Northwoods League Top 20 Prospects

Deep summer league earns expanded prospect list

Postseason recap: Behind two home runs and four RBIs from outfielder Steve McGuiggan (Illinois-Chicago), Eau Claire cruised to a 9-1 win against Rochester in the decisive third game of the Northwoods League championship series. Lefthander Felix Cardenas shut down the Honkers in the winner-take-all game, allowing just five hits over seven scoreless innings. The Honkers, who won the title in 2009, fell just short of their sixth championship.

The NWL consistently produces more talent than any summer league other than the Cape Cod League. In past years, future first-round picks like Brett Jackson and Chris Sale did not quite crack the league's Top 10 but would have appeared in the 11-20 range. With that in mind, we are expanding our NWL list to 20 prospects this year.

1. Steve Nyisztor, ss, St. Cloud (So., Rutgers)

Like former Rutgers star Todd Frazier, Nyisztor was a youth star in Toms Rivers, N.J., and like Frazier he made an instant impact as a freshman. Nyisztor stepped right into Rutgers' No. 3 hole and hit .410/.450/.563 with four homers and 51 RBIs in 229 at-bats, while fielding .989 at second base. He followed that up by winning Northwoods League MVP honors, hitting .306/.349/.486 with eight homers, 56 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 278 at-bats. He also slid over to shortstop this summer and held his own, though he needs to improve his reads, and his first step is a bit slow. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Nyisztor profiles better at third base as he matures physically. His solid-average to plus arm is strong enough for either position, and he has average infield actions presently that should be plus in time. He also should develop enough power to hold down a corner—he has very quick, strong hands, and he made progress this summer toward using his lower half better and driving the ball with more authority. He flashes good righthanded power to all fields, though currently he employs a line-drive, gap-to-gap approach. He is also a gifted two-strike hitter who abhors striking out. A long-strider, Nyisztor is a good runner underway, and his baserunning instincts are excellent. In a nutshell, he has tantalizing five-tool potential and grinder makeup to match.

2. Kyle Gaedele, of, Madison (Jr., Valparaiso)

At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Gaedele is a physical specimen who bears little resemblance to his famous great uncle Eddie—the shortest man ever to play in the big leagues (3-foot-7) thanks to a publicity stunt by the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Kyle holds another distinction: the only drafted player (32nd round by the Rays out of high school) to spurn pro baseball in favor of Valparaiso. After his breakout sophomore year (when he hit .373/.429/.610) this spring, Gaedele hit .315/.380/.498 with nine homers, 38 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 28 tries this summer. Gaedele's tools are loud. His raw power and speed are both 70 tools on the 20-80 scale, though he's still learning to harness his strength. Gaedele's one-piece swing has some length and some effort, making him vulnerable against fastballs in. He also can get caught on his front foot chasing breaking balls away. He needs to make some mechanical tweaks to be better than a fringe-average hitter, and his in-game power is just average currently. Still, he has a chance to be a slugging big league right fielder with average to plus defensive skills and arm strength. He has a quick release and average throwing accuracy. He also has good baseball instincts and a competitive nature.

3. Sam Selman, lhp, Mankato (So., Vanderbilt)

Selman burst onto the prospect scene as a senior at a Texas high school, flashing premium velocity at times, and he arrived at Vanderbilt as an elite recruit who needed refinement. He pitched just six innings as a freshman because of control and consistency issues, but he got some much-needed work in the Northwoods League, going 2-4, 3.89 with 36 strikeouts and 19 walks in 44 innings. The quality of Selman's stuff continues to vary significantly—his fastball ranged from 84-96 mph this summer. He typically settles in around 91-92 and can reach back for 93-95 easily. One reason for the variation is that Selman simply needs to get stronger and fill out his skinny 6-fot-3, 175-pound frame. But he also has some mechanical issues that affect his consistency, including a hook at the back of his delivery and some funk at the front that can throw off his timing. Selman has ditched his loopy curveball in favor of a promising but nascent slider, which can be 80-82 mph at its best but also dips down into the 70s and gets slurvy. He also worked hard this summer to develop a changeup, but he slows down his arm action when he throws the pitch. Clearly, Selman is far from a finished product, but as a lean lefty with an electric, whippy arm, his projectability is off the charts.

4. Cody Asche, 3b/1b, Duluth (Jr., Nebraska)

After hitting 10 home runs in a breakout sophomore season for Nebraska this spring, Asche put together a huge summer, hitting .304/.361/.504 with nine homers and a league-best 61 RBIs and homering in the NWL all-star game, where he won MVP honors. Asche's bat is his calling card. His loose, easy lefthanded swing is compact and direct to the ball, and he has learned to drive the ball both gaps. He flashes above-average pull power and has a fairly disciplined approach, showing the ability to lay off tough breaking balls away and wait for his pitch. Pitchers rarely challenged him inside as the summer progressed, so he adjusted by knocking the ball to left field. He's an excellent fastball hitter who is aggressive enough to jump on one when he sees it. Defense is more of a question, as the 6-foot-2, 211-pounder lacks lateral mobility at the hot corner and must do a better job creating friendly hops. He has enough arm strength for third and might have a shot to play there in pro ball, though first base is a more likely destination.

5. Harold Riggins, 1b/of, Madison (Jr., North Carolina State)

Riggins has torn up the Northwoods League for two straight summers. He ranked eighth on this list after his big 2009 summer, and he hit .337/.433/.542 with eight homers and 32 RBIs in 166 at-bats this summer. In between, he posted a 1.077 OPS and 12 home runs for N.C. State as a sophomore this spring. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound slugger has prodigious raw power that rates as at least a 70 on the 20-80 scale. He whips his bat through the zone and consistently barrels balls up in batting practice, but in order to truly unlock his power he'll have to use his lower half better—his in-game power is just average currently. He has a high leg kick, and all of his power this summer was to center field or right. He needs to get his foot down earlier to help him pull the ball to left field—he did not hit a home run to left all summer. His bat speed and loose, quick hands give him a chance to be at least an average hitter with some work. Riggins' maturity is improving, but questions linger about his receptiveness to coaching and his focus. He has done a good job keeping his weight down, and he's light on his feet and agile at first base. When he's focused, he's a plus defender there, and though he's not a great runner, he is athletic enough to play left field, as well.

6. Scott Schebler, of, Green Bay (SIGNED: Dodgers)

The Dodgers drafted Schebler in the 26th round after his monstrous freshman year at Des Moines Area CC, where he hit .446/.529/.877 with 20 homers and 82 RBIs. He followed that up by hitting .294/.347/.528 and tying for the NWL lead with 10 home runs in 218 at-bats, and the Dodgers signed him at the end of the summer for a $300,000 bonus. Schebler flashes plus-plus speed (he has been timed at 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash, though he doesn't always get out of the box quickly) and plus-plus raw power to the pull side. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound lefthanded hitter has a pre-loaded swing and no stride, so all he has to do is uncoil. He's a dead-pull hitter who hammers anything middle-in and creates natural backspin, but he struggles to make adjustments and strikes out often—though he seldom did so with runners in scoring position this summer. He's a fringy defender in left field, and though he has 40 arm strength, his throwing accuracy is well below-average. He has enough speed for center, but it's unclear if he has the instincts for the position.

7. Andrew Aplin, of, St. Cloud (So., Arizona State)

A favorite of college coaches and scouts during his high school days in California, Aplin hit .337 as a part-time starter on Arizona State's deep College World Series team as a freshman this spring. He hit .282/.360/.400 with three homers and 13 stolen bases in 110 at-bats this summer, but he stood out most for his spectacular defense in center field. Aplin's plus speed and superb instincts translate into excellent range, and his arm is strong and accurate. He's an aggressive, dirtbag-type player who also is an accomplished basestealer. The 6-foot, 190-pound Aplin has surprising strength in his lefthanded swing, though his power is below-average. He's a pull hitter who struggles a bit against pitches on the outer half, and he needs to do a better job going the other way. He is a good bunter and a table-setter who works counts and seldom strikes out. He could be an average or better hitter with good speed and excellent defensive skills in center.

8. Marcus Semien, ss, Alexandria (Jr., California)

Semien hit .328/.400/.497 after stepping into an everyday role for Cal as a sophomore this spring, and he held his own with a wood bat this summer, batting .302/.421/.405 with 19 stolen bases in 24 attempts. Semien's defense and athleticism are his best assets. His instincts at shortstop help him take good angles to balls, leading to solid range, and he has sure hands. He also has a fairly strong arm with a quick release and good accuracy. Semien has average speed and runs the bases well. Semien's righthanded bat draws mixed reviews, but he does have some strength in his 6-foot, 175-pound frame, and his compact stroke generates decent bat speed. He's a gap-to-gap hitter who bunts well; his power is below-average at best. Though he drew 43 walks and struck out just 31 times in 222 at-bats, Semien is still learning which pitches to swing at and which to lay off. Scouts largely agree that the fundamentals of his swing are promising, so he has plenty of value as an athletic middle infielder with strong defensive skills and a chance to hit.

9. Sean Dwyer, of/1b, Willmar (Fr., Florida Gulf Coast)

The Padres drafted Dwyer in the 15th round after his big senior year at Tavares (Fla.) High this spring, and he kept on hitting against much older competition this summer in the NWL, batting .291/.350/.432 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 148 at-bats. He did not sign with San Diego at the end of the summer and will instead head to Florida Gulf Coast, where he could become a high pick in three years. Dwyer's best tool is his lefthanded bat. He has a balanced, smooth swing and an advanced feel for the strike zone, and he was seldom overmatched this summer. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder also has good raw power, though he employs more of a line-drive approach currently. Dwyer is an average runner with a solid-average arm who should be athletic enough to play either corner outfield position or first base. He also pitched in high school and could be a valuable two-way player for FGCU.

10. Madison Boer, rhp, La Crosse (Jr., Oregon)

Boer was a projectable, physical Minnesota high schooler who started to take off after switching to a relief role as a sophomore at Oregon. After going 4-3, 4.01 as a starter for La Crosse in 2009, he was utterly dominant as a reliever this summer, going 4-1, 0.89 with five saves and a 26-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 20 innings. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Boer pitches downhill with a 91-94 mph fastball that bumps 96. He also throws a low-to-mid-80s slider that can be plus at times, and a changeup that is hit or miss—either very good or very bad. Boer throws all three pitches for strikes, but he's still refining his command within the zone. His frame, arm action and stuff could make him a valuable, durable late-innings reliever in pro ball.

11. Brad Schreiber, rhp, Green Bay (So., Purdue)

An unsigned 42nd-round pick by the Brewers out of a Wisconsin high school, Schreiber had a solid freshman year working out of Purdue's bullpen, then thrived in mostly a starting role in the NWL, going 1-4, 3.83 with 60 strikeouts and 14 walks in 54 innings. He showed the most arm strength at the league's all-star game, mowing down three hitters with a 92-95 mph fastball with good sink from a sidearm slot. As a starter, he typically worked in the 90-93 range, bumping higher on occasion. Schreiber's crossfire delivery gets out of whack, but he can throw his heater for strikes and he has good deception. His 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame is durable enough for a starter's workload, but his delivery, shaky command and lack of secondary stuff suggest his future is in the bullpen. He's essentially a one-pitch guy at this juncture, as his 73-75 mph breaking ball is a flat, well below-average offering. But his fastball has a chance to be plus-plus if he can fine-tune his mechanics and command, and his size and angle are major assets.

12. Mike Strong, lhp, Rochester (Sr., Oklahoma State)

After transferring from Iowa Western CC, Strong was Oklahoma State's most consistent starter as a junior this spring, going 4-3, 4.48, and the Athletics drafted him in the 22nd round. Rather than signing, he went to the Northwoods League and dominated, going 5-2, 1.83 with 72 strikeouts and 33 walks in 59 innings. At 6 feet, 184 pounds, Strong lacks projection, but he has a quick arm, a clean delivery and a polished repertoire. He has good command of an 88-92 mph fastball and a plus curveball with sharp downer bite. He also had some success with a sharp cutter that he runs in against righthanded hitters, and he dabbles with a changeup but must improve his feel for the pitch. Strong doesn't have huge upside, but he could move quickly in pro ball and profiles as a back-end starter or lefthanded specialist out of the bullpen.

13. Jason Wheeler, lhp, St. Cloud (Jr., Loyola Marymount)

Poor command of his secondary stuff hampered Wheeler during his first two seasons at Loyola Marymount, limiting him to just 15 innings as a sophomore this spring (he posted a 10.80 ERA). But Wheeler was an entirely different pitcher this summer, going 8-1, 1.35 with 74 strikeouts and 15 walks in 67 innings—winning the NWL's pitching triple crown and pitcher of the year honors. Wheeler dominated hitters largely by leaning on his 88-93 mph fastball. The pitch has tough downward angle thanks to Wheeler's 6-foot-6, 260-pound build and high arm slot. When he gets into a rhythm, he pounds the strike zone with his heater, and he is not afraid to challenge hitters inside. He occasionally gets out of rhythm and misses up and away. Wheeler's secondary stuff still must improve. He started throwing a cutter late in the spring and largely ditched his weak, slurvy breaking ball to focus on the cutter. Late in the summer, he made progress tightening the cutter, but he's still not commanding it well, and its break remains inconsistent. He's also working on a changeup, but he slows his arm down to throw it. As a lefthander with excellent size and a good fastball, Wheeler has good upside, but scouts aren't sold he'll have enough secondary stuff to succeed in the big leagues. The continuing development of the cutter is critical.

14. Ray Black, rhp, Brainerd Lakes Area (So., Pittsburgh)

Black's collegiate career has been hampered by injuries, but he flashed premium stuff this summer. He had Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school and redshirted in 2009 at Pitt, and he was limited to 17 innings as a redshirt freshman this spring because of a boxer's fracture in his hand and a torn meniscus in his knee. He posted a 1.42 ERA with 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 12 innings over 15 relief appearances this summer. Black has a big 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and a big arm to match. He throws downhill with a 92-95 mph fastball that topped out at 97-98 this summer, and he made progress with his control once he found success with a slide-step and stopped overthrowing as much. He has the makings of a second plus pitch in a mid-80s power slider, but it remains inconsistent. Black needs to refine his command with both pitches and must prove he can stay healthy, but he has the size and arm strength to be a power reliever down the road. He'll be a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore in 2011.

15. Jordan Smith, of, Willmar (So., St. Cloud State, Minn.)

Smith was a three-sport standout at Willmar (Minn.) High before heading to Division II St. Cloud State, where he hit .457/.521/.829 with 15 homers and 17 steals as a freshman this spring. He followed that up with a monstrous summer, hitting .374/.443/.528 with five homers and 56 RBIs in 254 at-bats. He finished second in the NWL in batting and tied for second in RBIs. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Smith looks like a power hitter, but he has just fringe-average power and his swing lacks loft. His setup is a bit unorthodox—he has a wide base and no load—but he consistently squares up hard line drives from gap to gap, and he has a patient, mature approach. Smith can be vulnerable to fastballs in, but he thrives against anything middle-away. He's a good athlete for his size with average speed underway and average arm strength, and he takes good routes in right field, though he does not have great first-step quickness. Smith's bat will carry him, but he will probably need to develop more power to become a starting corner outfielder in the big leagues, and his flat swing path might make that difficult.

16. Mark Threlkeld, 3b, Duluth (Jr., Louisiana Tech)

Threlkeld's game is all about power. After swatting 14 home runs during his breakout sophomore season at Louisiana Tech this spring, Threlkeld tied for the Northwoods lead with 10 homers and won the home run-hitting contest at the NWL all-star game. He finished the summer batting .281/.367/.500 with 49 RBIs, but also 54 strikeouts and 24 walks in 228 at-bats. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Threlkeld flashes plus-plus raw power to all fields, and the ball goes a long way when he connects in games as well as in batting practice. He has an all-or-nothing approach that leads to plenty of strikeouts, particularly against fastballs up and sliders low and away. He'll need to become a better hitter in order to make the most of his massive power. Defensively, Threlkeld has a strong arm at third base, but his instincts and actions are suspect, and he'll need plenty of work to stick at the hot corner. If his bat comes together, Threlkeld has enough power for any position, so he could find a home at first base or a corner outfield spot down the road.

17. Isaac Ballou, of, Willmar (So., Marshall)

A three-sport athlete in high school in Virginia, Ballou arrived at Marshall with raw skills on the baseball diamond, and he took his lumps as a freshman this spring, hitting .230/.321/.338. His bat made strides this summer in the NWL, where he hit .269/.395/.352 with 24 steals in 27 tries. He also drew 39 walks and struck out just 31 times in 216 at-bats, showing improved table-setting skills. Ballou's excellent baserunning instincts help his above-average speed play up further, and he covers plenty of ground in center field, though his throws lack carry and accuracy. At 6-foot-2, 178 pounds, Ballou is a strong, wiry, projectable athlete, but his bat is a question mark. He's a switch-hitter with a wide base and an inside-out swing, and like most young switch-hitters, he's more advanced from the left side. Though he has some raw strength, Ballou has a flat swing path and does not hit for power. His ability to lay off left-on-left breaking balls in the dirt is encouraging, and he has a chance to be a decent three- or four-tool center fielder if his bat continues to progress. Ballou will be draft-eligible as a sophomore next June.

18. Zeke DeVoss, of, Duluth (So., Miami)

Thanks to his speed and defensive skills, DeVoss forced his way into a starting role as a freshman at Miami this spring, though his bat was still a work in progress (he hit just .251). His bat took a step forward this summer, as he hit .310/.436/.468 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 158 at-bats. DeVoss' best tool is his plus to plus-plus speed, and it plays well on the basepaths, where he stole 27 bases in 29 tries this summer. It also translates to excellent range in center field, though his arm strength is fringy. Like Isaac Ballou, DeVoss is an athletic switch-hitter with a questionable bat, but at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he's not as projectable as Ballou. He does have some strength in his compact frame, and he has some gap power from his natural right side, but he's a slap hitter from the left. Though he's not afraid to work counts, he needs to improve his pitch recognition and discipline, as he's vulnerable against offspeed stuff. He has a good work ethic and plays the game hard. Like Ballou, DeVoss will be a draft-eligible sophomore next June.

19. J.R. Graham, rhp, Madison (Jr., Santa Clara)

A key recruit as a shortstop and righthanded pitcher, Graham struggled at the plate in his first two seasons at Santa Clara, and he became a full-time reliever during the first half of his sophomore year this spring. He returned to Madison for the second straight summer in 2010 and had considerably more success in the Mallards' bullpen the second time around, posting a 2.76 ERA with seven saves and a 28-8 walk-strikeout mark in 33 innings. Graham lacks physicality at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, and his professional future is certainly in relief. But he has a lightning-quick arm capable of generating 94-95 mph fastballs. His 83-84 mph slider has a chance to become a second plus pitch, and he is comfortable throwing it in any count. Graham is working on a two-seam fastball to use as a weapon against lefthanded hitters, but it's still a work in progress. Graham's mound presence and feel for pitching have started to improve now that he has come to the realization that his future is on the mound, but he's still polishing the rough edges.

20. Ben Hughes, rhp, Duluth (Jr., St. Olaf, Minn.)

Hughes is a classic late-blooming Minnesota prep product. He topped out in the mid-80s during his high school days, but he grew a few inches at Division III St. Olaf and also added several ticks on his fastball, though he still went just 6-5, 5.51 this spring. He was much better this summer working as both a starter and reliever for Duluth, going 2-3, 2.50 with 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 58 innings. Now 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Hughes throws downhill with an 89-91 mph fastball, and he worked at 91-93 in a short stint in the NWL all-star game. Though he throws across his body a bit, he repeats his arm action well. Hughes flashes a decent breaking ball at 78-80, but it's inconsistent. He has improved his changeup and also mixes in a split-finger that can be an out pitch at times. Hughes' lack of success at the D-III level is a concern, but scouts believe his best is still to come.