Written by: Ray Butler
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You’ll begin to see it with the ranking of these 20 prospects, so let it serve as a warning: you better buckle up from here on out….
120. Jeter Downs, INF, CIN, Age: 19
A first round pick in 2017, Downs is currently tearing up Low-A to the tune of .260/.335/.427 with 9 HR and 20 SB. There are some questions as to how well Downs’ power and speed will play against better competition, but I think he’ll always benefit from ‘sneaky’ pop and the fact he’s an advanced baserunner. The Reds are typically patient with their young, position player prospects, but I’d love to see Downs get the nod to High-A Daytona before the end of the season.
119. Anthony Alford, OF, TOR, Age: 23
Alford is a fascinating player from a prospect list standpoint. How long do we include a prospect with 60-grade raw power and 70-grade speed when the numbers continue to not match the measurables? The outfielder (who’s been oft injured the past two seasons) has played at three different levels so far in 2018 (including a stint with the Blue Jays), and he’s posted a 61 +wRC in Triple-A Buffalo where he’s stationed now. The skills are absolutely obvious, but sooner or later they have to show up in box scores on a nightly basis.
118. Lazaro Armenteros, OF, OAK, Age: 19
The 19 year old was in the process of getting comfortable in Low-A Beloit when he injured his knee hustling out an infield hit. There’s been very limited information on Armenteros since the injury, and he’s currently on the disabled list. Nicknamed ‘The Cuban Bryce Harper’, Armenteros has a hit tool that should someday be MLB-average, plus power and plus speed. Once he returns, the strikeout numbers are worth monitoring, but we should get ready for him to hang out on prospect lists for awhile.
117. Austin Hays, OF, BAL, Age: 22
Hays has missed extended time with an ankle injury (though it appears he’s avoided surgery for now), so he won’t get a full season’s worth of at-bats and may play some in the fall to make up for missed time. Before he injured his ankle, Hays’ numbers were a case-study for diminished room-for-error that’s attached to prospects with tiny walk rates who don’t steal bases. I’m very hopeful that Hays returns from injury soon, but I remain skeptical on the overall outlook.
116. Nate Pearson, SP, TOR, Age: 21
2018 was supposed to be the year of Nate Pearson. The right hander was going to explode onto the scene and cement his status as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Without second thought, I included Pearson in my 2018 prospect obsessions. Then, less two innings into his first outing of the season, Pearson took a line drive to his pitching arm, fracturing his ulna in the process. A late-season return can’t be ruled out, but I’d be willing to bet we won’t see Pearson in full season ball again until next season. In 2019, he’ll likely be a 22 year old pitching against High-A competition, but the plus-plus fastball and above average changeup and slider keep the upside at a monumental level. Get well soon, buddy.
115. Kevin Smith, SS, TOR, Age: 21
I know he’s a college hitter performing how a college hitter should versus low-minors pitching, but I think there’s more to the story for Smith. Between stops at Low-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin, the shortstop is slashing .330/.389/.582 with 12 HR, 57 RBI and 13 SB. Arousing. The walk rate and strikeout rate are adequate, and I think there’s a good chance Smith sees Double-A at some point this season once Bo Bichette gets promoted. With Bichette now projecting as a shortstop at the big league level, I think there’s a strong chance Smith eventually shifts to 2B defensively. There’s a lot to like here.
114. Tirso Ornelas, OF, SD, Age: 18
An 18 year old playing a large role for one of the most exciting teams in the minor leagues, Ornelas is slashing .269/.370/.432 with 7 HR and 5 SB in 273 plate appearances for Low-A Fort Wayne. For someone so young, Ornelas’s plate approach and discipline is thoroughly advanced (13.2 BB%, 16.8 K%). With 55-hit and 60-raw power tools, Ornelas is set up for success at every stop throughout the minor leagues. There’s some chatter that he’ll eventually transition to first base defensively, but I think Ornelas is a valuable asset regardless of his defensive position. He’s the real deal. Staff writer Marc Rodriguez wrote about Ornelas last month.
113. Corbin Martin, SP, HOU, Age: 22
A college arm, the Astros aggressively allowed Martin to skip Low-A altogether to begin the 2018 regular season. After allowing a grand total of ZERO earned runs in a 19.0 IP sample for High-A Buies Creek, Martin was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi. The strikeout numbers have decreased a bit, but Martin has been effective against tougher competition. With three above average offerings and adequate command, Martin has potential to slot in the Astros’ rotation as a low-end #3 or high-end #4 starting pitcher.
112. Cole Ragans, SP, TEX, Age: 20
Another prospect obsession this season, Ragans’ 2018 season never actually left the launchpad. In March, the Rangers announced that the southpaw needed Tommy John surgery, thus ending his season before it ever got started. Ragans should be ready to return to action early next season, when he’ll be a 21 year old making his full season debut. I still believe Ragans is one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, though the hypothetical ETA has soured compared to what we once thought it would be.
111. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, PIT, Age: 21
The numbers don’t quite suggest it yet, but I think Hayes is on the verge of an offensive breakout. The third baseman tinkered with his swing this offseason, which basically consisted of making some adjustments to unlock his raw power. This season in Double-A Altoona, Hayes is slashing .269/.336/.423 with 4 HR and 5 SB. It may not seem like much, but the 21 year old has already surpassed his home run output from last season. Hayes is capable of more stolen bases than he’s posted so far this season, and I genuinely feel as though everything’s about to click.
110. Luis Garcia, INF, WAS, Age: 18
Luis Garcia was born in 2000. Luis Garcia started the 2018 season as 17 year old in Low-A. Now a seasoned 18 year old, Garcia is slashing .289/.331/.392 with 3 HR and 7 SB. Standing at 6’0 190 lbs., Garcia figures to complete his development as a plus hitter with league average power and plus (perhaps plus-plus) speed. All while playing a playing with second base, shortstop or third base. Garcia has only walked at a 6.3% rate this season, but the 15.6% strikeout rate suggest the teenager has advanced (perhaps even elite) bat-to-ball skills. Seeing as this season is simply the tip of the iceberg for Garcia, I’d say there’s a lot to be excited about.
109. Jonathan Hernandez, SP, TEX, Age: 21
The numbers since Hernandez was promoted to Double-A don’t exactly allow us to exude confidence, but a 14 IP sample shouldn’t take away from the holistic picture Hernandez has painted this season. In 57.1 IP in High-A Down East, Hernandez struck out 77 batters (12.1 K/9). He posted a 2.20 ERA with a FIP and xFIP that verified Hernandez’s legitimacy. The right-hander possesses a mid-rotation arsenal with still-developing command. The Double-A numbers have been bad enough that it’ll take awhile for them to normalize, even once Hernandez settles in. If the 21 year old is rostered in your league, make sure his rosterer isn’t having second thoughts after a not-so-great small sample following a promotion.
108. Ezequiel Duran, 2B, NYY, Age: 19
Oh yes. A Rookie Ball second baseman sniffing my top 100. I fully believe Duran is the next big Yankees prospect. This time next season, I think we’ll consider Duran and Estevan Florial one of the best organization duos in the minor leagues. When you throw Everson Pereira into the equation, it’ll be a dynamic trio. Duran is advanced offensively, possessing 55-hit and 60-raw power tools. He should make some noise in Rookie Ball this summer, but 2019 should be Duran’s breakout season. Plan accordingly.
107. Jorge Guzman, SP, MIA, Age: 22
The right-hander was one of my prospect obsessions this season, and he’s chopped up High-A opposition like a 22 year old with an 80-grade fastball should. Statistically, the FIP and xFIP are far worse than Guzman’s 2.33 ERA thanks to a 5.3 BB/9. Despite the plethora of walks allowed, the real challenge will begin once Guzman is promoted to Double-A Jacksonville; evaluators who have watched Guzman this season have been less than giddy about the right-hander’s slider, changeup and command, even to the point that some think it’s basically a given that he’s destined for the bullpen. Miami can afford ample patience with Guzman, so I’m not making any definitive statements until we get a large sample versus better competition.
106. Wander Javier, SS, MIN, Age: 19
Javier figured to comfortably move into the top 100 of most prospect lists this season, but a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder derailed his season in May. We’ll see the shortstop in full season ball next season, and the numbers should be impressive. Everything Javier does is above average: He should hit for average, there’s some thunder in his bat, and he’s a strong runner. Javier is currently a fantastic buy-low candidate in fantasy leagues.
105. Shane Baz, SP, PIT, Age: 19
If Baz never materializes as a big time pitching prospect, it won’t be because he doesn’t have the ‘stuff’. The 19 year old (who is currently pitching in Rookie Ball) possesses three pitches that flash as plus. The biggest hindrance (other than being a teenage pitching prospect) is the command. There’s obviously a ton of time for development, but the BB/9 will be worth monitoring regardless moving forward.
104. Josh Naylor, 1B/OF, SD, Age: 21
The 55-hit and 70-raw power tools are finally playing to their potentials, and the resulting numbers have been absolutely splendid. The .300 AVG/20 HR/11.6 K% pace Naylor is currently on in Double-A is certainly doable for the 21 year old someday in the big leagues. Naylor has played more games in left field this season than at first base, which is likely a sign of things to come as he inches closer to a big league debut. Naylor was my featured prospect in the Ramblings wayyyyyyy back in April.
103. Nick Gordon, IF, MIN, Age: 22
Gordon was fantastic in Double-A early in the season, but he’s struggled since being promoted to Triple-A Rochester. On the season, the middle infielder is slashing .299/.337/.450 with 5 HR and 8 SB (he’s only batting .256/.276/.357 in AAA). He’s walked in fewer than five-percent of his plate appearances though, which is an ominous sign for a player who will likely never post eye-opening home run or stolen base numbers.
102. Anderson Espinoza, SP, SD, Age: 20
Everyone knows the deal with Espinoza. He didn’t pitch at all last season. He had Tommy John surgery last summer. He’s not going to pitch at all this season. That’s two seasons of ‘wasted’ development for Espinoza, but he’s still only 20 years old and should return to competition this fall. The Pedro Martinez comps remain intact, and the three plus pitches Espinoza throws should finally return with a vengeance soon. #Patience
101. Shed Long, 2B, CIN, Age: 23
Double-A was always going to be a huge challenge for Long, and I love what I’m seeing this season. The second baseman is slashing .270/.359/.423 with 6 HR and 11 SB in 283 plate appearances. Long has already surpassed his stolen base numbers from last season, so while I obviously can’t prove anything, I’d be willing to bet he played thru some sort of injury last season. With a .350 OBP/10 HR/20 SB season at the hardest level in the minor leagues certainly within his grasp, Long should stare down a big league debut sometime next season. I wrote more about Long last month in the Ramblings.
On to the top 100…..
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Featured image courtesy of The San Diego Union-Tribune