Perfect Game Announces Top 5 NECBL Prospects
By Frankie Piliere
As an exclusive bonus to NECBL fans, Perfect Game has granted access to in-depth reports on their top five prospects. PG released a list of the NECBL’s Top Prospects earlier this summer. Ordinarily, in-depth reports after the first pick are available only at a premium.
Here are PG’s Top 5 Prospects this summer:
1. NATHAN KIRBY, lhp, Keene Swamp Bats (Virginia/SO in 2014)
In a summer in New England dominated by pitching, it was Nathan Kirby that stood above the rest. And, although this summer now represents his emergence as an elite prospect in the 2015 draft class, it followed what was an up-and-down freshman season for Kirby at Virginia. He compiled a 6.06 ERA in 24 appearances (mostly out of the bullpen) in his first taste of college baseball, but most who saw him still raved about his potential. That potential blossomed into on-field performance this summer. Kirby has true, swing-and-miss type stuff, and he had the numbers to back that up for Keene. Over 43 regular season innings, he fanned 60 batters, compiling a 1.67 ERA and allowing only 28 hits in the process. Kirby lives at 91-94 mph with his fastball, working from an easy, repeatable lefthanded delivery. His go-to secondary offering at the moment is his breaking ball, an 81-85 mph slider that breaks hard and late down and in on righthanded batters. It’s flashes plus potential right now, and should be a full fledged out-pitch for him as he learns to finish it more consistently. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Kirby has a frame that is still young and projectable, and has the athleticism you want to see out of future big league starter. He will jockey for a weekend rotation spot on a loaded Virginia pitching staff in 2014, and a big sophomore year could firmly position him as a potential first round pick when 2015 rolls around.
2. BRETT LILEK, lhp, Newport Gulls (Arizona State/SO in 2014)
There cannot be enough emphasis put on the high quality and depth of the arms in the NECBL this summer, and Lilek fits in very closely right behind Kirby. Lilek has a long resume of success, a resume that includes being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 37th round of the 2012 draft. But, he entered the college ranks as a lefthander scouts thought of as highly projectable, and a pitcher that had advanced command. That scouting report has changed significantly after an impressive summer for the Newport Gulls. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder worked primarily out of the bullpen for the Sun Devils, posting a 4.05 ERA over 20 innings of work. Lilek seemed to take his game to another level this summer, however, posting a 1.64 ERA and striking out 26 batters over 27 1/3 innings pitched. And, the pitcher that scouts and coaches saw this summer was different even from the one that was a highly touted prospect out of high school. Lilek had added power to his game, pitching comfortably at 92-93 mph in the All-Star game in Laconia. He also has a potential swing-and-miss slider at 80-82 mph, which flashes late biting action. And, his changeup, which he does a solid job of locating around 83-84 mph, makes his a full fledged three-pitch arm that should be ready to contribute in a big way in the ASU rotation in 2014.
3. KYLE WILCOX, rhp, Newport Gulls (Bryant/SO in 2014)
The area scouts packed in behind home plate in Laconia for this summer’s NECBL All-Star game seemed to be in awe of what Kyle Wilcox was doing in that particular game. They weren’t in awe because they had never seen a plus fastball before, but more likely because of where Wilcox has come from as a pitcher in such a short amount of time. Wilcox was not a secret to pro scouts in New England, as most of them had seen him pitch for Newtown High School just over a year earlier. But, he certainly wasn’t the same pitcher they were now seeing before them. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound righthander lived mostly in the mid- to upper-80s with his fastball in high school, and he arrived on campus at Bryant without a lot of fanfare. Following a spring in which he touched 97 mph against powerhouse Arkansas, however, his name began to pop up on a lot of scouts’ radar screens. By the time his summer had ended with the Newport Gulls, there was no more buzzed and talked about player in the league than Wilcox. He took the NECBL by storm, posting a 0.48 ERA over 16 regular season relief appearances. And, he struck out a combined 35 batters over 24 2/3 innings pitched between the regular and postseason. He was quite simply unhittable for long stretches of the summer. Armed with a 94-97 mph fastball, and a late breaking 82-84 mph slider with good depth, Wilcox clearly has closer stuff. His delivery, while not rough by any means, does have a lot of effort to it, and lends itself to a relief role as well. Word is, however, that Bryant may try to use him in a starting role in 2014. If he can succeed there and maintain his power stuff, his stock as a prospect will no doubt continue to skyrocket.
4. BEN ROBERTS, of, Newport Gulls (Washington State/RS-SO in 2014)
The road to this list for Ben Roberts was an interesting one to say the least. A seventh round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Missoula, Mont. coming out of high school, Roberts turned down the chance at pro ball to attend Washington State University. His upside and overall athleticism were well known to scouts at the time, but it was also agreed that his game would require some polish. He redshirted his first year at Washington State, and his first taste of college action was a less than pleasant one, as he hit .136 in 88 at-bats in 2013 as a redshirt freshman. Headed into the summer, it would have been difficult to know what to expect from the toolsy outfielder, but by the end of it he’d be the consensus top position player prospect in the NECBL. Roberts end up hitting .312 for the Gulls, collecting five home runs and 18 doubles in 170 at-bats. Something had clearly clicked for Roberts offensively, and he garnered consistent, universal praise from around the league for his bat speed and power potential at the plate. Roberts also has above average speed and a strong arm. The consensus is that he profiles well as an athletic, rangy right fielder, but there are some coaches and scouts who believe he might have a chance to play center field long-term. Either way, it’s likely that it will be Roberts’ potent left-handed bat that carries him as a prospect. And, his tool-set and big league body type could make him an attractive draft prospect if he can carry over his progress into the spring. Roberts earns raves reviews for his work ethic from coaches, so that of course bodes well for his potential progress as well.
5. BRETT GRAVES, rhp, Newport Gulls (Missouri/JR in 2014)
Brett Graves is the type of pitcher you get use to seeing in the Cape Cod League. He’s going to be a traditional, draft-eligible junior in 2014, and he has a very solid track record pitching at Missouri. The NECBL just typically does not get access to that type of pitcher. But, Newport got Graves in 2013, helping to form what was an astoundingly talented pitching staff. Following a spring in which he compiled a 3.80 ERA over 71 innings of work in the Missouri rotation, Graves blossomed in Newport, posting a minscule 1.00 ERA over 35 2/3 innings pitched, allowing just 20 hits in that span. Many coaches around the league dubbed him the most consistent starting pitcher of the summer. Graves brings more to the table than just consistency, however, boasting a 91-94 mph fastball that reaches 95 mph routinely. He also shows a feel for a sharp, 81-84 mph slider, but he needs to get more consistent with his command of it. The same can be said for his 84-87 mph changeup. Graves will also mix in a knuckle curveball and cut his fastball at times. Those secondaries, particularly his curveball and changeup, flash above average movement, and if he can command them more consistently, he has a deep, full fledged starter’s arsenal. The 6-foot-1 righthander also came up big in some significant moments for the Gulls this summer, showing a true calmness on the mound when the moment got bigger. He could very easily position himself in the top three round conversation come June.