Top 10 Under 26’s

The Bull League is chock full of talented players of all ages, but it’s the younger players who hold the keys to the futures of the franchises. In this post we look at ten of the top players under age 26:

10.  MITCHELL NICOLS – RHP – NEVADA SPEEDERS

  • Born: May 14, 1991 (age: 25)
  • Career: 5-4, 2.92 ERA, 22 SV, 108 K, 1.7 WAR
  • 2016: 4-1, 1.94 ERA, 21 SV, 51 K, 1.0 WAR
  • 2 x AEL All-Star
Two-time All-Star RHP Mitchell Nicols has improved with age like a fine wine

Nicols joined the Nevada organization in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, making his debut at the AAA-level based on scouting recommendations. But he quickly rose to the major level that year, though he failed to impress with his 0-3 record and sky-high 5.25 ERA.

But the Speeders had faith in him and brought him back again in 2015, and over 18 relief appearances he accumulated 33.0 solid innings, allowing just 10 earned runs and 6 walks while sending batters back to the dugout at a rate of 9.8 per 9 innings. His ERA dropped to 2.73 that year and he earned his first win and save decisions.

Last season, the improvements continued for Mitchell and he finished with an impressive 4-1 record, together with 21 saves, and an average 1 strikeout per inning pitched, all over a league-leading 41 games. He spent the past off-season really working on his stuff, and has mastered a slider that fools some of the best hitters.

His efforts on the mound were recognized at the negotiating table and last year he won his arbitration case, earning himself a $2.56 million contract through 2017. Doubtless his value will improve if he keeps up his solid numbers.

9.  CRAIG GNARLY – LF – OHIO OXEN

  • Born: March 25, 1993 (age: 24)
  • Career: .315, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 9 SB, 1.8 WAR
  • 2016: .336, 5 HR, 32 RBI, 6 SB, 2.0 WAR
  • 1x Rookie of the Month (Sep 2016)

The 1st round draft pick in the 2013 draft steadily rose through the minor leagues before making an inauspicious debut at the major level in 2015, completing 37 games and only producing 6 doubles as the only extra base hits among his 35 hits that year.  Striking out 30 times, and just walking 5 times, he was rapidly earning a reputation as an impatient hitter who struggled to make contact.

But by the end of 2015 he had taken great strides to improve his ball contact and power, and last season brought his batting average up from .276 to .336. While he wasn’t any more patient at the plate, he found a swing that allowed him to use his speed to leg out more extra base hits, notching 24 doubles and his first triple last year as the Oxen marched their way to a Bull Cup championship.  One of his best games was a late season appearance against New York, where he went 5-for-6, where he hit a double along with that lone triple on the season, and scored four runs.

He could be eligible for arbitration at the end of the season, if he stays healthy and remains on the 40-man roster, which means he could be in for a big pay increase if his upwards trend continues.

8.  VICTOR SARMIENTO – RF – TORONTO NOMADS

  • Born: November 6, 1992 (age: 24)
  • Career: .311, 12 HR, 38 RBI, 2.0 WAR
  • 2016: .311, 12 HR, 38 RBI, 2.0 WAR
  • 1x LL All-Star, 1x Rookie of the Month (July 2016)

Sarmiento was originally brought into Toronto’s organization as a young international prospect in 2009. He finally debuted at A-level Sarnia in 2011, where he had some quality at bats but generally underwhelmed offensively. But he made steady improvements and progressed to AAA-level Brampton in 2014, though it wasn’t until the following season that he started to produce numbers that got the attention of the head office: .274 Avg, .339 OBP, .392 Slugging %, 26 runs and 44 RBIs over a full season of 72 games.

In 2016, he made his Bull League debut and impressed Toronto management, hitting .311 against big league pitching, with a career-high .538 slugging %. He tapped 12 home runs out of his 70 hits, and in the field, committed just one error over nearly 500 innings of play, with 101 total chances.

His efforts last year earned him a Rookie of the Month award for July, along with a trip to the All-Star game on the Lake League team. He finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, and is sure to be a valuable young star for the Nomads for years to come.

7.  DUSTY HERTZ – RHP – ANCHORAGE ACES

  • Born: September 12, 1991 (age: 25)
  • Career: 15-11, 3.73 ERA, 172 K, 4.3 WAR
  • 2016: 6-7, 4.27 ERA, 95 K, 1.9 WAR
  • 1x AEL All-Star
RHP Dusty Hertz hopes to improve his control in 2017

A young right-hander hailing from the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Dusty grew up a lifelong Chicago Pit Bulls fan, who won the first Bull Cup championship ever played in 1991, the year he was born. He recalled future Hall of Famers George Slammer setting the Pit Bulls’ single-season batting record of .390 in 1998, and RF Bill Schaffer nearly breaking it the following year, when he hit .388.

But it was ace starter Ricky Terrazas who really inspired him to play baseball, and to pick pitching as his preferred position in high school. Terrazas set team records for strikeouts in a season (151 in 2004), pitching WAR (4.5 in 2006), and ERA (twice at 2.18, in 2005 and 2006). Dusty was drafted into the Bull League as a 2nd round pick in 2009 by the Kingston Battlements, eventually being traded to the San Diego Seagulls (now Anchorage Aces) in 2012, but wouldn’t make his debut until 2014.

That year, he had four relief appearances, going 1-1 with an ERA of 1.59, but struggling to control his pitches and find the strike zone. The Seagulls brought him back the next year and tried him out as a starter, and he had by then improved significantly, going 8-3 with a still respectable 3.32 ERA, and striking out about 2.8 batters for each walk he allowed. He had really mastered his groundball game and only allowed one home run that season.

Last year, Dusty faltered a bit, despite the team finishing in first place in the AEL West for the first time since 2002. His 4.27 ERA was above the league and the team average, and he went 6-7 despite enjoying around the same run support per game. Some of those issued might be attributable to a sore back that took him off for a week at the end of July.

He has worked intently on his control issues that plagued him last year, in which he threw 13 wild pitches, and continues to throw great stuff, including a 94 mph heater and and wicked changeup. Look to Dusty to produce more quality starts as he matures and grows into the mid-rotation starter role.

6.  ZONG-MING GANG – C – BOSTON BRAWLERS

  • Born: June 11, 1992 (age: 24)
  • Career: .274, 24 HR, 107 RBI, 12 SB, 8.6 WAR
  • 2016: .263, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 2.4 WAR
  • 1x Playoff MVP (2016 LL Elimination Round)

Zong-ming Gang has proved a capable third baseman so far in his 3+ seasons of major level playing. Signed as an international free agent to Boston in 2010, he debuted in 2013, starting in 18 games where he hit .261 and scored 8 runs. By the next year he was named the #6 prospect in the Bull League, and impressed the club with 37 runs, 6 home runs, 17 RBIs and 6 stolen bases through 62 games that year.

He has since then been a key offensive player, and has worked to improve his fielding as well. In October, the club locked him in to a six-year, $65.4 million contract, after he proved himself a capable clutch playoff hitter as well, earning the Lake League Elimination Round MVP Award in the postseason.

5.  BRUCE ABERTO – CF – BOSTON BRAWLERS

  • Born: September 19, 1991 (age: 25)
  • Career: .308, .530 Slg%, 53 HR, 181 RBI, 42 SB, 7.7 WAR
  • 2016: .336, 18 HR, 46 RBI, 2.3 WAR
  • 2x Gold Crown at CF (2013, 2016), 1x Batting title (2016)

Boston has always been full of talent, both old and young. In addition to elite level competitor Zong-ming Gang, the team boasts left-handed batting speedster Bruce Aberto.

CF Bruce Aberto is a key to the Boston offense

Despite missing all of 2015 with an injury, Aberto has been a key to Boston’s recent success as far back as 2013 when he led the Lake League in hits (117) and doubles (27), and batted .343 through 80 games. He was easily voted the Gold Crown Center Fielders for the LL that season, and repeated the feat last season winning the Lake League batting title with a .336 average, blasting 18 homers and notching 46 RBIs as he went.

Gifted with a big power swing along with speedy wheels, his one flaw is that he swings at pretty much every pitch he sees, and is constantly struggling with strikeouts, though he has with experience managed to whittle down his strikeout percentage to just 15.9%, from a high of 30.1% back in 2012.

Aberto continues to drive the Boston offence and should be a dangerous hitter through the 2017 season.

4. JOSE “RACETRACK” RAMIREZ – LF – MONTREAL METROS

  • Born: January 15, 1994 (age: 23)
  • Career: .272, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 56 Runs, 2.6 WAR
  • 2016: .272, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 56 Runs, 2.6 WAR
  • 1x LL All-Star, 1x LL Platinum Glove at LF (2016)

“Racetrack” was named the Top Prospect in the Bull League last season, and a look at his 2014 and 2015 AAA-level numbers reveals why. In 97 games he hit .272, stole 45 bases, and scored 53 runs, making the decision to call him up to the Metros last season an easy one.

He played all 82 games last year, and tied the league lead in doubles with 27, some of them driving in his 45 total RBIs. He appears to be a two-way player as well, committing just 2 errors in LF last year, through 736 innings.

Jose will likely play a major role in the Metros continuing successes for many season to come.

3.  BILL CLARK – C – ANCHORAGE ACES

  • Born: May 19, 1993 (age: 23)
  • Career: .286, 7 HR, 62 RBI, 46 Runs, 2.3 WAR
  • 2016: .335, 6 HR, 54 RBI, 32 Runs, 2.8 WAR

The switch-hitting Clark really blossomed last season after struggling to develop effectively since his pro debut in 2012 at A-level Lubbock.

He improved both offensively and defensively, hitting .335 over 67 games last season, bringing in 54 runners and knocking 6 over the fences, while improving his runners thrown out percentage to 38.1%, and assisting in 3 double plays from behind the plate.

The youngster is still maturing but so far looks to be a reliable batter with a reputation of being difficult to strike out.

2.  WILLIE SALAZAR – LHP – DENVER DANGER

  • Born: August 3, 1991 (age: 25)
  • Career: 28-26, 4.50 ERA, 455 K’s, 8.3 WAR
  • 2016: 7-4, 3.29 ERA, 117 K’s, 3.3 WAR
  • 1x Platinum Glove at P (2012)

Willie swam in the weeds of mediocrity through most of his pro playing time, but showed flashes of brilliance after completing a promising 2013 season. That promise melted away again, then returned with a vengeance last season.

The contrast is amazing, in 2013 he was 7-5, with a 2.76 ERA, striking out 7.9 batters per 9 innings during the course of his 17 starts, 124 total innings pitched. While those numbers were great, 2016’s were even better. On the surface, 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, but one of the most effective ways to measure a pitcher’s performance is with Fielding Independent Pitching, and he went from 3.27 FIP in 2013 to 2.94 FIP last season.

Salazar also mastered his control, walking so few hitters compared to the number of strikeouts that his K/BB hit 4.50.  Yes, he had more run support last season, but Salazar has really matured and developed, and should be even better this year.

He’s added some velocity to his fastball since 2016, and is believed to have improved his control to a large degree as well.

1. GLEN REESE – LF – DENVER DANGER

  • Born: December 12, 1992 (age: 24)
  • Career: .324, .575 Slg%, 27 HR, 114 RBI, 23 SB, 6.8 WAR
  • 2016: .357, .637 Slg%, 18 HR, 64 RBI, 64 Runs, 4.8 WAR
  • 1x AEL All-Star (2016), 1x Gold Crown at DH (2016)
Denver’s Glen Reese can hit for contact and power, run fast, and field well – and is an MVP quality player.

A serious all round threat, the Texan left-handed outfielder Reese has earned praise from colleagues and foes alike, even from intimidating pitchers like Olean Oilers’ Angelo Rodriguez, against whom Glen is 4-for-10 with a home run.

He was a #1 draft pick in 2014 for Denver, and spent just one season in their minor system, showing a very unremarkable start to his baseball career with  a meager .236 average at A-level Fort Worth. But his speed, 24 stolen bases that year, was attractive to the top level Denver management and they brought him on board for 2015.

They were not disappointed.

Glen hit .289 that year against the better pitching, slugging 9 home runs, 50 RBIs, and snagging 10 stolen bases. He was back at it again – and then some – last year, hitting .357 and leading the American Eagle League in runs (64), slugging percentage (.637), OPS (1.065), and WAR (4.8), showing was a complete package of contact, speed and power.

He was an easy vote for the AEL All-Star team, and earned the Gold Crown for the DH position, where he spent most of his lineup time. But he’s also a stellar fielder, as well, playing in every outfield post last season, over 700 innings worth, and just letting up 4 errors.

He is eligible for arbitration at the end of this year and will almost certainly score big. He’s easily in the same league as 2016 LL MVP runner-up Alphonso George (Montreal) or Boston phenom Bruce Aberto, and with a few more years of experience, may end up in a league of his own.

 

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