2012 West Coast League Top 10 Prospects
The Wenatchee AppleSox are something of a summer league dynasty. Over the first eight years of the West Coast League, Wenatchee has won five championships. This year, the team defeated the Corvallis Knights in the best-of-three championship series, two games to one. Wenatchee leads the West Coast League prospect list with four players and set a franchise record for paid attendance this summer with 44,009 fans coming out to Paul Thomas Field at Wenatchee (Wash.) CC. Scouts felt the overall talent in the league was a little bit down this summer and that trend will likely continue, as the WCL is set to add two teams (Victoria, B.C. and Medford, Ore.) next season.
Like it has the past several years, this list is dominated by key Pacific-12 Conference recruits heading into their freshman seasons; this year, specifically, the list is dominated by pitchers and UCLA players. There were plenty of worthy candidates for the final spots on the list and some players who just missed the cut include UCLA outfielder Ty Moore, UC Santa Barbara lefthander/first baseman Greg Mahle, Kent State righthander Taylor Williams, UC Riverside righthander Trevor Frank and three sophomore third basemen: Caleb Whalen (Portland), Mitchell Gonsolus (Gonzaga) and Austin Byler (Nevada).
1. Taylor Sparks, 3b/of, Wenatchee (So., UC Irvine)
In high school and as a freshman at UC Irvine, Sparks' performance lagged behind his impressive tools, but he may have narrowed the gap this summer after hitting .388/.448/.709 over 134 at-bats, ranking second in the league in batting average and first in home runs with nine. Sparks has a brawny, 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame, and power is his best tool. He won the league's home run derby at the all-star game and hit a few balls nearly 450 feet. He has a compact swing, but his brute strength allows him to occasionally mishit balls and still muscle them through the infield for hits.
"Let's just say we keep the married guys off the infield when he's taking BP," Wenatchee head coach Ed Knaggs said. "He hits balls and you just laugh because you can tell right away it's gone. The ball just sounds different coming off his bat."
Sparks does still struggle with breaking balls and strikes out about once per game. His defense is passable and he has a strong arm, but he spent the summer shuffling between third and left field. Sparks' father, Don, was a fifth-round pick by the Yankees in 1988 out of Loyola Marymount and spent nine seasons in the minor leagues, mostly in Triple-A.
2. Hunter Virant, lhp, Walla Walla (Fr., UCLA)
Virant was one of the top high school prospects in last year's class, but wasn't drafted until the 11th round because scouts knew it would take a lot of money to sign him away from his commitment to UCLA. Relatively new to pitching, Virant shows a smooth delivery and is developing feel for four pitches. He is a good athlete and has plenty of projection remaining in his thin, 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame. His fastball sat in the 87-90 mph range with good downhill plane. In addition to getting stronger, Virant is very coachable, but he has plenty of work to do on the mound. His secondary stuff wasn't sharp this summer. His curveball was soft and loopy, and he tended to drop his arm slot on his slider, causing it to flatten out. He's shown a good changeup in the past but didn't use it a lot this summer. Even with plenty to work on, Virant still posted solid numbers this summer for the Sweets, going 3-2, 2.25 with 36 strikeouts and 24 walks over 44 innings. With his projectability, fresh arm and athleticism, it's easy to dream on Virant, who he could easily be a first-round pick in 2015.
3. James Kaprielian, rhp, Wenatchee (Fr., UCLA)
Kaprielian had a spectacular spring at Beckman High (Irvine, Calif.) that included two no-hitters, but he wasn't picked until the 40th round due to signability concerns and his strong commitment to UCLA. He has a physical, 6-foot-3, 200-pound build and was also a linebacker in high school. On the mound, Kaprielian showed a few extra ticks on his fastball this summer, sitting in the 90-92 mph range and topping out at 95. But his fastball isn't even his best pitch. Kaprielian's curveball is a hammer with tight 12-to-6 break, and he knows how to command it. He also mixes in an occasional changeup with some fade. While his delivery has a little funk to it, it works for him and Kaprielian throws lots of strikes. He had some shoulder soreness at the beginning of the summer, but he went 0-1, 1.73 with 30 strikeouts and seven walks over 26 innings between the regular season and the playoffs. Kaprielian showed a strong work ethic during his time off and should have an immediate impact for the Bruins.
4. Felipe Perez, rhp, Cowlitz (SIGNED: Diamondbacks)
Perez attended Fairmont Prep in Anaheim and went 3-3, 1.35 with 81 strikeouts and just six walks over 41 innings. He was the highest-ranked (No. 129) player in Baseball America's predraft rankings to go undrafted in June. Like many UCLA recruits, he headed to the West Coast League and went 1-4, 5.02 with 32 strikeouts and 10 walks over 43 innings. Perez has a loose arm and an athletic build at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, and he saw his stuff improve a little bit from where it was in the spring. His fastball sits in the 89-91 mph range, but he touched 93 this summer and showed three pitches—a fastball, curveball and changeup—that could be average to plus in the future. The Diamondbacks had money left in their bonus pool and signed Perez in August for $400,000, stunning many scouts who regarded the academically oriented Perez as a very difficult sign.
5. Cole Irvin, lhp, Cowlitz (Fr., Oregon)
Irvin has a lanky 6-foot-4, 175-pound build with good athleticism and a silky-smooth delivery. He repeats his motion well, which helps him fill up the strike zone with all of his pitches. Irvin doesn't blow hitters away with his stuff, but his feel, control and savvy allowed him to go 6-2, 2.30 with 58 strikeouts and 24 walks over 70 innings this summer. Irvin was 88-92 mph earlier in the summer, but was more in the 86-88 range as the season wore on. His curveball is a soft, rolling pitch that grades out as fringe-average right now, but he can spot it up. He also shows good feel for a changeup. It's all about projection with Irvin and that, along with his feel for pitching and aptitude, bode well for the future. He should be able to step into a key role for the Ducks right away and could be a high pick in the 2015 draft.
6. Shane Zeile, 3b, Walla Walla (So., UCLA)
Zeile has played all over the diamond the past few years. He was mostly a shortstop in high school, spent time at first base and second base during his freshman season at UCLA and played third base this summer for the Sweets. The nephew of 16-year MLB veteran Todd, Zeile has a professional approach to his game. He never seems to get rattled, but his confidence and bravado can rub opponents the wrong way. He can do a little bit of everything on the field, and UCLA has discussed the possibility of trying him out behind the plate, where his uncle's big league career began. In the field, Shane shows good lateral range, decent hands and above-average arm strength. He has a strong, athletic build at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds and never misses a day in the weight room. At the plate, Zeile has a smooth righthanded stroke with very good bat speed and a little pop. This summer he hit .324/.370/.568 over 111 at-bats. He can be too aggressive at the plate, needs to improve his pitch recognition and is a little too pull-happy right now.
7. Darin Gillies, rhp, Bend (So., Arizona State)
Arizona State's Sunday starter for much of the season as a freshman, Gillies went 1-4, 5.03 with 29 strikeouts and 15 walks over 39 innings. Gillies has a prototypical pitcher's frame at 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds with a strong lower half and long arms. He mostly throws an explosive two-seam fastball that sits in the 90-92 mph range, but he can reach back and touch 94-95 with his four-seamer. His curveball shows sharp break and good depth and is his best secondary pitch, but he also throws a little slider and worked this summer on developing his changeup. Gillies has a lot of strength and his delivery is pretty clean. He pitches with a good rhythm and tempo, but can sometimes get a little too rushed. Gillies also needs to work on trusting his stuff and pitching with a little more confidence.
8. Tyler Kane, rhp, Wenatchee (Jr., Washington)
Kane led Washington in appearances his first two years with the program. He was scheduled to start some for the AppleSox this season, but after he got smoked in the ankle by a comebacker, the team put him back in the bullpen. He continued to thrive in that role, setting a West Coast League record for most saves in a season with 13. He got three more saves in the playoffs and went 2-1, 2.32 with 29 strikeouts and six walks over 31 total innings. Kane has good size at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. His coach described him as a "long-toss monster" with an impressive work ethic. Kane's fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range, and he shows flashes of an above-average slider with tight spin and late tilt around 83 mph. Kane also mixes in an occasional changeup to keep hitters honest.
9. Derek Callahan, lhp, Wenatchee (So., Gonzaga)
Callahan was erratic as a freshman at Gonzaga, going 3-2, 6.95 with 18 strikeouts and 15 walks over 22 innings. The summer was a different story, as the 6-foot-4, 205-pound southpaw led the West Coast League in strikeouts, going 8-2, 2.25 with 62 strikeouts and 24 walks over 76 innings, then earning the win in the team's championship game. Callahan shows solid velocity, sitting in the 88-90 mph range. He's mostly a two-pitch guy right now, as his best secondary pitch is a hard slider. His curveball is too soft and loopy and his changeup is still a work in progress, but scouts will always be intrigued by a physical lefthander with average fastball velocity. Callahan's delivery was a little herky-jerky in high school, but his added strength has allowed him to tighten things up.
10. Thomas Eshelman, rhp, Klamath Falls (Fr., Cal State Fullerton)
Eshelman was a late bloomer this spring at Carlsbad (Calif.) High. He was known to scouts after pitching for the Angels Elite scout team in the fall, but he really put himself on the radar with a 15-strikeout game against Bishop Alemany High (Mission Hills, Calif.). Eshelman pitched out of the bullpen for the Gems this summer, going 5-0, 0.61 with 35 strikeouts and just eight walks over 29 innings. Opponents hit just .178/.232/.192 off of him this summer. Eshelman has an good frame at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. His fastball sits in the 88-92 mph range, but his best pitch is a nasty 85-86 mph cutter with late action that is difficult for hitters to differentiate from his fastball until it's too late. He also mixes in a changeup, but mostly uses the fastball-cutter combo. Eshelman got scouting interest late in the high school season, and some teams liked him in the top 10 rounds, but he wanted to honor his commitment to the Titans and went undrafted. He could slide right into the team's bullpen and transition into the rotation later on.