Florida State League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
How good was the 2019 Florida State League? For starters, it featured an 18-year-old shortstop with an on-base percentage better than .400 (Wander Franco) and the only starting pitcher in the minor leagues to average more than 13 strikeouts and fewer than two walks per nine innings (Joe Ryan) . . . and both of those players were on the same team.
Beyond Franco and Ryan, the FSL boasted the No. 4 overall pick from the 2019 draft in Jupiter outfielder JJ Bleday, a Lakeland lefthander named Tarik Skubal who showed everyone he belongs in the conversation with the game’s best pitching prospects, and massive Fort Myers righthander Jhoan Duran, who threw a pitch so excellent and mysterious that it made scouts throw up their hands and give it a name all its own.
Want more? How about Bradenton’s Oneil Cruz, who brings 70-grade raw power from a 6-foot-6 frame . . . and might be able to stick at shortstop. Or what about Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals’ 2018 first-round pick out of high school in Arizona who has near-elite power and made it to high Class A a little more than a year after being drafted? Those players alone would be a bounty for most leagues in most years, but it was only the beginning of the depth of prospects featured in the FSL over the course of a tremendous summer.
1. Wander Franco, SS, Charlotte (Rays)
Age: 18. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 189. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
The game’s No. 1 prospect lived up to his reputation and then some in his first time playing at full-season ball. He mashed for a half-season in low Class A Bowling Green before moving to the pitcher-friendly FSL, where he continued to play with savvy and skills well beyond his years.
Beyond his pure tools, opposing managers were most impressed by Franco’s incredible command of the strike zone. To that end, Franco, who played the entire season at 18 years old, was the only player in the minor leagues to play more than 100 games and finish with more than 50 walks and fewer than 40 strikeouts.
There are a few questions about whether he’ll stick at shortstop, but he has range to play second base and the arm to play third base. No matter where he winds up, his skill set should allow him to settle in as the best players in the game in his early 20s.
2. Alec Bohm, 3B, Clearwater (Phillies)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Wichita State, 2018 (1st round).
Bohm started his first full professional season at low Class A Lakewood but quickly bullied his way to the Florida State League, then the Futures Game and finally the Double-A Eastern League.
He made it there on the strength of his offense, which was stellar at every level. Beyond his plus raw power, Bohm earns high marks internally for his ability and willingness to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and adjusting to the ways pitchers chose to attack him. His 21 homers tied him with Deivy Grullon for the system lead, and he came by that power while striking out just 13.5 percent of the time. In fact, Bohm was one of just three hitters in the minor leagues with more than 20 homers and a strikeout rate of less than 15 percent.
He’s far from a slam dunk to play third base long term, but he has the arm strength to play the position and he spent the summer working hard to improve his first-step quickness.
3. Trevor Larnach, OF, Fort Myers (Twins)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 223. Drafted: Oregon State, 2018 (1st round).
Early in the season, evaluators were intrigued by Larnach. They saw a player with plenty of ability to put a charge into a ball, but he only showed in-game power to the opposite field. The Oregon State product took those notes and worked hard to change the way he used his swing. Specifically, he aimed to impact the ball earlier with the intent of letting the natural strength from his massive frame begin to belt baseballs out to all sectors.
The changes worked. Four of his six home runs with Fort Myers went to either center or left field, and six of the seven he hit after a promotion to Double-A Pensacola were to dead center. Because of his long levers, scouts see the potential for pitchers to exploit holes in his swing down and below his hands, but he finished his first full season as a pro with a .309 batting average between two levels.
His offensive ability will likely allow him to settle in as a profile corner outfielder, likely in left field.
4. Tarik Skubal, LHP, Lakeland (Tigers)
Age: 22 B-T: L-L. HT: 6-3. WT: 215. Drafted: Seattle, 2018 (9th).
After finishing with 173 strikeouts in 122.2 innings, Skubal has a strong case as the biggest breakout pitcher in the minor leagues.
At the beginning of the season, though, he was playing second fiddle to Lakeland rotation-mate and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize. He put up a strong first half with the Flying Tigers, then positively demolished the competition in the Eastern League. He does a good amount of his damage on the strength of a hard-riding mid-90s fastball that has touched as high as 98. He pairs it with a big-breaking curveball much like the version thrown by former Tigers farmhand Drew Smyly as well as a changeup that gets plenty of swings and misses as well.
His control is excellent right now, but evaluators both inside and outside the organization suggest that his command could stand to be sharpened. He joined a rotation at Double-A Erie that already had a ton of talent, including Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, and spent the next two months that his name belongs in the same group.
5. J.J. Bleday, OF, Jupiter (Marlins)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2019 (1st).
Calling Bleday’s 2019 season a whirlwind would be an understatement. He played his first game on Feb. 15 in Scottsdale, Ariz., hit 26 homers in 65 games for Vanderbilt after totaling just four through his first two seasons, was drafted by the Marlins with the fourth overall pick, won the College World Series, made his pro debut in high Class A less than a month later and finally finished his season with his 108th game, on Aug. 29 in Jupiter, Fla.
The biggest reason Bleday shot up draft boards was his power outburst, which was accomplished in part by adding strength behind what was always a smooth, balanced swing on a frame that looked like it was built for a profile corner outfielder. More than the power potential, Bleday projects to hit for plenty of average as well. After an initial adjustment to the FSL, Bleday turned in an August slash line of .274/.337/.411, which is more than excellent for a player thrust into an extreme pitcher’s league after the longest season of his career.
It’s early, but the Marlins look like they’ve reeled in prime catch.
6. Edward Cabrera, RHP, Jupiter (Marlins)
Age: 21 B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
The Marlins’ system has gone from barren to bursting over the last year, and Cabrera has quickly shot himself into the higher end of the next wave of talent to hit south Florida. He tore up both high Class A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville with a projectable frame, a quick arm and a heavy fastball that sits in the mid-90s and regularly reaches a few ticks higher.
His breaking ball and changeup each project as plus, and he’s done an excellent jump refining his command and control. As proof, he’s lowered his walks per nine innings from 3.8 in 2018 to 2.8 in 2019. There’s still a bit of refinement to come, with some scouts wanting to see more consistency in the rhythm and repetition of his delivery to help him take the next step.
Sixto Sanchez still sits above Cabrera on the Marlins’ depth chart, but Cabrera isn’t far behind and has a ceiling nearly as high.
7. Oneil Cruz, SS, Bradenton (Pirates)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015 (Dodgers).
Cruz, who was dealt from the Dodgers to the Pirates in 2017, is somewhat of a baseball unicorn. He’s 6-foot-6 yet plays shortstop, and many evaluators believe he can stay there long-term. He’s not a slam dunk to remain at the position, but the ingredients are there. "If there’s ever a 6-foot-6 guy who can play shortstop, it’s this guy,” one scout said. "His hands and feet are there. He’s light on his feet and he has a strong arm and graceful movements.”
There are going to be questions about how much his extremely long levers will open holes for pitchers as he moves to the upper levels—though he doubled his FSL walk rate (5.5 percent) in a near-even sample at Double-A Altoona—but the .274 career average he’s produced thus far adds a level of optimism about his future hit tool. His raw power is tremendous, with one scout pegging it as a possible 80-grade tool, but he hasn’t quite learned to harness it in games.
Cruz’s future has a wide range of outcomes, but his ceiling is as high as nearly any player on this list.
8. Nolan Gorman, 3B, Palm Beach (Cardinals)
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Phoenix, 2018 (1st).
On one hand, Gorman struck out 31.7 percent of the time with Palm Beach. On the other hand, he reached the league a little more than a year after he was drafted and just a month after he turned 19 years old. That extremely quick path to the most advanced level of the low minors might have caused the game to speed up a bit on Gorman, who still wows scouts with an impressive set of tools.
A classic slugger, Gorman is gifted with elite raw power that scouts have pegged as a 75 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and the ingredients to be an average hitter with further refinement. He spent his time with Palm Beach making adjustments that would allow him to dispatch his raw strength against the higher-velocity fastballs that were giving him trouble.
There’s plenty of work to be done on defense as well, where he needs to improve his first-step quickness required to play third base. His hands are soft enough and his arm is plenty strong, but the range for the position hasn’t quite caught up.
At 19 years old, he still has plenty of time to put everything together and reach his full potential.
9. Jordan Balazovic, RHP, Fort Myers (Twins)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 215. Drafted: HS—Mississauga, Ontario, 2016 (5).
An interesting prospect entering the season, Balazovic took off in the FSL and vaulted into the top tier of the game’s prospects. The big righthander boasts a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and touch up to 98, and couples it with a slurvy breaking ball that is solid-average now but projects as plus.
With those two pitches in tow, Balazovic’s biggest challenge now is to refine his changeup, which ranks as below-average. Balazovic, who made appearances in both the Futures Game and the Pan-Am Games, made great gains with his conditioning in the offseason and saw the benefits all season long.
Some scouts would like to see him keep his intensity and focus throughout the course of his starts, though they universally see him fitting into a major league rotation. The most bullish of outside evaluators peg him as a No. 3 starter because of his combination of stuff, command and athleticism.
10. Joe Ryan, RHP, Charlotte (Rays)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 185. Drafted: Cal State Stanislaus, 2018 (7).
Ryan has been one of the biggest standouts from the Rays’ 2018 draft class, which also included talented lefthanders Matthew Liberatore and Shane McClanahan. Injuries led Ryan to transfer to Cal State Stanislaus for his senior season, and he’s evolved greatly over the last 18 months or so.
His signature pitch is a 92-95 mph fastball he throws nearly three-quarters of the time. The pitch is delivered with incredible backspin forged by years as a high school volleyball player and is nearly unhittable when located up in the zone. He blends the fastball with an ever-changing mix of offspeed pitches, including a cut fastball he learned as a pro and a slider he developed this season in the Florida State League.
He’s added power to his curveball and refined his changeup as well. Ryan meshes a power pitcher’s mindset with impressive command, and the results this season have been outstanding.
11. Shane McClanahan, LHP, Charlotte (Rays)
Age: 22 B-T: L-L. HT: 6-1. WT: 200. Drafted: South Florida, 2018 (1st round supp).
McClanahan has one of the most obviously gifted left arms in a system that also includes Brendan McKay and Matthew Liberatore. Whereas those two rely on a degree of finesse, McClanahan simply shoots lightning bolt after lightning bolt past hitters’ bats with a devastating combo of a mid-90s fastball that can tickle triple-digits and a dastardly breaking ball that flashes double-plus.
His 154 strikeouts and 11.49 strikeouts per nine innings each finished second in the organization behind righthander Joe Ryan, and he made it all the way to Double-A in his first full season as a pro. His changeup is both seldom-used and below-average, and his command and control could stand to be tightened, but the ingredients he has right now are enough to have left hitters flummoxed at three levels.
12. Clarke Schmidt, RHP, Tampa (Yankees)
Age: 23 B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 200. Drafted: South Carolina, 2017 (1st).
The further away from Tommy John surgery Schmidt has gotten, the better he’s looked. He opened his season by going pitch for pitch with 2018 No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize in a game that saw Schmidt spin five hitless innings with nine punchouts.
He showed scouts a 92-95 mph fastball that touched 97 mph, as well as a changeup that has the potential to be a 65-grade pitch on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. His breaking ball was nearly as impressive, with multiple scouts projecting it as a future plus pitch. He showed guile on the mound, too, by mixing and matching his arm slots to add a bit of deception to his already impressive mix.
He moved to Double-A Trenton and tossed 10.2 innings of one-run ball with 13 strikeouts over the course of two playoff starts en route to the Thunder’s first Eastern League championship since 2013. The Yankees gambled on Schmidt in 2017 knowing he would need surgery, and the results this season are making it look like the risk was worth the reward.
13. Royce Lewis, SS, Fort Myers (Twins)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—San Juan Capistrano, Calif., 2017 (1).
After a strong close to his 2018 season at high Class A Fort Myers, Lewis returned to the level and struggled at the outset of 2019. The biggest question he faces in the long run is whether his complex swing mechanics will allow him to become the type of hitter the Twins sought when they picked him No. 1 overall in 2017.
He combines a sizable leg kick with plenty of hand movement at the top of his swing, which can make it hard to get everything sync and in an optimal position to hit. He got on a roll after the Futures Game and was quickly rewarded with a trip to Double-A Pensacola, where he struggled again. Lewis spent his return to Fort Myers learning how to keep his weight back during his leg kick so he doesn’t get out front of pitches, leading to weak contact.
Scouts this year saw a player trying to tinker with his swing mechanics from game to game and even at-bat to at-bat. He still has youth on his side, and he hits the ball very hard when he makes contact. He has the athleticism to play shortstop, but the Twins gave him a few reps in center field toward the end of the season as well.
Lewis still has plenty of believers, too, although there are also those who have lowered his ceiling to something closer to a second-division regular without further adjustments.
14. Jhoan Duran, RHP, Fort Myers (Twins)
Age: 21 B-T: R-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 230. Signed: Dominican Republican, 2015 (D-backs).
Duran is probably the only pitcher in the minor leagues to throw a truly unique pitch—a fastball thrown with the velocity of a sinker but the bottom of a splitter which has been dubbed a "splinker” by scouts. No matter its name, the pitch is the signature of Duran’s enviable arsenal and caused hitters to swing and miss plenty during the course of his season.
Besides the splinker, Duran also has a traditional four-seam fastball that he can run into the triple-digits and a hard curveball in the mid-80s. The big-bodied righthander was acquired from the D-backs in 2018 in the trade that sent infielder Eduardo Escobar to the desert. The Twins toyed with his arsenal to make it work more at the top and bottom of the strike zone, rather than having him try to pitch to the edges of the plate.
Despite not having a true out-pitch, Duran has shown the ability to turn a lineup over and will continue to be given the chance to remain a starter. To achieve that goal, he must further improve the quality of his strikes both in and out of the zone.
15. Vidal Brujan, 2B, Charlotte (Rays)
Age: 21. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 155. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
The Rays have put together the best farm system in the game, and within that system is a wealth of middle infield talent. Brujan gets overshadowed somewhat by Wander Franco, but he’s an extremely talented player in his own right. His best tool is 80-grade speed, which he uses on the basepaths and in the field.
His athleticism allows him to switch back and forth between shortstop and second base and might give him a chance as a center fielder if the situation avails itself. Brujan is also a switch-hitter adept at making plenty of contact, though he has proved to be a much better hitter from the left side. He has little to no power and doesn’t project to hit for any either.
The best utilization of his tools will be as a slash-and-burn player at the top or bottom of a lineup who creates havoc on the bases and provides value in the field as well.
16. Jose Garcia, SS, Daytona (Reds)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Signed: Cuba, 2017.
After spending $5 million to sign Garcia out of Cuba, the Reds are already seeing a fantastic return on their investment. He held his own after being sent to the low Class A Midwest League for his pro debut, then spent the 2019 season putting together a breakout performance in the pitcher-friendly FSL. Garcia finished among the top 10 in the league in all three triple-slash categories and led the league with 37 doubles.
Garcia has always been lauded for his defensive abilities, but entering the year there were questions about whether his bat would play. After shaking off the rust in his first full season as a pro, his strength returned, and his full potential began to show up.
"He's got a big-time arm and good range and good body," one opposing manager said. "If he hits, he's going to be a special player."
The Reds sent Garcia to the Arizona Fall League, where a strong campaign could make his breakout season stand out even further.
17. Lewin Diaz, 1B, Fort Myers (Twins)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013.
Diaz’s 2018 season, which ended when he injured his thumb on a collision at first base, was unremarkable. Despite being a big man at a corner infield position, he struggled to hit for any sort of power. This year, he was a new man. He slimmed down over the offseason and spent the first part of the summer mashing for the Miracle before being dealt to the Marlins at midseason. Diaz’s power was boosted by turning a formerly bulky body into one filled with lean, powerful muscle.
Scouts also see a player with a smooth swing who knows how to create power through excellent hip torque. He doesn’t walk particularly often, but he also doesn't strike out much (just 18.1 percent). He’s a skilled defender at first base who plays like he belongs there, not because that’s the place where his glove will hurt his team the least. After being the centerpiece of a trade, Diaz’s prospect stock is clearly on the rise, and he could very well hit his way into the mix for a Marlins team searching for a new identity.
18. Jonathan India, 3B, Daytona (Reds)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Florida, 2018 (1st).
India was the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft and made it to Double-A by the end of his first full season as a pro. He was celebrated as an amateur for his mix of tools both offensively and defensively and has lived up to that report in the minor leagues.
His numbers in the FSL don’t jump off the page, but his .757 OPS would have placed him seventh on the circuit if he’d stayed long enough to qualify. India spent his time in Daytona working on continuing to move his feet at third base and keeping his swing from getting too long. He has excellent plate discipline, which evaluators believe will help him eventually hit for a solid blend of average and power.
India might have enough power to profile at third base, but he’s likely to get time at other positions—second base or the outfield—as he moves up the ladder.
19. Ryan Jeffers, C, Fort Myers (Twins)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: UNC-Wilmington, 2018 (2).
The Twins trusted their scouts in 2018 when they took Jeffers in the second round, and his first full season as a pro provided plenty of positive feedback. He was always a productive hitter in college, but there were questions about whether part of that success was due to playing in the less-heralded Colonial Athletic Association.
Jeffers was one of just 22 FSL players to hit double-digit home runs, was one of just four to do so in fewer than 80 games and was the only one of those four to play a position other than first base. He showed a solid feel for hitting as well and was a studious enough player to learn how pitchers were attacking and adjust accordingly. The Twins believe Jeffers is an elite receiver with an average throwing arm who could improve his caught stealing rate (26 percent between the FSL and Double-A Pensacola) by quickening his transfer.
Jeffers hit well in a small sample at Double-A, and the Twins believe he should develop into a catcher with strengths both offensively and defensively.
20. Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Charlotte (Rays)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Colombia, 2014.
Hernandez’s prospect status slowly gained steam as he moved up the ladder, and a strong season at low Class A Bowling Green in 2018 vaulted him into the Top 100. He still has plenty of potential, but the questions about whether he’ll reach it got louder this year. Without question, Hernandez’s bat is going to be his carrying tool. He’s a tremendously strong player who has at least plus raw power. His poor plate discipline, however, has meant he doesn’t often get to his power in games.
Hernandez swings early and often, which led to plenty of weak contact or early count outs that worked into the opposition’s hands. He’s made strides defensively as he’s developed—particularly when it comes to receiving and game-calling—but some scouts are concerned about how his growing body might affect his mobility behind the plate as he continues to develop.