2007 Alaska League Top 10 Prospects
Despite boasting none of the league's top 10 prospects, Athletes In Action (the AIA Fire) won the Alaska League title for the first time, finishing 24-11 in league play and winning the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker with Mat-Su, which also finished 24-11. The Fire got a 7-4, 17-inning victory on the season's next-to-last day, then beat the Glacier Pilots on the season's final day to clinch the tie and championship.
The third-place Kenai Peninsula Oilers represented the Alaska League in the NBC World Series as AIA Fire and Mat-Su declined to attend, citing the nearly $30,000 in travel expenses required.
The Anchorage Bucs also participated in a postseason tournament, beating the host San Luis Obispo of the California Collegiate League in the first-ever WASABI (Western Association Summer Amateur Baseball Invitational) tournament.
1. Nick Buss, of, Oilers (Jr., Southern California).
Last year, the Alaska League produced two of the first 13 players drafted with righthander Casey Weathers (eighth overall, Rockies) and Beau Mills (13th, Indians). Buss isn't in their class as a prospect but is a safe bet to be picked as a lefthanded hitter with average tools across the board and a short swing he repeats easily. The league's batting champion is an above-average runner and good defender in center field, and he excited coaches with his developing gap power. A Michigan prep product, Buss went to San Diego's Mesa CC prior to joining USC and should take off with the confidence he gained in Alaska.2. Matt Thomson, rhp, Oilers (So., San Diego)
Thomson ranked 83rd on Baseball America's Top 200 Prospects for the 2007 draft and was the top draft-eligible pitcher at Santa Rosa (Calif.) JC before transferring to San Diego. Scouts didn't see him at his best and he didn't stand out in Alaska as he had in the spring. He lasted until the 22nd round (Blue Jays) after he committed to San Diego and surprised scouts with his high bonus demands. Thomson cruised without his best stuff or velocity, instead showing a knack for pitching. His fastball touched 92 mph (he touched 94 in the spring) but usually sat in the upper 80s. The ball comes out of his hand easily from a fluid delivery, getting on hitters even without above-average velo. Thomson's slurvy breaking ball can be a plus pitch but he didn't throw it much this summer. 3. Jonathan Kountis, rhp, Goldpanners (So., Ohio Dominican)
Alaska was short on power arms this season, but Kountis was one of the few pitchers who used a power approach rather than relying on finesse. Some coaches speculated that his fastball reached 95 mph but most had him topping out at 92 mph and sitting in the 87-91 range. Kountis has a physical, projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and showed a loose, quick arm. He wowed coaches with pole-to-pole long toss sessions between starts and maintained his stuff deep into games, including one start against the Glacier Pilots where he was perfect through eight innings. Kountis also throws a slider and changeup, and with better secondary stuff he would have topped this list. 4. Gabe Jacobo, ss/3b, Bucs (Jr., Sacramento State)
Jacobo had a strong spring for Sacramento State, ranking second in the Western Athletic Conference with 14 homers, and he tied for second in the Alaska League with five this spring. He has a short stroke with a goof finish that gives him loft power. His athleticism and strength helped separate him from other sluggers in the league, as well as his serviceable defense on the left side of the diamond. Jacobo is better suited to third than shortstop but showed he could do more than play first base, his position for the Hornets in the spring. 5. Mario Hollands, lhp, Oilers (R-Fr., UC Santa Barbara)
Hollands was one of the league's younger players, turning 19 at the end of August, and he was coming off a redshirt spring at UCSB, adding to his inexperience. He also had one of its best arms. He evokes inevitable comparisons to Dontrelle Willis as a black southpaw with a deceptive delivery, though it's not as exaggerated as Willis'. The lanky 6-foot-4, 195-pounder misses bats with a fastball that touched 91 mph and sat in the upper 80s. His slider and changeup have a way to go, particularly the change.6. Sean Ratliff, of, Bucs (Jr., Stanford)
Ratliff ranked second in Colorado among draft-eligible players in 2005 but has had two up-and-down years at Stanford. His tools are significant--he runs well for his size (a tick above-average) and has a big arm, as he's touched 91 mph off the mound. A two-way player in high school, he was primarily a pitcher as a Cardinal freshman and a hitter exclusively as a sophomore and in Alaska. His swing has plenty of holes--he struck out 65 times in 54 games for the Cardinal this spring and 32 times in 37 games for the Bucs. Scouts are critical of his upright stance and high hand placement. His bat speed allows scouts to project big future power for him if he makes adjustments.7. Joey August, of, Miners (Jr., Stanford)
August doesn't have the tools of Ratliff, but he's got tools and much more polish. In his second year in Alaska, August showed a clean lefthanded swing with a balanced approach that allowed him to sting line drives to all fields. He projects to hit for more power but might be more of a Rusty Greer type than a pure power plant. One scout called him the league's best hitter, particularly a good situational hitter. He's a a tick above-average as a runner and is a sound corner outfielder, though his arm is fringy.8. Clay Calfee, 1b, Bucs (R-Jr., Angelo, Texas, State)
Calfee passed through the draft unselected this spring despite outstanding size and raw strength. Scouts consider his lefthanded swing somewhat long (well, he is 6-foot-6) and one questioned his bat speed. He's limited defensively at first base or in the outfield (though he does have arm strength and is a two-way player at Angelo State), but he may have enough lefthanded power to make it work. Calfee has good barrel awareness and is a patient hitter. His size and hit tool gave him an edge over Mat-Su's slugging first baseman, Michael Ewing, who has a somewhat similar profile.9. Max Peterson, lhp, Miners (So., San Diego Mesa CC)
Peterson ranked fourth in the league in ERA among pitchers with more than 30 innings (1.31) and worked primarily off two pitches as a reliever. His fastball, an 88-90 mph pitch, touched 91 regularly and had good life. His slider was inconsistent but at times was the league's best breaking ball. The combination produces plenty of ground balls when he's on. Peterson's command runs hot and cold, as does his changeup.10. Jarred Holloway, lhp, Goldpanners (So., St. Petersburg, Fla., JC)
Holloway is a scouts' kind of prospect, not the coaches' choice. He's got a big, projectable frame at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and was the top prep player out of Arkansas in 2006 before heading to Mississippi State. However, he struggled in Alaska, walking 22 in just 14 2/3 innings and posting a 12.89 ERA. Holloway has obvious control issues but he also pumps his fastball at a steady 89-92 mph with room for more. At times, his slider also is a second plus pitch. There's a significant gap between Holloway's reality and his future ceiling. He elected to transfer from MSU to St. Petersburg after the 2007 season.