International League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
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Updated: An earlier version mistakenly was posted briefly. This is the up-to-date version. We apologize for the error.
Power bats and power arms impacted the International League in 2019.
The power numbers at the plate came from sluggers such as No. 1 prospect Luis Robert, who joined Charlotte looking for more polish to his overall game.
The top 20 is top-heavy with young power hitters who have demonstrated the ability to make adjustments and keep the good numbers coming.
The pitching prospects are highlighted by players making rapid rises. There weren’t reasons to hold back standouts such as Brendan McKay, whose time with Durham was part of the climb to the major leagues.
Overall, Gwinnett had the market cornered in the pitching department, placing Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Kolby Allard in the top 20 prospects. That surplus gives the Braves a deep collection of options capable of taking the mound in Atlanta or being used as trade chips, which was the case for Allard, whom the Braves traded to the Rangers for reliever Chris Martin in July.
1. Luis Robert, OF, Charlotte (White Sox)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Signed: Cuba, 2017.
After a 2018 season marred by injuries, Robert opened the year healthy and showed off a package of five tools that each have the chance to be plus or better. He finished the year as one of just two minor leaguers with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases and should make an immediate impact in Chicago upon his debut early next season.
"Robert does it all,” Charlotte manager Mark Grudzielanek said. "He needs reps. He has to mature a little at the plate and understand situations more. He has just got to experience some of this stuff.”
2. Bo Bichette, SS, Buffalo (Blue Jays)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—St. Petersburg, Fla., 2016 (2).
Bichette missed seven weeks early in the season with a broken hand, then immediately returned to showing the world why he was so highly regarded. His elite hand-eye coordination leads to plenty of loud contact at the plate, and he’s continued to improve as a shortstop as well.
He earned his first big league callup on July 29 and quickly set a record with 15 extra-base hits in his first 15 games. He and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have the look of an elite left side of the infield.
3. Brendan McKay, LHP/DH, Durham (Rays)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-2. WT: 212. Drafted: Louisville, 2017 (1).
McKay was selected as a two-way player in 2017 but has quickly proved that pitching is where he’ll make his money. Gifted with an easy delivery that one scout said made it "look like he was in a rocking chair playing catch.”
He has plus command of four pitches, including a low-90s fastball and a devastating curveball that he pairs with a cutter/slider hybrid and a changeup.
4. Austin Riley, 3B/OF, Gwinnett (Braves)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HS—Southaven, Miss., 2015 (1 supp).
Riley made a subtle change to his swing that allowed him to get his bat on plane quicker and longer, especially against high-velocity fastballs. The result was a scorching start to his season at Gwinnett and his first callup to Atlanta on May 15.
He’s had his ups and downs in the big leagues, but he has shown premium power that will allow him to profile in left field, where he’s most played in deference to Josh Donaldson during his time with the Braves.
5. Oscar Mercado, OF, Columbus (Indians)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 197. Drafted: HS—Tampa, 2013 (2/Cardinals).
Mercado was dealt to the Indians last season, made his big league debut on May 14 and has showed a well-rounded skill set ever since getting to Cleveland. Mercado uses his plus speed on the basepaths and in center field, where he’s an above-average defender.
He traveled to Cleveland last winter to revamp his swing, and the results have helped make him one of just a handful of rookies with double-digit totals in doubles, homers and stolen bases.
6. Mitch Keller, RHP, Indianapolis (Pirates)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 2010. Drafted: HS—Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2014 (2).
Keller already has a pair of knockout weapons in his mid-90s fastball and powerful curveball. If he can get at least one of his changeup or slider over the plate with regularity, he’ll open the door to reaching his ceiling.
Both pitches flash at least average potential but need to be thrown with better command.
"He has refined some of that,” Indianapolis manager Brian Esposito said. "It’s about throwing the ball over the plate with quality execution.”
7. Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/OF, Norfolk (Orioles)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Oviedo, Fla., 2015 (1).
Mountcastle can hit, period. His 162 knocks led the IL and earned him its MVP award. He’s hit better than .280 in each of his five pro seasons and is now on the cusp of the big leagues.
The bigger question is: Where will he land on defense? His well below-average throwing arm all but relegates him to DH or first base, where he played 84 of his 110 games. Twenty-six more games were spent in left field, where his arm can also be hidden easily.
He socked a career-best 25 homers in 2019, which will help him profile more easily at either of those two defensive spots.
8. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Indianapolis (Pirates)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Tomball, Texas, 2015 (1).
Hayes has long been known as one of the more outstanding glovemen in the minor leagues, and observers have been patient with his bat as a result.
"His ability to play defense makes him as a sure-handed third baseman as I’ve seen in some time,” Indianapolis manager Brian Esposito said. "He separates his offense and defense real well.”
His power hasn’t manifested itself in bushels of homers, but 2019 represented his second straight season with 30 or more doubles and his 10 long balls were a career best.
9. Kyle Wright, RHP, Gwinnett (Braves)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 200. Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2017 (1).
Wright’s plan of attack this year involved working north and south with his fastball-slider combination. When he executed that plan, he found success. If he couldn’t reach the bottom of the zone, hitters feasted.
"When he settles into a rhythm and you give him the ball every fifth day, you see what he can do,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill said. "He has legit stuff.”
He’ll need to significantly improve his command to see his success in the IL translate to the big leagues.
10. Aristides Aquino, OF, Louisville (Reds)
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011.
Aquino has long been known as one of the Reds’ best power brokers. This year, he got his first chance to show off his power on the biggest stage. Changing to an open stance allowed him to access that power in a stunning open to his big league career.
He also has an easy plus arm in right field.
"He’s a kid who’s a little raw, but you get guys with that kind of pop it doesn’t matter,” Charlotte manager Mark Grudzielanek said.
Aquino’s strikeout rate can be uncomfortable, but the swing when he connects makes up for that.
11. Bryse Wilson, RHP, Gwinnett (Braves)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 225. Drafted: HS—Hillsborough, N.C., 2016 (4).
Wilson was the IL’s ERA leader (3.42). It’s an impressive feat considering he sported a 5.74 ERA halfway through May. Wilson has yet to carry that success over to the major leagues, but against Triple-A hitters, his 93-97 mph plus fastball has consistently stymied hitters. He also led the league with a 1.21 WHIP.
Wilson’s mid-80s changeup has improved, as it now has some fade at the plate to go with solid separation. His slider continues to be inconsistent.
“He eats up innings,” Stripers manager Damon Berryhill said. “He runs into trouble trying to do too much when he’s up (in the majors). He’s really starting to learn about himself. He’s getting comfortable with who he is.”
Wilson is athletic and durable.
“He’s a strong kid, and still a kid,” Berryhill said.
12. Dylan Cease, RHP, Charlotte (White Sox)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—Milton, Ga., 2014 (6/Cubs).
Cease has long had little trouble showing elite fastball velocity. He sits in the mid-to-high 90s and can touch 100 mph. But his fastball is more hittable than it’s radar gun readings would indicate, so it’s the development of his potentially above-average curveball that is a very positive development.
Cease has ironed out some issues with a delivery, making that smoother and easing concerns from scouts who felt his high-energy delivery would preclude him from developing average control. Questions about his durability should be fading, particularly as 2019 has been his busiest year.
13. Bobby Bradley, 1B, Columbus (Indians)
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 225. Drafted: HS—Gulfport, Miss., 2014 (3).
Bradley led the IL in home runs and perhaps that was no big surprise. The power always has been there and he’s willing to go to the opposite field so it’s more than one-dimensional.
The batting average ticked up a bit and that was one of the things he was working on. The strikeout rate (34 percent of plate appearances) remained out of control and that’s something the Indians might just have to live with.
His Clippers coaches have given him praise for adjustments. He puts together professional at-bats, something he’s had to do because pitchers often avoid feeding him fastballs.
Bradley has made strides with defense, but he’s still fringe-average at best at first base.
14. Nate Lowe, 1B, Durham (Rays)
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 245. Drafted: Mississippi State, 2016 (13).
Lowe has the power–20 home runs across two Triple-A seasons consisting of 121 games--but also pure hitting instincts to go with that. He is a big man with a chance to hit for average and power as he works counts well and has the power to make pitchers pay for mistakes.
“When he’s on, it’s really fun to see what he can do,” Bulls manager Brady Williams said. “It hasn’t always been easy for him when he has been going up and down but that’s something you have to adjust to.”
Lowe has been moved to third base occasionally, but he’s below-average there. More importantly he needs to continue to improve to become an average defender at first.
15. Kolby Allard, LHP, Gwinnett (Braves)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-1. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—San Clemente, Calif., 2015 (1).
In 2018, Allard dodged and weaved his way to a successful season in the International League, but scouts were concerned that he wouldn’t be able to succeed in the majors with an 88-90 mph fastball.
A year later, Allard’s Triple-A numbers weren’t as pretty (like almost every Triple-A pitcher) thanks to the new ball, but an extra 2-3 mph on his fastball helped everything play better. He left the league thanks to a late-July trade to the Texas Rangers.
In addition to regaining the velocity he showed in high school, Allard also added an above-average cutter, which gave him a useful wrinkle and quickly became a go-to pitch.
16. Nick Solak, 2B/OF, Durham (Rays)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 190. Drafted: Louisville, 2016 (2/Yankees).
Solak made it clear that his power wasn’t a one-year blip when he continued that surge in his first Triple-A season. He his 17 home runs in just 86 games before being traded to the Rangers at the July deadline.
“How many second basemen have done that?” Bulls manager Brady Williams said.
Solak’s power comes from an easy stroke and he’s comfortable using the entire field.
Solak has bounced around defensively. He’s fringe-average at best at second base and an attempt to add to his versatility by playing him in the outfield didn’t really take. But if he keeps hitting for power, the Rangers will find a spot to play him.
17. Jaylin Davis, OF, Rochester (Twins)
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Appalachian State, 2015 (24).
Coming into 2019, Davis had never hit more than 15 home runs and had barely reached Double-A despite being a 2015 college draftee.
By the end of the minor league season this year, Davis had hit 35 home runs and earned a major league callup. Davis has long had plus-plus speed, this year he figured out how to tap into his plus raw power, transforming himself from an org player to a late-blooming power-speed prospect.
Davis is better defensively in the corners, but he’s capable of playing all three outfield spots.
18. Cole Tucker, SS, Indianapolis (Pirates)
Age: 23. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Phoenix, 2014 (1).
Tucker holds the label as a glove-first infielder, a wizard at times at shortstop. He also played a few games at second base, just to bolster his versatility.
A spring callup to the big leagues when he was just 22 years old gave him an idea of what to expect.
"He now understands,” Indianapolis manager Brian Esposito said. "He has done some things better and has worked on his approach.”
Tucker needs to put more balls in play and until he does that there will be questions, though he has some sneaky power at the plate. His attitude and work ethic rank high.
19. Jake Cronenworth, SS, Durham (Rays)
Age: 25. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Michigan, 2015 (7).
This was a breakout year in several ways for Cronenworth, who led the IL in batting and became a two-way player as a pitcher.
“You’ve got to like what he’s doing if his bat is as good as it has been,” one scout said.
Cronenworth returned in late August from a hamstring injury that cost him more than a month, and then didn’t seem as sharp in the field but maintained a good presence at the plate. His pitching was also suspended by then, but that’s something the Rays are bound to explore because his mound work was credible in short bursts. He has the defensive utility to play a multitude of spots and the added value of being at least a usable low-leverage reliever thanks to a 92-95 mph fastball and a quickly developing high-spin rate slider.
20. Keegan Akin, LHP, Norfolk (Orioles)
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-0. WT: 225. Drafted: Western Michigan, 2016 (2).
Akin has continued to make headway and has been a durable pitcher on the professional level. Even with some late-season control issues, he did enough to warrant a close look going into next season.
Evaluators have a wide range of opinions regarding Akin, but he rack ups a good percentage of strikeouts and gets hitters guessing quite a bit.
He consistently clocks in the low 90s with his fastball, but he lacks a go-to pitch he can rely on. If he can show the ability to go deep in games, there will be a spot for him on a big league staff.