Summer Collegiate : : Story
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Southern League Prospect Reports

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game

Official League Website:
2013 Summer Collegiate Top Prospect coverage
Southern League Top Prospect list (free)

The Ballantyne Smokies, the longest continuous operating franchise in the 15-year-old Southern Collegiate League, won their first league title in 2012. They left little doubt they were the most-talented team in the league by claiming five of the 10 positions on Perfect Game’s list of the league’s best prospects.

Winning was a little harder to come by this summer for the Smokies as they finished second to the Lake Norman Copperheads in both the regular season and postseason tournament, but the Smokies outdid themselves by claiming six spots on the accompanying list of the leagues’ Top 10 prospects. That includes the top two in strapping righthanders Ryan Butler and Johnny Piedmonte, who had the unusual distinction of not even pitching competitively during the 2013 college season while on the mend from Tommy John surgery.

Both were as good as new this summer, though the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Butler didn’t win a game in the SCBL, either. However, a fastball that topped out at 97 mph was very much the talk of the league and prompted the New York Yankees to draft him in the 16
th round in June. In the end, Butler never did come to terms with the Yankees and enrolled in college at UNC Charlotte.


Year League Established:
States Represented in League: North Carolina, South Carolina
No. of Teams in League: 7
Regular-Season Champion (best record): Lake Norman Copperheads (26-14)
Post-Season Champion: Lake Norman Copperheads
No. 1 Prospect, 2012: Brian Holberton, c/of, Ballantyne Smokies (North Carolina; Astros/9th round)
First 2012 Player Selected, 2013 Draft: Brian Holberton, c/of, Ballantyne Smokies (North Carolina; Astros/9th round)

Most Valuable Player:
Brandon Soat, of/lhp, Carolina Chaos (Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne)


Batting Average:
Brandon Soat, of/lhp, Carolina Chaos (.375)
Slugging Percentage: Aaron Wright, 1b, Morganton Aggies (.588)
On-Base Average: Brandon Soat, of/lhp, Carolina Chaos (.506)
Home Runs: Aaron Wright, 1b, Morganton Aggies (5)
RBI: Luke Gibbs, 2b/ss, Ballantyne Smokies (23)
Stolen Bases: Tyler Chadwick, 3b/c, Ballantyne Smokies (15)


Stephen Vaughan, rhp, Ballantyne Smokies (6)
ERA: Brennan Daniels, rhp, Statesville Owls (0.65)
Saves: Justin Alexander,rhp, Carolina Vipers (9)
Strikeouts: T.J. Fussell, rhp, Morganton Aggies (55)


Best Athlete:
Luke Gibbs, 2b/ss, Ballantyne Smokies
Best Hitter: Forrest Brandt, of, Lake Norman Copperheads
Best Power: Aaron Wright, 1b, Morganton Aggies
Fastest Base Runner: Forrest Brandt, of, Lake Norman Copperheads
Best Defensive Player: Luke Gibbs, 2b/ss, Ballantyne Smokies
Best Velocity: Ryan Butler, rhp, Ballantyne Smokies
Best Breaking Ball: T.J. Fussell, rhp, Morganton Aggies
Best Command: Stephen Vaughan, rhp, Ballantyne Smokies


1. RYAN BUTLER, rhp, Ballantyne Smokies (UNC Charlotte/JR in 2014)
Butler’s baseball career came full cycle this summer as he returned to Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell High, the very location where he achieved his greatest success to this point in a checkered career. As a high-school senior in 2010, he led that school to a North Carolina 4-A state title and was named tournament MVP in the process. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Butler has pitched only sporadically since, but with a fastball that was clocked at 97 mph in a pre-draft workout by the New York Yankees, he was scooped up in the 16th round of the draft in June by that club. He was also an easy choice as the top prospect this summer in the SCBL, while working in relief for the Smokies, who played their home games at Ardrey Kell High. Butler was passed over in the 2010 draft and attended Marshall out of high school, where he went 0-1, 5.87 in 15 innings of work there as a freshman, prompting him to transfer to Northwest Florida State CC, where he went 2-2, 4.88 in 24 innings in 2012 as a sophomore, before injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Knowing he would miss the 2013 season entirely while in rehabilitation, Butler elected to transfer back home to Charlotte, where he enrolled in classes at Central Piedmont CC, which doesn’t even field a baseball program. He soon began working out on the side, however, stimulating considerable interest from the Yankees, other big-league clubs and area Division I programs, but the Yankees were never able to sign him after drafting him, even as they raised their initial offer of $100,000 to $200,000 at the signing deadline. In the meantime, UNC Charlotte offered him a chance to play there as a red-shirt junior—initially for no scholarship money, but on a full ride once they learned the Yankees had stepped up and drafted him in a premium round and were putting on a full-court press to sign him. All the while, Butler was brought along slowly by the Smokies this summer in his first crack at competitive pitching in 16 months, but he quickly began dominating hitters in the SCBL, recording saves in his first two outings while striking out eight in a combined three innings. Over the course of the summer, his fastball routinely sat at 93-94 mph, occasionally peaking at 97, and he complemented it with an effective changeup. It was only towards the end of the season that he gradually began working in a breaking ball. Overall, Butler made six relief appearances for the Smokies, posting a 0-0, 1.58 record with four saves. In 11 innings, he walked seven and struck out 16. With continued refinement of his stuff and command this fall and next spring at UNC Charlotte, Butler could conceivably vault significantly up draft boards in 2014. Butler already has been indoctrinated to the realm of pro ball as his father Mike, a lefthander who pitched at North Carolina State, was drafted in the 46th round in 1991 by the California Angels and spent five years in that organization.

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