2012 Prospect League Top 10 Prospects
After losing last year's title game to Quincy, the West Virginia Miners returned to the title game this season and captured their first Prospect League championship with a two-game sweep of Dubois County. The Miners won the first game of the series 4-2 on the back of their best pitcher, Sam Lewis (Indiana Wesleyan), who pitched a complete game, allowing just seven hits and striking out a ridiculous 18 batters.
In the decisive game two days later, starter Joe Candelmo (Mansfield, Pa.) allowed seven hits and three earned runs over eight innings to earn the win. The Miners had trailed for most of the game before Luke Meeteer's (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) two-run double in the seventh inning gave them a 3-2 lead, and right fielder Gray Stafford (Marshall) put the game out of reach with a two-run home run in the eighth.
1. Elliot Caldwell, of, Butler (So., Spartanburg, S.C., Methodist JC)
After playing sparingly as a freshman for Winthrop and hitting just .217/.294/.239 in 46 at-bats, Caldwell turned the Prospect League into his personal playground this summer, impressing more than his fair share of the league's coaches along the way. Caldwell—who will play at Spartanburg Methodist JC next season—used his compact, inside-out swing and good gap power to torch Prospect League pitching to the tune of a .388/.450/.592 line with seven home runs and 47 RBIs. A rock-solid 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Caldwell has present strength and physicality but has the frame to add more muscle down the road.
Coaches were impressed with his ability to control the bat and drive the ball to all fields. He still had a tendency to get caught swinging at pitches he shouldn't, but he should be able to refine his approach as he gets more opportunities to play. Caldwell has above-average speed and excellent instincts on the basepaths, helping him steal 27 bases this summer, and his defensive versatility allowed the Butler coaching staff to play him in the infield and the outfield. He projects best at a corner outfield spot, where his above-average arm and outfield instincts should allow him to develop into a plus defender. And coaches raved about his makeup and work ethic.
2. Nick Blount, rhp, Terre Haute (Sr., Southern Polytechnic State, Ga.)
Booted off the Tennessee squad last April, Blount may have had a rough spring, but that didn't stop him from dominating Prospect League hitters en route to being named the league's co-prospect of the year and fireman of the year. Before his dismissal from Tennessee last season, the junior had emerged as an effective closer for the Volunteers after a rough turn as a starter. The Georgia native had 10 saves in 10 chances for the Volunteers and boasted a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings out of the pen. This summer he picked up right where he left off, compiling a 1.42 ERA, 12 saves, 37 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings for Terre Haute.
At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Blount has a classic closer mentality and loved to challenge hitters with a fastball that reaches 96 but sits at 91-92. He has a smooth delivery with a big leg kick, and some evaluators wondered whether he can be an effective starter because of his durable frame and arm strength. But most coaches figured he profiles best at the back end of the bullpen, where his velocity and mentality seem to play better. Already maxed out physically, Blount commands his stuff and is always around the zone with all three of his pitches, but he will need to develop a reliable secondary pitch if he wants to get professional hitters out. His slider and changeup both need a lot of work before they can be considered effective pitches. Blount will spend next season at NAIA Southern Polytechnic State in Marietta, Ga.
3. Jake Johansen, rhp, West Virginia (Jr., Dallas Baptist)
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Johansen strikes an intimidating presence on the mound, and he has the arm to back it up. Used primarily as a reliever in his first two seasons with Dallas Baptist, Johansen has always had strikeout stuff; it was just a matter of harnessing it. And this summer, Johansen did just that, going 5-2, 3.18 with 56 strikeouts and 19 walks in 51 innings. Johansen's best pitch is his fastball, which sat 91-92 but was clocked as high as 96-97 at the league's all-star game. His secondary pitches could use some polishing, but his slider has good depth and bite, and it has the potential to be an above-average pitch down the line. His changeup is still a work in progress, and he didn't throw it much during the summer. Despite his success as a starter and his free and easy delivery, most league coaches thought he projected better as a reliever, where he could come in for an inning or two and not worry about pacing himself. The really scary part is that while Johansen is already physically fit and imposing, his frame could hold another 10-15 pounds of muscle and he could add velocity down the road.
The top concern going forward will be whether Johansen can consistently control his power repertoire. Last season at Dallas Baptist he struck out 40 hitters in 46 innings, but he also walked 32 hitters, which led to a 5.48 ERA. His spotty control caused him to drop to the 27th round of the draft as a redshirt sophomore, though he ranked No. 211 in the pre-draft BA 500. He cut down on his walks during the summer. If he can pound the strike zone with his fastball-slider combination, he has the makings of an effective reliever at the next level.
4. Matt Tellor, 1b, Springfield (Jr., Southeast Missouri State)
There is little doubt what tool will carry Tellor, the league's player of the year, to the next level. He spent the summer ravaging Prospect League pitching, finishing with a very loud .341/.400/.696 slash line and 18 home runs, 22 doubles, and 66 RBIs. At 6-foot-5 and a lanky 210 pounds, Tellor has a projectable frame and will likely add strength as he matures. Like many young power hitters, the switch-hitting Tellor can struggle recognizing offspeed pitches, often gets impatient at the plate and needs to cut down on his strikeouts. But it is hard not to like his short swing and quick hands, which allow him to stay loaded on the backside and drive the ball to all fields.
Defensively, Tellor's size dictates that he will be anchored to first base at the next level, and the Florida native does have some work to do on that end. He doesn't have terrific range and may never be better than average defensively, but he should be an adequate defender. Tellor hit .310/.367/.542 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in 168 at-bats last season at NAIA Lindenwood (Mo.), and this season he is transferring to play for the Redhawks. If he can cut down on his strikeouts and work on his plate discipline and recognition of offspeed pitches, he has the hitting ability—and especially the power—to make an impact both in Division I and in pro ball.
5. George Roberts, 1b/3b, Butler (Sr., Kent State)
The reigning Mid-American Conference player of the year showed exactly why he earned that distinction this summer, as he punished Prospect League pitching to the tune of a .410/.453/.689 slash line with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in just 122 at-bats. Roberts displayed power to all fields and used a short, compact swing to punish middle-away pitching while still generating more than enough bat speed to turn on the inside pitches. He still has the tendency to swing out of his shoes at times, and he doesn't draw many walks, but he has a solid understanding of the zone and should be able to cut down on his strikeouts as he refines his swing and his approach. The question now is whether Roberts' bat will be able to carry him at the next level as he profiles best as a corner infielder but doesn't have the prototypical size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) that scouts look for in a third or first baseman.
Roberts played first base primarily at Kent State, but he played all over the infield this summer, and most coaches pegged him as a third baseman at the next level. He has solid arm strength, and his footwork was impressive considering how little time he has spent at the hot corner. But his defense and his size are the main question marks scouts have about him going forward. The good news is that coaches raved about his attitude and work ethic, so if there is anyone who can work hard enough to become a solid defensive infielder, it is Roberts.
6. Nick Johnson, ss, Terre Haute (So., Mesa, Ariz., CC)
Legitimate middle infield prospects were hard to find this summer in the Prospect League, so Johnson stood out thanks to his impressive defensive tools and fundamentally sound approach at the plate. After a solid freshman campaign at Mesa CC, where he hit .358 with 51 RBIs and 37 walks in 56 games, Johnson carried that momentum over to the summer. He finished the summer hitting .321/.434/.444 with 35 walks and 11 stolen bases in 187 at-bats. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Johnson has a projectable frame and could add muscle down the line. He doesn't have much pop but he makes up for it with quick hands and good balance, allowing him to spray the ball all over the field. Although he struck out 35 times during the summer season, most coaches thought that his short swing was well suited to making solid contact.
Johnson shined even more defensively, combining excellent instincts and a strong arm to earn acclaim as the league's best shortstop. Johnson has quick feet, advanced footwork and really soft hands that give him a real chance to stay at the position at the next level. If he can add some muscle to his lanky frame and continue to progress as a hitter, he could have a bright future in pro ball.
7. Kris Gardner, lhp, Hannibal (R-So., Wichita State)
What Gardner lacks in raw stuff, he more than makes up for with his polish and feel for pitching, which helps him get by without the same velocity as some of the others on this list. Gardner earned a spot in Wichita State's weekend rotation as a redshirt freshman this spring, going 5-2, 2.66 with 44 strikeouts and 16 walks in 71 innings. He was arguably even better this summer, as he paced the Cavemen by going 7-1, 2.37 (good for second in the league) with 45 strikeouts and just seven walks in 57 innings.
Standing 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Gardner is already fully developed and may not add too much velocity down the road. Right now his fastball sits at 87-89 at its best and won't overpower any hitters, but his secondary pitches are advanced, and he throws all his pitches consistently for strikes. His changeup is his out pitch; it dives away from hitters, often leaving them looking foolish at the plate. His slider wreaks havoc on lefthanded hitters because it is difficult to pick up coming out of his hand. Gardner is a slow and steady worker with a calm and repeatable delivery, and few pitchers in the league could match his mound presence, command of the strike zone, and advanced feel for pitching.
8. Radley Haddad, c, Slippery Rock (Sr., Butler)
Haddad's calling card is his defense behind the plate. One American League scout who saw him work out at the all-star game showcase declared Haddad was already big league-ready behind the plate, with excellent receiving skills and consistent 1.8-second pop times. Haddad displays terrific footwork behind the plate, has a plus arm, and has no trouble getting down to block pitches in the dirt.
Haddad sat out 2011 at Butler after transferring from Western Carolina, where he played sparingly in two seasons, then hit .295/.392/.380 this spring. He needs many more reps at the plate in order to develop into a passable hitter. He still breaks down on the front side of his swing and gets pull-happy. His swing is occasionally very long, and he has a tendency to beat the ball into the ground on pitches middle-away. To his credit, after a rough first half of the season offensively, Haddad rebounded to finish the season with a .310/.367/.416 slash line with three home runs and 23 RBIs while playing through a pulled hamstring over the last two weeks of the season. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he has some room to add muscle.
9. Giancarlo Brugnoni, 1b, Chillicothe (Jr., Grand Valley State, Mich.)
A burly 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman, Brugnoni will go as far as his hit tool can carry him. Fortunately for Brugnoni, there is plenty of life in his bat, though he needs to be more selective and shorten his swing. Brugnoni had a breakout season for the Division II Lakers last spring, hitting .339/.441/.655 with a team-high 15 home runs and 48 RBIs, and his bat stayed hot this summer. Brugnoni finished the summer with a .310/.432/.686 slash line and league-best numbers in home runs (20), RBIs (66), and walks (47). His standout tool is his power. The Paints' home ballpark is a bandbox, but Brugnoni has legitimate present strength and power. But he still has a lot to work on at the plate. For starters, he swings and misses a lot, as he also led the league in strikeouts with 66. He does a good job of maintaining his balance and staying back on the ball, but his swing has length, making him vulnerable inside. Some coaches questioned how his bat will play against better competition, but by all accounts he has a great attitude and work ethic, giving him a chance to made adjustments. Defensively Brugnoni will be anchored to first base, where he is a below-average defender with questionable range and arm strength. He still needs to work on his footwork around the bag and may never be an average defensive first baseman
10. Sam Lewis, rhp, West Virginia (SIGNED: Royals)
No player had a better summer in the Prospect League than Lewis. After easily his best season at NAIA Indiana Wesleyan (in which he went 4-2, 3.81 with 63 strikeouts in 59 innings), Lewis was even better in the Prospect League. He finished the summer 8-1, 2.70 with 71 strikeouts and 27 walks in 70 innings, but that only tells half the story. He also threw two no-hitters, a one-hitter, and finished on a high note with a complete-game, 18-strikeout performance in the first game of the championship series. He was able to parlay that success into a free agent contract with the Royals.
At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Lewis is already filled out physically, so he probably won't add much velocity to an average fastball that sits 89-90. His best weapons are his hammer 12-to-6 curveball, his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes consistently, and his deceptive delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball. There is some herk and jerk in his delivery, which made some coaches wonder about injuries down the road, but he has excellent mound presence and an advanced feel for pitching, which help him get by without plus velocity. He'll need to improve his changeup in order to have a chance to start in pro ball, but his fastball-curveball repertoire and deception could make him successful in a relief role.