2017 Eastern League Top 20 Prospects
Rafael Devers (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
|Championship Series Altoona (Pirates) 3 Trenton (Yankees) 0|
|Best Record Trenton (Yankees), 92-48 (.657)|
|Most Valuable Player Garabez Rosa, 3B/OF, Bowie (Orioles)|
|Pitcher Of The Year Corey Oswalt, RHP, Binghamton (Mets)|
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.
As always, the Double-A Eastern League featured some of the game’s brightest prospects. This year’s crop was led by a pair of 20-year-olds, one who leads this list and one who fell one plate appearance short of qualifying. Trenton shortstop Gleyber Torres and Portland third baseman Rafael Devers blitzed the EL and were both gone by early July. Once they reached Triple-A, however, their paths diverged.
Devers played nine games with Pawtucket before getting the call to Boston to fill their gaping hole at third base. Torres played three weeks and looked well on his way to a callup of his own before having season-ending Tommy John surgery. The league’s next wave of star power arrived at midseason when outfielders Austin Hays and Victor Robles arrived from the Carolina League. Both received September callups.
Though this year’s EL class is strong, it doesn’t feature a whole lot in the way of high-end pitchers. Trenton’s Domingo Acevedo and Justus Sheffield each earned high marks, but both face questions about durability and future role.
From the beginning of the EL season until the moment he left on July 15, Devers ranked among the very best prospects in the minors. His tools, especially offensively, were obviously impressive, but he also wowed managers with the ease with which he played.
Devers this season developed into an all-fields hitter, a departure from the days when teams had the lefthanded batter shifted heavily to his pull side. He hits a fastball as well as anyone—as demonstrated when he hit an opposite-field home run on a 104 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman in the big leagues— but didn’t show particular vulnerability to offspeed stuff, either. Devers projects as an above-average hitter with above-average or better power. He has improved defensively and should stick at third base with decent range as well as soft hands and an above-average arm. The Red Sox, who traded many high-profile prospects last winter, look wise for keeping Devers, a potential cornerstone player who sparked Boston’s offense in the second half.
After wowing scouts and managers in his full-season debut last year, Robles began the year back at high Class A Potomac before zooming to the EL in the second half and a surprise big league callup in September.
Scouts agree on Robles’ defensive impact potential, but at the plate they are a split camp. Some see a future leadoff-type hitter with the ability to spray the ball from gap to gap and use his plus-plus speed to take extra bases. Others see Robles, because of his already strong hands and forearms, as a player who will develop enough power to hit in the middle of the order. He still needs to refine his instincts on the basepaths and perhaps adjust his approach to keep him from getting hit by so many pitches, but he has all-star potential.
Robles is sure-fire center fielder with range in all directions and a well above-average throwing arm that will play in an outfield corner, if necessary.
3. Austin Hays, OF, Bowie (Orioles) Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 195 Drafted: Jacksonville, 2016 (3)
Among the biggest breakout players of 2017, Hays quickly made the Orioles look smart for drafting him out of Jacksonville in the third round last year. He tore up the Carolina and Eastern leagues with eerily symmetrical ferocity while showcasing impressive tools. Baltimore called him up in September to participate in the wild-card race.
As one manager described Hays: “Good doesn’t do him justice. He’s an unbelievable player who can do anything on the field.”
Managers saw a player who can hit any pitch with authority. His 32 home runs overall ranked him second in the minors behind Astros first baseman A.J. Reed. Hays split time in center field in Bowie with Cedric Mullins, and though he would be fine in center in the majors, his plus-plus arm makes him a perfect fit for right field. He doesn’t have the plus foot speed typical of center fielders, but managers saw him make up for it with excellent routes and jumps.
The third overall pick in 2015, Rodgers more than held his own in Double-A in his age-20 season. He went from the hitter’s paradise of high Class A Lancaster to a pitcher’s park in Hartford and still swatted six home runs in 38 games. He returned to Lancaster for the California League playoffs.
Scouts laud Rodgers for his offensive abilities and project him to hit for both average and power. He has good bat-to-ball skills and above-average raw power to all fields, though he tends to be a little overaggressive in his approach and often leans out over the plate, making him susceptible to inside pitches.
Defensively, Rodgers faces still questions about his future position. Managers think he needs to improve his range to stay at shortstop, while others want to see him enhance his internal clock on throws to first base. He’s got enough range for second base and enough arm for third.
Mejia showed standout abilities on both sides of the ball during the first half of the season, but he hit just .220 in the second while his OPS dropped nearly 250 points.
At the plate, Mejia shows smooth, quick, balanced line-drive swings from both sides of the plate. He doesn’t have standout power, but he has the potential for double-digit home runs when he finishes maturing physically. The Indians had him work on not expanding the strike zone but also wanted to retain his aggressiveness.
Scouts viewed Mejia as one of the better defensive catchers in the EL initially, though managers who saw him late said he seemed disengaged and fatigued on defense. He even started one game at third base and will play more there in the Arizona Fall League.
Mejia has a well above-average arm that he shows off on pickoff attempts, but he must polish his receiving and blocking technique. Most importantly, he needs to increase his stamina.
For the first half of the season, Kingery was the unquestioned best player in the league. Like many Phillies players who advance to Reading, a notorious home run park, his power spiked in a big way.
After hitting just eight home runs in his previous two seasons, Kingery slammed 18 in 69 games with Reading and led the minors in that category for a time. It wasn’t just a Reading illusion—he produced similar rates of power on the road. Kingery has a chance to be an impact offensive player capable of double-digit homers and steals, thanks to plus speed.
On defense, Kingery shows above-athleticism and quick hands needed to stay at second base. He played outfield for a time in college and could play there in the majors, if necessary.
Shaw made a big impact in the short time he spent in the EL. He began his career as a first baseman, but the Giants began transitioning him to left field in Richmond and he stayed there at Triple-A Sacramento.
Shaw’s calling card is his big-time raw power. Managers raved about his batting-practice shows, with one comparing it to what he saw out of Joey Gallo years earlier. He’s a tireless worker when it comes to maintaining his swing, and he projects as a thumper who can hit for average and power in the middle of the order.
Managers who saw Shaw in the outfield in EL were surprised at his athleticism, though he can improve his throwing by adopting a longer, outfielder’s arm stroke. His range is average laterally, but he still needs work going back and in on balls hit straight at him.
Mateo did not reach Double-A until late June of his sixth pro season, but once he reached the EL all of the tools he was lauded for in the low minors shined. Mateo starred for Trenton until the Yankees packaged him, James Kaprielian and Dustin Fowler in a trade to the Athletics for Sonny Gray.
Mateo’s calling card is his top-of-the-scale speed. He needs to work on refining his approach at the plate to chase fewer pitches out of the zone, but at his best he’s a leadoff-type hitter who can spray balls from gap to gap and create havoc on the basepaths. He has sneaky power and slugged better than .500 at both of his Double-A stops. His speed makes him one of those players who can manufacture runs without the benefit of a hit.
Mateo has the plus range and strong arm to play shortstop, where Oakland kept him after the trade. His athleticism plays in the middle of the field.
After a breakout 2015 season, Alford’s career stalled a bit in his return to high Class A Dunedin in 2016 after he sustained a knee injury and later a concussion. Promoted to Double-A this season, he made his major league debut on May 19 but five days later broke his left wrist.
When healthy, Alford showed the same athleticism that helped him earn a two-sport contract that allowed him to play college football at two stops before adopting baseball full-time in 2015. At the plate, he showed a combination of on-base skills, speed and gap power that evaluators think will mature into home run power as he grows as a hitter.
Multiple EL managers compared Alford with Rondell White for his grace and athleticism in the outfield. His breaks on balls were so good, one manager said, that it looked like he got going before the ball was hit.
Andujar started slowly in his return to Double-A and posted just a .668 OPS in April. He took off over the next two months after making a mechanical adjustment to his stride that helped him better lay off pitches out of the zone. From May 22 until he was promoted to Triple-A, he hit .416/.455/.634. Andujar has above-average raw power and should have the bat to profile at third base.
Andujar’s defense continues to improve, and he and Trenton defensive instructor Lino Diaz paid special attention to improving his footwork at third base. His hands are soft enough and his arm is strong enough, but he has a tendency to lower his arm slot, which leads his throws astray.
Sheffield was part of the four-player package the Indians sent to Yankees for Andrew Miller in July 2016 and showed plenty of positive signs this season at Double-A around a lengthy disabled-list stint with a strained oblique.
The lefthander sports a three-pitch mix fronted by a fastball that sits between 92-95 mph and touches as high as 97. He couples his fastball with a slider and changeup that waver in their consistency but project as plus for some scouts. His changeup is a touch behind his slider at this point, but he has shown the ability to command his entire arsenal.
Evaluators are split on Sheffield’s future. Some see him as a No. 2 starter, while others see a back-end starter or a potentially dominant reliever based on his shorter stature and durability questions.
One of the most surprising things about Acevedo, given his massive 6-foot-7 frame and delivery, is his ability to command his fastball. He walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings at Trenton this season.
Opposing managers marveled at the way Acevedo can place his fastball, which parks in the mid-90s and can touch as high as 98 mph, nearly anywhere within the strike zone. His mid-80s changeup is his go-to offspeed pitch and can flash plus. His low-80s slider is below-average and still needs to be refined.
The Yankees worked hard with Acevedo on commanding his fastball in the zone and learning to throw his offspeed pitches for strikes. He tends to throw mostly fastballs, so the Yankees mandated he go offspeed in certain counts, even against his instincts.
Portland didn’t have to wait long after Rafael Devers was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket to find a replacement at third base. Chavis got the bump from high Class A Salem on June 22 and immediately made an impact.
Chavis swatted 14 home runs in half a season in Double-A and finished the year with 31, tied for fifth place in the minors. His power is obvious, but managers around the league did find holes in his swing. In particular, they noted a weakness on hard stuff inside and offspeed pitches in general, which could compromise his chance to hit for average.
Chavis has improved defensively at third base but is not a lock to stick there despite having arm strength suitable for the position. Given his background as a shortstop and his athleticism, he faces a possible move to second base.
Though he made 24 starts this year and not a single relief appearance, Scott is going to be a reliever. He lasted into the fourth inning only once all season and by design typically went exactly three.
The Orioles are working to develop Scott as a multi-inning relief ace by having him work as a starter to use all his pitches in a variety of situations. He works primarily with two pitches—a fastball that sits between 98-100 mph and a devastating sweeping slider. He has a changeup as well, but leans heavily on the first two pitches.
Scott’s command and control grade as below-average—he walked 46 hitters in 69 innings—but managers around the league noted his misses weren’t often by much. He needs to throw more first-pitch strikes instead of having to battle back after ball one.
Until this year, McMahon had played predominantly third base with some first base thrown in. The Rockies keyed on his athleticism, agility and good-but-not great power when they shifted him to second base on occasion at Hartford.
Though he has some trouble with fastballs on the inside half, McMahon profiles as a line-drive type of hitter whose power could play up with Coors Field as his home park. He leveled out his swing plane this season and improved his contact rate and plate coverage. His speed grades as below-average.
McMahon is understandably raw at second base and still has to improve his footwork and the finer points of the position. He is most comfortable at first base, where he started the majority of the time this year.
The lone EL hitter to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases this season, Stewart had a redemptive season after struggling in 2016. He’s deceptively athletic for his 230-pound frame with fringe-average speed to go with his strength.
Stewart has incredibly quick hands and a strong knowledge of the strike zone, which helped him tap into his power more often this season. He also has adjusted his batting stance since college, going from a deep squat with a stiff front leg to something more traditional. He’s a below-average defender in left field with a below-average arm, but managers around the league saw a little improvement later in the year.
In a season in which he made his big league debut, Fedde pitched for two affiliates and in two different roles. He began the year in the Harrisburg rotation, moved to the bullpen in late May (in case he was needed in the Nationals’ highly combustible big league bullpen), and then shifted back to the rotation at Triple-A in early July.
As a starter, Fedde works with a full four-pitch arsenal with his fastball and slider as his two best weapons. His low- to mid-90s fastball has touched 97 mph and features armside sink and bore, His slider is an average pitch that projects as plus, and his changeup has average potential as well. Fedde needs to refine his command and should battle for a spot in the big leagues if he doesn’t return to Triple-A in 2018.
18. Cedric Mullins, OF, Bowie (Orioles) Age: 22 B-T: B-L Ht.: 5-8 Wt.: 175 Drafted: Campbell, 2015 (13)
Along with Austin Hays and D.J. Stewart, Mullins helped make the Bowie outfield the best in the EL in the second half of the season. Mullins skipped high Class A Frederick and rewarded the Orioles for their confidence around stints on the disabled list with left hamstring pulls.
Managers around the league raved about Mullins’ play in center field, which included plenty of highlight-reel catches to rob hitters of extra bases. He played right field at times this year to help get Hays reps in center field and handled the experience well.
EL managers also noted big-time bat speed with more power than expected considering Mullins’ compact frame. The switch-hitter made plenty of contact this year and has above-average speed to leg out infield hits. Though he swiped just nine bases in 16 chances this year, managers around the league expect double-digit totals as he matures.
In a system now brimming with power arms, including 2017 first-rounder Alex Faedo and August trade pickup Franklin Perez, Burrows stands as one of the best. In his second full season, he made it to the EL, where he was one of the youngest arms on the circuit.
Burrows’ fastball sits in the low 90s and peaks in the high 90s in short bursts. What makes the fastball so effective is its excellent late finish, which one scout likened a rising fastball. He’s also adept at using his fastball both above and below the batter’s hands depending on the situation. Burrows added a slider to his 12-to-6 curveball, but both pitches need to be sharpened, as does his changeup. His athleticism bodes well for his ability to refine his offspeed pitches.
Stewart earned renown as an amateur for his power, which has translated completely to pro ball. Last season he hit 30 home runs before following up with 28 this season to tie for 15th in the minors. He’s made adjustments to keep his bat in the hitting zone longer and gets to his power consistently thanks in part to strong plate discipline, which also produces walks.
Stewart hit just .227/.301/.396 with nine of his 28 homers on the road and away from a cozy home park in Erie. He will have to continue to hit because he has minimal defensive value. Opposing managers saw well below-average speed and range in left field, as well as tentative jumps and a below-average arm.
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