2017 Midwest League Top 20 Prospects
|Champions Series Quad Cities (Astros) 3 Fort Wayne (Padres) 0|
|Best Record West Michigan(Tigers), 91-45 (.669)|
|Most Valuable Player Bo Bichette, SS, Lansing (Blue Jays)|
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.
Pitching usually dominates in the low Class A Midwest League thanks to a mix of young hitters and cold Midwestern weather. Though league batters hit just .250/.324/.379, for the third year in a row, position players held sway on this prospect ranking.
Lansing had the most prominent prospects in the league, and the two brightest in the Blue Jays system. Third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the minors with a .425 on-base percentage, while shortstop Bo Bichette led the minors with a .362 average. After Guerrero and Bichette were promoted to high Class A, another baseball scion, Fort Wyane shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., took center stage by hitting .311/.458/.650 in the second half.
While position players stood out, there was no lack of notable arms such as righthanders Michel Baez (Fort Wayne), Forrest Whitley (Quad Cities) and Dylan Cease (South Bend).
The Midwest League also got a jolt of star power late in the season from 2017 first-round picks Keston Hiura, a second baseman taken by the Brewers ninth overall, and Royce Lewis, a shortstop taken by the Twins first overall. Neither had the requisite plate appearances to qualify for this list.
In a testament to Guerrero’s talent and aptitude, he exceeded expectations in his full-season debut. He ranked as the No. 1 international amateur in 2015, then as the top prospect in the Appalachian League in 2016 and, finally, as the No. 20 prospect in the game entering the 2017 season. He nearly led the minors in on-base percentage (.425).
Guerrero’s bat-to-ball skills are without peer. He doesn’t have his father’s gangly physique and long arms but still shows the ability to cover the plate. Thanks to his plus bat speed and the strength from his stocky build, Guerrero has at least plus power, with some scouts not shying from plus-plus grades on that tool. His hit tool is a plus weapon, at least the equal of his power. He has been compared with Edwin Encarnacion for his potential offensive impact.
On defense, Guerrero has average to tick above arm strength, enough to play third base, but his thickening body has scouts projecting a move to first base. He has the soft hands, athleticism and footwork to be an average defender there. His one lacking tool is running, where his consistent 4.45 run times leave him a below-average runner.
Most White Sox trades in recent years added prospects, but acquiring James Shields in mid-2016 subtracted Tatis, whom they signed for $700,000 in 2015. The Padres are the ones reaping the rewards.
Tatis improved his solid .766 OPS from the first half, erupting for 12 homers and a 1.108 OPS with 17 stolen bases in the second half. He became the first 18-year-old ever to compile a 20-homer, 20-steal season in the MWL before a late-season promotion to Double-A. Tatis impressed scouts with above-average hitting and power tools, with future plus power.
Scouts project Tatis to eventually move to third base because of his fringe-average range and hands. He has the arm and power to profile at third.
The son of Dante Bichette, Bo engendered questions about how he lasted deep into the second round in 2016 after a historic first half in the MWL. He flirted with .400 before finishing at .384/.448/.623 in 70 games and a promotion to high Class A.
Bichette has average power, but it’s his all-fields approach that is really the key to his success.
He uses the middle of the field and is content to change his approach with two strikes. The biggest question about Bichette is his unusual swing. He uses a big leg kick, hip turn and a deep coil to unleash a long swing that stays in the zone a long time as well. Scouts say he has the plus-plus bat speed to compensate but are concerned he will not sustain that as he ages and as pitchers adjust.
Scouts expect that Bichette will move off shortstop to second base, where he can be an average defender with an average arm and average range. He’s an average to tick above runner.
4. Michel Baez, RHP, Fort Wayne (Padres). Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-8. Wt.: 220. Signed: Cuba, 2016.
Despite his 6-foot-8 size and his fastball velocity, Baez was relatively unheralded in Cuba but got on the radar of Padres international scouting director Chris Kemp in the spring of 2016. San Diego spent $3 million to outbid the Astros and Cardinals, among others, and streamlined Baez’s mechanics and offerings under pitching coordinator Mark Prior.
Baez dazzled in his full-season debut and drew raves for his plus-plus fastball up to 97 mph, a changeup and slider that flash plus and a curveball with 11-to-5 shape. Baez is the rare pitcher taller than 6-foot-5 with sterling mechanics. His delivery is easy to repeat and he stays tall and online to the plate, enabling him to throw consistent strikes.
Baez almost throws too many strikes, and he gave up eight home runs, which was as many walks as he had in 58.2 innings. He has tremendous feel for his four pitches and gets great angle on his fastball, enabling him to strike out 12.6 batters per nine innings.
Whitley joined Zack Greinke as Clayton Kershaw as high school pitchers who reached Double-A in their first full seasons. He didn’t qualify for prospect lists in his other two leagues en route to 143 strikeouts in 92.1 overall innings.
Whitley’s stuff has few detractors. At 6-foot-7, he gets tremendous angle on his low-90s fastball, which has late life to his arm side. At 19, he shows precocious feel for his four pitches, showing a curveball with 12-to-6 shape and depth, a changeup with fade and a slider that is improving. His command is present average and at times was below that in the MWL but improved as he climbed the ladder.
As usual with long-limbed pitchers, Whitley can lose his release point and is still working through a head whack that causes his command to waver. Also, scouts pointed to an effortful delivery. He worked almost exclusively from the stretch at one point as the Astros tried to get him to repeat his delivery. He profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter if his command reaches average.
Trammell stood tallest among the league’s toolsy outfielders because of his ability to translate those tools into results at age 19. The Georgia prep product ranked among the MWL’s top 10 in RBIs, stolen bases, triples and on-base percentage.
A former high school running back, Trammell showed tremendous aptitude as he honed his basestealing skills and learned to leverage his swing for more power. An average to above hitter, he could eventually develop above-average power as his frame matures. Trammell is a plus runner and athletic, and he almost always goes hard all the time.
Defensively, he’s average in center field with an average arm. Evaluators say he’ll need to move to a corner eventually as he fills out and slows down, so improved power is key to his future.
Sanchez’s .305 batting average was the highest by a qualified MWL batter, but the batting title went to Bo Bichette, who batted .384 before he was promoted. Even though Bichette missed qualifying by 61 plate appearances, he could have gone 0-for-61 and still had the higher average.
Sanchez has developed average to above-average power and that could continue to improve as he fills out. He stands tall in the box with his long frame, leading to some concerns about whether he can adequately cover the plate. But scouts say he has solid bat-to-ball skills, leading them to project that he should be an average to above hitter. Sanchez has shown he can handle both velocity and spin, though that will be tested as he moves up. He struck out just 18 percent of the time and makes plenty of contact, showing mostly pull power. He has a loose, whippy lefthanded swing.
Sanchez’s above-average speed plays better underway and in the outfield than as a basestealer. He has a plus arm and should be an average if not better corner defender.
The Astros wanted Alvarez as an international free agent but weren’t willing to top the Dodgers’ $2 million offer in 2016. Stunningly, before he ever played a game for the Dodgers, Los Angeles sent him to Houston for reliever Josh Fields just two months later. A year later, Alvarez is a top prospect in a deep Astros system.
Alvarez's calling card is his bat control and plus bat speed. Scouts believe that combination allows him to project as a plus hitter with plus power. He reminds scouts of Rafael Palmeiro with a front-foot rotation into his swing and the knack for barreling and back-spinning the ball with ease. He centers the ball with regularity and can crush the ball to the opposite field. Alvarez uses the middle of the field well, with the majority of his outcomes in center and left field.
Despite his bulk, Alvarez is an average runner. On defense, he’s average at first base with soft hands and could be playable in left field with more repetitions.
9. Isaac Paredes, SS, West Michigan (Tigers) Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Mexico, 2015 (Cubs).
The Cubs signed Paredes for $800,000 in July 2015 then traded him to the Tigers along with Triple-A third baseman Jeimer Candelario in late July for reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila. Instantly, he became one of the best prospects in a rebuilding Tigers system.
Paredes draws comparisons with former Tiger Jhonny Peralta, both for his squatty body and his power. Scouts project that Paredes could eventually get to 20 homers in a peak season because of above-average bat speed. He has solid plate discipline with a knack for finding the barrel, which leads evaluators to project him as an above-average hitter as well, with one scout calling him the best pure hitter in the MWL.
In the field, Paredes has smooth actions and shows good agility and average run times despite a thick body, though most scouts project a move to third base. He has an above-average arm and the requisite power.
The raw talent the Diamondbacks saw when they popped the California prep star in the supplemental second round in 2014 manifested this season. Scouts said Wilson was often the best player on the field no matter the opponent. His high motor and energy drew high marks from evaluators.
In two years of Rookie ball, Wilson developed plate discipline and pitch recognition, and he has learned to grind out at-bats. He still has plenty of room to grow but maturity and increased leverage in his swing led to more over-the-fence power. He could have average or better power once he fills out. He projects to be an above-average hitter thanks to his plate awareness and ability to find the barrel.
Wilson is an above-average runner with a fringe-average arm that will be playable in center field. He has an athletic, lean frame that could add good weight and runs like a wide receiver.
Cease was in the midst of his most consistent season, two years out from Tommy John surgery, when he was traded to the White Sox in the blockbuster deal for Jose Quintana. Cease was the hardest-throwing righthander in the Cubs' organization at the time of the trade.
Cease touched 100 mph and sat 94-97 mph with his fastball, with late sink. Cease also throws a hammer curveball with 12-to-6 shape that scouts project as plus as well. His changeup flashes average, but his command is presently fringy because his delivery is not always aligned. Scouts say his arm and legs don’t always sync up, which can lead to an inconsistent release point and wobbly command. Another issue detractors point to is a lack of durability, although he missed time in 2017 for an ankle injury but nothing arm-related.
The Cubs carefully monitored Cease’s innings, although the White Sox have been a bit more liberal since the deal. With his arsenal, he has No. 2 starter upside, but many evaluators see him as a future closer thanks to his electric heater and modest command.
A heavy college workload at Rice led to a shoulder issue that pushed Duplantier down draft boards in 2016. A kinesiology wonk, he worked with minor league rehab coordinator Brad Arnsberg to smooth his mechanics, which led to a more-easily repeatable delivery and outstanding results.
Duplantier dominated the MWL, posting a WHIP of 0.83, and he continued to thrive after his promotion to high Class A. His 1.39 ERA is the best in the minors since Justin Verlander's 1.29 in 2005. He succeeds without overpowering velocity. Duplantier’s fastball sits 90-94 with good sink, and his slider, curveball and changeup all grade as present above-average pitches, with the slider flashing plus.
Duplantier’s command is average to tick above presently thanks to his athleticism and smooth delivery. He has been compared to Yovani Gallardo and Clay Buchholz and profiles as a No. 4 or perhaps better starter.
13. Jordan Hicks, rhp, Peoria (Cardinals) Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—Houston, 2015 (3s).
Fully recovered from shoulder inflammation that delayed his pro debut, Hicks showed top-scale velocity in 2017, reaching 101 mph with his fastball.
Hicks’ stuff is unquestioned. His fastball ranged 93-98 and sat 95 mph and he carried his velocity late into games. And the pitch wasn’t just about heat but also showed late life and hard sink. Hicks can pitch with one pitch because of his excellent velocity and he can pitch up in the zone, but he pairs the fastball with a sharp 12-to-6 hammer that misses bats and has drawn plus-plus grades. But his curveball can get horizontal, which makes it easier to get hit. He needs to develop a changeup but hasn’t needed it much yet because of the effectiveness of his two main offerings.
He wowed evaluators with stuff, athleticism and physicality, but his delivery proved difficult to repeat at times. That led to inconsistent command. Because his stuff is so good, one evaluator said Hicks won’t need true command, meaning he could still miss his spot and get swings and misses. He has a No. 2-3 starter’s ceiling with closing potential if he moves to the pen.
The Red Sox bought Allen out of a South Carolina commitment for $725,000 but sent him to the Padres in the 2015 Craig Kimbrel trade. It would have been interesting to have Allen develop in the Red Sox system because the big league comparison most often made is former Boston southpaw Jon Lester.
Like Lester, Allen pitches with an edge and is aggressive with his fastball, which can touch 93-94 mph but sits 89-91. Also like Lester, Allen’s curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch that scouts call above-average with flashes of plus. Allen’s changeup is an average pitch that plays up when he’s commanding the fastball for strikes. His slider can get slurvy at times but also flashes plus.
Elbow soreness cost Allen two months in 2016 but wasn’t an issue in 2017. He needs to be more pitch efficient to go deeper in games, and profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter if he can achieve consistent command.
15. Keibert Ruiz, C, Great Lakes (Dodgers) Age: 19. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
Ruiz’s defense has been his calling card, but he again impressed with the bat and this time in the more-challenging environs of the MWL. Ruiz has quick hands with a whippy swing. His hitting ability is more advanced than his power, and his degree of difficulty is high as a switch-hitting teenage catcher who earned a promotion to high Class A in the second half.
Ruiz’s lefthanded swing is better than from the right side due to repetition, and he’s geared more for contact from the right side. He has tools to be a plus defender with soft hands that help him receive well and above-average arm strength. He needs plenty of polish on his blocking and lateral movement as well as rough transfer, as he threw out just 22 percent of basestealers.
“I expected more on the defensive end,” one manager said. However, his leadership and maturity get high marks.
16. Dustin May, RHP, Great Lakes (Dodgers) Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Justin, Texas, 2016 (3).
Big Bird, Carrot Top, Ginger Ninja, Conan O’Brien. Whatever nickname you pin on May, scouts project you will also call him a big leaguer. The gangly redhead is the ultimate projectable pitcher, with a wiry build that could easily carry another 30 pounds. Skeptics worry that May doesn’t have a frame that can add muscle. But the Dodgers’ strength and conditioning program, spearheaded by player development director Gabe Kapler, is among the best in the game.
And what May lacks in heft he makes up for in stuff and moxie. May has a solid three-pitch mix, led by his low-90s fastball that can touch 93 mph; an 80-83 mph slider that projects above average, and a changeup that flashes average but is occasionally too firm.
May throws from an over-the-top arm slot that he repeats well, and his above-average command comes from solid mechanics. He gathers himself well on the mound and has a consistent foot strike despite a long leg kick. If his physicality catches up with his stuff, he projects as a mid-rotation starter.
Stephenson’s second full season has certainly gone better than his first. Fully healthy after a left wrist injury that needed surgery, Stephenson performed as the Reds expected of the 11th overall pick, especially with the bat. He alleviated fears that last year’s wrist surgery would sap his bat speed, though his line-drive swing path portends just average home run power.
Stephenson covers the plate well, swings at strikes and hits the ball with authority from gap to gap. He projects as an average hitter with double-digit home runs possible at his peak if he can learn to use his strength and leverage his swing.
Behind the plate, Stephenson made strides, particularly with his receiving, as his glove has quieted down and he works well with pitchers. Scouts say he lacks agility side to side and that he doesn’t get out of his crouch well. His arm grades a plus, but he caught just 21 percent of baserunners. The overall package drew comparisons to fellow Georgia prep product Tyler Flowers.
The raw power-speed material that made Whitley the 13th overall pick in 2015 was more apparent in 2017, despite an 11-for-60 start to the season.
Whitley’s plus bat speed showed up as more in-game power and he showed aptitude in pitch recognition. His plus speed continued to play well on the bases. However, he is still too prone to expanding the zone, resulting in a 28.6 percent strikeout percentage, although that came with a .182 isolated power, which was by far his best.
Whitley had limited exposure to high-caliber competition before he turned pro, so his skill set remains far from its ceiling. Scouts noted that his inexperience was especially noticeable against spin, as Whitley had trouble recognizing curveballs and would flinch at times. That said, he showed an ability to crush fastballs. In the field is where Whitley shines most consistently, showing an above-average arm and defense in center field. Those survival tools should buy time for his bat to develop.
19. Hudson Potts, 3B, Fort Wayne (Padres) Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Southlake, Texas, 2016 (1).
Most teams expected Potts—who went by Hudson Sanchez before taking his stepfather’s last name—to end up at Texas A&M, but the Padres popped him and met his $1 million asking price. The Padres gambled because Potts was young for the draft class and had drawn raves for his high character. He has proven to be a wise investment in the short term.
Potts showed great aptitude; after compiling just a .619 OPS in the first half, Potts hit .278/.325/.512 with 14 home runs in the second half as an 18-year-old in full-season ball. Even when he struggled in the first half, scouts noted competitive at-bats. As the season went on, he learned how to more consistently barrel pitches, but his 23-140 walk-strikeout rate makes projection on his bat risky. Above-average bat speed and present strength generate Potts’ power, which projects as above-average if he can improve his contact rate. Scouts who liked his selective-aggressive approach expect he can be at least an average hitter.
Drafted as a shortstop, Potts is a fringy runner who has the soft hands and range for third base, but his fringe-average arm is an issue to watch.
Cameron was nearing the end of a breakout season when he was traded to the Tigers as part of the package for Justin Verlander on Aug. 31. Cameron was off to another poor start when the Astros retooled his swing, helping produce a .332/.406/.552 second-half slash line.
Scouts say Cameron moved away from his pull-heavy approach and adopted a two-strike swing, learning to use the whole field. Swing and miss is still a part of his game, but Cameron dramatically cut down on his whiffs to a manageable 21.1 percent before the trade.
He projects as an average hitter with average power. He’s an above-average runner with usable speed on the bases. Cameron is not the Gold Glove-caliber defender that his father was but possesses the tools to be an above-average defender in center field.
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