New England Collegiate League Top 10 Prospects
The North Shore Navigators won their first-ever NECBL title with a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Danbury in the deciding game of the best-of-three championship series. The Navigators won the first game 2-0 behind a dominant performance from righthander Kevin Kyle (Clemson), who threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out 12 and walking just two. Danbury slugged its way to a 9-3 victory in the second game and was leading 4-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh of the deciding game. But with the bases loaded, Navigators catcher Garret Smith (Boston College) became the hero, doubling home two runs to give North Shore the lead for good.
It was a banner year for talent in the NECBL, with Stanford stars Kenny Diekroeger and Mark Appel leading the way at Newport.
1. Kenny Diekroeger, ss, Newport (So., Stanford)
Diekroeger instantly became one of the best incoming freshmen in the country when he spurned Tampa Bay, who had drafted him in the second round in 2009, in favor of the Cardinal. He largely lived up to the hype, leading Stanford in hitting with a .356/.391/.491 line in 216 at-bats, on his way to garnering first-team freshman All-America honors. His talent was on display this summer as well, as NECBL coaches almost unanimously chose Diekroeger as the circuit's best pro prospect after he hit .324/.354/.446 in 139 at-bats with the Gulls. A wiry 6-foot-2, 200 pounder, Diekroeger has gap-to-gap power to go along with advanced plate discipline and good, quick hands that make it hard for pitchers to fool him. After playing primarily third base at Stanford, Diekroeger split his time between shortstop and third base with the Gulls, and some coaches weren't convinced he could stick at shortstop. He has average speed and range to go along with good infield actions and a strong arm. There were questions about his maturity and work ethic down the stretch and he was even benched for part of the postseason, during which he managed only one hit in 15 at-bats. But his athleticism, bat speed and approach suggest he has a bright future as an offensive shortstop or third baseman down the road.
2. Mark Appel, rhp, Newport (So., Stanford)
Another member of Stanford's ballyhooed 2009 recruiting class, Appel turned down professional ball after being drafted in the 15th round by the Tigers out of high school. The Cardinal used the 6-foot-5, 200-pound freshman primarily as a reliever in 2010, and Appel finished with a 5.92 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 38 innings. Appel made seven starts for the Gulls this summer, posting a 1.87 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 43 innings. And despite the low strikeout totals, Appel impressed scouts and coaches alike with his tremendous arm strength and projectability. Appel's fastball ranged between 88-94 mph but touched 98 more than once in one inning against North Shore in the playoffs. His slider is 80-81 mph with some late, vertical break, but it also needs some refinement before it becomes a plus pitch. He also has good arm speed on his changeup, which was between 78-81 and had "some bottom to it," in the words of one scout. He has a very high ceiling and should be a major part of Stanford's talented rotation in 2011.
3. Jeremy Baltz, of, Keene (So., St. John's)
If it wasn't for Texas Christian's Matt Purke, Baltz would have easily been the best freshman in the country last season after nearly carrying the Red Storm through their regional against Virginia. Drafted by the Yankees in the 45th round out of high school, Baltz torched the Big East by hitting .396/.479/.771 and leading the conference in slugging and home runs (24) en route to first-team All-America honors. Baltz continued his offensive onslaught this summer by hitting .301/.428/.407 with Keene, and the consensus is that his hit tool will carry him at the next level. He has unbelievable bat speed and good raw power, but he also tends to drop his hands, which doesn't translate as well with wood. Defensively he is a fringe-average runner with an average arm who will likely be anchored to a corner outfield spot or maybe moved to first base at the next level. He will need to iron out the hitch in his swing if he wants to be successful as a pro. But, as one scout said, "He is young, so he has a lot of time to figure it all out."
4. Mike Williams, c, Danbury (Jr., Kentucky)
Highly recruited out of prep powerhouse Farragut Academy in Knoxville, Williams was supposed to be the catcher of the future for the Wildcats but hasn't seen much of the field in his first two seasons. Williams played in just 16 games in 2010, hitting .241/.405/.379 with no home runs. This summer, as the Westerners' primary catcher, Williams had his fair share of struggles offensively. He hit just .237/.306/.336 with three home runs and an ugly 40-8 strikeout-walk ratio, but he also received praise for his catch-and-throw skills, which more than coach said were clearly the best in the league. Behind the plate Williams plays very low, which helps him block everything that comes his way. Although he fought through dead arm at one point in the season, when he's healthy he has a true plus-plus arm and consistently posts sub-2.0 pop times. Offensively he improved as the season went on, and he has tremendous raw power, but his plate discipline still needs drastic improvement—one coach said, "He can't even smell the breaking ball." He will have a chance to hone his offensive game this season, as he is projected to be the Wildcats' No. 1 catcher.
5. Evan Marzilli, of, Laconia (So., South Carolina)
Although he got just 91 at-bats for the Gamecocks en route to the national title, Marzilli really came on down the stretch and was named to the College World Series all-tournament team after going 10-for-23 with seven runs scored in six games in Omaha. He finished the season hitting .385/.513/.571. The Gamecocks' run through Omaha meant Marzilli got to Laconia late, but he still managed to make an impression, hitting .292/.439/.400 with 12 stolen bases in just 65 at-bats. An athletic 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, Marzilli primarily played left field for the Gamecocks while Jackie Bradley Jr. played center, but Marzilli has the plus speed and range to move over to center field down the road. Offensively, Marzilli packs decent pop for his smallish stature, but his best tools are his fundamentally sound swing and his solid plate discipline. He did strike out 22 times during the summer, which may have been a product of the switch to wood. But he also drew 16 walks and does a good job of keeping his hands back and using all fields.
6. Matt Carasiti, rhp, Bristol (So., St. John's)
Entering the 2010 season, Carasiti could have staked his claim to St. John's most talented freshman after he was scooped up by the Rangers in the 36th round and was named 2009 Gatorade player of the year in Connecticut. He flashed his potential as a freshman, but he also showed how far he still has to go, finishing with a 5.94 ERA, 34 strikeouts and 47 walks in 53 innings. With Bristol, Carasiti showed much of the same, posting a 2.70 ERA, 28 strikeouts and 23 walks in 33 innings. He normally sits between 88-91 mph with his fastball but reaches 94 at times, and with his projectable 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame there is potential to add velocity down the road. His slider is 78-79 and his splitter has the potential to be a true out pitch, but he still has a tendency to spike both pitches too often. The primary concerns are with the effort in his delivery—especially the head movement—and his continued struggles with command and control. His mechanics make him a likely reliever at the next level, where has the stuff to succeed but needs to learn to harness it.
7. Alex Wood, lhp, Keene (So. Georgia)
Not even a full year removed from Tommy John surgery, Wood impressed NECBL coaches with his power fastball and improving secondary stuff. Lingering effects from the surgery limited Wood to one appearance this spring, but he carried a heavier workload this summer, finishing with a 3.96 ERA, 36 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 39 innings. Blessed with one of the better power arms in the league, Wood's fastball sat at 90-92 mph, and coaches described it as "exploding" out of his hand. His secondary pitches—a 77-78 mph slider and a decent 80 mph changeup—need work, and he still has trouble locating them. His quirky arm action keeps hitters from picking the ball up until late, but some expressed doubt that he would remain healthy with such a violent delivery. Like Carasiti, Wood profiles as a potential impact arm at the back end of a pro bullpen because of his fastball-slider combo and his delivery.
8. Ian Gardeck, rhp, Danbury (So., Angelina, Texas, JC)
Gardeck might be one of the better sleeper prospects in the country, as he made huge strides over the course of the summer in terms of his feel for pitching. He showed some of the best power stuff in the league, highlighted by a 91-93 mph fastball that can touch 96 at times. After a rocky freshman season at Dayton, Gardeck made major strides during the summer, but it wasn't until the playoffs—when he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out 12 and routinely throwing 95 mph—that he showed his true potential. Gardeck, who will play next season at Angelina (Texas) JC, didn't even start pitching until he was a senior in high school, but the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder flashed incredible arm strength. He still has major command issues to iron out, and some evaluators expressed concern about a slight hesitation as he reaches back in his windup and a slight stabbing motion in his delivery. But his power fastball-slider combination and his bulldog mentality on the mound make him a huge upside guy as a closer down the road.
9. William Carmona, 3b/of, Vermont (So., Stony Brook)
Carmona led the America East Conference in batting average (.387) and on-base percentage (.456) as a freshman this spring. He kept on hitting with wood bats this summer, finishing .280/.365/.508 with six home runs and 27 RBIs for the Mountaineers and displaying tremendous raw power from both sides of the plate. He is better from the left side, but he crushes fastballs from both sides and doesn't miss many mistake pitches. Good curveballs can still eat him up, and he must improve his plate discipline, as evidenced by his underwhelming 35-16 strikeout-walk ratio this summer. Unfortunately for Carmona, his defense is lagging behind and many assume he will end up tied to first base at the next level. A burly 6-foot, 225-pounder, Carmona has below-average range and shaky actions at third base, and some coaches said his route-running and lack of athleticism made him even worse when the Mountaineers stuck him in a corner outfield spot. But his power is legitimate—he will just need it to carry him through the professional ranks.
10. Jarett Miller, rhp, Laconia (Jr., UNC Greensboro)
Miller posted a 4.22 ERA with 77 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 60 inning against junior-college competition this spring at South Carolina-Lancaster JC. He performed better against superior competition this summer, going 3-1, 1.64 with 44 strikeouts in just 33 innings. A lanky 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Miller doesn't have ideal size, but he does have room to fill out and potentially add a little to his velocity. His easy arm action and delivery produces a fastball that sits at 88-92 mph and a legitimate 12-to-6 curveball that was among the best in the league. Despite not having pitched at the Division I level, Miller has good command with all three of his pitches, although he still relies too much on his curveball. Miller had some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in the NECBL this summer and is ready to step into an impact role at UNC Greensboro next season.