Pioneer League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
The Pioneer League was again not as chock-full of prospects as compared to other short-season leagues, due in part to the growing trend of organizations adding a third short-season affiliate and thus thinning out the distribution of talent. But enough sleepers emerged to make it a reasonably good year, prospect-wise, for the eight-team league. Missoula (D-backs) shortstop Liover Peguero emerged this year to be named the league’s top prospect in his first season above the complex level.
Will Wilson (Orem) was the only first-round pick to accrue enough playing time to rank on the league's prospects list. The only other top pick to appear was Reds lefthander Nick Lodolo, who didn't qualify for this list after pitching just 18.1 innings over two levels in his first pro season following a heavy college workload at Texas Christian.
The Idaho Falls Chukars (Royals) overcame a one-game deficit to capture the league championship in a three-game series against the Ogden Raptors (Dodgers), who posted the league’s best regular season record at 54-22. The Chukars were certainly the surprise of the year as they finished the regular season with a 34-41 record. Colin Simpson of Grand Junction (Rockies) was named the league's Most Valuable Player after the Oklahoma State product posted a .309/.383/.667 batting line in his first professional season. Billings Mustangs (Reds) righthander Miguel Medrano earned accolades as the pitcher of the year.
1. Liover Peguero, SS, Missoula (D-backs)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Peguero spent the second half of the 2018 season in the Arizona League at age 17 and struggled with the bat, but he came back to spring training this year noticeably stronger and a more mature hitter. That improvement resulted in an outstanding season with Missoula before being moved up to short-season Hillsboro, helping the Hops win the Northwest League championship.
Peguero has an innate ability to find the barrel with good timing at the plate and the ability to control the zone. His above-average raw power will translate into more in-game power with experience. Rounding out Peguero’s solid package of tools is above-average speed, which he used to steal eight bases.
What really impressed the D-backs was how Peguero developed defensively. He’s at least an above-average defender with an above-average arm.
2. Andy Pages, OF, Ogden (Dodgers)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 180. Signed: Cuba, 2018.
No Pioneer League player took as big of a jump forward as Pages, who signed with the Dodgers late in the 2017-18 international singing period for $300,000.
Pages has a strong build with feel to hit and an athletic swing path built for future plus power. He was one of the top power hitters in the Pioneer League with 19 home runs and a .353 isolated slugging percentage. That power came with a 28 percent strikeout rate, but it’s not alarming considering Pages’ age and experience level. He is at least an average runner and goes hard on the bases.
"He’s a really smart player,” Ogden manager Austin Chubb said. "At the age of 18, to be able to game plan . . . (he’s) pretty baseball savvy.”
Pages fits best defensively in right field, with a plus arm being his best tool. He plays with plenty of flair and emotion.
3. Jeremiah Jackson, SS/2B, Orem (Angels)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 165. Drafted: HS—Mobile, Ala., 2018 (2).
Jackson’s power emerged in a big way in his second season at Orem. The 19-year-old middle infielder led the Pioneer League with 23 home runs, tying for the all-time single-season record set in 1997. He also paced all hitters in RBIs (60) and total bases (155).
The key to Jackson’s improvement this year was making better decisions at the plate, staying more in the middle of the field and swinging at strikes.
"He worked hard on what he was doing and in being more consistent with the power,” Orem manager Jack Santora said.
Jackson struck out 33 percent of the time because of an all-or-nothing, grooved swing. His projected below-average hit tool is mitigated by his plus-plus raw power and plus bat speed.
Jackson split time at both middle infield positions, showing improvement at shortstop as he took smarter angles and played more under control.
4. Helcris Olivarez, LHP, Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 192. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016.
Olivarez was relatively unknown outside the Rockies' organization until his first extended spring training outing in April. That’s when serious buzz started among the backfield scouting community about the tall, projectable lefthander with a fastball touching the mid-90s.
That heater is the key to Olivarez’s success. It’s a plus pitch up to 95 mph with life and good vertical movement. He has a big, projectable body, a loose arm action and tough angle. He struggles with his command at times, but shows resilience to get out of jams.
"He’s got a chance to be elite,” Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said. "A special talent.”
Olivarez needs to improve his secondary stuff. He varies the length in his 73-77 mph curveball with good rotation, making it a potential plus offering in the future, but it’s a long way off. His cutting, 85-86 mph changeup lacks deception and is fringe-average.
5. Will Wilson, SS/2B, Orem (Angels)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 184. Drafted: North Carolina State, 2019 (1).
The 15th overall pick in the draft, Wilson was the only 2019 first-rounder to see significant playing time in the Pioneer League, and that’s despite a couple of injuries that shortened his season.
Wilson’s above-average hitting ability is what made him a first-round talent. He has solid bat-to-ball skills with a line-drive stroke and gap-to-gap power, but he may develop more pop as he gets stronger.
Lauded with a grinder mentality, a high baseball IQ and plus-plus instincts, Wilson was credited with being a steadying influence on younger teammate Jeremiah Jackson.
"He comes in wanting to play,” Orem manager Jack Santora said. "He lives and breathes baseball.”
Wilson split time with Jackson at both middle infield spots. Scouts largely preferred him at second base, confirming pre-draft expectations.
6. Brenton Doyle, OF, Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 205. Drafted: Shepherd (W.Va.), 2019 (4).
Doyle’s strong junior year at Division II Shepherd, combined with a solid summer league season, put him squarely on draft boards this year. He looked the part in his pro debut, showing a strong, athletic build and an intriguing power-speed combination.
Doyle led all Pioneer League hitters in average (.383), on-base percentage (.477) and OPS (1.088) on the strength of a scorching second half. The late-season gains came after he adjusted to stay relaxed in the box with a more controlled, easy swing. Doyle also had to get his rhythm and timing back after a pitch to the face resulted in him missing three weeks.
While Doyle has plenty of bat speed and strength, but he gets long to contact and has swing-and-miss tendencies he needs to improve. An average defender in center field with an average arm, Doyle has the tools to handle any outfield position. He is a well above-average runner.
7. Alec Marsh, RHP, Idaho Falls (Royals)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 220. Drafted: Arizona State, 2019 (2 supp).
Marsh blossomed in his final college season at Arizona State, excelling as the Sun Devils’ Friday night starter. He carried that success into his pro debut, though he was limited to three innings or fewer per start after a heavy college workload.
Marsh throws all four of his pitches for strikes and walked just four batters in 13 starts. His best pitch is his 90-94 mph fastball he can throw as both a four-seamer and a two-seamer. He used all his pitches aggressively and came right after hitters.
"He’s very aggressive and pitches to contact,” Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez said.
Both Marsh’s mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball flash plus, but he needs to get more separation between them. He will need to use his changeup more as he advances.
8. Noah Davis, RHP, Billings (Reds)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 195. Drafted: UC Santa Barbara, 2018 (11).
Davis was a projected top pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2018, but he had Tommy John surgery before the draft and fell to the 11th round. He got back on the mound this summer with five outings in the Arizona League and took off after reporting to Billings in late July.
Davis primarily used a sinking fastball in the low 90s that touched 95 mph. His plus slider from college was more average this summer as Davis continued to build stamina after the injury. He needs to improve his below-average changeup, but he has a chance to be a plus command pitcher and a mid-rotation starter.
9. Carlos Rodriguez, OF, Rocky Mountain (Brewers)
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht: 5-10. Wt: 150. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
Rodriguez’s advanced hitting ability and solid approach were well beyond his 18 years at Rocky Mountain. The Venezuelan was one of the more polished players in the 2017 international class when he signed with the Brewers, and he cemented that reputation in the Pioneer League after recovering from an early hamate injury.
"No doubt that his best tool is his bat,” Rocky Mountain manager Nestor Corredor said. "He’s one of the best hitters at that age in this level.”
Rodriguez sprays balls all over the field, with his whippy, loose hands allowing him to control the barrel and make adjustments. He uses a line-drive swing with gap power, and while he could add more pop with added strength, he’s not likely to become a big home run hitter. An average runner, Rodriguez can stay in center field, but his tick below-average arm is short for right field.
10. Miguel Medrano, RHP, Billings (Reds)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 205. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016 (Rangers).
It’s been a slow climb for Medrano, who signed with the Rangers and was traded to the Reds for international bonus pool money in February 2018. The fourth-year pro won Pioneer League pitcher of the year honors after hitting a turning point in extended spring training, when his fastball and changeup became sharper.
Medrano’s fastball sits 93 mph and touches 95 mph, and it comes out of his hand clean. His out-pitch is a changeup he throws with the same delivery as his fastball. It’s a plus pitch that dives down in the zone and draws swings and misses, and he can throw it in any count. He rounds out his arsenal with an average slider that has downer action.
The other key to Medrano’s success is his projected plus command. He has a good feel to pitch and projects as a reliable back-end starter.
11. Brady McConnell, SS, Idaho Falls (Royals)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 195 Drafted: Florida, 2019 (2).
The Royals' 2019 second pick, McConnell started strong after reporting to the Pioneer League, posting a .794 OPS over the first half of the season. He then missed more than two weeks with a hip flexor injury and wasn't the same player when he returned, with his second half numbers dropping substantially. McConnell was later sidelined for the rest of the season after suffering a concussion in late August. It wasn't exactly the type of pro debut he wanted, but the signs are there for McConnell to have a resurgence next year.
Even dating back to his one year as a regular at Florida, McConnell possesses an intriguing blend of plus raw power and plus speed. He's got strong, quick hands with power that makes a different sound when he barrels up the ball, but he'll need to improve his approach to cut down on his swing-and-miss tendencies. McConnell's athleticism, arm strength and footwork should allow him to play multiple positions in a super-utility role, similar to the Royals' Whit Merrifield, but that projection will depend on the development of his hit tool.
12. Julio Carreras, 3B/SS, Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.
Carreras is more about projection than many other Pioneer League prospects, but he performed well in his first season above the Dominican Summer League, posting a .294/.369/.466 slash line with a league-leading eight triples. While he saw action at all three infield positions, Carreras profiles best at third base because of his size, and he has the athleticism to stay in the infield.
"It's a projectable body," Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said . "He's about as strong as they come for a 19-year-old kid. He's just developing."
With quick hands and a strong body, Carreras projects to have at least average power. There's length to his swing, but his 20 percent strikeout rate wasn't bad for his experience level and he has natural feel for contact. He's an above-average runner with good first step quickness and is aggressive out of the box. Carreras was inconsistent on defense with some stiffness to his actions, but he has some feel for defense and his average arm will play when he settles in at third base.
13. Eddy Diaz, SS/2B, Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 175. Signed: Cuba, 2017.
Diaz impressed Pioneer League managers and scouts despite a late-season knee injury. After signing with the Rockies for $750,000 in 2017 , the Cuba native spent an extra year in the Dominican Summer League since the Rockies don't have a Rookie-level Arizona League team. He stood out for his hustling, high-energy style of play, and despite playing in only 39 games Diaz finished second in the league with 20 stolen bases.
A line drive hitter with a wiry, strong frame who is aggressive early in the count, Diaz projects hit for a high average but without a lot of power. He consistently puts balls in play, with the ability to hit behind the runner, and he's a plus runner with first-step quickness. Diaz has the actions and athleticism to play shortstop, with an average arm and the ability to throw from different angles.
"He's a guy that's going to hit for high average everywhere he goes," Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said . "Just a ballplayer. He steals a lot of bases and just puts the ball in play."
14. Mitchell Kilkenny, RHP, Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 206. Drafted: Texas A&M, 2018 (2 supp).
Kilkenny was one of the top pitchers in the SEC during his junior year at Texas A&M, but his pro career was delayed by Tommy John surgery just after he signed with the Rockies in 2018. The most important achievement for Kilkenny this season was just getting back on the mound and showing that he had the same stuff that made him a Day 1 pick the year prior.
All three of his pitches—fastball, slider, changeup—graded as average in college, but they play up because of how well he commands and locates them.
"For just one year off Tommy John to have the command that he has—and his fastball down in the zone—is really impressive," Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said.
Kilkenny's sinking fastball sits 89-91 mph, touching 92 mph this year, and he may regain a few ticks of velocity the further removed he gets from surgery. He's got good size and projects as a durable mid- to back-of-the-rotation starter. He delivers all of his pitches with a consistent release point and above-average command.
15. Brandon Lewis, 3B/1B, Ogden (Dodgers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 215. Drafted: UC Irvine (4).
Lewis drew little interest coming out of high school, when he weighed 285 pounds. He instead headed to junior college in Los Angeles for two years and dropped 70 pounds, earning a chance to play at UC Irvine. After a productive season there, Lewis was drafted in the fourth round by the Dodgers and signed for $372,500.
It's a bat-first profile for Lewis. His loose swing has a bit of a barrel tip and gets long at times, but his bat stays through the zone with plus-plus raw power. He put up big power numbers in the very hitter-friendly Ogden ballpark, and while he has a good approach when facing breaking balls, he's slow against premium velocity and could struggle with better fastballs at higher levels.
Lewis is a below-average runner and a below-average defender at third base, but he showed the ability to read hops and adjust to the ball well. He makes his infield throws from a lower slot, and his arm is below-average. Lewis might profile better at first base, which will put more pressure on his bat.
16. Christian Koss, 3B/2B/SS – Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 21 B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 182. Drafted: UC Irvine, 2019 (12).
Known more for his shortstop defense during a three-year career at UC Irvine, Koss surprised with the bat in Grand Junction, finishing just behind teammate Brenton Doyle in most offensive categories. A disappointing junior season negatively impacted his draft stock, but the Rockies believe they scored big by getting Koss in the 12th round.
Koss has a good approach at the plate, with above-average opposite field power. His plate discipline and two-strike approach were especially impressive.
"He's been able to slow the game down at times and can take his walks," Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said.
Koss profiles best as a utility infielder, an average defender at all three positions but without the range to play shortstop on a regular basis. His average arm strength plays up because of how quickly he gets rid of the ball. What impressed opposing managers the most was the energy he showed on the field, with one observer calling him an old school-type of player.
17. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Grand Junction (Rockies)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 162. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
The slick-fielding Tovar was the Rockies' top international signee in 2017, receiving an $800,000 bonus. He spent most of his first season in the Northwest League before finishing the year at Grand Junction. The very athletic Tovar stands out most for his instincts at shortstop and a still-growing, natural shortstop frame. He's already a plus or better defender with quick hands who gets really good first-step reads and has a plus arm.
The development of the bat will be the key for Tovar. He has the ingredients to hit, with a good swing path, bat speed and some power to the opposite field, but he needs to get more experience and added strength to better impact the baseball. He's at least an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases.
What's even more impressive about Tovar is his outstanding makeup for an 18-year-old.
"He's mature and kind of a silent leader," Grand Junction manager Jake Opitz said. "And you can tell that those kids are already looking up to him. His knowledge of the game is really impressive for being so young."
18. Nick Kahle, C, Rocky Mountain (Brewers)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 5-10. Wt: 210. Drafted: Washington, 2019 (4).
Kahle had a solid, three-year career at Washington after playing high school ball in the Los Angeles area with White Sox prospect Blake Rutherford. He stood out most for his work behind the plate in his pro debut, as he's a plus defender with soft hands, lateral quickness and good receiving skills. Kahle's arm grades as average, but he still threw out more than 50 percent of basestealers both in his final college season and in a small sample in the Pioneer League.
A compact swing and an advanced feel for the strike zone will allow Kahle to be enough of an offensive force to complement his defense. He's more of a doubles hitter with some opposite field power. Kahle was noted both in college and in his pro debut for his outstanding makeup.
"He's very, very mature," Rocky Mountain manager Nestor Corredor said. "He knows his game."
19. Eric Yang, C, Billings (Reds)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht: 5-11. Wt: 195. Drafted: UC Santa Barbara, 2019 (7).
Yang was named Big West Conference player of the year as the backbone of the UC Santa Barbara lineup. He had a good first pro season, hitting in the middle of Billings' batting order, and he was noted for being a good presence in the clubhouse. He worked well with the Mustangs' pitching staff, receiving well with good hands and an average arm that observers saw as plus at times. Yang needs to improve other facets of catching, such as blocking pitches, but he's athletic behind the plate with the aptitude to become a better defender.
Yang controls the strike zone and finds ways to get on base, including getting hit by pitches 19 times this year.
"He's an on-base junkie," Billings manager Bryan LaHair said. "He's got a knack to get on base . . . he battles every pitch."
Yang has below-average power now, but the ball makes a different sound off his bat and he should develop more pop with experience.
20. Grant Gambrell, RHP, Idaho Falls (Royals)
Age: 21 B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 225. Drafted: Oregon State, 2019 (3).
A third-round pick out of Oregon State, Gambrell is a durable power pitcher with a strong frame. He missed some time with a sore arm during his final year of college, so the Royals took it slow with him in his first pro season. His numbers at Idaho Falls weren't special, but he was making the transition to pro ball after a long college season. In addition, Gambrell was using a two-seam fastball for the first time in his career so he had a bit of a learning curve thrown in.
"He needs time to adjust to professional baseball," Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez said. "He'll need more time than (Alec) Marsh, but we like what we see. He's still making that transition from college to pro baseball."
Gambrell's fastball sat 93-94 mph, touching 95 mph. His curveball and changeup could be future plus pitches. Gambrell had some of the best stuff of any Pioneer League pitcher this year, but he needs to stay healthy and show more consistency to achieve his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.