2011 New England Collegiate Baseball League Top 10 Prospects
In an all-New Hampshire final, the Keene Swamp Bats swept Laconia in the best-of-three championship series, ending their eight-year title drought and capturing their third NECBL crown. Keene was powered in the postseason by catcher Brett DeLoach, who hit six home runs and tallied 15 RBIs in eight playoff games. DeLoach (Georgia) narrowly missed making the league's top 10, as did righthander Whit Mayberry (Virginia), who whiffed 11 batters in six innings of work in the season finale.
Though the NECBL didn't feature a sure-fire, blue-chip talent like recent alumni Kenny Diekroeger, Mark Appel, Mike Olt and Stephen Strasburg, the league offered better quality depth than in years past. League managers mentioned more than 50 different players to be considered for this list, a handful of which have a chance to be selected in the top 10 rounds of next June's draft. Others could mature into top-round selections in future years, which was evident to the roughly 35 scouts in attendance at the league's all-star game.
1. Tom Murphy, c, Holyoke (Jr., Buffalo)
Murphy earned Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors despite the Bulls' 3-22 conference record, after hitting .384/.446/.626 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs as a sophomore. His spring put him on scouts' radar screens, but his summer ensured they will flock to Buffalo next year, as one talent evaluator said Murphy could go in the top three rounds of the draft. Two swings of the bat in a showcase against Team USA and Louisiana State flame-throwing righty Kevin Gausman at Fenway Park opened eyes: Murphy ripped Gausman's first-pitch fastball about 400 feet foul off the Coca-Cola sign down the left-field line, then he stayed back on Gausman's sharp slider and launched it over the Green Monster for an estimated 450 feet, showing off his compact stroke and plus raw power. A few days later, Murphy signed to play a five-game series with Team USA against Team Japan. When he returned to Holyoke, Murphy continued raking to the tune of .291/.364/.575. An athletic 6-foot-1, 210-pound backstop, Murphy ran a 6.75-second 60-yard dash at the NECBL all-star game. He is a good receiver with a solid-average arm, routinely turning out 1.9-second pop times, though his throwing needs refinement as the ball sails on him at times. Scouts and managers alike raved about Murphy's work ethic, and Holyoke general manager Kirk Fredriksson, who recruited Strasburg in 2007, called Murphy the league's best catching prospect during his 15 years.
2. Ronnie Freeman, c, Holyoke (Jr., Kennesaw State)
If Murphy is the NECBL's top prospect, Freeman could be called "1b," as league talent evaluators didn't see much difference between Holyoke's catchers who split time behind the plate. Freeman isn't quite as athletic as Murphy and doesn't have as much strength in his swing, but both are strong backstops with solid catch-and-throw skills. Freeman has natural hitting ability and gained recognition this spring by stringing together a 42-game hit streak for Kennesaw State, where he posted a .392/.487/.622 line with 30 extra-base hits and 51 RBIs. He followed that up by hitting .373/.445/.553 in 39 games for the Blue Sox, which earned him a short stint with Team USA. Freeman shows above-average raw power in batting practice but works gap-to-gap in games. He has an average arm that produces 2.0-second pop times. A hard worker and student of the game, Freeman keeps a notebook of charts on pitchers he has caught and faced. But Freeman's calling card is his bat—he consistently barrels balls up thanks to great hand-eye coordination, though he might need to polish his approach at the plate, as he walked just 17 times in 150 at-bats this summer. One scout said Freeman could get drafted in the top five rounds and projects as a solid major league backup.
3. Conrad Gregor, of, Newport (So., Vanderbilt)
Gregor smashed a home run for his first collegiate hit against Stanford, helping Vanderbilt rally from behind for an 8-7 win and series victory in one of the season's best nonconference matchups. All told, Gregor hit .353/.456/.471, serving mostly as the Commodores' DH, and he played his best when the lights were brightest, going 12-for-30 with four doubles and five RBIs in the NCAA postseason. After joining Newport late, he continued his tear in the NECBL this summer, batting .330/.432/.648 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in just 25 games. Gregor ranked as Indiana's second-best high-school prospect in 2010 and was named an Aflac All-American, prompting the White Sox to draft the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder in the 40th round. Gregor is the same player that impressed scouts with his sweet lefthanded swing, power potential and impressive bat speed then. He's awkward in the outfield and has a fringe-average arm, which might push him to first base down the line, but Gregor can simply hit, and his bat could carry him far in pro ball.
4. Jeff Thompson, rhp, Keene (So., Louisville)
Thompson was one of Indiana's best prospects for his athleticism and projection package as a high schooler, but scouts weren't sure he would concentrate on baseball. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Thompson had scholarship offers in football as a defensive end and basketball as a forward, but he opted to stay close to home and pitch. He made an immediate impact at Louisville, where he pitched mostly in relief for the Cardinals and posted numbers comparable to those of the team's closer, Tony Zych, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Cubs. Thompson allowed 40 hits in 39 innings while striking out 43 and holding opponents to a .258 average as a freshman, then transitioned to a starter's role for Keene, whiffing 53 in 38 innings. Thompson's fastball sat at 90-93 mph in the NECBL all-star game in a short outing, but his velocity drops to the mid-80s later in games when starting. He flashes a plus slider and is working on adding a changeup to his repertoire. Thompson loses his center of gravity occasionally and needs to improve his conditioning, but he has arguably the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the league, especially now that he is concentrating on baseball full time.
5. Chris Costantino, rhp, Laconia (SIGNED: Cardinals)
Costantino first emerged as a prospect when he helped power Lincoln (R.I.) to the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old in 2004. A few years later, he ranked as the Ocean State's best prep pitcher and led Bishop Hendricken, Rocco Baldelli's alma mater, to a state championship as a senior, firing a three-hit shutout in the title game. The Red Sox drafted Costantino in the 49th round, and despite his success on the mound, most scouts projected him to have a better future at third base, where he has continued to play since. But he might have a better future on the mound, which was obvious when Costantino fired the NECBL's fifth no-hitter against Keene in a nine-strikeout performance. After allowing almost a run an inning in his first few starts, Costantino settled in and gave up just four runs on 13 hits in his final 33 innings. Overall he went 3-3, 2.30 with 60 strikeouts in 47 innings for Laconia, capturing league MVP honors. Costantino sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94 with his fastball, and he throws a changeup and slider. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder works ahead of hitters well and has a smooth delivery, though he redshirted his freshman year at Walters (Tenn.) State JC because of an arm injury. He signed with the Cardinals as a 43rd-round pick for a $100,000 bonus at the end of the summer.
6. Trey Mancini, 1b, Holyoke (So., Notre Dame)
Mancini didn't start in Notre Dame's season-opening tilt against Michigan State last season, but the coaching staff didn't keep his power bat out of the lineup past that game. Mancini played every contest the rest of the year, and he soon settled into the cleanup spot in the Fighting Irish lineup. He led Notre Dame in the triple crown categories by hitting .323/.385/.577 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs, earning Big East Rookie of the Year honors. Originally from Winter Haven, Fla., Mancini grew up as neighbors with Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz, a Lakeland resident. Mancini was a member of the Sunshine State's heralded 2010 high school class, and he showed off against some of the state's top competition, when he led Polk County in hitting. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Mancini is big and strong. He generates good bat speed and plus power from his strong wrists, and he has an advanced approach at the plate. He adjusted to wood bats by posting a line of .296/.374/.520 for Holyoke. For his size, Mancini is a good athlete and is fluid around first base.
7. Chris Jenkins, rhp, Holyoke (Jr., Stanford)
A member of Stanford's second-ranked 2009 recruiting class that included potential first-round picks Kenny Diekroeger and Mark Appel, Jenkins has largely underachieved during his time in Palo Alto. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound righty, who was a top-ranked prep pitcher from New Jersey, went 0-2, 10.00 in eight appearances as a freshman, then missed his sophomore season with a shoulder injury. But scouts who saw Jenkins pitch this summer, when he struck out 17 in 18 innings of work for Holyoke, continued to be impressed with his combination of size and arm strength, with one evaluator saying Jenkins could go in the top five rounds if he stays healthy. Jenkins' fastball, which he throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, sits at 93-95 mph and can touch 97, and it grades as a true plus-plus pitch thanks to its velocity, sink and run when he has a consistent release point and stays on top. Though Jenkins didn't throw many sliders this summer, the low-80s offering is average, and he also has a changeup. He needs to work on command, as he walked 15 batters this summer. Jenkins figures to be in the mix to close for Stanford next year, and one scout said his ceiling is a major league set-up man.
8. Tyler Mizenko, rhp, Sanford (SIGNED: Giants)
Mizenko was understandably overlooked in the Lower New England draft class of 2008 that produced Chris Dwyer, Jason Esposito, George Springer and Matt Barnes, among others. Mizenko ranked as the NECBL's third-best prospect after his freshman year at Winthrop, when he racked up 14 saves and posted a 42-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 45 innings. As a sophomore, he saved six games and fanned 50 in 49 innings, then pitched well for Hyannis in the Cape Cod League. Winthrop moved Mizenko into the rotation this year and he went 5-3, 3.79, and though his stuff was down slightly with the added workload, the Giants drafted him in the 28th round, then signed him at the end of the summer. In his return trip through the NECBL, Mizenko pitched exclusively out of the bullpen, where he should fit best as a pro because of his high-effort delivery. He whiffed 23 batters in 14 innings for Sanford, showing off a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96. His fastball has excellent life from a low three-quarters arm slot, making it difficult for righties to pick up, and his swing-and-miss low-80s slider is a plus pitch that eats up lefties. Mizenko, who has a durable 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame, doesn't use his changeup or curveball much in relief.
9. Dario Pizzano, of, North Shore (Jr., Columbia)
In 2003, Pizzano scored the winning run in Saugus (Mass.) Little League's 14-13 extra-innings nail biter against a Texas team, in a game that is often considered one of the best in Little League World Series history. Since then, Pizzano has grown from a scrappy 5-foot, 98-pound center fielder to a well-rounded 5-foot-11, 195-pound corner outfielder. Pizzano, a two-time first-team all-Ivy League selection, hit .359/.443/.654 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs to lead Columbia in the triple crown categories as a sophomore. He followed that up with a strong summer for North Shore, leading the league in runs created by batting .365/.447/.554 in his second time through the circuit. Several managers said Pizzano was the toughest out in the league. He drives the ball to all fields with authority, and one scout graded him as a 55 hitter on the 20-80 scale with average power, to go along with average speed and an average arm. But Pizzano's solid tools across the board play up because of his intelligence and instincts.
10. Tyler Horan, of, Danbury (So., Virginia Tech)
Horan hasn't had a chance to play full-time for Virginia Tech in two years, redshirting in 2009 and making just nine starts for the Hokies last season, but he put up strong numbers in limited action, collecting 11 extra-base hits in 48 at-bats. Returning to his native New England this summer, Horan took advantage of playing every day. He led the NECBL in home runs (11) and RBIs (35) while batting .341/.401/.651. Opposing managers were quick to point out that Danbury's home stadium, Rogers Park, is friendly for lefthanded hitters like Horan, with the right-field foul pole standing 315 feet from home and the right-center power alley at 330 feet. Horan has plenty of raw power and doesn't strike out often, though he's a bit of a free swinger and doesn't draw many walks. Horan is physical and strong, and he's a better athlete than his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame immediately suggests, as he was a star running back for Boston College High. He's an average runner with good baseball IQ who can hold his own in an outfield corner.