2011 Jayhawk League Top 10 Prospects
The Haysville Heat—coached for the first time by Rick Twyman, son of recent National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame inductee Dick "Chief" Twyman—wrapped up its second consecutive Jayhawk League and midwest regional championships and finished fourth at the NBC World Series. The Heat was again led by an older lineup that helped it sneak past Hays, Derby and Liberal, which all finished within 3.5 games of first place and also earned bids to the NBC World Series.
1. Josh Smith, lhp, Liberal (Sr., Wichita State)
Smith was often overlooked this spring, pitching in the shadows of fellow Shocker southpaws Charlie Lowell and Brian Flynn—the top two prospects in the Jayhawk League a year ago—but he might be the best pitcher of the bunch. Although Smith lacks the velocity and stuff of his former teammates, he has above-average command and keeps hitters off-balance. He made 15 starts for Wichita State this spring and was 7-4, 3.00 with the fewest walks allowed per nine innings of the trio. Smith will never be a strikeout pitcher, although he did rack up 39 in 38 innings this summer, as he works in the upper 80s and occasionally touches 90-91 mph with a two-seamer that has good run. That said, he has lanky size at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and could add more velocity as he continues to fill out. He mixes in an excellent changeup and solid slider and can throw any pitch in any count for a strike. A 26th-round draft pick of the Brewers this year, Smith did not sign and will return for his senior year, during which he should be Wichita State's Friday night starter.
2. Aaron Cornell, of, Hays (So., Oklahoma State)
Young, athletic offensive prospects were few and far between in the Jayhawk League this summer, as most of the league's top hitters were older, corner profiles. This allowed Cornell to stand out. After one year at Eastern Oklahoma JC, Cornell was signed by Oklahoma State mid-summer and will head there this fall with hopes of manning center field for the Cowboys. His transition to a Big 12 outfield will be assisted by his plus speed, his best tool. Cornell shoots out of the box well and knows how to steal a base—he swiped 10 this summer. His speed plays up in the outfield, where he takes solid routes and does a good job tracking balls hit over his head. He has an average arm. Considering his size—a wiry strong 5-foot-10, 160 pounds—Cornell showed impressive pop this summer, tying for the league lead with seven home runs and 12 doubles. In the future, he figures to have more gap power than true home run pop, but he did show an ability to turn on good velocity. He can become pull happy at times and will need to learn to use the opposite field more efficiently as he continues to progress.
3. Cale Elam, rhp, Liberal (So., Wichita State)
Elam quickly became Wichita State's go-to late-innings reliever as a freshman this spring and sported a team-high five saves and a team-low 1.23 ERA and .159 opponents' batting average. He continued to dominate this summer, posting a 1.25 ERA with seven saves. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Elam is athletic and projectable and consistently works between 88-92 mph with little effort. His fastball has good movement and was rarely squared up this summer. He also has a very good slider that league coaches felt was his bread-and-butter offering. Right now, however, Elam is more of reliever because he mainly works with just two pitches. He is developing a changeup and could profile as a starter in both college and pro ball if the pitch can progress.
4. Cass Ingvardsen, rhp, Dodge City (Jr., Stephen F. Austin State)
Ingvardsen was drafted in the 45th round this spring by the Yankees out of Weatherford (Texas) JC but has elected to attend Stephen F. Austin for 2012. At Weatherford, he was used exclusively out of the bullpen, recording six saves, and he began the summer in relief for Dodge City. Ingvardsen eventually moved to the rotation, and in four starts he threw 22 innings, striking out 34 and walking nine. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Ingvardsen displayed a heavy fastball with arm-side run that ranged between 90-92 mph, occasionally reaching 93, and the ball comes out of his hand easily. His secondary offerings are his biggest downfall, however, and could keep him in the bullpen long-term. The righthander has a below-average curveball and changeup and has trouble throwing them for strikes.
5. Zeb Sneed, rhp, Haysville (Jr., Northwest Nazarene, Idaho)
Sneed was easily the league's hardest thrower, reaching 97 mph on the stadium gun during the NBC World Series, but he has a hard time harnessing his stuff. Armed with a lightning-quick arm and a good frame at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Sneed's numbers don't do his stuff justice. With NAIA Northwest Nazarene, he registered a 4.15 ERA in 56 innings, and he struck out 58 but also walked 44. His control issues continued this summer, when he posted a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings. When he's on, Sneed can be devastating. His erratic outings garnered comparisons to Nuke Laloosh—the pitcher played by Tim Robbins in the 1980s movie Bull Durham—from one opposing coach. He throws with some effort but uses his height relatively well. Sneed also has good bloodlines, particularly for Idaho, as his brother Cy was drafted in the 35th round by the Rangers this year. On velocity alone, he's worth taking a chance on, but he still has several things to iron out.
6. Jared Moore, lhp, Liberal (So., Kansas State)
Moore combined with Smith and Nicholls State senior southpaw Pat Shreve to form one of the Jayhawk's top rotations. While Smith and Shreve are more finesse-oriented, Moore has a little more velocity, sitting at 90 mph regularly. With Liberal, he threw nearly 40 innings with a 2.21 ERA after getting 18 innings of relief work with Kansas State in his rookie campaign. Moore is undersized at 5-foot-11 but has a quick arm. His changeup is his best pitch right now and is a strikeout offering when he can locate it down in the zone. He also has a breaking ball, but it's inconsistent and he slows his body down to throw it.
7. Ryan Gebhart, of, El Dorado (Sr., Florida Gulf Coast)
Gebhart earned several votes from coaches as the Jayhawk's best position player, but he didn't play much in three years at Missouri. He graduated this spring but had a year of eligibility remaining, so he transferred to Florida Gulf Coast, where he'll be eligible immediately as a graduate student. Gebhart is a switch-hitting center fielder who has above-average speed and arm strength that play well in the outfield and on the basepaths, where he stole 12 bases this summer. Although he missed the last 2 1/2 weeks of the season, Gebhart won the league batting title at .382 and also added four home runs. At the next level, he figures to be more of a speed-oriented, gap-to-gap hitter, however, and the key to his success will be making more consistent contact. His righthanded and lefthanded swings mirror each other well, but he leaves himself vulnerable to high fastballs by starting with his bat head from a vertical plane. He showed more pop from the right side this summer and figures to be a decent senior sign if he can produce at the plate next spring.
8. Robbie Ingram, lhp, Liberal (So., Mesa, Ariz., CC)
Ingram was drafted 27 picks ahead of Ingvardsen in the 2011 draft, going to the Pirates in the 45th round out of Yavapai (Ariz.) JC, but he did not sign and will transfer to Mesa CC for next spring. Ingram may have the highest ceiling of all the players in the Jayhawk League, but he is still a long way from reaching that potential. Although he improved over the course of the year and threw two scoreless innings of relief for Liberal at the NBC World Series, he registered an 11.20 ERA in 23 innings of league play. Still, lanky 6-foot-5 lefthanders who work in the low 90s are not easy to find. Ingram worked exclusively in relief this summer and flashed a good slider, but his overall command is still a work in progress. He also has a changeup, but it is still in its infancy. He will be draft-eligible again in 2012.
9. John Nasshan, rhp, El Dorado (Jr., Bradley)
Like with Ingram and Sneed, Nasshan offers solid projection in his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, but he's far from a finished product. A weekend starter with Bradley this spring, Nasshan recorded a 5.55 ERA for the Braves, although his numbers improved with El Dorado. This summer, he threw 34 innings and fanned 30 to go with a 3.71 ERA. Nasshan, a 48th-round pick out of high school in 2009, sits between 87-89 mph and reaches 91 at times. His arsenal features an average changeup and fringy curveball as well as a slider that rates as his best offering. The pitch improved dramatically this summer, as he got more depth on it and it missed more bats toward the end of the season. Nasshan earns plaudits for his work ethic and makeup and needs to continue to incorporate his legs and take advantage of his height.
10. Jon Ryan, of, Hays (So., Illinois-Chicago)
Ryan started 47 of UIC's 54 games as a freshman this spring but hit just .238 without a home run. He actually fared much better on the mound, where he led the Flames in ERA over 16 innings, but he proved this summer that his future probably rests in his lefthanded swing. Ryan doesn't jump out physically at 6-foot, 190 pounds, but he has very strong wrists and legitimate pull power that enabled him to tie for the Jayhawk lead in home runs with seven. He also hit .297 and made consistent contact throughout the summer, showing an ability to drive the ball to left field with two strikes. His bat will likely be his carrying tool, and he'll need to continue to prove he can hit good offspeed offerings as he progresses. Ryan played right field this summer and is a fringe-average runner with an average outfield arm.