2016 California League Top 20 Prospects
Championship Series High Desert (Rangers) 3 Visalia (Diamondbacks) 0
|Best Record High Desert (Rangers), 82-58 (.586)|
|Most Valuable Player Luis Urias, 2b, Lake Elsinore (Padres)|
|Pitcher OF The Year Josh Sborz, rhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers)|
|Did Not Qualify Luis Ortiz, rhp, High Desert (Rangers)|
See Also: 2016 League Top 20 Index
See Also: League Top 20 Prospects Historical Index
The high Class A California League succumbed to the law of averages in 2016 and suffered one of the worst seasons in recent history in terms of prospect quality. This year’s field included no Carlos Correa or Corey Seager like in 2014, or an Alex Bregman or even Sean Newcomb like in 2015.
Top prospects such as High Desert righthander Luis Ortiz and lefthander Yohander Mendez (Rangers) and San Jose righthander Phil Bickford (Giants) did not pitch enough innings to be eligible for the Top 20 Prospects list. Likewise, Lake Elsinore first baseman Josh Naylor (Padres) and Lancaster outfielder Kyle Tucker (Astros) did not have enough plate appearances.
What’s more, previously touted prospects such as Lake Elsinore shortstop Javier Guerra (Padres), Inland Empire catcher Taylor Ward (Angels), Stockton shortstop Richie Martin (Athletics) and Modesto second baseman Forrest Wall (Rockies) struggled so much that most scouts surveyed turned them in as future bench players.
The league’s big-money prospect, the Dodgers’ $30 million Cuban righthander Yaisel Sierra, pitched so poorly he was outrighted off the 40-man roster by July 4 and demoted to the bullpen, where most evaluators see his future as a low-leverage reliever.
1. Ryan Castellani, rhp, Modesto (Rockies) | Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Phoenix, 2014 (2).
Castellani gained 15 pounds from offseason workouts and saw his stuff jump as a result, with his two-seam fastball going from 88-93 mph to 92-95 with late sink as it comes from his three-quarters arm slot.
Castellani’s slider earns consistent plus grades from evaluators, while his changeup is on track to becoming a quality third pitch. With three potential plus pitches, all of which he commands, he led the Cal League in innings (168) and strikeouts (142) despite being the youngest pitcher on Opening Day.
“He’s kind of a clone of a Max Scherzer in the way he pitches,” Visalia manager J.R. House said. “He has a really good arm (and) good stuff all the way around. He’s a babe in the game and he’s going to get stronger every offseason. ”
Castellani only got stronger as the season went on, finishing the year 3.0, 2.37 in his final seven starts. That strong finish helped solidify his reputation as a potential front-of-the rotation workhorse.
2. Chris Shaw, 1b, San Jose (Giants) | Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 235. Drafted: Boston College, 2015 (1).
The 31st overall pick in 2015 showed prodigious power and moved quickly in his first full season. Shaw advanced to Double-A in late June and hit 21 home runs with a .484 slugging percentage across two levels.
Managers named Shaw the league’s top power prospect by a wide margin, and he ranked second in the league in home runs (16) and third in slugging (.544) when he was promoted.
“Big guy that’s actually a pretty good hitter,” Modesto manager Fred Ocasio said. “Its’ not that he’s just got power, he’s got some hittability.”
Shaw also significantly improved his defense, with his glove progressing to the point he earned multiple best defensive first baseman votes from league managers. Along with an above-average arm and feel to hit, Shaw profiles as an above-average first baseman with big-time power.
3. Luis Urias, 2b/ss, Lake Elsinore (Padres) | Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 160. Signed: Mexico, 2013.
Despite being the youngest player in the league on Opening Day, Urias won the Cal League batting title with a .330 average, was the hardest batter to strike out and also won the circuit’s MVP award.
League managers overwhelmingly named Urias the best batting prospect in Best Tools balloting because of his elite bat control and advanced approach.
“He has the ability to put the barrel on the ball no matter what pitch—breaking ball, changeup, whatever,” Inland Empire manager Chad Tracy said. “ You just hope it’s hit right at somebody. That was a not a guy you enjoy seeing at the plate.”
Urias’ reliable hands and excellent footwork earned him multiple votes for best defensive second baseman as well. He also showed an above-average arm strong enough to make throws from deep in the hole at shortstop when pressed into action there.
4. Grant Holmes, rhp, Rancho Cucamonga/Stockton (Dodgers/Athletics) Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Conway, S.C., 2014 (1). |
Holmes showed a power arm with a riding 92-95 mph fastball and 80-83 power curve, but his lack of a consistent third pitch and inefficiencies in his delivery have evaluators split on his future role.
Holmes pitched well early at Rancho Cucamonga, but after a deadline trade to the Athletics he struggled badly with Stockton as he reached 105 innings, surpassing his previous career high.
“I think it was maybe him pressing a little bit and trying to impress his new team,” San Jose manager Lipso Nava said. “He’s got all the chance in the world to be a good starter. He’s got the arm and he’s got the tools to be there.”
Holmes at times lands stiffly on his front leg and also has timing issues separating his hands and getting his arm in sync with the rest of his body. His above-average athleticism, raw arm strength and youth are all factors in the argument he can fix those issues and in the process improve his command, which was often spotty in 2016.
5. Yusniel Diaz, of, Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) | Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Signed: Cuba, 2015.
Diaz played just 82 games while dealing with recurring shoulder fatigue but showed immense potential on the field when healthy.
Diaz showed the speed, body control and arm needed to handle center field, while increasingly opening eyes with his bat speed, hand-eye coordination and ability to use the whole field at the plate.
“He’s raw but you see the tools,” Lancaster manager Ramon Vasquez said. “A little bit of power, he can drive the ball all over the field, he’s got a decent arm. Definitely you can see good at-bats and aggressiveness on the fastball.”
Diaz’s power is currently his only below-average tool, but it is growing, with some scouts projecting 20-25 home-run power as he grows into his lean frame.
6. Michael Gettys, of, Lake Elsinore (Padres) | Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 203. Drafted: HS—Gainesville, Ga., 2014 (2).
The Padres bumped Gettys to Lake Elsinore at midseason, and he took the league by storm with his plus speed, arm and glove. His speed is sometimes limited out of the box because of a big swing, but shows up in the center field, where he uses it to track down long flies.
After showing his frustration at times last year, Gettys showed an improved maturity and ability to rebound from failure. Combined with natural growth, that allowed him to upgrade his power to at least average, though his contact rate remains below-average.
“You could tell in the outfield he could go get it, he’s a pretty good outfielder,” Modesto manager Fred Ocasio said. “And then he’s a good hitter, aggressive hitter. He’s going to be a pretty good player.”
Even with his high strikeout rate, many evaluators now project him to be an average hitter with average power and standout defensive ability.
7. Domingo Leyba, ss/2b, Visalia (Diamondbacks) Age: 20. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012 (Tigers).
Leyba struggled in the Cal League in 2015 but repeated the level this year and was a different player, showing a vastly improved understanding of the strike zone and performing well enough to be promoted to Double-A.
Leyba’s improved approach allowed him to use his strong hands and quick bat to drive the ball more consistently, and his rhythm and balance from both sides of the plate earned positive reviews as well. He was better hitting from the left side (.295, .794 OPS) than the right (.289, .694 OPS), but provided serviceable contact from both.
“He came a long ways from when I saw him last year,” Bakersfield manager Eddie Menchaca said. “Bit of grinder. Put together really good at-bats.”
Defensively, Leyba continues to show strong footwork and smooth actions at shortstop, though his average arm has many projecting him to second base.
8. Travis Demeritte, 2b, High Desert (Rangers) | Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Winder, Ga., 2013 (1).
Demeritte led the Cal League with 25 home runs when he was traded to the Braves in July, but 17 of those bombs came in High Desert or Lancaster, two parks notorious for inflating home-run totals.
Demeritte is more than a one-trick pony, though. Along with huge raw power, he possesses an at-least-average glove at second base, an arm that earned plus grades from some evaluators and above-average speed that helped him steal 13 bases in 16 attempts. He even claimed most exiting player honors in Best Tools balloting.
“You don’t see many guys who hit the ball out and drive the ball the other way and steal bases and make plays in the field,” Inland Empire manager Chad Tracy said. “He was fun to watch.”
The main issue with Demeritte is making contact. He struck out 33 percent of the time this year.
9. Dinelson Lamet, rhp, Lake Elsinore (Padres) | Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 187. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
Lamet finished last season with only a fastball and slider but added a mid-80s changeup in spring training and developed into one of the Padres’ most promising starters.
Lamet commands his 92-96 mph fastball and uses his 87-89 slider as his out pitch. His changeup gave him another weapon to fool batters, and that carried him to success even after a June promotion to Double-A San Antonio. He also made two late Triple-A starts and went 12-10, 3.00 overall with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
Inconsistent control on Lamet’s secondary pitches leads to occasional wildness, as evidenced by his walk rate of 3.7 per nine innings. Still, he is in position to break through to the majors next year.
10. Ariel Jurado, rhp, High Desert (Rangers) Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Panama, 2012.
Pitching in High Desert is often an unwinnable challenge for a 20-year-old, but Jurado mastered it so well he was promoted to Double-A by mid-July.
Jurado showed a 90-94 mph two-seam fastball out of a three-quarters arm slot, and he backed it up with a high-spin slider and changeup that projects to at least average. He throws all three for strikes and fills the bottom of the zone. He led Cal League starters with a 2.5 groundout-to-airout ratio.
“I thought he was really good, just got overshadowed by the other two guys on their staff (Luis Ortiz and Yohander Mendez),” Visalia manager J.R. House said. “Keeps the ball on the ground, comes after guys. As long as he stays healthy he’ll find his way to the big leagues.”
A three-pitch mix combined with the poise he showed while pitching in High Desert, the most hostile pitching environment in the full-season minors, has raised Jurado’s ceiling to that of mid-rotation starter.
11. Andrew Moore, rhp, Bakersfield (Mariners) Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Oregon State, 2015 (2s).
Moore doesn’t possess any electric offerings, but his strong command, tempo on the mound and ability to exploit holes in hitters’ swings allowed him to succeed in his first full season. He went 12-4, 2.65 in 28 starts, which included 19 at Double-A Jackson.
Moore’s low-90s fastball and mid-80s changeup register as average pitches, while his breaking ball grades as below-average. Yet he struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings and allowed just 36 hits in 54.2 Cal League innings, a testament to his command and intelligence.
“I thought he did a good job overall,” Visalia manager J.R. House said. “He doesn’t strike you as dominant, but he gets it done.”
A flyball pitcher, Moore pounds the strike zone and keeps hitters guessing. As a result he induces many weak popups and fly balls, which is an approach that could work at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
12. Dawel Lugo, 3b, Visalia (Diamondbacks) Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011 (Blue Jays).
Lugo rededicated himself after being traded last year from the Blue Jays for two months of Cliff Pennington. He dropped 15 pounds in camp and arrived at Visalia a more explosive player.
Lugo carried that explosiveness throughout the season, displaying lightning-quick bat speed, wide range defensively, a plus arm and first-step quickness. The Diamondbacks promoted him to Double-A Mobile in July, and he continued to hit there after an all-star first half in the Cal League. He finished with a .311 average and 17 home runs.
“He’s a good-looking player,” Bakersfield manager Eddie Menchaca said. “He plays good defense, didn’t miss a fastball and has a little bit of power to both sides of the field. I thought he was interesting.”
Lugo hardly ever walks, but he gets his barrel to the ball quickly and showed the ability to hit all pitches to all fields, though most of his power is to the pull side. Signed as a shortstop, he shifted to third base this season and projects as a possible everyday player there.
13. Johan Mieses, of, Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) | Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013.
Mieses hit a league-leading 28 home runs in 2016, with many of them clearing 400 feet with ease. He showcases impressive raw speed for his muscular frame and owns one of the strongest outfield arms in the league.
However, a big stride and swing-from-the-heels approach led Mieses to strike out 147 times in 122 games, with many wild swings well outside the strike zone. Playing his home games at Rancho Cucamonga, a neutral Cal League site, he hit.237/.292/.487, which is indicative of both his strengths and shortcomings.
“If he learns not to swing at bad pitches, he can be a scary guy to face,” Lancaster manager Ramon Vasquez said. “I think the more he plays the more he’s going to learn the strike zone. He swings and misses a lot, but there is a future there.”
Defensively, Mieses is serviceable in center field but profiles better in a corner. His ability to play all three outfield spots, along with his power but lack of plate discipline, has most evaluators projecting him as a power bat off the bench.
14. Yency Almonte, rhp, Modesto (Rockies) Age: 22. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Miami (17/Angels).
The Angels traded Almonte to the White Sox in February 2015 as the player to be named in a trade for Gordon Beckham. Chicago shipped him to the Rockies nine months later for Tommy Kahnle. Despite that low profile, Almonte gained attention in his first season in the Rockies system. He pitches with mid- to upper-90s velocity and backs it up with an 82-84 mph slider with good depth and tilt and a developing changeup.
With velocity on his fastball and quality offspeed pitches at his disposal, Almonte led the Cal League in strikeouts at the time he was promoted to Double-A in early August.
“Pitching-wise that was a guy I can see dominating,” Bakersfield manager Eddie Menchaca said. “He gets lots of swing and misses . . . He just attacks. I liked him.”
Almonte’s main issue is a tendency to get too much of the plate at times, which resulted in 18 home runs allowed this season. Still, evaluators largely regarded him as a big league arm with a ceiling as a possible No. 4 starter.
15. Drew Jackson, ss, Bakersfield (Mariners) Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Stanford, 2015 (5).
Jackson is at times a frustrating prospect, one who shows outstanding tools but whose lack of on-field success against largely younger players gives many pause.
Jackson’s speed and arm both earn 70 grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. However, he went just 16-for-24 on stolen-base attempts and 19 of his 30 errors were throwing. He hit just .252/.332/.345, which renewed concerns about his feel to hit that have dogged him since college.
“I know the numbers weren’t great, but that kid I really liked,” Lancaster manager Ramon Vasquez said. “He can fly, and he needs to run more than he does. He does great defensively, has good ABs . . . I think the bat will play at some point. It’s just a matter of if he gets to the right approach and does it day in and day out.”
Jackson skipped low Class A altogether, so full-season struggles were not entirely unexpected. His excellent athleticism and top-flight makeup provide reason for optimism that he can eventually get the most out of his raw talent.
16. Josh Sborz, rhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Virginia, 2015 (2s).
The 2015 College World Series Most Outstanding Player has bounced back and forth between starting and relieving since the Dodgers drafted him No. 74 overall last summer.
Sborz started exclusively at Rancho Cucamonga and recorded a 2.66 ERA that led the Cal League at the time of his early-August promotion to Double-A. His 84-87 mph slider was voted the league’s best breaking pitch in Best Tools balloting, and the pitch worked well off his 92-94 mph fastball that bears in on righthanders. He won the league’s pitcher of the year award.
Sborz’s 79-80 mph curveball and rarely-used changeup grade well behind his other two pitches, which leads many evaluators to project him to the bullpen, a role he filled exclusively in Double-A.
17. Franchy Cordero, of, Lake Elsinore (Padres) Age: 22. B-T: T-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011.
The converted shortstop wowed in his first full year playing the outfield by demonstrating picturesque long strides in center field with exemplary speed, rapidly developing instincts and an above-average arm.
Cordero also flourished at the plate, hitting .290/.344/.450 with 11 home runs and 23 stolen bases across three levels as he worked his way up to Triple-A El Paso.
“As far as his tools, they were there,” Bakersfield manager Eddie Menchaca said. “He showed flashes of what he could be: a true center fielder and leadoff-type hitter with speed.”
Cordero’s plate discipline remains a work in progress. He recorded poor rates for walks and strikeouts in the Cal League, but his above-average speed, lefthanded bat and good glove give him at least fourth-outfielder potential.
18. Jose Trevino, c, High Desert (Rangers) Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Oral Roberts, 2014 (6)
Trevino flourished in his second full season behind the plate after beginning his pro career as a third baseman. He won best defensive catcher honors in Best Tools balloting and earned raves for all aspects of his defense.
Trevino threw out 48 percent of basestealers and ably guided his talented but young staff through the perils of pitching in High Desert.
“You could tell he invested time behind the plate,” Modesto manager Fred Ocasio said. “He blocks the ball well, calls a great game and has a cannon for an arm. He’s the type of catcher who takes charge of his pitching staff, and you could tell he was in tune to the game.”
While his defensive tools all rate as at least above-average, Trevino profiles is a contact-oriented hitter who doesn’t hit for power or walk, and like most catchers he has below-average speed. Evaluators project him as a second-division catcher or quality backup on a contender.
19. Rodolfo Martinez, rhp, San Jose (Giants) Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013.
Martinez ran away with the best reliever and best fastball category wins in Best Tools balloting, and his heater can reach 101 mph.
Martinez’s fastball consistently sits 98-99 mph, and it was enough to make him by far the league’s most intimidating closer. Using that pitch almost exclusively, he recorded an 0.88 ERA in 32 appearances with 24 saves before being promoted to Double-A Richmond in late June.
“He’s a power guy on the bump who came right at you,” Bakersfield manager Eddie Menchaca said. “That’s what you want to see from guys that powerful. You want guys who aren’t wasting any time, and he didn’t waste any time. He came right at you and he knew he was going to beat you with his fastball and pitched well.”
Martinez’s main shortcoming is his lack of a quality secondary pitch. His 85-88 mph slider lacks control, and he slows his arm down when delivering his changeup, both of which caused him problems in Double-A against more advanced hitters, who roughed him up for a 6.65 ERA and .315 opponent average. Martinez’s development of a secondary pitch will determine if he reaches his closer potential.
20. Ramon Laureano, of, Lancaster (Astros) Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Northeastern Oklahoma A&M JC, 2014 (16).
Laureano is generally regarded as lacking a plus tool, but he does everything well enough to be an effective player. He led all minor league batters with a .428 on-base percentage this season and combined his above-average speed with sharp baserunning instincts to swipe 43 bags in 57 tries.
While Laureano benefitted from playing in hitter-friendly Lancaster, he also hit .288/.403/.455 on the road in the Cal League, in part because his discerning eye allowed him to swing at good pitches to hit. He continued to produce after a mid-July promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi.
With average to a tick above offensive tools across the board, Laureano also possesses an average arm that plays in right field (he had 12 outfield assists) and enough range to hold down center field when called upon.
Laureano’s all-around game, defensive versatility, and penchant for quality at-bats give him a strong chance to contribute, with most evaluators penciling him in for an outfield utility role, but his biggest champions are convinced he can play everyday for a second-division team.
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