Northwest League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
Typically a college-heavy circuit, the Northwest League was flooded with young talent this summer. That’s made clear by the prospects on this list and is brought even further into focus by some of the prospects who just missed the cut. Explosive D-backs prospect Kristian Robinson overwhelmed evaluators with the tools and skills he showed against much older competition, and he was just the center of an NWL-champion Hillsboro squad that was the beneficiary of a seemingly endless pipeline of tooled-up players.
The Hops’ pitching staff alone included fireballer Luis Frias, who manhandled the league for just shy of 50 innings, as well as five of Arizona’s first six picks in this past year’s draft. The sixth pick, outfielder Corbin Carroll, fell shy of qualifying for this list but was nonetheless impressive in his time in the NWL.
Everett righthander George Kirby went the entire summer without walking a batter, thus living up to his reputation as a pitcher with excellent command and control, but he fell a few innings shy of the requirement for Top 20 consideration. All in all, the 2019 NWL was filled with tremendously skilled prospects from Opening Day until the final out of the championship, including plenty of players who aren’t represented on this list.
1. Kristian Robinson, OF, Hillsboro (D-backs)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Signed: Bahamas, 2017.
The easy call for the league’s top prospect, Robinson was the first player on the lips of every opposing manager and scout who saw him play. He thoroughly dominated the league as one of its youngest players before earning an August promotion to low Class A Kane County.
Robinson has the makings of at least a four-tool player with a chance for a full five-tool complement with an improved throwing arm.
"The concern with him is the strikeout rate,” one scout said, "but the biggest positive with him is the value he provides in multiple ways. . . . He’s a freak.”
Robinson has the actions and instincts to stick in center field, has turned in plus run times of 4.1 seconds to first base, and showed at least double-plus raw power. He got to that power frequently in games, too, including nine home runs that tied him for second in the league. One of those home runs was measured at 470 feet.
2. Luis Frias, RHP, Hillsboro (D-backs)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
To see how dominant Frias was in his time in the Northwest League, all you have to do is check the stats. His 72 strikeouts were the best in the league, despite being 16th in the league in innings. He racked up 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings before his promotion to low Class A Kane County, a figure that would have easily paced the league if he qualified. He gets excellent downhill angle on a 92-97 mph fastball that carries extremely well through the zone, and he couples the pitch with a devastating, top-to-bottom curveball that garnered plenty of swings and misses.
"I went 70 fastball and 70 breaking ball,” one scout said. "He’s a reliever for me, but I don’t care. The stuff was that good. It was stupid when I saw him. He clearly didn’t belong in the league.”
Beyond the fastball and curveball, the staff at Hillsboro worked with Frias—who was signed as an infielder—to add a slider and a split-grip changeup to his mix. The coaches were heartened by his work ethic, which they believe will help him transition to the full four-pitch complement and continue refining his currently below-average command.
3. Hunter Bishop, OF, Salem-Keizer (Giants)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Arizona State, 2019 (1).
Bishop was drafted by the Padres out of high school, but instead spent the next three seasons rounding his game into form at Arizona State. In particular, he answered questions about his hit tool by quieting his hitting mechanics. That change also allowed him to tap into his power more frequently, which resulted in a career-best 22 homers—a dozen more than his previous two seasons combined. He also sharpened his command of the strike zone, which was a bit of a double-edged sword.
Sometimes he became too passive and got himself into pitcher’s counts, which led to more strikeouts than desirable. That trait showed up as a pro, too, with Bishop producing both strikeouts and walks at a roughly 24 percent rate.
He has a chance he remains in center field, but his size portends a future in an outfield corner.
4. Aaron Schunk, 3B, Boise (Rockies)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Georgia, 2019 (3).
Schunk was one of the best players available from the state of Georgia this spring, and he quickly proved himself an extremely talented player on both sides of the ball in the Northwest League. Though he was sidelined toward the end of the season by knee inflammation, when healthy he showed a bat capable of producing average and power, as well as the instincts and athleticism to play third base.
As a former pitcher who touched 95 mph, Schunk also has more than enough arm to handle third base. His supporters see a player with a chance to have plus power because of his combination of raw strength, knowledge of the strike zone and solid bat-to-ball skills, though he’s never drawn as many walks as evaluators would like to see.
Scouts who saw him as an amateur loved his makeup, too, and he was known with Boise for his willingness to stay engaged with the game even when he was injured.
5. Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, Vancouver (Blue Jays)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 243. Drafted: HS—Magnolia, Texas, 2018 (3).
Kloffenstein already has a leg up on the competition because of his workhorse frame, which will help him immensely on the road to remaining a starter.
He dominated the Northwest League with a mix of five pitches—the standard four plus a two-seam fastball—that each project as at least average. His fastball sat in the 91-93 mph range, and his two-seamer, which shows the potential to be an above-average pitch, settled in at a couple of ticks below his four-seamer. He shows the ability to spin both his mid-70s curveball and low-80s slider.
He throws his low-80s changeup with the same conviction as his fastball, and the pitch shows excellent fading action away from lefthanders. He’s a solid bet to settle in as a potential rotation piece once he’s finished developing.
6. Chase Strumpf, 2B, Eugene (Cubs)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 191. Drafted: UCLA, 2019 (2).
Strumpf was high school teammates with 2017 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis, but he opted to go to UCLA to hone his skills for three years instead. The Cubs do an excellent job identifying college hitters, and Strumpf looks to be the latest in that line.
Strumpf is prototypical professional hitter with a simple, smooth swing at the plate and strong knowledge of the strike zone. More than that, he shows excellent power to all fields and sprayed doubles from line to line in his pro debut. Three seasons working with John Savage’s Bruins has instilled a strong work ethic in Strumpf, which should help him quickly adjust to the advanced pitching he’ll face as a pro.
He’s a competent defender at second base who will make all the routine plays but might not show up on the highlight reels. Even so, he should provide plenty of value with his bat.
7. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Boise (Rockies)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 162. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
Tovar was the No. 22 prospect in an absolutely stacked 2017 international class—which also included Northwest League top prospect Kristian Robinson—and he spent most of his time in the NWL as a 17-year-old. Tovar’s glove immediately stuck out to evaluators, who noted that he had the hands, actions and plus arm necessary to remain at shortstop.
He’s got a clean swing from the right side with above-average bat speed and recorded multiple hits in 15 of his 55 games with Boise before passport issues in advance of a trip to Vancouver necessitated a move back to the Rookie-level Pioneer League.
Scouts also noted that Tovar was particularly adept at handling fastballs, no matter their velocity. He also combines plus speed with the advanced basestealing instincts to swipe the second-most bags on the team.
8. Liover Peguero, SS, Hillsboro (D-backs)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $475,000 in 2017, Peguero has developed even more quickly than the D-backs expected. Entering the year, the club wanted him to play shortstop as long as possible before possibly moving to a different position.
Peguero showed tremendous defensive skills at both Rookie-level Missoula and Hillsboro and now gives the impression that shortstop might be his long-term home. He’s a wiry-strong hitter with an extremely muscular midsection that allows him to spray line drives around the diamond. Once he does that, he can use his plus speed—which produces times of 4.1 to 4.2 seconds to first base—to help him turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He might never hit for big-time power, but his skills should allow him to settle in as a hitter toward the top of an order.
He’s a twitchy player with athleticism and a strong arm, and he has affirmed his place in the middle of a stacked system.
9. Alexander Canario, OF, Salem-Keizer (Giants)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016.
Signed for just $60,000, Canario is already looking like a sound investment. He was blessed with one of the best tool sets in the league, and he has sky-high upside if he can make adjustments as he moves up the ladder. Enhancing his command of the strike zone will be firmly atop his to-do list entering the 2020 season.
Canario finished 2019 with a strikeout rate of nearly 33.9 percent, but he still hit for average, got on base and showed power. As one evaluator put it, "When he stays in the strike zone, he has unique ability to do damage on the baseball.” A scout who saw the league noted his tendency to stride open from an already-open stance, which will require cleaning up as well.
Managers and scouts alike give Canario the chance to stick in center field, where average speed and a solid arm will complement his sound instincts and make him at least average.
10. Ricky Vanasco, RHP, Spokane (Rangers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 180. Drafted: HS—Williston, Fla., 2017 (15).
Vanasco came into the year as somewhat of an unknown, but his buzz was building even during extended spring training in Arizona. He took the ball on Opening Day in Spokane and then quickly proved himself too skilled for the competition. He pitched primarily with a signature fastball that sat in the mid-90s and touched the upper 90s as well.
He made strides with the feel for his curveball and his changeup. Evaluators noted that his stuff was good enough to elicit swings and misses even on days where his command wasn’t at its best. The Spokane staff worked most with him on his changeup, which he never really had to throw as an amateur and was less developed than his breaking ball.
He was required to throw a certain number of changeups per outing to increase his feel for the pitch, and once he did he was promoted to low Class A Hickory.
11. Michael Toglia, 1B, Boise (Rockies)
Age: 21. B-T: S-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 226. Drafted: UCLA, 2019 (1st).
Toglia checked in at No. 63 on this year’s BA 500 thanks to a combination of power, strike-zone awareness and the potential for plus defense at first base. He has a power-over-hit profile but got in trouble in college when his front side drifted and kept him from properly firing his hips.
At his best, Toglia showed smooth swings from both sides of the plate, as well as the ability to hit the ball out to all parts of the park. His power is most present from the left side.
Defensively, he has a massive wingspan that allows him to set a huge target for his infielders and is adept at picking balls out of the dirt. He also has a knack for reading swings and positioning himself accordingly to let his nimble footwork take him where he needs to be on grounders.
12. David Garcia, C, Spokane (Rangers)
Age: 19. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
One of the top players available in the 2016 international class, Garcia more than held his own in what is typically a college-heavy league.
He was known as an amateur for his defensive chops, and he quickly proved himself as a plus receiver who can also block and throw with aplomb. He threw out 32 percent of runners with an accurate, above-average throwing arm as well as strong footwork and transfer skills.
He shows excellent bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate, though his splits were far better from the right side. His swing features quite a bit of moving parts, but he mitigates that with strong hand-eye coordination and an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and how to zero in on pitches on which he can best do damage. There’s a chance he finds his way into an everyday role, but even if he doesn’t he should provide enough value to be a solid backup.
13. Kohl Franklin, RHP, Eugene (Cubs)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—Broken Arrow, Okla., 2018 (6th round).
Franklin, the nephew of former big leaguer Ryan Franklin, was drafted on the strength of a loose arm and a frame with plenty of projection remaining. He’s begun to fill out over the last 18 months and has seen gains in his stuff as a result.
He now operates with a low-90s fastball that touched 95 mph this season and could have room for even more velocity as his body matures. His delivery features a clean arm stroke and above-average speed generated by a broad-shouldered frame.
The ace of the Eugene staff before a late-season promotion to low Class A South Bend, Franklin backs up his fastball with a mid-70s curveball and a sinking, low-80s changeup. Both offspeed pitches project as average, though the changeup is a bit ahead of the curveball, which was a big point of development this season. He figures to fit as a back-end starter if he reaches his ceiling.
14. Logan Wyatt, 1B, Salem-Keizer (Giants)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Louisville, 2019 (2nd).
In three years at Louisville, Wyatt racked up 134 walks while striking out just 90 times in 630 plate appearances, in the process cementing a reputation as one of the most discerning hitters in the NCAA. That tremendous batting eye translated to his first test of pro ball, where he walked 26 times against 29 whiffs among three levels.
The downside of that passivity, however, is an apparent lack of power that would be expected from a first baseman who stands at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. A little more aggression should lead more power as he moves up the Giants’ chain.
Scouts who saw him as an amateur also suggested Wyatt could tap into his power more frequently by better utilizing his legs in his swing and adding a more pronounced load. Wyatt is a surprising athlete for his size and is a smart baserunner despite below-average footspeed. With more experience, he has a future as a classic slugging first baseman.
15. Edmond Americaan, OF, Eugene (Cubs)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Chipola JC, 2018 (35th).
The Cubs believed enough in Americaan’s tools to give him a signing bonus of $208,950 in the 34th round after his second season at Chipola JC and then let their player development staff go to work turning those tools into bona fide skills.
This year, the results began showing up. He was moved from his quick cameo at low Class A South Bend back to short-season Eugene, where he started working to change his hitting approach to make himself more of an all-fields threat. Already blessed with wiry strength and strong hands and wrists, Americaan showed plenty of opposite-field strength but had not figured out how to pull the ball with authority. By the end of the year, he had come so far in that department that he was parking balls on top of the player development complex well beyond the right-field wall at Eugene’s PK Park.
He’s got the footspeed and range to stick in center field, but his arm is strong enough that he could move to right field and be a weapon, especially if his power continues to flourish.
16. Austin Shenton, 3B, Everett (Mariners)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Florida International, 2019 (5th).
Shenton started his college career at Bellevue (Wash.) JC before transferring to Florida International for his sophomore and junior seasons. He produced a .939 OPS over two seasons, as well as a stellar season in the Cape Cod League in 2018. He has a keen ability to recognize pitches and a strong understanding of the strike zone, which has helped him produce everywhere he’s played.
Scouts assess him as having average power, which showed up as doubles to all fields and pull-side home runs between Everett and low Class A West Virginia in his first experience as a pro.
With the bat as his established strength, the next step will be finding a defensive home. He played third base at FIU and as a pro, but scouts who saw him believe he’s more likely to shift either to a corner outfield spot or first base. If he continues to hit, however, the Mariners will find a spot for him somewhere on the diamond.
17. Armani Smith, OF, Salem-Keizer (Giants)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: UC Santa Barbara, 2019 (7th).
Without question, Smith’s calling card is his raw power, which manifests in both batting practice and games. Scouts who saw him at UC Santa Barbara even suggested his raw power could rank as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
Smith worked with Gauchos head coach Donegal Fergus to incorporate a steeper launch angle in his swing to help put more of his hard contact in the air and over the fence. The result was a breakout season with 11 homers with a strikeout percentage of just 15.4 percent. He continued to produce average, on-base and power skills with Salem-Keizer, albeit with much more swing-and-miss.
He’s blessed with an extremely strong build and proved himself to be an average outfielder with a nearly average arm. If he can maintain his new swing in pro ball and continue to get to his power against more advanced pitching, he could have an extremely bright future as the classic big, hairy masher in the middle of a lineup.
18. Franklin Labour, OF, Salem-Keizer (Giants)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
After spending his first three seasons in the Dominican Summer and Rookie-level Arizona leagues, Labour advanced to the NWL to begin 2019 and spent 41 games obliterating the competition. His 14 homers led the entire short-season classification, beating out Staten Island’s Ezequiel Duran by one. He generates his power with a combination of bat speed, athleticism and brute strength.
There are concerns with swing-and-miss in his game, however, and he struck out 34.2 percent of the time after a promotion to low Class A Augusta while producing an OPS of just .581. He’s a corner outfielder all the way, but his average throwing arm will allow him to play right field.
The power is real, but Labour will have to control the strike zone better to access it enough to reach his ceiling.
19. Pedro Martinez, SS, Eugene (Cubs)
Age: 18. B-T: S-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 2018.
Martinez signed in the spring of 2018, then immediately tore up the Dominican Summer League. He did the same in the Rookie-level Arizona League to begin the summer of 2019, then earned a promotion to Eugene. His numbers weren’t quite as loud in the Northwest League, but he still showed plenty of potential in his 27-game sample.
The Cubs believe Martinez has the athleticism and makeup to become a solid hitter, and scouts who saw the league agree. He has average bat speed and bat-to-ball skills and balanced swings from both sides of the plate. He’s got at least average tools across the board, with a chance for plus defense and an arm that could serve him on either the left or right side of the infield. He’s also lauded for high baseball IQ and willingness to work hard to improve and reach his ceiling.
20. Bladimir Restituyo, 2B/OF, Boise (Rockies)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 151. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
First and foremost, it is abundantly clear that Restituyo has to gain significant command of the strike zone. He’s an extremely aggressive hitter who’s in swing mode from the first pitch throughout the course of an at-bat, which led to ghastly strikeout numbers in his second season as a pro. Those totals are somewhat mitigated by the fact that he played roughly half of his time in the NWL as a 17-year-old before heading back to the Rookie-level Pioneer League due to passport issues.
Evaluators who saw Restituyo believe in his upside despite the swing-and-miss issues. He can hit high-velocity fastballs, and he has the speed and twitchy athleticism to cause havoc on the bases. He applies that plus speed to center field as well, where he is a crude defender—he split time between the outfield and second base—but can get to balls in either gap.
Restituyo is an energetic player who hustles at all times, and he has a high upside despite notable holes in his game.