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2019 Best Tools In The Minors

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The minor league baseball season opens on Thursday, and all around the country the next wave of stars will showcase the tools that make them must-see talents.

Here are the best tools in the minors as the season dawns. Since this is a look at the minors only, players with prospect eligibility who are in the majors—such as Eloy Jimenez (hit and power), Pete Alonso (power) and Chris Paddack (changeup and control) and Garrett Hampson (speed)—were not included.

Best Hitter

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
  2. Wander Franco, Rays
  3. Alex Kirilloff, Twins
  4. Nick Senzel, Reds
  5. Keston Hiura, Brewers

Guerrero Jr. remains the best hitter in the minors for the second straight year and is joined by two newcomers in Franco and Kirilloff after meteoric rises a year ago. All three have a chance to be perennial .300 or better hitters. A collection of middle infielders is just outside of the top five, with Padres second baseman Luis Urias, Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette, Phillies shortstop Luis Garcia, Twins shortstop Royce Lewis and Indians shortstop Tyler Freeman all garnering raves for their pure hitting ability. Jimenez, the Nationals Victor Robles and the Dodgers’ Alex Verdugo would have garnered consideration if prospects in the majors were included.

Best Power

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
  2. Austin Riley, Braves
  3. Nolan Gorman, Cardinals
  4. Jo Adell, Angels
  5. DJ Peters, Dodgers

Guerrero has long been a premium hitter and the power has started to come in a big way. The top prospect in baseball hit 20 home runs in just 95 games last year and slugged .636. He showed off 80-grade raw power by repeatedly peppering the hotel beyond the left-field wall at Double-A New Hampshire. Gorman and Peters have both been credited with 80-grade raw power as well, while Riley and Adell show impressive ability to tap into their 70-grade power in games. Red Sox third baseman Bobby Dalbec shows the ability to get to his 70-grade raw power as well. Royals outfielder Seuly Matias, Reds first baseman Ibandel Isabel and Rockies first baseman Roberto Ramos have raw power that can stand with anyone, but their ability to get to it in games against higher-level pitching is more in question than those listed.

Best Speed

  1. Jorge Mateo, Athletics
  2. Trent Deveaux, Angels
  3. Myles Straw, Astros
  4. Vidal Brujan, Rays
  5. Bubba Thompson, Rangers

Mateo and Deveaux continue to clock 80-grade times and Straw’s top-end sprint speed tied for 17th-fastest in the majors last year, putting them at the head of the prospect class. Brujan came on strong with 55 stolen bases last year, while Thompson leads a collection of speedy outfielders that includes the Marlins' Victor Victor Mesa, the Padres’ Buddy Reed, the Braves’ Cristian Pache, the White Sox’s Luis Robert, the Angels’ Jordyn Adams, the Reds’ Jose Siri, the Red Sox’s Jarren Duran and the Athletics’ Jameson Hannah.

Best Defensive Catcher

  1. Jake Rogers, Tigers
  2. Sean Murphy, Athletics
  3. Will Smith, Dodgers
  4. Joey Bart, Giants
  5. Tres Barrera, Nationals

Rogers, Murphy and Smith have been among the top catchers in the minors for years with reliable gloves and big arms, and Bart joins them after being drafted No. 2 overall last year. Barrera impressed in the Arizona Fall League to round out the best of the minor league catchers, while the Cubs’ Miguel Amaya, the Royals’ M.J. Melendez and Marlins’ Will Banfield headline the next wave of backstops in the lower levels.

Best Defensive Infielder

  1. Sergio Alcantara, Tigers
  2. Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates
  3. Luis Garcia, Phillies
  4. Evan White, Mariners
  5. Jose Devers, Marlins

Alcantara continues to make jaws drop with his defense at shortstop, showing a slick glove and an arm that is virtually unmatched among prospects for its combination of zip and accuracy. Hayes at third base and White at first base are unconventional picks as non-shortstops, but both are among the best evaluators have seen at their positions and have multiple Gold Gloves ahead in their future. Garcia and Devers are still in the lower levels, but their tools portend stout defense at shortstop. Mets shortstop Andres Gimenez, Cubs shortstop Zack Short, D-backs shortstop Geraldo Perdomo and Red Sox third baseman Bobby Dalbec are the best of the rest.

Best Defensive Outfielder

  1. Cristian Pache, Braves
  2. Buddy Reed, Padres
  3. Jeren Kendall, Dodgers
  4. Braden Bishop, Mariners
  5. Leody Taveras, Rangers

Pache has long held the title of best defensive center fielder in the minors, but Reed and Kendall are coming on strong. Reed in particular made an impression with his leaping catch at the wall at the Futures Game and enhances his outfield defense with a cannon for an arm that Pache can’t match. Kendall, Bishop and Taveras are exceptionally gifted center fielders with questions about how much they’ll hit, so their rises will be largely driven by their ability to maintain their elite defense. The Reds’ Taylor Trammell, Marlins’ Monte Harrison, D-backs’ Alek Thomas and Angels’ Brandon Marsh draw reviews as plus defensive outfielders as well.

Michael_Baumann_TomDiPace.jpg

Baseball America Prospect Report -- July 17, 2019

Michael Baumann highlights today's prospect report after his no-no for Double-A Bowie and his continued streak of dominance.

Best Fastball

  1. Nate Pearson, Blue Jays
  2. Michael Kopech, White Sox
  3. Hunter Greene, Reds
  4. Sixto Sanchez, Marlins
  5. Dylan Cease, White Sox

Pearson came out in the Arizona Fall League sitting in the upper 90s and touching 104 mph. Kopech and Greene bring premium velocity, but their status is up in the air after both had Tommy John surgery. Sanchez and Cease frequently touch triple-digits and make their heaters play by keeping them around the strike zone. The Twins’ Brusdar Graterol and the Rangers’ Hans Crouse lead the best of the rest, while the Marlins’ Jorge Guzman, Yankees’ Luis Medina and Giants’ Melvin Adon all have triple-digit fastballs but struggle to command them, resulting in their heaters playing down.

Best Breaking Ball

  1. J.B. Bukauskas, Astros (SL)
  2. Dylan Cease, White Sox (CB)
  3. A.J. Puk, Athletics (SL)
  4. Touki Toussaint, Braves (CB)
  5. Brusdar Graterol, Twins (SL)

Bukauskas’ slider has been renowned ever since his days at North Carolina and he rode it all the way to Double-A in his first full professional season. The pitch comes in at 86-88 mph with sharp, late tilt, making it a swing-and-miss pitch out of the zone. He is still working on landing it inside the zone. Cease’s plus 12-to-6 curveball is widely considered the best curveball in the minors, with his ability to command it giving him the edge over Touki Toussaint. Puk’s slider prior to Tommy John surgery was elite from the left side, and how it looks post-surgery will be something to watch. The Angels’ Griffin Canning, the Pirates’ Mitch Keller, the Padres’ Adrian Morejon and the Indians’ Triston McKenzie also draw plus grades on their curveballs, while the Royals’ Brady Singer, the Cubs’ Dillon Maples, the Dodgers’ Mitchell White, the Padres’ Luis Patino and the Giants' Melvin Adon all have sliders that earn plus grades as well.

Best Changeup

  1. Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
  2. Forrest Whitley, Astros
  3. Jose Suarez, Angels
  4. Jackson Kowar, Royals
  5. Joey Wentz, Braves

With Chris Paddack in the majors, Luzardo takes over the title of best changeup in the minors with a 70-grade offering that plays exceptionally well off his mid-90s fastball. Fellow lefthanders Suarez and Wentz both bring plus offerings that get hitters swinging out front, while Whitley’s 70-grade changeup is the best of his secondary offerings and is the clear-cut best among righthanders.

Best Control

  1. Tyler Phillips, Rangers
  2. Denyi Reyes, Red Sox
  3. Peter Lambert, Rockies
  4. Nick Neidert, Marlins
  5. Aaron Civale, Indians

Phillips walked just 16 batters in 133 innings last year at the Class A levels, the lowest walk rate of any starter still in the minors. Reyes, Lambert, Neidert and Civale all averaged fewer than 2.0 BB/9 last year season, while Orioles lefthanded trio Cameron Bishop, Alex Wells and Zac Lowther have all been especially stingy at limiting walks too. Marlins righthander Sixto Sanchez is the rare lower-level flamethrower will plus or better control.

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