Alaska League Top 10 Prospects
For the second year in a row, the Mat-Su Miners won the Alaska League title, with a record of 31-14. The Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks finished second at 30-15 and the Peninsula Oilers were a close third, at 29-15. The Oilers represented the league in the NBC World Series, where they were knocked out in the first round, but they did win three games in the losers' bracket.
1. Jake Stewart, of, Fairbanks (So., Stanford)
Not many scouts saw Stewart, as he missed the final three weeks of the summer after being hit by a pitch on the back of his left thigh. Over his 74 at-bats in Alaska, Stewart hit .270/.321/.365. The numbers weren't loud, but Stewart's tools are. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Stewart definitely has the physique scouts look for and could have played either football or basketball at the collegiate level. On top of that, Stewart moves exceptionally well, especially for such a physical player. He has well above-average speed, getting clocked from home to first (from the right side of the plate) in 4.1 seconds. The speed translates to the outfield, as well. Fairbanks head coach Jim Dietz coached at San Diego State for more than 30 years and has been with the Goldpanners for 14 years over three stints dating back to 1970. Dietz said Stewart might be the best outfielder he's ever seen, in terms of his speed and ability to run down balls. He also has a strong arm, but tries to rush his throws sometimes. Stewart can put on a show in batting practice, but is still learning how to identify pitches and needs to work on getting into better hitters' counts. If he can make those strides at the plate, Stewart has all the tools to be a special player.
2. Jarod Berggren, of, Fairbanks (Jr., Northern Colorado)
Berggren doesn't have the hype, but there are some striking similarities between him and Jake Stewart. Both are outfielders from Colorado that bat and throw righthanded. Like Stewart, Berggren has an impressive build at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He also shows plus speed, getting from home to first in 4.2 seconds. Unfortunately, also like Stewart, Berggren missed the final three weeks of the summer after he stepped in a hole and hyperextended his right knee while looking over his shoulder to run down a fly ball. Berggren can play center field, but would also profile as a right fielder because of his above-average arm strength and size. While Berggren doesn't have Stewart's overall upside, he does show an ability to hit and hit for power. His swing can get a little uphill, but the overall package of speed and arm strength and power is one for scouts that cover Colorado to get excited about.
3. Stephen Piscotty, of, Peninsula (So., Stanford)
Piscotty hit in the middle of Stanford's lineup most of the spring and put together an impressive freshman year, hitting .326/.387/.454 over 227 at-bats. But he got mixed reviews this summer. Piscotty has some bat speed and present gap power. As his body matures, he may gain the strength to turn some of those doubles into home runs. His approach at the plate also needs to be improved. He's a free swinger with a big loop in his swing and an uppercut path. Over 142 at-bats for the Oilers, Piscotty hit .289/.342/.359 with seven doubles and one home run. He's an average runner at best, but does show good instincts on the bases that allowed him to steal 14 bags in 17 attempts. Though he's spent most of his college career in left field and first base, Piscotty is an athletic 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He was drafted as a shortstop out of high school and has the arm strength to play right field, though he's just an ordinary defender. He occasionally uses that arm strength on the mound, but he's more of a novelty there—switching between submarine and over-the-top deliveries—and his future is clearly as a position player.
4. Kyle Richter, lhp, Fairbanks (Fr., Southern California)
It's rare for a player fresh out of high school to go up to the Alaska League and stand out, but that's just what Richter did. The lefthander from Santa Margarita High in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., slipped to the 44th round in this year's draft because of his strong commitment to Southern California, and that's where he's headed. Richter has a physical frame at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. His fastball sat in the 88-92 mph range and he mixed in a curveball and a changeup, although his secondary pitches are both works in progress. His delivery is also a little stiff, but he should be able to improve because Richter also showed makeup and maturity beyond his years this summer. Richter could make an immediate impact for the Trojans as they try to get back on track.
5. Tyler Grimes, ss, Peninsula (Jr., Wichita State)
Grimes is only 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but he swings the bat like he's a beefy, middle-of-the-order slugger. In some ways, that cocky swagger endears him to scouts—and he actually has a little bit of pop—but it also gets him into trouble. Grimes has an upright, open stance and takes huge, uppercut swings. He has some bat speed and some strength in his hands, but he doesn't have the kind of power required for his approach. He flies open and tries to muscle everything to the pull side, leaving him exposed to pitches on the outer half. Because of his bat path, he gets under a lot of balls he should be centering up and just hits the ball in the air too much for a player with his skillset. Defensively, Grimes is good enough to start pro ball as a shortstop but probably profiles best as a second baseman. He certainly has the arm strength for the left side of the diamond and has a quick release. But his hands are a little busy and he confused coaches and scouts by making a standout play one inning and then muffing a routine play the next. Speed-wise, he's average to a tick above.
6. Chase McDowell, rhp, Fairbanks (So., Rice)
McDowell went undrafted out of high school and logged just four innings for Rice as a freshman last year, but he impressed scouts with his showing this summer. Standing 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds with projection remaining on his frame, McDowell threw his fastball in the 89-93 mph range and complemented it with a nasty curveball. Right now he just has the two pitches, but if he can develop a changeup and add that to his repertoire, he could pitch his way into the Owls' weekend rotation. McDowell is a good athlete and also spent a little time as a lefthanded-hitting outfielder, but his future should be on the mound.
7. Chad Smith, rhp, Peninsula (Jr., Southern California)
Southern California reliever Chad Smith has a sturdy frame at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. He returned to the Peninsula after pitching there last summer as well, and was one of the best arms in the league, coming out of the Oilers' bullpen. Smith throws from a lower three-quarters arm slot and has a little bit of funk and deception. His heavy fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range and topped out at 93 with some sink and late life. He mixes in a cutter-like slider in the 80-84 mph range, but lacks the real electric stuff teams look for as a back-end reliever and profiles best as a future middle reliever. Over his 20 innings this summer, Smith went 1-1, 0.46 with 22 strikeouts and 10 walks. For a pitcher that's going to be a junior, scouts expected to see a better breaking ball, but Smith will still be an interesting follow next spring.
8. D.J. Crumlich, ss, Fairbanks (Jr., UC Irvine)
Crumlich will never be confused for a power hitter, but he has an easy, wristy swing. He's just not very strong at this point and didn't show good bat speed with wood. Over 147 at-bats this summer, Crumlich hit an underwhelming .231/.311/.306, but he did hit eight doubles and showed good bat control by only striking out eight times. Coaches also said he hit the ball much better than his numbers show, as he hit a lot of balls on the screws right at defenders. Crumlich currently stands 6 feet and 190 pounds. As he matures physically, Crumlich projects to have gap power, and he's an average runner. His calling card is his steady defense. Crumlich isn't flashy, but he has great feet and is always in a good position. He doesn't waste much movement when transferring from fielding to throwing and he has at least an average arm. His defensive actions are smooth and fluid.
9. Geoffrey Davenport, lhp, Mat-Su (Jr., Arkansas)
Davenport threw 36 innings for the Miners this summer, nearly totaling the 42 he's thrown between his first two years at Arkansas. While he has primarily come out of the Razorbacks' bullpen, Davenport stretched out as a starter this summer and didn't disappoint. He went 1-0, 1.48 with 32 strikeouts and eight walks. Davenport doesn't have Richter's frame, but he's an athletic 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds. His fastball sat in the 88-90 mph range and touched 91. But his bread and butter was an above-average curveball that coaches dubbed the best in the league. He also throws a modest changeup. While his fastball is just fringy, he commanded all three pitches well and kept hitters off balance by changing speeds and hitting his spots.
10. Jeff Popick, of, Peninsula (Jr., Mesa State, Colo.)
Berggren wasn't the only pop-up hitter from Colorado playing in Alaska. Popick opened some eyes with his hulking, 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. Even with Popick's impressive size, he's not maxed out physically and could still add some more muscle to his frame. He's not a runner and his arm strength limits him to left field, but Popick has a good swing with strong wrists and knows how to trust his hands. He can get passive at the plate and is a little inconsistent, but he has a chance to have average power, maybe a little more depending on whether or not he gets any stronger.