Midwest League fans saw an impressive crop of talent come through the league in 2013, with future stars like Byron Buxton and Robert Stephenson ripping the league to shreds. Unfortunately, I saw neither of those guys! I saw a fairly large group of MWL ballplayers come through Kane County and Beloit, but unfortunately missed on a few of the bigger names, and as such this list will only touch on those I saw live. Also, the pitching I saw from behind home plate was…limited in number. Please leave a comment below if you disagree with one of my assessments!
Best Hit Tool: Albert Almora
Almora has an uncanny knack of putting the barrel on the baseball, regardless of whether or he was sitting on a batting practice fastball or got fooled by an offspeed pitch. He makes audibly solid contact with an extraordinary amount of pitches, and was by far the best pure hitter I saw in the Midwest League this summer.
Next Best: Carlos Correa. I think he went 18/12 in the Quad Cities games I saw, and each was a rocket line drive.
Best Raw Power: Reggie Golden
Two of the three longest in-game home runs I have seen in person, at any level, were hit by Golden (I haven’t been particularly lucky at seeing monster homers in MLB parks). Golden is a large, large man, and his power is very raw, but it is extremely legit. I hope he can stay healthy enough for that monster raw to show up in games more often.
Honorable Mention: Dan Vogelbach. Occasionally hits the ball harder than you would even expect a man of his size to.
Best Speed: Andrew Toles
Unfortunately, I do not have good video of him, or an accurate time on his home-to-first, but Toles can fly. I saw no one this summer who even approached Toles’ speed, and his 62 SB this season backs that up.
Honorable mention: Byron Buxton missed the only series I had the chance to see him in with a sore hamstring, but he coached first base and he is easily the fastest looking coach in history.
Best Glove: Albert Almora
At the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time…Albert Almora is an incredibly talented centerfielder. He doesn’t have the physical tools to cover huge swaths of land or gun down scores of runners, but he has been gifted with an inexplicably advanced ability to read where a flyball is going to end up.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Correa. Correa is much more controlled and smooth at shortstop than I would expect a 6’4″ tall 18 year old to be. Correa does an excellent job of slowing the game down, possibly the best of any MWL’er.
Best Arm: Reggie Golden
At a game Kenny and I attended together, Golden unleashed a throw that left a vapor trail and drew audible expletives from four middle aged family men around us. Incidentally, Golden also tops our list for MWL Best Arms thanks to his freakish, NFL running back sized arms that he can’t get his uniform sleeves around. (Kenny: I don’t think anyone in the building was more excited about that throw than Tommy and I…….like we were REALLY excited)
Honorable Mention: Tyrone Taylor. Taylor’s arm was an easy plus when I saw him, accurate and fairly strong, allowing him to control the runners on balls hit to the outfield.
Most #Want: Dan Vogelbach
Dan Vogelbach ended up being one of my favorite players to watch this summer. It’s plainly obvious that he cares a whole hell of a lot, possibly to his own detriment at times (ex. after a weak groundout he was visibly upset with himself for multiple innings afterwords). And when you factor in the work he has done to drop large amounts of weight, he’s clearly the league leader in #Want.
Best Fastball: Tyler Wagner
I saw Wagner in mid-June in the middle of a very strong season. I had no idea who he was, but he started off the game by pumping 95-96 mph gas with decent movement. When he stayed on top of it, the fastball had good plane, but he occasionally dropped down, making the pitch much less effective.
Honorable Mention: Pierce Johnson. Johnson commands his two-seamer/sinker well, and at 92-94mph it is a very good pitch.
Best Breaking Ball: Dillon Maples
As with everything I write about Maples, I must mention that I saw him on his only “on” night in the Midwest League. And when he’s “on”, Maples posses the single best pitch I saw in the MWL, a mid-70’s 12-6 breaker with impressive depth that had opposing hitters constantly flinching in the box.
Honorable Mention: Michael Ynoa. Ynoa’s curve was a big breaker, a money-making type of pitch if he can develop a consistent feel for it.
Best Changeup: Blake Snell
Snell’s changeup gave Kane County hitters fits all night, inducing plenty of weak contact and a pair of brutally ugly swings from Rock Shoulders. The pitch sits in the low 80s, complimenting his 90-94 mph fastball well, and it really runs hard away from right handed bats.
Honorable Mention: Michael Heesch. Heesch’s changeup is well-developed and has good fading action.
Best Command: Michael Heesch
Heesch commands his fastball and changeup reasonably well, allowing him to post solid numbers despite very underwhelming stuff. He worked in and out, stuck to the corners, and sequenced his pitches well enough to keep hitters uncomfortable in the box.
Honorable Mention: Pierce Johnson. By the end of his stay in Kane County Johnson was commanding his fastball very well, recovering from location troubles early in the season.
Best Pickoff Move: Pierce Johnson
This is a very minor mention, but given how often Pierce threw over this year, I figured it deserved recognition. Johnson’s feet are lightning quick and his release is even quicker. I did not see him pick anyone off this year, but with a little refinement the move should be very effective in the future, as much of a weapon in controlling the run game as a righty can have.