The two best teams from the Wisconsin/Illinois pod of the Northwoods League faced off against one another on Friday, July 17. The biggest draw in the contest was the pitching matchup between two Power 5 arms – Louisville’s Glenn Albanese and UCLA’s Jake Saum – with Albanese being especially intriguing considering he spent the summer among the league’s strikeout leaders.
Both offenses were well represented by hitters who clearly had an idea of what they were doing at the plate. The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters boasted a more physical looking lineup while the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders had some intriguing athleticism sprinkled in.
Glenn Albanese, RHP, Louisville
Albanese, who was draft eligible this past spring, hasn’t seen too much time on the mound since arriving at Louisville, but he finally appeared to be hitting his stride in the Cardinals bullpen as a key setup man. He has a knack for missing bats and you can’t miss him on the mound given his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame. He uses his size pretty well to throw on a downhill plane and has two pitches that should allow him to continue to have success at the next level.
His fastball sat at 92-93 mph and he maintained that velocity well during his four-inning stint. His bread-and-butter offering is his breaking ball, a pitch he’s able to manipulate the power and shape of, having success with it as both a pitch he can drop into the strike zone or when he’s hunting for Ks by burying it down in the strike zone. It has more curveball shape when thrown in the mid-70s, with sharp 12-to-6 to 11-to-5 break. The power version is thrown at 77-79 and has more explosive two-plane life.
He repeats well and tunnels well between his fastball-breaking ball combination. He mixed in two changeups, each of which recorded 80 mph, in his start and showed one or two more when warming up before innings, but otherwise he didn’t incorporate the pitch much. When he did he maintained his arm speed and the pitch had some fade, otherwise, it was more of a “slow ball” version of his fastball but does give him a third option if starting is in his future, possibly next spring for Louisville. Otherwise, it’s easy envisioning him throwing more in the 95-96 range in shorter stints out of the bullpen.
Jake Saum, LHP, UCLA
Prior to the 2020 season being shut down due to COVID-19, Saum made four relief appearances for UCLA and pitched well as a freshman, not allowing any runs in three of those four outings. He’s a smaller-framed lefty, listed at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds. Like all UCLA pitchers he throws three pitches for strikes – fastball, curveball and changeup – and does a pretty good job changing speeds and eye levels.
There’s some crossfire to his delivery, particularly when throwing his fastball. His arm does noticeably slow when throwing his secondary offerings, which also takes some of that crossfire out of his effectiveness. Through the first couple of innings he pitched well and really kept the Wisconsin Rapids hitters off balance with a live arm and high energy approach and he’s a fiery competitor that doesn’t back down.
The fastball was consistently 87-88 mph, grabbing a 90 and a 91 each once in the first frame. His slurvy curveball was thrown at 75-79 mph and his changeup 80-81 mph. His best pitch of the outing was a really sharp curveball he dropped in to get the second out of the second inning. He tended to elevate the changeup, a pitch that didn’t have a ton of movement but did do a nice job to keep hitters’ timing off of his fastball. As he crept into the third and fourth innings of his 3 1/3-inning outing he started to get hit and hit hard, but he should be a key part of UCLA’s pitching staff moving forward.
Sam Hliboki, RHP, Vanderbilt
Considering he was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school I was a little surprised to see Hliboki throwing his fastball in the 85-86 mph range coming out of the bullpen for Wisconsin Rapids. He has good size (6-3/205) and is a well-tapered/proportioned athlete, he just doesn’t throw especially hard. He’s also more of a slinger with a lower arm slot, which creates some deception and makes him more difficult to hit. He pounds the strike zone consistently, which does make him hittable, but once he found his groove he was able to effectively change speeds between his fastball and mid- to upper-70s breaking ball.
Ricky Castro, RHP, Purdue
Castro looks like a bullpen arm at a strong and sturdy 6-foot-1, 200-pounds. There’s obvious arm strength and he throws a lot of fastballs, consistently sitting at 90-91 mph and ranging from 88 to 92. The command wasn’t especially sharp and he didn’t throw anything but fastballs, but the arm talent is there. He didn’t get many looks in the spring and spent his freshman season at Parkland (JUCO), but expect Castro to be a bigger part of the Boilermakers bullpen in 2021.
Grant Leonard, RHP, Iowa
Leonard served as Iowa’s closer each of the last two years, recording 14 saves during the 2019 season. The Dock Spiders turned to Leonard to get them out of a high leverage situation and he delivered, showing very good command of an 89 mph fastball and a low-80s slider. He clearly likes throwing the slider and threw both pitches down in the zone to induce weak swings, and equally weak contact. He was a redshirt senior during the COVID-shortened season but it’s hard not imagining him landing on his feet somewhere, even if takes him to indy ball at the next level.
Wisconsin Rapids Hitters
Kyle Teel, C, Virginia
One of a small handful of recent high school graduates that played in the Northwoods League, Teel had a good showing offensively in this look, drawing a walk and hitting a pair of hard-hit singles to his pull side in right field as a left-handed hitter. He has good size and strength already with a well-proportioned frame that has some room for added weight. He displayed a good eye at the plate and waited for a pitch he liked, the first time doing so against the left-handed Jake Saum. He has strong hands and wrists with the ability to turn on balls thrown on the inner half.
Defensively Teel didn’t get a chance to show off his arm, and in between innings he threw down to second from his knees, but even those throws were in the 2.30-2.35 second range, so there is definitely some arm talent. He moved well laterally and did a nice job smothering a few balls thrown in the dirt, partcularly from Albanese, who wasn’t opposed to spiking a few breaking balls from time to time.
Jack-Thomas Wold, 1B, UNLV
It’s hard not to like the way Wold plays the game. He falls into a challenging physical type projection-wise as he’s 5-foot-10, 220-pounds, but he wears it well and certainly doesn’t look as though conditioning is, or will be, a problem for him. His defense as a left/left athlete stood out initially, really doing a good job smothering a couple of rockets hit to him at first base and he twice went to second on challenging ground balls, as opposed to taking the easy out at first base, and twice delivered strikes to the defender covering the bag putting the ball exactly where it needed to go.
It wasn’t a loud day at the plate but it’s easy to see the promise given his approach. He doesn’t get cheated and really knows his zone and what he can handle. He has had a productive summer with some clutch hits and some big home runs, even if his offensive highlight on this day was an RBI groundout.
Billy Cook, OF, Pepperdine
Cook had a relatively quiet game, until the very end of the game, when he delivered an absolute mammoth walk-off home run that looked like a second-deck job had it been hit in a big league ballpark. He’s a more physical athlete that I had originally thought, and while he played center field in this game, his size and arm likely will push him to left field at the next level. A right-handed hitter, he has a good approach and looks to pull the ball, as he did on his big, big fly.
Ryan Walstad, 2B/3B, Sacramento State
Walstad was another physical hitter providing good production in the Wisconsin Rapids lineup. He got off to a fast start, and although he didn’t have a big day at the plate, he showed every time that he stepped into the batter’s box that he had a clear understanding of what he was doing and the strike zone in general. A left-handed hitter, he displayed a good eye and a patient approach and could be poised for a big season at Sacramento State.
Andy Garriola, OF, Old Dominion
Of all of the big, physical hitters in the Wisconsin Rapids lineup, none stood out more than 6-foot-4, 225-pound outfielder Andy Garriola. Garriola also enjoyed a loud summer for the Rafters, routinely providing big hits. In this game he smoked a line drive back up the middle in the fifth inning and also put his big arm strength on display in right field.
Christian Sepulveda, 3B, UTRGV
The physicality theme continues with Sepulveda at 6-foot-5, 215-pounds. Playing third base, the biggest thing that stood out for Sepulveda was his arm strength, giving him one clearly defined tool. He’s raw at at the plate but there is clear upside in pretty much everything he does. Although he was a senior last season for UTRGV, he hit just shy of .300 and batted .274-9-40 as a junior in 2019.
Fond du Lac Hitters
Victor Scott II, OF, West Virginia
Coming into this game I was completely unfamiliar with Victor Scott II, and he showed enough to make me hungry for more in hopeful future looks at the young athlete. He received almost regular playing time as a freshman. He’s a compact yet wiry strong 5-foot-11, 175-pound outfielder that clearly has some tools and is the type of athlete head coach Randy Mazey has had great success with during his time with WVU.
His biggest eye-opening moment was a home run that he hit off of Albanese, drilling a pitch over the right field wall for a solo shot. That run was the first that Albanese gave up this summer, and it was a great look into the quick-twitch kind of actions, and bat speed, that Scott possesses. He showed good movements in the outfield as well and appears to have some five-tool upside.
John Rhodes, OF, Kentucky
One of the Northwoods League’s most polished hitters, Rhodes was also one of the league’s leading hitters before shutting down his season in early August. He slashed .373/.491/.494 showing the patience and bat control you’d expect from those numbers. He didn’t have an especially loud game in this look but he had one plate appearance that especially stood out. In the top of the ninth in a close contest he fouled off numerous good pitches, including several 90 mph fastballs, from Wisconsin Rapids’ Ricky Castro before getting hit by a pitch. Even if he hadn’t gotten hit by the pitch it just seemed like he was going to will himself on base one way or another.
Taylor Jackson, OF, Illinois
Similar to Rhodes, Jackson didn’t have an especially loud performance, but he did enjoy a very successful summer overall for a loaded Fond du Lac lineup. In this game he was 1-for-5, out-racing a ground ball for an infield single, and it’s clear his game is predicated by his speed. That speed makes him a threat on the basepaths and in center field. He worked the count fairly well and appeared to be content hitting the ball in the ground to take advantage of his wheels. He’s another player I hope to get more looks at after batting .296 as a junior for Illinois.
Parker Noland, IF/OF, Vanderbilt
I’ll have more on Noland in another feature after a second look at the Fond du Lac lineup, but Noland clearly displayed his advanced plate discipline and overall skills, hitting a clean single to right field off of Wisconsin Rapids starter Glenn Albanese. Noland played third base in this game, and while he showed to have enough range and soft enough hands for the position, I’m not sure he has the ideal arm strength to stick at the hot corner long term. I do need to see him again to say that last part with more confidence, and regardless of that, a left-handed hitter with his versatility and athleticism to play either corner infield spots and potentially either corner outfield spot (I saw him play left field later this summer) increases his overall value as a prospect. He will be a sophomore at Vanderbilt for the 2021 season.
Ryan Ritter, SS, Kentucky
Another talented member of the FDL lineup, Ritter also didn’t do much at the plate in this look but he did show off his premium athleticism defensively. He showed excellent quickness by ranging deep up the middle to make a diving stop. He also ran a 4.32-second home-to-first time as a right-handed hitter. He has good size and is wiry strong and along with John Rhodes is expected to be a key part of Kentucky’s success in 2021 after playing the 2020 season at John A. Logan College (JUCO) where he slashed .342/.424/.481.
Sam Novitske, 2B, Oregon
Another player that I’ll have more on in a later feature, but Novitske was one of the Dock Spiders more consistent hitters all summer. He didn’t start in this game but had a key pinch hitting appearance in which he delivered a base hit up the middle that gave his team the lead. Novitske exhibited really good barrel control in my looks at him and consistently hit the ball on a line, and to all fields.