2021 Northwoods League Top Prospects
With a 9-3 win over the St. Cloud Rox, the Traverse City Pit Spitters won their second Northwoods League championship in three years after they also captured the crown back in 2019.
Mankato outfielder Matt Higgins (Bellarmine) and Fond du Lac second baseman Chandler Simpson (Georgia Tech) were named co-MVP at the end of the regular season, with righthander Cam Schuelke (Florida Gulf Coast) winning pitcher of the year honors.
Below are the top 10 prospects from the NWL this summer. Overall prospect status and potential are most heavily weighted in this ranking, but summer performance is a factor as well.
1. Kyle Teel, C/OF, Wisconsin Rapids (Sophomore, Virginia)
Teel arrived on campus at Virginia and was arguably the Cavaliers’ best hitter last season. He put up a .335/.416/.526 slash line with nine home runs, helping the team to their first College World Series appearance since 2015.
Teel split time this summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and with Wisconsin Rapids. After going 7-for-30 with the CNT, Teel hit .277 with a .435 on-base percentage in the NWL. Teel’s bat is the headliner, but he also is an intriguing player from a defensive standpoint. He’s a superb athlete and has a plus arm whether he’s behind the plate or manning right field, although as a catcher, he’s still fairly raw and will need further development to get him ready for the next level.
2. Chase Davis, OF, La Crosse (Sophomore, Arizona)
A toolsy outfielder who was among the best players in the 2020 high school class to make it to a college campus, Davis didn’t get a ton of run in a veteran-laden Arizona lineup in 2021. He hit .233/.343/.400 in 30 at-bats, almost exclusively as a reserve outfielder.
In 33 games this summer with La Crosse, he hit .207/.359/.405 with 12 extra-base hits, including four home runs. The .207 average suggests that he will still have a lot to prove with the bat next season in Tucson, but with 25 walks and 29 strikeouts, he still got on base at a healthy clip and showed solid plate discipline. The Arizona coaching staff and evaluators alike hope that greater opportunities on campus in the spring lead to Davis tapping into his immense potential.
3. Tavian Josenberger, OF/SS, Fond du Lac (Sophomore, Kansas)
Josenberger immediately emerged as a catalyst in the Kansas order as a freshman, hitting .316/.392/.413 with a team-leading 11 stolen bases. With an on-base percentage nearing .400 and the lowest strikeout rate among regulars in the KU lineup, he also showed precocious plate discipline.
After coming out of high school in Kansas City as a middle infielder, Josenberger played outfield for the Jayhawks in 2021. Back at shortstop over the summer for Fond du Lac, he hit .267/.378/.378 with 12 steals. Josenberger presents an intriguing all-around package for evaluators as a good athlete who handles the bat well from both sides of the plate and can occupy several premium defensive positions.
4. Riley Cornelio, RHP, St. Cloud (Third-year sophomore, Texas Christian)
One of the most talented prep pitchers to enter college baseball ahead of the 2020 season, Cornelio has thrown just 17.2 innings in two seasons at TCU. Some of his numbers have been good in that small sample, such as a 2.55 ERA and .155 opponent batting average, but he's still carving out a role.
His summer with St. Cloud provided some reasons for optimism moving forward. He put up a 3.00 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings of work, showcasing the same level of stuff that has always made him a prospect. His fastball sat in the low 90s over the summer and touched the mid 90s, and his breaking ball had a nearly 60% whiff rate on it. If his command can make a jump from where it has been, Cornelio could finally be a big piece of the puzzle for the Horned Frogs and make good on the potential he’s shown since arriving on campus.
5. Braden Forsyth, RHP, Kalamazoo (Fourth-year junior, Mississippi)
Forsyth was excellent as a closer during the shortened 2020 season, but that success didn’t carry over to 2021, when he put up a 7.71 ERA in 13 appearances and 11.2 innings. This summer with Kalamazoo, the righthander had a 1.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts compared to five walks in 23.1 innings.
Forsyth works with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touched as high as 95 in the spring for Ole Miss, and over the summer, his breaking ball was a swing-and-miss offering with a whiff rate greater than 50%. With stuff like that, Forsyth will remain on the radar of MLB evaluators and will get a chance to have a big role in the Rebels’ bullpen in 2022.
6. Nate Wohlgemuth, RHP, Duluth (Sophomore, San Jacinto (Texas) JC)
A high-profile recruit in Arkansas’ 2020 class, Wohlgemuth threw just 1.1 innings for the Razorbacks in 2021, walking six batters . As he transfers from Arkansas to San Jacinto, he will look to follow in the footsteps of Jackson Rutledge, who made the same move at the end of the 2018 season and ended up as a first-round pick after one season in junior college.
This summer in Duluth, the righthander showed every bit of his tantalizing potential and confounding struggles at the same time. In 28.1 innings, he had a 6.99 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 38 walks. He worked with a fastball that averaged just under 92 mph and touched 94, complemented by a changeup that induced a whiff rate greater than 50%. Wohlgemuth has the stuff to be a high-end prospect, but his control has to get better.
7. Victor Scott, OF, Fond du Lac (Third-year sophomore, West Virginia)
Scott hit .232/.359/.368 last season at West Virginia. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump out at you, he had value beyond his bat, including swiping 20 bases and using his game-breaking speed to become arguably the best defensive center fielder in the Big 12.
This summer with Fond du Lac, Scott put it all together on the way to hitting .329/.403/.450 with more walks (22) than strikeouts (15) and 37 stolen bases. With 11 extra-base hits, including three home runs, he also showed more pop than you would expect from a player of his stature and speed profile, even if that’s not likely to become a major part of his game. If Scott can be even close to that effective at the plate for WVU in the spring, it will make him one of the most interesting prospects in the Big 12 next season.
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8. Justin Janas, 1B, Kenosha (Third-year sophomore, Illinois)
All Janas has done in 2021 is lead the leagues in which he plays in hitting and on-base percentage. With Illinois, he led the Big Ten in hitting last season with a .401 average and .514 on-base percentage. This summer with Kenosha, he led the Northwoods League with a .402 average and .502 on-base percentage.
Janas’ hit tool and plate discipline are apparent in his numbers. The way in which he seems to be in total control of where he places the ball is reminiscent of a stereotypical slap hitter, but Janas is more physical than that. With a strong 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, he hits the ball hard and he had 12 doubles with Kenosha this summer. Power to hit home runs is clearly present, but he eschews traditional power in favor of a line-drive approach. It would not be a surprise, however, to see his power numbers improve as he continues to mature.
9. Chandler Simpson, 2B, Fond du Lac (Third-year sophomore, Georgia Tech)
Simpson was solid in his first two seasons at Alabama-Birmingham, hitting .282 with a .342 on-base percentage and 32 stolen bases in 68 combined games between the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 2021. He is transferring this year to Georgia Tech
This summer with Fond du Lac, where he was a teammate of fellow speedster Victor Scott, Simpson showed everything the Yellow Jackets would want to see out of a top-of-the-order catalyst. He hit .377, second in the league to Justin Janas, struck out just 10 times (compared to 19 walks) in 204 at-bats and stole a league-leading 55 bases. You know what you’re getting with Simpson. He’s going to put the ball in play, try to beat everything out and then steal his way around the bases until you stop him, and his ability to control the game in those respects makes him an intriguing prospect.
10. Ethan Hammerberg, RHP, Duluth (Third-year sophomore, Ohio State)
On a pitching staff full of high-end arms at Ohio State, Hammerberg didn’t have much of a chance to prove himself in 2021. He threw 5.2 innings for the Buckeyes, giving up five hits and four runs with six walks and nine strikeouts, but his stuff isn’t in question. His fastball was up to 94 mph last season, and though it’s a very small sample, batters whiffed on his breaking pitches 75% of the time.
Hammerberg found much more success this summer as a closer for Duluth, putting up a 2.12 ERA and a 38-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings with his stuff, if anything, looking even better than it did in the spring. If Hammerberg can maintain or improve upon the gains he showed in throwing strikes over the summer, he can dominate in a short relief role.