I mentioned in my article last Friday how much the talent level has improved in recent seasons in the local Cal Ripken League and that attending these games is one of the best kept secrets of the Washington D.C. metro area. This topic certainly grasped the attention of the readers, as I received more emails about this than any other subject this year besides the Nationals need for a center fielder and the 2012 MLB Draft. The general consensus was everyone wanted me to highlight and analyze a few of the more impressive prospects in the league this summer. The names I discuss below are just a few of the many draft prospects littering these rosters, but players that have particularly caught my attention so far this summer.
A rising sophomore at the University of Maryland, Hockaday passed on opportunities to play in the Cape Cod League this summer to stay close to home and play for Youse’s Orioles. An exciting young player, Hockaday possesses an ideal major league body at 6-3 210lbs and looks the part of a first-rate, elite athlete. Hockaday has quick wrists and shows some healthy bat speed, but needs general refinement with his approach at the plate like most young hitters. That said, Hockaday has a knack for barreling the baseball and shows power in batting practice which has not translated into game action quite yet, with only 2 home runs for Maryland this season, and 1 this summer. Hockaday is playing shortstop this summer, but is a natural third baseman in professional baseball with his reasonable athleticism and foot speed, relatively strong arm but mediocre hands. An outstanding collection of tools simply needing polish, Hockaday stands an excellent chance of being an early round selection in the 2014 draft.
Hunter Renfroe has a thick, powerful body frame similar to a Greco-Roman wrestler and has impressive plus power in his right-handed bat. The ball simply sounds different off his bat, with the violence and sound of a car accident, but his raw approach at the plate needs development and Renfroe must make contact more often (51 strikeouts in 61 games in 2012). That said, Renfroe’s 25 extra base hits with wood bats this summer shows his power and potential at the plate, and in time, he could become an average major league hitter with above-average power, quite a valuable commodity.
After spending a great deal of time last summer catching, Mississippi State and Bethesda Big Train have used Renfroe exclusively in the outfield in 2012, where his average or slightly above-average speed and athleticism in addition to his plus throwing arm makes him a surprisingly good outfielder. If a major league scouting department believes he can be an adequate defensive catcher with fine-tuning in the minor leagues, Renfroe could be drafted within the first 3 rounds, and if viewed exclusively as an outfielder, his hitting ability and overall package of tools make him a likely top-5 rounds pick in 2013.
The nephew of legendary Baltimore Orioles infielder Billy Ripken (or perhaps you better recognize his father, Cal), Ryan Ripken is quickly making a name for himself as a baseball player. After being drafted earlier this summer in the 20th round by the Orioles, Ripken decided to pass on their offer and accept a scholarship to play at the University of South Carolina this fall. Ripken made the decision to pass on professional baseball, and he should thrive in the college atmosphere and be an above-average hitter at an elite college program almost immediately.
A massive young man who appears like an awkward kid still growing into his 6-6 or 6-7 frame, Ripken needs to dedicate a significant portion of his time in college adding strength and weight to his skinny, projectable 210lbs. body. A polished player with impressive fundamentals, Ripken has a major crouch at the plate and uses an interesting arm-bar type movement with the bat as his swing trigger. His physical proportions and relative lack of speed seem to destine him to first base, meaning he must get stronger and learn to use his leverage to produce more backspin on the baseball, thus creating more power. Ripken has solid left-handed bat speed and often squares the barrel to the ball, but needs to learn to use his size to produce more pull power. His talent is quite apparent in this league, especially considering he is playing against kids 2-3 years older, making Ryan Ripken a name to watch next year for the Gamecocks and file away for the 2015 Draft.
Silver Spring-Takoma Park Thunderbolts and Radford University junior 1B/DH Jake Taylor flashed his massive right-handed pull power last week in winning the annual Ripken League Home Run Derby, pounding numerous batting practice fastballs well into the trees beyond left field. Taylor has an enormous frame (listed as 6-4 230lbs.) and a lengthy swing which hurts his ability to consistently square up the baseball and hampers his batting average, making scouts question his long-term hit tool. That said his gigantic, fairly athletic frame and “light tower power” should give him a chance at professional baseball either in 2013 or more likely, as an intriguing senior sign in 2014… Although the pitching talent in the Ripken league trails the hitters this summer, VMI junior left-handed pitcher Connor Bach is an interesting name to remember, as his 6-5 210lbs. frame has plenty of projection left and he owns a low-90s fastball and flashes a decent breaking pitch. In his 26.2 innings pitched this summer for the Vienna River Dogs, Wade has a 6.08 ERA with 44 strikeouts against 19 walks and 27 hits allowed; his below-average command and lack of polish are major impediments to his current success, but his size, fastball velocity, and vast room for improvement will keep him on scout’s radars next spring.
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