Prospects to Watch In the Southern League This Summer

Written by: Ray Butler

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So, on its face, this article may be entirely irrelevant within the next month or so. Luckily, this article predominantly consists of prospect blurbs and not whole-team outlooks or predictions. So if you’re a dynasty league player, this article will remain relevant regardless of the fate of the 2020 minor league season.

This is actually the second MiLB league preview published on P365 this preseason, so make sure you’ve given prospect analyst Ian Smith’s Florida State League preview a read as well. Again, his preview focuses on individual prospects instead of whole-team outlooks.

Let’s face it: it appears a normal (albeit shortened) minor league season becomes less likely with every passing day. With the big league season also in flux, it appears possible (if not likely) minor league games will be relegated to organizational complexes and backfields, which would greatly alter live looks, sample sizes, housekeeping development, etc.

But instead of throwing darts at specific, hypothetical scenarios, I’m simply going to continue pumping-out content that will increase your knowledge base and make you a better fantasy player. Once we’re given the specifics of the 2020 minor league season, I promise you’ll have the entirety of my thoughts on the wide-stretching effects.

Here you go. Team by team, here are some thoughts on 45 dynasty-relevant prospects who could hypothetically (and hopefully) grace the Southern League with their presence this season. Let’s roll…

Birmingham Barons (White Sox)

Micker Adolfo, OF

Adolfo needed Tommy John surgery in 2018, returned briefly in 2019 as a designated hitter in Double-A, then required arthroscopic elbow surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of last season. He’s expected to be fully healthy when baseball returns; 70-grade raw power headlines the profile, and the White Sox are hoping he can be adequate enough everywhere else to carve out a big league role sooner rather than later.

Jake Burger, 3B/DH

The 2017 first-rounder has been recovering from a pair of traumatic achilles injuries since early 2018. Now 24-years-old, Burger will need to be added to the White Sox 40-man roster this offseason to avoid being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. If he’s healthy, Chicago will likely be aggressive with his placement once the minor league season finally begins.

Dane Dunning, SP

Now more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Dunning will likely begin the MiLB season in Double-A before finishing his campaign in Triple-A. Now a member of Chicago’s 40-man roster, the organization is hoping the right-hander will begin contributing in the Windy City early next season. 2020 Rank: 191st

Konnor Pilkington, SP

We can dream of backend of the rotation potential here, though “organizational depth/spot starter” might be the more likely outcome. Though we won’t receive the full Southern League sample this summer we expected from Pilkington, we might see enough to receive a solid idea of how to classify the southpaw moving forward. #HailState

Andrew Vaughn, 1B

Oh yes. I am deeply excited to see Vaughn for the first time this summer, realizing I might only get one shot before he’s promoted to the International League. Specifically, I’m looking forward evaluating the hit tool in person. As a 6-foot, right/right first baseman with non-elite defensive skills, his on base ability will ultimately be the driving force that determines his big league value and longevity. 2020 Rank: 15th

Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers)

Aaron Ashby, SP

Perhaps the biggest hurdle remaining in Ashby’s path to the Brewers’ big league rotation is command. You can make a viable argument for three above average pitchers here, which has led to radical ebbs and flows in the strikeout department and elite groundball rates. However, the right-hander will likely need an uptick in command to miss a legitimate amount of bats as he progresses to the upper levels of the minor leagues. Failing to do so would mean he becomes an interesting reliever at the big league level.

Mario Feliciano, C

One of the most underrated catching prospects in baseball, Feliciano posted an impressive 129 wRC+ as a 20-year-old in the Carolina League last season. The consistently low walk rate + high strikeout rate is obviously concerning, but Feliciano has a real chance to be a top-200 prospect next preseason, likely while being labeled as the future every day catcher in Milwaukee.

mario feliciano
Mario Feliciano is currently one of the most underrated catching prospects throughout the dynasty league world. (photo courtesy of Patrick Cavey and

Tristen Lutz, OF

Lutz’s 70-grade raw power will always give him intrigue, but his .250 AVG and 28.2 K% thru two full professional seasons (in Low-A and High-A respectively) really scuff the glimmer. It’s likely Lutz will transition to a corner outfield spot—probably right field—as he advances to the upper level of the minors, which will lower the real life floor. A right/right, power-first corner outfielder with mediocre on base skills has very little margin for error, so I’m looking forward to scouting the former compensatory first rounder in person in 2020.

Ethan Small, SP

The 2019 first rounder has an ideal profile to progress quickly throughout the minors, which is especially sublime when you consider Small is 23-years-old. The southpaw spent the offseason tinkering with his slider; with an arsenal easily headlined by a fastball/changeup combination and mechanical deception, an average-or-better breaking ball would certainly help cement Small’s quest to become a staple in the Brewers’ big league rotation sooner rather than later.

Brice Turang, SS

Turang practically epitomizes a prospect who will likely be better in actuality than in fantasy, but the real-life floor here is so high that he could eventually carry Nick Ahmed-esque value in deeper fantasy leagues. The Brewers aggressively promoted the 20-year-old to the Carolina League last summer, so it’s likely he’ll first need to re-take that test before being promoted to the Southern League later this summer.

Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds)

Jose Garcia, SS

If I had to pick one prospect on this list I’m most excited to evaluate live this season, it’s Garcia (don’t go crazy, I’ve already seen Wander Franco in person). He’ll start in the Southern League, but the Reds could handle him aggressively if they believe he can play a role in a hypothetical playoff race. As long as I catch him for a series before he gets bumped to the International League, I don’t care. You can practically read any list or other prospect-related content I’ve published this preseason, and Garcia will be included in it.

Allow me momentarily to dive into the hypothetical world. Even if there isn’t a Southern League in 2020, Garcia will likely be included in any sort of minor league ball this summer instead of being pushed straight to Cincinnati to mostly ride the pine. He is not yet a finished product, and I can easily assume the Reds would prefer him playing every day—even if it’s on the backfields in a unique and unrefined atmosphere—to sitting on the bench at the big league level throughout most of the summer. 2020 Rank: 89th

Jonathan India, 3B

We’ve already grabbed a 34-game sample from India in the Southern League, so he may simply bide his time in Double-A long enough for me to grab a summer look before he’s promoted to the International League. There’s a surprising amount of variance amongst opinions of the third baseman around the prospect industry, but all paths still lead to India becoming a multi-win player at the big league level. 2020 Rank: 111th

Nick Lodolo, SP

The Reds had already announced Lodolo was going to begin the minor league season in the Florida State League. However, this is a profile that moves quickly, and it’s fairly easy to assume Lodolo would spend at least part of his 2020 campaign in the Southern League. While highly unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility the southpaw could be pushed all the way to Cincinnati as a bullpen arm in case of an emergency before the end of the season. 2020 Rank: 74th

Jackson Generals (Diamondbacks)

Alek Thomas, OF

Thomas will play most—if not all—of his season in the California League, where I’d love to read reports of improved stolen base efficiency and increased game power. But since the outfielder has already accrued more than 100 plate appearances in the Cal League, there’s an outside chance that—even if the minor league season is condensed—he finishes his Age 20 season in the Southern League. 2020 Rank: 66th

Geraldo Perdomo, SS

Other than the areas of improvement, you can copy and paste my write-up for Alek Thomas (directly above) here. I even ranked Perdomo one spot ahead of Thomas, though I do believe the variance in upside between the two leans substantially towards the former. 2020 Rank: 65th

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)

JJ Bleday, OF

Bleday was immediately assigned to the Florida State League once his college season ended last summer. The subsequent 107 wRC+ he posted led to a small downtick of his ranking on some prospect lists throughout the industry (not mine). The Southern League should be in the cards for the outfielder this summer, and I assume evaluators will completely forget his mediocre FSL sample before the end of the 2020 season. 2020 Rank: 56th

Peyton Burdick, OF

A surprise inclusion on my projected 2021 top-100 prospect list, there are evaluators who already prefer Burdick to fellow-Marlins prospect Kameron Misner (listed below), who was an appetizing selection in First Year Player Drafts recently. Post draft, Burdick was assigned to the Midwest League and passed the test with flying colors. He’ll undoubtedly start in the Florida State League, but a promotion to the Southern League before the end of the season could certainly be in the cards.

Edward Cabrera, SP

Speaking of evaluators with unique rankings within the Marlins farm system, Cabrera being listed over Sixto Sanchez is a trend I’m seeing more and more as the former continues to gain exposure and popularity. A normal regular season would make Cabrera an appetizing, speculative September call-up; with an altered regular season on the horizon, it’s more likely the Marlins handle the right-hander fairly conservatively this summer before fully removing the reins next season. 2020 Rank: 79th

Jose Devers, INF

I’m skeptical Devers will ever carry legitimate value at the big league level—especially the current landscape within Major League Baseball—but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to evaluate him in-person this summer. Here’s to hoping Devers is able to develop the power that would someday make him an undoubted every day player in Miami.

Jerar Encarnacion, OF

A prospect who continues to gain popularity throughout the evaluation and dynasty league world, Encarnacion is a late bloomer who simply needs to prove he’ll make enough contact to access his massive raw power in games. Likely an eventual left fielder defensively, Encarnacion carries some Quad-A qualities he’ll have to overcome if he hopes to someday become the Marlins’ every day left fielder at the big league level. He needs to be added to Miami’s 40-man roster this offseason, so the 22-year-old needs a strong summer to cement his long-term status with the organization.

jerar encarnacion
Jerar Encarnacion’s raw power is obvious, but it’ll be the development of his hit tool that will eventually determine his viability at the big league level. (photo courtesy of Ryan Dowd and the Jupiter Hammerheads)

Braxton Garrett, SP

Experience in Double-A will be the first legitimate opportunity we’ll receive to evaluate how well Garrett’s unspectacular fastball plays against hitters in the upper minors. Passing the huge test might mean the southpaw becomes a top-100 prospect by next preseason. Unfortunately, I believe it’s more likely we see the strikeout rate dip this summer, which would be the confirmation bias the industry needs to label Garrett as a future SP4 instead of the rotation headliner he was once drafted to become.  2020 Rank: 141st

Victor Victor Mesa, OF

I mostly included Mesa here for a good laugh—or a re-emergence of self-hate when you remember the FYPD pick you spent on him a couple of offseasons ago. Perhaps the outfielder—who turns 24 in July—will hit his first stateside home run while playing in the Southern League later this summer.

Kameron Misner, OF

A genuine physical specimen, Misner has not yet debuted in the Florida State League. So while it’s possible—especially at 22 years old—that the outfielder finishes his season in the Southern League, a promotion to Double-A will be largely predicated on the length of the minor league season. 2020 Rank: 154th

Trevor Rogers, SP

Dynasty players who solely evaluate prospects by scouting the stat-line have struggled to understand why Rogers—a huge southpaw who frequently leaned on his above average changeup throughout the low minors—hasn’t received more love on prospect lists. I must admit that a 25.2 K% in five Double-A starts late last summer perked my interest, and I’m extremely intrigued to scout him myself sometime in 2020.

Connor Scott, OF

I assume it’s much more likely Scott plays the entirety of the shortened season in the Florida State League, but there’s certainly an outside chance the outfielder finishes his Age 20 season in the Southern League. Scott made notable strides in elevating the ball more frequently last season, but his fly ball rate must continue to increase if he ever hopes to adequately utilize his above average raw power. For now, the plus speed and stellar defensive prowess is the profile headliner.

Mississippi Braves (Braves)

William Contreras, C

The Braves have just about optimized the timeshare between catchers at the big league level, and it wouldn’t shock me to see the same utilization with Contreras and Shea Langeliers (listed immediately below) this summer in the Southern League. The playing time split will be hell in the fantasy world, but it could extend both catching prospects’ professional careers.

Shea Langeliers, C

If I’m wrong about how the Braves plan to optimize the catching position moving forward (which means instead of a timeshare, they want a clear primary catcher and a backup), it means the organization will likely need to make a tough decision in the near future and trade one of Langeliers or William Contreras (listed immediately above). Seeing as Atlanta just spent an extremely valuable first round pick on the former, I suspect a traditional philosophy regarding playing time would mean Contreras is likely dealt within the next calendar year.

Braden Shewmake, SS

Much like Langeliers, the Braves selecting Shewmake 21st overall last summer was a fairly peculiar choice when you evaluate the hypothetical path to the big leagues. I personally don’t see a realistic path in which Shewmake becomes the Braves’ every day shortstop over Dansby Swanson, so I’m interested to see if the 22-year-old is moved around the diamond defensively throughout his first full professional season.

Montgomery Biscuits (Rays)

Vidal Brujan, 2B

When you team the split concerns with a worrisome hard hit rate and the Rays’ utilization of platoons, you realize Brujan—despite possessing game changing speed—doesn’t quite possess the sky-high floor that is widely perceived throughout the industry. The second baseman has already accrued 233 plate appearances worth of playing time in the Southern League, so there’s a chance Tampa Bay assigns him to the International League in lieu of the Southern League, but I’m willing to bet Brujan begins his 2020 campaign in Double-A before receiving a promotion before the end of the shortened regular season. 2020 Rank: 32nd

Xavier Edwards, INF

I’m officially writing about Wander Franco directly below, but I will say that both Vidal Brujan and Edwards likely playing on the same team alongside Franco should make it easier for Franco to increase his defensive versatility this season (I discuss that further below). My commonly-used comp for Edwards is Dee Gordon, which would be both a blessing and a curse from a fantasy standpoint. I’m hopeful the infielder increases his horrendous hard hit rate (12.5%) if we have a season in 2020.  2020 Rank: 61st

Wander Franco, SS

I could just write “Wander Franco is good” and keep it moving, but I’ll mention a couple of important things here. One: from a fantasy standpoint, this season is important for our evaluations of Franco because—as I’ve mentioned several times—he may not be the perennial 20 stolen base threat that dynasty rosterers are assuming he’ll be. The industry must hone in on that projection in 2020. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see Franco shift around the diamond defensively (namely third base and the outfield along with his native shortstop) to perhaps accelerate his path to making an impact at the big league level. Perfecting even the tiny nuances of Franco’s evaluation should be top priority amongst prospectors throughout the industry this season. 2020 Rank: 1st

Nailing down the specifics of Wander Franco’s stolen base viability and future defensive home might be the most important aspects of his 2020 evaluation. (Photo courtesy of Allie Goulding and the TB Times)

Ronaldo Hernandez, C

The microscopic margin for error with catcher prospects on fantasy-focused lists manifested itself with Hernandez in the Florida State League last season (104 wRC+ with mediocre defensive skills behind the plate), which led to quite the descent in dynasty leagues and prospect rankings alike. A rebound in the Southern League, which is a friendlier offensive environment with increasingly advanced pitchers compared to the FSL, is extremely necessary for Hernandez’s long-term outlook.

Greg Jones, SS/OF

It’s super aggressive—perhaps even to a fault—to suggest the Rays will want Jones exposed to Double-A pitching after only assigning him to the New York Penn League after he was drafted. So this is mostly a selfish inclusion, largely because this is one of the most unique, wide-variance profiles in the minor leagues. I won’t complain if I catch a Jones look later this summer. 2020 Rank: 117th

Shane McClanahan, SP

Much like Joe Ryan (listed directly below), McClanahan pitched at three different levels in 2019, ascending from Low-A to Double-A while posting gaudy stats along the way. The hype surrounding the southpaw is currently louder amongst scouts than in dynasty leagues, which should be just about everything you need to know as you target McClanahan in your leagues this preseason. If there’s a minor league season, the left-hander should take Double-A hitters to task. 2020 Rank: 124th

Joe Ryan, SP

If you scouted Ryan at the beginning of last season, your likely evaluation was that of a fastball-heavy right-hander who likely projects best from the bullpen. If you didn’t lay eyes on the 23-year-old until the end of the season, once he was promoted to the Southern League after beginning the season in Low-A, you witnessed a newly-implemented slider that gave Ryan a second reliable weapon alongside the heater. I think he’s a perfect Bulker at the big league level, though Tampa Bay has the pitching depth to prolong Ryan’s MLB debut as long as they see fit. 2020 Rank: 118th

Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Twins)

Jordan Balazovic, SP

Balazovic popped in a big way last season, and—assuming there’s some semblance of a season—he’s now a consensus top-100 prospect destined for the Southern League this summer. Specifically, I’m interested in how the fastball plays against Double-A hitters; I’m also looking forward to receiving the in-person opportunity to evaluate just how much hypothetical injury risk is attached to the mechanics. 2020 Rank: 73rd

Jhoan Duran, SP

As you know, I am personally very high on Duran while readily admitting there’s plenty of reliever risk within the profile. Of course, this doesn’t mean nearly as much in real life as it does in fantasy, though I’m inclined to believe the Twins will give the right-hander every opportunity possible to remain in the rotation long-term. To ensure he continues to take the ball every fifth day, Duran needs to continue developing his splitter (others label it as a changeup) as a reliable third pitch that can be utilized against every hitter in every count. I’m excited to receive my second live look later this summer. 2020 Rank: 96th

Ryan Jeffers, C

With the implementation of an automated strike-zone at the big league level seeming fairly inevitable in the neat future, it’s both interesting and ironic the Twins emphasized pitch framing and de-emphasized throwing-out baserunners amongst their catchers throughout the organization last season. Uncoincidentally, it was the “one knee” stance that led evaluators to change their tune on Jeffers’ long-term outlook behind the plate. The 23-year-old is still outside my top-200, but he’s become a trendy catcher prospect to target in deep dynasty leagues.

Royce Lewis, SS

I reluctantly included Lewis in this recent article outlining every prospect who possesses the potential to someday be the #1 overall prospect in the sport. If his inclusion in the article was warranted, he’ll begin to prove me right this summer in the Southern League. As I’ve said repeatedly this offseason and preseason, quieting his whole body mechanics at the plate—from his noisy hand movement pre-pitch to the huge leg kick that leaves him susceptible to elevated velocity—will be paramount in Lewis reaching his All-Star offensive upside. 2020 Rank: 10th

Matt Wallner, OF

A compensatory first round pick last summer, Wallner’s 70-grade raw power and ability to play right field form the foundation of his real life floor. In the fantasy world, I’m worried he won’t consistently reach base enough to carry much value. Even as he progresses through the minor leagues, Wallner’s strikeout rate and pull-heavy approach might make it difficult for him to carve an every day role in Minnesota once he’s ready to debut, especially when you consider the Twins’ big league depth. I assume the 22-year-old will begin his season in the Florida State League, thought a late promotion to the Southern League is possible.

Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels)

Jordyn Adams, OF

Adams will likely spend all of the shortened 2020 season in the California League, but a promotion to Inland Empire late last season means a Southern League debut at the end of the summer isn’t entirely out of the picture. The outfielder continues to fly under the radar despite possessing ridiculously-loud raw tools, so I’m hopeful an increase in counting stats moves Adams to the forefront of the prospect world by next offseason. 2020 Rank: 62nd

jordyn adams
Jordyn Adams has not yet fully tapped-in to his massive raw tools. (photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels)

Chris Rodriguez, SP

I can’t stop Chris Rodriguez. I’m extremely hopeful that back surgery early last season means the right-hander will remain asymptomatic moving forward. Rodriguez is another prospect who needs to be added to the 40-man roster in December, so the Angels will want to be fairly aggressive with the pitching prospect this summer.

Tennessee Smokies (Cubs)

Aramis Ademan, SS

The Cubs are going to have a big decision on their hands as Ademan must be added to the 40-man roster in December. Consecutive below average offensive campaigns in the Carolina League and reports of a declining body will make the shortstop’s 2020 campaign crucially important for his long-term outlook.

Miguel Amaya, C

I continue to hear good things about Amaya as well as how much the Cubs love him. He’ll be the big ticket for Smokies games this summer, and it’s possible we see Chicago fully clear his path to the big leagues prior to next season <eyeball emoji>. 2020 Rank: 113th

Brailyn Marquez, SP

Depending on the length of the minor league season, it’s probably unlikely the Cubs push their prized southpaw to the Southern League when the competition in the Carolina League will continue to adequately test Marquez’s arsenal. But we’re allowed to be selfish every once and a while, so I’ll selfishly hope I get to scout the left-hander prior to next season. 2020 Rank: 116th

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Featured image courtesy of photographer Norm Hall and Getty Images

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