Northwoods League Top 10 Prospects
St. Cloud, which had been shaken up 11 days earlier by the death of lefthander Richie Gargel in a swimming accident, captured its third Northwoods League championship and first since 2000. The River Bats swept Eau Claire in the championship series, winning the final game 6-3. St. Cloud took control of the game in the first two innings, as leadoff man D.J. Belfonte (Nebraska) reached base and scored a run in the first, then padded the lead with a two-run homer in the second.
The talent level was once again high across the Northwoods League. A pair of rising freshmen at San Diego headline the Top 10 Prospects list, but the league was rife with projectable college arms as well. The talent pool was deep, and there were easily another 10 or 20 quality prospects with bright professional futures.
1. Victor Sanchez, 3b, Alexandria (Fr., San Diego)
Sanchez, who finished his prep career this spring at Gahr High in Norwalk, Calif., rated among the top 100 prospects in the draft this June thanks to his pedigree with USA Baseball's junior national team last summer and his solid all-around tools package. Signability questions caused the San Diego recruit to slip to the Cubs in the 25th round, and he gave the Toreros plenty to get excited about this summer by holding his own with a wood bat (.275/.390/.394) in one of the nation's premier college summer leagues. Sanchez, who turned around a 93 mph fastball for a home run against future USD teammate Kyle Blair in one game this summer, has a knack for getting the barrel of the bat on the ball consistently. He can cover the whole strike zone and demonstrates pitch recognition far beyond his years. Sanchez remains very thin but projects to hit for significant power as he fills out his 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. He's a fringy defender with limited lateral range at third base who has caught some in high school, and his future might be behind the plate thanks to solid arm strength and receiving skills. Sanchez has advanced maturity and baseball instincts, making his average tools play up.2. Kyle Blair, rhp, Duluth (Fr., San Diego)
Blair, a second-team high school All-American this spring at Los Gatos (Calif.) High, slipped to the Dodgers in the fifth round because of his seven-figure bonus demands and commitment to San Diego. He was very impressive against experienced college hitters in the Northwoods League, going 3-3, 2.81 with 52 strikeouts and 16 walks in 42 innings. With a classic pitcher's build (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), and good command of a four-pitch mix, Blair's upside is significant. He showed a 91-94 mph fastball this summer, a 78-80 power curveball with late bite and feel for a slider and changeup. There is a little effort in Blair's high three-quarters delivery, and his mature frame lacks projection, but his power repertoire and advanced feel for pitching make him an elite prospect.3. Zach Von Tersch, rhp, Duluth (So., Georgia Tech)
Von Tersch struggled in a relief role for Georgia Tech as a freshman this spring, so the Yellow Jackets sent him to Duluth with instructions to work on developing his cutter and become a starting pitcher. He made strides with the late-breaking 83-84 mph cutter, helping him go 6-3, 2.32 with 75 strikeouts and 27 walks in 78 innings for the Huskies. Von Tersch has a clean, effortless delivery and an ultra-projectable 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame. His height and his high three-quarters arm slot lend a steep downward angle and sink to his 89-92 mph fastball that touches 93. Von Tersch changes pace with a get-me-over mid-70s curveball and dabbles with a changeup, but those offerings need refinement.4. Craig Fritsch, rhp, Rochester (R-Fr., Baylor)
Fritsch redshirted his freshman year at Baylor this spring after feeling some soreness in his elbow early in the year, but he left the Bears before regionals to get an early start on his Northwoods League season. He was healthy all summer, and it showed in his numbers (5-1, 2.21 with 52 strikeouts and 21 walks in 69 innings). Like Von Tersch, Fritsch has plenty of projection in his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame, and like Von Tersch his 89-92 mph fastball has impressive sink and life. Fritsch attacks the inner half with his boring fastball and backs it up with a tight slider and a developing changeup. Hitters have a difficult time picking up the ball against Fritsch because of his deceptive delivery--one coach said the ball seems to come right out of his head.5. Eric Thames, of, La Crosse (Jr., Pepperdine)
Thames showed more power and speed for La Crosse (.301/.383/.455 with three homers, 43 RBIs and 15 stolen bases) than he did this spring for Pepperdine, where he served as a DH but went homerless in 53 games. A 39th-round pick by the Yankees in June, Thames has a tools package that that evokes Eric Davis, with above-average speed and exceptional bat speed from the left side, but he takes too many wild swings and needs to polish his all-around game. Thames is a bit of a liability in left field, where his arm is below average and his routes are suspect, neutralizing his speed. But he plays with energy, works hard and shows some aptitude to improve.6. Justin Walker, lhp, La Crosse (Jr., Lamar)
Twenty-five of Walker's 32 career appearances at Lamar have come in relief, but he excelled as a starter in the Northwoods League this summer, going 4-3 with a league-leading 1.60 ERA and a 56-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 56 innings. Walker's feel for pitching was the best in the league--he carved hitters up with excellent command of a four-pitch mix. Managers and scouts are split on whether or not Walker's 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame has more projection, but he has an easy downhill delivery that reminded one coach of Joe Magrane's. Walker pitches mostly in the 84-87 range but dials it up to 90 when he needs to. His curveball, slider and changeup are all solid offerings, and he maintains the same arm action with all of his pitches.7. Dallas Cawiezell, rhp, Alexandria (SIGNED: Indians)
Cawiezell was drafted by the Indians in the 40th round after posting a 3.55 ERA and seven saves as a junior at Valparaiso this spring, but he didn't sign until late in his stellar summer in the Northwoods League. Cawiezell went 2-1, 0.41 with a 40-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 22 innings while racking up 10 saves for the Beetles. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound ox draws comparisons to Bobby Jenks for his frame and his heavy fastball, which sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95 routinely. His violent, funky delivery draws comparisons to an ancient Roman catapult. He flashes a slider and a splitter, but he needs to do a better job locating both pitches.8. Chad Dawson, rhp, Mankato (Sr., Indiana State)
Dawson ranked as the No. 5 prospect on this list a year ago, when he finished second in the league in saves, but he struggled for the third straight spring at Indiana State as a starter predominantly. His velocity dropped from 91-94 to the mid-80s as the spring wore on, causing him to slip to the Yankees in the 31st round of the draft, but he regained his low-to-mid-90s fastball velocity this summer for Mankato, where he racked up a league-leading 18 saves, a 2.03 ERA and a 31-16 strikeout-walk ratio in 27 innings. Early in the summer, Dawson struggled to command his fastball, but he harnessed it as the summer went on and he did a better job staying over the rubber. Dawson seems better suited for the bullpen, where his fastball plays up and his slider is an effective second pitch. Dawson's 6-foot-5 frame and easy arm action could lead to more velocity down the road.9. Blake Martin, lhp, Wisconsin (R-Jr., Louisiana State)
Martin ranked as the No. 3 prospect on this list in 2005 after his freshman year at Birmingham-Southern. He transferred to LSU after BSC's program dropped out of Division I last summer, but he took a medical redshirt this spring after having hip surgery. He came back strong this summer for the Woodchucks, going 2-1, 2.78 with a 38-23 K-BB ratio in 40 innings over 18 relief appearances. Martin has a plus fastball from the left side, sitting in the low 90s and touching 95, but his hard, slurvy breaking ball needs to be tightened up some. He has a loose arm action and some deception in his delivery that makes his stuff seem even harder than it is. If his hip holds up, Martin's ceiling is significant.10. Andy Marks, lhp, Duluth (Jr., Kansas)
Marks pitched well as Kansas' Friday starter down the stretch this spring, and he carried that momentum into the summer, going 7-3, 1.83 with 83 strikeouts (third in the NWL) and 37 walks in 84 innings for Duluth. (He threw 90 innings for Kansas, giving him 174 for the entire year.) Marks' 6-foot-2 frame doesn't have much projection, but he is a fierce competitor who fills up the strike zone and does a good job holding baserunners. Marks works in the 85-88 range with his fastball, gets plenty of swings and misses with a hard-breaking mid-70s curveball, and owns a quality changeup that he can throw in any count. Marks figures to anchor the Jayhawks staff next spring and could be drafted in the first five-to-10 rounds.