After seeing the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders in mid-July I wanted to get another look at them given the depth of talent. In that first game, two of their best hitters – Tim Elko and Sam Novitske – didn’t start the game. They started in the second game I saw, a Sunday afternoon contest against the Rockford Rivets and both have enjoyed big summers at the plate.
The same is true for Vanderbilt corner infielder Parker Noland, who will be looked upon to be one of the primary run producers for the Commodores in 2021. The Dock Spiders are the Northwoods League’s best run-scoring unit and faced a new-look Rockford Rivets team that had to replenish nearly their entire roster several days earlier due to COVID-19 concerns.
Fond du Lac’s roster also had seen several of their more notable players depart, particularly in their everyday lineup, as Taylor Jackson, Victor Scott II, John Rhodes and Ryan Ritter were no longer with the team.
Parker Noland, 3B/1B, Vanderbilt
The more I watch Noland the more I like him, as he’s a pretty intense competitor that really locks in when he steps into the left-handed batter’s box. In my first look at Noland he did a nice job battling one of the league’s top strikeout artists, Glenn Albanese (Louisville), for a base hit to right field. In this game he opened the game with a hard hit single and added two more base knocks, a walk and a hit by pitch as the game progresses.
His patience and approach stand out the most, as he clearly was looking for a pitch he could drive and appeared to be able to identify what pitches those would be out of the pitcher’s hand. When he got a pitch he like he jumps all over it, otherwise he was perfectly content keeping the bat on his shoulder. Of his 40 base hits on the summer only six went for extra bases (6 doubles, 1 homer) which isn’t surprising considering his approach in the games I saw of him. He is short and direct to the baseball with a line drive swing plane with the ability to consistently square up the baseball. There’s clear strength in his frame to hit for more power and you get a sense that if that was his priority there would be more extra-base production.
Defensively he played left field in this game, and similar to the first time I saw him, when he played third base, I didn’t get a great look at his arm or overall defensive talents. In the first game I did wonder whether or not he had the arm to stick at third base, but that’s to be determined. He has good athletic actions and lateral quickness to handle both infield corners and both outfield corners, and the fact that he bats left-handed is also an added incentive. He could be poised for a big, breakout sophomore season at Vanderbilt next spring.
Tim Elko, 1B/OF, Ole Miss
A promising recruit coming out of high school, Elko took a couple of years to find his swing for Ole Miss, really coming into his own in the 17 games of the 2020 season leading up to its premature ending. He slashed .354/.373/.667 in 14 games, 12 of which were starts, and was a big part of the team’s 16-game winning streak after losing their first game of the year.
And Elko carried that success into the summer, his second straight summer spent with the Dock Spiders in the Northwoods League. Through 35 games played, Elko was slashing .331/.410/.488 with five home runs and 22 RBI and a knack for providing the team with a big hit exactly when they needed one.
You won’t miss Elko on the field with a hulking 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame. He carries that size well and is fairly light on his feet. He played third base in this game and made a couple of nice plays while on the move while firing strikes across the diamond to first base. At first he’s long been known as an advance defender and primarily played right field during the spring at Ole Miss.
But his prospect value comes with a bat in his hand in the right-handed batter’s box. He has big power potential given his size and does a good job keeping his bat in the zone for an extended period of time with strong hands, forearms and wrists. He’s not just a guess hitter either as he steps up to the plate with a plan and attacks balls he feels he can drive. In this game he ripped a base hit through the infield and scored all three times he reached base, showing the ability to run well underway.
Elko appeared to be on his way to having a big junior season, which would have inflated his draft value had the season continued. Now, with another productive summer under his belt, he’ll return to Oxford looking to guide the team deep into the postseason.
Sam Novitske, 2B, Oregon
Novitske had a really productive summer, hitting line drives to all parts of the field thanks to a level bat path geared for making consistent, hard contact. And he has a knack for barreling up the baseball, smoking line drives and doing a really good job of shooting the pitch back where it was thrown/located. In this game he had two hard base hits, the first a single to his pull side as a right-handed hitter and the second a double he sliced down the right field line that also brought home a pair of runs. In a previous viewing I saw him drill a two-run single right back up the box as a pinch hitter. All three hits came off the bat hard, and none of them were hit more than 15 feet off the ground.
There’s some foot speed in his game as well. On a bunt attempt he got down the line in roughly 3.9 seconds, and also showed the quickness of his feet, and hands, on defense as he provided a steady glove at second base and has also played third this summer. There’s value to his profile as an offensive-minded second baseman with a steady glove. There’s not much over-the-fence power to his swing but he takes consistently good at-bats and walked more than he struck out.
Aaron Anderson, 1B/OF, Liberty
Anderson is a player that caught my attention in two separate viewings. While he’s not especially flashy or toolsy, he has a clear understanding at the plate, from both sides of the plate, consistently takes good at-bats and can impact the baseball and drive it to the gaps. He has a tapered build with sloped shoulders at 6-foot-2, 200-pounds. I didn’t get any kind of sense for his defensive talents, but I’d be curious to get a better look at his arm as his body type suggests he could catch if given the chance. Although considering the 2020-21 school year will mark his fifth year in college I’m not sure if that’s a realistic opportunity worth pursuing.
What he is is short and quick to the ball with a simple line drive approach and flat bat path. He had three base hits in the two games I saw him play, one of which was a hard-hit double to the gap. He put up big offensive numbers in three years at Flagler College (career .342 average in 125 games and nearly 500 at-bats) and is transferring to Liberty for his redshirt senior year of eligibility.
Alex Vera, LHP, Illinois
I shared most of my thoughts on Vera on Twitter after seeing Vera pitch a second time this summer and my basic thought is that it’s easy to like the way Vera pitches even if he doesn’t throw particularly hard. The first time I saw him he was throwing a 85-86 mph fastball with a 75 mph curveball out of the bullpen. In this look Vera started the game and threw five shutout innings, sitting at 83-84 mph with his fastball, throwing his curveball from 70-75 mph and he also mixed in a small handful of changeups right around 80 mph.
The command is the separator. He does an excellent job of establishing his fastball early and then using his curveball to put hitters away. He can drop the pitch in for called strikes and also bury it deeper in the strike zone for awkward swings. Vera replicates his arm speed well, works quickly and really disrupts opposing hitters’ timing. You’d obviously like to see the fastball velocity creep up, and while it’s unlikely he ever sustains a huge jump, he’s athletic enough with enough projection left on his frame to add a few ticks as he continues to mature. Either way, he should be a bigger part of Illinois’ staff the next 2-3 years.