2011 Alaska League Top 10 Prospects
The Kenai Peninsula Oilers unseated the two-time defending Alaska League champion Mat-Su Miners, finishing three games ahead of the Miners to take home the league crown with a 24-12 record. The Oilers were 36-17 overall and represented Alaska in the NBC World Series, where they placed second for the third time in the club's history. The Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, a league mainstay since 1960, elected to play an alternative schedule this summer due to financial issues and were not eligible for postseason play.
1. Aaron Judge, of, Anchorage Glacier Pilots (So., Fresno State)
Judge was the most imposing figure in Alaska this summer, standing at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, and he earned the nickname Dave Winfield Jr. from opposing coaches for his size and exceptional athleticism. With the Pilots, Judge flashed four current above-average tools, including impressive bat control. He hit .290.434/.410 in 100 at-bats while walking (21) more than he struck out (19). Judge peppered the right-center-field gap, hitting anything on the outer half of the plate with authority. It was the same approach that helped him lead all Fresno State regulars with a .358 average as a true freshman this spring. Judge's most surprising tool may be his speed. Although he doesn't carry an ideal build for a basestealer, his exceptionally long strides made him 7-for-7 in stolen base opportunities, and he routinely turned in home-to-first times near 4.1 seconds from the right side. His above-average speed also played in the outfield, where he graded as a plus defender with intriguing arm strength and carry, although he was rarely challenged by runners. A 31st-round draft pick out of high school in 2010, he has flashed low-90s velocity off the mound in the past, but has exclusively been a hitter at the college level. His significant power potential remains largely untapped, as he didn't homer all summer. Judge stands off the plate in an attempt to aid his extension, but he hit for little pull power this summer and frequently inside-outs the ball. Most coaches and scouts agree his power will come as he matures, as it came out in batting practice, and he hits his fair share of doubles.
2. Patrick Wisdom, 3b, Kenai Peninsula (Jr., St. Mary's)
A first-team all-West Coast Conference selection in 2011, Wisdom had unquestionably the best and most usable power in Alaska for the second straight year. He led the ABL in home runs with seven but hit just .229 in 2010. This summer, Wisdom not only improved his average (hitting .296/.422/.503 overall) but also continued to mash, slugging another seven home runs despite playing in Kenai Peninsula's cavernous, wind-swept ballpark. The big differences from a year ago, said one coach, were maturity and better pitch recognition. His power was often described as "light tower" caliber by league coaches, and he finished second in the league's home run derby. Wisdom uses his hands extremely well at the plate and generates very good bat speed. He put those tools on display this summer, hitting a home run off the ABL's top pitching prospect Kyle Finnegan, as well as this spring, launching one off College Player of the Year Trevor Bauer. What makes his power even more impressive is that he is still learning to incorporate his entire lower half. Wisdom was also lauded for his discipline (he posted a 35-25 BB-K mark) and was thought to be a tough out. Defensively, Wisdom's arm strength rivals his power as his best tool. At one point this summer, he hopped on a bullpen mound and reached 93 mph, showing enough arm strength to stick at third base, and he has the athleticism to play there at the pro level.
3. Kyle Finnegan, rhp, Anchorage Bucs (So., Texas State)
Finnegan saw limited action as a freshman for Texas State this spring, throwing just 10 innings while racking up a 6.97 ERA, but he was much more impressive this summer. Despite a slender 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, Finnegan owned the league's most electric arm, hitting 96 mph on a regular basis and settling in comfortably around 92-94. His fastball comes out of his hand with ease thanks to plus-plus arm speed and his uptempo delivery that garners Roy Oswalt comparisons. Finnegan's fastball command is still a work in progress—he walked 26 in nearly 57 innings, a big reason he was just 3-5, 4.45 overall—and he was hit hard when he fell behind in the count. As a result, Finnegan began to throw his changeup in more fastball counts as the season progressed, and he sells the pitch well. He also throws a hard slider that he likes, but coaches agreed it was his third-best offering. Finnegan tapered off toward the end of the season after a virtually unhittable first half but exceeded 100 pitches just once. He still has a baby face and plenty of room to add strength, which could make him an interesting arm come the 2013 draft.
4. Jordan Mills, lhp, Kenai Peninsula (So., St. Mary's)
Mills immediately became a fixture in St. Mary's corps of arms this spring, registering a 3.11 ERA in 22 appearances for the Gaels, mostly out of the bullpen. In Alaska, he worked as a starter and held opponents to a .177 batting average while going 7-2, 2.25. At 6-foot-6 and 175 pounds, Mills has an ideal pitcher's build and projects to possibly still add another inch or two and some good weight. He throws from a sidearm slot that takes away much of his leverage but adds terrific movement to his fastball, which ranges from 86-90 mph. This summer, Oilers catchers set up directly down the middle of the plate and allowed Mills' movement to dictate where the pitch would go. As a result, he racked up a bevy of strikeouts (42 in 48 innings) and groundouts, but also issued his fair share of free passes—32 in 48 innings—and needs to throw more first-pitch strikes to be a starter at the next level. He hides the ball well and throws across his body, making him torturous on lefthanded hitters. He was just as tough on righthanders thanks to an outstanding changeup with good fade and command, and he also mixes in a slider that began to flourish in Alaska.
5. Jon Maciel, rhp, Kenai Peninsula (So., Long Beach State)
Maciel may have been the league's most polished pitcher even though he has yet to turn 19. At Long Beach State this spring, Maciel made 17 appearances, all in relief, and struck out roughly a batter per inning while registering a 1.25 ERA. He then threw as a starter this summer and enjoyed similar success, going 3-1, 1.63 in a team-high 50 innings. His top pitch is his 88-91 mph two-seamer that had good run and sink. He also showed the makings of an impressive four-pitch mix. His slider, curve and changeup all have the potential to be average offerings, and he threw all four of his pitches for strikes. Maciel mixes them well and was lauded for his feel for pitching and competitive makeup by league managers. He has a strong, durable 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame and uses his legs efficiently when he pitches.
6. Tanner Rust, of/if, Kenai Peninsula (So., New Mexico State)
Rust was one of several toolsy Alaska outfielders, including Arkansas' Matt Vinson, Dallas Baptist's Boomer Collins, Kansas' Michael Suiter, and White Sox supplemental first-rounder Keenyn Walker—who played just nine games before signing and therefore didn't qualify for the list—but Rust had the best summer of the bunch despite limited time on the diamond. A former NMSU quarterback, Rust started one game behind center for the Aggies as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and also split time as the team's punter and kick returner. In the spring, he decided to dust off his bat and glove after a year away from baseball and hit .367 with two home runs in limited time. Following an impressive summer, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder has decided to focus on baseball. A switch-hitter, Rust hit .250/.385/.372 with a team-high 12 doubles and two long balls as the Oilers' regular No. 5 hitter with more pop from the left side. Rust has an above-average arm from the outfield and looked at home patrolling right field, although he played more third base and catcher in the spring. He's still behind the curve mentally because of his time off, but his athleticism alone makes him an intriguing draft-eligible redshirt sophomore.
7. Ben Griset, lhp, Kenai Peninsula (So., St. Mary's)
Another St. Mary's southpaw, Griset was more heralded entering college than Mills, having been drafted in the 36th round by the White Sox in 2010. As a freshman, he made five starts and 14 appearances, and he worked as a starter this summer. With the Oilers, Griset struck out 39 in 39 innings and held opponents to a .218 average thanks to an 88-90 mph heater with some arm-side run and a good 12-to-6 curveball. He also has a changeup, but his breaking ball is easily his best pitch, and he has confidence in throwing it behind in counts regularly. Griset stands at 6-foot, 200 pounds and works from a high three-quarters arm slot. His stuff isn't overpowering, although there is room for projection. He works both sides of the plate and can elevate when he needs to. He profiles as a starter at the next level.
8. Conner Kendrick, lhp, Anchorage Bucs (So., Georgia Tech)
Kendrick and Texas State's Hunter Lemke were two Bucs pitchers recruited by the Oilers for the NBC World Series, and both performed well in relief roles there. An undersized southpaw, Kendrick was slightly more dominant with Anchorage, going 4-0, 1.16 with 39 strikeouts in 31 innings, all out of the bullpen. He put up similar numbers in limited action with Georgia Tech this spring. Kendrick was up to 91 mph and the ball jumps out of his hand, but his best pitch may be a hard curveball that he knows how to spin and often finishes near a righthanded hitter's back foot. He also has a changeup that is still developing. He is in great physical shape and has little trouble throwing multiple innings on back-to-back days, although he should have the stuff to start at some point in his college career.
9. Cameron McVey, rhp, Kenai Peninsula (SIGNED: Giants)
As a 22-year-old junior, McVey was drafted in the 22nd round by the Giants this spring out of NAIA Biola (Calif.), and he signed after pitching with the Oilers the entire summer. At Biola, McVey was the team's closer and finished third in NAIA with 14 saves. Opponents hit just .181 off him this spring, and just .121 in Alaska over 16 innings of relief. Although McVey is big bodied—he's 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds—he's destined to stay in the bullpen. He can dial it up to 94 mph at times with an unorthodox delivery and arm action, and his secondary offerings still need work. He can spin a breaking ball, but it is serviceable at best. This summer, McVey began to develop a splitter that ranged from 85-88 mph, and it showed some promise. He could be a solid late-innings reliever down the road.
10. Mike Miller, ss, Kenai Peninsula (Sr., Cal Poly)
Miller made his third ABL stint count. After two summers of lackluster offensive production, Miller hit .359/.472/.483 to win the league's batting title and player of the year honors. He laced nine doubles, stole 12 bases, struck out just seven times in 145 at-bats (while drawing 28 walks), and showed some pop on the season's final day, hitting a game-clinching grand slam. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Miller doesn't have any standout tool and his ceiling is limited, but league coaches insisted he was the best player in the league. One coach said, "It wasn't even close." Before this year, Miller's glove had always been ahead of his bat, and he continued to play a steady shortstop, winning the league's gold glove award. Miller made the routine plays and flashed the ability to make the outstanding ones with impressive arm strength and soft hands around the second base bag. He may not have the foot speed to stick at shortstop long term, but should fit fine as a slick fielding second baseman or utilityman as long as someone takes a flier on him as a senior sign.