EL Top 20
By Josh Norris
The 2018 Eastern League belonged to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The club opened with an indomitable lineup that included the league’s top two prospects—third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and shortstop Bo Bichette—as well as the league’s eventual home run and batting champions in second baseman Cavan Biggio and outfielder Harold Ramirez.
That fearsome offense backed up an excellent pitching staff that included righthanders T.J. Zeuch, who finished second on the circuit with a 3.08 ERA, and Jordan Romano, who started the league’s all-star game.
Prospects don’t always translate to wins in the minor leagues, but they certainly did for the Fisher Cats. The club earned a wild-card bid to the playoffs, then swept its way through Trenton and Akron to claim the championship.
The biggest riser in the league was Altoona third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who improved his stock so significantly that he finished as the league’s No. 4 prospect, behind just Guerrero, Bichette and Hartford shortstop Brendan Rodgers. All season long, Hayes showed outstanding defense at third base and burgeoning power at the plate.
Just behind Hayes was Mets infield prospect Jeff McNeil, who bullied his way out of Binghamton in just 57 games while on his way to the major leagues, where he’s opened plenty of eyes since his debut in mid-July.
- 1New Hampshire (Blue Jays) 3BNotes:
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B
New Hampshire (Blue Jays)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Guerrero ran away with BA’s Minor League Player of the Year award and was the Eastern League’s best prospect by a wide margin. Many scouts tabbed him as an 80-grade hitter with 80-grade power on the 20-80 scouting scale before the season, and he spent the summer living up to those lofty expectations.
Guerrero opened the year as the league’s youngest player and promptly destroyed the league with bat speed and a batting eye that both ranked as elite. He hit .402, and the only thing that could stop him was a knee injury that shelved him for a month.
Everybody’s in on Guerrero as the best hitter in the minors, but he faces questions about where he will wind up defensively. He signed as an outfielder before shifting to third base as a pro. He shows an above-average arm but his range and ability to make plays on slow rollers are limited.
Staying at the hot corner is not out of the question, but Guerrero will have to work hard to maintain his large frame if he wants to avoid a move to first base. No matter where he plays, there are multiple all-star games in his future.
236 AB, 14 HR, 3 SB, 21 BB, 27 SO
- 2New Hampshire (Blue Jays) SSNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 200. Drafted: HS—St. Petersburg, Fla., 2016 (2).
It’s hard to fly under the radar when you’re a top-five prospect in the game, but that’s what Bichette did spending half the season playing alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at New Hampshire.
Bichette finished as one of only 13 minor leaguers with more than 30 stolen bases and double-digit homers. Rival evaluators praised Bichette’s advanced approach and elite bat-to-ball skills, which allowed him to raise his walk rate from last season even as the second-youngest player in the league.
Bichette got a bit overaggressive early in the season but worked with his coaching staff to better learn which pitches he can drive and which ones he’s better leaving alone. On defense, there’s still a split camp whether he can stay at shortstop or will have to move over to second base. His detractors point to his inconsistent arm slots he uses on throws, which affects his arm strength.
The Blue Jays have worked with Bichette to iron out the kinks in the way he throws the ball across the diamond. He has just average speed, but he’s become such an intelligent runner that he can be a successful basestealer.
539 AB, 11 HR, 32 SB, 48 BB, 101 BB
- 3Hartford (Rockies) SSNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 180. Drafted: HS—Lake Mary, Fla., 2015 (1).
Rodgers was the third of three stellar shortstops drafted at the top of the 2015 draft—Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman preceded him—and he is on track to join that duo in the major leagues shortly.
Rodgers returned to Hartford after a 38-game sample there in 2017 and was thoroughly impressive, so much that one opposing manager even labeled him as the best all-around player in the league. He spent the first half of the season working on better recognizing breaking pitches, which he was fed consistently in batting practice drills.
Rodgers improved greatly at shortstop this season, showing range to both sides and on slow rollers, with a strong enough arm to stick at the position. He also started 17 games apiece at second base and third base, increasing his versatility and avenues to break into the big league lineup.
357 AB, 17 HR, 12 SB, 30 BB, 76 SO
- 4Altoona (Pirates) 3BNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 210. Drafted: HS—Tomball, Texas, 2015 (1).
Hayes has a much different build than his father, Charlie Hayes, who had a 14-year big league career. The younger Hayes entered the year with questions whether he would hit for the power required to profile at third base.
But strength gains this year helped him begin to answer that question. He hit 31 doubles, fourth in the EL, to go with seven home runs. That was especially encouraging considering he played half his games in pitcher-friendly Altoona. His slugging percentage jumped more than 100 points on the road, from .383 to .507.
Opposing managers also noticed a better ability to turn on pitches as the season went on, noting they had shaded him the opposite way early then shifted to the pull side later in the year.
Hayes faces zero questions about his ability to stick at third base. Evaluators around the league complimented his work by saying he was essentially a shortstop at third base with the plus arm needed to play the position.
437 AB, 7 HR, 12, SB, 57 BB, 84 SO
- 5Harrisburg (Nationals) SSNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 190. Drafted: HS—Marietta, Ga., 2016 (1).
Kieboom and system-mate Juan Soto both missed much of 2017 with injuries. In 2018, both showed their true potential and then some. Soto rocketed to the majors, and Kieboom was impressive in what turned out to be his first true full season.
Kieboom showed skills befitting a bat-first shortstop while making it Double-A at the same age as a college junior. Managers and scouts saw a player who could hit for average and power, and he certainly lived up to that billing in the high Class A Carolina League before experiencing a drop off in the more advanced EL.
Kieboom faces questions about whether he can stick at shortstop, but he played there all season. The Nationals will continue giving him reps at shortstop until he proves he has to move.
If Kieboom does move he will stay in the dirt, with third base a possibility because of his strong arm. No matter where Kieboom lands, he looks like a bat-first infielder.
248 AB, 5 HR, 3 SB, 22 BB, 59 SO
- 6Altoona (Pirates) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS—Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2014. (2).
After spending a stint in the EL last year and a strong turn in the Arizona Fall League, Keller returned to Altoona this year to continue developing his changeup at Double-A.
Keller’s one-two punch is his fastball and curveball. His heater consistently sat in the mid-90s and topped out at 97 mph with glove-side life, and his hook sat in the high 70s with snappy 12-to-6 break.
Keller’s changeup remains further behind as his third pitch, though scouts upgraded it potentially average by the time he moved to Triple-A Indianapolis in late June.
Keller’s durable body and outstanding stuff give him considerable upside. He just needs to continue to refine his changeup.
9-2, 2.72 ERA
86 IP, 32 BB, 76 SO, 7 HR
- 7Erie (Tigers) OFNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS—McDonough, Ga., 2015 (1s/Astros).
Cameron was originally drafted by the Astros in 2015 but was shipped to Detroit in 2017 as part of the deal that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. He was always loaded with tools but didn’t really start turning those tools into production until last year, when he had an offensive breakthrough at low Class A with 14 home runs and 32 stolen bases.
Cameron continued building on that outburst this year with a stellar 2018 that started at high Class A Lakeland and finished in Triple-A Toledo. During his stopover in the EL, Cameron began to get to his power more frequently as he adjusted his approach to become more aggressive on early-count fastballs. That led to a career-best .470 slugging percentage and a few future 20-20 projections from managers and scouts. Defensively, Cameron glides to balls in center field and has an average arm.
Cameron’s burgeoning power and above-average speed are enticing, and he’s on the right track with his continued improvements.
200 AB, 5 HR, 12 SB, 25 BB, 43 SO
- 8Binghamton (Mets) 1BNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 245. Drafted: Florida, 2016 (2).
Even as the second-most famous Florida alum on the Binghamton roster behind Tim Tebow, Alonso cemented his reputation as one of the game’s premier power hitters. He tied for the minor league lead with 36 homers and led the minors with 119 RBIs, doing his early damage in the EL before a promotion to Triple-A.
Alonso’s approach at Double-A was hailed by opposing managers as highly advanced. One noted Alonso appeared to bait pitchers into throwing first-pitch cookies by showing early-count passivity early in games. His raw power grades as plus-plus, and he had no problem getting to that power production in games.
Alonso is still a work in progress at first base. The Mets acknowledge Alonso won’t ever be mistaken for Keith Hernandez, and he still has to put in work to be just adequate. He scoops throws from infielders well but struggles with routine grounders and popups.
Regardless of defense, power is Alonso’s calling card, and should carry him to the majors.
220 AB, 15 HR, 0 SB, 43 BB, 50 SO
- 9Hartford (Rockies) RHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 185. Drafted: HS—San Dimas, Calif., 2015 (2).
After doing as well as could be expected at the hitter’s haven that is high Class A Lancaster in 2017, Lambert showed his true skill this season in the EL. The righthander showed exceptional control of a four-pitch mix, walking just 1.2 batters per nine innings before moving to Triple-A Albuquerque at the end of June.
Lambert started his arsenal with a low-90s fastball that peaked in the mid-90s, and he backed it up primarily with an above-average downer curveball in the 79-81 mph range. His high-80s changeup earned average grades, and he added a mid-80s slider that could become average with continued refinement.
Lambert’s combination of stuff, makeup and an increasingly impressive physique have led evaluators to believe he’ll have a future in a big league rotation, possibly as a No. 3 or 4 starter if everything clicks.
8-2, 2.23 ERA
93 IP, 12 BB, 75 SO, 6 HR
- 10Binghamton (Mets) SSNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: L-R-. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 161. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
After holding his own at low Class A Columbia in 2017, Gimenez moved two levels and continued to hit up through Double-A this year while making an appearance in the Futures Game.
Despite his smaller stature, Gimenez proved he can impact the ball at the plate and stick at shortstop. League managers pointed to the impressive torque Gimenez generates with his hips as reason to believe more thump will come from his bat as he gets older, which is impressive considering he began the season as the third-youngest player in the high Class A Florida State League.
In the field, scouts see an above-average defender with a chance to be even better as he matures and gets more reps. Gimenez’s arm is above-average and also should get stronger.
137 AB, 16 HR, 3 SB, 22 BB, 10 SO
- 11Akron (Indians) RHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 165. Drafted: HS—Royal Palm Beach, Fla., 2015 (1st round supp.)
After missing the first two months of the season with forearm soreness, McKenzie made his Akron debut on June 7 and was dominant from open to close, permitting three or fewer earned runs in all but one of his 16 starts and never walking more than three in an outing.
He hasn’t gotten much bigger, the Indians say, but he has packed more strength into his wiry frame. His fastball also took a step forward, averaging 93 mph and touching as high at 95 mph this season. The Indians and their player-development team also went to work improving McKenzie’s breaking ball by using a combination of their internal analytics and the results captured by Edgertronic cameras.
He also worked in the changeup more often to get used to the increased amount of lefthanded hitters he’ll find at the upper levels. When he’s done developing, his ceiling is as a mid-rotation starter with three above-average pitches.
7-4, 2.68 ERA
90.2 IP, 28 BB, 87 SO, 8 HR
- 12Binghamton (Mets) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 185. Drafted: Boston College, 2016 (1st round)
After a subpar season in the Florida State League, 2018 was Dunn’s coming-out party. The righthander, who converted from reliever to starter during his senior season at Boston College, dominated in a short return to St. Lucie before earning a bump to the EL. There, he showed evaluators much-improved stuff to match the statistical uptick.
His fastball, which sat in the 93-95 range, featured plenty of life and he showed an ability to throw the pitch for strikes early in the count. He backed it up with mid-80s changeup that he kept low in the zone as well as a slider with improved consistency to its break. He needs to continue refining the pitch, however, to avoid it getting flat and hittable. With further development, he has the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
6-5, 4.22 ERA
89.2 IP, 37 BB, 105 SO, 7 HR
- 13Bowie (Orioles) OFNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: S-L. Ht: 5-8. Wt: 175. Drafted: Campbell, 2015 (13th round).
After an excellent second half with Bowie in 2017, Mullins returned to the EL in 2018 and showed significant further improvement. He did damage from both sides of the plate, on the bases and in center field, and in doing so earned himself his first big league callup.
Mullins is not an imposing presence, but he packs sneaky power into a twitchy body. He’s a plus runner who turns in plus-plus times at his best.
That speed and excellent instincts paid off on the basepaths (21 steals in 22 ties) and in center field, where he pairs his speed with excellent routes. His impact at the plate was fairly evenly distributed in Double-A, though he had a little bit tougher time from the left side in Triple-A before his promotion to Baltimore.
Despite his smaller size, scouts point to the big-time torque he gets in his hips as a reason to believe he’ll be able to produce power in the big leagues. With Adam Jones a free agent at season’s end, Mullins is a solid candidate to be Baltimore’s everyday center fielder in 2019.
201 AB, 6 HR, 9 SB, 15 BB, 28 SO
- 14New Hampshire (Blue Jays) 2BNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 203. Drafted: Notre Dame, 2016 (5th round)
The third of three big league legacy players on the Fisher Cats’ infield, Biggio went punch for punch with his more highly touted teammates. He led the circuit in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, and finished second in RBIs and on-base percentage en route to the league’s MVP award. To accomplish this, he lowered his hands, made an effort to be more aggressive on early-count fastballs and generally started taking a more loft-oriented approach. Lowering his hands, evaluators noticed, also helped him establish a consistent sense of timing.
Defensively, he logged significant time at second, third and first base and will continue developing as a utility player when he heads to the Arizona Fall League. His arm is stretched at third base and scouts view him as fringe-average at second as well.
449 AB, 26 HR, 20 SB, 100 BB, 148 SO
- 15Bowie (Orioles) 3BNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS—Oviedo, Fla., 2015 (1st round)
Mountcastle’s scouting report has long been the same: He’s going to hit, but there’s almost no chance he sticks in the infield. After his first full test at in Double-A, the reputation stayed the same. He impressed evaluators with the bat as a 21-year-old in the EL, but still did not show an arm strong enough to stick at third base, where he’d moved after spending the first part of his pro career at shortstop. One opposing manager said his team bunted toward Mountcastle all the time to try to exploit the holes in his game. A move to left field or first base seems likely. His offense, however, is a different story. Scouts believe he’s capable of being a middle of the order bat who can hit for both average and power.
394 AB, 13 HR, 2 SB, 26 BB, 79 SO
- 16Erie (Tigers) SSNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 225. Signed: Mexico, 2015.
Along with third baseman Jeimer Candelario, Paredes was sent to the Tigers in 2017 as part of the deal that moved reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs. Paredes’ reputation as a bat-first player preceded him, and he’s lived up to that billing as he’s moved up the ladder. He excelled at two levels this season, and was especially exciting in a five-week stint at Double-A in the second half, and showed an ability to coax pitchers into giving him hittable fastballs, which proceeded to crush. Defensively, however, it’s clear he’s not a shortstop. Evaluators believe he’s probably bigger than his his listed weight, and doesn’t show the range needed to stick at shortstop in the long-term. He’s got the arm strength for third base, if the Tigers choose to move him over there at some point. He’s a below-average runner, too, but the bat is too good to ignore.
131 AB, 3 HR, 1 SB, 19 BB, 22 SO
- 17Erie (Tigers) RHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 200. Drafted: HS—Weatherford, Texas, 2015 (1st round).
Burrows has some of the most electric stuff in the organization—his 127 strikeouts were fourth-most among Tigers prospects—now he needs to sharpen his command. He’s done an excellent job of keeping his high-spin, mid-90s fastball up in the zone for swings and misses, but now he needs to become more consistent locating the pitch down in the zone. Both of his breaking balls have a chance to become above-average pitches, too, but neither is consistent enough to earn that billing at this point and his quest to refine them has been a never-ending search for him.
Burrows does a good job of landing his curveball for strikes and gets plenty of chases with his slider, but the curveball is largely a get-over pitch right now while he struggles to throw the slider for strikes. Part of harnessing his command involves mastering the timing in his unorthodox delivery, which features a high left elbow. Once he becomes more consistent at timing when he removes the ball from his glove during his delivery, better command will follow. If everything clicks he has the ceiling of a solid No. 4 starter.
10-9, 4.1 ERA
134 IP, 56 BB, 127 SO, 8 HR
- 18Trenton (Yankees) RHPNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 210. Drafted: Boston College, 2016 (12th round, Marlins)
After being acquired in a small trade last offseason, King has done nothing but perform in 2018. He started at high Class A Tampa then finished in Triple-A, dominating at every stop. He’s lauded internally for the extraordinary amount of work he puts into every start, which has helped him game plan opposing hitters all year long.
He led the system in strikeouts (152) and ERA (1.79), which also was second overall in the minor leagues. His pure stuff portends success, but not quite to the degree he’s had this season. He starts by commanding a pair of average 89-93 mph fastballs to both sides of the plate and backs it up with a slider and changeup that can generate swings and misses. The cherry on top of his season was a nine-inning shutout with 11 strikeouts against a New Hampshire lineup that included Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and EL batting champ Harold Ramirez. Because he’s jumped so quickly this year, scouts are understandably hesitant about his future role, with most seeing him as a possible No. 5 starter.
6-2, 2.09 ERA
82 IP, 13 BB, 76 SO, 4 HR
- 19Altoona (Pirates) LHPNotes:
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-5. Wt: 210. Drafted: Oklahoma Baptist, 2015 (5th round, Nationals)
Hearn has been traded twice already, first to Pittsburgh for Mark Melancon, and then again this season to Texas for Keone Kela. The reason he’s been so desired in trade stems from the lightning produced by his left arm. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched even higher, up to 98 at times. His low-three quarters arm angle helps make the pitch even tougher on lefthanded hitters.
This year he worked on learning how to better sequence his arsenal. Specifically, he figured out which counts were appropriate for fastballs and which were more suited for offspeed pitches. Both his slider and changeup project as at least above-average offerings with more repetitions. Before the trade, the Pirates were committed to giving him every opportunity to start but acknowledged that the possibility was there to be shutdown reliever from the left side if that’s where his development took him.
3-6, 3.12 ERA
104 IP, 38 BB, 107 SO, 6 HR
- 20Binghamton (Mets) 2BNotes:
Age: 26. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 195. Drafted: Long Beach State, 2013 (12th round)
After two years marred by injuries, including a pair of sports hernias, surgery to repair a hip labrum and various groin strains, McNeil came out this year and mashed his way to the major leagues. He dominated the Eastern League so thoroughly that his slugging percentage actually dropped (from .626 to .600) when he was promoted to the hitter’s paradise that is Las Vegas. He’s continued his tear in the majors, and has played as the Mets’ everyday second baseman since his callup. The contributing factors to his success involve his ability to make a ton of a contact without racking up big strikeout numbers, and a revamped approach that involved more attention to launch angle to mitigate his lack of pure raw power. He’s bounced around the diamond defensively, and has the chops to handle either second or third base at a passable level. Scouts are split on his overall future, but he’s hit well enough this year to have a shot at an everyday role for New York in 2019.
214 AB, 14 HR, 3 SB, 22 BB, 23 SO