Northwoods League Top 10 Prospects
The Thunder Bay Border Cats took home their second Northwoods League title, winning the championship series two games to one against the Madison Mallards. The final game was a nail-biter, as Madison scored three runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to take a 5-3 lead. The Border Cats battled back with three runs of their own in the bottom of the eighth and came away with a 6-5 victory. First baseman Derek Wiley (Belmont) was the star for the Border Cats' offense, going 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. His infield single capped Thunder Bay's three-run eighth, as two runs scored on the play when Madison shortstop Brandon Wikoff (Illinois) threw errantly to first.
The Northwoods League was loaded with talent once again, though one of the most talented teams did not come close to making the playoffs. Duluth went just 26-42 despite placing three players on this top 10 list and featuring other quality prospects like catcher Moises Montero and righthander Mitch Mormann.
1. Cory Vaughn, of, La Crosse (So., San Diego State)
Nobody could get Vaughn out during the first few weeks of his college career at San Diego State, but pitchers soon began feeding him a steady diet of curveballs, and he struggled to adjust, finishing at .243/.326/.432 with 63 strikeouts. He continued to rack up strikeouts (82 of them in 255 at-bats) this summer, but he also smacked eight homers and stole 26 bases, hinting at his tantalizing power-speed potential. Vaughn, the son of former big leaguer outfielder Greg Vaughn, has a super-athletic 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame with plus speed and plus raw power that he can unlock if he learns to use his lower half more in his swing. He has enough hand-eye coordination to hit for average if he does a better job laying off breaking balls away. He's still raw in the outfield but has an average arm. Vaughn's upside is enormous, but he needs a lot of polish.
2. Mike Nesseth, rhp, Duluth (R-So., Nebraska)
Nesseth, a native of Windom, Minn., was very raw coming out of high school and took a redshirt in 2007 at Nebraska. He earned a key role in the Cornhuskers' bullpen this spring and showed a glimpse of his enormous potential, striking out 53 while walking just 14 in 38 innings. He started for Duluth this summer, going 0-2, 2.93 with a 27-17 K-BB ratio in 31 innings before inflammation in his arm cut his summer short. Nesseth's velocity has increased from the 86-87 range when he arrived at Nebraska to 92-95 now, touching 97 at times in shorter stints. His fastball has incredible sink, making it a true plus pitch. He also throws an 82-83 mph slider that eats up righthanded hitters, and he has some feel for a changeup. Nesseth has a tantalizing 6-foot-5, 213-pound frame and pitches downhill, commanding the bottom third of the zone very well. He could have a breakout spring for the Huskers and vault up draft boards.
3. James Jones, lhp, Waterloo (Jr., Long Island)
Jones played two ways for Long Island this spring, batting .309 in 47 games as a first baseman and leading the team with a 4.91 ERA as the staff ace. A premium athlete, Jones also played first base for Waterloo to save his arm, but there is no question his future is on the mound, where he went 5-2, 2.45 with a 58-20 K-BB ratio in 40 innings. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound lefty is lean and projectable and has a smooth, effortless delivery. His arm is electric, easily generating 91-93 mph heat and touching 95. He pitches downhill from a high-three-quarters slot, and he flashes a decent curveball with average spin and break, though his command of it is somewhat erratic. He also has good feel for a changeup. As a raw Brooklyn native who stayed in the Northeast to play college ball, Jones is just scratching the surface of his tantalizing upside.
4. Carlos Ramirez, c, Mankato (Jr., Arizona State)
Ramirez was the best pure hitter in the Northwoods League, which shouldn't be surprising given his success with wood bats at Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC this spring, when he hit .386/.471/.660 with eight homers in 153 at-bats. The Arizona State recruit followed up that performance by tying for the NWL lead with 10 homers while batting .315 for Mankato. Ramirez drew raves for his disciplined approach and ability to hit hard line drives to all fields on fastballs and offspeed pitches alike. He has average or slightly better power to all fields. Ramirez draws mixed reviews from scouts and managers for his defense. He's a decent receiver but needs to improve his transfer to make his fringy arm strength play up.
5. Rob Lyerly, of/1b, Madison (Jr., Charlotte)
After a rough freshman year at Campbell, Lyerly had a big summer in the Coastal Plain League last year, ranking as the league's No. 8 prospect, then transferred to Charlotte and had a monstrous sophomore season, hitting .364/.416/.705 with 15 homers and 76 RBIs. He kept on hitting this summer, leading the NWL in batting (.342) and ranking second in RBIs (48) and doubles (19). A corner infielder his first two collegiate seasons, Lyerly got a taste of left field this summer and held his own, showing enough mobility and arm strength to hold down an outfield spot. But Lyerly will go as far as his bat will carry him: He has a smooth lefthanded stroke and the ability to pepper both gaps. Lyerly is beginning to fill out his lanky 6-foot-2 frame and could hit for average power down the road.
6. Aaron Barrett, rhp, Duluth (Jr., Mississippi)
Barrett was drafted twice out of Wabash Valley (Ill.) Junior College, and the Twins made a run at him after taking him in the 20th round this June, but he elected to transfer to Mississippi. He could step right into the Rebels' weekend rotation, thanks to a quality three-pitch mix highlighted by a 90-93 mph fastball that is rather straight. He also features a downer curve in the 77-78 range and a changeup, both of which project as average offerings. Barrett has a prototypical pitcher's frame at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and his delivery is sound. But he tends to leave pitches up in the zone more than he should, which helps explain his 1-4, 4.69 performance in 40 innings this summer.
7. Derek McCallum, 2b/ss, St. Cloud (Jr., Minnesota)
A two-year starter for the Golden Gophers in the middle infield, McCallum bounced back from a mediocre sophomore year to lead the Northwoods League in hits (81) while batting .328 with six homers. A baseball rat, the 6-foot, 190-pound McCallum is just a good all-around player with sneaky tools. He profiles as a plus defender at second base with a strong arm, smooth transfer and good range to both sides. He's a good athlete with average speed and great instincts. McCallum has some gap power in his lefthanded swing, and he's got a chance to hit for average in professional ball. He's a very good hit-and-run artist who doesn't strike out often and looks like a prototype No. 2 hitter.
8. Ryan Goins, ss, Waterloo (Jr., Dallas Baptist)
Like McCallum, Goins is a hard-nosed player with some offensive and defensive tools. He stands out most for his defense at shortstop, where he has average range, above-average arm strength, and sound actions. He's undersized at 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, but he makes hard contact from the left side and even shows occasional power (he hit .357 with 10 homers for DBU this spring and .318/.398/.439 for Waterloo this summer). Goins is an aggressive hitter who will take his share of strikeouts and isn't quite as polished offensively as McCallum, but he also knows how to work the count and draw walks. He's an average runner.
9. Andy Burns, if, Duluth (Fr., Kentucky)
Burns was regarded as a third- to fifth-round talent this spring at Rocky Mountain High in Fort Collins, Colo., but he slipped to the 25th round because of signability and turned down the hometown Rockies in order to attend Kentucky. He played most of the summer as a 17-year-old against much more advanced competition, and he held his own given the circumstances, hitting .225 in 59 games, a much longer season than he's used to. Burns played three infield positions for Duluth and figures to play shortstop for Kentucky, but he projects as a third baseman or an offensive second baseman in pro ball. He has good range for a college shortstop and gets plenty of carry on his throws, but he has already started to bulk up since his junior year of high school and figures to outgrow the position. Burns' best tool is his bat, though he was worn down this summer. He generates plenty of bat speed and has a good feel for hitting, but he tended to release his top hand and get out on his front foot at times. He projects to hit for average and some power once he cleans up his mechanics and refines his approach.
10. Nick Gaudi, rhp, Alexandria (Sr., Pepperdine)
Gaudi racked up 15 saves for Pepperdine this spring and put up dominant numbers for the Beetles this summer, posting a 1.35 ERA and a 31-3 K-BB ratio in 27 innings while racking up 13 more saves. He's never started a game in three years for the Waves and projects as a middle reliever in pro ball. Gaudi has a classic 6-foot-5, 205-pound pitcher's frame, but his fastball is fringy at 88-90 mph, and he doesn't figure to add much velocity. What makes him special, though, is a devastating hard split-finger that he can throw for strikes or use as a chase pitch. He also features a workable slider and pounds the strike zone with all three offerings.