Top 20 Appalachian League Prospects
By Carlos Collazo
Wander FrancoPrinceton (Rays) SSNotes:
Age: 17. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt: 189.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Franco signed with the Rays for $3.825 million as the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 international class and exceeded all expectations in his 2018 pro debut. He dominated the Appy League despite being more than three years younger than the average hitter by leading the league with 85 hits and 57 RBIs. He ranked fourth in average (.351) and third in slugging (.587).
Franco has a loose, easy swing from both sides of the plate, and many scouts believe he could develop a plus-plus hit tool, which is a testament to his elite bat control at such a young age. He rarely swings and misses, and his strikeout rate of seven percent led the league. He has a chance to be an elite offensive player, and he has established himself as one of the best prospects in baseball.
All of Franco’s tools grade as average or better. He has sneaky power with a chance to hit 20 home runs one day. Scouts and coaches were impressed with Franco’s work at shortstop. He has more than enough arm for the position, but evaluators are split on whether he fits best at shortstop or second base.
“We had him circled on our lineup every time we went in there to play him,” one Appy League manager said. “He can beat you offensively. He can beat you on the bases, and he was going to take away a couple hits every single time you played him.”
242 AB, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 27 BB, 19 SOMore Less
Nolan GormanJohnson City (Cardinals) 3BNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt: 210.
Drafted: HS -- Phoenix, 2018 (1).
The top prep power hitter in the 2018 draft class, Gorman dealt with increased criticism from scouts this spring. They questioned his frame and expressed concern about his tendency to swing and miss. Gorman’s pro debut, which began at Johnson City before moving quickly to low Class A Peoria, erased many of those concerns.
Gorman had no problem translating his plus-plus raw power to games and was one of the best hitters in the Appy League at age 18. The lefthanded slugger dealt with a minor wrist injury during the season but showed the ability to make adjustments when he was in the lineup, though like all young sluggers he still has holes in his swing he will need to close.
Gorman showed enough flashes defensively at third base--where he has a plus arm--to project at the position. A below-average runner, his quick first step supplies him with adequate range.
Gorman’s power got him drafted 19th overall, and his 17 home runs in his first 63 pro games hint at his upside.
143 AB, 11 HR, 28 RBI, 24 BB, 37 SOMore Less
Jarred KelenicKingsport (Mets) OFNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt: 196.
Drafted: HS -- Waukesha, Wis., 2018 (1).
Drafted sixth overall, Kelenic was the first high school player selected in 2018. He split his pro debut between Kingsport and the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, hitting .286/.371/.468 with six home runs and 15 stolen bases in 56 games.
Kelenic faded down the stretch in the Appy League but showed solid plate discipline and the ability to hit the ball with authority to the opposite field thanks to a balanced, simple swing and quick hands. Coaches rave about his work ethic, which is nothing new. Kelenic was renowned in high school for the massive amount of time he spent in the gym and hitting in batting cages.
Scouts are mixed on whether Kelenic will be able to stick in center field, but the immediate returns were a good sign. The Wisconsin product showed above-average speed to go with an above-average, accurate arm, but more importantly he displayed instincts beyond his age with his route-running and positioning that give him a chance to stick up the middle. It all depends on how well he retains his speed as he matures.
174 AB, 5 HR, 33 RBI, 22 BB, 39 SOMore Less
Eric PardinhoBluefield (Blue Jays) RHPNotes:
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt: 155.
Signed: Brazil, 2017.
Pardinho ranked as the top pitcher in the 2017 international class, and he signed with the Blue Jays for $1.4 million. He dominated Appy League hitters despite being nearly four years younger than the average league pitcher.
Pardinho ranked third in the Appy League with 64 strikeouts and showed precocious control for his age, walking 16 batters in 11 starts. But what’s most impressive is his command and feel for changing speeds and locations for such a young pitcher.
Scouts project Pardinho to have three plus pitches with a fastball that currently sits at 89-93 mph and regularly plays up a few ticks. He has solid spin on both a slider and a curveball and should round out his arsenal with a solid changeup as well. He exhibits solid athleticism, a loose arm and good extension.
4-3, 2.88 ERA
50 IP, 37 H, 16 BB, 64 SOMore Less
Trevor LarnachElizabethton (Twins) OFNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt: 210.
Drafted: Oregon State, 2018 (1).
The Twins made Larnach their first pick of the 2018 draft (20th overall) after a career year with the championship-winning Oregon State Beavers. One of the top power hitters in the class, Larnach finally began tapping into his plus raw power during his junior year.
That power spike didn’t quite translate to the professional game in his debut season--Larnach posted .181 isolated slugging in the Appy League and .208 isolated slugging in the Midwest League--but scouts are excited about the potential of his bat, which draws 70-grade ratings from some scouts.
Larnach projects as a corner outfielder, where he could be a below-average to fringe-average defender with well below-average speed but an arm that is improving and could become average down the line.
61 AB, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 10 BB, 11 SOMore Less
Mike SianiGreeneville (Reds) OFNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt: 180.
Drafted: HS -- Philadelphia, 2018 (4).
The Reds snagged Siani in the fourth round this year and went well over slot to sign him for $2 million. The lefthanded hitter is seen as a high-floor prep player with excellent tools in his plus speed, defense and arm.
Some scouts optimistically put a future average grade on Siani’s hit tool because they wonder about his swing-and-miss tendencies. Others project overall above-average hitting ability and believe his tool set will allow him to become an all star-caliber player. Siani has more room for error than most high school players thanks to his plus range in center field.
184 AB, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 16 BB, 35 SOMore Less
Mark VientosKingsport (Mets) 3BNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt: 185.
Drafted: HS -- Plantation, Fla., 2017 (2).
One of the youngest players in the 2017 draft, Vientos finished his pro debut with a four-game look in the Appy League and returned to Kingsport this season.
Vientos started slow but made a few adjustments with his timing and rhythm and hit .292/.396/.500 over 53 games in July and August, all while doubling his walk rate from last season. With quick hands and strength in his bat, he should have the power needed to profile at a corner and should also continue to add muscle to a 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame.
After splitting time between shortstop and third base last year, Vientos worked exclusively at the hot corner this summer. He has plenty of arm strength for the position but is still adjusting to the angles and footwork necessary for the position.
223 AB, 11 HR, 52 RBI, 37 BB, 43 SOMore Less
Shane BazBristol (Pirates) / Princeton (Rays) RHPNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt: 190.
Drafted: HS -- Tomball, Texas, 2017 (1/Pirates).
The Pirates drafted Baz 12th overall in 2017 but traded him to the Rays as part of the three-player package for Chris Archer. Baz spent his second season in Rookie ball in 2018, but his 4.47 ERA and walk rate of 5.0 per nine innings speak to his inconsistent performance.
Baz had some of the best raw stuff in the Appy League, but he looked like a different pitcher depending on the day scouts saw him. He sits in the low 90s but touches 96 mph regularly, and he pairs that with a curveball, slider and changeup that all project as future above-average offerings or better.
Despite Baz’s high walk rate, many scouts believe he will improve his control thanks to a clean, athletic delivery and repeatable mechanics. Landing his breaking balls for strikes will help immensely.
4-5, 4.47 ERA
52 IP, 56 H, 29 BB, 59 SOMore Less
Everson PereiraPulaski (Yankees) OFNotes:
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt: 191.
Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
Like Wander Franco, Pereira was a top prospect in the 2017 international class who jumped straight to the Appy League. He showed an all-around package of tools.
Scouts were impressed with how well Pereira handled himself with the bat in his first pro season and think he could turn into an average hitter down the line, despite a high strikeout rate of 33 percent. His raw power could turn into plus power as he develops.
An athletic center fielder, Pereira is an above-average runner with advanced instincts that could help him become a plus defender.
167 AB, 3 HR, 26 RBI, 15 BB, 60 SOMore Less
Josiah GrayGreeneville (Reds) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt: 190.
Drafted: Le Moyne (N.Y.), 2018 (2s).
Coming out of high school, Gray received a scholarship offer only from Division II Le Moyne (N.Y.). He began his college career at shortstop but gradually moved full time to the mound, where he emerged as one of the top pitchers at D-II.
Gray impressed in his pro debut with a 90-94 mph fastball, a firm, mid-80s slider that could be plus down the line and above-average strike-throwing ability. He could add a few ticks to his fastball. He’s a still developing pitcher who repeats his delivery and still has some space to fill out.
Gray is immensely athletic and has electric arm speed. If he can further refine a changeup he has a chance to continue to develop as a starter.
2-2, 2.58 ERA
52 IP, 29 H, 17 BB, 59 SOMore Less
Shervyen NewtonKingsport (Mets) SSNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180. Signed: Curacao, 2015.
Newton signed out of Curacao in 2015 then spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. Making his U.S. debut in 2018 he began tapping into his power more consistently, with five home runs and 16 doubles—the most in the Appy League.
Scouts believe Newton will wind up having plus raw power or better down the line as he fills out a frame that is currently listed at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. A switch-hitter, Newton’s swing works from both sides though he’s more line-drive oriented from the right side and he walked three times more frequently from the left side.
Defensively, Newton has quick hands and a strong arm, but he’s a below-average runner, and some scouts wonder if he will outgrow shortstop. He might fit better at second base or in on an outfield corner. Appy League managers, however, were impressed with Newton’s defensive play, and he should continue to get opportunities to stick there.
207 AB, 5 HR, 41 RBI, 46 BB, 84 SOMore Less
Alejandro KirkBluefield (Blue Jays) CNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt: 220. Signed: Mexico, 2016.
Kirk signed out of Mexico in 2016 and played in only one game in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2017 because of a hand injury. He initially fractured his left hand in a car collision, then re-injured his hand when hit by a pitch in his first GCL game. Kirk made up for lost time this summer as one of the best hitters in the Appy League, where he hit .354/.443/.558 with 10 home runs, 33 walks and 21 strikeouts.
Kirk has a solid approach at the plate and a smooth stroke, but he faces skepticism about his future defensive home because of his frame. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Kirk has well below-average athleticism and speed and will need to clean up his body to stick behind the plate.
If he can, he has tools for the job with solid arm strength and game-calling ability. He threw out 43 percent of basestealers in the Appy League, and coaches were also impressed with his blocking ability.
206 AB, 10 HR, 57 RBI, 33 BB, 21 SOMore Less
Luis MedinaPulaski (Yankees) RHPNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
A 2015 international signee out of the Dominican Republic, Medina has an arm as big as any, but has yet to find success in pro ball thanks to poor control. After walking more than five batters per nine in his first stint in the Appy League in 2017, Medina's walk rate ballooned to more than 11 batters per nine in 36 innings this summer.
What keeps scouts interested with Medina is a fastball that sits in the 95-96 mph range and touches 100, with impressive plane and sink. He's also got a 60-grade curveball and a changeup that could become a third plus pitch as well. He's still growing into a 6-foot-1, 175 pound frame, Medina has a good arm action but simply struggles to repeat his delivery with any kind of consistency and is just an average athlete.
1-3, 6.25 ERA
36 IP, 32 H, 46 BB, 47 SOMore Less
Luis RijoPulaski (Yankees) / Elizabethton (Twins) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt: 200. Signed: Venezuela, 2015 (Yankees).
Rijo was acquired by the Twins, along with 1B Tyler Austin, from the Yankees in exchange for Lancy Lynn this summer and has taken a slight jump in velocity that came hand in hand with a growth spurt. Previously listed at 5-foot-11, Rijo is now 6-foot-1 and his fastball ticked up from the mid to upper-80s to sitting in the low 90s, touching 94 mph.
His secondaries include an average changeup and a fringe-average curveball, but Rijo projects to have future plus control and command. He didn't walk a batter through his first four starts and on the season issued just seven free passes -- just one walk per nine innings. Plenty of pitchers have louder raw stuff than Rijo, but his tremendous feel for locating the baseball should give him a chance to become a backend starter.
5-1, 2.05 ERA
48 IP, 43 H, 5 BB, 43 SOMore Less
Ryan JeffersElizabethton (Twins) C/1BNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt: 228. Drafted: UNC Wilmington, 2018 (2).
A somewhat surprising day one selection in the 2018 draft, Jeffers has proven himself to be worth a shot in the second round and tore through the Appalachian League in 28 games before earning a promotion to low Class-A Cedar Rapids. The bat is Jeffers' calling card and he led the Appy League in hitting with outstanding .422/.543/.578 slash line with plus raw power.
Some scouts are skeptical of what Jeffers' bat will be against better minor league competition and his production dropped off significantly upon his promotion to Cedar Rapids, with his strikeout-to-walk rate flipping on its head as well. There's also a lot of work that needs to be done behind the plate and many evaluators believe that he'll eventually need to move to first base where more pressure will fall on his ability to hit for power, though he is a solid pitch-framer.
102 AB, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 20 BB, 16 SOMore Less
Hagen DannerBluefield (Blue Jays) CNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt: 185. Drafted: HS -- Huntington Beach, Calif., 2017 (2).
Danner's progress transitioning into a full-time catcher was slowed this summer, as he got injured in July after taking a fastball off his forearm and returned as a designated hitter only. While was still in the early stages of getting his defensive fundamentals down after being a two-way player out of high school, Danner did take strides forward offensively.
After walking just five times in 136 plate appearances (3.7 BB%) in 2017, Danner walked 20 times in 137 plate appearances (14.6 BB%) this summer, while improving his average and slugging significantly as well. He's got strength and bat speed that should allow him to become an average hitter with average power. He'll have to make up for lost time defensively in instruct leagues this fall, where he has work to do with his footwork, throwing accuracy and blocking.
111 AB, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 20 BB, 35 SOMore Less
C.J. AlexanderDanville (Braves) 3BNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt: 215. Drafted: State JC of Florida, 2018 (20).
A 20th-round pick out of junior college, Alexander is likely leaving a lot of teams wondering why he lingered on the board so far into day three of the draft, and the Braves wondering if they've found a diamond in the rough. A big, physical third baseman, Alexander tore up both the Gulf Coast and Appy Leagues before earning a promotion to the Florida State League, where he posted an .836 on-base plus slugging.
Plus raw power is his carrying tool, but Alexander also has plus arm strength from the hot corner, where he could turn into an average defender. Perhaps the biggest difference in Alexander's draft and pro reports is his speed, as Alexander tallied seven triples across three leagues, with scouts labeling him an average runner with good athleticism and baserunning ability. Alexander is already 22, so he could be pushed aggressively until he's challenged more offensively.
82 AB, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 13 BB, 21 SOMore Less
Austin CoxBurlington (Royals) LHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt: 185. Drafted: Mercer, 2018 (5).
Cox was drafted in the fifth round in part for his elite strikeout rates as a college lefthander with Mercer. He continued to whiff batters at a high rate in 33.1 innings as a pro, fanning 13.8 batters per nine with two above average breaking balls and a solid-average fastball that he locates in the 89-92 mph range but ticks up higher than that at its peak.
Barring a jump in velocity, the 6-foot-4 southpaw will have to improve the command of his fastball, as he frequently throws the pitch over the middle of the plate. Cox also throws a changeup that's behind his other three offerings, but in spite of that he posted fairly significant reverse platoon splits--lefthanded batters posted a .953 OPS against him compared to a .528 OPS against righthanders. Cox has a chance to be a backend starter, but could also find a role as a multi-inning reliever.
1-1, 3.78 ERA
33 IP, 29 H, 15 BB, 51 SOMore Less
Luis GilPulaski (Yankees) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt: 176. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
A hard-throwing righthander, Gil had impressive results in his first stint in the United States with a 1.37 ERA and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings this summer in the Appy League. That success came in spite of a high walk rate (5.7 BB/9) and allowed the 20-year-old pitcher to get promoted to low Class A Staten Island.
Gil's best pitch is a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and touches triple digits, exploding in the zone late on hitters out of a loose arm action. He throws a fringe-average curveball in the low 80s and is still in the early stages of developing a changeup. Throwing strikes will always be the issue with Gil, as scouts put 30 grades on his control, with some optimistically giving him 40-grade control in the future.
2-1, 1.37 ERA
39 IP, 21 H, 25 BB, 58 SOMore Less
Lyon RichardsonGreeneville (Reds) RHPNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt: 175. Drafted: HS--Jensen Beach, Fla., 2018 (2).
An ultra-athletic two-way player in high school, Richardson's stock shot up tremendously when he started getting into the upper 90s with his fastball in the spring. The Reds gambled on that upside in the second round and his pro debut showed that there's a long way still to go for the 18-year-old righthander.
He's got very limited experience pitching, let alone focusing full-time on the craft, so there's plenty of crudeness in his game--as evidenced by his statistical results--including a stiff front side and issues getting his fastball to the glove side consistently. His fastball was mostly in the 89-94 mph range and his other pitches projected as just average, but some scouts noted that he looked tired; and coming out of Florida as a prep player that isn't too surprising given the length of the high school season. Certainly a rocky debut, but there's still plenty of talent and projection left with Richardson to get excited about what he can do with a fresh start in 2019.
0-5, 7.14 ERA
29 IP, 37 H, 16 BB, 24 SOMore Less