2017 New York Penn League Top 20 Prospects
(Photo by Carl Kline)
|Champions Series Hudson Valley (Rays) 2 Vermont (Athletics) 0|
|Not Eligible Hunter Harvey, RHP, Aberdeen|
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.
The Hudson Valley Renegades got twice the value out of 2017 first-round pick Brendan McKay as McKay served as both a pitcher and a first baseman/designated hitter. McKay was more effective on the mound than at the plate, but the two-way star, second baseman Vidal Brujan and shortstop Taylor Walls helped lead Hudson Valley to its first title since 2012. Hudson Valley had lost in the finals last year.
McKay was one of the few first-round picks who saw enough playing time in the league to qualify for the Top 20 Prospects list. There were a large number of impressive pitchers who failed to throw enough innings to qualify including righthander Will Crowe, Tanner Houck, Jonathan Loasiga and J.B. Bukauskas and lefthanders Seth Romero, David Peterson and Jay Groome.
The Rays were willing to let the most decorated amateur in Baseball America history pitch and hit, so they gave their first-round pick an unusual schedule. The former Louisville star pitched on Sunday, served as a DH on Monday and played first base on Tuesday. He then took Wednesday off for his pitching side session, spent another day as a DH on Thursday, played first on Friday and Saturday and pitched on Sunday.
Pitching once a week, McKay’s fastball was as firm as it was at his best at Louisville. He pitched at 92-95 mph, pounding the zone and mixing in an effective cutter, slider and changeup. He has a chance to have four average or better pitches and he has advanced feel for pitching.
At the plate, McKay was helpless against lefthanders (.107/.265/.107) but generally put together professional at-bats, showing a simple, effortless swing that generated plus power. His home runs were often no-doubters, including one off of a Jorge Guzman fastball. He was smooth around first base, even though because of his two-way status, he didn’t get as much time to work defensively as the normal first baseman.
2. Jorge Guzman, RHP, Staten Island (Yankees) Age: 21. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 182. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014 (Astros).
Guzman can stand toe-to-toe with Michael Kopech and Luis Severino as the hardest-throwing starters in pro baseball. Acquired from the Astros in last offseason’s Brian McCann trade, Guzman sat at 97-100 mph as a starter for Staten Island, touching 101-102 on a pretty regular basis and impressing scouts with the limited effort he needed to reach such lofty heights.
Guzman has had that high-octane fastball for a long time, but the 21-year-old took a big step forward as a pitcher this year. In the past, scouts often had viewed him as a pure reliever.
He mixed in his curveball and changeup more regularly, which only made his plus-plus fastball more effective. He led the league with 88 strikeouts and the highest strikeout rate in the league (11.9 K/9). His control still disappears briefly, but he has made significant strides in staying around the zone–his 2.4 walks per nine innings was easily the best mark of his young career.
3. Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, Williamsport (Phillies) Age: 18. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 250. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
At first glance, Ortiz would appear to be a young base clogger with big power and little else. In reality, the massive Ortiz is surprisingly nimble for his size.
And while he does have some of the best power in the league (he led the league with a .258 isolated power), he also showed a discerning eye. Right now, while he can be beaten by a pitcher who nibbles and throws a good breaking ball, he’s also proven he can turn on most any fastball, and he also can punish a hanging curve.
Most of the power hitters in the NYP rely on pull power, but Ortiz is big enough and strong enough to drive the ball to all fields, showing the ability to clear the right field fence as easily as left field. He’s a right fielder with a plus arm who’s mobile enough to stick in an outfield corner.
After spending the first half of the season working on his delivery in Lakeland at extended spring training, Manning made a month-and-a-half stopover with Connecticut before being promoted to low Class A West Michigan.
A two-sport athlete in high school who was committed to play basketball at Manning generally dominated the league. Despite that dominance the athletic Manning needs plenty of refinement. His fastball velocity varies from anywhere from 88 to 95 mph, in part because his release point and arm slot seems to vary from pitch to pitch. At times he looks like a tall, over-the-top pitcher with good direction to the plate who uses all of his 6-foot-6 frame. At other times he’ll drop his arm slot to high three-quarters, throwing cross-body while showing increased deception.
Like many young flame-throwers, Manning’s secondary pitches are catching up to his fastball. His curveball flashes average while his changeup is generally below-average at this point, because it lacks separation or late movement.
5. Vidal Brujan, 2B, Hudson Valley (Rays) Age: 19. B-T:: B-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 155. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
The switch-hitting Brujan was one of the best table-setters in the league, as he showed prototypical leadoff hitter skills. For a 19-year-old, Brujan’s ability to read pitches out of the pitcher’s hand stood out. He produced professional at-bat after professional at-bat, finishing among the league leaders in on-base percentage (.378), runs (51), total bases (108) and stolen bases (16) while also being the second toughest hitter in the league to strike out (once every 8.4 plate appearances).
Brujan is a plus runner with the twitchiness teams look for in a middle infielder. He’s a capable second baseman who has the tools to play center field as well if needed.
After posting six multi-hit games in his first eight in the New York-Penn League, Haseley looked pretty gassed during his stint in Williamsport. That’s understandable when you consider that he’d thrown 65 innings as a weekend starter for Virginia in addition to hitting in the middle of the Cavalier’s lineup all spring.
In the New York-Penn League, Haseley looked more like a player with a lot of average tools rather than one with many plusses. There’s some conviction that he’ll stick in center field, but he doesn’t have the speed and jumps to be much more than average defensively. Scouts saw an average hitter with modest bat speed, but there is some thought that a rested and refreshed Haseley will show better bat speed, a better arm in the outfield and a little more speed. Scouts and managers are impressed with his makeup and feel for the game, but he’ll have to show more power in 2018 and beyond.
One of the best power hitters in the 2017 draft class, the A’s second-round pick showed easy lefthanded power in his pro debut, finishing in a tie for third in the league with eight home runs and finishing second to Ortiz in isolated power (.251). He wore down as the season dragged on, but he generally showed confident at-bats, trusting his hands to drive the ball tao the opposite-field power alley as pitchers wisely stayed away from challenging him. But when pitchers did try to bust him in, he showed few problems yanking the ball over the right field fence.
Deichmann showed average reads and routes in right field and plenty of arm, continuing the improvement he showed defensively as a right fielder at LSU after playing first base earlier in his career.
Jones was one of the more physical hitters in the New York-Penn League, combining excellent patience with power potential. Jones is rarely tempted to chase pitches out of the strike zone. While the average New York-Penn League hitter is still an easy mark for a breaking ball that breaks out of the zone, Jones usually spit on those pitches. He patiently waited for the pitcher to come to him, and when he did get the pitch he was looking for in the zone, he had the power to either line a double to the opposite field or occasionally pull an inside pitch for a home run. When they didn’t, he happily took his walk. He led the league with a .430 on-base percentage.
Jones has more work to do if he’s going to stay at third base. He’s made some significant strides, but his footwork has improved and he’s getting caught in between hops less often. He has plenty of arm strength, but he doesn’t have the ability yet to throw accurately from a variety of arm angles. He doesn’t always get his feet set properly, but when he does, he shows off an above-average arm.
9. Trevor Stephan, RHP, Staten Island (Yankees) Age: 21. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Arkansas, 2017 (3).
The Yankees’ third-round pick out of Arkansas dominated the league. Having thrown 91 innings at Arkansas, Stephan was limited to 60 pitches or less and never threw five innings in a start. But in those shorter stints he was near unhittable. His lone win came when he threw four perfect innings in relief, striking out seven of the 12 batters he faced.
Stephan sat 92-94 mph but touched 95-96 regularly. His slider got plenty of swings and misses thanks to his ability to bury it. His changeup has much further to go and is something he’ll have to refine as he faces more advanced hitters.
Much as he was coming into the 2016 draft, Benson is an extremely intriguing outfielder with plus tools, but he still has a lot of refinement and improvements to make.
Benson showed some of the best raw power in the league, but he only fully drives the ball when he gets his timing all synced up and uses his legs in his swing. That’s still a consistent issue for him, one he’s been working to fix for a couple of years now.
The 225-pound Benson is an average runner out of the batter’s box and shows above-average speed once he gets to full stride. He needs better routes, but he is a prototypical right fielder in the long run. Benson’s advanced maturity and work ethic gives evaluators reason to think he can polish his swing and strike zone judgement as he enters his 20s.
11. Tobias Myers, RHP, Hudson Valley (Rays) Age: 19. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 193. Drafted: HS—Winter Haven, Fla., 2016 (6/Orioles).
A sixth-round pick of the Orioles in 2016 out of Winter Haven (Fla.) High, Myers was the most intriguing of an impressive group of Aberdeen arms until the Orioles traded him in late July to the Rays in a one-for-one deal that sent Tim Beckham to Baltimore. If anything Myers was even more impressive after the trade. The 19-year-old showed advanced control and swing-and-miss stuff as he averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings thanks to his 93-96 mph fastball and downer curveball.
Myers also shows a promising changeup that he doesn’t use all that much yet. He’s a little undersized as a 6-foot righthander but with three pitches, athleticism and ability to throw strikes, he should be able to remain as a starter.
12. Evan Mendoza, 3B, State College (Cardinals) Age: 21. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: North Carolina. State, 2017 (11).
Mendoza hit .262/.342/.397 in a very disappointing junior season, which explains why he fell to the 11th round. The Cardinals got a steal, as Mendoza quickly shrugged off his disappointment to lead the league in batting. Mendoza has very loose hands and an extremely repeatable swing. He has limited experience as a hitter, as he was more of a prospect as a pitcher until his sophomore college season, so he focuses on contact over trying to hit for power. Mendoza uses the entire field and had the bat speed to drive the ball into the gaps. He’d have to retool his swing to start clearing the fence more often. Mendoza has an above-average arm and soft hands but his first step quickness needs to improve to stay at third base long-term.
13. Kyle Young, LHP, Williamsport (Phillies) Age: 19. B-T:: L-L. Ht.: 6-10. Wt.: 223. Drafted: HS—Oyster Bay, N.Y., 2016 (22).
Young was a long-term project the Phillies took a chance on in the 22nd round of the 2016 draft, buying him out of his commitment to Hofstra. Just two years later, that very modest $225,000 gamble is showing signs of paying off. The 6-foot-10 lefty has shown stunningly impressive body control for a NBA center-sized pitcher. He repeats his delivery well, which was evident as he turned into one of the league’s most consistent starters as a 19-year-old.
Just how good Young will end up being depends on how much of his still lofty projection he reaches. He generally pitched at 85-90 mph, but he showed he could ramp up to 91-92 mph when needed and his body is still filling out, so there could be more to come. His fastball plays up because he gets excellent extension–hitters rarely squared him up even when he was sitting 88-90. His curveball and changeup are both below-average now but project as future average pitches.
14. Juan De Paula, RHP, Staten Island (Yankees) Age: 19. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 165. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014 (Mariners).
Still a teenager, De Paula was one of the more skilled pitchers in the league, showing an ability to control the strike zone and throw in and out, up and down, raising and lowering hitters’ eye levels and never letting them get real comfortable in the batter’s box. He was acquired along with fellow Staten Island pitcher Jio Orozco (an impressive arm with a 92-95 mph fastball himself) from the Mariners for Ben Gamel.
DePaula will touch 94 mph at his best, but he sits 90-91 mph, and his fastball can be a little flat. As a result, he’ll need to get to those upper registers of his velocity range more often as he matures to project as more than a back-end starter. His changeup is a present average pitch he uses at any count. He shows an ability to spin his curveball, but it’s not as consistent or as sharp as his changeup.
15. Samad Taylor, 2B, Mahoning Valley (Indians) Age: 19. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 160. Drafted: HS—Corona, Calif., 2016 (10).
Taylor stood out enough for his understanding of the game, heady play and twitchy athleticism that the Blue Jays acquired him in the July 31 deal that sent Joe Smith to the Indians. Some evaluators thought he could slide to shortstop in a pinch even though he stayed put at second base with Mahoning Valley.
Taylor has surprising power for his size. He’s given up on switch-hitting, which seems a wise choice as he’s shown little trouble hitting righties–he hit .325/.341/.530 against righthanders and all his NYP home runs came against righthanders. He’s an average runner and has a chance to be an above-average defender at second base.
As an 18-year-old, Cabrera was one of the youngest players in the league, but he more than survived thanks to a his bat-to-ball skills and advanced understanding of when to swing and when to take. Managers and scouts felt confident about Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base. The switch-hitter produced professional at-bats from both sides of the plate and showed a very even temperament, rarely taking a tough at-bat with him when he went back into the field.
Scouts are concerned that Cabrera’s tools are more modest than his work ethic and feel for the game. He has excellent hands and a great internal clock, but he has below-average foot speed that limits his range at shortstop or second and his average arm.
17. Cameron Bishop, LHP, Aberdeen (Orioles) Age: 21. B-T:: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: UC Irvine, 2017 (26).
Aberdeen had a very talented rotation, and depending on who you talked to, you could get pretty varied rundowns of scouts’ preference lists for their pitching prospects. Bishop slipped to the 26th round, but received third-round money and lived up those initial expectations, packaging a 90-94 mph fastball and a slurvy-ish slider that sits on the cusp between curve and slider thanks to its power. It has more of a top-to-bottom break than a true two-plane slider tilt.
Bishop is a bigger-bodied pitcher, but he has some athleticism to his delivery which gives some hope that his wildness (4 BB/9 innings) will be tamed as he gets more experience.
Baumann was the hardest-throwing member of Aberdeen’s excellent rotation, pairing a 92-97 mph fastball and a power breaking ball that generally overpowered the league’s hitters. The club’s third-round pick out of Jacksonville has an excellent frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) with broad shoulders and room to grow. He generally ate up righthanders with his fastball/slider combo–they hit .133/.261/.173 against him with only three extra-base hits in 75 plate appearances.
Baumann’s fastball has excellent sink, but his control and command needs to improve. Like many young pitchers, the strike zone jumps around on him at times and it takes him a while to get locked back in.
19. Tristan Gray, SS/2B, West Virginia (Pirates) Age: 21. B-T:: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Rice, 2017 (13).
Gray’s athleticism and versatility meant he never really found a defensive home at Rice–he played left and right field, first, second and third base, because he could handle almost any position adequately. The Pirates let him focus on playing second base and then slid him to shortstop for the final month of the season. He responded by showing a consistency he lacked at Rice. Evaluators liked his swing, seeing Gray as someone who can hit for average power without selling out his ability to make contact (he struck out in only 13 percent of plate appearances).
Gray is better at second base than short, although his above-average arm allows him to survive at short. He projects as at least an average second baseman defensively and he may exceed that expectation now that he can work on playing one position regularly.
20. Spencer Howard, RHP, Williamsport (Phillies) Age: 22. B-T:: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Cal Poly, 2017 (2).
Two bad innings in two bad outings blew up Howard’s ERA, but generally he looked more advanced than the league, showing off a varied four/five-pitch mix. Howard doesn’t really have a true put-away pitch, but he keeps hitters off-balance by throwing a wide variety of solid offerings.
Howard’s 90-94 mph fastball is hard to square as he has some natural deception thanks to a cross-fire delivery and his ability to manipulate the pitch, cutting it or running it as needed. His changeup could end up being a plus pitch while his curveball should end up being at least average. He mixes in a fringier slider as a change of pace and sometimes it ends up dissolving into a true cutter.
Howard does a good job of staying on-time in his delivery and uses his lower half well, giving him a chance to move quickly as a relatively polished back-end starter.
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