Ask BA: Who’s The Best Prospect In The Minors?
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By Jim Callis
(Talent Ranking: *** out of five) Wichita State pitchers Steve Uhlmansiek and Mat Jakubov were Kansas' two best prospects until they succumbed to injuries at midseason. That once again made hard-throwing Cowley County CC righthander Josh Wahpepah the top target in the state, with Shockers finesse lefty Tommy Hottovy next in line if Wahpepah signs with Detroit as a draft-and-follow. Wichita State's ace, sophomore righthander Mike Pelfrey, is a candidate to go No. 1 overall next year.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent
Josh Wahpepah, rhp
A second-team junior college all-American in 2003, Wahpepah was even better this spring. He tossed a two-hit shutout to help Cowley County win in the juco playoffs, extending his scoreless streak to 30 innings and improving his record to 11-1, 1.24. A full-blooded Native American, Wahpepah committed to Arkansas out of high school but never pitched for the Razorbacks. His sinker jumped from the mid-80s in high school to 89-92 mph in 2003 to 91-95 mph this spring. He has a feel for a changeup, though he needs work on his control and breaking ball. His arm action is funky, which makes him tough to pick up but also may hamper his ability to improve in those areas. The Tigers took him in the 18th round last June and may need to come up with second-round money to sign him. If Wahpepah doesn't turn pro, he'll pitch for Texas next year. Tommy Hottovy, lhp
Hottovy can't match the stuff of sidelined teammates Steve Uhlmansiek and Mat Jakubov, but he could sneak into the top five rounds as a senior sign. His 71-9 strikeout-walk ratio ranked seventh in NCAA Division I in mid-May, and he was among the leaders in ERA (2.21) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.2). His curveball, command and makeup are his strong suits. Hottovy's fastball registers only 85-88 mph, but it has nice run and his good changeup makes it seem quicker.
Others To Watch
3B Travis Metcalf set a Kansas record with 18 homers this spring, good for a share of the Big 12 Conference lead at the end of the regular season. His college career started slowly, as he redshirted in 2001 and tore up his knee in a baserunning collision in 2002. He looked somewhat stiff last season but moves well laterally again and plays a solid third base. He's strong at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and has natural lift in his swing. As a redshirt junior, he can be a draft-and-follow if he doesn't sign this summer. The Twins took him in the 38th round in 2003.
LHP Steve Uhlmansiek and RHP Mat Jakubov would have been picked significantly higher had the draft been held a couple of months ago. Uhlmansiek was the state's top prospect until he injured his elbow May 1, and what initially was considered a minor tear will require Tommy John surgery. That may explain why he didn't look as good this spring as he did last summer in Alaska, when he threw 90-92 mph. The 6-foot-3, 170-pounder has more command and life at 87-89. His changeup is his second-best pitch, while his hard curve needs to get tighter and more consistent. A sophomore-eligible, he already has been redshirted once and likely will miss most of the 2005 season. Jakubov returned from biceps tendinitis the day after Uhlmansiek went down but has pitched just once (allowing four runs in one-third of an inning) since. Jakubov has good size (6-foot-4, 190 pounds), and when he's healthy has a lot of life on a fastball that sits at 89-91 mph and can reach 94. His curveball also has its moments. This isn't the first time he's had physical problems, as he missed his senior high school season because of elbow surgery.
OF Drew Moffitt has wrapped up his third straight Missouri Valley Conference home run title. His total of 21 gave him a 10-homer edge at the end of the regular season and tied for second in NCAA Division I. Besides having power, Moffitt has good speed for a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder and a right-field arm. He also ranks fifth with 53 walks, though he also strikes out a lot (47 times in 180 at-bats) and never has hit for much of an average. He's an attractive senior sign after turning down the Red Sox as a 25th-rounder in 2003.
Two of Moffitt's senior teammates, 1B Logan Sorensen and 3B Brandon Green, shared MVC player of the year honors. Sorensen is considered a much better prospect. Not only does he have a sweet lefty stroke with gap power, command of the strike zone (36 walks vs. 24 whiffs) and the league RBI lead (70), but he also is an outstanding defender and runs well (26 steals). He missed the first round of the MVC tournament with a sore left wrist and was considered day-to-day. Green, the MVC batting leader at .412, hits line drives and is a sound fielder but doesn't profile well at any position as a pro. Second base might be his best bet.
Another Shockers senior, OF Nick Blasi, could get picked ahead of Green. He's a center fielder with power, speed, on-base skills and a solid arm.
1B Ryan Baty has more power but isn't as polished a hitter as Sorensen. Baty's younger brother Matt, a sophomore center fielder, is one of the state's better prospects for 2005. A fifth-year senior, Baty signed with the Devil Rays before the draft.
RHP John Brownell is in his third year at Butler County CC after getting drafted in the 47th round by the Rockies in 2002 and redshirting in 2003. Though he has had problems with a pulled lat muscle, he's 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, touches the low 90s and should pitch there regularly when he's 100 percent. He'll attend Oklahoma if he doesn't sign.
Other juco players who could get drafted are RHP Denny Vais, Cowley County C Clay Blevins and Hutchinson OF Gus Milner. Vais, under control to the Twins as a 2003 17th-rounder, pitched Seward County to the Junior College World Series. He locates his 88-91 mph fastball well, enabling him to post a 92-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 96 innings entering the Series. Blevins, a 46th-round pick by the Brewers last year, offers catch-and-throw skills and lefty pop. Milner, undrafted in 2003, is a raw 6-foot-5, 230-pound all-around athlete. All three have committed to Big 12 schools: Vais to Texas Tech, Blevins to Oklahoma State and Milner to Kansas.
This year's prep crop isn't particularly strong. SS Brock Simpson has a pro body (6-foot-3, 185 pound), a natural lefthanded stroke and arm strength. A Kansas recruit, he'll move to third base or the outfield once he leaves high school.
Though Kansas State went 4-23 in the Big 12, the Wildcats had two interesting senior righthanders in their weekend rotation. Jim Ripley, a Canadian, struck out 90 in 74 innings with an 88-92 mph fastball, solid changeup and fringy curveball. A San Jose State transfer who's at his fourth school in four years, Carlos Torres has two average pitches in his 88-91 mph fastball and his slider. Though he was worked hard, Torres maintained his velocity late into games.
C Sean Richardson has power, arm strength and athleticism on his side but must shorten his release after giving up 46 steals in 58 attempts.
Goddard High teammates Ryan Bohanan and Travis Banwart are the two best prep pitchers in the state. Both throw 87-89 mph, with Bohanon owning the superior breaking ball (a slider). Banwart is more projectable.
Two Wichita State recruits, SS Josh Workman and LHP Robert Musgrave, rewrote the state record books this spring. Workman set the career home run mark with his 37th and is a star running back and sprinter. He bats lefthanded and may be able to stay at shortstop. Musgrave fanned 19 in a mid-May game to become the career strikeout leader with 424. He's a bulldog who can throw strikes with four pitches, including an 84-87 mph fastball. Both players are expected to join the Shockers rather than turn pro.
RHP Tyson Corley throws in the mid-80s but is projectable at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds. He also has the makings of a good changeup and just needs to add strength and firm up his delivery.