Baseball – Monmouth Ace Trey Dombroski Dominates Prestigious Cape Cod League
When Trey Dombroski was invited to play in the 2021 Cape Cope Baseball League, he was not thinking of etching his name next to some of the greats that shined at the prestigious summer setting before becoming household names. He just wanted to prove he belonged on a roster through the end of the summer.
Not only did Monmouth University’s 6-foot-5 left-handed ace last the entire summer with the Harwich Mariners and show he belonged in a league with standout players from the nation’s best baseball programs; he was the best pitcher in the league.
Dombroski started the season as a middle-reliever on a non-guaranteed, temporary contract and pitched his way to the Cape’s 2021 BFC Whitehouse Pitcher of the Year Award, awarded to the best pitcher in the league. Dombroski joins a list of past winners that includes Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale (2009), current American League Cy Young contender and Oakland Athletic left-hander Sean Manaea, and St. Louis Cardinals left-handed reliever Andrew Miller.
Coincidentally, all of those prominent names are, like Dombroski, left-handed. Each of them also pumped up their draft stock heading into the final college seasons and Dombroski is determined to ride the momentum from this summer into a huge junior season with the Hawks in West Long Branch.
“Never in a million years did I think I would go up there and be the best pitcher,” Dombroski said. “I was just hoping to make it through the summer, pitch in some games, meet some guys from the bigger schools and leave a good impression. It’s an amazing accomplishment and to be in the company with guys like Sale and so many other great pitchers is really humbling.”
The temptation for many pitchers in Dombroski’s position as a relatively-unknown pitcher from a small Division I program is to make an effort to raise their level of play, even if it means attempting drastic changes on the fly. Dombroski, meanwhile, doubled down on what has worked for him to this point: throw strikes and trust every pitch he throws.
“The big thing is whatever I was going to throw, I was going to believe in it 100 percent,” Dombroski said. “Whatever my catcher puts down, you have to trust you’re going to execute it and if they hit it, you have to trust your defense is going to make a play. A big part of this summer was getting to play with some great players and great guys. The catchers were awesome to work with and the guys in the field always had my back. It made it easy to just go out and pitch.”
The results of Dombroski’s approach in the CCBL were undeniable. The former Wall High School ace finished second on the Cape in innings (31 2/3), tied for first in strikeouts (45) and first in ERA (0.85) during the regular season. On top of leading the league in strikeouts, Dombroski showcased his pinpoint command in issuing just two walks during the entire regular season.
After going 3-0 during in six regular-season appearances – the last four of which were starts – Dombroski made a postseason start for the Mariners and was solid over six innings (two earned runs on six hits with one walk and six strikeouts) but the offense could not back him up in a 2-0 loss to the Brewster Whitecaps on Aug. 6.
The combination of command, strikeouts and overall run-suppression is in line with what Dombroski has done since he burst onto the scene as a sophomore at Wall. He went on to win back-to-back Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year awards in 2018 and 2019 for the Crimson Knights and finished his career 25-2 with a 0.45 ERA and struck out 228 against 18 walks. In his final year of high school, Dombroski overwhelmed the competition by going 11-1 with a 0.37 ERA with 126 strikeouts and only five walks. His only loss came against Christian Brothers Academy and current Vanderbilt right-hander Pat Reilly, who won the 1-0 showdown against Wall and Dombroski.
Following a record-breaking high-school career, Dombroski made the short trip to Monmouth to begin his college career and hardly missed a beat. He posted a 4.73 ERA in four starts in the truncated 2020 season, with five of the nine earned runs he allowed came in one start at San Diego. Following that start, Dombroski fired seven innings with no earned runs against George Washington for his first career win. The season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic before Dombroski could make his next start.
“There have been some humbling moments for me and that start out in San Diego was definitely one of them,” Dombroski said. “I was excited for that start and it didn’t go the way I wanted, so it forced me to go back and correct some things. I think I got too caught up in stuff other than executing my pitches and I think that taught me to always just focus on the gameplan and making the next pitch.”
Dombroski’s small sample at Monmouth was enough to get him an invitation to the 2021 Cape Cod League in the fall and in the ensuing spring, he validated that invitation. During his sophomore season with the Hawks, Dombroski went 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA, 64 strikeouts and eight walks. Through two seasons in West Long Branch, plus this summer in the CCBL, Dombroski has posted 130 strikeouts while walking only 15 and not allowing a single home run in 109 1/3 innings. The last home run Dombroski allowed was as a junior at Wall - the only longball he gave up as a prep pitcher.
After his breakout sophomore season at Monmouth, his confidence was riding high heading to the Cape on a temporary contract, which meant he had to survive roster cuts after the July 5 deadline for the league’s teams.
“My expectations were to go up there, get my name out there and see how different kids from different schools do things,” Dombroski said. “Only four or five kids up there were not at big-name schools, so I really wanted to talk to them and watch them to get an idea of how different their experience is so maybe I could apply it to what I do. I may get to stay the whole summer, I may not but I thought no matter what, it was a great opportunity to grow as a pitcher.”
While the results have been similar for Dombroski and his overall approach hasn’t veered too far from when he was at Wall, he has learned to vary his pitch repertoire as a collegian. Dombroski often dominated with variations of his fastball in high school with the occasional breaking ball and changeup, but has, by to his estimation, leaned far more on secondary pitches since. The slider has become his wipeout pitch and his circle changeup has been his weapon against right-handed batters.
“I didn’t realize how important a changeup was until I got to the Cape,” Dombroski said. “The hitters there are going to catch up to a 90-mile-an-hour fastball and the righties tend to make a little more contact on the breaking ball than the lefties do, so having that pitch that moves away from them and keeps them off-balance made a big difference. I’m a big believer in pitching inside to righties with the fastball and the changeup made that inside fastball that much more effective.”
Control of multiple pitches is not a new characteristic of Dombroski’s game, but his profile with Major League scouts is significantly higher now than it was coming out of high school. Although he received positive feedback and interest from a handful of clubs, Dombroski went undrafted as a left-hander with a fastball that sat between 84 and 87 miles per hour and would occasionally top out at 89.
Fortunately for Dombroski, that is not an uncommon profile in today’s prep baseball world. Pitchers increasing their velocity from the upper 80’s into the mid-90-miles-per-hour range between high school and college is far from unprecedented and in many cases, the velocity continues to climb during the early part of their professional career. To this point, Dombroski is on that track, having topped out at 94 miles-per-hour this summer while reportedly sitting between 89 and 92 miles-per-hour during his four starts on the Cape.
“The message I got from scouts (in 2019) was to just continue to develop,” Dombroski said. “The pitchability was there, I just needed to keep adding velocity. For me, I want to keep doing what works and I think my approach to pitching is what has gotten me this far. The biggest thing I have been focusing in the offseason has been getting stronger and more athletic so that when I get into my normal pitching routine, my actions are naturally faster and more athletic."
While a lack of velocity that held him back as a prep prospect is starting to turn around, so is whatever negative perception that comes with pitching at smaller program like Monmouth. Not only has Monmouth produced a first-round pitcher within the last decade (former Christian Brothers Academy star Pat Light was selected in the supplemental round with the 37th overall pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2012), but there are any number of instances of players – particularly pitchers – from smaller programs in the northeast ascending into the first two rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft.
This past year, Fordham University ace Matt Mikulski was drafted No. 50 overall by the San Francisco Giants after increasing his velocity, improving his secondary offerings and significantly refining his command of the strike zone after exhibiting some control problems in his prior years with the Rams. Dombroski is similar to Mikulski in that he is a left-hander, but his control and pitching savvy likely won’t require a 98-mile-per-hour fastball to catch the eye of scouts.
“When I got up (to Cape Cod), I was looking at where all the guys were from and it was eye-opening to see so many guys from top programs,” Dombroski said. “After a couple games, I stopped looking at that list. I didn’t want to know where they were from. I wanted to go in knowing that if I made my pitches, it didn’t matter where a guy went to school; he wasn’t hitting it. That’s the mentality I think you have to have coming from a small school.”
With just a little more of the type of progression he has shown to this point, Dombroski could continue to pitch his way closer to the first round in 2022. The summer in the CCBL has set him up for that kind of ascension and one more dominant season in West Long Branch could be the closing argument that makes Dombroski the latest Shore Conference product to hear his name called in the early rounds of the MLB Draft.
“More than anything, this summer added fuel to the fire,” Dombroski said. “This offseason and this winter is probably going to be the most important period of my life so far, just in terms of what it’s going to mean for the draft. I always felt like I could go out and compete with top guys in the country and to have some success is really satisfying, but I want to take the experience and run with it and see how far I can go.”