With Minor League Opening Day here, we’ve looked through all 120 rosters to pick out the 10 most talented teams at the start of the season.
1. Lancaster JetHawks (California League): Putting shortstop Carlos Correa in one of the best hitters parks in the minors is more than a little unfair. He should put up unbelievable numbers in a park where routine fly balls have a tendency to leave the park. Fellow Top 100 Prospects Mark Appel and Lance McCullers as well as RHP Vince Velasquez and LHP Josh Hader will try to prove that great pitching can survive one of the toughest environments.
2. Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League): Shortstop Raul A. Mondesi and righthander Miguel Almonte would be enough of a draw by themselves, but the Blue Rocks also will be where lefthander Sean Manaea makes his pro debut. Altogether, six of the Royals Top 10 Prospects will be in Wilmington and nine of the Top 30. The ballpark in Wilmington depresses hitting, especially power, which is good news for Almonte and Manaea and bad news for the Blue Rocks lineup. But whether they are at home or on the road, this will be a team to watch.
Notable Names: SS Mondesi (3); RHP Almonte (5), Christian Binford (10); LHP Sean Manaea (6); 3B Hunter Dozier (7); OFs Bubba Starling (8) and Terrance Gore (30); Cs Cam Gallagher (23) and Zane Evans (24).
3. Oklahoma City Redhawks (Pacific Coast League): Yes, the Astros have two of the top three teams in the minors. It’s no surprise considering just how deep the system is. Between Memphis and Oklahoma City, this is shaping up to be a great year for the PCL. Center fielder George Springer likely won’t be in Oklahoma City long before he gets a promotion to Houston, but at the start of the season he’s one of three Top 100 Prospects in the Redhawks lineup along with righthander Mike Foltynewicz and first baseman Jonathan Singleton.
4. Memphis Redbirds (Pacific Coast League): Triple-A lineups often consist of veteran minor leaguers, stashed as big league insurance. But the Memphis outfield is filled with big league talent and prospect pedigrees. In Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinals have two Top 100 Prospects in the corners. Randal Grichuk, a pickup from the Angels in the offseason David Freese trade, and Tommy Pham give the club two other outfielders with legitimate shots at big league jobs.
5. Portland Red Sox (Eastern League): If you’re looking for a minor league team that’s strong up the middle, start your search in Portland. Catcher Blake Swihart and second baseman Mookie Betts are Top 100 Prospects, and shortstop Deven Marrero is an excellent defender. When lefthander Henry Owens is on the mound, Portland truly stands out, but he’s the best pitching prospect on a solid but unspectacular staff.
6. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina League): No team in the minors will be more exciting than Myrtle Beach. Third baseman Joey Gallo led the minors with 40 home runs last year in only 111 games; what can he do if he’s healthy for a full season? Gallo, strong armed and speedy catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams are the Pelicans’ three Top 100 Prospects on the roster, and they are joined by several other intriguing prospects. Alfaro, Williams and Gallo will all strike out in bunches, but on the nights they connect, special things happen.
7. Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League): The Blue Jays’ talent is, with very few exceptions, concentrated at the lower levels of the system. Last year, most of the team’s top prospects were scatted among the club’s two rookie-level and one short-season team. Many of them are concentrated this year on the low Class A Lansing roster. Lansing’s rotation includes four of the Blue Jays’ top 16 prospects
Notable Names: RHPs Alberto Tirado (8), Chase DeJong (11) and Tom Robson (16); LHP Jairo Labourt (12); C Santiago Nessy (23); 1B Matt Dean (25); SS Dawel Lugo (9); 3B Mitch Nay (4) and CF D.J. Davis (3).
8. Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (California League): At an age when his U.S. contemporaries are still a year away from being drafted, lefthander Julio Urias will be looking to prove that he’s more than a match for the California League. Urias is joined in the Quakes rotation by 2013 draft picks righthander Chris Anderson and lefthander Tom Windle. The lineup isn’t as impressive but it does have shortstop Corey Seager.
9. Pawtucket Red Sox (International League): Like the Astros, the Red Sox have a pair of teams among the Top 10. A rotation that includes righthanders Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo will get even better when Matt Barnes arrives off the disabled list. The lineup is nearly as good as the rotation with on-base machine Garin Cecchini at third base, outfielder Bryce Brentz in the middle of the lineup and a pair of catching prospects with Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler.
10. Tulsa Drillers (Texas League): The Tulsa lineup is solid but unspectacular, led by catcher Tom Murphy. But the pitching rotation will be outstanding as fans can see two of the best power pitchers in the minors in righthanders Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler. Relieving righthander Scott Oberg has run it up to 94-95 himself while lefthander Tyler Anderson’s touch and feel approach provides a contrast.