott City graduate.

“It’s been awesome,” McNeely said recently. “Along with me getting to do well, I have my family here every game that I pitch. They are here to support me and it is awesome to have my family here cheering me on.”

McNeely was arguably the best pitcher in the Prospect League this season.

He led the league in ERA (2.40) and walked just six hitters in 56 1/3 innings. McNeely finished the season with a 6-2 record.

As much as he enjoyed throwing in front of his family, he laughed about being a bit unnerved by the presence of Redhawk coach Andy Sawyers.

“He’s come out for a couple of games and it is always exciting to have him here,” McNeely said. “He does make me a little nervous to have him here. He makes me a little more nervous than all of these teams. I always want to do good in front of my head coach, so hopefully, he’ll give me a little more playing time come next spring.”

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