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2021 High-A West Top 10 Prospects

Julio Rodriguez Everett

Major League Baseball eliminated the short-season level of the minor leagues but kept the Northwest League to serve its West organizations. The league was elevated in classification and renamed High-A West. Six of the eight NWL affiliates survived, the exceptions were Salem-Keizer and Boise, which were dropped.

The pandemic threw High-A West an added wrinkle, because the league has the only international affiliate in the minors. Because the Canadian border remained closed deep into the season, Vancouver used Hillsboro as its home park all year.

Though six teams may not be an ideal long-term setup, it meant that High-A West fans got plenty of chances to see some of the circuit’s top talent. That was especially true in the early going, when Everett boasted a roster that could easily make up part of the core of the Mariners’ next playoff team.

Outfielder Julio Rodriguez and righthander George Kirby were at the forefront, but they weren’t the only attractions. The AquaSox roster also had a host of high-end pitchers like Matt Brash, Levi Stoudt, Brandon Williamson and Emerson Hancock, though the last two names fell just shy of qualifying for this list.

By the second half of the season, the league was invaded by a host of high-upside shortstop prospects, including Giants top prospect Marco Luciano, who was part of the league-champion Eugene club, as well as Orelvis Martinez (Vancouver), Ezequiel Tovar (Spokane) and, briefly, Noelvi Marte (Everett).

Hillsboro, too, opened with an extraordinarily talented rotation, with righties Luis Frias, Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson and Brandon Pfaadt as well as lefty Blake Walston making their second turns through Ron Tonkin Field.

1. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Everett (Mariners)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.

Though his time in the league was brief and fractured by a pair of stints with the Dominican Republic Olympic team, Rodriguez established himself as the clear-cut best prospect in the league. He was so feared that rival teams sent out grateful messages on social media when the Mariners promoted Rodriguez to Double-A.

The precocious Rodriguez has a chance to hit for high doses of average and power because exceptional bat speed, strength and a strong knowledge of the strike zone. He kept on hitting once he got to the upper levels, further establishing himself as one of the very best prospects in the game.

Rodriguez does need to clean up some aspects of his game away from the plate, with some evaluators noting the need for cleaner routes and more consistent concentration overall on defense. His arm is close to average, and he should settle in as an ideally molded right fielder.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Everett (Mariners)117293882621142951.325.410.581

2. George Kirby, RHP, Everett (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 215. Drafted: Elon, 2019 (1st round).

When he was drafted, Kirby’s reputation was as a pitcher whose very good stuff was accentuated by sublime control and command. This year, his stuff took huge steps forward without sacrificing his ability to pound the edges of the strike zone.

Kirby’s fastball took a huge leap forward. It regularly parked in the upper 90s and peaked as high as 102 mph. It heads a four-pitch arsenal with three secondaries that each grade at least above-average. His slider, which was reshaped to feature sweepier break, is a favorite of scouts. His changeup has plenty of admirers, too.

About the only blip on Kirby’s ledger was a bout of shoulder discomfort that cost him roughly a month before his promotion to Double-A. Kirby’s mix of strikes and stuff is one of the best in the minors.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
George Kirby, RHP, Everett (Mariners)422.38990423315111852.214

3. Matt Brash, RHP, Everett (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 170. Drafted: Niagara, 2019 (4th round/Padres).

Brash was acquired by the Mariners in the deal that sent reliever Taylor Williams to San Diego in the Padres’ flurry of moves at the 2020 trade deadline. Williams has already been designated for assignment twice since the trade, while Brash was one of the biggest revelations in the minors in 2021.

Scouts were struck by Brash’s vicious slider, which featured hard, sharp dive out of the strike zone and got hitters to chase all summer. The pitch was such a weapon that it allowed him to throw his fastball less than 50% of the time. His fastball sits between 93-97 mph with high spin for swings and misses. His changeup is less consistent, but could be a future plus.

Brash’s signature moment came after a promotion to Double-A, when he struck out 11 in the first six innings of Arkansas’ no-hitter against Wichita. The effort was also one of five outings in which he recorded double-digit strikeouts.

Brash still needs to iron out his command, and some scouts are wary of both his injury history and arm action, but his dominant season put him squarely on the map.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Matt Brash, RHP, Everett (Mariners)322.5510904231161232562.204

4. Brandon Pfaadt, RHP, Hillsboro (D-backs)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 220. Drafted: Bellarmine, 2020 (5th round).

On a star-studded Hillsboro pitching staff, Pfaadt entered the season with the most anonymity. He finished the year with his name squarely among the best prospects in a pitcher-heavy Arizona system.

Pfaadt showed an excellent combination of pitchabilty and stuff, with an arsenal that relied heavily on a fastball which peaked at 95 mph and a potentially plus slider as its complement. Pfaadt has a changeup as well, but it has further to come along.

Pfaadt proved adept at studying an opposing lineup, then adhering to his plan all game long. If things went awry, he also showed a strong ability to make adjustments during the game.

Pfaadt’s stuff isn’t as explosive as D-backs organization-mates Ryne Nelson, Luis Frias or Drey Jameson, but his pitchability accentuated his arsenal enough that he could rack up 160 strikeouts in 131.2 innings up to Double-A.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Brandon Pfaadt, RHP, Hillsboro (D-backs)542.489905839191651467.186

5. Marco Luciano, SS, Eugene (Giants)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 178. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.

Though Luciano’s performance at High-A didn’t jump off the page, evaluators around the league were clearly impressed by his tools, especially his immense raw power. Luciano generates that power with plenty of strength, but also lightning-quick hands that allow him to turn on fastballs of any velocity.

To get to that power more often, and to sharpen his overall hitting ability, Luciano must refine his approach. When he did connect, his power led to screaming line drives to the deepest recesses of ballparks. But he often got over-eager and chased pitches out of the zone, resulting in a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than five-to-one.

Shortstop isn’t out of the question for Luciano, but he’ll have to do plenty of work to stick there. He has the quickness and arm strength to stay there but needs to improve his instincts and reads off the bat. He has the bat to profile at third base—or any other position.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Marco Luciano, SS, Eugene (Giants)129162832114105410.217.283.295

2021 Milb All Starteam

2021 Baseball America Minor League All-Star Team

Below is the 2021 Baseball America Minor League all-star team as selected by the BA staff.

6. Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B, Vancouver (Blue Jays)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 188. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.

Martinez was part of a pack of talented shortstop prospects—along with Marco Luciano, Ezequiel Tovar and Noelvi Marte—who took over the league late in the season. Martinez, who earned his way to High-A by bashing 19 home runs in Low-A, is one of the Blue Jays’ most prodigious power hitters.

That thump showed up after the promotion, but not without some growing pains. Martinez worked hard all season to control at-bats and work counts until he got pitches he could drive, but adjusting to a new league and more advanced pitchers takes time, and he never got fully on track at High-A.

The Blue Jays anticipate Martinez will add more strength as he gets older, which will amplify his power but lessen his chances of sticking at shortstop. If he does have to move to third base, his bat will be more than enough to profile.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B, Vancouver (Blue Jays)112172440919102801.214.282.491

7. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Spokane (Rockies)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 162. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.

Tovar came to Spokane late in the season but showed glimpses of the tools that made him a standout at Low-A and earned him that promotion at just 20 years old. Unlike the other 20-year-old shortstops on this list—Marco Luciano and Orelvis Martinez—Tovar has an excellent chance to stick at the position depending on how his body fills out.

Tovar is an instinctual player who turns anything hit his way into an out with the help of a strong internal clock and an above-average arm.

Tovar is no slouch at the plate. He shows surprising power for someone with his build and hit 15 homers between both Class A levels. He’s likely more of a doubles hitter who can hit toward the top of the order in the big leagues, but he should provide a potentially plus bat with near-average power while sticking up the middle.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Spokane (Rockies)13419329041831932.239.266.396

8. Michael Toglia, 1B, Spokane (Rockies)
Age: 23. B-T: B-L. HT: 6-5. WT: 226. Drafted: UCLA, 2019 (1st round).

Toglia introduced himself to the masses when he swatted a long, loud home run in the Futures Game at Coors Field, home of his parent organization. The blast painted an accurate picture of Toglia, a switch-hitting, smooth-fielding first baseman with power to spare from both sides of the plate.

Toglia is not likely to hit for a particularly high average, but scouts think he could get to even more power by becoming more aggressive and ambushing early-count fastballs. Some evaluators believe Toglia would be better suited hitting solely from the left side, while others believe changing the way he sets his hands might allow him to hit for a higher average.

Toglia is a graceful defender with a huge wingspan that allows him to get to plenty of balls and scoop low throws to save errors for his infielders.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Michael Toglia, 1B, Spokane (Rockies)28250661021766429173.234.333.465

9. Levi Stoudt, RHP, Everett (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 195. Drafted: Lehigh, 2019 (3rd round).

For the first portion of the season, the Everett rotation was absolutely stacked. Three of its members appear on this list and two more—Brandon Williamson and Emerson Hancock—fell a few innings short of qualifying. Of the trio who made the cut, Stoudt is probably the least known name. His dynamite arsenal could change that quickly.

Stoudt, who had Tommy John surgery in his draft year of 2019, features mix of three potentially plus pitches. His fastball ranges from 94-98 mph with carrying action through the zone. His headlining second pitch is a Vulcan-grip changeup with trap-door drop. He also throws a sweeper slider with up to 20 inches of break to give him something with lateral movement.

Stoudt still has command and control issues to iron out, but he showcased enough pure stuff in his first test as a professional to give the Mariners another potential future rotation piece.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Levi Stoudt, RHP, Everett (Mariners)613.52121206447282562967.204

10. Drey Jameson, RHP, Hillsboro (D-backs)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 165. Drafted: Ball State, 2019 (1st round).

Of all Hillsboro’s high-upside arms, Jameson’s stuff was the loudest. The Ball State product boasted two- and four-seam fastballs which sat in the mid 90s and peaked at 99 mph.

Jameson paired the fastballs primarily with a sharp, darting slider to get swings and misses. He’s working to refine his changeup, which has plenty of separation and fading action but needs to be thrown with more consistency.

Jameson learned throughout the year how to better pace himself to get the most out of his stuff deeper into games. The progress was evident in a pair of August starts at Double-A, when Jameson went a combined 14.1 innings and allowed one run on eight hits and two walks and struck out 22.

If Jameson’s changeup continues to develop, he could be a mid-rotation starter. If not, his fastball/slider combo would play in the bullpen.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Drey Jameson, RHP, Hillsboro (D-backs)243.92131206460312891877.246

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