Kolek Leads Mat-Su To Alaska League Crown
1. Stephen Kolek, rhp, Mat-Su (So., Texas A&M) A year after Corbin Martin was named the circuit’s best prospect, another Aggie landed atop the list as the physical righthander Kolek flashed the type of movement and velocity on his fastball that made some think he could be a first-round pick in due time. The younger brother of 2014 No. 2 overall pick Tyler Kolek, Stephen pitched in just 12 games for the Aggies as a freshman but impressed anyway, striking out 21 in 30 innings and posting a 3.30 ERA. He was even better for the Miners this summer, striking out 32 in just 37 innings and finishing with a 2.45 ERA. Already 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Kolek used a cutter, two-seam fastball and sinker, all of which sat 89-92 mph this summer, to overpower opposing hitters. Other pitchers on the circuit might have thrown harder, but few boasted more movement on their pitches than Kolek. The hard sinker is his best pitch currently and if he is able to add strength and velocity down the road as Miners’ coach Ben Taylor expects he will, the pitch will be downright lethal. He pitches off his variety of fastballs but his secondary stuff isn’t below-average either. The changeup has good sink in its own right and has a chance to be an average pitch down the road while the curveball needs refinement but did show good depth at times. Despite his size and how hard he throws Kolek doesn’t put a lot of effort into his delivery and his motion is very clean. This allowed him to throw all of his pitches for strikes in any count and keep hitters guessing. Kolek’s command came and went this summer but that was at least partially attributed to the movement on his pitches.
2. Cody Deason, rhp, Mat-Su (So., Arizona) Deason didn’t get a lot of opportunities to strut his stuff this summer, pitching just 19 innings for the Miners. But in that limited stint, Deason showed the kind of physicality and power arm that should make him highly sought-after at the next level. Deason was quite good in those 19 innings, allowing just four earned runs and striking out 19 hitters, but it was the 91-93 mph sinking four-seamer and his ability to throw three average pitches for strikes that caught most coaches’ attention. The fastball is his best pitch currently and considering Miners’ coach Ben Taylor thinks there is little doubt that Deason will add velocity as he continues to work on his body, it has the potential to be a plus pitch, especially because of its sharp sink. His secondary stuff needs refinement as the curveball is just average and the changeup is even a little bit behind that, but there is depth to both pitches and he can throw either for strikes in any count. His stuff won’t blow anyone way, but he will be able to keep hitters off balance by mixing three pitches regularly. His delivery was described as “effortless” by one opposing coach and his clean mechanics and polished approach allow him to repeat his motion consistently and command his pitches.
3. Gage Burland, rhp, Mat-Su (Jr., Gonzaga) Major league teams already know Burland well as the rising junior has been drafted in the 26th round twice—once by the Orioles in 2014 coming out high school and then again this past year by the Yankees as a draft-eligible sophomore—thanks in large part to a fastball that touched 97 mph and a hard cutter with sharp, late movement. The arm is obviously what intrigues scouts as Taylor said he thinks Burland has the potential to hit 100 mph at some point and said his 88 mph cutter is already a plus pitch in short stints. The issue, as is the case with many young relievers, is command. Burland walked 14 hitters in 21 innings as a sophomore at Gonzaga and it was more of the same this summer as he walked 14 more hitters in 18 innings despite also posting a 0.98 ERA for the Miners. Although he also gets plenty of movement on his pitches, he needs to learn to use his lower half in his delivery more and occasionally lets his mechanics get away from him when he is overthrowing. He also features a slider but it’s more of a throwaway offering at this point.
4. Ryan Lillie, rhp, Peninsula (So., UC Riverside) Lillie is a similar prospect to Burland except he has better stuff without boasting quite the same arm strength or projectable frame. Listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds, Lillie doesn’t physically strike fear into opposing hitters, but his heavy fastball and wipeout slider do the trick just fine. A catcher coming out high school, UC Riverside coach Troy Percival—who knows a thing or two about converting from catcher to closer—inserted him at the back of the bullpen after seeing the arm strength and tight spin on the slider and the rising sophomore didn’t look back. Lillie worked to tighten up his delivery during the summer with a special focus on keeping his hips and shoulders centered and staying balanced, and the tweaks worked wonders. The rising sophomore was dominant for the Oilers, allowing exactly one earned run and just six hits in 18 innings to go along with 22 strikeouts and just three walks. His fastball, which was clocked at 87-88 mph in high school, sat 92-94 this summer and exhibited excellent downward tilt. The slider was his out pitch and he threw it hard and knew how to put sharp spin on it as well. His ability to throw both pitches for strikes consistently allowed him to rely on his plus movement to get hitters out. There is some effort in his delivery and he throws from a three-quarter arm slot. That, coupled with the two-pitch mix, project well out of the bullpen.
5. Justin Montgomery, rhp, Peninsula (So., California Baptist) Montgomery’s inclusion on this list is all about projection because a 6-foot-6 pitcher who can already touch 93 mph and looks like, as one coach put it, that “he might blow away in the wind,” is always going to deserve a long look from professional scouts. Currently, Montgomery is listed at 190 pounds and almost every coach universally agreed that he needs to mature physically if he is going to reach his ceiling on the field. But he also demonstrated impressive pitchability to go along with legitimate secondary offerings. The righthander ranged anywhere from 88-93 mph with his fastball this summer but also flashed a hard cutter and potentially plus slider as he baffled opposing hitters to the tune of a 2.83 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 54 innings. A little hiccup in his leg kick gives Montgomery some funk to his delivery and as a result, he struggles to repeat it consistently. But he is hardly the first tall, awkward, lanky young pitcher to struggle repeating his delivery and all the coaches felt he was more than athletic enough to figure it out as he gets more experience. Because he has so much room to add strength and fill out physically, most coaches predicted that he could add velocity down the road and because he is more polished than most pitchers his age, that velocity could have a huge impact on his ability to get hitters out at the next level.
6. Garrison Schwartz, of, Mat-Su (Jr., Grand Canyon) Widely considered the best position prospect on the circuit this summer, Schwartz doesn’t have any one tool that stands out, but it’s hard to find something on the baseball field that he can’t do well, either. After hitting .307 with six home runs as a sophomore at Grand Canyon, Schwartz hit in the middle of the Miners’ order all summer and finished with a .277/.365/.398 slash line, two home runs and six stolen bases. Taylor described Schwartz’s bat by saying it is “not a college swing” in that it is fast and flat, which leads to a lot of line drives and doesn’t allow him to get beat on velocity over the inner-half of the plate. The loose and whippy inside-out swing allowed him to spray the ball to all fields and while he likely won’t ever boast plus pop, he does have the frame and the strength to be a consistent gap-to-gap power threat. The swing can get long at times (he struck out 35 times this summer) and he can be overly aggressive, especially chasing breaking pitches out of the zone, but he isn’t clueless in the batter’s box either and can control the at-bat with his ability to hit to all fields. Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Schwartz is a good athlete who runs well, but not well enough to play center field at the next level. He was a good defender in right field for the Miners, taking excellent routes to the ball and displaying enough arm strength to make many think he can play the position at the next level.
7. Jacob Hughey, lhp/1b, Mat-Su (So., Long Beach State) A two-way standout for the Miners this summer, Hughey’s future appears to be on the mound but he probably could hit enough to do either at the next level. Hughey hit .366 with twice as many walks (10) as strikeouts (5) in 41 at-bats for the Miners this summer and also managed to strike out 47 hitters in just 37 innings on the mound to boot. As a hitter, Hughey is polished, boasts a quick bat and controls the strike zone like a player with twice his experience. But he also doesn’t have a position defensively, despite his athleticism. Listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Hughey doesn’t have the projectable frame of some of the other pitchers on this list, but he does have plenty of room to add strength and most coaches expected that he will add velocity as he fills out. The fastball was 87-89 mph and touched 91 this summer, the curveball is solid and the changeup is just average right now, but Hughey displays a pretty good feel for it. When he is on, he can throw all three pitches for strikes without issue, however his delivery is still very erratic. He has a fast arm and plenty of athleticism to repeat his delivery, but Hughey’s arm slot was all over the place this summer and he is more of a thrower than a pitcher right now.
8. Wyatt Mills, rhp, Anchorage Bucs (Sr., Gonzaga) Statistically speaking, Mills is light years ahead of his younger bullpen mate, Burland, he just doesn’t have the same high ceiling. A Steve Cishek clone in terms of delivery and repertoire, Mills relies on deception, great depth on his slider and excellent command to get hitters out. He finished last spring at Gonzaga with a 2.65 ERA, seven saves and 38 strikeouts in just 37 innings and he was even better with the Bucs, finishing with a 0.55 ERA, five saves and 15 strikeouts in 16 innings this summer. The fastball sits 89-92 mph and has great arm-side run thanks to his low arm slot. The slider is his best pitch and it too benefits from his arm slot. Opposing coaches were impressed with how hard he threw it (80-82 mph) but also with the depth and spin that made it a weapon against righties and lefties alike. The changeup is slightly better than average, although it doesn’t get great sink. But the real reason he is so effective is that he has no trouble throwing all three pitches for strikes and has a great deal of confidence in his ability to throw any pitch in any count. The sidearm delivery and reliance on the fastball-slider combination have him destined for the bullpen at the next level, but at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, there is still room for Mills to grow into his body and add velocity. The Rays thought enough of the Spokane native to make him their 17th-round pick this year, but he is headed back to Gonzaga.
9. Kyle Watson, ss, Anchorage Glacier Pilots (Jr., Mississippi) Watson’s athleticism and arm strength to play shortstop at the next level should give him a chance to get there. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Watson is much bigger than your prototypical shortstop, but Alaska League coaches pointed out that that he is a plus runner with excellent range, excellent hands and footwork around the bag and a plus arm, which should help him earn a long look as a shortstop. The rising junior played the infield and the outfield in 52 games for Mississippi last spring, but he hit just .231/.322/.397 with three home runs in 78 at-bats. He wasn’t much better for the Glacier Pilots, slashing .243/.353/.318 with just 7 extra-base hits in 148 at-bats, but he did steal 21 bases. His pitch recognition needs a lot of work and the swing is still very long, as evidenced by his 46 strikeouts this summer. He has some pop, but it is currently all to the pull side and he doesn’t do a good job of using the whole field even when he isn’t hitting home runs. With the question marks around his bat, Watson needs to stick at shortstop, where his bat won’t matter as much as long as he is above-average defensively.
10. Jordan Floyd, lhp, Mat-Su (Sr., Kansas State)