Great Lakes League Top 10 Prospects
As the saying goes, pitching and defense win championships. For the second straight year, that was the Cincinnati Steam's formula for success. The Steam rolled through the playoffs and won the league championship behind stellar pitching performances from Mike Jefferson and Ian Kadish to go along with the league's best defense. Despite holding the third-best regular season record, Cincinnati topped second-seeded Grand Lake in the first round before going on to defeat Southern Ohio 4-2 for the title, posting an overall 3-1 postseason mark.
1. Kolbrin Vitek, 2b/rhp, Lake Erie (Jr., Ball State)
One can only imagine how much higher Vitek's stock would have been had he pitched more than three innings. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound infielder hit everything he saw at the plate, winning the league's first triple crown award in 23 years by hitting .400/.452/.741 with 16 doubles, six home runs and 38 RBIs. He also stole 10 bases. Vitek is, at minimum, a four-tool player. At the plate, he works deep counts to get a good pitch to hit and flashes plus power to all fields. Vitek ran a 6.6-second 60-yard dash at the league's all-star game on turf, but he plays with average speed in games. His strong arm translates well in the field, where he also has good range and hands. Though Vitek played second base for Lake Erie, he played third for Ball State and profiles more as a corner infielder. He also worked in the low-90s as a weekend starter this spring but was limited to three innings this summer by a fatigued shoulder.
2. Perci Garner, rhp, Stark County (So., Ball State)
Garner made a name for himself on the gridiron as a high schooler, passing for 4,400 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushing for 700 yards with 19 scores at Dover (Ohio) High. But when he was being recruited, Garner wanted to play both football and baseball in college. After serving as the backup to quarterback Nate Davis last year and turning in a solid summer, it looks like Garner's pigskin playing days are over. Garner went 2-0, 1.50 with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings this summer, making 11 appearances for Stark County. He allowed just one extra-base hit, a double. Though Garner is still new to baseball, and pitching, he has raw potential and is a great athlete. He was named the league's best righthanded pitching prospect and pounds the zone with a 93-96 mph fastball. Garner also throws a knee-buckling mid-80s slider. With that repertoire, Garner is best suited for a bullpen role right now. But with experience, developing a third pitch and building up his arm strength, Garner could develop into a solid starting pitcher.
3. Mike Jefferson, lhp, Cincinnati (So., Louisiana Tech)
At 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds, Jefferson has a good pitcher's frame, and scouts can dream on his body. Jefferson appeared in a team-high 25 games for Louisiana Tech in the spring as a redshirt freshman, and then pitched in 10 games for Cincinnati. For the Steam, Jefferson went 2-1, 2.61 with 43 strikeouts in 31 innings pitched. His most impressive performance came in a 7-0 postseason win, an eight-inning shutout when he allowed just two hits and struck out 10. Jefferson was on a pitch count for most of the summer, so he wasn't able to work deep into games. His 90-91 mph fastball was so effective that he rarely had to use his high-70s curveball, which is a quality offering. Though Jefferson had command issues at times (19 walks), he had little difficulty mowing down opposing hitters, who posted a .189 average against him. Jefferson has a high ceiling and was named the league's best lefthanded pitching prospect.
4. Kolby Wood, rhp, Lima (Jr., Michigan)
A 44th-round pick of the Tigers in the 2007 draft, Wood turned down Detroit for an opportunity to pitch at Michigan. Over the last two years, Wood has primarily served out of the bullpen for the Wolverines, going a combined 2-1, 5.58 with 25 strikeouts in 54 innings. He debuted as Lima's set-up man early in the summer but moved to the closer's role after Nick Sarianides, a 28th-round pick, signed with the Indians after six games (and after flashing a 92-94 mph fastball). From that point on, Wood was dominant, striking out 20 in 19 innings of work over 15 appearances. Wood posted a 1.45 ERA and saved four games. Though he should crack Michigan's weekend rotation in the spring, Wood has the mentality and makeup to be a shut-down bullpen arm. He uses a four-pitch mix, including an 89-92 mph fastball, an 85-87 cutter and an 82-84 slider. His out pitch is a hard, mid-80s splitter that players and coaches called the "Uzi" pitch. Wood, at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, creates a good downhill plane and utilizes a three-quarters arm slot. Using his size to his advantage, Wood has a swing leg kick that creates added deception. Wood needs to fill out and add velocity to his fastball.
5. Ryan Strausborger, of, Cincinnati (Sr., Indiana State)
If there's one player who could have challenged Vitek for offensive player of the year, it's Strausborger. The 6-foot 180-pound outfielder led the league in runs scored and finished second in hits, doubles, stolen bases and total bases. Indiana State moved the athletic Strausborger to center field before the spring after he played middle infield in years past. He took well to the change, and features plus range to go along with a strong throwing arm from the outfield. Strausborger is a gap-to-gap hitter who doesn't profile to hit a lot of home runs, but he collects doubles and triples with ease. Strausborger controls the bat well, as he can bunt and hit-and-run, and he has good baseball instincts, making him a solid table-setter at the top of the lineup.
6. Jeff Shields, rhp, Lima (Kennesaw State)
Shields is hoping to go the way of Kyle Heckathorn and Chad Jenkins and become a top-round pick out of Kennesaw State. After debuting as a shortstop for Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.) CC and collecting just three extra-base hits in 134 at-bats, Shields decided to make a move to the mound. He pitched just 18 innings in the spring but started eight games for Lima in the summer, going 2-2, 3.03 with 40 strikeouts in 39 innings. Shields received overtures from scouts interested in signing him this summer, but instead he's transferring to Kennesaw State to learn how to pitch. Currently, Shields throws a 90-95 mph fastball with late boring movement to righthanded hitters, and he is still working on secondary stuff. Still, one league manager said "he carved people up pretty good and had the quickest arm in the league." For now, Shields is keeping things simple with a basic, repeatable delivery. He has a solid pitcher's frame at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.
7. Jared Hoying, ss, Grand Lake (Jr., Toledo)
Upon first glance, Hoying might not look like a prospect. Though he's 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Hoying has an ugly lefthanded swing that doesn't incorporate his lower half. After his freshman year at Toledo, the coaching staff eliminated his stride because he was lunging at pitches. It resulted in a team-high 11 home runs in the spring, plus 20 more extra-base hits in the summer. He survives without his lower half because his strong, quick hands generate plenty of bat speed. He has good natural power and likes to pull the ball to right field, though he can work the opposite field as well. One manager said Hoying hits the down-and-in pitch better than anyone in the league. Hoying played shortstop for Toledo and for Grand Lake, and while he makes all of the plays, he's not smooth with his actions. Hoying has a plus arm, throwing 92 mph across the diamond, but if his size 16 shoe is any indication, he'll play third base or the outfield in the future.
8. Ian Kadish, rhp, Cincinnati (Sr., Marshall)
Pitching for his hometown team in Cincinnati, Kadish lost his first career start in his Great Lakes League debut. From that point on, Kadish did not lose a game, posting a line of 4-1, 1.94 with a league-high 49 strikeouts in 41 innings. For Marshall, Kadish was a relief pitcher on the weekends and made 19 appearances. As a starter this summer, Kadish showed two good pitches: an 87-90 mph fastball with late sinking action and a changeup. He also mixes in a promising but inconsistent slider. He commands all three pitches and throws a lot of strikes, causing one manager to call him a strikeout machine and innings eater. The 6-foot-1 Kadish put on somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds between the spring and summer—his playing weights are listed at 196 and 210.
9. Andrew Meyer, rhp, Lima (Sr., Ashland, Ohio)
Meyer dominated as a junior this spring, going 10-2, 3.52 with 77 strikeouts in 107 innings against Division II competition. But Meyer proved he could do it against a different level of competition in the Great Lakes League. The 6-foot-7, 180-pounder went 6-0, 1.96 with 34 strikeouts in 41 innings, good enough to earn league Pitcher of the Year honors. The lanky righty sits 87-91 with his fastball and mixes in a slider and changeup that are average pitches. He also uses two arm angles: a more traditional over-the-top slot and a three-quarters slot. For such a tall player, Meyer has solid mechanics and a repeatable delivery. Scouts love Meyer's frame and projectability as he grows and matures.
10. Tristan Moore, if/of, Lima (So., Wright State)
At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Moore has an ideal body, but he lacks a true position. His listed position is infield, though Moore probably profiles as an outfielder down the line. Moore's versatility is his best asset. He's an extremely athletic player who runs a 6.7-second 60-yard dash. Still, Moore is relatively new to the game of baseball, and one league manager described him as a "young puppy ready to develop, just a raw, raw talent." He has a strong arm from both the infield and outfield, but he is a little mechanical with his fielding motions. Right now, he's a gap-to-gap hitter who doesn't drive the ball out of the park, but with time and strength, he could develop power potential. Though he served in a utility role for Wright State as a freshman, he was a top-of-the-lineup catalyst for Lima. For the Locos, Moore hit .375 with four doubles and led the league in on-base percentage with a .472 mark. He also went 10-for-10 in stolen bases.