2017 Florida State League Top 20 Prospects
(Photo by Cliff Welch)
|Co-Champions Dunedin (Blue Jays) Palm Beach (Cardinals)|
|Best Record Tampa (Yankees), 85-50 (.630)|
|Most Valuable Player Brandon Lowe, 2B, Charlotte (Rays)|
|Pitcher Of The Year Ryan Helsey, RHP, Palm Beach (Cardinals)|
|Did Not Qualify Ronald Acuna, OF, Florida (Braves)|
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.
Hurricane Irma laid waste to parts of Florida in September, disrupting the economy, producing billions of dollars in damage and, incidentally, cancelling the Florida State League playoffs.
Dunedin and Palm Beach shared the title after winning their initial playoff series, with the Blue Jays downing regular-season behemoth Tampa, which finished 35 games over .500.
As is often the case, the FSL was a pitcher’s paradise thanks to its combination of heat, humidity, big league dimensions in its ballparks and lack of energy in the stands. The average FSL batter slashed .250/.320/.360, good for the lowest slugging percentage and OPS of any full-season league.
Teenage batters did their part to try to improve the league’s batting line. Three of the game’s best prospects either started or finished in the FSL. Minor League Player of the Year Ronald Acuna didn’t quite get enough playing time with the Braves’ new Florida affiliate, which played in Kissimmee’s Osceola County Stadium, but the league’s top two prospects, Blue Jays teen sensations Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., did.
Guerrero came up to Dunedin after the all-star break and had 16 multi-hit games while dominating the league offensively, finishing with such a flourish that he passed teammate Bo Bichette for the minor league on-base percentage crown at .425.
Guerrero does it with stunning bat speed thanks to the fastest hands in the FSL, and scouts don’t shrink from grading him as a 70 hitter on the 20-80 scale. He belies his family name with plenty of patience at the plate, with more walks than strikeouts. His power rates lower than than his hitting ability at present, but he’s just 18, and scouts see plenty of home runs in his future. The biggest question about Guerrero is defense, where he lacks his father’s arm strength but has enough—earning above-average grades from some scouts—to stick at third base, at least in the short term.
“He’s solid there now,” one pro scout with an American League club said, “and I put him at third until he can’t do it anymore. But he doesn’t have a great body . . . I have reservations over how it will hold up at third. He has more than enough bat for first base though.”
Some managers prefer Bichette to Guerrero, a testament to Bichette’s talent and first full pro season. Like Guerrero, Bichette is the son of a big leaguer (Dante Bichette) who seems born to hit.
Bichette has natural timing and generates power to all fields with an aggressive swing. Then he has a two-strike approach that emphasizes contact, and he finished second in the minors with a .423 on-base percentage while striking out just 16 percent of the time.
Bichette’s bat would play if he has to move off shortstop, but most managers and scouts give him a better-than-average shot at sticking there. While other shortstops likely have more range and better footwork than Bichette, he plays low, has the internal clock to make routine and tough plays, gains ground well and has all the fundamentals to go with an above-average arm.
3. Mitch Keller, RHP, Bradenton (Pirates) Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 195 Drafted: HS—Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2014 (2)
Keller keeps pitching simple. He challenges hitters with one of the best fastballs in the minors, and he dominated the FSL in a return stint after finishing 2016 with Bradenton for one regular-season start and two playoff starts. He overcame a one-month bout with a back strain to earn a Double-A promotion in August, where he finished the season reaching 98 mph regularly with his fastball.
Keller’s fastball earns plus-plus grades from some scouts for its combination of 93-97 mph velocity and above-average life. He has elite fastball command for his age. Often Keller can go through a lineup once or twice without having to resort to his above-average to plus curveball or fringe-average changeup more than a handful of times. He has excellent athleticism and a sound delivery that produce that command.
While he’s often a two-pitch pitcher at this stage, his elite fastball command helps him earn comparisons with Curt Schilling for a fastball-heavy approach.
The No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, Senzel finished his first full season in Double-A after being one of the FSL’s best hitters in the first half. His 26 doubles led the league at the time of his promotion, and he showed the bat pro scouts expected to see out of a player with his track record.
Senzel has a handsy swing and aggressive approach, combined with present strength and pitch recognition that allows him to make consistent hard contact. The FSL somewhat suppressed his home runs production, which jumped at Double-A, and he should have above-average home run power. Scouts peg Senzel as an average defender at third base with good hands and arm strength, though he could improve his agility and lateral range.
The third son of a big leaguer to rank among the top five FSL prospects, Hayes requires the most projection, but scouts are more convicted in Hayes than most of the rest of the league.
In a league full of exciting third basemen, including four of the top seven prospects, the son of Charlie Hayes was the best defender in the FSL. He made just eight errors thanks to his ability, soft hands and plus arm, with one scout calling his defense a plus present major league tool.
Offensively, Hayes has advanced skills for a 20-year-old, staying inside the ball, stealing bases aggressively and efficiently with plus speed and even leading the FSL in sacrifice bunts. He has strong contact skills but has yet to learn to turn on the ball and hit for loft power. He must add strength to his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame.
While Ronald Acuna and Luiz Gohara sped to Triple-A after starting the year with the Braves’ new affiliate at Osceola County Stadium, Riley stuck around longer, playing 81 games for the Fire Frogs before being promoted to Double-A. He finished the season with 20 homers overall between the two levels.
Power—at the plate and in the field, in the form of a plus-plus throwing arm—are Riley’s calling cards. He’s an aggressive hitter with surprising feel and a plan at the plate, with the strength to punish mistakes. He has plus raw power, and his power tool grades higher than his hitting ability because he has some swing-and-miss to his game.
Defensively, Riley has requisite agility for third base and should be an average defense whose arm will be his greatest asset.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Tate finally hit his stride as a pro in his first full year with the Yankees, who acquired him from the Rangers in the 2016 Carlos Beltran trade. Hampered in spring training by a shoulder injury, Tate worked back slowly into form and was ready for action in June, ripping off nine strong starts in the FSL before finishing the season with Double-A Trenton.
Tate’s athleticism plays with both his quick arm and his ability to repeat a high-energy delivery. His fastball reaches 98 mph consistently, and unlike past seasons, he held his velocity, often getting up to 97 as late as the eighth inning of his last two starts. His fastball command, changeup and slider all have improved from 2016. He locates his plus slider and changeup so well that at times he pitched backwards, finishing hitters off by painting the black at 95 mph.
“It looks like he has a routine now and has learned to be a starting pitcher,” said Clearwater manager Shawn Williams, who managed against Tate the last two years in the South Atlantic League. “He’s at least 95 (mph) from the first through the seventh. He couldn’t do that the last two years. He’s a completely different animal now.”
8. Brent Rooker, OF/1B, Fort Myers (Twins) Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 215 Drafted: Mississippi State, 2017 (1s)
A first-team All-American in the spring, Rooker won the Southeastern Conference’s old-school and modern triple crowns at Mississippi State. After hitting 23 homers for the Bulldogs, he finished his pro debut with 18 homers, with 11 in just 40 FSL games. In just a third of the season, he fell seven homers shy of the league lead, and power is Rooker’s calling card.
While scouts don’t all love his right-right profile, he’s hitting his way higher and higher into their reports. He showed power to all fields, and managers were impressed with his feel for hitting as well. “He’s a hitter,” one said in summary, “not just a power guy.”
Rooker looks better in the batter’s box than with a glove, but he was capable defensively at first base. He’s below-average in left field, though he’s athletic enough to make it work if he sets his mind to it.
A 2014 first-rounder, Tucker repeated the league but wasn’t the same player—in a good way.
A year further removed from shoulder surgery, Tucker showed average arm strength to go with a quicker, smoother transfer and enough accuracy to give scouts and managers confidence he could be an average defender at shortstop. At his size, he also has a chance to move to center field, where his long strides and speed could make him a defensive asset.
Tucker already is an asset offensively as a daring baserunner and basestaeler who plays with energy and athleticism. He rankedseventh in the minors with 47 stolen bases overall. Patient enough to draw walks, he can both bunt and move runners as well, while showing the improved power at the plate to do damage, both to the gaps and over the fence on occasion.
10. Ryan Helsley, RHP, Palm Beach (Cardinals) Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 195 Drafted: Northeastern State (Okla.), 2015 (5)
The FSL’s pitcher of the year, Helsley is a Cherokee Indian out of Oklahoma who has plowed through pro ball so far, breaking out in 2017. He started the season with five no-hit innings against St. Lucie and finished it in Triple-A.
Helsley is a power pitcher who regularly hit 98 mph with his fastball in starts, and he sits in the 93-97 range. He locates his fastball well and has an attacking mentality with it, which would suit him well in a bullpen role. However, he repeats his delivery well and has improved his secondary stuff.
Helsley’s slurvy curveball flashes plus, gets some swings and misses and helped him shackle righthanded hitters (.537 OPS). His changeup is an average pitch as well, and he’s added a cutter to help combat lefthanders.
The 22nd overall pick in 2015, Burrows finished the year in Double-A after dominating FSL competition. He didn’t fare as well at that level but still made healthy progress in his age-20 season, striking out 137 in 135 innings overall.
In the FSL, Burrows worked over hitters with a fastball that grades out as a plus-plus pitch at its best. He’s able to pitch both up and down in the strike zone with it thanks to its late life, as well as inside, tying up hitters’ hands. One scouts said Burrows got more swings and misses with his fastball than any pitcher he saw in the league, and he allowed no earned runs in five of his 11 FSL starts.
Burrows’ secondary pitches were exposed a bit at Double-A, however. He throws both a slider and curveball as well as a changeup, but none is an average pitch at present. His curve has shown the most promise but needs more consistency. If one of his secondary pitches doesn’t progress to at least average, he may wind up in the bullpen.
The 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Randolph didn’t really get going in the FSL until around his 20th birthday on June 2, coincidentally his first hitless game after four multi-hit games in a row.
Randolph’s bat always has been his best tool, with a natural feel for the barrel and ability to keep his hands inside the ball that allows the lefthanded hitter to spray line drives from gap to gap. The Phillies have coached him to get the ball out front more often to produce pull power. At times Randolph got caught in between approaches, but as the year went on, he found his power stroke more often.
Randolph will have to do that as a left fielder, his best fit defensively. He’s worked hard to improve on that front, improving his arm strength to average at times and cutting down on his mistakes. He’s maintained his squat 5-foot-11, 205-pound frame and added strength, and his improved power helps him fit the left-field profile.
13. Seranthony Dominguez, RHP, Clearwater (Phillies) Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 185 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011
Even though he’s 22, Dominguez strikes scouts as an upside play. He’s had an injury-plagued career that included a bout with shoulder tightness in 2017 that kept him off FSL mounds for more than two months. At his best, however, he challenged even Phillies top prospect Sixto Sanchez (who didn’t pitch enough in the FSL to qualify for this list) for upside in a loaded Clearwater rotation.
When he’s at his best, Dominguez has a special arm, sitting 94-95 mph at times and 95-97 at others and reaching up to 99. His fastball has plus sink as well, and the combination of his aggressive use of the pitch and its late life helps him generate swings and misses with his fastball. That has scouts projecting him as a potential starter. His secondary stuff all flashes above-average if not better. He has a clean delivery, which helps him repeat his release point and command his tight, downer curveball, which is his best secondary pitch. He also has had some effectiveness with his changeup, flashing above-average.
While he’s added strength, Dominguez needs to maintain his stuff deeper into games, but he’ll be 23 next season and has yet to show the durability needed to fulfill his No. 2 or 3 starter ceiling. Left unprotected last year for the Rule 5 draft, Dominguez figures to be protected this offseason.
Solak had a strong hitting track record at Louisville, and the Yankees had enough confidence in his hitting ability to jump him to the FSL for his first full season. He handled the jump easily offensively, ranking second in the league in batting (.301), leading in on-base percentage (.397) and ranking third in slugging (.460) before receiving a promotion to Double-A Trenton.
Solak kept hitting after the promotion, and his better speed, athletic ability and plate discipline had scouts giving him the edge over Brandon Lowe among the FSL’s offense-first second basemen. One league manager compared Solak favorably to a power-speed second baseman from the league in 2016 in Scott Kingery, who finished 2017 in Triple-A with the Phillies after a 26-homer, 29-steal season.
Scouts aren’t sure Solak has Kingery’s power, but he has fast hands, a feel for hitting and above-average speed. He’s put in the work to become an average defender, though that’s still the area of his game where he needs the most work. “He’s a baseball player who can really hit,” one league manager said. “He’s a pain in the butt to have to play against; that’s a compliment.”
Romero thrived in his first full year in the minors, finishing 11th overall with a 2.16 ERA in 129 innings. He joined Clearwater’s rotation in July and didn’t give up an earned run in four of his nine starts that lasted more than an inning. The lefty overmatched lower-level hitters with a mix of pitches that kept hitters from sitting on any one offering.
Romero can reach 96 mph with his four-seam fastball but generally pitched at 91-94 mph, and he also used both a cut fastball and two-seamer that sat in the upper 80s and helped him pitch to both sides of the plate. He further flummoxed hitters with a changeup that played off his heater, and showed the ability to keep his average curvball and slider distinct from each other. He’s a potential polished back-of-the-rotation starter who could continue to move quickly.
“He’s a very good athlete, with very good feet,” Clearwater manager Shawn Williams said. “He tracks, hitters, has a plan and keeps up with his pitch patterns. He definitely pitches with conviction.”
Old for the league, Pentecost is making up for time lost to three shoulder surgeries since 2014 (on both shoulders) that have hampered his ability to stay behind the plate. He caught his first games as a pro in 2017, however, and even though he didn’t play after Aug. 7 due to an undisclosed injury, he was named a postseason all-star.
When he did catch (never in back-to-back games), Pentecost impressed scouts with his athleticism and plus arm strength, which has bounced back nicely. He showed little rust as a receiver, handling velocity and blocking well. Offensively, Pentecost remains aggressive, has plate coverage to shoot line drives to the gaps, and the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs, giving him plus power potential.
His future rests with his health. He’s yet to catch back-to-back games as a pro and may wind up more of a hybrid in the Evan Gattis mold, catching while also getting time in left field and first base to keep his bat in the lineup and protect his shoulder.
17. Franklyn Kilome, RHP, Clearwater (Phillies) Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 175 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013
Kilome remains more of a projection play but has started to fill out physically and fulfill some of the projections scouts and the Phillies have had for him. He’s bigger than his listed 6-foot-6, 175 pounds but still has room to fill out and add velocity to his 92-94 mph fastball, which can sit 95-96 for short stretches.
Kilome doesn’t command his fastball as well as teammates such as Sixto Sanchez and Seranthony Dominguez. His 14 wild pitches were two off the league high, even though he was promoted to Double-A in August. Because of his iffy fastball command, Kilome still hands out too many walks and saw his strikeout rate diminish (8.0 per nine innings) in 2017.
Kilome has to improve his pitch sequencing and consistency of all his stuff, but he showed improvement. Better focus helped him have more success early in games, and he learned to throw his changeup more effectively. His plus curveball remains his go-to swing-and-miss offering, but he’ll have to command his fastball better to set it up.
18. Ryan Boldt, OF, Charlotte (Rays) Age: 22 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 210 Drafted: Nebraska, 2016 (2)
For some scouts, Boldt was a disappointment because of his modest home run production (five homers) at his impressively physical frame. But in the big picture, he had an impressive season, jumping to the FSL in his first full season from short-season ball and the 2016 draft, then finishing third in the league in batting (.295) and fourth in hits.
Boldt’s flatter swing plane is geared more for the gaps than home runs at present, but he has the frame to to add loft power and room for strength gains.
Boldt split his time between center field and the corners, and his improved, solid-average arm—his throws added carry and accuracy this season—boost his overall defensive profile. His above-average speed also played on the bases by helping him stay out of double plays and leading the Stone Crabs in steals. He’s a well-rounded player with a chance to be average or above-average in all five tools, with a high floor.
The sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Jackson came to the Braves in an offseason trade from the Mariners. Atlanta moved him back to his primary high school position, catcher, after the Mariners had moved him exclusively to the corner outfield.
Jackson’s catching remains raw and he was rusty behind the plate, but he has easy plus arm strength. At times, he was overwhelmed defensively, with a league-high 10 errors and aggressive opposing baserunners—he threw out 19 percent of the 53 who ran on him.
However, Jackson’s bat should buy him time to develop defensively. His strength allows him to drive the ball even when he doesn’t square it up, and when he does hit it flush, the ball stays hit. His plus power stems more from strength than bat speed; he struggles to handle velocity as a hitter but has some feel for hitting with an aggressive approach. Jackson needs time but has a ceiling as a regular catcher in the Derek Norris/Welington Castillo mold.
20. Brandon Lowe, 2B, Charlotte (Rays) Age: 23 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 185 Drafted: Maryland, 2015 (3)
The league’s MVP, Lowe led the league in slugging (.524) and tied for the league doubles lead (34) despite being promoted to Double-A in August. Lowe has overcome injuries in his amateur career, including a torn ACL in his knee that cost him his freshman season and a broken lower left fibula the year in 2015, the year he was drafted. He’s stayed healthy as a pro and broke out in the FSL.
Lowe fits the current prototype for an offensive second baseman. He got to his power more this season by getting his hands further away from his body in his setup, allowing him to get the barrel to the ball more frequently. He has solid-average power and knows the strike zone well, taking aggressive swings at pitches in the strike zone.
A fringy runner and defender, Lowe has modest range but enough arm strength to turn the double play at second. He’s adapted to the Rays’ defensive shifts well but still has to improve his footwork and ease of operation defensively to be an average defender at second.
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