Central Illinois Collegiate League Top 10 Prospects
The Springfield Sliders, who had the best first-half record, faced off against the Danville Dans, who had the best second-half record, for the league title. Because Springfield had the best overall record, it was the home team for the three-game championship series and won it in three games. Springfield defeated a talented Danville team that included the league's Mike Schmidt Player of the Year, infielder Dan Kaczrowski, and the league's top prospect, righthander Tyler Hess from Pepperdine.
1. Tyler Hess, rhp, Danville (So., Pepperdine)
Hess was an all-state football player at national powerhouse De La Salle High in Southern California, but he went to Pepperdine for his upside on the pitcher's mound. Hess, who mostly worked behind the plate in high school, has been pitching full time for less than a year, but his fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Hess was an imposing figure coming out of the Danville bullpen this summer. He struck out 17 but walked 15 in 19 innings for the Dans, as he struggled to get ahead of hitters and to throw the right pitches in the right situations. But his electric stuff and imposing presence got him noticed.
2. Austin Ross, rhp, Danville (So., Louisiana State)
Ross is dripping with upside. A perfect pitcher's build (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) along with an easy delivery and late life on his fastball give him the potential to step into LSU's weekend rotation in 2009. Ross throws his fastball in the 88-92 mph range with minimal effort. A two-pitch guy for most of his freshman year, Ross spent the summer working on a changeup that will be critical if he is going to work into a starting role for the Tigers. The changeup will complement his fastball and good slurve. Coming into the summer, a knock on Ross had been his control, but his 10 walks in 34 innings are evidence of his growing level of comfort on the mound.
3. Matt Bywater, lhp, Danville (So., Pepperdine)
Bywater started 14 games for Pepperdine this spring, posting a 5.54 ERA, but he was much more impressive for Danville in the CICL. In nine starts, Bywater went 4-4, 2.52 with 53 strikeouts and 30 walks in 54 innings, and he did not allow a home run all summer. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty has room to add strength, especially in his legs, which could increase his velocity. Currently he touches 90 mph with his fastball and features a pair of workable offspeed pitches in a changeup and curveball. A classic laid-back California kid, Bywater draws some questions about his competitiveness on the mound, and he needs to improve his pitch location.
4. Elliot Soto, ss, Springfield (So., Creighton)
One of the best defensive shortstops in the college game, Soto was a 13th-round pick of the Twins out of high school in 2007. The real question about Soto is if he will be able to hit elite pitching. After starting his college career 0-for-19, Soto made progress over the last 37 games of the year, batting .306 to finish at .272/.324/.315. Soto sustained his ability to hit for average throughout the summer, finishing with a .299 average, but his lack of power was noticeable. Soto's only extra-base hits were a pair of doubles. He did show savvy and decent speed on the basepaths, stealing 16 bases in 19 attempts.
5. Bryce Shafer, rhp, Springfield (So., Valparaiso)
Despite a slight 6-foot, 165-pound build, Shafer had the best stuff on Springfield this summer, striking out 74 in 59 innings. Shafer attacks hitters with a fastball in the 88-91 range while also relying on an excellent slider and a solid changeup. Shafer showed toughness on the mound all summer, including throwing a complete game, but his stuff dropped off as fatigue set in toward the end of the summer. That's hardly surprising, as Shafer threw 71 innings as a freshman and 59 more this summer, going 6-1, 2.75.
6. Dan Kaczrowski, 2b, Danville (Sr., Hamline University, Minn.)
One of the top hitters in Division III this year for Hamline, Kaczrowski beat up on mostly younger competition in the CICL this summer, finishing the year with a league-best .389 average—65 points higher than the second-place finisher. Kaczrowski is a gritty player who established himself as one of the best all-around players in the CICL throughout the summer. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder doesn't flash a ton of power at the plate, but he makes consistent contact and is fast enough to be a threat on the basepaths. He finished with 21 steals in 31 attempts this summer.
7. Ryan Duffy, c/1b, Dupage (Jr., Mississippi State)
Duffy had a short stint in the CICL, only playing in 17 games, but his strong lefthanded bat made an impact. Duffy finished the summer batting .328/.423/.537 with two homers and eight doubles in 67 at-bats. After playing sporadically as a redshirt freshman at Mississippi State in 2007, it was clear throughout the summer that Duffy benefited from being in the Bulldogs' every day lineup this spring. Almost a pure pull hitter last year, Duffy's approach at the plate now allows him to spray the ball to all fields. Along with a more balanced approach at the plate, Duffy also looked much improved behind the plate.
8. Brian Morrell, rhp, Quincy (Sr., Eastern Illinois)
Perhaps the most intriguing pitcher in the CICL, Morrell is an intimidating presence on the mound at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. Morrell was an enigma for Eastern Illinois throughout the spring: dominant at times, but unable to consistently excel. He finished the spring with a 4.42 ERA working mostly out of the bullpen. Morrell finally seemed to piece together his delivery this summer, as he was Quincy's best starter, finishing with a 2.50 ERA and a 44-22 strikeout-walk ratio. He also showed an improved ability to repeat his delivery. A smart pitcher, Morrell has all the physical tools and just needs to put it all together.
9. Greg Houston, rhp, Danville (Jr., Mississippi State)
Houston could be dominant if he could harness his electric stuff. When he is able to locate his fastball and slider, Houston can be virtually untouchable, as suggested by his fine summer numbers (2-0, 2.73 with 33 strikeouts and 11 walks in 30 innings of relief). But he also posted a 7.36 ERA and an 18-16 K-BB mark in 26 innings this spring. His biggest issue is his ability to repeat his delivery and keep his body under control throughout his motion. The ball explodes out of his hand, but he needs to improve his consistency and feel for pitching.
10. Jon Myers, ss, Quincy (Jr., Saint Louis)
Myers is transferring to Saint Louis after two years at St. Louis CC-Meramec, and the Billikens have to be encouraged by what they saw out of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound infielder this summer. With a league-leading 14 home runs, Myers was the centerpiece of the Quincy offense throughout the summer. His strong performance in the CICL should ease his transition to Division I pitching next spring. The biggest concern with Myers is in the field, where he is on his way to out-growing the shortstop position and most likely will be shifted to third base at some point. He struggles with throwing accuracy at times, as well.