2012 Coastal Plain League Top 10 Prospects
Managed by ex-big leaguer Brian Buscher, Columbia beat Fayetteville in the best-of-three finals of the Petit Cup tournament, rallying after losing the first game to win its first CPL title. The finals matched the league's No. 2 and 4 seeds, with Fayetteville rallying despite a preseason ballpark explosion that sidelined team manager Darrell Handelsman for much of the season. The Swampdogs led the league with a 3.00 ERA and 154 stolen bases in the regular season but were stymied in the deciding game by righthander Stuart Pound (USC-Lancaster JC), who struck out seven in six scoreless innings while yielding only one hit.
It was the second straight season that Edenton had the league's best regular-season record but came away empty-handed in the playoffs. The Steamers play in an offensive park and featured top performers in rising seniors Michael Camporeale (Washington), Jason Kanzler (Buffalo) and Koby Kraemer (Indiana State), plus the league's most effective closer, Jordan Egan (Norfolk State).
1. Andrew Istler, rhp, Wilson (So., Duke)
Istler went 10-for-40 for the Tobs this summer without an extra-base hit, but thankfully for Istler he also pitches. He was primarily a reliever at Duke in the spring but is slated to replace Marcus Stroman at the front of the Blue Devils' rotation next season and made a smooth transition to starting this summer, tossing a pair of complete games. He went 3-0, 0.78 in six starts while posting a 39-12 strikeout-walk ratio and allowing just 19 hits in 46 innings. Istler throws both two- and four-seam fastballs, often working in the upper 80s to get a feel for his command before ramping up to 90-92 mph late in games. His slider has depth, and he showed the ability to throw it for strikes or bury it as a chase pitch. Coach Bryan Hill would like Istler to use his changeup more in the future, as he locates it to both sides of the plate and is just getting used to a starter's routine.
"He came to us as a two-way player who was going to relieve, and we had a doubleheader early so we needed him to start," Hill said. "He dominated for eight innings in his first start, and we said, 'Andrew, you're a starter.' And he was lights out."
2. Reed Harper, ss, Fayetteville (Sr., Austin Peay State)
Harper is a three-year CPL veteran who keyed Fayetteville's high-octane offense along with outfielder Mike Tauchman (Bradley). While there were plenty of rising seniors that performed in the league—including outfielders such as Tauchman and Edenton's Michael Camporeale (Washington), Fayetteville righthander Layne Somsen (South Dakota State) and Edenton infielder Koby Kraemer (Indiana State)—Harper earned respect from both league coaches and scouts.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has maturity and physicality on his side as well as savvy and several solid-average tools, such as arm strength and hitting. Harper made 20 errors, and most scouts project him to be a third baseman in pro ball, where his power production will have to improve. He has the hands and arm for the infield, and his feel for hitting continues to be a strong suit; he hit .370/.418/.487 with just 11 strikeouts in 154 at-bats this summer after his second straight productive spring with the Governors. He wasn't drafted as a junior at Austin Peay and will be a good senior sign next spring.
3. Jake Stone, 3b, Martinsville (Sr., Tennessee Wesleyan)
League managers gave Stone respect for his performance, as he led the CPL in batting and on-base percentage during a .375/.493/.575 season. Stone's 13 doubles tied for fifth in the league, as he built on a strong junior season in which he had the game-winning hit in the clincher of the NAIA World Series. Managers described Stone as a natural hitter with a handsy swing who showed the ability to use the whole field. He has solid-average power that will have to produce more homers in the future. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, he's a fair athlete who played an average third base in the CPL. He'll have to work to quicken his feet to stay there as a pro.
"He's got rhythm and hand-eye and a good chance to hit as a pro," a scout with a National League organization said. "He'll never be a great defender at third, but he doesn't embarrass himself either."
4. Chris McCue, rhp, Thomasville (So., North Carolina)
On a deep Tar Heels staff in the spring, McCue averaged an inning per outing. This summer, he was out to get more work as a starter and wound up out-shining more heralded teammate Josh Laxer (Ole Miss) among Hi-Toms starters. McCue lacks physicality at a listed 6-foot, 156 pounds, compensating with athleticism and a quick arm. McCue pitched off his low-90s fastball this summer and maintained his velocity well as he built up endurance over the course of six appearances. He also gained confidence in his changeup and threw it and his breaking ball for strikes with some consistency, culminating with a seven-inning, seven-strikeouts start to end his season in mid-July against Asheboro.
5. Nathan Chong, of, Forest City (Jr., Presbyterian)
Undrafted as a redshirt sophomore this spring, Chong impressed this summer as one of the league's better all-around players with solid-average power and speed. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has played around the infield in the past but settled in as the Owls' center fielder and No. 3 hitter early in the summer, leading the team in home runs (five), RBIs (32) and stolen bases (16). League coaches liked his swing, present strength and feel for the barrel. His lack of outfield experience showed at times in his fielding technique, and at times he gave away extra bases as a result. He did show the instincts to get good jumps and reads off the bat, and he has the above-average speed and playable, fringy arm strength to be an average defender in center, which would help his profile.
6. Andrew Brockett, rhp, Wilmington (Jr., Richmond)
Brockett, like McCue, is a shorter righthander with a quick arm and a fairly balanced, easy delivery. He's more of a finished product physically than McCue at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and has a better performance track record. He improved greatly as a sophomore closer for the Spiders, going 3-8, 3.79 with six saves and a 64-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 59 innings. Brockett was even better this summer, saving 10 games for Wilmington and posting a 1.47 ERA and 24-6 strikeout-walk ratio.
Brockett hit 95 mph with his fastball against USA Baseball's collegiate national team and regularly sat 90-93 in his relief role, making him one of the league's hardest throwers. His fastball has decent life, and he threw consistent strikes with it. He relied primarily on the fastball, at times exclusively, and throws a hard slider as his main secondary pitch. It's hard as well, and he throws it with confidence.
7. Zack Houchins, ss/3b, Wilson (Jr., East Carolina)
A 15th-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2011, Houchins didn't sign, in part because of some controversial remarks he made on his Twitter page. He wasn't drafted out of junior college in 2012 and is headed to East Carolina, where he'll add a dose of athleticism to the infield. He's slated for third in college and in pro ball, and he rivaled Reed Harper as the CPL's top shortstop, making just 12 errors to Harper's 20. His plus arm, his best tool, allows him to play the left side of the infield, and he has the agility and good footwork to stay in the dirt if he can slow the game down. His range and actions are shy for short in pro ball, and his home run power will make third base a tough fit for him as a pro. Houchins makes hard contact to the gaps and has some command of the strike zone but needs to be more selective on pitches he can drive, rather than just put in play. He has fringe-average speed and fits a utility profile as a pro.
8. Dale Innes, rhp, Gastonia (Jr., UNC Pembroke)
League managers split their ballots between relievers such as Innes, Fayetteville's Tyler Brunnemann (Harden Simmons, Texas) and Edenton's Jordan Egan (Norfolk State), with Innes earning a slight edge for an obvious reason. Looking for strikeouts? Innes, a 6-foot, 200-pound righty originally from Asheville, N.C., led the league in strikeouts, despite making only one of his 27 appearances as a starter. He had 69 strikeouts in 41 innings—15.3 per nine innings—while walking 22. Innes' college career began at Clemson before grades prompted him to transfer to Walters (Tenn.) State JC; he's headed to Division II UNC Pembroke this fall.
Innes has a live arm with an 88-91 mph fastball that bumps 93. His strikeout pitch is a true 12-to-6 curveball that he's not afraid to bounce as a chase pitch; in fact, Innes tied for the league lead with 11 wild pitches. League coaches considered his curve the league's best breaking ball. A starter this past spring, he regularly threw more than one inning at a time as a closer on a 22-33 team and wound up leading the Grizzlies in victories as well while going 3-3, 3.32 with six saves.
9. Blaze Tart, rhp, Wilmington (R-Jr., UNC Wilmington)
Tart has one of the best names in baseball and one of the best arms in the CPL. He's from Durham, N.C., and attended IMG Academy in Florida before heading to UNC Wilmington for college. He was the team's best reliever in 2011, going 2-0, 3.24 with five saves, before injuring his elbow that April. He missed 2012 with Tommy John surgery but returned to the mound this summer for the Sharks. Working on a 50-pitch maximum early on, Tart made nine starts and barely averaged four innings per outing. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder's command is still getting back after the surgery, and he walked 26 in 39 frames.
However, Tart's stuff returned, with his curveball flashing above-average and his fastball sitting 89-91 mph and touching 93. He got stronger as the summer progressed, with 6 1/3 one-hit, shutout innings in his final start against Fayetteville. Tart, drafted in the 33rd round out of high school in 2009, can put himself back on the draft map with a healthy spring for the Seahawks in 2013.
10. Gunnar Heidt, ss, Forest City (So., College of Charleston)
Heidt, an athletic infielder at 6-foot, 190 pounds, should at the least develop into a strong defensive shortstop at the Division I level. Heidt has work to do offensively but made progress this summer after hitting .243/.309/.346 this spring. He drew almost as many walks (30) as he had strikeouts (36) while batting .220/.352/.311 for the Owls with 10 doubles, and his swing encourages scouts that his bat could be a positive. He's an above-average runner who stole 13 bases without getting caught this summer, and some scouts believe he'll turn some of those doubles into homers as he gains experience against quality pitching.
Defensively, his good hands and arm strength should allow him to stick at shortstop for a while, though he may wind up at second as a pro. He made 18 errors this summer after a consistent, 13-error spring with College of Charleston. "He handles himself well on defense," a second NL scout said. "He's athletic and should stay at short a while."