Appalachian League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
Year after year, the Appalachian League has turned into a showcase for some of the top young international prospects. In 2016, Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the standout prospect in the league. In 2018, Rays shortstop Wander Franco was equally impressive. This year, Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez stood above the crowd. Guerrero, Franco and Alvarez were all in their age-17 seasons when they broke out in the Appy League.
Johnson City won the Appalachian League title. The Cardinals had to win their final two regular season games just to make the playoffs. The club then lost the opener of the best-of-three semifinal and championship series, but both times rallied to win the final two games of the series.
1. Francisco Alvarez, C, Kingsport (Mets)
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 220. Signed: Venezuela, 2018.
Alvarez began his first pro season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before showing that his bat was more than advanced enough for the level (1.395 OPS). He was promoted to Kingsport, where he posted an .820 OPS over 35 games while being more than three years younger than the average hitter.
Alvarez has extremely strong hands and forearms, with an advanced swing, solid barrel control and impressive usage of the opposite field with impact. Defensively, he has impressive arm strength and handles a staff well despite his youth, with the tools to be an above-average defender with continued refinement. The 17-year-old backstop is also praised for his work ethic and enthusiasm on the field in addition to his well-rounded tool set.
"That’s what shocked me when I found out he was 17,” one Appy League manager said. "You don’t see kids that young who can catch that well usually. Tremendous arm strength, and (he) shut down our running game.”
2. Brett Baty, 3B, Kingsport (Mets)
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Austin, 2019 (1).
Much was made of Baty’s age (19) before and after he was selected in the first round, but the Mets quickly pushed the slugging third baseman to the Appy League, where he posted a .775 OPS while being young for the league.
Baty hit just .157 in his first month but made an adjustment and hit .261/.369/.500 with 13 extra-base hits in 22 games in August before a promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League. Evaluators in the Appy League were impressed with Baty’s ability to hit with authority to the opposite field and with his defensive work at third, citing a strong, accurate arm and reliable hands.
"Tremendous power, especially the other way,” one Appy League manager said. "He crushes the ball. You try to teach young kids to go the other way and go gap-to-gap, and he does that as well as any young hitter.”
3. Miguel Hiraldo, SS/2B, Bluefield (Blue Jays)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
One of the top-rated hitters in the 2017 international signing class, Hiraldo continued to show his offensive chops this year in the Appalachian League, hitting .300/.348/.481 with seven home runs and a league-leading 20 doubles. Hiraldo has quick hands in the batter’s box and in the infield—where he split time between shortstop and second base—with an aggressive, slashing approach that yielded a lot of line drives to his pull side.
Hiraldo will need to improve his plate coverage and learn to use the opposite field as he climbs the minor league ladder and is challenged by pitchers who can consistently attack him on the outer half. But his pure bat-to-ball skills are impressive. Hiraldo has solid hands, but scouts believe third base is his best spot defensively, thanks to fringy athleticism and a stockier frame.
"He has potential to become a good hitter,” one Appy League manager said. "He has the ability to play second, short and third, so that’s a plus for him.”
4. Jhon Torres, OF, Johnson City (Cardinals)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 199. Signed: Colombia, 2016 (Indians).
Signed by the Indians, Torres joined the Cardinals in the 2018 trade that sent Oscar Mercado to Cleveland. After dominating the complex Rookie-level leagues in 2018, Torres was assigned to the Midwest League in mid-May but hit just .167 and was demoted to the Appy League a month later.
Torres rebounded to turn in one of the best offensive seasons by a teenager in the Appy League. He clubbed six home runs and nine doubles. A physical, corner outfielder with plus raw power, Torres also showed solid on-base skills and pitch recognition with a 14 percent walk rate.
However, scouts believe Torres will need to continue refining this part of his game and be more selective in picking pitches on which he can inflict damage to more consistently tap into his power. Torres is definitely a corner outfielder, but despite average speed at best, he moves well, gets good jumps off the bat and runs solid routes in addition to having plus arm strength.
5. Antonio Cabello, OF, Pulaski (Yankees)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 160. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
A toolsy converted catcher, Cabello stood out in the Gulf Coast League in 2018, where he showed plus potential as a hitter in addition to plus running and throwing ability. He struggled this year in the Appy League, hitting .211/.280/.330, but his raw tools are still there and league managers praised his approach to the game.
Cabello posts gaudy exit velocity numbers, but scouts this year were concerned with how the 18-year-old handles offspeed stuff and competes when behind in the count. He has the tool set to become an impact everyday player, but he’s physically maxed out and will need to show that his 2019 season was more of a fluke than anything. Cabello played all three outfield positions but spent most of his time in left and center.
"I like the way he plays,” one Appy League manager said. "He can run, he put the ball in the gap once in a while. He’s one of the players all of the managers want.”
6. Matt Wallner, OF, Elizabethton (Twins)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Southern Mississippi, 2019 (1st. supp).
The 39th pick in the 2019 draft, Wallner showed two-way potential in college but has been exclusively a hitter in pro ball after dealing with a forearm injury this spring.
Wallner impressed with his raw power in the Appy League, hitting .269/.361/.452 with six home runs and 18 doubles, though a 26 percent strikeout rate for a college hitter in Rookie-ball is concerning.
Defensively, Wallner profiles best as a right fielder. He’s an average runner who’s shown plus arm strength when healthy, but to profile at the position, he will need to show that he’s capable of regularly tapping into the power that he generates from a big, 6-foot-5 frame.
"Big kid. Raw power,” one Appy League manager said. "I remember seeing him in BP and he had a lot of raw power.”
7. Anthony Volpe, SS, Pulaski (Yankees)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Morristown, N.J., 2019 (1).
The Yankees’ first-round pick this year, Volpe doesn’t boast a carrying tool but displays a polished all-around game and advanced defensive ability and instincts at a premium position.
Volpe’s first pro season was cut short, and he played his final game on Aug. 11 after contracting mononucleosis.
He didn’t break down any doors with his bat—the 5-foot-11 shortstop hit .215/.349/.355—but he managed a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio (38-to-23) and stood out for evaluators with his defense at shortstop. While power is unlikely to be a big part of Volpe’s game given his current physicality and raw power, he showed enough pop to at least keep teams honest.
"He actually got two hits against us. He doubled over the left fielder’s head twice,” one Appy League manager said. "We had the left fielder playing in and he surprised us, got it over us twice. We should have learned after the first time, but we didn’t.”
8. Nick Schnell, OF, Princeton (Rays)
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Indianapolis, 2018 (1).
Schnell’s brief pro career has been limited by a few nagging injuries, and a knee injury kept him from playing until late June, when he spent a few days in the Gulf Coast League before joining Princeton in July. The Rays drafted him 32nd overall in 2018 and promoted him to the low Class A Midwest League in mid-August.
There, Schnell showed off the offensive potential that the Rays saw from him as a high schooler prior to the 2018 draft. The athletic lefthanded hitter batted .286/.361/.503 with five home runs, 11 doubles and three triples while he manned a solid center field.
Opposing managers praised Schnell’s hitting ability and understanding of the strike zone, but he’ll need to cut down his strikeout rate after whiffing nearly 31 percent of the time in the Appy League. Schnell has a chance to stick in center field and spent all of his time there in 2019, but he could just as easily move to a corner.
9. Yoendrys Gomez, RHP, Pulaski (Yankees)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
The top pitcher in a light year for arms in the Appy League, Gomez has continued to increase his fastball velocity as he has grown into a still-lanky, 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame.
Gomez started six games for Pulaski this summer, posting a 2.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 10 walks. His fastball has touched 97 mph and has solid life, while his curveball is an average pitch that projects as a plus offering.
Gomez also has a solid, mid-80s changeup that could give him three average or better offerings, but what stands out the most for scouts is the consistency of Gomez’s strikes. He has a clean, loose delivery on the mound and is regularly in the zone with all of his pitches.
With exciting present stuff now and further projection remaining, Gomez has plenty of traits that could allow him to become a solid mid-rotation starter.
10. Jaylen Palmer, SS/3B, Kingsport (Mets)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Flushing, N.Y., 2018 (22).
A 22nd-round pick in 2018 who grew up just a few miles from Citi Field, home of the Mets, Palmer exceeded expectations in the Gulf Coast League last year in his pro debut and continued plugging along this summer in the Appy League.
Palmer hit .260/.344/.413 with seven home runs and 12 doubles, and his name was routinely brought up by managers. He’s a physical, righthanded hitter who split time at shortstop and third base but will likely wind up at the hot corner.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Palmer will get even larger and add more strength to what’s already an exciting, power-oriented offensive game. When he hits the ball, he hits it extremely hard and far, which helped him hit .434 on balls in play. Palmer has plus power potential, but he’ll have to reduce his strikeout rate—he fanned a league-leading 108 times—significantly to get to that power consistently in games.
"For that size, he made some plays against us at third base like—good gracious,” one Appy League manager said. "For him to be from New York, I know they don’t play a ton of baseball there. He’s just now tapping into who he could be.”
11. Tyler Callihan, 3B/2B, Greeneville (Reds)
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Jacksonville, 2019 (3rd Round).
An overslot signee by the Reds in the third round, Callihan was one of the most promising prep bats in the 2019 draft class. In his pro debut, Callihan posted a .250/.286/.420 line with five home runs, 10 doubles and a league-leading five triples.
Managers in the league were impressed with the power that Callihan showed in games and also praised his running ability—which was not a strength of his coming out of the draft. Callihan showed an aggressive approach at the plate and looked susceptible to quality breaking balls at times. While he posted a higher OPS against lefthanded pitchers, his strikeout rate ballooned against same-sided arms. That will be worth monitoring in the future, although a 21 percent strikeout rate as a 19-year-old hitter in his first pro season isn’t much of a concern.
Callihan split his time between second and third base, defensively, with 270 innings at the hot corner and 173 at the keystone. Some scouts prefer him at third, where he has the arm strength and hands for the position.
12. Junior Santos, RHP, Kingsport (Mets)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-8. WT: 218. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
One of the youngest pitchers in the Appalachian League after turning 18 on Aug. 16, Santos is a huge, 6-foot-8, 218-pound righthander with exciting upside. His physicality and fastball velocity are the two biggest tools he possesses, with a heater that reaches the 94-95 mph range and should continue to improve as he develops.
This season, the Mets monitored the righthander’s innings closely—he threw more than three innings in just one of his 14 starts—and worked on consistently spotting his fastball. Santos’ final stat line belies his effectiveness throughout the year, as his final three outings were a struggle, but he posted a 3.52 ERA through his first nine innings. Santos’ breaking ball is inconsistent at the moment, showing swing-and-miss potential on some days and a below-average offering on others, and he rarely threw a changeup this summer.
"The potential is unlimited for him,” one Appy League manager said. "He hasn’t scratched the surface. I like his work ethic and attitude. Everyone talks about his size and his velocity, but his work ethic is A-plus.”
13. Ivan Johnson, SS/2B, Greeneville (Reds)
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2019 (4th Round).
Drafted by the Reds in the fourth round after Tyler Callihan, Johnson joined his 2019 draft mate in the Appy League, where he showed off an exciting power/speed combination as well as defensive aptitude in the middle of the infield.
Johnson was one of only four players with at least five home runs and 10 stolen bases in the Appy League this season. Most of his power came from the left side, where he managed a .255/.325/.431 slash with five home runs compared to a .260/.339/.380 line with one home run as a righthanded hitter. Johnson spent a majority of his time as a shortstop, but he also logged a few games at second base.
Scouts were impressed with his defensive ability, and he’s always showcased quick and reliable hands, but coming out of the draft most expected that second base would be a more likely defensive home for him in the long run—though he should stick at short until he gets forced off the position.
14. Leonardo Jimenez, SS/2B, Bluefield (Blue Jays)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 160. Signed: Panama, 2017.
Two of the better shortstops in the Appy League played with Bluefield this season, and while Jimenez doesn’t have the offensive upside as Miguel Hiraldo, he’s the better defender at the position and he still managed a 115 wRC+ as an 18-year-old in the league.
A 5-foot-11, 160-pound infielder, Jimenez has very little impact ability or power, but he has an advanced offensive approach and posted a .298/.377/.377 slash line with a 17.1 percent strikeout rate and 8.7 percent walk rate in 2019.
Without much in the way of standout tools or physical projection, Jimenez will need to continue playing premium defense at shortstop and getting on base at a solid clip to provide value. He’s an instinctual player on both sides of the ball who gets by more with instincts, good reads and a solid first step than above-average range or arm strength, and his game will be challenged as he moves up the minor league ladder.
15. Bryce Ball, 1B, Danville (Braves)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 235. Drafted: Dallas Baptist, 2019 (24th Round).
The 2019 Appy League player of the year, Ball was one of the most dangerous hitters in the league thanks to impressive plate discipline and big-time power out of his physical, 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame.
In his first pro season after getting drafted out of Dallas Baptist in the 24th round, Ball hit .324/.410/.676 with 13 home runs and 12 doubles before earning a promotion to the South Atlantic League in August. Ball’s 1.086 OPS was good for second in the league behind only Burlington first baseman Logan Porter, who’s three years older. Ball will need to improve his defense at first base, but he’s shown that his power—and his ability to get to it consistently in games—can be a real carrying tool.
"He has a gift,” one Appy League manager said. "He’s a good hitter. . . . He doesn’t chase a lot, he knows what he’s doing at the plate. Obviously he’s young and will need to make adjustments, but he’s really good.”
16. Spencer Steer, SS/2B, Elizabethton (Twins)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Oregon, 2019 (3rd Round).
A third-round pick out of Oregon, Steer is a polished hitter with a long track record of success against quality competition as an amateur, which made it no surprise when he breezed through the Appy League in his pro debut this summer.
Steer hit .325/.442/.506 with 15 walks and five strikeouts in 20 games before earning a promotion to the Midwest League in July. In that stretch, Steer was fourth in the league with a 162 wRC+ and ranked eighth in the league with a 15.8 percent walk rate.
In addition to being a polished hitter, Steer can capably handle shortstop, third base and second base, giving him solid utility value at the least and more if he’s able to continue hitting at a high level as he climbs the minor league ladder. He logged most of his defensive innings at shortstop in the Appy League, but that switched to more time at second and third base once he was promoted to Cedar Rapids. As a 21-year-old college bat, Steer wasn’t challenged much in Rookie-ball, but he has a solid, well-rounded game.
17. Ryder Green, OF, Pulaski (Yankees)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Knoxville, Tenn., 2018 (3rd Round).
An exciting power hitter out of high school, Green finished tied for seventh in the Appy League this summer with eight home runs while posting a .262/.343/.444 slash line a year after he struggled to hit over .200 in the Gulf Coast League.
Green also added 10 stolen bases, making him one of the better power/speed combos in the league. Managers praised Green’s plate discipline—he walked at a 9.8 percent clip—and he also developed a reputation for his advanced baseball knowledge, with a strong understanding of what to do in all game situations and consistently making the correct plays in the field.
Green did a nice job in all three outfield positions, though he’s likely a better fit for a corner outfield spot in the long term, but the biggest positive to take from Green’s 2019 season is the fact that he cut his strikeout rate significantly while playing against a higher level of competition. Green did fade down the stretch with a .639 OPS in August, so it’ll be worth watching how he handles a full-season league in the future.
18. Adrian Alcantara, RHP, Burlington (Royals)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 178. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Alcantara has been fairly consistent in his brief pro career outside of a rough stint in the Arizona League last year. That continued this summer, as Alcantara was the top arm for Burlington, posting a 2.47 ERA over 51 innings with 57 strikeouts and 17 walks.
The 6-foot-1 righthander works with a solid-average fastball that sits around 93 mph, but gets up to 95 mph at times with good downhill angle and movement. He’s not a flamethrower, but he locates the pitch well and sets up a 12-to-6 curveball that he’s shown solid feel to spin.
The breaking ball can get loopy at times, but when it’s on it’s a solid secondary that has above-average potential. Alcantara has also shown some feel for a split-changeup that has some cutting life and is currently his go-to off-speed offering. With three pitches that could become above-average offerings and solid strike-throwing ability, Alcantara has few holes in his game to speak of at the moment.
19. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Bristol (Pirates)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 190. Signed: Bahamas, 2016.
A converted shortstop who signed as a pitcher thanks to special arm talent, Thomas took a big step forward this year in the strike-throwing department, going from 4.6 walks per nine innings a year ago in the Arizona League to 2.6 per nine this summer in 48.1 innings in the Appy League.
Evaluators have called Thomas a quick learner, and he spent the majority of his season attempting to more consistently land an electric fastball that’s regularly in the mid-90s. He overthrew at times early in the season but slowly started to figure things out as the year progressed.
Thomas throws a slider that has a chance to be a solid secondary but needs more consistency, as well as a changeup, and he also added a sinker to his arsenal. His fastball is far and away his best offering at the moment, and at his current level he’s able to overpower hitters without going to any of his secondaries at times.
20. Jose Salvador, LHP, Greeneville (Reds)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-2. WT: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
The fourth signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 to appear on this list, Salvador is a skinny, projectable lefthander who didn’t post the best numbers this summer but flashed enough stuff to excite scouts who saw him.
Salvador posted a 5.05 ERA in 46.1 innings over 11 starts before getting promoted to the Pioneer League in late August. At the moment, he works with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, but evaluators believe he’ll add more to that in the future once he starts to fill out his lanky frame. He lands the pitch for strikes at will, throwing from an athletic and clean delivery that bodes well for his future command.
As for secondaries, Salvador has a curveball that has the makings of a plus pitch and frequently made opposing batters look silly. He’s also flashed a changeup that could become an average offering with more usage in the future.