Arizona League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
The Rookie-level Arizona League continued its rapid growth in 2019. Three new teams expanded the league to 21, when just 10 years ago there were 11 teams in the complex league. Seven of the 14 organizations making up the league now have two affiliates, with the Athletics, Brewers and Dodgers adding second squads this year. The expansion made for a deep pool of prospects, perhaps the strongest in the history of the league.
The top prospect was Padres shortstop CJ Abrams, the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft. Lauded by scouts for his elite athleticism and advanced hitting instincts, Abrams was named league MVP and led all hitters with a .401 average and .662 slugging percentage.
A dozen 2019 first-round picks made their pro debuts in the AZL, with Abrams, Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals), Corbin Carroll (D-backs) and Kody Hoese (Dodgers) earning enough playing time to qualify for this ranking. Other first-rounders passing through the league included Andrew Vaughn (White Sox), Hunter Bishop (Giants), Josh Jung (Rangers), Daniel Espino (Indians), Ethan Small (Brewers), Blake Walston (D-backs), Brennan Malone (D-backs) and Michael Busch (Dodgers).
1. CJ Abrams, SS, Padres
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 185. Drafted: HS—Roswell, Ga., 2019 (1).
Expectations for Abrams were high after the Padres drafted him sixth overall. To say that he met expectations is an understatement. Abrams led the league in hitting with a .401 average and was named MVP, earning a late-season promotion to low Class A Fort Wayne before his season ended early with a shoulder bone bruise.
Abrams is a twitchy athlete with top-of-the scale speed, a double-plus hit tool and an ability to change games. He has tremendous feel for the barrel and hits to all fields, with sneaky power that will increase as his body matures.
Abrams is a plus defender at shortstop. While his arm angles can be a bit unorthodox, his arm plays because of how quickly he gets to balls and throws with a quick release and good carry. Still, there are some lingering questions as to whether or not Abrams would be better suited in center field due to his arm.
"What was amazing about him was that he shrunk the field,” Padres manager Vinny Lopez said. "He made the field look small on defense.”
2. Marco Luciano, SS, Giants
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 178. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.
Luciano reported to the Giants’ minor league facility in the summer of 2018, not long after signing on July 2 for $2.6 million. There were times during his first spring training that his rawness prompted questions as to whether he should begin his pro career in the Dominican Summer League.
Luciano erased those concerns and proved to be one of the most electric talents in the Arizona League, showcasing premier bat speed and plus-plus raw power that resulted in 10 home runs during his time in the AZL.
As with any young shortstop whose body is still developing, Luciano faces questions about his future position, but there are signs he can become a solid defender at the position, and his first pro season was an important test.
"He learned how to position himself, and he learned how to slow the game down,” said Giants Orange manager Alvaro Espinosa, himself a slick-fielding shortstop during his playing career.
3. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 190. Drafted: HS—Colleyville, Texas, 2019 (1).
The 2019 High School Player of the Year, Witt signed for $7,787,400 after being selected with the No. 2 overall pick. The original plan was for Witt to get his feet wet with just a handful of games in the Arizona League before moving to another level, but the Royals opted to have him play his entire debut year in the AZL after he struggled in July.
Witt improved his numbers as the season progressed. He hit .280/.329/.400 in August and showed a good feel to hit, plus bat speed and a short, compact stroke. He’s an above-average runner out of the box and plus underway, with good instincts on the bases. Witt projects to be able to stay at shortstop, with decent hands and a good first step, though he needs to improve his footwork because he tends to get crossed on balls in the hole.
Witt’s off-the-charts makeup and how well he bonded with his teammates was what stood out most to those around him.
"He’s always willing to work,” Royals manager Tony Pena Jr. said. "You see him hustling on and off the field . . . just how he handles his business. He comes to work every day and shows a lot of maturity for a kid his age.”
4. Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 5-10. Wt: 165. Drafted: HS—Seattle (1).
Carroll was the first of the D-backs’ four first-round picks in 2019. He is the whole package, according to his hitting coach Darrin Garner.
"He has some really serious tools,” Garner said. "He can run, he can throw, he has some power in his bat at a young age and it’s only going to get better.”
Carroll is more of a spray hitter, making hard contact with a stroke geared for line drives. More power should come with experience and physical maturity. He’s a plus-plus runner who can stay in center field, where his fringe-average but accurate arm will play.
Carroll is lauded for his outstanding makeup and baseball IQ, and the D-backs promoted him to short-season Hillsboro for the Hops’ postseason run.
5. Diego Cartaya, C, Dodgers
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 199. Signed: Venezuela, 2018.
Cartaya is the rare 17-year-old catcher with advanced defensive skills. He made it to the Arizona League after a short stint in the Dominican Summer League.
The jewel of the Dodgers’ 2018 international class, Cartaya presents a good target for pitchers and receives well behind the plate, and his plus arm consistently turned in pop times quicker than two seconds. He threw out 24 percent of basestealers and wasn’t shy about trying to pick off runners who strayed too far off second base.
Cartaya projects to be at least an average hitter with barrel awareness and plus raw power. He showed the ability to make adjustments at the plate, allowing him to get to his power. Despite having below-average speed, Cartaya is an instinctual runner who moves well on the bases.
6. Kody Hoese, 3B, Dodgers
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 200. Drafted: Tulane, 2019 (1).
It’s customary for the Dodgers to give their college draft picks a few games in the Arizona League before they head off to a higher level. But first-rounder Hoese stayed behind a few weeks longer to heal a tender elbow, thus getting enough playing time to qualify for the AZL prospect list.
"He knows the game really well,” Dodgers Mota manager Jair Fernandez said. "He has a good feel for the game.”
Hoese gets leverage in his swing and controls the zone well with advanced pitch recognition. While he hasn’t shown the same power as in his final year at Tulane, when he hit 23 home runs, Hoese has plus power potential that will develop with more wood-bat experience. A fringe-average runner, he won’t steal a lot of bases but also won’t be a base-clogger. Because of his elbow issue, Hoese spent most of his time at DH but projects to be a solid-average defender at the hot corner with a tick above-average arm.
7. Antoine Kelly, LHP, Brewers
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-6. Wt: 205. Drafted: Wabash Valley JC, 2019 (2).
Drafted out of high school by the Padres in the 13th round in 2018, Kelly instead spent a year in junior college prior to the Brewers picking him in the second round in 2019. The lanky, athletic southpaw established himself as the best pitcher in the Arizona League after just a couple of starts.
Possessing an elite, plus-plus fastball up to 97 mph with plenty of life, Kelly uses an effortless delivery with arm speed and plus extension. His delivery features a cross-fire look that adds deception. With a tall, projectable body, he figures to soon be able to get his fastball into triple-digits.
Kelly worked mostly with his heater in his pro debut, but threw in a slider with good cut that flashed plus at times. He has enough feel for pitching to develop workable offspeed pitches, but his fastball with solid-average spin is going to be his money offering.
8. Aaron Bracho, 2B, Indians
Age: 18 B-T: B-R. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
Bracho, who signed with the Indians in 2017, made his pro debut in 2019 after missing all of 2018 to an arm injury. Making up for lost time, Bracho showed advanced feel for hitting to rank as one of the Arizona League’s more impressive position players. He has plus instincts with plenty of bat speed and gets loft to his swing.
"What he did, more than anything for a young hitter who was so impressive, was his ability to control the zone, swing at strikes, take balls and put himself in good counts to hit,” Indians Blue manager Larry Day said.
A shortstop as an amateur in Venezuela, Bracho profiles now as an offensive-minded second baseman with good instincts in the field but with fringy hands and arm strength. He’s a tick below-average runner.
9. Wilderd Patiño, OF, D-backs
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
Arizona’s top international signee in 2017 was the much-heralded Kristian Robinson, but the D-backs also did well in corralling Patiño for $985,000.
No Arizona League player carried a more impressive set of tools than Patiño, who played most of his first season as a 17-year-old. He’s a five-tool talent, able to stay in the middle of the outfield thanks to plus speed and more than enough arm. He’s an explosive athlete who projects as a regular.
At the plate, Patiño shows intriguing power/speed potential. He makes hard contact with plus raw power. He’ll go through the normal growing pains as he matures both on and off the field, but there’s a big-time prospect waiting to bloom if it all comes together—and if he shows the willingness to work to reach his lofty potential.
"He’s a student of the game. He’s learning,” D-backs hitting coach Darrin Garner said.
10. Hudson Head, OF, Padres
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 180. Drafted: HS—San Antonio, 2019 (3).
Head was one of the more surprising pop-up prospects in this year’s draft, in part because his dual role as a quarterback in high school limited his exposure in baseball showcases. He appeared likely to head to Oklahoma until the Padres gave the Texan a $3 million bonus, a record for the third round.
Head was surprisingly advanced in his pro debut, with tools that include plus speed and an above-average arm. He showed the ability to manipulate the barrel with good bat speed and make adjustments during at-bats. His swing gets long, and he could learn to better use his hands at the plate.
An average defender now, Head’s speed and athleticism should allow him to stay in center field. He mostly just needs more reps. What impressed the Padres' coaching staff the most was the confidence that Head—and teammate CJ Abrams—showed in making their pro debuts.
"They know they’re the best players on the field,” Padres manager Vinny Lopez said. "They know they’re the best hitters in the box. You really can’t teach that.”
11. Alex De Jesus, SS, Dodgers
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.
While Diego Cartaya was the bigger name in the 2018 international class, the Dodgers also scored with the signing of De Jesus for $500,000. Both young players arrived in Arizona in June after 13 games in the Dominican Summer League, quickly drawing raves from scouts covering the AZL.
A third baseman as an amateur, De Jesus moved to shortstop for his first pro season and showed the tools to handle the position. But the overwhelming consensus is that as he grows bigger he'll eventually move back to the hot corner, where he profiles to be an above-average defender with a plus arm, easy actions and good first-step quickness.
De Jesus projects to have enough bat for a corner infielder, with a swing that has good loft and developing bat speed that will give him plus power in time. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts. De Jesus is a fringe-average runner who will steal the occasional base.
12. Keithron Moss, 2B/3B, Rangers
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 165. Signed: Bahamas, 2017.
Moss played most of his second professional season as a 17-year-old, and it's important to remember that the native Bahamian is the same age as the typical U.S. high school senior. He consistently put up good numbers for the league champions, especially delivering key hits during the Rangers' four-game postseason run.
"He's been the most improved player since the year started," Rangers manager Carlos Cardoza said. "He's starting to get better quicker."
Moss squares up balls from both sides of the plate and is very adept at using the whole field. He projects to develop average pop as he continues to get stronger. A plus runner in the past, most scouts now see him as an average runner, but he moves easily with an athletic gait. Moss split time this year between second and third base and made strides with his defense. A fringe-average arm makes him better suited for second base, and he's also athletic enough to handle left field.
13. Hyun-il Choi, RHP, Dodgers
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 200. Signed: South Korea, 2018.
The Dodgers signed Choi last year for a $300,000 bonus, giving them a promising pitcher who in time could be a mid-rotation starter. Because of the quality of competition in his native South Korea, Choi at times looked too advanced for the Arizona League, where he posted a 2.63 ERA and fanned 71 batters in 65 innings.
"Choi knows where he's going to throw the baseball," Dodgers Mota manager Jair Fernandez said. "And he has a good feel for the ball and a good repertoire."
Choi has a broad array of four or more pitches, but the Dodgers had him focusing on a three-pitch mix for his first season. He shows an ability to mix pitches and locate them well with a loose, three-quarter arm slot. His fastball sits 90-91 mph, touching 94 mph, and he can backspin it up in the zone for a different look. The pitch can also feature sinking action, and he commands it to both sides of the plate. He mixed in a curveball with good break and late action as well as a changeup. Choi exudes confidence and poise on the mound.
14. Heriberto Hernandez, OF/C/1B, Rangers
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Questions as to where Hernandez fits best on the field are generally answered with the proclamation, "It doesn't matter because he's going to hit his way to the big leagues." He tied for second in home runs with 11 and led the league with 48 RBIs, posting an outstanding isolated slugging percentage of .302. He has plus-plus bat speed and is extremely athletic in the batter's box, while showing an advanced feel for adjustments at the plate.
"I don't think the numbers are a lie," Rangers manager Carlos Cardoza said. "They actually tell a pretty close picture of the truth for him so far. The bat's the real deal."
While listed as a catcher on the roster, Hernandez saw more action in right field. He's more athletic than he looks, and an above-average arm will allow him to handle either corner position—especially after he gets more outfield reps. Opinions are mixed as to whether Hernandez can stay behind the plate, but he can likely be serviceable there in a utility role. Regardless of where he plays, Hernandez's bat is his carrying tool, and he has a chance to be a special hitter.
15. Jose Tena, SS, Indians
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht: 5-10. Wt: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
While Aaron Bracho and George Valera were the key members of Cleveland's 2018 international class, the Indians may have gotten another keeper for $400,000 in Tena. He hit .325/.352/.440 in his stateside debut. What reinforces Tena's projection is his lean, athletic body.
"He's got some length to his body, some length to his arms, and some height to his body," Indians Blue manager Larry Day said. "His ceiling, just from a body projection, is high."
Tena is an advanced, pure hitter, consistently looking to drive balls the other way with an approach that allows him to cover the whole plate. He's aggressive at the plate, not yet drawing many walks but putting balls in play even when he expands the zone. More power should come with added strength, and he's a plus runner. Tena is also an exciting player on the field, with projected plus range and an arm that plays up because of his good hands. Tena is the prototypical high-ceiling, low-floor prospect.
16. Luis Toribio, 3B, Giants
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Toribio came stateside with a more refined skill set at the plate than is typical for a teenaged Latin player, leading all AZL hitters in walks by a wide margin. Already possessing an advanced hit tool, Toribio shows good feel for the zone and the ability to hit the ball to the opposite field. He should develop more over-the-fence power with added strength but needs to cut down on strikeouts. He put in the work required to get better and showed improvement as the season progressed.
"He's learning a lot, and he's going to be a good RBI guy in the future," Giants Orange manager Alvaro Espinosa said.
Toribio is a below-average runner but goes hard on the bases. It's a bat-first profile, with his defense at third grading as only fringe-average. His hands work well and he has solid-average arm strength, but limited range could eventually dictate a move across the infield to first base.
17. Jairo Pomares, OF, Giants
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185. Signed: Cuba, 2018.
Marco Luciano was the gem of the Giants' 2018 international class, but in Pomares they also picked up another potential solid prospect for $1.1 million. The Cuba native is a natural hitter, disciplined at the plate and adept at finding ways to put the barrel on the ball with an easy swing and power to the pull side. He sometimes pulls off on his swing and doesn't get the bat through the zone, which could lead to swing-and-miss issues. A solid-average runner, Pomares doesn't have the instincts or range to stay in center field, but a plus arm will be more than enough for right field.
Pomares impressed the Giants' staff with his willingness to learn.
"He's a quiet guy, goes about his business by himself," Giants Black manager Michael Johnson said. "But he has the aptitude. If you tell him something, he's going to go out there and do it."
18. Pedro Martinez, SS/2B, Cubs
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 2018.
Martinez signed with the Cubs near the tail-end of the 2017-2018 international signing period, and early returns indicate that the Cubs may have gotten a bargain in the Venezuela native.
Martinez started strong in Arizona, batting .352/.417/.519 before receiving an August promotion to the Northwest League. He has a good, balanced swing with bat speed and some loft, better now from the left side. He has average power and should develop more as he grows into his body. While he's an average defender at shortstop, some observers believe he'll be better suited for second base, especially if gets bigger. An above-average arm will play at either position.
The Cubs' staff was impressed with the attitude that Martinez brought to the field.
"He did a great job," Cubs veteran manager Carmelo Martinez said. "He's a young guy, and he showed a lot of desire to get better."
19. Brayan Buelvas, OF, Athletics
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 155. Signed: Colombia, 2018.
Having just turned 17 years old when he arrived in the AZL in early July, Buelvas was one of the younger players in the league but certainly made a favorable impression in short order. With no plus tools to his credit, Buelvas is one of those players in which the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, as he's got that certain something that will likely have him playing above his tools.
"Credit his work ethic," Athletics Green manager Eddie Menchaca said. "You cannot teach (that), and the passion he has for the game . . . (it's) something that's instilled in him."
Buelvas plays with plenty of energy and has a chance to be an above-average or better hitter. His hands work well, and he showed good plate discipline in his pro debut. He's not a burner, but he has the instincts to be an average defender in center field and could be a plus defender if he moves to right field. What separates Buelvas even more is his all-around instincts for the game, especially impressive for someone so young.
20. Joshua Mears, OF, Padres
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 230. Drafted: HS—Federal Way, Wash., 2019 (2).
Few players his age physically look the part of a ballplayer more than Mears, who has a solid, chiseled physique.
"He's like a 'create-a-player' in a video game," Padres manager Vinny Lopez said.
The Padres took Mears in the second round, signing the Washington native for a $1 million bonus to keep him away from a Purdue commitment. Mears struggled out of the gate, facing professional pitchers with velocity that he seldom faced in high school. He finished strong, however, compiling a .937 OPS during the final month of the season.
Mears has plenty of raw power and plus bat speed, but he will need to continue to refine his approach to consistently get to that big-time pop. He also has work to do to become a good defender, although he showed flashes at times and especially late in the season. He's a below-average runner, but he has a plus arm as well as the desire and work ethic to get better.