Summer Collegiate : : Story
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Valley League prospect reports

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Wake Forest

Official League Website

League Strength: ***

Valley League top 35 prospects (list)

By most any count, the Harrisonburg Turks and Winchester Royals were the best teams in the Valley League in 2011. They posted the best regular-season records at 32-12 and 29-15, respectively, and dominated the accompanying list of the league’s 35 best prospects, with 14 selections between them.

But neither the Turks nor the Royals was able to put the finishing touch on otherwise special seasons as they were both upset in the semi-final round of the league’s eight-team playoff, leaving the Covington Lumberjacks and Rockbridge Rapids, league also-rans, to battle for the title. Both those teams limped into the playoffs with 21-23 records, and Covington managed to get hot when it counted most by winning six of eight playoff contests.

Harrisonburg outfielder Mac Williamson was singled out as the league’s best prospect after finishing second in all three triple-crown categories—batting (.381), homers (10) and RBIs (38)—even as he missed 10 games altogether, including the final week of the season when he fouled a ball off his shin. The absence of his big bat in the heart of the Turks lineup was especially missed in the team’s two-game playoff sweep at the hands of Rockbridge.

But the Covington and Rockbridge rosters were even more depleted by the time they met in the final, mostly because of late-season player defections, and Covington managed to win the title with just 16 active players on its roster for the playoffs, including just six pitchers. Rockbridge was so thin on pitching in the championship round that it was forced to start outfielder Tyler Molinaro in the deciding game, even though Molinaro had not pitched a game all season. Predictably, he lasted less than two innings as Covington jumped out to an early 5-0 lead on its way to a 10-4 win.

Neither Covington nor Rockbridge was much of a factor in the accompanying list of the league’s top prospects. Only one Lumberjacks player cracked the top 20, righthander Tyler Duffie, but he had long since left for home by the time the his team completed its unlikely run to a league title.

This season’s league final was reminiscent of 2009, when the Nos. 7-8 seeds, Haymarket and Covington, reached the final series. Haymarket, 22-22 in the regular season, won seven of eight playoff tilts that year to win the title.

While Williamson, a Wake Forest product who was a late-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2011 draft, asserted himself as the league’s top prospect with his combination of raw tools and stellar play, it was generally agreed by coaches and scouts that the talent in the Valley League, especially on the mound, was down when compared to 2010.

At any rate, it is highly unlikely that the league will produce a player in next year’s draft that will come close to matching the exploits of infielder Cory Spangenberg, last year’s Valley League batting champion who became the 10
th overall pick in June after a highly-productive 2011 season at a Florida junior college.


Year League Established:
States Represented in League: Virginia.
No. of Teams in League: 12 (11 in 2010).
Regular-Season Champion (best overall record): Harrisonburg Turks.
Post-Season Champion: Covington Lumberjacks.
Teams, PG CrossChecker Summer 50/Final Ranking: No. 14 Harrisonburg Turks, No. 41 Winchester Royals.
No. 1 Prospect, 2010 (per PG CrossChecker): Taylor Sandefur, rhp, Waynesboro Generals (Western Carolina; played in Cape Cod League in 2011).
First 2010 Player Selected, 2011 Draft: Cory Spangenberg, 2b/3b, Winchester Royals (Indian River State, Fla., JC; Padres/1st round, 10th pick).

Most Valuable Player:
Brad Zebedis, 1b, Strasburg Express.
Pitcher of the Year: Aaron Luchterhand, rhp, Harrisonburg Turks.


Batting Average:
Brad Zebedis, 1b, Strasburg Express (.420).
Slugging Percentage: Mac Williamson, of, Harrisonburg Turks (.706).
On-Base Average: Brad Zebedis, 1b, Strasburg Express (.490).
Home Runs: Nathan Minnich, 1b, Winchester Royals (11).
RBIs: Dodson McPherson, of, Harrisonburg Turks (44).
Stolen Bases: Brady Wilson, of, Winchester Royals; Jay Gonzalez, of, Harrisonburg Turks (32).


Jonathan Armold, rhp, Front Royal Cardinals; Greg Welsh, lhp, Winchester Royals (7).
ERA: Aaron Luchterhand, rhp, Harrisonburg Turks (1.60).
Saves: Pat Christensen, rhp, Harrisonburg Turks (10).
Strikeouts: Lincoln Rassi, rhp, Winchester Royals (71).


Best Athlete:
Dale Carey, of, Winchester Royals.
Best Hitter: Brad Zebedis, 1b, Strasburg Express.
Best Power: Mac Williamson, of, Harrisonburg Turks; Matt Snyder, 1b, Winchester Royals.
Fastest Base Runner: Brady Wilson, of, Winchester Royals.
Best Defensive Player: Dale Carey, of, Luray Wranglers.
Best Velocity: Chris Devenski, rhp, Woodstock River Bandits.
Best Breaking Ball: Lincoln Rassi, rhp, Winchester Royals.
Best Command: Ryan Overcash, rhp, Rockbridge Rapids.


1. MAC WILLIAMSON, of, Harrisonburg Turks (Wake Forest/JR in 2012)
SCOUTING PROFILE: The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Williamson was the unquestioned star of the Valley League this summer, hitting .381-10-38. He was second in all three triple-crown categories, despite missing 10 games, including the final week of the regular season after he fouled a ball off his ankle earlier in the summer and the resulting bruise turned into a staph infection which ultimately led to minor surgery to remove the infection. His booming bat was notably absent as Harrisonburg fell in the second round of playoffs after dominating the regular season. Injuries are nothing new to Williamson, who was a promising pitching prospect at North Carolina’s Wake Forest-Rolesville High, before hurting his shoulder as a high-school senior. He underwent labrum surgery as a freshman at Wake Forest, was red-shirted that season and hasn’t pitched since. It’s taken Williamson time to master the art of hitting, but he made big strides in that area last spring at Wake Forest by leading that team in batting (.277), homers (12) and RBIs (49). Though he wasn’t taken by the Boston Red Sox until the 46th round of this year’s draft, Williamson would almost certainly have been claimed as early as the fifth round had he been willing to accept slot money. As it was, the Red Sox followed him closely most of the summer in the Valley League, but the two sides never could find common ground on a signing bonus. On the strength of his breakout summer, Williamson returns to Wake Forest as one of the top outfield prospects in the 2012 college draft class. Power is his most-obvious tool and it was most graphically on display this summer in the Valley League’s Home Run Derby, held in conjunction with the all-star game, when he handily won the competition with a number of long, towering blasts. But Williamson also became more of a complete hitter over the course of the summer as he made mechanical adjustments to his swing and thrived with more protection in the Harrisonburg lineup than he was afforded in college. He drove balls with authority to all fields, and learned to keep his hands back better to go the other way more consistently on breaking balls. He also gained a better idea of the strike zone and cut his strikeout total from 58 in the spring to 21 on the summer, though scouts still need to be convinced that Williamson can hit high-velocity pitching and off-speed stuff consistently. The remainder of Williamson’s tools are solid as he has an above-average right-field arm and has been clocked in the 60 in the 6.55-second range.

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