Image credit: Malakhi Knight (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
A small portion of Oregon State’s incoming recruiting class already has championship experience in Corvallis before they ever pull on the school’s jersey—they joined the Corvallis Knights and helped the club win the West Coast League for the fifth consecutive year, beating out the Yakima Valley Pippins for the title. Both teams won their respective divisions in the first and second halves.
The league consistently hosts some of the best prospects on the West Coast and especially draws in some of the most talented young players at the outset of their college careers. That was true again this season, with both Oregon State and UCLA sending some of the top players from their top-10 recruiting classes to the league.
1. Malakhi Knight, OF, Bellingham Bells (Freshman, UCLA)
Knight ranked No. 72 on the BA 500 and this summer got strong consideration early in the draft before deciding to instead head to UCLA for college. First, however, he showed off his impressive skill set in Bellingham, hitting .313/.431/.482 with seven stolen bases. He is an excellent athlete, a plus runner and is an advanced defender in center field. The righthanded hitter has an unconventional swing and does have some swing and miss to his game, but if he finds consistency at the plate he has five-tool potential.
2. Jacob Kmatz, RHP, Bend Elks (Freshman, Oregon State)
Few incoming freshmen have a true four-pitch arsenal like Kmatz, one that led to him being ranked No. 136 on the 2021 BA 500—and he showed out in the West Coast League with 24 strikeouts in four starts. His fastball sits around 90 mph and touches 95 to go with a pair of good breaking balls and a changeup. Pitching the way he did for the Elks makes him a serious candidate for a prominent pitching role on a team with reasonable Omaha aspirations.
3. Travis Bazzana, INF, Corvallis Knights (Freshman, Oregon State)
Bazzana, an Australian native, this summer got his first taste of playing in Corvallis and if it’s any indication of what’s to come, Oregon State fans have plenty of reason to be excited. He hit .429/.471/.593 with 18 stolen bases in 45 games and broke the league’s batting record previously held by Austin Shenton. The lefthanded hitter showed a good feel at the plate and he uses his above-average speed well, giving him a top-of-the-order profile. Second base may be the place for him in the short term as his arm strength develops, but his speed should make him a good defensive player there and useful both as a hitter and baserunner.
4. Nick McLain, OF, Bellingham Bells (Freshman, UCLA)
McLain was a top-100 draft prospect before formally withdrawing from the draft to uphold his commitment to UCLA, following in the path of his oldest brother Matt. McLain joined his future UCLA teammate Malakhi Knight in the Bellingham outfield and hit .237/.343/.271 with five stolen bases. He is a switch-hitter with power potential, especially from the right side, has plus speed and has a strong arm. It wasn’t the loudest summer for McLain, but the 18-year-old more than held his own.
5. Rikuu Nishida, INF, Cowlitz Black Bears (Sophomore, Mt. Hood (Ore.) JC)
Leading the league in on-base percentage (.510) and steals (28) could overshadow what was the best defensive showing in the league. The Japanese-born lefthanded hitter is sure to be on the radar of some big four-year schools in his second season at Mt. Hood, where he set four school records in his freshman season, especially if he makes consistent, productive contact as he did in the West Coast League (.370 batting average). Power won’t likely ever be a part of Nishida’s game—he’s listed at 5-foot-6, 145 pounds—but he understands who he is as a player and makes the most of his on-base skills and speed.
6. Kelly Austin, RHP, Cowlitz Black Bears (Third-year sophomore, UCLA)
Austin, listed at 6 feet, 205 pounds, attacks hitters with a fastball that can reach 93 mph, complemented by a slider and splitter. The mix works well together and hitters have a difficult time distinguishing his offerings out of his hand. Making the jump from Orange Coast (Calif.) JC to UCLA will show just how skilled he is at tunneling his fastball and splitter—the early returns are good, after a league-leading 76 strikeouts to six walks for Cowlitz.
7. Caden Connor, OF, Ridgefield Raptors (Third-year sophomore, Cal State Fullerton)
The league leader in doubles (20) and RBIs (51), plus his team’s leader in steals (seven), is also notable for hitting to all areas of the field and flashing a solid bunt. He presents a well-rounded offensive skill set that is becoming more difficult to find, and his speed translates to outfield defense. Connor, listed at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, has doubles power now but if he’s able to add more juice in time, there’s room for him to take a significant step forward.
8. Ethan Ross, LHP, Corvallis Knights (Third-year sophomore, San Jose State)
In one appearance, on Aug. 15, Ross threw the five fastest pitches of the entire West Coast League playoffs, reaching 96.5 mph. The velocity on his fastball benefits his slider and changeup, two pitches tracking data smiles upon even if he has yet to unleash them to their full potential at the collegiate level. His transfer from Washington State to San Jose State could give him that opportunity, as long as he continues to improve his command.
9. Tommy O’Rourke, RHP, Bellingham Bells (Sophomore, Stanford)
O’Rourke’s summer seems to have put him on track for a second-season surge for the Cardinal. After this spring pitching out of the bullpen, he became a dependable starter for Bellingham, going 1-2, 1.35 with 23 strikeouts and 11 walks in 20 innings over five appearances. His low-90s fastball, slider and changeup can all be strikeout pitches on any given day, and sometimes all on the same day. Controlling pitch counts will be the next step for him as he looks to take on a bigger role for the Cardinal.
10. Leo Mosby, 3B, Portland Pickles (Sophomore, UC Santa Barbara)
Mosby saw limited action as a freshman at UCSB, making just 15 plate appearances. He did a lot more this summer in Portland, hitting .369/.424/.560 with six home runs and seven stolen bases. The righthanded hitter creates good bat speed, portending power potential as he continues to develop. He’s a solid defender with a strong arm and good athleticism. This summer was an encouraging step.