California League Top 20 Prospects
By Kyle Glaser
Got Questions? Get them in here
- 1Inland Empire (Angels) OFNotes:
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Ht: 208 Drafted: HS—Louisville, 2017 (1)
Just one year removed from high school, Adell shot through the Cal League as he ascended three levels of the minors up to Double-A. He led the league in runs, extra-base hits (34) and total bases (130) during his time there, punishing older pitchers with light-tower power.
Adell hammered both velocity and spin and drove the ball in the air to all fields. He occasionally got over-aggressive as he sought to do damage, but his special blend of physicality, bat speed and maturity checked every box of a future impact offensive player.
“He’s well advanced in his maturation as a hitter,” Stockton manager Rick Magnante said. “His ability to recognize pitches, be on time, use the whole field, drive the ball, battle deep into counts and have success—it was very impressive for a guy at his age making the strides he’s made in such a short period of time.”
Adell further showcased plus speed on the bases and a plus arm in the outfield. He also demonstrated a keen understanding of the mental side of the game, keeping a notebook with details on every pitcher he faced.
Adell’s offense is ahead of his defense. His routes and jumps in center field need refinement, but he’s capable at all three outfield spots.
238 AB, 12 HR, 9 SB, 15 BB, 63 SO
- 2Lake Elsinore (Padres) LHPNotes:
Age: 19 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Ht: 210 Signed: Cuba, 2016
Morejon made only two starts in the second half due to flexor soreness followed by triceps discomfort, but he tantalized in the first half.
Morejon received votes for Best Fastball, Best Breaking Pitch and Best Changeup in Best Tools balloting, a well-rounded arsenal no one else could match. His fastball sat 94-96 mph, his two distinct changeups kept opponents off-balance, and he took off once he found the right arm stroke and release point on his curveball in mid-May.
“His fastball plays up a couple ticks with just kind of the ease of the stroke, and especially when he lands his breaking ball it’s a challenge for hitters to be able to manufacture at-bats,” Rancho Cucamonga manager Drew Saylor said. “To do that at age 19 is definitely something that will make you turn your head a little bit.”
Morejon’s command of his curveball still needs to be sharpened and durability remains a longstanding concern. Still, at his best observers saw a power lefthander with mid-to-front of the rotation potential.
4-4, 3.30 ERA
62.2 IP, 24 BB, 70 SO, 4 HR
- 3Lake Elsinore (Padres) RHPNotes:
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Ht: 195 Drafted: HS—Cedar Park, Texas, 2015 (8)
Paddack returned from Tommy John surgery and showed 22 months away from pitching didn’t have any negative effect on his stuff. He ranked first in WHIP (0.90), second in strikeouts (83), third in ERA (2.24) and fourth in opponent average (.224) during his time in the league before being promoted to Double-A. His 83-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio was especially eye-popping.
Paddack parked his fastball at 90-93 mph and reached back for 95-96 when he wanted, commanding it expertly to both sides of the plate. His heater played up with late riding life through the zone, and he cut, ran or sinked his devastating changeup at will for swings and misses.
“Paddack just seems more mature,” Inland Empire manager Ryan Barba said. “He’s more of a pitcher right now than most of the other guys.”
The continued development of Paddack’s third pitch—presently a below-average curveball that is loopy and soft at 72-76 mph—will be key moving forward. He also needs to build endurance after being limited to 85 pitches per start.
4-1, 2.24 ERA
52.1 IP, 4 BB, 83 SO, 4 HR
- 4Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) SSNotes:
Age: 20 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Ht: 190 Drafted: HS—Kenosha, Wis., 2016 (1)
Lux got stronger and adjusted his bat path after a disappointing first pro season, and the result was a breakthrough in year two. He ranked in the top five in the Cal League in batting average (second), on-base percentage (second), runs (second), total bases (third) and slugging percentage (fourth) before being promoted on Aug. 1, and then hit .324 in Double-A.
Lux did all that while showing above-average speed, above-average arm strength and impressive range and reflexes at shortstop, particularly moving to his left.
“He was one of the best athletes in the league,” Lake Elsinore manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He moves well, accelerates on the bases. And then he’s very aware of his strike zone, handles righties and lefties well, drives the ball. He’s an athlete.”
Lux committed 27 errors—mostly throwing—because he tends to pop up out of his legs and sail the ball over the first baseman’s head. Those longstanding throwing accuracy issues have most projecting him to second base, where he now has the bat to profile.
358 AB, 11 HR, 11 BB, 43 BB, 68 SO
- 5Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) RHPNotes:
Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Ht: 180 Drafted: HS—Justin, Texas, 2016 (3)
May was a rail-thin teen who sat 90-92 mph when he finished in the Cal League last season. He matured into a completely different pitcher this year, sitting 93-97 mph with power sink, and that enhanced fastball carried him to new heights. After upping his fastball usage to around 70 percent, May went 5-0, 2.37 in his final 10 starts before being promoted to Double-A.
“I was impressed just with the way he pitched aggressive,” Lancaster manager Fred Ocasio said. “He came after hitters, was not afraid to pitch to contact….Obviously he’s got good stuff, but the thing that I really liked is that the fact that he just went after hitters and the poise that he had on the mound.”
May is fastball-heavy but has excellent control and two usable secondaries. His slider transformed into an above-average power curveball this season, and he developed a cutter to help neutralize lefties after his changeup stalled. Continued development of those secondaries will be a focus moving forward.
7-3, 3.29 ERA
98.1 IP, 17 BB, 94 SO, 9 HR
- 6Visalia (D-backs) SSNotes:
Age: 20 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Ht: 165 Signed: Bahamas, 2015
Chisholm electrified the league after getting called up on July 19, making nightly highlight-reel defensive plays at shortstop and finishing sixth the in the league in total bases (89) from the time he was called up.
Chisholm played with swagger and a constant smile on his face, bringing a lighthearted nature to the field while energizing his team. His plus footspeed and athleticism on both sides of the ball stood out in particular.
“He’s pretty talented,” Modesto manager Mitch Canham said. “We watched him make some extraordinary plays at shortstop. How relaxed and comfortable and athletic that kid is, he looks like a really special player.”
Chisholm is thin, but he generates home run power with with a whippy, uppercut swing that sends long fly balls out to right field. He’ll get overly aggressive and chase pitches, leading to elevated strikeout totals, but at other times he flashes good feel for the strike zone.
149 AB, 10 HR, 9 SB, 9 BB, 52 SO
- 7Lake Elsinore (Padres) RHPNotes:
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-8 Ht: 220 Signed: Cuba, 2016
The titanic Baez took a step back after looking like a future No. 1 starter a year ago, but even with his regression still delivered a 2.91 ERA and earned a promotion to Double-A.
Baez had issues with his alignment and direction to the plate—throwing too across his body—and his stuff and command suffered as a result. He struggled to throw strikes to his glove side or land his breaking ball consistently, and his fastball velocity fluctuated greatly, ranging from 90 to 97 mph.
Even so, Baez flashed the ability to ramp fastball up to the upper 90s and land both an above-average slider and solid changeup at his best. That was enough of a taste to keep observers intrigued in Baez as a possible mid-rotation starter or closer.
“That’s electric stuff,” Inland Empire manager Ryan Barba said. “Once he starts to get that command on a consistent basis, and you’ve seen he has it, when he gets rolling that’s a tough at-bat.”
4-2, 2.91 ERA
86.2 IP, 33 BB, 92 SO, 5 HR
- 8Lancaster (Rockies) 3BNotes:
Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Ht: 195 Drafted: HS—Parkland, Fla., 2016 (4)
Welker established himself early as one of the league’s best hitters and kept getting better. He displayed excellent hand-eye coordination, put himself in good counts with an advanced approach and ably used the whole field, ultimately winning the league batting title (.333) and delivering hit streaks of 13, 15 and 20 games.
“He’s very aware of his strike zone and able to handle a very good fastball,” Lake Elsinore manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “At the same time, he made adjustments with offspeed pitches. He’s only 20. When you see that in a hitter, when he’s able to handle the hard fastball in and still drive to the opposite field those offspeed pitches, it’s a very good sign, especially at his age.”
Defensively Welker made only six errors all year at third base with reliable hands and an accurate, above-average arm, although his lateral range and agility need a lot of improvement.
Welker’s power is his main question mark. His flat swing path yielded just four home runs and a .404 slugging outside of Lancaster. Optimists believe Welker’s pure hitting ability will allow him to run into more home runs as he gets older and stronger, but others are less bullish.
454 AB, 13 HR, 5 SB, 42 BB, 103 SO
- 9Lake Elsinore (Padres) 3BNotes:
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Ht: 205 Drafted: HS—Southlake, Texas, 2016 (1)
The chiseled Potts looked like a man among boys despite being one of the youngest players in the league and hit like one too, finishing in the top 10 in doubles (fourth) home runs (ninth) and total bases (10th) despite spending the final month in Double-A.
With a mature approach, Potts didn’t chase, hit velocity and showed power to all fields. The drawback was how often he swung and missed in the strike zone, particularly on offspeed pitches under his hands.
“As he learns to stay on the breaking ball and elevate it and drive it, I think he’s going to end up being a better prospect than some other guys right now,” Rancho Cucamonga manager Drew Saylor said. “He brings natural playable tools...and he can modify his swing plane to adjust to pitches. That gives him an edge.”
A converted shortstop, Potts became more comfortable at third base and improved his footwork, which led to an uptick in arm strength. He played under control, showed good instincts and reactions, understood his angles and displayed fluid, reliable hands, ultimately drawing reviews as a solid-average third baseman.
406 AB, 17 HR, 3 SB, 37 BB, 112 SO
- 10Visalia (D-backs) CNotes:
Age: 22 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-10 Ht: 190 Drafted: Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2017 (2s)
Varsho missed two months with a fractured hamate bone but impressed when healthy. The rare catcher who is a plus runner, Varsho stole 19 bases to go with a solid year both at the plate and behind it.
Varsho’s receiving earned plaudits and he showed above-average arm strength with a quick release when he got his feet set, although his throws sailed when he rushed. He threw out 37 percent of attempted basestealers and was particularly adept at backpicking.
“His ability to backpick at any base at any time I think puts a lot of hesitation to baserunners and he can help you get out of innings,” Modesto manager Mitch Canham said. “And then watching him block behind the plate he’s very efficient. Keeps everything in front of him, provides a low target and does a good job keeping strikes strikes and making borderline pitches strikes as well.”
Varsho takes big, aggressive swings early in counts that produce line drives, and he’ll put a bunt down when opponents shift him. Concerns Varsho’s aggressiveness will be exploited at higher levels precluded evaluators from seeing a huge ceiling, but the consensus was he’s a big leaguer.
304 AB, 11 HR, 19 SB, 30 BB, 71 SO
- 11Inland Empire (Angels) OFNotes:
Age: 20 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-4 Ht: 210 Drafted: HS—Buford, Ga., 2016 (2)
Marsh moved up to Inland Empire in May and struggled with the level adjustment at first, but he bounced back to hit .276/.365/.425 in the second half while flashing huge tools.
Though he often played a corner in deference to Jo Adell, Marsh was actually the better center fielder of the two with superb jumps, plus speed and long strides that allowed him to run down any ball gap-to-gap. His best tool was a jaw-dropping arm voted best in the league by managers.
“He’s got a great arm and a great sense of how to use it,” Visalia manager Joe Mather said. “There’s times where he’ll try and bait guys with a little nonchalant-ness and then let one eat...and it’s right on the money.”
Offensively Marsh tracks pitches and knows the strike zone, but mechanical issues in his lower half prevent him from staying on plane with the ball and result in a lot of swings and misses. He also doesn’t always swing with intent, preventing him from getting to his raw power. Fixing those shortcomings will be key for Marsh to reach his lofty ceiling.
371 AB, 7 HR, 10 SB, 52 BB, 118 SO
- 12Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) RHPNotes:
Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Ht: 180 Drafted: St. Mary’s, 2016 (9)
A two-way player in college, Gonsolin started concentrating on pitching as a pro and keeps getting better. After converting from relief to starting this year, Gonsolin ranked second the Cal League in ERA (2.64) and third in strikeouts (106) before being promoted to Double-A.
Gonsolin showed flashes of three above-average or better pitches as a starter, with a 94-96 mph fastball he held into the middle innings of outings, a big breaking curveball and a diving split-change. He struggled to get them all working at the same time—when his curveball was on his changeup was not, and vice versa—and his command could be scattered, but the stuff was undeniable.
“When you have the fastball he has and he throws his offspeed for strikes and knows how to mix, that’s why he had a good season here,” Lancaster manager Fred Ocasio said. “He just kept the hitters off balance pretty much throughout and had them all guessing.”
Gonsolin also displayed a notable toughness and aggressiveness and a penchant for making big pitches. If his development stalls and he has to move to the bullpen, his mix of toughness and stuff gives him a chance to be a high-leverage, late-game reliever.
4-2, 2.69 ERA
83.2 IP, 26 BB, 106 SO, 5 HR
- 13Inland Empire (Angels) SSNotes:
Age: 21 B-T: B-R Ht: 5-10 Ht: 175 Signed: Venezuela, 2014 (Mariners)
Rengifo spent 41 games in the Cal League, sailed through Double-A and finished the year in Triple-A, putting together a combined .299/.399/.452 slash line with 41 stolen bases.
None of Rengifo’s tools are plus, but he gets the most out of everything he has. His elite plate-discipline puts him in favorable hitter’s counts, he expertly reads keys points off both the pitcher and catcher to steal bases, and he understands his footwork and angles to capably make every play at shortstop.
“Just a dynamic talent,” Stockton manager Rick Magnante said. “Certainly the speed, the instincts on the bases, the daring, another kid who can manage the strike zone, a tough out. And defensively his athleticism, his actions and his arm strength all play into the center of the diamond type of skills.”
Rengifo’s batting average and on-base percentage dropped each level he climbed and his lack of plus speed caught up with him at Triple-A, where he was thrown out stealing as often as he was successful. Still, Rengifo’s well-rounded skillset has him in position to break into the majors soon.
161 AB, 2 HR, 22 SB, 27 BB, 22 SO
- 14Modesto (Mariners) 1BNotes:
Age: 22 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-3 Ht: 205 Drafted: Kentucky, 2017 (1)
To watch White play first base was to watch a ballet. With graceful footwork, remarkable flexibility and feather-soft hands, White made every play look effortless and turned countless potential hits or throwing errors into outs.
One of the best athletes in the league and a plus runner, White was simply pristine on defense whether he was stretching, picking, ranging or using his above-average arm.
“Even playing against him you’re just kind of in awe at some of the plays he makes and how consistently he makes them,” Visalia manager Joe Mather said. “We kind of compared him to J.T. Snow over there, but he might be an even better athlete.”
White frequently finds the barrel for line-drive contact. He primarily lined he ball the other way early in the year, but at the end he began to turn and elevate to his pull-side, slugging .703 and hitting five of his 11 home runs in August.
Not all are convinced White has the power to profile at first base, but his defensive gifts and speed lead many to believe he could handle a move to center field, where a lack of power would be less of an issue.
476 AB, 11 HR, 4 SB, 52 BB, 104 SO
- 15Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) RHPNotes:
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Ht: 180 Drafted: Nevada-Las Vegas, 2016 (14)
Formerly a sinker-slider righthander, Kremer became a four-seam fastball-curveball pitcher this year after the Dodgers analyzed his spin axis and release point and suggested the switch. The change worked wonders.
Featuring a new 90-95 mph fastball with carry, a downer curveball and his old slider that still projects as his best pitch, Kremer led the Cal League in strikeout rate (12.99 K/9) before he was promoted to Double-A and traded to Baltimore in the Manny Machado deal. He finished the year as the overall minor league leader with 178 strikeouts.
“He has the whole package,” Lake Elsinore manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “First a very good arm, up to 95, and then he has command of his of secondary pitches...That ability to throw a secondary pitch in any count for a strike, I think more than his fastball, is what will make him successful.”
Kremer lacks a plus pitch and, although he throws strikes, his fastball command needs tightening. His ability to shape his slider and move it in and out of the zone to make it a plus pitch will be key, and will help determine whether he sticks in a starting rotation long-term.
5-3, 3.30 ERA
79 IP, 26 BB, 114 SO, 7 HR
- 16Lake Elsinore (Padres) OFNotes:
Age: 23 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-4 Ht: 210 Drafted: Florida, 2016 (2)
Reed, simply, was a walking highlight-reel in the Cal League. Whether it was racing to make a catch at the wall, stealing second and third base on back-to-back pitches, gunning down a runner at the plate or driving out a home run, Reed did something game-changing just about every night.
A long-limbed, premium athlete, Reed showcased plus-plus speed, Gold Glove-level defense in left and center field and a cannon arm. Most important, he overhauled his setup offensively—getting lower in his stance and choking up to emphasize contact—and hit a career-best .324. Reed’s vast skillset made him a headache for opponents, he did it all while playing with a boundless energy that electrified his own team.
“To have a guy that can go out there and have fun and have that talent at the same time, that’s something amazing to watch,” Inland Empire manager Ryan Barba said. “He’s not afraid, he’s confident. The way he patrols the outfield, his arm, jeez.”
The drawback is Reed is an adept mistake hitter, but he gets beat by high-end velocity and quality breaking stuff. That led observers to doubt Reed would hit at higher levels, and his .179/.227/.235 line at Double-A seemed to validate their skepticism.
315 AB, 12 HR, 33 SB, 24 BB, 84 SO
- 17San Jose (Giants) RHPNotes:
Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Ht: 220 Drafted: HS—Rocklin, Calif., 2014 (4)
Webb made his first full season back from Tommy John surgery a good one. Initially limited to three- and four-inning starts, Webb built back up, put together scoreless streaks of 15 and 17 innings, and got promoted to Double-A in August. His 1.82 ERA would have led the Cal League if he pitched enough innings to qualify.
Webb’s powerful 94-97 mph fastball is his main weapon, and it plays up with late movement in the strike zone. His low 80s curveball was his primary secondary and he flashed an upper-80s changeup against lefties, but it was Webb’s aggressiveness with his fastball that carried him to success.
“He pitches with a chip on his shoulder,” Visalia manager Joe Mather said. “He just has a knack for getting outs, quick outs, and throwing the ball in the strike zone. Big arm, late movement, throws strikes. It’s what you look for in a starting pitcher.”
Webb’s lasted five innings only six times in 26 starts all year, so he still has to build endurance. His secondaries need further work as well, but his big fastball gives him an avenue to the majors as a reliever if needed.
1-3, 1.82 ERA
74 IP, 36 BB, 74 SO, 2 HR
- 18Lancaster (Rockies) 1BNotes:
Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4. Ht: 200 Drafted: HS—Poway, Calif., 2015 (1s)
Nevin twice went on the disabled list for a pulled groin but impressed when healthy. The son of All-Star Phil Nevin finished second in the league batting title race (.328) and hit well even away from his cozy home park, batting .340/.397/.454 outside of Lancaster.
Nevin took competitive at-bats, didn’t chase, showed good bat control, stayed back on breaking balls and turned around upper 90’s velocity. He’s an excellent situational hitter who adjusts his approach and puts the ball in play and gets runs home in crucial moments. Like his father, Nevin excels at driving the ball the other way into the right-center gap, resulting in a lot of doubles but presently limiting his home runs.
Formerly a third baseman, Nevin is now primarily a first baseman and still learning the position. Getting better at picking balls out of the dirt has been a point of emphasis, as has staying home instead of charging in on a slow roller. Nevin is just a so-so defender and is going to have to mash to make it as a righthanded-hitting first baseman, but evaluators see the tools for him to do it.
378 AB, 13 HR, 4 SB, 34 BB, 77 SO
- 19Visalia (D-backs) RHPNotes:
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Ht: 200 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013
Vargas emerged from obscurity to win the league’s pitcher of the year award. The big-bodied Dominican led the league in ERA (2.50), opponent average (.232) and strikeouts-per-nine (11.8) among qualifiers and earned a late promotion to Double-A.
Vargas’ high-spin rate fastball sat 90-93 mph and played up with rising action and late run. His slurvy 77-81 mph breaking ball drew swings and misses, and his changeup was a usable third pitch. More than his stuff, Vargas worked with a good tempo, pitched to both sides of the plate, changed speeds and pounded the strike zone early to get into pitcher’s counts.
“For a guy who strikes out as many as he does he also forces a lot of weak contact,” Modesto manager Mitch Canham said. “He gets ahead of hitters, and once you get ahead the strikeouts can climb. He did a good job getting ahead, and when he was behind he had good pitches to get back into the count.”
Vargas’ lack of a plus pitch and inconsistent fastball command foster some doubts about how he’ll fare at higher levels. Improving his secondaries will be a developmental focus to help him rise.
8-5, 2.50 ERA
129.2 IP, 41 BB, 140 SO, 12 HR
- 20Modesto (Mariners) SSNotes:
Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Ht: 180 Drafted: San Diego, 2016 (3)
Brigman arrived at spring training early to revamp his swing and get stronger, and the work paid off. Brigman played an impressive shortstop for Modesto and ranked among the league leaders in batting (.304) and steals (15) when he was traded to the Marlins for Cameron Maybin at the deadline. Altogether Brigman hit .310 with a .370 on-base percentage and 21 steals while reaching Double-A.
Brigman’s athleticism primarily stands out. He makes all the athletic plays at shortstop with confidence and pizazz, showing an impressive vertical leap, quick hands and an above-average arm that has improved. He’s a plus runner and efficient basestealer.
Brigman’s offensive improvements are most consequential. He got more upright in his stance, created better rhythm and started recognizing pitches better from his new vantage point, leading to less chasing and more hard, line-drive contact to all fields.
Brigman is a bit of a slasher who doesn’t project to hit for power, but his newfound contact ability gives him the potential to be a plus hit, plus speed, plus defensive middle infielder for some evaluators. That’s enough to keep him on a big league roster as a versatile, useful player.
381 AB, 2 HR, 15 SB, 37 BB, 58 SO