2017 Appalachian League Top 20 Prospects
|Championship Series: Elizabethton (Twins) 2 Pulaski (Yankees) 0|
|Best Record: Bluefield (Blue Jays), 46-22 (.676)|
|Most Valuable Player: Ryan Noda, 1B, Bluefield (Blue Jays)|
|Pitcher of the year: Randy Pondler, LHP, Bluefield (Blue Jays)|
|Did Not Qualify: Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Elizabethton (Twins)|
To qualify for a Minor League Top 20 Prospects list, a position player must have one plate appearance per team game, a starting pitcher must have one-third of an inning per team game and a reliever must have 20 relief appearances.
For many players in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, the cultural transition into pro baseball is just as challenging as the skills transition. These players are just dipping their toes into the waters of pro baseball and seeing how they stack up, while also learning how to communicate with their fellow teammates. Consequently, results in the Appy League can’t be observed from just a box score.
The catching depth in the league this year stood out, as typified by Princeton’s Ronaldo Hernandez, Danville’s William Contreras and Kingsport’s Juan Uriarte all cracking the top 20 ranking. This is one of the deepest catching crops in the league’s history of rankings. The 2014 list boasts four catchers, the most in the past fifteen years. The last catcher to hold a rank as high as Hernandez was Brandon Snyder in 2005, when the Orioles first-rounder ranked as the best prospect in the league that season.
Elizabethton was one of the most talent-laden teams in the Appy League and won the title because of contributions on both sides of the ball. A hearty group of draft picks like Brent Rooker and Andrew Bechtold, along with international signings like Wander Javier kept the offensive cylinders running. Pitchers Charlie Barnes, Brusdar Graterol, and Ryley Widell maintained strong performances to drive a 3.86 team ERA. Had Graterol qualified for this ranking, he would have ranked highly because scouts love his high-octane arsenal.
Maitan headlined the 2016 international signing class and was considered by some to be the best international amateur since Miguel Sano in 2009. The Venezuelan shortstop signed for $4.25 million with the Braves, who assigned Maitan to Danville after a brief tuneup in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Maitan scuffled in the early part of the season but as he got his feet under him, evaluators began to take notice of his switch-hitting ability and plus raw power. He flashes impressive hitting hands and keeps his swing under control when he’s in the zone. While his pitch recognition needs work, Maitan’s ability to make consistent hard contact should come to life with more repetitions. At peak, he could be a plus hitter with greater than plus power.
Maitan’s ultimate position is in question. He has gained mass rapidly at a young age and may outgrow shortstop. One manager described him as “barrel-bodied.” Despite notable athleticism and a plus arm, he faces a potential move to third base down the line.
The Twins signed Javier for $4 million in 2015 as one of the toolsiest players on the international market. The growing teenager thrived in the Appy League this summer, showcasing premium offensive skills and an ability to stick at shortstop.
Javier was relatively inexperienced compared to his Elizabethton peers because he missed almost all of 2016 with a hamstring injury but quickly caught up to speed. He flashes an above-average feel for the barrel and should grow into more power as he gains weight. The Twins note that he already has added 15 pounds since signing and projects to add about another 15, leaving enough room to add to his above-average power potential. As he learns to recognize pitches better and strike out less, he should be able to hit at the top of the order.
In the field, Javier projects to remain at shortstop thanks to a plus arm and present average range and above-average speed.
Signed for $2.25 million in 2015, Matias always has shown the obvious raw tools to entice scouts, and now he’s beginning to put them all together.
Matias puts on a show in batting practice, where he consistently launches baseballs more than 400 feet. Accordingly, his most defining feature is incredible raw power that could translate to 30 home runs at the major league level. His pitch recognition needs continued refinement—he whiffs at fastballs up in the zone—but should come around because he has shown the ability to adjust in the past. Matias swings with fluidity, flashing plus bat speed and a swing plane built for fly balls with carry. With improved contact ability, he will hit for average.
Matias’ plus arm unleashes throws from right field that carry with premium velocity, and he has above-average speed to handle right field with ease.
4. Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Princeton (Rays) Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Colombia, 2014.
A converted infielder, Hernandez signed for $225,000 out of Colombia in 2014 and spent the previous two seasons in the Dominican Summer League because of a groin injury. The Rays felt confident enough in his catching ability to send him to Princeton this summer, and he received near-universal praise on both sides of the ball.
Hernandez projects to have plus contact skills thanks to an innate awareness for the barrel and smooth stroke. His strong 6-foot-1 frame and quick bat head facilitate average power potential, too. Calm and collected at the plate, Hernandez doesn’t panic at offspeed pitches.
Behind the plate is where Hernandez really shines. His plus-plus arm allowed him to throw out 57 percent of basestealers, and he combines it with an advanced feel for receiving.
5. Brent Rooker, OF/1B, Elizabethton (Twins) Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Mississippi State, 2017 (1s).
Rooker lit the college baseball world on fire in the Southeastern Conference en route to being drafted by the Twins in the supplemental first round. He hit .387/.495/.810 as a redshirt junior and quickly advanced from the Appy League to high Class A in the Twins system.
Already 22, Rooker quickly made waves in pro ball by hitting 18 home runs in his debut, a testament to his plus raw power. Despite facing modest strikeout concerns, Rooker should be able to tap into his power on a regular basis. He swings with natural loft and is able to make coordinated contact with pitches all over the plate.
Rooker has proven to be a reliable defender at first base and could see more time in left field next season. He’s athletic enough to handle the outfield, but a fringy arm and merely satisfactory glove work limits him to left field.
6. Luis Medina, RHP, Pulaski (Yankees) Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Medina wowed scouts who saw him as an amateur by hitting 100 mph—unheard of velocity for a 16-year-old—before signing with the Yankees for $280,000. He struggled to throw strikes, however, with a completely out-of-sync delivery, which caused some to project him to the bullpen.
Medina’s upside is enormous. He attacks hitters with a true 80-grade fastball on the 20-80 scouting scale and sits anywhere from 96-100 mph. His fastball has natural cutting life, but he has a tendency to elevate it which causes the pitch to straighten out. Medina pairs his heater with two potentially above-average secondaries. His curveball works in an 11-to-5 arc and is his preferred knockout pitch, whereas his changeup lags a little behind.
After walking 5.5 batters per nine innings in the Appy League, Medina still needs to improve the consistency of his mechanics and ability to command his fastball.
Baddoo was one of the toolsier players available in the 2016 draft, and when the Twins selected him in the supplemental second round, they believed they had a long developmental road ahead. He progressed by leaps and bounds in 2017, when he hit .357 with more walks than strikeouts in a half-season in the Appy League.
Baddoo possesses advanced plate discipline, a surefire feel for the barrel and above-average bat speed. Those elements lead many evaluators to believe he might grow into a plus hit tool. The lefthanded hitter has added muscle since signing and now has a chance for above-average power as well. In terms of speed, he has been clocked from fringe-average to plus on times to first base.
A below average-arm precludes Baddoo from playing right field, and he would need to hang on to plus speed to stick in center. His offense should be enough to bolster his value in left field.
Muller achieved high school stardom in 2016 by striking out 24 consecutive batters over the course of two starts, and scouts from all over Texas flocked to see him. The Braves selected the southpaw in the second round, then assigned him to Danville in 2017 to work on his mechanics.
Muller’s two-seam fastball begins at 92-94 mph before tailing off to 90-92 as games progress. He commands it to both sides of the plate thanks to an improved ability to repeat his delivery. Muller’s fastball is flanked by a sharp curveball that flashes plus life, dropping out of the zone at the last second to frustrate hitters.
Muller has made progress with his changeup and is now working on adding more of a velocity gap between it and his fastball to develop a true three-pitch repertoire.
Waters ranked as the fourth-best prep hitter in the 2017 draft class, and the Braves took particular notice of the Georgia product. They selected him in the second round and sent him to Danville after a short stint in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Waters’ switch-hitting ability stands out because he’s able to impact the ball from both sides, rather than showing a clear preference for one side. His swing is built around quick hands and plus bat speed, and he laces line drives from line to line. He shows pull power and should grow into more opposite-field strength. He has toned down a leg kick that prevented him from catching up to fastballs and seeing pitches cleanly. Waters struggles with breaking pitches and recognizing spin, which led to high strikeout totals in the Appy League.
Waters tends to be a little wild in everything he does now, causing one manager to compare his style of play to that of Hunter Pence. A plus arm and above-average speed give him a chance in center field, though right field is more likely.
10. William Contreras, C, Danville (Braves) Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
The younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William signed for $10,000 as an amateur out of Venezuela in 2015. He was one of the most improved players in the Braves system this summer.
The first thing that stands out about Contreras is his baseball acumen. He’s a smart hitter who works himself into good counts and is willing to take a walk. He controls the bat head and is able to make consistent contact with pitches all over the zone, leaving the possibility for a plus hit tool down the line. He should be able to maintain average extra-base ability.
Defensively, Contreras has at least a plus arm that is sullied by a slower reaction time he can improve with repetitions. He’s agile and receptive behind the plate, even showing a mature ability to frame pitches for his age.
Celestino competed at the highest amateur levels before he signed with the Astros for $2.25 million in 2015. He proved far too advanced for the Dominican Summer League in 2016.
Celestino doesn’t normally stand out for his batting prowess, but he has enough bat-to-ball ability for scouts to see a future average to slightly above hitter. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter, capable of spraying line drives to all fields and maintaining a high average. His swing is geared for going the opposite way. Celestino will never be a true masher, but he does have the potential for future average raw power if he continues to add strength.
Celestino’s fielding and baserunning instincts might be his most valuable tool. He has average speed and reads the ball well off the bat. He runs impressive routes in center field with ease, and his above-average arm reinforces a plus grade at the up-the-middle position.
12. Ryan Noda, 1B/OF, Bluefield (Blue Jays) Age: 21 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 217 Drafted: Cincinnati, 2017 (15)
Many clubs had Noda jotted down as a potential top-three rounds pick coming into the 2017 draft, but a lackluster junior year at Cincinnati pushed him to the 15th round. The Blue Jays took a chance on Noda, and he immediately proved to be a potential steal. The Appy League MVP led the league in average (.364), on-base percentage (.507) and slugging (.575) and stood out for his advanced physicality.
Noda derives much of his bat speed from extremely strong and flexible wrists. He’s capable of turning on heat and slamming low breaking pitchers. He’s a patient hitter who waits for a pitch to crush, and he led the league in walks, with 25 more than the next closest batter. He should develop a hit tool that’s at least average. Noda’s power grades out to be above-average, but he can be prone to strikeouts because of his passivity.
Despite primarily manning first base, Noda has the athleticism needed to play either outfield corner. He has the requisite footwork, arm strength, and speed to handle right field.
13. Braeden Ogle, LHP, Bristol (Pirates) Age: 20 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 170 Drafted: HS—Jensen Beach, Fla., 2016 (4)
Ogle was a relatively known but passable quantity the fall before his draft year, but he rode a velocity jump into June and ended up as the Pirates’ fourth-round pick. The southpaw was a projectable pitcher with delivery issues that limited enthusiasm, but he throws three potentially average pitches.
Two years into his pro career, Ogle has improved his four-seam fastball consistency to the point where it sits in the low 90 and tops out around 96 mph. While his breaking ball was widely recognized as his superior secondary pitch entering the draft, his changeup has surpassed it and now flashes above-average potential. Ogle’s curveball lacks sharpness at times, but he’s able to keep it out of the upper half of the zone and prevent home runs.
With projection remaining and a three-pitch mix, Ogle projects as a back-end starter with a chance to slide into mid-rotation range if he tightens his command.
14. Alvaro Seijas, RHP, Johnson City (Cardinals) Age: 18 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 175 Signed: Venezuela, 2015
Considered by many to be the top arm available during the 2015 international signing period, Seijas signed with the Cardinals for $762,500 and got a bump to the Appy League this summer. The 6-foot-1 righthander has the rare combination of control and secondary pitches to grow into a possible mid-rotation starter.
Seijas pitches off of a 91-95 mph fastball with late life and is able to command the pitch to both sides of the plate. He lacks consistency with his velocity range right now, at times sitting 93-95 and other times more in the realm of 89-92.
Seijas’ curveball is his best secondary pitch and flashes late sweeping shape and earns plus grades from scouts. His changeup is still developing but occasionally catches some tumble and armside movement. Consistency eludes him due to an effort-packed arm action, but he pounds the zone with all three pitches.
15. Deivi Garcia, RHP, Pulaski (Yankees) Age: 18 B-T: R-R Ht.: 5-10 Wt.: 163 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015
The Yankees signed Garcia for $200,000 out of the Dominican Republic when he weighed just 145 pounds. Since then, he’s managed to raise that total to 163, but he will continually need to gain mass in order to fully realize his arsenal.
Garcia’s fastball sits in the low 90s and touches as high as 96 mph. He’s able to achieve that velocity despite his diminutive 5-foot-10 frame because of a quick and efficient arm action. Like many 18-year-olds, Garcia’s fastball command is lacking. His curveball is nearing plus status and boasts high spin rates and firm shape in most outings. His changeup lags behind right now, but he’s able to throw it with fade here and there, and it projects to be an average offering.
Garcia’s delivery is loose and repeatable, leading evaluators to believe that he could one day have average control. The greatest holdup to his development right now is his size.
16. Juan Uriarte, C, Kingsport (Mets) Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 182 Signed: Mexico, 2014
The Mets signed Uriarte out of the Mexican League in 2014. He slid down some internal lists after a down year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2016, but he more than made up for it with a progressively strong summer.
Uriarte never will be an offensive juggernaut, with projections of an average hit tool and fringe-average power. Though he’s able to swat the ball to all fields when necessary, he has a penchant for pulling the ball past the defense. All five of his home runs landed over the left field fence. Uriarte has an eye for the ball and controls the zone, moderating his strikeout totals.
Uriarte grades as an average receiver who can block balls and handle a pitching staff well, leaving the possibility that he can become an above-average defender with more time. His plus arm helped him throw out 33 percent of basestealers.
17. Andrew Bechtold, 3B, Elizabethton (Twins) Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 185 Drafted: Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2017 (5)
Bechtold experienced two of baseball’s greatest events for amateurs just 10 days apart. On June 3, his Chipola club won the Junior College World Series, and then on June 13, he was drafted. The Twins were so enamored of Bechtold’s offensive approach during the draft process that, when the fifth round came into view, they couldn’t let the Maryland transfer slide any further.
Bechtold’s offense is built around a compact swing with above-average bat speed, allowing him to make contact at a high rate. Scouts have tabbed him for at least average contact ability with a chance for a plus hit tool at peak. Bechtold’s power isn’t prolific like that of his teammate Brent Rooker, but he’s able to go the opposite way with the ball and earns above-average power grades. While not a burner, he’s capable of threatening a stolen base at any time.
A natural third baseman, Bechtold’s plus arm strength secures him a definitive role at the hot corner. The Twins have been so impressed by his athleticism that they plan to try him at second base, shortstop, and even the outfield during instructional league.
18. Michael Gigliotti, OF, Burlington (Royals) Age: 21 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 180 Drafted: Lipscomb, 2017 (4)
A down spring exposed flaws in Gigliotti’s approach that hurt his draft stock. The speedy center fielder then spent much of the summer in Burlington before finishing up in low Class A Lexington.
Gigliotti’s plus-plus speed gives him a boost out of the box. He’s able to beat out infield hits and challenge defenders’ throws across the diamond. He is focused on contact and is able to drive the ball to the gaps with a smooth lefthanded swing. He constantly works the count to put himself in the best situation to making it to first base. Gigliotti has an advanced knowledge of the zone and rarely swings and misses. He is lacking in the power department and doesn’t project to hit more than 10 home runs in a season.
One manager commented that Gigliotti’s outfield glove is up there with Bubba Starling’s as the best in the Royals organization. He gets good reads on fly balls and is able to track down even the toughest bounces. His possesses an average arm that’s playable in center field.
19. Mc Gregory Contreras, OF, Bluefield (Blue Jays) Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 170 Signed: Venezuela, 2015
Contreras was just another $10,000 signing like hundreds of other players in the 2015 international class. In spite of minimal expectations, he has emerged as a legitimate prospect for the Blue Jays with potential to be a contributor across the board.
Contreras has what many coaches in baseball would call “sneaky power”. It doesn’t stand out in games just yet and you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at him, but he lets it fly during batting practice. His lean, athletic body and swift bat speed entail future average power. He has strong wrists that work well to catch up to inside fastballs. Contreras’ bat-to-ball ability is hindered right now by pitch recognition issues, but that should grow to be average as well.
Contreras saw work at all three outfield positions this summer because teammate Chavez Young laid claim to center field. Contreras projects to stick in center thanks to above-average speed, solid footwork and an average arm.
20. Joel Peguero, RHP, Princeton (Rays) Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 160 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015
Peguero signed as an older amateur for $10,000. After working mainly as a reliever in the Dominican Summer League in 2016, he joined Princeton as a starter this season. He’s sushi-raw and ran up an 8.12 ERA through the season, but Princeton’s home park is known to be a hitter’s haven.
Peguero is one of the Appy League’s hardest throwers, consistently sitting 96-98 mph with the possibility of touching 100 regularly with added strength. His 5-foot-11 frame limits the amount of plane he’s able to get on his pitches, though. As a result, his fastball has a tendency to come out flat and hittable. Adding to the problem is Peguero’s absence of command. The young starter lives in the zone too often rather than working the corners.
Peguero’s slider at times also flattens out because he tends to decelerate his arm action. When everything is in sync, his slider has sharp break and baffles hitters. His changeup is still in the rudimentary stages. If Peguero is able to repeat his mechanics and learn the finer notes of pitching, he could be a high-leverage reliever.
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