Gulf Coast League Top 20 Prospects Chat

Ben Badler: For a complex league, the GCL was LOADED this year. Eight first-round picks, impact international talent and the lowest draft pick on the list was Desmond Lindsay at No. 53 overall, the only second-round pick to even make the list. So plenty of names to go over today between the guys who did and guys who didn't make the list. Let's get started.

Adam (Atlanta): Hi Ben! Love reading your stuff. How close was Kolby Allard to making this list? Everything I've read said the concerns about his back have soothed.
Ben Badler: Thank you. Allard didn't meet our minimum playing time requirements to qualify (one PA per team game for hitters or 1/3 of an inning per team game for pitchers), but he would have been extremely high on the list, certainly the No. 2 pitcher after Espinoza and a good chance to crack the top five. I did hear his back issues flared up again this summer, which is part of why his innings were so limited. That can be a chronic issue, so it's something to watch, but it's better than elbow or shoulder problems for a young pitcher. When he's healthy he's electric, with a plus fastball, a knockout curveball and polished feel for someone who just turned 18 last month. I loved that pick by the Braves.

Oliver (Boston): Curious to know more about GCL MVP Allen Cordoba. How does he compare to fellow Panamanian SS Edmundo Sosa? Did his short track record of success at the plate and the depth of 2015 draft talent keep him off the top 20?
Ben Badler: The overall impact and volume of talent in the league kept him off the list, but he definitely improved his stock and earned praise around the league. He was a $7,500 sign by the Cardinals two years ago just before the 2013 Dominican Summer League season started, spent two years in the league and held his own there, but never really separated himself with his performance, until he turned into a very pleasant surprise from an offensive standpoint this season. He's from the northern part of Panama and did grow up playing games there, but not as much as Sosa did, so he was just more raw at the time. But he is athletic and his work ethic gets great reviews, so he made himself a better player over the last couple of years. The Cardinals actually had Cordoba at third base during extended spring training since they were using Edmundo Sosa mostly at shortstop then, so he committed more than half his errors during the first month of the GCL season as he transitioned back to shortstop, but he's his hands and feet work well, he has a good arm and is a 55-60 runner. His swing does get long but he finds a way to get the barrel to the ball consistently and has a sense for the strike zone. He has gotten stronger over the last couple years but power is definitely a question mark on him going forward. Sosa is still the better prospect, but Cordoba's definitely an intriguing sleeper who's already beaten expectations and I imagine will be somewhere in the Cardinals Top 30 come Prospect Handbook time.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Ben. Could you give us an evaluation of Adrian Rondon's pro debut, and if he was considered for this list?
Ben Badler: One of the bigger head-scratchers of the league and someone I had trouble figuring out what to do with, although the overall quality and depth of the league ultimately made it too hard to justify putting him on this list. Before Rondon signed, there were several teams that had him as the No. 1 international prospect last year, largely because of his ability to hit in games and to hit good pitching, with a good swing and an advanced feel at the plate for his age. So it was surprising to see him struggle the way he did. At the same time, we're talking about a first-year international kid who started the year as a 16-year-old, so he's the same age as an older high school sophomore or young HS junior, in his first year of pro ball, in a foreign country with a different language for the first time and playing a third of his games against the Red Sox, who had a dominant pitching staff. The scouts I spoke with said the bat speed is still there, his hands and arm work in the field, but they said he just looked over his head at the plate this year. It's not what I would have expected from him coming into the year, and I couldn't justify putting him over Phillies SS Jonathan Arauz, who performed much better under similar circumstances, but there's plenty of time and plenty of reasons to be patient on Rondon's performance coming around.

Chris (DC): Thanks for the chat! Did you receive any reports on Logan Allen while compiling this list? If so, could you give a sense of what his stuff was like and how he compared to other arms in the league? He certainly performed well after signing, albeit in a limited number of innings.
Ben Badler: He nearly made the back of the list and would have made it most years. Athletic pitcher with an average to slightly better fastball up to 94 mph with good angle, a chance for an average curveball and a solid-average changeup, with the command that makes everything better. Also going to speed up the pace of any game he pitches in because he’s an extremely quick worker between pitches.

Timmy (Mobile, AL): What were your impressions of Tucker and Cameron, and which of the Astros OFs has the higher ceiling?
Ben Badler: The full scouting reports on both guys are on the site, but the ceilings in terms of overall value are comparable, albeit in very different shapes of how they're going to derive that value. I could see them both being 4-5 win players if things click, although I'd give the slight edge to Tucker, who doesn't give you the premium position of Cameron but has a higher offensive ceiling and the tools to become an above-average defender for a corner outfielder. He could be a Shawn Green type player.

Grant (NYC): Any consideration for Dermis Garcia? While he struck out a lot, his power is legit. 21-25 range?
Ben Badler: He wasn’t really in the mix. He does have huge raw power and a big arm, but he’s still fairly crude as expected as a hitter and is going to have to keep his conditioning in check going forward.

Dave (New York City): The other G. Lara on MiLB, Garvis, had a pretty good season with the bat for the GCL Marlins. As a LH hitting SS, does he have the defense to stay there? After a rash of early season errors, he seemed to settle down.
Ben Badler: Quite a bit of praise around the league for Garvis Lara’s defense. Definitely projects to stick at the position, athletic player with natural actions at the position, good hands and footwork, instinctive, above-average arm too. He has some bad habits with throwing across his body that led to some of his errors, but player development can help him smooth that out. The key is going to be how far along his bat comes. He held his own at the plate and showed decent bat-to-ball ability, but the skill set is more glove over bat right now.

Willie (NYC): Were there any other NY Yankees prospect close to making the list How close was gilmael troya to making the list
Ben Badler: Troya’s name definitely came up. They signed him for $10,000 last year when he was touching 90. Now he’s sitting in the low-90s and up to 96 with a chance for an above-average curveball and pretty solid feel for pitching for his age an experience level.

Levi (Tempe, AZ): What kind of player can we expect Ronald Acuna to develop into? Also, what grade would you place on his current run tool?
Ben Badler: A pretty well-rounded one. He’ll show you plus run times, barrels the ball consistently, knows the strike zone and gives you a good dose of power for a 17-year-old kid that’s only going to improve, and he projects to stay in center field. That’s a nice balance of tools and skills across the board.

Edward Lewis (New York City): No Ali Sanchez? With all the positive stuff being said about him, I thought he'd be a lock? Did any other Mets receive consideration? I know that big bonus signing Ricardo Cespedes had poor numbers but he's also pretty young. How did he look? Thanks.
Ben Badler: It pained me to leave Ali Sanchez off the list, because the reviews of him from scouts were good and his stock has only continued to increase from the time he was a top 30 prospect for July 2 in 2013 and a top 20 DSL/VSL prospect in 2014. If you put him in the draft this year, he’s probably a second-round pick. The reports on his defense were glowing. Outstanding catch-and-throw skills for his age, very advanced in terms of blocking and receiving with soft hands and good footwork. His pure arm strength isn’t going to grab your attention immediately but then you look at the stopwatch and he’s consistently getting pop times around 1.9 and even in the 1.8s because his footwork and exchange are so quick, so you can see why he threw out close to 50 percent of runners. Even the little things like game-calling and managing a pitching staff you wouldn’t even think about with an 18-year-old catcher in the GCL were things people praised about him. That defense alone behind the plate is going to allow him to stick around for a long time to be able to put things together with the bat, and the bat is already solid. It’s an inside-out swing without much power yet, but he has the hand-eye coordination to put the ball in play and has a sense for the strike zone. Good chance to develop into an everyday catcher.

Sarver Andy (SARVER, PA): Ke'Bryan Hayes really impressed me the few games I saw him play. How does his defense and baserunning grade out?
Ben Badler: Heard good things about the defense. You look at him and see a big kid for that age and immediately wonder whether he might outgrow the position, but everyone I talked to felt he had a chance to be at least an average defender at third base and some guys liked his defense quite a bit, with some very good plays during the season. I don’t think he’s ever going to give you much value with his baserunning either, but he’s a smart, high baseball IQ guy all-around, which is what you’d expect given his background.

Teddy (Granville): Outside of Garcia, I really haven't heard much on the players the Yankees broke the bank for in the 2014 IFA period, any updates on the standouts from that class so far?
Ben Badler: There's also Hoy Jun Park, who's a Top 20 prospect in the Appalachian League, but other than Wilkerman and Dermis Garcia, the Yankees put the rest of their top 2014 international signings in the Dominican Summer League this year. Shortstop Diego Castillo and third baseman Nelson Gomez both had big years. I'd say what they did is consistent with our amateur reports on them, with Gomez showing the feel for hitting the Yankees believed he had that other teams were more skeptical about. Should both be in the GCL next year, although Castillo’s such a savvy, advanced player that I could see them being even more aggressive with his assignment next year.

Roger (Greenville, SC): You have the order of Daz Cameron and Austin Riley flipped from what it was in the Appy League rankings yesterday. Do you see them as particularly close? Or is Riley's improvement at Danville largely responsible for the flip?
Ben Badler: We collaborate on all of our information especially on guys who qualify for multiple lists, so what Riley did in the Appy League is incorporated into his ranking and report, but it’s probably a function of two different people ranking each list, along with the divisiveness of Cameron and the degree to which Riley has changed opinions in pro ball. For me, I’m a believer in Cameron being able to put it all together, play a premium position, and maybe not be a dominant hitter but be a solid-average one who get get on base at a steady clip, grow into more power given his strength projection and bat speed and give you quality defense at a premium position. That’s no knock on Riley. His stock is way up over the past few months, the power is huge and while there is some swing and miss it’s a much better bat than he was given credit for as an amateur. I do worry about him getting too big again and having to move over to first base, which puts more pressure on the bat, so overall I’d take Cameron over him, but Riley has gone from a pick that raised a few eyebrows in June to a guy who, with the benefit of hindsight, would go in the first round if they re-did the draft today. Good scouting by the Braves.

Cap (New York, NY): Clearly a stacked league but did any Yankees other than Wilkerman Garcia get any serious consideration?
Ben Badler: Other than Troya, Trey Amburgey is a nice find in the 13th round this year. Went under the radar during the draft but he’s athletic, can run, hit well in the GCL and the NY-Penn League with a power surge once he got to Staten Island. Definitely a sleeper to watch in that org.

Josh (Seattle): Thoughts on Victor Robles, and his upside? Top 50 guy if hits well next year in A Ball?
Ben Badler: He can be star. He might even be a top 50 prospect already. There just aren’t many prospects in the game with his ceiling who have that kind of upside in every phase of the game, especially for his relative polish at 18.

Steve B (Philly): Hey Ben - thanks so much for the chats and lists! Am I a total dork for sitting here hitting refresh every day waiting for the new one? What is your take on Luis Encarnacion from the CGL Phils. I sort of expected more from him this year.
Ben Badler: Well there’s about 100 questions in the queue and I love talking rookie ball prospects, so you’re not alone! Encarnacion hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations a lot of scouts (and I) had yet, but he did make progress this year. As an amateur in the Dominican Republic, the debate was whether the best game hitter in the class was Encarnacion or Rafael Devers, but Encarnacion obviously hasn’t taken off like Devers. The power is there but you can still beat him with breaking balls, which he did get a little better at this year, but he’s going to have to learn to chase fewer pitches outside the strike zone, especially now that he’s at 1B. He’s also going to have to keep his body in check, as he’s become a fairly large human being.

Johne (Atlanta, GA): Were any other Orioles close to making the list?
Ben Badler: Wouldn’t say they were close to the list, but Jason Heinrich, Jaylen Ferguson and Gray Fenter all had their names pop up. Heinrich is limited defensively, but he can has quick hands, strong wrists and can smoke a fastball. Ferguson is a sleeper, 9th-rounder who only turned 18 midway through the season, got better as the year went along and is an excellent athlete with some buggy-whip to his bat. The kind of raw clay that coaches like to mold.

Peter (new jersey): hello, Junior Fernandez finished the year in High A. Do you see him starting next season there or low A ?
Ben Badler: The Cardinals haven’t even decided that yet, but I would think Low-A is more likely. The games he pitched in the FSL this year were more about him just being there since he was already at the GCL complex.

Joel (Washington, DC): Beyond Ke'Bryan Hayes, did any other Pirates' prospects get consideration for the lower end of the list?
Ben Badler: Hayes was the main guy from that team. Luis Escobar is intriguing though, plus fastball, decent secondary stuff, threw strikes. Not a not of players coming out of Colombia, but the Pirates have come up with some nice ones between him, Harold Ramirez and Dilson Herrera.

Steven (Massachusetts): The scouting reports on Espinoza, Alcantara and Fernandes seemed pretty similar. How close are the they to each other?
Ben Badler: The high-octane velocity is similar, and Fernandez does have an outstanding changeup, but the separators are that Espinoza is younger, has a much better breaking ball, an easier delivery and better overall feel for pitching than Fernandez with a higher probability to remain a starter. Fernandez has a great arm and his stock shot up this year, but Espinoza is a pretty special talent.

Tim (AZ): Juan Yepez played extremely well in the GCL. In my opinion, he outplayed Austin Riley. Why was he left off the list?
Ben Badler: Based on the way Yepez performed (both in the GCL and the Appy League) and his age, I figured he would get more support, but everyone I talked to was lukewarm at best on him, so I was surprised. He makes contact and projects to hit a lot of doubles more so than big power, and for someone who’s already physically advanced and has already moved over to first base, that led to a lot of reviews of him as more of a solid prospect than a standout guy. Yepez is still a guy to watch and he outperformed a lot of expectations as an amateur (other than defensively), but the same scouts came away excited about Riley and Acuna just didn’t have the same reactions from seeing Yepez on the same teams.

Richard (Chicago): Did any Rays pitchers get any consideration?
Ben Badler: Not in consideration for the list, but Jose Disla has a mid-90s fastball, with just about everything else very much a work in progress.

Nick (Montreal): Hi Ben. What are your thoughts on Anderson Franco? Seems to have held up pretty good for a 17 year old.
Ben Badler: Another player scouts I spoke with liked but didn’t have room for, probably goes somewhere in the top three rounds if he’s in the draft. He’s sort of like the anti-Dominican 3B, where usually it’s a heavy-bodied, unathletic guy who the trainer can’t even fake putting at SS, has raw power but can’t hit, whereas Franco has a well put together frame, is fairly athletic for his size and plays good defense for the level. Good range, quick first step, makes plays to both sides and the arm is plus. Solid year at the plate too with good power, just has to tighten up the plate discipline especially against breaking stuff away. Belongs in the Nationals Top 30 for sure.

Cap (New York, NY): You mention Castillo and Gomez standing out for the Yankees in DSL. Would you also consider Miguel Flames a standout so far or does he defense concern you too much?
Ben Badler: Yes, I should have mentioned him in that group as well. Don’t know whether he is going to catch but that’s a good bat/power combo.

hansford (mansfield, tx): How close was Derian Gonzalez from making the list? Was he not in the same class as Sandy Alcantara and Junior fernandez?
Ben Badler: He got overshadowed by those two monster arms, but Gonzalez is a good sleeper to watch. He sits around 91-94, tops out at 96-97, not as much life on the pitch as Alcantara or Fernandez but he delivers it with good angle, throws strikes and has a good curveball too.

Dave (New York City): Thanks for taking the time to Chat, Ben! Ricardo Cespedes was 5th on BA's Baseball for the Ages: Age 16 list in April 2014. Did his GCL 2015 performance show any of the potential from 2 seasons ago?
Ben Badler: His defense made an impression on people. Slightly above-average speed with good instincts in the outfield to cover a lot of ground with another weapon in his plus arm. He didn't strike out much and showed some sense for working the count, but he does need to tighten up his strike-zone discipline, because some of that contact is on pitches he chases out of the strike zone and rolls over for easy outs, and obviously he needs to get stronger too. All understandable for someone who didn't turn 18 until the end of the season, but it's a glove over bat skill set right now.

Nick (Tennessee): Where would Daz have been drafted if there weren't signability concerns?
Ben Badler: On talent alone, he’s a top 10 pick.

Jay (Georgia): How close was Israel Wilson to making the list? Young guy with a lot of power you seem to be interested in (as are most Braves fans)
Ben Badler: Another guy who was hard to leave off and who’s made great strides from last year, considering he was at MLB’s international showcase in the Dominican Republic last year at the beginning of the year, everyone passed on him on July 2, and then he waited until the end of December to sign with the Braves, who had a new group of international scouts leading the department having just taken over. He has a quick bat, big raw power but will have to tighten up some of the holes in his swing as he moves up, since I did hear a lot of concerns on him as an all-or-nothing type hitter, though obviously plenty of time and athleticism for him to make adjustments.

Bebeto (NYC): How strong was the league this year and how easy/hard was it to choose #1?
Ben Badler: Everyone on the list has the talent of a top 50 pick in the draft, and most of it was first-rounders or international players with equivalent first-round talent, so it was a stacked year for prospects, especially when you compare it to the other complex league in the AZL. I’m a huge believer in Victor Robles and I don’t think he’s that far behind Espinoza, so it was close. Both have tremendous impact potential.

Brett (The ILL): How does Wilkerman Garcia compare to another switch-hitting SS of similar stature, who also débuted at 17, Francisco Lindor? Could he make the jump that Gleyber Torres did to Low-A next season?
Ben Badler: I like Wilkerman but Lindor was a truly premium defender from a young age. If the Yankees wanted to push Garcia to Low-A, I think he could hold his own there next year, but they also have an Appy League team, a NY-Penn League team, and I would think they’re going to want to let Hoy Jun Park and Thairo Estrada get a chance to play in Charleston next year, so there’s a lot of pieces for them to put together in that roster assignment puzzle next season.

Dan (Atlantic City): How highly respected is Sal Agostinelli in the scouting world? He keeps finding gems despite a somewhat limited budget (outside of this year's Ortiz signing).
Ben Badler: Very highly. And if you saw today, he won the organization’s Dallas Green award today. Carlos Ruiz, Carlos Carrasco, Maikel Franco, Domingo Santana, Galvis and Hernandez on the big league team, other guys scattered across other big league teams, and the next wave of guys coming with Tocci, Kilome, Medina, Arauz and probably more I’m leaving out off the top of my head is impressive for a team that, like you said, hasn’t been giving out 7-figure deals outside of Ortiz and Luis Encarnacion.

Andy (Atlanta): Was Braves catcher Jonathan Morales's August surge a sign of things to come or just a college guy beating up on younger talent?
Ben Badler: Part of it is him being an older, more advanced hitter in a complex league, but that’s an intriguing bat especially given where he was drafted if he can stick behind the plate.

Alex (Miami, fla): Besides Espinosa and Logan Allen what other Red Sox prospect stood out.
Ben Badler: Gerson Bautista has an outstanding fastball, both in terms of velocity and movement. Ronniel Raudes and Emmanuel DeJesus both showed low-90s fastballs and good feel for pitching, with Raudes showing a more advanced breaking ball and DeJesus the better changeup. Yoan Aybar is a fascinating player who didn’t stand out much in terms of performance and still has quite a bit of rawness to his game, but he’s extremely athletic, projectable, glides around in center field, has a 70 arm and a whippy swing. You’re projecting on the bat coming around with him, but even if it doesn’t, you can put him on the mound and he could be an athletic power lefty reliever

Cap (New York, NY): What are your thoughts at this point on Leonardo Molina? Not the breakout that some were hoping for but still so young.
Ben Badler: Still athletic, still has tools, but still waiting on the bat to come around. Some scouts said they thought he showed improvement laying off breaking balls compared to last year, others thought it was still a problem for him. Also still very young, like you said, so next year will be important for him to see if he can take that next step toward putting it together at the plate.

JW (CA): Like to see Randolph and Arauz from the Phillies on the GCL list - any other Phillies considered?
Ben Badler: A few other names came up from them as longer-range projection types, including Ranger Suarez. He’s a 6-foot LHP with excellent command of an 88-92 mph fastball, hows how to mix and match his stuff and locate his stuff on the edges of the plate and at the bottom of the zone. Not going to blow you away with stuff but a savvy pitcher who could sneak up through the minors and become a back-end starter.

Keith Capradosi (Long Island, NY): So the Yankees spent 30m on July 2 prospects but couldn't sign Espinoza?
Ben Badler: They may end up regretting that one. At the same time, the Red Sox were also going over their international bonus pool (mainly to sign Espinoza and Christopher Acosta, before Yoan Moncada came along), so it's not like the Yankees had free reign on the market. And while we had Espinoza as the No. 1 pitcher on the international market last year, he was also throwing up to 93-94 at the time, not 100 like he is now, plus there was the elbow scare. If you look at the Yankees' track record in recent years, they've invested their top bonuses in bats, then with low six-figure deals and under they've found their arms, like Luis Severino and Domingo Acevedo. That's worked well for them, but I'm sure in hindsight they would have loved to have had Espinoza in their haul.

x (Philly): What kind of upside does Arauz have?
Ben Badler: I have a hard time putting an upside or a ceiling on someone when they just turned 17 years old, because even the physical tools like speed and arm strength can improve at that age. I don’t expect Arauz to be a high impact player, but he’s a smart, steady player who will play somewhere in the infield with an advanced bat. Nothing flashy--Gamboa is a quicker twitch guy with more tools but more crudeness to his game--but an instinctive player who won’t have the loudest tools on the field but could have the bat to be an everyday guy up the middle.

mike (lubbock, tx): Any twins players besides Palacios stand out to you?
Ben Badler: Johan Quezada stands out to anyone who sees him because he’s 6-foot-8 and can throw 100 mph. Reliever only and has to come up with more to the rest of his arsenal and continue to improve his control, but that’s a frightening fastball from a steep angle, maybe even more frightening if he doesn’t always know where it’s going. I expected Lewin Diaz to put up better numbers than he did, but he is in better shape than he was a year ago, so he’s still someone to keep an eye and and probably goes to the Appy League next year given the organization’s history. 2B Luis Arraez is a sleeper--no tools, doesn’t run, doesn’t throw, doesn’t have much power, but he has a knack for hitting with a good eye at the plate. Won’t grab anyone’s attention when they first see him, but if he keeps hitting and getting on base as he moves up, he could sneak up on people.

Steve (Philadelphia): I'm not sure if you're just more effusive in praise or the games are just scouted more, but it sounds like the GCL had much better prospects this year on the AZL. Just based solely on what you've heard, are there any players that would have been significantly higher on the AZL20?
Ben Badler: If anything, I probably tend to pick players apart more than most, but the GCL this year just had more talent than usual when I’ve done the list and objectively better prospects than the AZL. For whatever reason, the organizations with GCL teams went more heavy on high school players who they assigned to their complex league club, and the international talent happened to be stronger as well. Although I’m a huge Trent Clark believer--he would have been very high on the GCL list if he had played there.

John (The Lou, Mo): Does Nick Plummer have enough juice to make a corner outfield profile work, if he does not have the chops to remain in CF?
Ben Badler: I think the power would be stretched thin there as an everyday player, unless he develops the bat control for the OBP to make up for it.

Ben Badler: Thanks for all the questions. A fun group of players to write up and to talk about. The New York-Penn League top 20 goes up tomorrow and Northwest League list goes up Monday, after which I’ll have a story up on all the pitchers in the short-season and rookie leagues who hit 100 mph this year that folks have asked me about.

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