2012 Jayhawk League Top 10 Prospects
The Hays Larks won the league crown with a 23-11 record and led a group of five Jayhawk teams into the NBC World Series. Despite losing their opening-round game, the Larks rallied to win six straight—dealing back-to-back champion Santa Barbara its only loss in the process—and finished tied for third with fellow Jayhawk member El Dorado. The Broncos entered the Series with a 14-20 league record, but allowed just 1.5 runs per game to advance to the semifinals. Dodge City (seventh-place), Liberal (tied for ninth), and three-time defending Midwest regional champion Haysville (tied for ninth) also had good showings in Wichita.
1. Jonathan Youngblood, of, Dodge City (So., Meridian, Miss., CC)
Youngblood just turned 19 in July, yet the teenager has already been drafted twice. In 2011, he was picked in the 30th round by the Braves out of Lafayette (Ky.) High, and this year the Pirates grabbed him in the 15th round out of Meridian CC, where he'll stay for another year. A lean and projectable 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, Youngblood looks the part and shows above-average tools, though some of them remain unrefined. He has terrific natural athleticism and grades as a plus runner, swiping 29 bags in 32 attempts this spring. His speed plays well in the outfield, where he takes clean routes, and he also has an average arm. He played left field for the A's in the NBC World Series in deference to older, more proven players, though he shouldn't have trouble adjusting to center at the next level.
Youngblood's bat is a work in progress. He hit .277 with 41 runs scored in his first college season but did not fare as well with Dodge City this summer. Slowed by injuries for three weeks, Youngblood hit just .212 with two extra-base hits, primarily in the bottom third of the A's order. He makes consistent contact but doesn't always drive the ball, a product of below-average strength. The righthanded hitter shows more of a gap-to-gap mindset in batting practice but should grow into more power as he matures. Given his size, athleticism and age, Youngblood has a high ceiling with a chance to reach it.
2. Tim Anderson, ss, Dodge City (So., East Central, Miss., CC)
Anderson is another young, athletic Mississippi juco product with tools to spare. Originally from Tuscaloosa, Ala., Anderson has only been playing competitive baseball for about three years, primarily focusing on basketball in high school before an injury shifted his athleticism to the diamond. He quickly became a fixture in the East Central lineup as a freshman this spring, leading the team with a .362 average. The righthanded hitter continued to impress this summer, thanks in part to plus bat speed; he hit .328 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 134 Jayhawk League at-bats. His best tool is unquestionably his speed, which some coaches graded as plus-plus. This spring, he was 30-for-30 in stolen bases. Defensively, Anderson has the hands and arm strength to stick at shortstop, not to mention the range, though his wheels may play even better in center field long-term.
But with all of his tools also come the rough patches expected from someone with so little baseball experience. Despite his impressive numbers, league coaches felt Anderson was relatively easy to pitch to because he had trouble with breaking balls. His pitch recognition needs work, and he endured a 2-for-20 slide in the NBC World Series, when he faced better pitching. His swing can become long at times, and he needs to learn to drive balls to right field. He's similarly raw at short, where he needs to become more consistent—he made 24 errors in college for an .858 fielding percentage. Still, Anderson's tantalizing tools have attracted interest from a number of schools, including SEC, ACC, and Big 12 suitors. He will honor his two-year commitment to East Central next spring before moving on.
3. Austin Darby, of, Hays (So., Nebraska)
Darby was the most polished player in the Jayhawk League, and he also has considerable upside. Originally from Colorado Springs, Darby hit .324 with two home runs and seven stolen bases as a freshman this past spring for Nebraska en route to All-Big 10 Freshman Team honors. He continued to showcase his impressive skill-set with Hays when he hit .374 with four home runs before he swiped five stolen bases in eight NBC World Series games. A lefthanded hitter, Darby has a consistent, compact stroke that he uses to spray line drives from gap-to-gap. He has a good idea of the strike zone, recognizes breaking balls well for someone his age, and enters each at-bat with an approach. At times, Darby chases pitches out of the zone, but he realizes it and his patience improved throughout the summer. He has average pull power already—depositing one home run this spring over the baggy in right field at the Metrodome—and figures to add more as he fills out his athletic 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. Darby grades as an above-average runner and primarily played in right field this summer, though he has the range to handle center. His below-average arm is his most glaring weakness.
4. Derek Thompson, lhp, Derby (So., John A. Logan, Ill., CC)
Like Youngblood, Thompson has already been drafted twice, and he just turned 20 in early August. The southpaw was drafted in the 29th round of the 2011 draft by the Twins out of Teutopolis (Ill.) High before the White Sox nabbed him in the 13th round this past year out of John A. Logan CC. Most league coaches did not see Thompson throw this summer—he only worked nine innings—because he came down with a dead arm after throwing 84 innings this spring. The few innings he threw were underwhelming: 0-2, 8.00 with 12 hits allowed. But Thompson was far better in the spring when he went 8-2, 1.92 in 13 starts, including eight complete games. He also struck out 103 and posted a .197 batting average against.
Long and lean, Thompson has ample projection remaining in his 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame. He currently sits in the high 80s with good downward tilt and two-seam run. His bread-and-butter pitch is a changeup with excellent arm action. It has good fade, and Thompson has confidence throwing the pitch in any count and to any hitter. He also throws a curveball, though it's a show-me offering that grades well behind his change. Thompson's batterymate with Derby—Illinois catcher Kelly Norris-Jones—is another player to keep an eye on.
5. Dayne Parker, 2b, Liberal (Jr., Wichita State)
Parker was a mainstay in the Wichita State lineup this spring, starting 59 of the team's 60 games. The righthanded hitter has a knack for finding the barrel of the bat, hitting .324 this summer. League coaches praised his ability to keep his hands and weight back against quality breaking balls. One coach went as far as to say he's among the best bad-ball hitters he has seen at the amateur level and compared Parker to Freddy Sanchez when Sanchez was drafted in 2000. His ability to make consistent contact keeps his strikeout rate down—21 times in 217 at-bats this spring—but his willingness to swing at any type of pitch also reduces his walk rate—18 times during that same span. Right now, Parker exhibits a gap-to-gap approach, and he has shown very little power in college, slugging .369 as a sophomore. He primarily plays second base for the Shockers, where he profiles best at the next level, but he shifted to shortstop this summer.
Parker is a below-average defender with fringe-average speed, and he'll need to monitor his quickness in order to stick at second base long-term. He would have the arm strength to play third, but he doesn't project for enough power to play a corner infield spot. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Parker doesn't have a bad body, but he needs to add strength to a build that lacks natural athleticism. He earns plaudits for his work ethic and baseball instincts. An interesting note: Parker and Aaron Cornell, ranked ninth, played on the same high school team in Roff, Okla., and won a state title as seniors with a 38-1 record.
6. Chad Nack, rhp, Liberal (So., Texas-Arlington)
An athletic righthander initially recruited as a two-way player, Nack jumped into UTA's bullpen as a freshman this spring and compiled a 4.10 ERA with four saves in 22 appearances. The Mavericks coaching staff wanted to see him in a starter's role this summer, and he flourished as the staff ace for Liberal. In 49 league innings, Nack was 4-2, 2.08. He also fired 16 innings in two starts in the NBC World Series, allowing just three runs on nine hits. Although he is listed generously at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Nack flashes an electric fastball from a high three-quarters arm slot. He consistently works at 91-92 mph with late life and regularly reaches 94. He throws strikes with his fastball, though his command needs fine-tuning. Nack doesn't strike out as many hitters as his velocity may indicate he should—just 28 this summer—because he falls behind hitters too often and he doesn't have much feel for his secondary stuff. His curveball is his best offspeed pitch, and it has some deception. However, he prefers to throw a slider that he telegraphs by dropping his arm angle. He also has a changeup, though it's in its beginning stages. Nack was thought to be very coachable and was described as a "yard rat", which should help him reach his potential at the next level.
7. Tyler Baker, c, Liberal (So., Wichita State)
Baker rated as the Jayhawk's best backstop for his catch-and-throw skills and sweet lefthanded swing. Drafted in the 50th round by the Indians in 2011, Baker is athletic and can play any position in the infield. He projects best behind the plate, where he controls opposing running games thanks to his above-average arm strength. Baker is raw as a catcher but made significant defensive strides this summer. He quickened his footwork and transfer, and coaches agreed that he could be a plus defender down the road. His receiving and blocking are both works in progress, and he needs to strengthen his hands and forearms in order to become more durable. He calls games well and knows how to handle a staff for someone who has yet to become a full-time catcher.
Baker has some work to do as a hitter as well. His lefthanded swing stays in the zone a long time, and he drives the ball to the opposite field well. However, he struggles to pull balls with authority. In 132 at-bats as a freshman for Wichita State, Baker hit just .205, and then hit .238 this summer. He did lead the league with 14 doubles, and 18 of his 30 hits went for extra bases. He stands just 5-foot-9, but he has some strength in his frame, and coaches were impressed with his work ethic.
8. Jake Barrios, ss, Liberal (Jr., Texas Tech)
Barrios returned to Liberal for the second straight summer, hitting .397//447/.551 in 78 at-bats. Once again, he played his home games at Seward County (Kan.) CC, where he's manned shortstop the past two springs. Barrios was enrolled at Louisiana State last fall and was listed on the Tigers' website, but he ended up back at SCCC. He will now transfer to Texas Tech for 2013. A big, athletic infielder, Barrios played three infield spots and the outfield corners this summer. He has the arm strength to play anywhere on the diamond, but his footwork needs to improve in order to stay at shortstop. His ultimate future probably rests as an offensive second baseman, albeit a tall one. Barrios is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and he might still be growing because he's young for his class. Most of his value rests in his quick righthanded swing that packs "tremendous pull power," as one coach said. Barrios is a great fastball hitter, but he needs work against breaking balls. When thrown a steady diet of them, he gets out on his front foot and pulls off. Still, Barrios has the wherewithal to make those adjustments and continue to improve his overall game.
9. Aaron Cornell, of, Hays (Jr., Oklahoma State)
Cornell ranked second on this list a year ago, when he tied for the league lead in home runs (seven) and doubles (12). His impressive 2011 campaign earned him league MVP honors and a spot with Oklahoma State, where he signed mid-summer from Eastern Oklahoma JC. Since then, however, things haven't gone as planned for the 5-foot-11, 170-pound center fielder. Cornell struggled to adjust to Big 12 pitching this spring and mustered just three singles in 34 at-bats (.088/.132/.088). He returned to Hays this summer hoping to force his way back into the 2013 draft conversation, but looked overmatched early in the season, and some coaches mused he didn't look comfortable with a wood bat. He eventually turned it on to raise his league average to .273 with 10 doubles, and he hit .441 with five multi-hit games in the NBC World Series.
At his best, Cornell still flashes intriguing tools, most notably his plus speed. His quickness plays up in the outfield, where he gets good reads, takes solid routes and goes back on balls well, giving him a chance to be an above-average defender. He has bat speed and gap-to-gap pop, but he needs to drive the ball with more consistency to re-emerge as the prospect he was a year ago.
10. Taylor Drake, 3b, Dodge City (Jr., McNeese State)
Drake has seen plenty of action in two years at McNeese State, starting 60 of the Cowboys' 110 games, but he has yet to settle into an everyday role. That should change after Drake torched Jayhawk pitching this summer en route to the league-batting crown (.421) while finishing second in the home run race (six). For good measure, he then hit .368 in the NBC World Series, including a 3-for-5, two-home run effort in Dodge City's first-round contest.
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Drake has a quick, compact swing that he uses to drive the ball from foul pole to foul pole. Coaches lauded his ability to let the ball travel and utilize the right-center-field gap, particularly with two strikes. His power rates a tick below-average at this point, but he's a hard worker who can grow into more pop. Drake's defense is a work in progress. He plays third base now and has the arm strength to stay there, but his footwork is inconsistent. He's not a great athlete and may need to move across the diamond, making him a righthanded-hitting college first baseman, a tough profile to overcome.