2019 Northwoods League Top Prospects

Image credit: T.J. Reeves (Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics Photography)

Postseason Recap: For just the second time in the last five years, the Northwoods League saw a 50-win team: the 52-win Traverse City Pit Spitters, which got by with excellent starting pitching in what was a hitter-dominant league. They rode their regular season momentum to the title in their first season in the league.

Traverse City won the title in dramatic fashion, defeating the Eau Clair Express, 3-2, on a walk-off error. The Pit Spitters entered the ninth inning trailing, 2-1, but were able to erase that deficit. Ultimately, they claimed the first-half, second-half, overall and playoff titles. Their 52 wins also tied the single-season league record.

1. Will Klein, RHP, Lakeshore (Junior, Eastern Illinois)

In a Northwoods League which, like many other summer leagues, did not have as much depth of top pitching prospects as it did 10 years ago, Klein established himself as the best pitcher in the league. His fastball, up to 98 mph from his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame, and impressive power curve has yet to yield big results for Eastern Illinois (5.11 ERA, 27 walks in 24.2 innings last spring) but it did over the summer for Lakeshore, as he went 2-2, 0.85 with a 38-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 0.76 WHIP and seven saves in 21 innings. Scouts were impressed with the breaking ball, and if Klein can find the strike zone more frequently, he should be better for Eastern Illinois and an enticing relief prospect in this year’s draft.

2. T.J. Reeves, OF, Wisconsin Woodchucks (Sophomore, Alabama)

One scout said Reeves was the most athletic prospect he saw in the league and comes with a bat. He flashed power both in his freshman season at Alabama and over the summer in Wausau, hitting nine home runs for the Crimson Tide and 10 for the Woodchucks. That bat skill, paired with his athleticism in the outfield, make him a prospect to watch for the 2021 draft, which was on-par for the expectation for him out of Hueytown (Ala.) High.

3. Luke Little, LHP, Traverse City (Sophomore, San Jacinto (Texas) JC)

Listed at 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Little is an imposing figure on the mound and has the fastball to match, reaching 97 mph. He pairs it with a slider, and that combination helped him pile up 25 strikeouts in 14 innings. That, however, came along with 13 walks. Those numbers aren’t out of line with his spring performance, when he struck out 69 batters and walked 36 in 35.1 innings for San Jacinto. If Little can get his control straightened out, he offers big-time upside.  

4. Justice Bigbie, DH, Madison (Junior, Western Carolina)

Bigbie got to the Northwoods League after hitting .355 for the Catamounts and did not slow down. He was second in the league with 12 home runs, first with 70 RBIs and seventh with a .346 batting average. All of that garnered him player of the year honors, as well as being named MVP of the all-star game. One scout described his swing as, “step in the bucket and swing hard,” and the bat will likely be his selling point. He plays third at Western Carolina, but served as a designated hitter in the summer and committed an error in a first base appearance in the all-star game. The task going forward is to either develop defense or make the bat so good he can get drafted on his offensive potential alone.

5. Mason Bryant, RHP, Duluth (Sophomore, Texas)

Bryant is still relatively new to pitching after spending most of his high school career as a position player and also playing football. But at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds with a fastball that reaches 96 mph and a tight slider, Bryant has plenty of raw tools to work with. He’ll need to improve his control after walking 29 batters in 29.2 innings this summer, but he also struck out 44 batters. More than anything, he just needs more time on the mound to figure everything out.

6. Jack Filby, RHP/DH, La Crosse (Sophomore, UCLA)

Filby came to UCLA as a two-way player but mostly pitched this spring for the Bruins, becoming a consistent arm out of the bullpen. He got back to his two-way roots this summer, and while he presents intriguing athleticism as a hitter, his future looks to be on the mound. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he paired it with a sharp curveball. He pitched with better control this spring, but he’s generally around the strike zone. If he continues to focus on pitching, there might be more upside to come.

7. Logan Michaels, C, Madison (Senior, Virginia)

The three-time Northwoods League participant intrigued scouts with what was labeled a slap approach, atypical for the modern catcher. Scouts have heard of him no-striding at times, generating little to no power but consistently making contact. It worked for him over the summer, hitting .354/.420/.411 as a Mallard, and he also hit .311/.380/.341 at Virginia this past spring. With his respectable but not standout defensive skills, his profile is an interesting one to follow, simply to see if a team is willing to risk drafting a catcher with no projectable power.

8. Tristan Peterson, 1B, Rochester (Senior, New Mexico State)

His sample in the Northwoods League was limited, just 15 games for the Honkers, but in that brief period scouts saw the same things that led to his big junior season at New Mexico State (.400 batting average, 10 doubles and 20 home runs). One scout noticed a, “good looseness,” to his swing, potentially adding to his power potential in the years to come. He is near his physical capability as a defender, meaning he’s unlikely to slot into a position more valuable than first base, but the fluid power makes him one to watch entering his senior season in Las Cruces.

9. Drew Benefield, UTIL, Madison (Redshirt-freshman, Louisville)

He didn’t see the field for the Cardinals in 2019, but scouts saw why he got an invite to this summer league and why he was chosen to be part of an excellent ACC program. The makeup might be his best tool, if not for his bat speed and defense. “I liked the effort and focus in batting practice when most people are screwing around in that league,” one scout said. Benefield hit .304/.437/.473 with nine home runs in 57 games and has a patient approach at the plate. Listed as an infielder at Louisville, one scout saw him in left field and assumed he was good enough to play center. If his tools turn into production later in his career, he could end up as the latest player from Louisville to blossom into a solid draft pick after seeing minimal action early in his career.

10. Jimmy Burnette, LHP, Rockford (Junior, Illinois)

Burnette is the classic case of a prospect close to something great—he could get there anytime, but he could also never get there. It’s up to the team that drafts him to make it happen. He brings his fastball up to 93 mph from the left side with a solid slider and a changeup, all with high arm speed and minimal effort. All that’s left for him is to show even fringe-average control. He walked 45 batters in 44 innings this summer, and his control has limited him to just 8.1 innings in two years at Illinois. As one scout put it: “Not a lot of feel, but he’s around the zone.” If Burnett can put it together, however, the tools are there for him to succeed.

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