With the Wichita-based National Baseball Congress World Series no longer a staple on the season-ending schedule of Alaska League teams, it effectively cost scouts a golden opportunity to inspect a number of top college prospects that otherwise may not have been seen during the summer while playing off the beaten track in remote Alaska.
The Alaska League took progressive steps of its own to address that shortcoming by creating a scout-friendly showcase event, held each year in late July in Anchorage. The three-day affair encompasses regular season contests as well as the league all-star game, and scouts from most big league clubs have utilized the opportunity to get a concentrated, up-close look at the talent in one of the nation’s longest established, and more prominent summer leagues.
Not only did they check out the elite-level players in the league this summer that won’t be eligible for the draft until 2014 or 2015, but it was an opportunity for some scouts to sign a handful of under-the-radar players that had slipped through the cracks in this year’s draft. Among those signed as free agents were two hard-throwing righthanders prominently listed on the accompanying rundown of the league’s best prospects, No. 10-ranked Brody Greer, who was disguised as a shortstop most of the spring at USC Upstate, and No. 15-ranked Mike Jeffrys, who was rarely scouted while playing for Geneva College, a small Christian college tucked away in rural Pennsylvania.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Jeffrys was so impressive in his brief window of opportunity, with a solid four-pitch mix that included a fastball up to 93 mph, that the Kansas City Royals were forced to outbid at least two other big league clubs in coughing up a $70,000 signing bonus. Greer’s overnight rise to prominence was rewarded with a $45,000 bonus from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Had he not failed his physical, No. 14-ranked Michael Coates was yet a third pitcher that would have signed out of the showcase weekend, but he has returned to Cal State Northridge for his senior year after the Royals voided his contract.
In the final analysis, a majority of scouts trekked to Alaska with the express purpose of observing the league’s elite level prospects and came away impressed with a number of players, none more than a pair of University of Tennessee position prospects—No. 1-ranked Christin Stewart, an outfielder who led the league in homers and RBI; and No. 2 A.J. Simcox, a shortstop who won the batting title. Both have the potential to be drafted in the top two rounds in 2015.
Year League Established: 1974 (reunited 1998)
States Represented in League: Alaska
No. of Teams in League: 6
Regular-Season Champion (record): Alaska Goldpanners (22-13, 37-17 overall).
Post-Season Champion: Alaska Goldpanners
Teams, Perfect Game Summer 50/Final Ranking: No. 7 Alaska Goldpanners, No. 35 Mat-Su Miners; No. 48 Anchorage Bucs
No. 1 Prospect, 2012 (per PG CrossChecker): Braden Shipley, rhp, Anchorage Bucs (Nevada; drafted by Diamondbacks/1st round, 2013)
First 2011 Player Selected, 2012 Draft: Braden Shipley, rhp, Anchorage Bucs (Nevada; drafted by Diamondbacks/1st round)
Player of the Year: Christin Stewart, of, Mat-Su Miners (Tennessee)
Pitcher of Year: Garrett Mundell, rhp, Anchorage Bucs (Fresno State)
Top Prospect (as selected by league): David Fletcher, ss, Alaska Goldpanners (Loyola Marymount)
BATTING LEADERS (League games only)
Batting Average: A.J. Simcox, ss, Mat-Su-Miners (.356)
Slugging Average: Christin Stewart, of, Mat-Su Miners (.600)
On-Base Average: Spencer Mahoney, 3b, Mat-Su Miners (.423)
Home Runs: Christin Stewart, of, Mat-Su Miners; David Edwards, 2b, Alaska Goldpanners (5)
RBI: Christin Stewart, of, Mat-Su Miners (31)
Stolen Bases: David Fletcher, ss, Alaska Goldpanners (20)
PITCHING LEADERS (League games only)
Wins: Nathan Bannister, rhp, Alaska Goldpanners (6)
ERA: Garrett Mundell, rhp, Anchorage Bucs (0.63)
Saves: Kevin Sprague, lhp, Alaska Goldpanners (9)
Strikeouts: Michael RoBards, lhp, Anchorage Glacier Pilots (44)
Best Athlete: Gio Brusa, of, Mat-Su Miners
Best Hitter: A.J. Simcox, ss, Mat-Su Miners; Michael Strentz, c, Anchorage Bucs
Best Power: Christin Stewart, of, Mat-Su Miners
Fastest Base Runner: David Edwards, 2b, Alaska Goldpanners
Best Defensive Player: David Fletcher, ss, Alaska Goldpanners
Best Velocity: Drew Smith, rhp, Mat-Su Miners
Best Breaking Ball: Brendan McCurry, rhp, Anchorage Glacier Pilots
Best Command: Nathan Bannister, rhp, Alaska Goldpanners
TOP 25 PROSPECTS
1. CHRISTIN STEWART, of, Mat-Su Miners (Tennessee/SO in 2014)
Stewart’s reputation as the elite power hitter this summer in Alaska preceded him as he had a legendary high school career at Georgia’s Providence Christian Academy, where he set a state single-season record for home runs as a junior with 26, and completed his career with 69—a state record-tying total, and just seven off the national career mark. Though the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Stewart went deep just three times as a freshman at Tennessee, his raw power potential and significant run-producing ability were prominently on display this summer for Mat-Su. He tied for the Alaska League lead with five homers, and his league-best totals of 14 doubles, 31 RBI and .600 slugging percentage placed him far ahead of his closest pursuers. He was easily viewed by opponents as the most dangerous hitter in the league. The lefthanded batting Stewart generates his superior bat speed, with power to all fields, with his strong, muscular frame and a free, easy, short, compact stroke. He also has a very selective approach at the plate, looks for pitches he can drive and hit .336 overall on the summer, second in the league. He made positive adjustments from one at-bat to the next, and his discerning eye at the plate led to a positive walk-to-strike ratio of 15-14. Although Stewart’s offensive skills are the strength of his game, he made significant strides in the development of his outfield play over the course of the summer for Mat-Su.