Summer collegiate leagues like the WCL exist for two reasons.
For one, it’s a chance for players to develop and improve their skills so they can go into their next season of college ball a bit better than they were in the spring.
But summer collegiate baseball is also an opportunity to condense some of a region’s top players into one easily-navigable association. For scouts and pro evaluators, watching WCL games is a chance to get an early look at some prospective talent, however far away from being draft-eligible that talent might be.
If you scan the seats behind home plate on any given night, chances are you’ll see a person with a notebook and a radar gun. It’s usually a man. And he’s usually not talking to anybody, save for the coaches, team execs, and maybe the radio broadcaster.
The pitch comes in, the gun goes up, and the scout scribbles something in their notes or adds a marking to their pitch chart.
Sometimes there’s more than one prospect-finder in attendance. They’ll banter back and forth about other players they’ve seen on their travels.
“If only so and so could put on some more weight, we’d think about drafting him with increased velocity.”
“If Player X could hit the low inside pitch like Player Y can, we’d take him in the middle rounds. But if he hits like Player X, we may just take a flier on him late.”
The world of prospect judgment can be harsh, for both the players and for the scouts that find and cultivate them.
But when a scout likes your game, it’s an elation that validates everything you’ve worked for, year in and year out.
The reason that so many promising youngsters return year after year to leagues like the WCL is because they hope to play well in front of the right person. They hope that guy in the front row, who was conspicuously charting pitches with a cap pulled low over his eyes, saw me go 3-for-4. That the Mystery Scout over there raised an intrigued eyebrow as my backdoor breaking ball caught the outside corner for strike three to end the fourth inning.
In 2017, numerous current and former Sweets got the draft call that reaffirmed years of hard work and sacrifice. Well, more accurately, they probably saw their name go up on Twitter. Not all Major League organizations call their draft picks beforehand.
In any event, 2017 was a banner year in #SweetsCountry from a player development standpoint. 15 current or former Sweets were drafted or signed a contract with a Major League organization.
As we continue our retrospective on the summer that was, here’s a brief rundown of the 15 young men who were selected. After all, the title of First Sweets Major League Alumna is still up for grabs.
Connor O’Neil RHP New York Mets 7th Round Cal St. Northridge
O’Neil, 22, suited up for the Sweets in 2014 following his freshman season at Central Arizona College. He made seven starts for Walla Walla that summer, pitching to a 3.73 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 41 innings. In 2015, O’Neil would transfer to Division I Cal State Northridge where he spent three seasons as a prominent part of the Matadors pitching staff. In three seasons as the team’s closer, O’Neil pitched to an even 2.00 ERA and set CSN’s all-time saves record with 29. He struck out 197 in 170.2 innings of work.
Based on his collegiate performance, the Detroit Tigers picked O’Neil in the 32nd round of the 2016 draft, following his junior season. O’Neil declined the offer and instead raised his stock enough to go 25 rounds higher a year later.
O’Neil’s fastball sits around 90 mph. He pitches “backwards,” relying on a high 70s breaking pitch as his primary offering. Since signing, the Kennewick native has pitched in 12 games for the Low-A Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League. With a pair of saves, an ERA of 3.07, and 18 strikeouts in 14.2 innings of work, it shouldn’t be too long before O’Neil is promoted to the Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League.
Mark Contreras OF Minnesota Twins 9th Round UC-Riverside
The 22-year-old Contreras was O’Neil's teammate on the 2014 Sweets. He batted .211 with a home run and nine steals in 76 at-bats across 22 games. Also like O’Neil, he was heading into his sophomore season.
It was the year after Contreras suited up for the Sweets that his career really took off. He became a full-time starter for the Highlanders in 2015 and batted .282.
But as an upperclassman, Contreras exploded. He hit .332 as a junior and topped it by batting an astounding .366 with 21 extra-base hits his senior year.
The Twins converted Contreras to a full-time outfielder after selecting him in the 9th round. He’s spent time in all three outfield spots, batting .280 in 25 games for the Low-A Elizabethton Twins. He already has nine extra-base hits, including two homers. Amazingly, Contreras is one of three ex-Sweets on the Elizabethton roster, along with J.J. Robinson and Juan Gamez.
Sean Bouchard 1B Colorado Rockies 9th Round UCLA
Another member of the 2014 Sweets, Bouchard played in Walla Walla as an incoming freshman. He was one of the Sweets’ top hitters that summer, batting .283 with three home runs in 35 games.
Bouchard then established himself as an above-average first baseman in the Pac-12, batting .295 then .306 as a sophomore and a junior, respectively. Bouchard decided to leave school a year early when the Rockies made him their ninth-round selection this summer. It’s easy to see what Colorado liked in the six-foot-three Bouchard: nine homers, 43 RBI, and a batting line of .306/.396/.523 at UCLA. Not only did Bouchard get on base, but he also hit for terrific power.
Bouchard is currently playing in Low-A Boise of the Northwest League. And he’s tearing it up, too. Through 26 games, Sean is batting .318 with five homers and 21 RBI.
Garrett Mitchell OF Oakland Athletics 14th Round UCLA
The only reason Mitchell slipped this late in the draft is because he was asking for a ton of money. He had every right to: he was ranked No. 62 in Baseball America’s annual Predraft Top 500 column. That’s a second round type talent.
Mitchell is a five-tool player and put every single one of them on display in the four games he played for the Sweets this summer. He hit for average (6-for-13) and power (four of his six hits went for extra-bases). He showed off terrific speed in centerfield and an even better throwing arm. He took extra bases mercilessly, turning routine singles into extra-base hits.
Unfortunately, an illness brought a premature finish to Mitchell’s stint in #SweetsCountry. But UCLA is getting one heck of a player. Mitchell will be a freshman this fall, so look for his name again in 2020. There’s a good chance he will be one of the top players in the nation by then.
Max Gamboa RHP Los Angeles Dodgers 18th Round Pepperdine
Gamboa, a six-foot-four right-handed pitcher, was chosen by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 18th round. He will forgo his senior season at Pepperdine to sign with the club.
A college walk-on, Gamboa worked his way up the depth chart. He was the Waves’ closer his freshman year before stepping into the starting rotation. He struck out 129 batters in 131.1 innings during his college career, consistently maintaining a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than two-to-one.
Max played for the Sweets during the summer of 2015, between his freshman and sophomore springs. He pitched in five games, starting three, and struck out 15 hitters in 19 innings. He recorded a record of 1-3 with one save.
He will begin his pro career in rookie ball with the Arizona League Dodgers.
Dominic Miroglio C S.F. Giants 20th Round San Francisco
Miroglio played for the Sweets back in 2013, which was before his freshman year at UCLA. He lasted one season with the Bruins before transferring to USF.
A 22-year-old catcher, Miroglio started and batted .264 for Walla Walla’s only-ever pennant winner. After playing sparingly as a freshman, Miroglio erupted once he joined the Dons.
Batting .340 with 38 RBI, Miroglio tore up the WCC. Although injuries limited him to just eight games his junior year, he returned this spring and hit .285 while socking nine dingers and driving in 40. He also limits his strikeouts – just 28 Ks in 239 at-bats.
The thrice-drafted Miroglio is now with the Missoula Osprey of the rookie-level Pioneer League. In 23 games, he’s slashing .325/.404/.458 with 10 walks against just four strikeouts.
Mike Duarte SS/2B Chicago White Sox 23rd Round UC-Irvine
Duarte held the Sweets single-season batting record until J.J. Hancock shattered it this summer. He hit .353 for the 2014 Sweets, which was in between his freshman and sophomore years.
In addition, Duarte belted 20 extra-base hits (including six home runs) and drove home 31 runs in Walla Walla.
He batted .345 as a junior for the Anteaters and .320 as a senior. Pairing with Keston Hiura (an AppleSox alumn who was taken eighth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers this June), Duarte composed one-half of what was arguably the nation’s top middle infield. His walks and strikeouts were even (19 apiece), and Mike drove in a career-high 25 runs his senior year.
As of press time, Duarte is two games into his professional career with the Great Falls Voyagers of the Pioneer League. He is 1-for-7.
Shane Matheny 3B S.F. Giants 23rd Round Washington State
Matheny was a three-year starter at Wazzu but he really took off his junior year. Earning All-Pac-12 honors, Matheny led his team with a .309 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, 22 extra-base hits, and 34 RBI. Shane lasted just a week with the Sweets before the Giants called his name.
He was gone two days later. Shane was 3-for-23 as a Sweet until he signed almost immediately after the draft. He filled in at all four infield positions, demonstrating his versatility. A big, strong left-handed hitter, Matheny has been playing a regular third base for the Low-A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Northwest League.
Through 20 games, the Bremerton native is batting an astounding .345/.446/.400. He has 19 hits in 55 at-bats. At this rate, Matheny has a chance to earn a promotion to High-A Augusta (Georgia) before the season is through.
Darius Vines RHP Chicago Cubs 27th Round Oxnard CC
Vines authored two of the Sweets’ best starts this summer. He was perfect with 10 strikeouts through six innings against the Bend Elks on July 14th before following up in his next start with six innings of one-run baseball on two hits with eight Ks against the finals-bound Corvallis Knights.
All in all, the highly touted Vines finished second on the team with 42 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. The dynamic right-hander allowed just 23 hits and pitched to an ERA of 4.17.
Vines, who had previously been selected in the 32nd round by the Houston Astros out of high school, thoroughly dominated at Oxnard College. He posted a 1.94 ERA in 83.2 innings spread across a dozen starts. Striking out 95, Vines held opposing batters to a .197 batting average against.
He also played the infield regularly on days he didn’t pitch. Vines batted .277 as Oxnard’s primary third baseman last spring.
Vines is returning to school for his sophomore season and transferring to Yavapai College in Arizona – a higher-profile school with a more developed baseball program.
If he pitches well, there’s a good chance that Darius hears his name called a third time. Look for him in the summer of 2018.
Michael Bono RHP Cincinnati Reds 32nd Round Santa Clara
Bono only appeared in two non-league games for the Sweets last summer. He started both of Walla Walla’s out-of-WCL contests in 2016, totaling 8.2 innings.
Bono made eight appearances for the Broncos his junior year, starting seven. He pitched to a 6.88 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 34 innings. He scattered just 30 hits.
Bono was eligible to return to Santa Clara for his senior season, but all indications are that he’s signed with Cincinnati. Still, he still has yet to be assigned to a team.
This was not the first time Bono was drafted. He was also taken in the 35th round out of high school by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014.
J.J. Robinson 1B Minnesota Twins 33rd Round Lewis-Clark State
The aforementioned Robinson was an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention after batting .376 with 30 extra-base hits (16 HR) for national powerhouse Lewis-Clark State.
The 24-year-old took a circuitous path to pro ball. He spent five seasons in college; first at Washington State University in 2013 before transferring to Walla Walla Community College the following year and then to Lewis-Clark State.
While at WWCC, Robinson hit .331 and belted a team-high 11 home runs and racked up 45 RBI. He suited up for the Sweets that same summer and proceeded to bat .283 with two bombs in 19 games played.
Robinson was named NAIA West Region Player of the Year in 2016 when he hit .335 with a team-high 15 longballs and 26 doubles.
He’s starting at first base for the Elizabethton Twins. Through 27 games, the large lefty-swinger is hitting .265. His six home runs are second-most on the squad.
Adam Kerner C St. Louis Cardinals 37th Round San Diego
Kerner played 10 games for the Sweets this summer before an injury to his throwing shoulder shut him down. The right-handed hitter was being discussed as a possible early- or mid-round pick but signability concerns dropped him to the 37th round.
He was named to the All-America Third Team by Perfect Game.
Committed to San Diego, Kerner is one of the most well-rounded young catchers in the country. He is a great defender, put the bat on the ball, and hits it hard.
He was 6-for-25 in Walla Walla, including a home run and two doubles. He was with the team from June 16th through July 6th.
A gifted athlete, Kerner has a shot to earn playing time right away for the Toreros.
Haydn King LHP Oakland Athletics 39th Round San Francisco
Although King has been a two-way player, his long term future will likely be on the mound.
He led the Sweets with eight games started this summer, and improved significantly as the season went on. Dealing with mononucleosis back in May, King looked stronger and stronger as he shook off the sickness.
A tall, projectable southpaw, the six-foot-two King whips his fastball in the upper-80s and compliments it with a tremendous changeup and quality breaking ball. He pitched to an ERA of 4.01 in 40.1 innings. He allowed 40 hits.
He pitched quite well in his last two starts, both on the road. But his signature performance came on June 28th when he struck out eight Gresham GreyWolves in four innings.
King also received some at-bats early in the summer and hit 4-for-15 with three doubles.
He will have an opportunity to play right away for the Dons, although he does not yet have a defined role. Look for both King and Kerner, as well as Mitchell, again in 2020.
Sam Glick LHP Baltimore Orioles 39th Round UCLA
The rising freshman Glick was on the Sweets roster until early June. He did not play summer ball in 2017.
The Baltimore Orioles made Glick their 39th round pick. The six-foot-one left-hander showed dominant stuff at El Toro HS in California. He is part of the vaunted UCLA recruiting class which includes Mitchell as well as fellow WCLers Holden Powell and Zach Pettway of Bellingham, Kevin Kendall of Port Angeles, R.J. Teijeiro of Gresham, and Mike Townsend of Wenatchee.
Glick, like all the other incoming freshmen on this list, will be draft-eligible once again in 2020.
Cole Rutherford 1B San Diego Padres Undrafted Cornell
Rutherford, a burly 23-year-old, is listed at six-foot-four, 250 pounds. That’s what we in the industry like to refer to as a “large person.”
He batted .243 across 24 games for the 2016 Sweets. After two years at Orange Coast College in California, Rutherford made the move to the Ivy League. In two seasons at Cornell University, he emerged as one of the conference’s top players.
Rutherford produced a .310 average with seven home runs and 33 RBI as a senior this spring. The San Diego Padres took notice – although the team didn’t draft Cole, they offered him a pro contract in late-June.
He signed immediately and is now the starting first baseman for the Arizona League Padres 1 (San Diego has two AZL teams). He’s also made one pitching appearance.
Rutherford played under Sweets manager Frank Mutz at Chaminade Prep HS outside of Los Angeles, as did his younger brother Blake.
Blake was selected 16th overall by the New York Yankees in the 2016 MLB Draft. Now a member of the Chicago White Sox organization, the junior Rutherford was rated by Baseball America as the 37th-best overall prospect and the 10th-best outfielder in their annual Midseason Top 100, released in early July.
by Ben Farber