West Coast League Top Ten Prospects
by Clint Longnecker, Baseball America
September 12, 2014
Postseason Recap: The Bellingham Bells reached the West Coast League championship series for the first time since 2005 and captured their first league title in franchise history. Bellingham topped the defending champion Corvallis Knights in the decisive third game by a score of 3-2 after scoring all three runs in the bottom of the third inning and holding the Knights scoreless after the fourth inning. Run prevention was the strength of the Bells, who went 41-18 (.695 winning percentage). The Bells ranked first in the league in ERA at 2.68, which was 1.78 runs below the league average, and strikeout rate (22 percent) by 4.4 percent over the league average. Bellingham boasted the top two qualified starters in the league by ERA in righthanders Seth Martinez (Arizona State; 2.03) and Aaron Sandefur (Bellevue CC; 2.04), both of whom were among the league leaders in strikeouts as well. Three Bells pitchers made first team all-West Coast League and two made the second team.
The league once again attracted a very talented group of incoming freshman. Over the last few years, with the benefit of hindsight, many of the best prospects to play in the league were rising freshman. One of the better righthanders in this year’s draft class, James Kaprielian (No. 3) made the list in 2012 along with Thomas Eshelman (No. 10). In 2011, third-rounder Jace Fry (No. 1) was the highest drafted player on the list. First-rounder Marco Gonzales (No. 6) was the highest drafted player on the 2010 iteration. The same goes for second-rounder Andrew Susac in 2009.
This year’s crop of incoming freshman includes three players—lefthander David Peterson (Oregon), third baseman Sean Bouchard (UCLA) and outfielder Elliott Cary (Oregon State)—who were all considered top-five-rounds talents out of high school and have three years to develop at prominent programs. A number of other freshman were strong contenders for the list with corner infielder Jackson Soto (Oregon State), projectable righthander Griffin Canning (UCLA), two-way player Tyler Frost (Gonzaga) and Austin Bush (UC Santa Barbara).
1. David Peterson, lhp, Medford Rogues (Fr., Oregon)
Peterson piqued scouts’ interest on the showcase circuit as a big-bodied projectable lefthander from a state that routinely produces projectable arms, Colorado. Considered a potential top-three-rounds talent, Peterson broke his right fibula in the first week of March, a mere two weeks before his spring season was set to begin, a season that included a trip to the most heavily scouted high school tournament in the country, the National High School Invitational. He was expected to be lost for the season but healed quicker than expected and made seven appearances down the stretch. The Red Sox took a flier on him in the 28th round. Peterson began to capitalize on his projection this summer, when his fastball took another step forward. His fastball largely sat in the mid-80s this spring and touched 90, but it sat in the high-80s this summer and touched 94. With loose arm action and an easy delivery, Peterson hides the ball well and produces above-average fastball movement with sink and heavy arm-side run that portends groundball tendencies and tough looks for lefthanded hitters. WCL coaches said his secondary stuff needs to become more consistent, but his changeup has flashed above-average potential and his curveball shows average potential. His control numbers were pedestrian (3.75 walks per nine) this summer and will also need to improve, as will his ability to miss bats (6.0 strikeouts per nine). But the lanky, long-limbed 6-foot-6 Peterson offers considerable physical projection and a three-year window to improve at Oregon.
2. Sean Bouchard, 3b, Walla Walla (Fr., UCLA)
A high school teammate of 2014 No. 1 pick Brady Aiken, Bouchard was considered a top-five-rounds talent but was a tough sign away from his UCLA commitment. Bouchard was one of the youngest players in the league and has one of highest ceilings of any position player because of his body, power potential and arm strength, though his offensive approach must improve to reach that ceiling. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bouchard has a body that scouts can dream on with a broad, athletic major league frame and the potential to gain considerable strength. The righthanded hitter has a quick stroke and bat speed, and the ball jumps off his bat when squared. He offers above-average raw power that could become at least plus once his frame fills out. His hitting instincts were questioned on the showcase circuit, and that reputation followed him this summer, when he struck out in 23.7 percent of his plate appearances while hitting .283/.322/.406. Coaches thought Bouchard was susceptible to spin with a static approach, and his swing got long with a path grooved to the pull side. He fits a third base profile defensively with an arm that projects as plus, and he can throw from various angles. Although his hands show some softness, he will need to cut down on his errors, as his 14 ranked second among qualified players. Although he has posted plus run times in the 60-yard dash, he is a better runner underway and his speed plays as below-average out of the box.
3. Vince Fernandez, of, Yakima Valley (So., UC Riverside)
Undrafted out of high school, Fernandez received just 11 plate appearances as a freshman before a breakout summer as the top offensive performer in the league. The lefthanded-hitting Fernandez broke the league home run record with 10 on his way to winning league MVP honors. His present average raw power projects to be above-average. He finished first in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while finishing in the top five in batting average, doubles and triples. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Fernandez has a big, physical body that produces bat speed and pull tendencies, though he showed the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. He has some natural swing and miss to his game and was a “three true outcomes” hitter this summer (42 percent of plate appearances) with one of the 10 highest walk (14.8 percent) and strikeout rates (22.5). Although he has some athleticism and played center field this summer, Fernandez projects best in a corner. Opinions of his arm strength differed, as some think he has a chance to play right, but most think he is best suited for left.
4. Elliott Cary, of, Cowlitz (Fr., Oregon State)
Cary became one of the top prep position players in the Pacific Northwest when he moved from Florida to Oregon before his senior year began. But the son of former major league pitcher Chuck Cary was a tough sign away from Oregon State. Although he didn’t have a great statistical summer, Cary is a “high-octane athlete who can really play,” in the words of one opposing coaches, and offers tremendous projection for a position player with a long, lean and lithe 6-foot-4, 175-pound build. The lefthanded-hitting Cary has a handsy, loose stroke geared for line drives, working inside the baseball. He will need to add significant strength to his frame to make a power a part of his game after producing only one extra-base hit this summer, and his power ultimately projects to be below-average and mostly to the gaps. Cary showed some swing-and-miss this summer, but coaches liked the way he handled the bat. The above-average runner saw time in all three outfield spots and has a chance to stick in center field as a gliding runner with defensive instincts. Cary will need to learn how to use his speed better to steal bases after getting caught (six times) more than he was successful. He offers an arm that projects to be at least average.
5. Dalton Kelly, of/1b, Corvallis (Jr., UC Santa Barbara)
Kelly has not been a regular in two years at school, getting 63 plate appearances, but he got the necessary reps to become one of the top performers in the league this summer, while also showing tools. The lefthanded-hitting Kelly produced a .336/.446/.604 line to finish sixth in on-base percentage and second in isolated slugging (.268) after hitting seven home runs. He has average raw power that projects to be above-average once he adds strength to his lean 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. Coaches praised his hitting aptitude although he does it unconventionally in the batter’s box and tends to drift. The athletic Kelly is at least a plus runner with a chance in center field who reportedly ran a 6.5 in the 60-yard dash. He saw time in all three outfield spots with an arm that is at least average. Kelly is extremely young for the draft class and won’t be 21 until two months after the draft.
6. John Pomeroy, rhp, Wenatchee (So., Oregon State)
Pomeroy appeared in only one game during his freshman season at Oregon State and his summer innings were limited because of his below-average control. But Pomeroy had arguably the most arm strength in the entire league. At his best, Pomeroy showed the ability to sit 91-94 with his fastball, reportedly touching at least 96 in short stints. Maintaining his velocity in multi-innings stints will be a key to his development, and his best role is out of the bullpen until he can learn to throw more strikes. Opposing coaches said Pomeroy generated good downhill plane when right. His slider was a below-average pitch in high school and is still developing. He struggles to repeat his mechanics with a stab in the back, but he has a long stride. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Pomeroy has a large frame with broad shoulders and room to get stronger. Pomeroy will have to learn to throw more strikes, but his arm strength was unparalleled in the WCL and gives him a chance to emerge.
7. Justin Calomeni, rhp, Corvallis (So., Cal Poly)
Calomeni stepped into the rotation as a freshman and was a mainstay for a top-10 team. Despite pitching in the same rotation as Phillies second-rounder Matt Imhof, Calomeni tied for the best strikeout-walk ratio on the team (3.7 with Casey Bloomquist), besting Imhof’s 2.9. He is a strike-thrower with a three-pitch mix. Calomeni’s fastball sits 88-92, touching 93 with arm-side run and sink from a long, loose arm action that inverts significantly. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Calomeni has a projectable build, and evaluators think he has a chance to throw harder. Calomeni lacks a consistently average secondary offering at present, as both his changeup and slider are below-average to fringe-average offerings. But his slider flashes late tilt and depth at its best. He projects to have at least average control and walked 2.2 per nine this spring and 2.4 this summer, which was the fifth-lowest walk rate in the league. The 18-year-old is very young for his draft class and won’t be 21 until four months after the draft, making him more of a rising freshman by age.
8. Drew Rasmussen, rhp, Wenatchee (Fr., Oregon State)
Rasmussen was one of the top prep pitchers from the Pacific Northwest in the 2014 draft and was a late-round pick (39th) of the Diamondbacks who elected to attend school. The righthander is an aggressive, competitive pitcher with an up-tempo delivery who attacks with his fastball, which sits 88-92, touching 93. Rasmussen has a loose arm with length in the back and gets extension out front. His fastball plays up because of its downhill plane, arm-side run and density through the zone, though it flattens out when up in the zone. His slider has depth and can reach as high as 80 mph, while his changeup is a deceptive offering that shows average potential. Rasmussen shows the ability to miss bats with the fourth-highest strikeout rate in the league (8.4 per nine). But he will have to improve his strike-throwing ability after walking 5.6 per nine. Coaches also wanted to see the quality of his strikes improve. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Rasmussen has a strong, durable build with a physical lower half that offers minimal physical projection. The 19-year-old could be a draft-eligible sophomore because his late-July birthday could fall within the 45-day window of eligibility depending upon when the draft is set.
9. Nick Kern, rhp, Yakima Valley (R-So., UCLA)
This marks the third straight season a UCLA righthander has made the list with Kern following James Kaprielian (No. 3) in 2012 and Cody Poteet (No. 1) last summer. Kern improved significantly over the course of his redshirt freshman year before emerging as a key bullpen arm for the Bruins this spring, when he struck out 10.0 per nine with a 3.8 strikeout-walk ratio. The athletic Kern is a former shortstop who saw occasional time as a position player this spring, hitting a game-winning home run against Utah in his first career plate appearance before picking up a save in the bottom half of the ninth inning. Kern’s fastball sat 90-92 this summer, touching 94 from a high arm slot. Coaches said his slider was one of the best breaking pitches in the league and a true swing-and-miss offering. While Kern has a changeup, it was rarely used this summer, when he was dominant as an attacking two-pitch reliever at the back end of games. He struck out 18.5 per nine with a 6.5 strikeout-walk ratio before experiencing some tendinitis and being shut down for the summer at the end of July as a precautionary measure. He won’t turn 21 until three months after draft day. The 5-foot-11, 186-pound Kern fits best in the pen at the next level as well, suppressing his draft value.
10. Seth Martinez, rhp, Bellingham (So., Arizona State)
A 6-foot righthander who went undrafted out of high school, Martinez was a key contributor for Arizona State as a freshman, starting seven games in the rotation while posting a 2.1 strikeout-walk ratio in 50 innings, the most of any Sun Devil freshman. Martinez was the rotation bell cow for the best pitching staff in the league this summer and helped pitch the Bells to their first league title. He led the league in ERA (2.07) with 8.0 strikeouts per nine and a 3.1 strikeout-walk ratio, the fourth-best rate in the league. Martinez is a strike-thrower who draws praise for his ability to mix three pitches with solid stuff and a fastball that sat 88-91, touching 92 with extension out front. Martinez consistently worked ahead of hitters, throwing strikes on the first pitch at a 69 percent clip, the fifth-best in the league. He offers a solid slider with two-plane break and has confidence in his changeup, which grades out as a fringe-average offering. The athletic 6-foot, 184-pound Martinez has a limited ceiling without overpowering stuff and is unlikely to be a strikeout pitcher, but will likely be a competitive strike-thrower who logs innings in the rotation.