2017 Pioneer League Top 20 Prospects
(Photo by Bill Mitchell)
|Championship Series: Ogden (Dodgers) 2 Great Falls (White Sox) 1|
|Best Record: Orem (Angels), 49-26 (.653)|
|Most Valuable Player: Anthony Villa, 3B/1B, Great Falls (White Sox)|
|Pitcher of the year: Elvin Rodriguez, RHP, Orem (Angels)|
|Did Not Qualify: Hunter Greene, RHP, Billings (Reds)|
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.
It was all about the offense in the eight-team Rookie-level Pioneer League this year, with 16 of the top 20 prospects being position players. The league with the most favorable hitting conditions in affiliated ball was even crazier this year and finished with a line of .293/.370/.457. Ogden hit .319 and slugged .513 as a team.
Despite the gaudy hitting totals, the overall level of talent was down this year. The only 2017 first-round picks to appear were righthander Hunter Greene (Billings), outfielder Jeren Kendall (Ogden) and outfielder Jo Adell (Orem), and Adell was the only of the trio to qualify for this list.
After beginning his pro career in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he ranks as the No. 2 prospect, Adell arrived in Orem in mid-August and got enough plate appearances to qualify as the PL’s top prospect. Orem teammates Chris Rodriguez and Brandon Marsh rank right behind Adell, with Owlz shortstop Leonardo Rivas also ranking in the top ten.
After making his pro debut with 31 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League where he ranked as the second best prospect, Adell arrived in Orem on Aug. 17, getting into 18 games with the Owlz and giving them a late-season boost on their way to the playoffs.
Just like in the AZL, Adell was limited to DH duties because of a minor shoulder issue. He’s a five-tool athlete who receives multiple plus grades. He makes hard contact and has the strength and plus bat speed to drive balls, giving him a chance to hit for average in addition to showing plus power.
Adell is an impressive baserunner with plus speed, with scouts projecting that he’ll keep his speed even as he grows. While PL observers didn’t get to see him play the outfield, he’s expected to be capable of staying in center field, though his plus-plus arm could also play in right field.
It didn’t take long for Adell to make an impression with the Orem coaching staff. “He's made some adjustments and the ball comes off his bat like a grown man,” Orem manager Tom Nieto said, “and of course he runs like the wind . . . He’s something special.”
2. Chris Rodriguez, RHP, Orem (Angels) Age: 19. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 185. Drafted: HS—Miami Gardens, Fla., 2016 (4).
Rodriguez pitched better in the hitter-happy PL than his 6.40 ERA would indicate. He he mixed dominant outings with two ugly ones to start and end his time in Orem.
Rodriguez uses an effective four-pitch mix, and all of which project to be above-average offerings. He gets plenty of movement on his 93-96 mph fastball that touches 97. His two-seamer runs in on righthanded batters, while his four-seamer at times looks like a slider because of the cut he generates. Rodriguez made big strides with his 83-86 mph changeup this year, and it’s a future plus pitch that looks like a screwball with the bottom dropping out.
Rodriguez shows feel for spin with his 78-82 mph curveball, which comes out of his hand looking similar to his fastball but has 12-to-6 break, and his 82-85 mph slider has late break and good tilt.
Rodriguez repeats his delivery and has good feel despite a deep arm plunge.
Lutz got his career off to a hot start with an outstanding performance in the Rookie-level Arizona League before moving to the PL. He’s an advanced hitter for his age, with his powerful wrists and strong body causing balls to jump off the bat. His above-average bat speed and torque generate plenty of power, and his advanced feel to hit should allow him to eventually get to more power.
An above-average runner now, Lutz is bound to slow down as his body grows. He played mostly in center field in both the AZL and PL. A move to a corner outfield spot is likely as he matures physically, but an above-average arm will allow him to handle right field. He has good instincts in the field.
“He’s the complete package,” Helena manager Nestor Corredor said, “a real baseball player with a lot of tools.”
4. Brandon Marsh, OF, Orem (Angels) Age: 19. B-T L-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 210. Drafted: HS—Buford, Ga., 2016 (2).
Marsh sat out all of 2016 with a stress fracture in his lower back, but he hit .467 over his first 10 games at Orem before suffering a thumb injury that kept him out of action for most of July.
Like fellow outfielder Jo Adell, Marsh brings all five tools to the field and is an elite athlete with a strong, physical build. He was a two-sport player in high school. Marsh split time in 2017 in both right and center field, with the above-average speed and arm to handle either.
Marsh’s hit tool is legit. He uses the whole field and has an mature approach at the plate. He has the strength to grow into more game power as he develops, but right now his home run power is limited to his pull side.
Heredia, who signed for $2.6 million in 2015, made a whirlwind trip through the lower levels of the Dodgers system in his U.S. debut. He began in the Rookie-level Arizona League before reporting to Ogden for 19 games and then finishing at low Class A Great Lakes.
Heredia has a powerful build, with a thick neck and chest and muscular thighs, and he’s established a regular routine to keep his big body in shape. At the plate, he makes hard contact with an aggressive swing. He struggled with breaking balls early in the season but quickly made adjustments and gained direction in his swing. His average speed plays up to above-average because of his instincts and quick jumps.
Heredia played all three outfield positions with Ogden but profiles best in left field. He’s still working on improving his below-average arm.
“He’s spirited and intelligent,” Ogden manager Mark Kertenian said. “(As a) character and person, he’s really, really solid.”
The son of Oklahoma State assistant coach James Vilade, Ryan has been around the game all his life and it shows in his makeup and instincts. He excelled in his pro debut, which was cut short by a lower back injury in mid-August that also kept him out of instructional league games.
Vilade doesn’t have flashy tools, but he is a well-rounded player. He’s an advanced hitter who uses all fields, with average power and a tick below-average speed. How much his body grows will determine whether he stays at shortstop or moves to third base, but for now he’s at least an average defender with good instincts and a plus arm. He’s not twitchy in the field but anticipates well and has a good first step.
“A really good kid . . . he's learned a lot this year,” Grand Junction manager Frank Gonzales said, “and there's a lot of opportunity for growth.”
7. Pedro Gonzalez, OF, Grand Junction (Rockies) Age: 19. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-5. Wt: 190 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
Gonzalez showed significant improvement as he repeated the PL this season. The Rockies traded him to the Rangers in late August as the player to be named for Jonathan Lucroy.
The improvement in Gonzalez’s hitting was evident as he did a better job of making contact (he cut his strikeout rate from 31 to 25 percent). His at-bats got better during the course of the season as he developed an understanding what it meant to be on time and ready to hit. He’s still extremely thin, but has good bat speed and barrels up balls. An average runner last year, he ran better this year, which was especially notable on defense.
Gonzalez was an improved defender in center field this year, reading balls and taking better routes. He flahsed a plus arm.
“He went and got balls that weren't catchable by many people,” Grand Junction manager Frank Gonzales said. “His outfield play at least improved as much if not more than his hitting.”
Harrison spent more time at first base and DH at Oregon State, but the Brewers intend to develop him as a catcher. He still needs plenty of work behind the plate, where he needs to clean up his mechanics and improve his agility, but he has soft hands and an above-average arm.
A slow release keeps Harison from posting impressive pop times on throws to second base, but he threw out 26 percent of basestealers with Helena and should get better with experience.
No one doubts Harrison will hit. He has good pull-side power but also takes what pitchers give him and doesn’t over-swing. He can hit gap to gap and drive home runs to center and right field. The ball jumps off his bat, and he projects to be an average hitter with average power. He’s a below-average runner.
9. Leonardo Rivas, SS, Orem (Angels) Age: 19. B-T B-R. Ht: 5-10. Wt: 150. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
The Angels challenged with an assignment to the PL despite having only one month in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2016. He was up to the task, anchoring the Owlz infield defense and pacing their offensive attack from the leadoff spot.
Still on the smallish side and needing to add strength, Rivas surprised observers with the consistent hard contact he made from both sides of the plate. For his size, he has an athletic, projectable body and is light on his feet.
Rivas stands out most on defense. He’s not flashy but makes all the plays. His hands work well, he’s instinctive and he shows good range to both sides. His arm strength and accuracy improved to above-average.
Rivas’ advanced strike-zone knowledge, plate discipline and good hand-eye coordination keep him from swinging at pitches outside the zone. A plus runner, he gets good jumps and is an instinctive baserunner.
A high school teammate of Angels pitching prospect Chris Rodriguez at Pace High, Downs turned pro rather than attend the University of Miami. PL observes shared mixed opinions on Downs’ upside in his pro debut, with the consensus that he’s got mostly average but still raw tools. He appeared to wear down later in the season and not play with the same energy.
Scouts expect Downs to hit. He’s got a good approach at the plate with some pull power. He uses the whole field with quick wrists and a strong lower half, and heshowed good plate discipline in his debut. He’s an average runner.
While Downs flashed a plus arm as an amateur, PL scouts saw it more as average. His average range might be stretched at shortstop, but he can shift to second base.
11. Eduardo Diaz, OF, Missoula (Diamondbacks) Age: 20. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
Diaz has been an under-the-radar prospect, but the native Venezuelan put his name on the map in his second pro year with a breakout season at Missoula. He’s got plenty of tools and just needs more experience to refine his game, and he consistently plays hard and with a lot of energy.
Diaz’s improvement at the plate came when his direction got better and he was able to use the whole field. He hunts for and can crush fastballs but still struggles with offspeed pitches. His hand-eye coordination is so good that for now he gets away with the subpar pitch recognition, but improving his approach at the plate is his biggest need. He has a good swing with gap power and should grow into more over-the-fence pop with added strength.
Diaz projects to be a plus center fielder, with above-average to plus speed and an above-average arm. He’s a good baserunner who was successful on 11 of 13 stolen base opportunities.
12. Andy Yerzy, C, Missoula (Diamondbacks) Age: 19. B-T L-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 215. Drafted: HS—Toronto, 2016 (2).
Yerzy showed signs of developing into the power bat the Diamondbacks envisioned. While Missoula’s home park is favorable to lefthanded hitters, his progress is real.
This year Yerzy started trusting in himself, allowing his natural swing and whip to come through. His hands got looser and he used his legs better, getting more fluidity in his swing. He’s still got some holes in the swing, but he dropped his strikeout rate from 22 percent in 2016 to 18 percent this year.
Yerzy is still a work in progress behind the plate. He has the necessary aptitude and arm strength but needs plenty of reps to improve his receiving. A positive sign is that he threw out nearly 30 percent of basestealers.
Missoula manager Mike Benjamin noted that Yerzy progressed during the season after making mechanical changes. “He needed to be trusting that he has the fundamentals down,” Benjamin said, “and let the athleticism come out.”
13. Stuart Fairchild, OF, Billings (Reds) Age: 21. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 205. Drafted: Wake Forest, 2017 (2).
Drafted by the Reds in the second round after his three-year career at Wake Forest, Fairchild spent his first pro season as Billings’ primary center fielder. Scouts and PL managers had mixed opinions on his projection, with most of his tools grading as right around average.
Fairchild has a short, compact swing and takes a small stride, giving the ball time to get deep into the zone, though observers who saw him later in the season noted a longer swing. He’s a line drive hitter with below-average power, and his swing gets defensive at times. He’s got more raw power in batting practice but it doesn’t carry into games. He hit 17 home runs as a junior, but that didn’t translate even in the hitter-friendly PL.
Fairchild is an above-average runner who covers plenty of ground in center field, and his average arm will be enough for the position. Some scouts project him as a fourth outfielder.
14. Janser Lara, RHP, Idaho Falls (Royals) Age: 21 B-T R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Lara, who signed for $200,000 in 2015, stood out for premium velocity from a slender frame. He attacks hitters with a fastball sitting 93-96 mph and touching as high as 100 this year, with the velo coming from his quick arm and a clean, effortless delivery that he repeats well.
Lara’s secondary pitches include a 76-83 mph curveball that is more like a hard slider but with good curveball break. He’s actually got two changeups—one that he throws like a circle-change as well as a split-finger changeup that had some late cutting action at times. Better command and improved secondary pitches will be the keys to whether Lara can start, but he may thrive in a relief role where he can just max out his velocity.
Idaho Falls pitching coach Jeff Suppan believes Lara will have enough diversity in his repertoire to remain in a starting role. “He’s got three pitches with just one fastball,” Suppan said. “He pitches in, (he) elevates, and (he) locates down. With the developing changeup I can see him in the rotation."
15. Packy Naughton, LHP, Billings (Reds) Age: 21. B-T R-L. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 195. Drafted: Virginia Tech, 2017 (9).
For an extreme hitter’s league in which very few pitchers excel, Naughton was the exception to the rule. The former Virginia Tech southpaw and Reds ninth-round pick was coming off an unimpressive college career, though he pitched well in the Cape Cod League prior to his junior year. With Billings, he recorded an outstanding 3.15 ERA and tied for third with 63 strikeouts.
Naughton is a legit four-pitch lefty with his loose arm that delivers a plus fastball up to 95 mph with easy velocity. He commands all of his pitches. Both of his breaking balls, a slider from 79-82 mph with three-quarters break and a downer curveball in the mid-70s, flash as at least average, and he has feel for a low-80s changeup.
Naughton has a long arm swing, which provides some deception, and he repeats his motion well. He’s athletic enough with enough command to stay in the rotation.
16. Tommy Doyle, RHP, Grand Junction (Rockies) Age: 21 B-T R-R. Ht: 6-6. Wt: 235. Drafted: Virginia, 2017 (2s).
Doyle found the right role in his junior year at Virginia, thriving as the Cavaliers’ closer when he saved 14 games and posted a 1.87 ERA. He continued to pitch out of the bullpen with Grand Junction but will likely be given a shot in the rotation.
Doyle has the size and repertoire of a prototype back-of-the-rotation starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s, touching as high as 96 mph, and he flashes a plus slider with good spin. His breaking ball was his out pitch in college, and he relied on it more than his fastball, so the
Grand Junction staff had him limit the use of it in order to pitch off the heater more often. Doyle’s fastball has angle, but it’s fairly straight and he needs to add more movement. He uses his changeup infrequently but will need to improve the pitch if he heads back into the rotation.
17. Romer Cuadrado, OF, Ogden (Dodgers) Age: 19. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 185. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
Cuadrado, who signed with the Dodgers in 2014 for $750,000, blossomed in Ogden’s extreme hitter’s park in his third pro season. He hit .335/.413/.523 and anchored the lineup for a Raptors squad that won the PL championship.
Cuadrado looks the part when in uniform, with long arms and legs and a strong build, but he is stiff and not real athletic. He makes hard contact and flashes above-average power but with a lot of swings and misses. Cuadrado could drive balls out of the park by getting more loft in his swing.
An average runner, Cuadrado started stealing more bases as the season progressed. While he saw time at all three outfield spots for Ogden, he spent most of his time in right field. He has at least an above-average arm with the chance to be better because he often pulls off on throws.
Henry was Helena’s primary catcher in his second pro season, and he became more consistent behind the plate with added experience. He made progress in calling games and consistently showed plus pop times on throws to second base, though his arm plays down because of poor footwork. He threw out 28 percent of basestealers in 2017, up from 19 percent last year. He has a stiff, slow body, with observers noting that he needs to get himself in better condition.
Henry had some of the best raw power in the PL, with quick hands and good bat speed but with a long swing. He gets pull happy and needs to work on using the other side of the field. He projects to be a power over hit type when he starts generating more loft with his swing.
“He grew a lot,” Helena manager Nestor Corredor said, “(He can be a) really good defender with a potential power bat.”
19. Joey Rose, 3B, Missoula (Diamondbacks) Age: 19. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 205. Drafted: Toms River, N.J., 2016 (5)
Rose exceeded expectations in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2016 and continued his progress with Missoula. Rose leveled out his swing to create a more natural loft angle, allowing his natural swing path to generate good whip.
Rose has above-average raw power now and projects to have plus power in time. He has good bat speed but still swings and misses too often to hit for average. Speed won’t be part of Rose’s game with below-average speed.
Rose still has work to do defensively at third base. His hands work fine, and he has a plus arm, but he needs to improve his footwork, specifically making his feet more active in order to get in better position.
20. Antonio Pinero, SS, Helena (Brewers) Age: 18. B-T S-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 155. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
Originally signed by the Red Sox in 2015, Pinero was one of five Venezuelan players removed from the Boston organization for what Major League Baseball determined to be bonus pool circumvention. The Brewers were able to sign him in 2016 for $375,000 with only $75,000 counting towards Milwaukee’s bonus pool.
The switch-hitting shortstop was challenged with an assignment to Helena, and his inexperience certainly showed at the plate. The undersized youngster struggled to drive the ball. He has the potential to develop as a hitter with added strength, because he barrels balls with a swing geared for contact and has very good hand-eye coordination.
Pinero has the potential to be special defensive player at shortstop. He regularly made highlight reel plays for Helena. He’s an average runner, and while he doesn’t look fast down the line, he shows better speed on the field and has good first step quickness.
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