Southern League Top 20 Prospects
By Matt Eddy
Eloy JimenezBirmingham (White Sox) OFNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 205. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013 (Cubs).
Jimenez has done nothing but mash since the White Sox acquired him from the Cubs as part of the Jose Quintana deal in July 2017. He convinced SL observers of his prodigious offensive talent in a 53-game look, then moved on to the Triple-A International League, where he also ranked as that circuit’s No. 1 prospect. All told, he hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs in 108 games.
Jimenez will be a high-impact major league hitter and could challenge for MVP awards. One SL manager invoked the name Miguel Cabrera when describing Jimenez’s swing. He keeps his lower half coiled, his arms relaxed and his front arm close to his body, unleashing his swing like a rubber band releasing its potential energy. What makes Jimenez particularly dangerous is his power to all fields and ability to adjust his approach from one at-bat to the next.
Jimenez has below-average but playable range and arm strength for left field and could stand to improve his jumps and routes to the ball.
“He’s the top guy in the league. He’s a freak,” Jackson manager Shelley Duncan said. “He hit a fastball over the center-field fence in Jackson—and nobody clears that—late in the game off 96 (mph) to give them lead.”
205 AB, 10 HR, 0 SB, 18 BB, 39 SOMore Less
Keston HiuraBiloxi (Brewers) 2BNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-11 WT: 190. Drafted: UC Irvine, 2017 (1).
The most accomplished college hitter in his draft class, Hiura lasted until the ninth pick because he had a partially torn ligament in his throwing elbow. The injury limited him to mostly DH duty in the first half of 2018 at high Class A Carolina, but following a promotion to the SL he made all but nine of his appearances at second base. At the two levels he hit .293/.357/.464 with 13 home runs in 123 games.
Hiura carries himself like a big leaguer, and he will fulfill that prophecy with the way the ball carries off his bat. With a compact swing and solid hitting base, he drives the ball with power to all fields and hit more home runs (seven) to the opposite field than to his pull side this season. Hiura’s disciplined, middle-of-the-field approach ensures he will hit for a high average and rack up extra-base hits.
While not flashy in the field, Hiura makes the routine play at second base with average range and enough arm to turn double plays.
279 AB, 6 HR, 11 SB, 22 BB, 56 SOMore Less
Dylan CeaseBirmingham (White Sox) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—Milton, Ga., 2014 (6/Cubs).
When the White Sox traded Jose Quintana to the Cubs in July 2017, they acquired both Cease and Eloy Jimenez in what could be a franchise-defining deal. Cease shredded Carolina League competition before a second-half bump to Birmingham, where he stood as the SL’s brightest pitching prospect.
Cease owned the best fastball and quickest arm in the SL. He threw 96-98 mph and touched 100 with such ease that one manager estimated that Cease was only throwing at 70 percent effort. His fastball explodes through the hitting zone with late life, though his command of the pitch is below-average, and he misses his spots by wide margins at times. He throws a mid-70s curveball with 12-to-6 shape and sharp bite that serves as a plus weapon and ideal chase pitch.
Cease struggles to land his curve for strikes and slows his arm on a below-average, sinking changeup, which when combined with scattershot command and slow times to the plate, could make him an impact closer candidate if he falls short of his No. 3 starter ceiling.
3-0, 1.72 ERA
52 IP, 22 BB, 78 SO, 3 HRMore Less
Griffin CanningMobile (Angels) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 170. Drafted: UCLA, 2017 (2).
A first-round talent in 2017, Canning fell to the second round because of concerns about a heavy college workload and an undisclosed medical issue. The Angels didn’t pitch him last year before putting him on the fast track in 2018, when he flew through high Class A and Double-A to spend the bulk of his pro debut at Triple-A. He recorded a 3.65 ERA in 25 starts while striking out 125 in 113 innings.
Canning drew multiple comparisons with Trevor Bauer for a combination of his UCLA roots, physique, delivery and repertoire. Canning sits 95 mph with a plus fastball that gets on batters quickly out of a fast-paced delivery, short stride and loose arm. His hammer curveball grades as plus and peaks in the high 80s. He excels at working north-south with his fastball and curve, while also mixing in a high-80s slider/cutter and a changeup that projects to average.
Canning shows poise on the mound, throws four pitches and controls the running game, making him a probable No. 3 starter.
1-0, 1.97 ERA
46 IP, 19 BB, 49 SO, 2 HRMore Less
Bryse WilsonMississippi (Braves) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 225. Drafted: HS—Hillsborough, N.C., 2016 (4).
The Braves selected high school pitchers with four of their first six picks in the 2016 draft. Wilson, the fourth of the prep pitchers taken, was the first high school player from the 2016 draft to reach the big leagues when he debuted with Atlanta on Aug. 20. He made 15 of 25 minor league appearances in the SL, , but he looked sharp at all three of his stops, recording a 3.44 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 126 innings.
Wilson works fast and aggressively attacks both sides of the plate with a fastball that tops out at 97 mph and sits comfortably at 93-95. His fastball projects as plus or double-plus because of late life on the pitch. Wilson throws a slurvy low-80s breaking ball that flashes plus and improved as the season progressed. He tends to slow his arm when throwing his changeup and needs to refine the pitch.
With a thick, durable build and loose arm action, Wilson projects to be a starter who can work deep into games.
3-5, 3.97 ERA
77 IP, 26 BB, 89 SO, 3 HRMore Less
Tony SantillanPensacola (Reds) RHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 240. Drafted: HS—Arlington, Texas, 2015 (2).
Extreme velocity paired with poor control once marked Santillan as a possible relief candidate. He began to shed those concerns with a breakout 2018 season he split between high Class A Daytona and Pensacola. He recorded a 3.08 ERA in 26 starts with rates of 8.1 strikeouts and (a career best) 2.3 walks per nine innings.
Everything Santillan throws is hard, and he operates with three plus or better pitches at times, particularly now that he can find the strike zone and work ahead of batters. He sits in the mid-90s and tops out at 98 mph with a heavy, double-plus fastball that runs to his arm side. He throws a slider with short tilt but high velocity that peaks near 90 mph.
Santillan has made significant strides with his firm high-80s changeup that fades to his arm side. He earns praise for his makeup, loose arm and ability to hold baserunners—he allowed just two stolen base attempts in 11 starts.
4-3, 3.61 ERA
62 IP, 16 BB, 61 SO, 8 HRMore Less
Kyle WrightMississippi (Braves) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 200. Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2017 (1).
The top college pitcher in the 2017 draft, Wright went fifth overall to the Braves and spent the bulk of his first full pro season in the SL before moving to Triple-A in August. He recorded a 3.46 ERA and struck out 133 in 138 minor league innings before Atlanta made him a September callup. He was the first—and so far only—player from his draft class to reach the majors.
Wright relies on a heavy low-90s fastball that tops out at 95 mph and a power breaking ball that stood out to SL managers as the best in the league. Both pitches earn consistent plus grades from scouts. Wright blends his curveball and slider at times, showing big break and downer action at lower velocities and more traditional slider action when thrown in the mid-80s. He has a higher comfort level with his curve dating back to college.
Wright must develop his below-average changeup and refine his fastball command to the edges of the plate, but he has a No. 3 or 4 starter profile if he can.
6-8, 3.70 ERA
109 IP, 43 BB, 105 SO, 6 HRMore Less
Touki ToussaintMississippi (Braves) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 185. Drafted: HS—Coral Springs, Fla., 2014 (1/D-backs).
Poor control held Toussaint back early in his career. Despite being the 16th pick in the 2014 draft, he spent two seasons at low Class A and most of a third at high Class A. He threw strikes more consistently in a breakthrough 2018 season that began in the SL and concluded in the big leagues. In 24 minor league starts at Double-A and Triple-A, he walked a career-low 3.5 per nine innings.
Toussaint graduated from thrower to pitcher this season after polishing his primary pitches and adding a third weapon in his split-changeup. He cruises through the early innings at 92-94 mph and can reach 96. His fastball runs to his arm side and presents a tough look for same-side batters because of his lower three-quarters slot, though he doesn’t command the pitch to his glove side as effectively.
Toussaint’s go-to secondary pitch has been a plus mid-70s curveball with tight rotation and top-to-bottom action. He learned to control the pitch much more effectively this season, while also developing a mid-to-high-80s split-change that features more horizontal break than vertical drop. He earned praise for his mound presence and ability to hold baserunners.
4-6, 2.93 ERA
86 IP, 36 BB, 107 SO, 7 HRMore Less
Taylor WidenerJackson (Diamondbacks) RHPNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 195. Drafted: South Carolina, 2016 (12/Yankees).
Drafted by the Yankees in 2016 and pushed to the high Class A Florida State League in 2017, Widener led the circuit in strikeout rate and WHIP. He led the SL in those same categories in 2018—striking out 11.6 per nine innings with a 1.03 WHIP—but not before the Yankees shipped him to the D-backs in a three-team trade that netted them Brandon Drury.
Widener ranked second in the minors with 176 strikeouts this season, doing so primarily on the strength of his fastball. He pitches at 92-93 mph and tops out at 95 with a high-spin fastball featuring riding life up in the zone that hitters just can’t time. He mixes in two-seam fastballs low in the zone for a different look.
Widener sells a plus changeup with good arm speed, and the pitch plays up because he’s always around the plate with his fastball. He improved his low-80s slider with three-quarters break to at least fringe-average, , giving him three major league weapons.
5-8, 2.75 ERA
137 IP, 43 BB, 176 SO, 12 HRMore Less
Brandon LoweMontgomery (Rays) 2B/OFNotes:
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 185. Drafted: Maryland, 2015 (3).
Lowe endured a gruesome knee injury as a college freshman and then broke his fibula right before the 2015 draft. The Rays made him a third-round pick anyway and have been rewarded by his rapid rise to Tampa Bay, which he completed in early August. At Double-A and Triple-A this season he hit .297/.391/.558 with 22 home runs in 100 games.
After overcoming an 0-for-19 start in the big leagues, Lowe showed power, patience and versatility by starting games at second base and both outfield corners. He sets his hands low at the plate before unleashing a quick, powerful lefthanded swing from a smaller, compact frame. Lowe has the plate discipline and feel for the barrel to be an average hitter and the plus raw power to hit the ball out from pole to pole and deliver above-average home run totals.
Lowe improved his defensive play at second base, but his range and arm strength grade as fringe-average. His arm plays up thanks to his accuracy and strong internal clock.
199 AB, 8 HR, 8 SB, 35 BB, 55 SOMore Less
Nate LoweMontgomery (Rays) 1BNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 235. Drafted: Mississippi State, 2016 (13).
Lowe hit just seven home runs in 2017 as a college first baseman at Class A and entered the season better known as the older brother of Josh Lowe, the Rays’ first-round pick in 2016. But he had a transformative year at the plate in 2018 that began at high Class A Charlotte and ended at Triple-A Durham. He hit .330/.416/.568 with 27 home runs and 102 RBIs in 130 games.
“He worked really hard on moving his weight around and becoming more athletic,” Montgomery manager Brady Williams said. “He changed his swing to focus on being able to get to fastballs in . . . while still being able to hit offspeed pitches in the zone.”
Mission accomplished. Lowe drew raves from SL managers for his adaptability to different pitch types in different parts of the hitting zone. “Only big leaguers can hit like that,” Jackson manager Shelley Duncan said.
Scouts laud Lowe’s swing, loose hands and strike-zone management. Those who like him throw plus grades on his hit tool and power, though not all scouts are as optimistic on the latter. He’s a serviceable first baseman who throws well.
188 AB, 13 HR, 1 SB, 35 BB, 30 SOMore Less
Brent RookerChattanooga (Twins) 1B/OFNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 215. Drafted: Mississippi State, 2017 (1s).
Rooker won the Southeastern Conference’s Triple Crown in 2017, hitting .387 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs, enticing the Twins to draft the redshirt junior 35th overall. He launched 18 more homers in a pro debut spent primarily in the high Class A Florida State League before tackling Double-A in 2018.
Rooker started the season slow and finished ice cold, but in between he hit .299/.386/.584 for 75 games from May 15 to Aug. 10. He ranked second in the SL in home runs (22) and first in doubles (32) and RBIs (79). Rooker has double-plus raw power and plus power frequency in games. He stands off the plate and challenges pitchers to come inside, and when they do he can drive the ball deep to his pull side. He improved his ability to let the ball travel deep with two strikes during the season, but he needs improve his coverage of the outer part of the plate to become a more well-rounded hitter.
Rooker is a below-average defender at first base who is stretched in left field and thus must hit to earn his keep.
503 AB, 22 HR, 6 SB, 56 BB, 150 SOMore Less
Corey RayBiloxi (Brewers) OFNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-0. WT: 195. Drafted: Louisville, 2016 (1).
The fifth overall pick in 2016, Ray looked out of whack and overmatched in his full-season debut in the high Class A Carolina League in 2017. He redeemed his prospect value in 2018 as the SL’s top power-speed prospect. He led the league with 27 home runs, 32 doubles and 37 stolen bases and won the circuit’s MVP award.
With plus power to his pull side, Ray made pitchers pay when they missed inside with fastballs, but his strikeout rate climbed as the season progressed and pitchers threw a heavier mix of breaking pitches. He needs to improve his pitch recognition to be more than a below-average hitter, though with a grooved swing he will crush enough pitches in his happy zone.
With plus speed and baserunning instincts, Ray is a threat to steal each time he reaches first base. His speed and athleticism play in center field, where he draws average grades and shows an above-average, if erratic arm.
532 AB, 27 HR, 37 SB, 60 BB, 176 SOMore Less
Genesis CabreraMontgomery (Rays) LHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-1. WT: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013.
Cabrera signed with the Rays as a 17-year-old and made rapid progress by reaching Double-A in the second half of 2017, his fourth pro season. The live-armed southpaw returned to Montgomery in 2018 and ranked second in the league in strikeouts on July 31, when Tampa Bay traded him and two other prospects to the Cardinals for Tommy Pham.
The top lefthander in the SL, Cabrera fires 94-96 mph fastballs with a long but fluid arm action. He maxes out at 98 and holds his velocity deep into starts, presenting lefthanded batters with a major challenge when he’s locating his secondary pitches. His firm high-80s changeup features plus late fade and plays up when he locates it in the zone because batters have to gear up for his fastball. To mix things up, he throws a cutter/slider that projects to average.
Cabrera’s delivery is violent and he struggles to repeat his arm slot, leading to below-average control and inconsistent results with his secondary pitches. Some have compared him with Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez as a Dominican lefty with huge velocity and questionable control as a starter.
7-6, 4.12 ERA
114 IP, 57 BB, 124 SO, 11 HRMore Less
Dane DunningBirmingham (White Sox) RHPNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 200. Drafted: Florida, 2016 (1/Nationals).
Drafted 29th overall by the Nationals in 2016 and traded to the White Sox that winter as part of the deal for Adam Eaton, Dunning spent a lot of time in college working in the bullpen or as a midweek starter for Florida. Thus his development as a pro starter has unfolded slowly by the standards of a first-round pick. He reached Double-A in late April 2018 but made just 11 starts before a sprained elbow truncated his season.
Dunning earns high grades for his pitchability and control of four pitches, even if he lacks a present plus pitch. He pitches at 90-91 mph and tops out at 93, driving the ball down into the zone with heavy sink and picking up a high rate of ground balls. His above-average low-80s slider is his best secondary pitch, and it breaks late away from the bats of righthanded hitters with 11-to-4 break. His above-average changeup plays well of his fastball. His mid-70s curveball features downer action and nice separation from the rest of his repertoire.
Dunning’s stuff plays up thanks to a long stride and good extension. He repeats an athletic delivery and could develop plus big league control, which will be crucial to keep hitters guessing as a No. 4 type starter.
5-2, 2.76 ERA
62 IP, 23 BB, 69 SO, 0 HRMore Less
Jon DuplantierJackson (Diamondbacks) RHPNotes:
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 225. Drafted: Rice, 2016 (3).
Duplantier led the minors with a 1.39 ERA in 2017, which he spent at two Class A levels, and pitched effectively in the SL in 2018 when healthy. While he finished the year in the Jackson rotation and pitched in the SL playoffs, he missed half the season because of spring hamstring issues and midseason biceps tendinitis.
Duplantier pitches at 91-92 mph and can muscle up for 95 mph. He relies on hitting his spots low in the zone and letting the plus sink and run on his fastball generate either weak contact on the ground or swings and misses. His power curveball grades as plus and features late break and depth in the low 80s. He also throws an average slider with nice lateral break.
Duplantier hasn’t shown as much feel for a changeup, which when combined with quirky mechanics and below-average control throw his future role into question. He repeats his delivery—including a long arm action, stiff front leg and lower arm angle—well enough to start if he can throw more strikes.
5-1, 2.69 ERA
67 IP, 28 BB, 68 SO, 4 HRMore Less
Luis RengifoMobile (Angels) SS/2BNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-10. WT: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 2013 (Mariners).
Even though he has been traded twice in his young career and also passed through the Rule 5 draft last offseason, Rengifo sure looked like a prospect in 2018. The Angels acquired him from the Rays in late March as the player to be named for C.J. Cron and watched him climb from high Class A to Triple-A while showing a well-rounded skill set. He hit .299/.399/.452 with 41 stolen bases in 127 games while compiling as many walks (75) as strikeouts.
Plus speed headlines Rengifo’s tool set, and if his power develops he will have average or better tools across the board. With a sharp batting eye and a quick, direct swing from both sides of the plate, he makes frequent contact and sprays the ball around. Many evaluators project more power for the short, powerful Rengifo once he learns to turn on the ball. He already is a shrewd baserunner and prolific basestealer.
Rengifo shows average range and an above-average arm at shortstop, where he makes all the routine plays, though many evaluators grade him more favorably at second base or in a utility role.
151 AB, 2 HR, 13 SB, 23 BB, 22 SOMore Less
Nick SolakMontgomery (Rays) 2B/OFNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 175. Drafted: Louisville, 2016 (2/Yankees).
Solak led the high Class A Florida State League in on-base percentage in the Yankees’ system in his 2017 full-season debut. But the Yankees traded him to the Rays (and Taylor Widener to the D-backs) in the three-team deal that netted them Brandon Drury. Solak continued to excel in the SL this season, leading the league with 135 hits, 91 runs and a .384 OBP.
Solak drew raves from SL managers as a gritty competitor who showed an ability to hit, hit for power and run, and he missed a 20-20 season by only one home run. He shows the outline of a plus major league hitter with his ability to work pitchers and hit to all fields, while scouts give him a chance for average power with a short, powerful swing and surprising strength. An average runner, he is a plus baserunner who knows how to pick his spots.
Solak struggles with footwork and the double-play turn at second base, grading as below-average there, but he picked up both left field and center field in 2018. As he improves his routes and arm strength in the outfield, he could become a multi-positional asset.
478 AB, 19 HR, 21 SB, 68 BB, 112 SOMore Less
Taylor WardMobile (Angels) 3BNotes:
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 200. Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2015 (1).
Ward spent most of the second half of 2017 in the SL but garnered little scouting buzz because of his his indifferent defensive work at catcher. The Angels moved him to third base in spring training, and he immediately blossomed at the plate by hitting .349/.446/.531 with 14 home runs in 102 games at Double-A and Triple-A on his way to a mid-August callup to Anaheim. He ranked second in the minors in both batting average and on-base percentage.
Plate discipline, above-average bat speed and an all-fields hitting approach served Ward in his breakout season. He lacks twitchy actions but wore out the gaps with his level bat path and knack for barreling the ball. He should develop into an average hitter with average power to go with average baserunning ability and surprising speed for a converted catcher.
Ward resisted the move to third base initially and struggled with slow rollers and bunts before adapting to become an average defender.
148 IP, 6 HR, 8 SB, 29 BB, 33 SOMore Less
Zack CollinsBirmingham (White Sox) CNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 220. Drafted: Miami, 2016 (1).
Drafted 10th overall in 2016, Collins spent the entirety of his third pro season in the SL, where he was the league’s Three True Outcomes king. The lefthanded hitter connected for 15 home runs, drew a league-leading 101 walks and ranked third with 158 strikeouts. All told, he hit the ball into the field of play in 48 percent of his plate appearances, the lowest rate in the league.
Collins shows a knack for selecting the right pitch to hit. He waits for something he can drive with plus power to his pull side—he didn’t homer to the opposite field this season—or he accepts walks if he doesn’t get his pitch. He loads his hands to swing with an exaggerated hitch that turns off some observers, though he shows whippy bat speed and tends to meet the ball out front, giving him a chance to be a fringe hitter with plus power.
Scouts are not as optimistic about Collins’ chances to catch regularly in the big leagues, and some would like to see him try first base or even left field. He is capable of turning in plus pop times on throws to second base, but his receiving and blocking skills are poor because of rigid actions and stiff hands. His transfer on throws tends to be slow, which encourages basestealers to run at will and at a 72 percent rate of success.
418 AB, 15 HR, 5 SB, 101 BB, 158 SOMore Less