Velocity has come to the independent leagues. Whether it’s the offseason throwing programs or an increased emphasis on scouting by independent league managers, it’s no longer unusual to see an independent league pitcher who sits on the right side of 90 mph.
Our independent league top prospects list reflects that, as there are pitchers who can touch 95 mph who didn’t make the top 10. Scouts are still looking for velocity, but now they can be picky enough to sign a pitcher with both velocity and feel.
A reminder that this list is not like the other league top prospect lists. The best players on this list have the potential to contribute to affiliated clubs at the minor league level, with the best possibly making the big leagues down the road. Expecting an independent league player to eventually make a significant big league impact is usually asking too much.
Most players in indy ball are there for a reason. The quality players who slipped through the cracks were either unscouted in college or quickly written off by scouts because of an obvious physical flaw (too small, too slow, not enough stuff), or they have an injury history that has scared off affiliated teams.
The list was limited to players who were 25 or younger on Sept. 1. All players on the list were unsigned as of Sept. 24.
|1. Kevin Gelinas, lhp||Amarillo (North American)|
|AGE: 23. B-T: L-L. HT.: 6-5. WT.: 250|
Gelinas is one of the higher-profile players to spend the season in independent ball. He was drafted twice and ranked No. 1 in the summer California Collegiate League in 2009 after ranking No. 2 in 2008, ahead of future big leaguers Ryan Cook and A.J. Griffin.
But he went undrafted as a fifth-year senior at UC Santa Barbara this spring after pitching just four innings because of a small rotator cuff tear. Given a choice of surgery or rehab, Gelinas chose rehab, and Dr. Lewis Yocum cleared him to pitch late this spring.
With that medical report in Gelinas’ background, Amarillo manager Bobby Brown intentionally worked Gelinas hard this year, to prove to scouts that he was sound.
“I overused him first off because he was good, but also so I could tell scouts, ‘Listen, I used him three days in a row and he was 93-95 every time.’ He had no health problems at all for me,” Brown said.
After joining the team in June, Gelinas threw back-to-back-to-back appearances twice. He showed a 93-95 mph fastball that touched 97. His slider is much less developed.
|2. Chris Cox, rhp||Quebec (Can-Am)|
|AGE: 23. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-1. WT.: 210|
An unsigned 39th-round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Cox is a former starter who still shows signs of inexperience. Considering that he spent five years at Canisius that might seem unexpected, but Cox threw sparingly as a freshman and sophomore and then took a redshirt year as he battled through performance anxiety.
Early in his career, Cox showed signs of Steve Blass disease, completely losing the strike zone and spraying balls to the backstop with regularity. But he managed to work through it to earn a job in the Canisius rotation as a junior and the bullpen as a senior.
Cox showed excellent velocity as a set-up man for Quebec. He sat at 92-94 mph and touched 95 with his two-seam fastball. His slider has good bite, but he struggles at times to throw it for strikes.
|3. Jonathan Kountis, rhp||Lake Erie (Frontier)|
|AGE: 24. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-3. WT.: 215.|
A 19th-round pick of the Mets back in 2010 out of Embry-Riddle (Fla.), Kountis was released after proving too hittable in a season and a half in affiliated ball.
Lake Erie manager John Massarelli had seen Kountis back in his college days, and he admits that he wasn’t impressed at the time. But this spring he saw a different pitcher. Kountis had reworked his delivery to mimic Jonathan Papelbon’s, allowing him to hide the ball well. A move to the bullpen in Lake Erie also seemed to suit him better than his previous work as a starter.
Kountis worked off of a 91-92 mph fastball that touches 94-95. He commands it well glove side but is still erratic to the arm side at times. His slider is a strikeout pitch with good downward tilt. He also used a splitter that was more erratic. It needs more development because he didn’t need it to get hitters out in Lake Erie.
|4. A.J. Nunziato, ss||Washington (Frontier)|
|AGE: 23. B-T: B-R. HT.: 6-2. WT.: 190|
It’s much tougher to get signed out of independent ball as a position player than as a pitcher, in part because scouts are generally skeptical about the athleticism and defensive ability of independent league players. But Nunziato is a shortstop who should be able to stick in the middle infield if he makes the jump to affiliated ball.
A four-year starter at Division II Lander (S.C.), Nunziato is a switch-hitter who shows pop from both sides. He showed solid-average range while showcasing an average arm that is extremely accurate, and he had a .985 fielding percentage in the Frontier League.
Nunziato hit .391 as a college sophomore despite a back injury that forced him to take a redshirt year in 2009 as he recovered from surgery to fix a herniated disc. He has shown no ill effects as a pro. He is an average runner who needs to improve his pitch recognition.
|5. Alfonso Yevoli, lhp||Washington (Frontier)|
|AGE: 22. B-T: L-L. HT.: 6-3. WT.: 220|
Yevoli pitched for three years at High Point, then transferred as a senior to Tennessee Wesleyan, helping the Bulldogs win the NAIA title this year. The move didn’t improve his draft stock, however, so after his name didn’t get called he signed on with the Wild Things.
Yevoli has quality stuff, sitting at 92-94 mph consistently and piling up a strikeout an inning with Washington. He generates good angle and his fastball has late life, although that sometimes affects his command. His slider is a hard breaking pitch, but he also struggles to throw it for strikes at times.
|6. Jason Martin, of||Abilene (Frontier)|
|AGE: 24. B-T: R-R. HT.: 5-9. WT.: 180|
Martin was a star at San Jose State, setting school career records in hits, runs and games played. So he wasn’t under-scouted and he didn’t have injury problems.
But the righthanded hitter is 5-foot-9, which explains why he was in the Frontier League.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached,” said Abilene manager Bobby Brown, who has coached for multiple years in summer college leagues and independent leagues.
Martin runs 60 yards in 6.5 seconds, and his speed and instincts mean he could possibly stay in center field in affiliated ball. He profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter with an amazing ability to get hit by pitches (22 to go with 22 walks this season), but he has enough pop to hit the ball out if a pitcher tries to groove one by him.
|7. Buddy Sosnoskie, of||Fargo-Moorhead (A-A)|
|AGE: 23. B-T: L-L. HT.: 6-1. WT.: 190|
Fargo-Moorhead’s Doug Simunic is known as one of the best independent league managers in the game, but he also is generally know for liking veteran players. So when other managers saw the 23-year-old Sosnoskie roaming the outfield for the RedHawks, they couldn’t help but be wary. Here was a lefty-hitting outfielder with no obvious weaknesses who already played like a veteran.
Sosnoskie was Baseball America’s preseason pick as Division II player of the year at Francis-Marion (Va.) this spring, and he didn’t disappoint, hitting .391/.444/.549 as a senior. An unsigned 25th-round pick of the Royals in 2010, Sosnoskie went undrafted this year and made the significant jump to the American Association look easy.
Sosnoskie has a smooth swing, good athleticism and a solid glove in the outfield. He’s an average runner who has hit for average wherever he’s gone.
|8. Robert Coe, rhp||St. Paul (A-A)|
|AGE: 24. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-4. WT.: 180|
A catcher at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Coe got on the mound for 12 innings as a senior. That taste of life on the other side of the plate paid off, as Coe looked like a veteran on the mound, not a rookie who had minimal pitching experience.
The American Association rookie of the year, Coe sat at 88-92 mph with a good slider and changeup and a clean delivery. He got a taste of the American Association in 2011 and took off this year, setting St. Paul records for innings (139), wins (12) and starts (21).
|9. James Hoyt, rhp||Wichita (A-A)/
Edinburg (North American)
|AGE: 25. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-6. WT.: 200|
Just a few years ago, when it was hard to find an indy league pitcher who topped 90 mph consistently, Hoyt’s combination of stuff (93-94 mph fastball) and size (6-foot-6) would have stood out like a lefthanded-throwing catcher. Now he’s one of several indy relievers who can light up a radar gun.
He still stands out, though, as a pitcher who seems more suited to the back of an affiliated bullpen. Hoyt’s breaking ball has hard, late action that kept hitters from sitting on his fastball. He pitched sparingly at Centenary because of command issues, but he got his delivery under control as a pro.
|10. Brandon Sinnery, rhp||London (Can-Am)/
|AGE: 22. B-T: R-R. HT.: 6-4. WT.: 165|
Plenty of independent league pitchers throw harder than Sinnery, but his combination of excellent control, downhill plane (he’s 6-foot-5) and durability makes him a useful arm for an organization looking for a starting pitcher. A durable pitcher at Michigan, Sinnery was the team’s MVP as a senior.
Sinnery touched 92-93 mph at his best, but he more often sat at 87-89. His velocity may have dropped off due to his workload: He threw 203 innings this year between college and indy ball.
He remained effective, throwing back-to-back complete-game shutouts in August. Sinnery gets plenty of ground ball outs with his heavy sinker, and throws an adequate changeup and breaking ball.
11. David Peralta, of, American Association. 12. Andrew Heck, of, Frontier. 13. David Bowman, of, Frontier. 14. Joe Weik, of, United League. 15. Gabe Zavala, rhp, A-A. 16. Rick Devereaux, c, Frontier. 17. Chris Smith, rhp, Frontier. 18. Keith Cantwell, rhp, Can-Am. 19. Kyle Mertins, rhp, A-A. 20. Michael Hacker, lhp, United.