Northwoods League Top 10 Prospects
Rochester won its fifth championship in the league's 16 seasons, beating La Crosse 7-4 in the third game of the Northwoods championship series. Iowa's Zach Robertson pitched six innings on three days' rest for the Honkers, who hit three home runs in the title clincher.
1. Rob Brantly, c, La Crosse (So., UC Riverside)
Widely regarded as one of the top recruits in Southern California last year, Brantly had a solid freshman season at UCR (hitting .316/.344/.454) before exploding in the NWL. He led the league in batting (.346), ranked third in on-base percentage (.411) and second in slugging (.516), while compiling six homers and 34 RBIs. He showed off his mature offensive approach and ability to make consistent contact by drawing 21 walks and striking out just 11 times, the fewest of any NWL qualifier. Brantly's smooth lefthanded swing creates good backspin, and he projects to add more power as he fills out his wiry 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame. Behind the plate, he's a decent receiver and blocker with some arm strength, though his defense lags a bit behind his bat. He also earns plaudits for his ability to handle a pitching staff. Brantly should garner plenty of interest as a draft-eligible sophomore next spring, but he could be a premium pick as a junior in 2011.
2. Dixon Anderson, rhp, Green Bay (So., California)
Anderson had the best combination of size and stuff of any pitcher in the Northwoods League this summer. After going 1-0, 3.98 with 37 strikeouts in 43 innings, primarily in relief as a redshirt freshman this spring, Anderson started the summer in the bullpen, where he ran his fastball up to 95-96 mph in short stints. With a durable 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame, Anderson is built like a workhorse starter, and he was still pumping 92-94 mph fastballs in the ninth inning of his final start of the year, a complete-game shutout against Madison in the playoffs. He finished the summer 3-2, 1.61 with seven saves, 56 strikeouts and 24 walks in 56 innings over 23 appearances (five starts). Anderson's secondary stuff lags behind his fastball, but he does throw strikes with a 78-81 mph curveball that projects as an average pitch, and he has good arm action on an 84 mph split-finger. Anderson's fastball is his bread and butter, though: It ranges from 90-96 mph and often has good arm-side run.
3. Michael Kvasnicka, of/c, Brainerd Lakes Area (Jr., Minnesota)
Kvasnicka's father, Jay, was a outfielder for Minnesota who was drafted by the Twins in the eighth round in 1988. Michael blossomed into a star in his own right as a Gophers sophomore this spring, batting .341/.381/.550 with 10 homers and 65 RBIs. He followed it up with an all-star campaign in the Northwoods League, batting .314/.361/.388 with two homers and 26 RBIs. The switch-hitting Kvasnicka has a balanced, level swing from both sides of the plate, and he flashes above-average raw power, particularly from the left side. Scouts like his quiet approach at the plate, but he could use a bit more patience. Kvasnicka's arm rates as solid-average to plus in right field and behind the plate, though he played almost exclusively right this summer. Athletic and physical at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Kvasnicka is a fringe-average runner who takes good routes in the outfield, but his value could skyrocket if he convinces scouts he can catch in pro ball.
4. Tony Thompson, 3b, Rochester (Jr., Kansas)
Thompson came out of nowhere to win the Big 12 Conference triple crown this spring, batting .389/.442/.753 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs to lead Kansas back to regionals. That performance earned Thompson in invitation to Team USA trials, and he took some time off after getting cut from the national team. As a result, he played just 20 games in the Northwoods, batting .293/.354/.400 with one homer and 14 RBIs. He missed Rochester's run to the NWL title after going home with a mild impingement in his non-throwing shoulder. Thompson's best tool is his easy power to all fields, though most of his home runs go to the pull side in games at this stage. Thompson has a quiet approach and strong wrists and forearms, allowing him to whip the bat through the zone. He has a tendency to collapse his back side sometimes, and his swing can get long. Thompson is a well below-average runner with limited range at third base, though he does have good actions and a solid-average arm. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder projects for above-average game power, so his bat should carry him if he has to move to first base.
5. Matt Miller, rhp, Alexandria (So., Michigan)
Miller settled into a key role in the Michigan bullpen as a sophomore this spring, going 1-2, 3.70 with 43 strikeouts and 28 walks in 41 innings. He served as Alexandria's closer this summer, going 2-2, 3.18 with 10 saves and a 44-16 K-BB ratio in 28 innings. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Miller is physical, durable and projectable. He has a loose arm and a fastball that consistently sits in the 90-94 mph range with occasional arm-side run. His slider ranges between 75-83 mph and can be a sharp out pitch when he stays on top of it. He uses a decent 82 mph split-finger against lefties. Miller has the size and arm strength to go in the first two rounds of the 2010 draft if he can become more consistent with his secondary stuff and hone his command.
6. Erik Johnson, rhp, Alexandria (So., California)
Johnson began his freshman year as Cal's closer, and he settled into the No. 1 starter role by the end of the spring, throwing a complete game against Southern California in his final outing of the season. He remained in a starter role this summer, going 4-2, 2.61 with 49 strikeouts and 27 walks in 59 innings for Alexandria. Johnson has a durable 6-foot-3, 220-pound pitcher's frame and flashes three average or better pitches at times. His best offering is a heavy 91-93 mph fastball with arm-side run and sink. He throws a slurvy 72-76 mph curveball, an 84-86 slider that acts like a cutter, and a straight 82-83 changeup that remains a work in progress. Johnson generally does a good job throwing strikes and working down in the zone, though he's still refining his command, particularly with his secondary stuff.
7. Brooks Pinckard, rhp/of, Eau Claire (Jr., Baylor)
After redshirting in the spring of 2008, Pinckard earned NWL all-star honors for Eau Claire that summer. He spent most of his redshirt freshman season in 2009 as an outfielder, though he did work 21 innings of relief on the mound, going 3-0, 5.91. Pinckard is an exceptional athlete who can run the 60-yard dash in 6.4 to 6.5 seconds, and he figures to play both ways for Baylor next spring. But his professional future might be on the mound; this summer he tantalized scouts by generating 93-96 mph fastball velocity with minimal effort, though he threw just 12 innings, going 2-0, 0.77 with 11 strikeouts and six walks. Pinckard is very raw on the mound, but one scout said his delivery and arm action are so clean and easy that he is likely to throw strikes with more consistency as he gains experience. Pinckard's three-quarters arm slot gives his fastball sinking action and deception. His slider is below-average currently but projects as an average pitch. Offensively, Pinckard's swing is long and he must improve his bunt game. But no matter how much progress he makes as a hitter, he just has too much arm strength to ignore, and he projects as a late-innings reliever.
8. Harold Riggings, 1b, Madison (So., North Carolina State)
A 6-foot-3, 255-pound behemoth, Riggins showed off his above-average power this summer, finishing second in the Northwoods League in home runs (nine), first in RBIs (48) and third in slugging (.505) while batting .308 in 214 at-bats. Riggins hit two home runs and struck out 30 times in 81 at-bats as an N.C. State freshman this spring, evidence of his lack of offensive polish. He swings for the fences in most at-bats, so he swings and misses often (67 strikeouts and 20 walks this summer). A righthanded hitter, most of Riggins' home run power is to left field, but he can also drive the ball into the right-center gap. He is vulnerable against breaking balls and sometimes goes into slumps because he is too hard on himself. Riggins is surprisingly nimble at first base for his size and projects as a passable or better defender. He must keep his weight in check, but he has lost 25 pounds since the spring, according to Madison coach C.J. Thieleke.
9. Zach Varce, rhp, Green Bay (Jr., Portland)
Varce led Portland in ERA (2.69) as a sophomore this spring, racking up nine saves and 62 strikeouts in 60 innings. Eleven of his 18 appearances this summer were starts, and he took to the role with aplomb, going 3-5, 1.93 with a league-leading 105 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 75 innings. Vance is not physically imposing at 6-foot, 190 pounds, and he lacks overwhelming fastball velocity, working in the 88-91 range and touching 92-93. But his fastball has some life and he commands it very well to all parts of the zone. Varce had the best feel for pitching in the Northwoods. His second pitch is a slider that rates as fringe-average, and he mixes in a curveball and a splitter. Varce's smallish size will likely relegate him to a bullpen role in pro ball, but his competitiveness and ability to pound the strike zone give him a chance to reach the big leagues.
10. Corey Jones, 2b/ss, Rochester (Jr., Cal State Fullerton)
Jones ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League last summer, but just after the summer season ended and before he returned to Fullerton, Jones was swinging on a rope over a lake, and the rope snapped. Jones fell 15 feet into shallow water and shattered his ankle, causing him to miss the entire spring of 2009. He was mostly healthy this summer in the Northwoods League, though he played through mild ankle pain at times, and he led the league in home runs (13) and slugging (.527) while hitting .315 with 14 stolen bases in 16 tries to win the league's MVP award. Jones doesn't always get himself into great hitting position and does not make great use of his lower half in his swing, but lightning-quick hands and wrists generate excellent bat speed and allow him to drive balls into the gaps and over the walls. At 6-foot, 195 pounds, Jones is strong but does not project as a power hitter. He has a mature offensive approach from the left side, and he reacts well to fastballs and offspeed stuff alike. Jones is a second baseman by trade but filled in at shortstop this summer because Rochester needed him there. He lacks the instincts, range and arm strength for short at the next level, but he could be an average second baseman.