2012 Cal Ripken League Top 10 Prospects
After losing to the Bethesda Big Train in the finals three years in a row, the Baltimore Redbirds finally broke through and beat the Big Train in the 2012 championship game, 4-3. The Redbirds went 28-13 in the regular season to finish in second place behind the Rockville Express (30-11), while Bethesda finished third at 25-16. The three-time defending champion Big Train had to fight through the loser's bracket to get back to the title game, capped by a 10-5 win against Vienna on the final day of the postseason. After winning that game, the Big Train traveled nearly 60 miles to face the Redbirds on their home field later that day.
During the summer of the long ball all around college summer ball, it was appropriate that home runs played a major role in the championship game. All seven runs in the final game were provided by five home runs, highlighted by Mark Zagunis' go-ahead two-run shot in the third. Zagunis went 6-for-14 with two doubles, a triple and that huge home run in Baltimore's three postseason games, capturing postseason MVP honors.
1. K.J. Hockaday, 3b, Youse's Orioles (So., Maryland)
A 14th-round pick by the Orioles in 2011, Hockaday was also the Ripken League's top prospect last year. After starting all 56 games and hitting .305/.367/.404 as a freshman this spring, Hockaday hit .346 this summer. He stands with a slightly open stance and hands held above the shoulders, allowing him to drive the ball with authority to all fields. But he also swings more with his upper half than his full body, reducing his strikeouts (11 in 133 Ripken League at-bats) and power numbers (13 extra-base hits with just two home runs), though his summer home field is the largest in the league. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Hockaday broke Mark Teixeira's Maryland state home run record as a senior in high school, leading scouts to believe his power numbers will come as he matures. A below-average runner, Hockaday's future lies at a corner infield spot. His plus arm plays well at third base, where he has a chance to be an average defender. He reacts better to his glove side than to his barehand side, but he charges balls well.
2. Mark Zagunis, c, Baltimore (So., Virginia Tech)
A second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer this spring, Zagunis had 18 multi-hit games as a freshman. He hit .344/.430/.513 overall to lead the Hokies in batting and OBP, and he more than held his own in ACC play, hitting .306/.378/.479. It was more of the same this summer as he posted .360 Ripken League average in 25 games. Zagunis has above-average hand-eye coordination, though his power numbers dropped in the heat, as just seven of his 32 hits went for extra bases. A 6-foot, 195-pound righthanded hitter, Zagunis will pull pitches middle-in. He gets solid plate coverage and can also drive the ball to the opposite field with authority. He showed slightly below-average pop times (2.05-2.15 seconds) and needs to work on his mechanics behind the plate. For now, he's a solid bat with plenty of upside at a premium position.
3. Hunter Renfroe, of, Bethesda (Jr., Mississippi State)
After hitting a pedestrian .252/.328/.374 in 230 at-bats as a sophomore for Mississippi State this spring, Renfroe had a second banner summer in the Ripken League, and the Big Train even retired his number at the end of the season. He took full advantage of escaping the graveyard of Dudy Noble Field for the short porches of the Ripken League, setting a league record with 16 home runs, then hitting three more in the playoffs. He also led the league with 53 RBIs and posted a .366 average (tied for fourth).
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Renfroe is a strong pull hitter with above-average power from the right side. At this stage he's still more of an athlete with excellent tools than a polished baseball player, though he has made strides from his high school days in Mississippi, where he set a private-school record for home runs (20) against very weak competition. He's an above-average runner (4.1 seconds to first base from the right side) with plus-plus arm strength but is still learning to weave those tools into his game. He hits from a fully open stance with his hands held high and his left heel pointed directly at third base. There's a lot of movement to get him from the cocked position into the hitting zone. A prep catcher who has hit the mid-90s off the mound, he's played a lot of center field but profiles best in right field. With three plus tools, his upside is significant, but his ability to make consistent contact against quality pitching remains in question.
4. Pat Blair, ss/2b, Baltimore (Sr., Wake Forest)
A three-year starter at Wake Forest, Blair hit .292 as a junior and was drafted in the 24th round by the Astros in June. He followed it up with a solid summer for the Redbirds, hitting .291 in 36 games. A skilled leadoff hitter, his ability to generate six-to-eight-pitch at-bats helped him lead the Ripken League with 40 walks, against just 29 strikeouts in 127 at-bats. That continued a trend from his last two collegiate seasons, during which he drew 98 walks and struck out just 72 times. Blair is also an above-average baserunner: He is 49-for-59 on stolen base attempts in his three-year college career, and he stole 12 bases in 15 tries this summer. Blair occasionally runs into a long ball, but he is primarily a gap-to-gap hitter. He is an offensive catalyst who scored 42 runs this summer, tied for second in the league. Blair is a Steve Lombardozzi-type player whose game smarts and ability to play five positions could help him boost his draft stock as a senior in 2013.
5. Kevin Mooney, rhp, Youse's Orioles (Fr., Maryland)
One of several rising freshman pitchers in the Ripken League this summer, Mooney more than held his own against more seasoned college players. In 29 innings over six starts, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder went 3-2, 2.17 with 32 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 1.28 WHIP. His forte is an 89-92 mph fastball from a mid- to high-three-quarters arm slot. When located down in the strike zone, the offering had natural sink. He has a very promising 75-77 curve with 12-to-6 break. The pitch needs to be thrown with more arm speed since it breaks early and loses effectiveness. The Gatorade player of the year in the state of Maryland after going 9-1, 0.30 at North Harford High, Mooney threw a seven-inning perfect game in the divisional semifinals of the state high school tournament.
6. Luke Lowery, c, Vienna (Fr., East Carolina)
Lowery is the younger brother of Jake Lowery, a former All-America catcher at James Madison who was drafted in the fourth round by the Indians in 2011. The younger Lowery played in 24 Ripken League games after finishing his high school career at Cosby High in Midlothian, Va. He handled himself well against older competition this summer, hitting .278 with 17 RBIs. He showed occasional power in the league's smallish fields, ending up with five home runs, and he could emerge as a quality power hitter in three years at East Carolina. Like many young catchers, Lowery needs work on his behind-the-plate mechanics. His pop time is 2.05-2.15 seconds, and he needs work on the exchange out of his catcher's mitt to his throwing hand. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Lowery is big and strong, which should enable him to deal with the rigors of the lengthy college seasons ahead.
7. Joe Harvey, rhp, Baltimore (R-So., Pittsburgh)
Solidly built at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Harvey worked primarily in a setup role as a redshirt freshman at Pitt this spring, going 1-0, 4.67 with 28 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 innings. He took a step forward this summer, leading the Ripken League in saves (six) while posting a 3.71 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 17 innings. Harvey is very focused on the mound and goes after hitters with an 89-91 mph fastball, touching 92 occasionally, from a mid-three-quarters slot. The pitch has average velocity but late movement in the strike zone, making it difficult for hitters to square up. Harvey also throws a two-seam fastball at 82-84 with late sink. While his stuff isn't overpowering, his mound demeanor and ability to locate make his pitches appear to get in on hitters more quickly than they'd otherwise expect.
8. Mike Costello, rhp, Herndon (R-So., Radford)
Costello threw just 10 innings as a freshman in 2011 before blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John surgery, which also cost him all of 2012. In his first game action since April of 2011, he was solid in the hitter-happy Ripken League, going 1-1, 4.50 with 38 strikeouts and 23 walks in 42 innings. Costello works off an 88-90 fastball from a mid-three-quarters arm slot. He spots the pitch well at both corners, and it has natural sink. His second pitch is a 78-80 slider with late downer movement but below-average depth. His mechanics need some polish, as he rushes to his release point and doesn't follow through on his delivery. Costello's size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and moxie are his two biggest assets.
9. John-Austin Sheppard, rhp, Southern Maryland (Jr., Tusculum, Tenn.)
Sheppard had a strong spring as the closer for Division II Tusculum, going 4-2, 2.67 with eight saves, 39 strikeouts and 15 walks in 30 innings. He was tied for second in the Ripken League with five saves this summer, to go along with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Sheppard works consistently in the 88-92 range with his fastball, but the pitch lacks movement. His second offering is an 80-82 slider with below-average break and depth. He has a mid-three-quarters delivery, but his mechanics and actions are stiff and tight to the body. Despite difficulties with his motion, Sheppard's size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and intensity make him intriguing. If he can learn to repeat his delivery better, his velocity and location could improve.
10. Joey Donino, rhp, D.C. (Jr., Columbia)
Donino has pitched sparingly so for in his collegiate career because of injury, but he blossomed this summer in the Ripken League, ranking fourth in the circuit with 50 strikeouts, though he also walked 34 in 48 innings. Working primarily as a starter for the Grays, Donino went 1-3, 4.15. Donino's best pitch is an 88-91 fastball that he throws with sink from a high three-quarters arm slot. He delivery is often stiff and he'll jerk his arm at the finish, causing his pitches to flatten out up in the zone. His 78-80 breaking ball has the makings of being a quality out pitch. It needs tightening and more depth but could be an above-average pitch in the future. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Donino has a large pitcher's frame with broad shoulders, but he needs to improve his mechanics.