Image credit: Bobby Witt Jr. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Bill Mitchell: It’s time for the Arizona League prospect chat. There are already plenty of questions in the queue, so we will get started a little early. Doing this list is my favorite project each year, one that I spend the better part of the summer watching AZL games and talking with scouts and managers about the players. It’s important to remember that the AZL is now up to 21 teams, so it goes without saying that there were far more than 20 deserving prospects in the league. If you are asking about a specific player not on list, my answer might be that I just ran out of room.
David Gu (Parts Unknown):
- Is Royce Lewis a good comp for CJ Abrams?
Bill Mitchell: David, I hadn’t thought about comping those two premier prospects, both having tools galore and twitchy athleticism, but I can see where you’re going with it. Where Abrams stands out is his feel for hitting.
- If you had a do-over would you draft Abrams ahead of Witt after seeing how they both performed on Arizona?
Bill Mitchell: Chauncey, if you just base it on their first year performance then Abrams would have been the higher pick. But player development is a marathon not a sprint, so let’s look at it again in 3-4 years. In the meantime, the Royals are very happy with what they have in Bobby Witt Jr.
- What does Aaron Bracho’s power projection look like?
Bill Mitchell: Nick, the hittability and strength are there for Bracho to be an above-average power hitter. He has good hands at the plate and advanced feel to hit with plenty of bat speed from both sides of the plate. Hitting 8 home runs in only 38 games across two levels in his pro debut is a good start. Bracho won’t provide as much defensive value as other players on this list, but the bat could be special.
Indians Fan (How’d you rank…):
- the Indians trio of Valera, Rocchio, and Bracho? Even though Valera and Bracho were the big names in their 2017 class, is Rocchio currently the most complete player of the three?
Bill Mitchell: Continuing with Indians questions, that’s a good trio of players for the lower levels of their system. I ranked Rocchio #1 on this list last year and I’m still a big fan, but I also like Valera and Bracho a lot. Yes, Rocchio is the most complete player because of everything he brings to the field, not just with his tools but with his intangibles and baseball smarts.
Elliot (YOungstown OH):
- Not sure Daniel Espino pitched enough to qualify. Stats looked good; scouts impressed?
Bill Mitchell: Yes, very much so. I was at Espino’s pro debut as were quite a few scouts, and he was very, very impressive, touching into the high 90s. I was reserving a spot in the AZL top five for him before the Indians promoted their top pick to the NYP League before he pitched enough innings to qualify for this list.
Elliot (YOungstown OH):
- So the Indians can’t everything right…. 2nd and 3rd round picks infielders Yordy Valdes and Christian Cairo sure looked miserable at the plate. With kids like Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio and Aaron Bracho in the system, I’m not overly concerned but do you think they may be able to show some offensive skills?
Bill Mitchell: One more Indians question before we head to another organization. Yordys Valdes has the potential to be a special defender at shortstop, even drawing some Lindor comps with the way he played on the field. But the bat will be a question mark until he gets more experience and gains strength. He has a loose swing and is aggressive in the batters box with a little pop, but has not yet developed much feel to hit. He’s a long-term project, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Valdes spending another year in the AZL. Based on his amateur career, I thought Cairo would hit better and will also certainly need more time in short-season ball. Scouts weren’t overwhelmed with Cairo, projecting him more as a future utility player (similar to his father Miguel who made a 17-year MLB career in that role). He’ll need to show more with the bat, but give him time.
- The AZL Reds were shutout in the rankings. Did anyone from the team warrant some conversation that Cincinnati fans can potentially look forward to?
Bill Mitchell: Frank, thanks for the question. It’s been quite a few years since a Reds prospect showed up on this list, mainly because the Cincy org has been jumping their higher picks over the AZL to either Billings or Greenville. The AZL team has instead been more of an extension of their DSL teams, populated primarily with raw Latin talent. The most interesting names this year were 11th round pick Wendell Marrero, an outfielder from Puerto Rico who generated some interest before his season ended early due to injury, and third baseman Debby Santana, a repeat from the 2018 season with potential to be a late bloomer with some tools and athleticism.
Jeremiah (Thunder Bay):
- If Antoine Kelly hits triple digits can he be a Michael Kopech type exciting SP prospect or does he profile as a reliever?
Bill Mitchell: Jeremiah, some observers were quick to label Kelly as a future bullpen arm because he relied primarily on the fastball during his pro debut with the Brewers. But the slider flashed plus at times and he showed some feel for a developing changeup. Keep him as a starter for now.
- What do you think of Brayan Buelvas’ power potential? Do you think he can take another step forward in terms of his physicality as he puts on more muscle?
Bill Mitchell: Brayan Buelvas turned into one of my favorite AZL prospects this year. Keep in mind that he won’t turn 18 until next June. He’s already showing some power and we can expect that he’s going to get stronger. I saw him driving balls during brief looks in instructional league when he made me look smart — I was telling a Padres coach to watch this kid and on the next pitch Buelvas hit a ball to the right-center fence and legged out a triple. But with that said, Buelvas is more likely to be a hit over power type.
Jim (St. Mary’s, Maryland):
- Seems like a tough league to make the Top 20 in, given the number of teams. Were there any Royals other than Witt that attracted scouts’ attention?
Bill Mitchell: Jim, you said it. Limiting the prospect to a Top 20 was very, very difficult. If my list had gone to 25, I likely would have included Royals OF Darryl Collins, a native of the Netherlands who played all season at 17. He’s already got a strong, athletic frame and a mature approach at the plate. A fringe-average runner, Collins won’t be able to play CF and his arm may be a bit short for RF. That will put a lot of pressure on the bat. Most of my sources had him as a guy just outside the top 20, primarily because they didn’t see a carrying tool. But he’s an interesting one to follow as he develops.
Jason L. (Tracy, CA):
- A bit surprised the Athletics outfielder Marcus Smith did not make the Top 20 List. He batted .361 with a .466 on base percentage, albeit in only 97 at bats. What’s keeping him off the List?
Bill Mitchell: Jason, Marcus Smith, Oakland’s 3rd round pick, is another guy that may have made the list if I had been able to stretch it to 25 or 30 players. He was in and out of the lineup quite a bit with nagging injuries, and that affected how scouts saw him. Give him another year to get stronger and see more consistent playing time.
- It looks like Heriberto Hernandez crushed it in the AZL. How would you rate his power when compared to his hit tool? Are scouts worried that developing him as a catcher will affect his bat?
Bill Mitchell: Another of my favorite AZL prospects this year — Rangers slugger Heriberto Hernandez! He really turned on the power late in the season, especially in the playoffs when I saw him smack a home run out at over 110 mph. He’s probably going to be a nice combo of both hit and power. He’s got plenty of bat speed and is athletic in the box with more strength to come. As for his development as a catcher, none of the plethora of scouts I talked to believe Hernandez can stay behind the plate. Regardless, I don’t think that anything will take away from his value in the batters box.
- Did you get any positive reports on Bryan Ramos? Can he stick at 3B?
Bill Mitchell: Ramos is a 17-year-old White Sox prospect from Cuba who had some of the most impressive raw power in the AZL. He stays inside the ball and can hit to all fields. He’s already got a big frame and his footwork is a bit clunky, but there’s a chance he can stay at the hot corner. I even saw him playing second base in instructs, but I don’t think that’s a viable position for him. Scouts I talked with could see Ramos moving to a corner outfield spot, with perhaps just enough arm for right field. He’s an intriguing bat-first guy with the highest ceiling among AZL White Sox prospects, certainly a Top 30 in the league.
CJ Abrams (Power Potential?):
- I’m known for hit 60 hit and 80 speed tools but being listed at 6’2″ and 185 lb., what is my eventual power projection? I’m currently below average, but do I have the frame for it to develop to eventually become at least average if not more?
Bill Mitchell: Abrams has some sneaky pop and has the frame to add strength. He will likely always be hit over power, but I could see more over-the-fence pop emerging as he develops, at least average or better in-game power.
Shaun (San Ramon, CA):
- Alex Pantuso was bringing the Heat out of the A’s bullpen. Did he get any consideration for this List?
Bill Mitchell: Shaun, there was some buzz about Pantuso, a Slippery Rock product, as he was consistently hitting upper 90s. But he was 23 years old pitching in his second year of rookie ball, and the command is still not there. Perhaps he’s a pop-up reliever in the big leagues in a few years, but not someone that I could profile as a prospect in a short-season league.
- Did any Peoria Mariners come close to the list? Additionally, is it harder to evaluate with orgs like the Mariners where newly-drafted pitchers see minimal innings in short-season ball?
Bill Mitchell: As I said when I got a question about the AZL Reds a while ago, I can’t recall when I last ranked a Mariners prospect on this list (perhaps it was when Alex Jackson was #1 in 2014). There just hasn’t been much to get excited about on the Peoria backfields, and I’m still regretting that personal fave Julio Rodriguez stayed back in the DSL last summer and then jumped way over the AZL this year. Shortstop Juan Querecuto has ranked on Mariners prospect lists in the past, but he battled injuries all year and didn’t show much in his stateside debut. Brayan Perez is an interesting southpaw with really good feel to pitch. Yeury Tatiz was up to around 95 this summer, profiling as a future reliever. Here’s hoping that Noelvi Marte gets to play in the AZL next summer. Please.
Dbacks Fan (AZ):
- Corbin Carroll impressed with an advanced feel for hitting and surprising pop for his size. Currently listed at 5’10” and 165 lb, what type of physical projection does Carroll have? With the way he consistently barrels the ball to make hard contact to all fields, can his power eventually become average to above-average, a la Andrew Benintendi?
Bill Mitchell: We have a bunch of questions on Carroll, the Dbacks top draft pick and #4 on this prospect list. He’s often been compared to Benitendi despite the fact that the Red Sox outfielder was a college product from the SEC. Carroll is hit over power, a potential plus hitter at the top of the batting order wreaking havoc with his plus-plus speed. He has a solid frame that should add strength, with average power the most likely projection.
- I was hoping the Blue Jays were going to select Caroll at the 19 draft. Are they going to regret not choosing him?
Bill Mitchell: Andrew, I don’t have any inside info on how the Blues Jays ranked Carroll on their draft board, but Alek Manoah had a good pro debut and may get to the big leagues pretty quickly.
- In a small sample size what did scouts have to say about Malone and how he looked this year?
Bill Mitchell: Brennan Malone was the third of Arizona’s abundance of first round picks this year. The big right-hander didn’t make his pro debut until late July. Since I knew that he wouldn’t pitch enough to qualify for this list, I don’t have a lot of notes on him but I saw a couple of his early outings. He was very good in most of his short stints, except for one start where he just didn’t look prepared to pitch and didn’t get out of the first inning. When he was on, he commanded his fastball from 93-95 and mixed in three other pitches with the curveball being his best secondary pitch.
- OF Christopher Cesdpedes and C Jose Colina put up highly impressive numbers for the Indians, but are old guys at age 21. Do you they merit much attention?
Bill Mitchell: Elliot, you are right to point out that both Cespedes and Colina put up good numbers at age 21. It was Cespedes’ fifth pro season and he has yet to get out of rookie ball, while Colina was released by the White Sox just prior to the start of AZL play. It’s safe to say that both players are just organizational depth.
- Do you think Luciano and Cartaya start the 2020 season in low A ball?
Bill Mitchell: Matt, that’s a good question. I wish that Marco Luciano had been able to get more time in the Northwest League before an injury shut him down. He just turned 18, so my estimate is that he starts out in extended spring training but gets to Low-A at some point in 2020. Just guessing, of course. As for Diego Cartaya, young catchers more often move on a slower pace, but he’s got the smarts and tools to play in the Midwest League when he will also be just 18. To be determined for both players.
Pops (Castro Valley, CA):
- No love for Dustin Harris? He batted .328 and is only 20 years old.
Bill Mitchell: Harris is an interesting prospect who signed with Oakland for an overslot bonus of $250,000 after being picked in the 11th round from St. Petersburg JC. There wasn’t a lot of conversation about him from scouts or managers, but he caught my eye more during instructional league. He swings the bat well but may not have enough power for a corner infield position.
- Was Joshwan Wright close to making this list? What kind of reports did you get on him?
Bill Mitchell: Joshwan Wright, an 18-year-old native of Panama, is an interesting one. He’s got a short, stocky frame so there’s not much projection in the body, but the kid can hit albeit with not much power. He played mostly at third base in his stateside debut, but there’s a big question as to where he’s going to play on the field in the future. I just noticed that he caught one inning in the AZL (assuming this isn’t an error) and he’s got a catcher’s body, but I don’t know that there are any plans to move him behind the plate. Wright is more of a prospect to keep an eye on to see how he develops.
GangGreen23 (Oakland, CA):
- No chat on the Arizona League prospects would be complete without asking about Radar Cage / Internet sensation Nathan Patterson. How did he look in the short Innings he pitched for the A’s, how hard was he throwing? Also, do you anticipate Scouts will be stalking stadium Speed Booths in the future?
Bill Mitchell: I saw Patterson’s first couple of outings in the AZL as well as once in instructs. He was sitting low 90s, touching 94, and overall looked kind of interesting. At 23, he doesn’t have age on his side but let’s see what happens with him next year. However, I doubt that scouts will start looking around stadium speed booths looking for the next Nathan Patterson.
Navin (Pasadena, CA):
- What is the word on Richard Gallardo? He was a highly heralded signing and held his own at 17 in the AZL but didn’t have eye-popping stats. Thank you!
Bill Mitchell: Cubs RHP Richard Gallardo was considered for the list and likely would have been on a Top 30. He’s got a mature body at 17, not real projectable or loose. The fastball was 90-94 with good movement and a couple of average off-speed pitches. Scouts were mixed on how much they liked him, with the consensus coming in as him being a pitchability guy with a high floor but lower ceiling.
Roger (Washington DC):
- One Giants’ prospects who seems to get real split camp opinions with his loud tools and ultra raw approach is PJ Hilson. What kind of things did you hear/see from Hilson. Will the skills ever get to the point where the tools can play?
Bill Mitchell: Hilson was repeating the AZL after being picked in the 6th round in 2018. There are scouts that still drool over his tools and potential. He’s still learning the game but has plus speed and a plus arm, with some power to the bat. If the bat doesn’t develop, I could see Hilson moving to the mound down the road.
Roger (Washington DC):
- Garrett Frechette had a generally positive debut after a year where he endured a lot of medical issues. Was he close to making the list at all? Were there any other Giants Orange or Black players who were close or caught some buzz?
Bill Mitchell: Giants 5th round pick Frechette wasn’t close to making the list, but he’s interesting. One of his coaches called him a baby giraffe. He needs to get stronger and put on more weight. He’s got a nice swing with more power waiting to emerge, but he really needs to improve his defense at first base. As for other Giants prospects, remember the name Ghordy Santos. A middle infielder who was 19 all season, he missed a lot of time to injury but can be electric on the field.
Bryan (Palo Alto, CA):
- I know they got nowhere near the ABs in Arizona but what did you hear from the scouts and managers about how Alexander Canario and Luis Matos looked?
Bill Mitchell: Canario stayed back in the AZL at first because he was coming off an injury and just plain raked in his short time before heading up to the more appropriate level at short-season Salem-Keizer. His name would come up from many scouts asking whether he qualified for the list, which he did not. Matos came up from the DSL late in the season and showed off some very impressive tools before he got hurt in a scary outfield collision. I could see Matos jumping to the Northwest League next year.
- Alexander Ovalles and Derwin Barretto — not good enough to make the list, or not enough PAs due to being promoted to the NWL?
Bill Mitchell: I’ve got time for one more question so I’m going to bundle a couple of inquiries about Rangers prospects. Alexander Ovalles hit well in the AZL, but scouts didn’t see the projection to make him a top 20 prospect. There were no discussions about Derwin Barreto who left the AZL mid-season to go to the Northwest League. Osleivis Basabe was a top 25 prospect for me, although there are questions from some observers about his swing and how well he’ll hit at higher levels. He’s toolsy and athletic, but with lots more development ahead of him.
Bill Mitchell: There are plenty more questions in the queue, but most are repeats that I’ve already answered and I’m out of time for today. Thanks to all for your participation. I love doing this list and I appreciate how many enthusiasm there is from our readers for the Arizona League. Contact me on Twitter @billazbbphotog with any further questions, and thanks again for your support.