In 2017, we saw the emergence of several rookies in the Bull League, including ROTY winners Jose Soto (Anchorage) and Corny Maise (Ohio). Many had breakout first-year performances, leaving a lot to look forward to for the coming season.
In this story, we look at some of the top sophomores expected to keep up the pace for 2018.
DENNIS “LITTLE FISH” GUPPY (CF) – DETROIT MOTORHEADS
Last May’s Rookie of the Month showed he is capable of much more than his .212 season average, which at a first glance doesn’t impress. But his 14-0 stolen base record, and nearly flawless 567.2 innings in center field, allowing just a single error, allow us to patiently await his hitting to develop further.
The 23-year-old is on track to become one of the league’s finest talents, and with his speed, he will certainly be an extra-base threat when he finally learns to swing with more patience.
RON “FLOUNDER” OSBORN (C) – NEVADA SPEEDERS
The handlebar-mustachioed Osborn had a very surprising and very impressive first year in baseball, after signing to Nevada as an undrafted free agent at the end of 2016. He finished second in AEL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, behind phenom Jose Soto, after hitting 21 home runs and 56 RBIs through 95 games, and putting together a .786 OPS.
Behind the plate, he was a menace to opposing teams, allowing just one error in 819.1 innings, and throwing out 7 runners for a 28% RTO, and earning a Platinum Glove Award at the catcher position for his debut year.
In time, he could develop into more of a contact hitter, and if he does he will be even more lethal a threat.
JASON “CRUISE” NELSON (CF) – BATTLE CREEK ATTACK
Another high-flying two-way threat, Nelson came to the Battle Creek Attack in a trade with Chicago in June of 2016, after having already been drafted by Battle Creek the year before. He had failed to sign a contract and was drafted by the Pit Bulls, but was part of the deal that brought veteran Jordan Garcia to Chicago.
After his first full year at the major level, last year’s #60 prospect proved to be worth the wait for Battle Creek. His June was particularly hot at the plate. Despite only batting .234 that month, he hit 8 homers and had 34 RBIs, earning both a Player of the Week and a Rookie of the Month. He ended the year with 16 homers, 47 RBIs, and a 14-1 stolen base record.
Nelson made working the outfield look easy, crafting a +5.4 zone rating and just allowing a lone error to mar his 702.1 innings in center field, and a flawless 175.2 innings in left field for which he took home the LL Platinum Glove Award for LF, and earned a second place vote for Rookie of the Year.
MATT “FLOTSAM” BROCK (P) – TORONTO NOMADS
Toronto has continued its tradition of finding and nurturing great young pitching talent, and Matt Brock certainly appears to fit this mold. The 29-year-old sophomore had an interesting path to the majors, beginning as a Boston Brawlers minor leaguer in 2013, before leaving for the defunct Bull Oceanic League in 2016 and playing for the Adelaide Aboriginals, where he went 1-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 4 starts.
After the BOL folded, he was eligible for the 2017 draft, where Toronto took him min the 6th round. He spent just 3 games in AA-level before earning a promotion to the Nomads and debuting with a July 10 loss to the Seattle Salts in one of the inter-league games. But he kept at it, his ERA never breaking the 2.00 mark as he finished the year 4-2 after 10 starts, including an impressive 2-hitter shutout against the juggernaut, Montreal Metros, on August 12.
Brock earned his first complete game shutout later against Battle Creek and ended the year with a 1.71 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. The left-handed Brock looks forward to contributing again in 2018 as a back end starter and is expected to continue to excel in that role.
NEAL MORAN (P) – BOSTON BRAWLERS
Moran was picked up in the 2015 draft in the first round, and already is proving he deserves his spot in the Boston rotation. The 23-year-old from Nortonville, Kentucky, spent most of his first year and all of 2016 with AA-level Madison, where despite an ERA above 4.00 he showed steady signs of improvement, particularly in improving his ground-out percentage.
He was one of the top LL rookies in wins in 2017, after he made the major level roster, and has stretched out his pitch count from 90/game at AA-level, to 115/game with Boston last year. He finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, and if things stay on the upwards trend he could find himself promoted from the #5 slot in the rotation very soon.
TONY RIJO (P) – NORFOLK SHARKS
The Sharks took Rijo in a mid-season trade with the Nomads that sent veteran Freddy Chaidez to Toronto. The Nomads had evaluated their pitching strengths and saw they could leverage some of it for some offensive improvements. At the time, Rijo was performing poorly for Toronto, with an 0-4 record, but a 3.35 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, showing solid fundamentals.
Both teams knew Rijo would eventually break through his rut, and though he failed to slow the run scoring with Norfolk, he managed his first two major level wins after the trade and continued to strikeout batters to the tune of 104 on the season.
The basic issue with Rijo was that he was pushed into a start role before he was ready, but the 26-year-old from Venezuela has raw power, a 100 mph fastball and a forkball that nearly as hard, and that helped induce an impressive 18 grounders into double plays last year.
Eventually, Rijo will settle down and we think 2018 will be a marked improvement over 2017, continuing an upward trend with him that should run several seasons.