Image credit: Spencer Howard (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)
Baseball America just finished publishing its annual rankings of the Top 20 Prospects in each minor league, but that doesn’t always cover everyone. Prominent prospects fail to qualify for a league Top 20 every season for various reasons. Some simply move too quickly—looking at you, 2018 Juan Soto—while many others simply play too little because of injuries or a workload managed after that year’s draft.
What follows is a list—not a ranking—of 11 players who did not qualify for any given league this season. This list is not exhaustive, but it provides a solid look at some prospects whose truncated minor league seasons kept them from ranking in a league.
Spencer Howard, RHP, Phillies
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 205. Drafted: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 2017 (2nd round).
Howard missed a chunk of the season with nagging shoulder soreness but showed true top-of-the-rotation potential. A reliever in college, Howard has taken quickly to a starter’s role and showed an array of four potential average or better pitches over the last two seasons. His fastball regularly visits the upper 90s and has touched triple-digits with excellent angle and running life. The hierarchy of his breaking balls depends on the day, and each shows flashes of being a future plus pitch. His changeup, which shows solid fade away from lefthanders, could get to average with more repetition as well. He’s in the Arizona Fall League making up for the innings he lost during the season.
Jay Groome, LHP, Red Sox
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-6. WT: 220. Drafted: HS—Barnegat, N.J., 2016 (1st round).
Groome’s first few years as a pro have been littered with injuries and ineffectiveness. The massive lefthander had Tommy John surgery in May 2018 and didn’t reemerge until Aug. 21 for a rehab appearance in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Though he pitched just three innings in the regular season, Groome also took the mound for short-season Lowell in the New York-Penn League’s postseason and impressed evaluators with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball with plus potential once he regains full stamina after the long layoff. Groome will have to make many of the same refinements as other young arms—improvement of command, further development of his offspeed pitches—but he still has exciting upside and ranks as one of the better pitching prospects in Boston’s system.
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-7. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—San Antonio, 2016 (1st round).
After a stunning performance in the 2018 Arizona Fall League, Whitley seemed certain to make his big league debut and contribute to another Astros playoff run in 2019. Instead, he moved to the Triple-A, where the new, more hitter-friendly baseballs were in place, and got shellacked. His stuff wasn’t necessarily a problem, but evaluators who saw Whitley with Round Rock reported poor command of his pitches and an immature attitude during his struggles. He was eventually moved back to the team’s spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., to get back on track. Once the team was satisfied, he moved back up the ladder before stopping at Double-A Corpus Christi. He is making up for missing innings in the AFL and, if everything goes well, could be ready in 2020 for his second shot at the big leagues.
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-0. WT: 209. Drafted: HS—Parkland, Fla., 2016 (3rd round).
Luzardo ended the 2018 season as one of the game’s most talented, fastest rising prospects. He’d zipped from high Class A to Triple-A and left plenty of flummoxed hitters in the dust while positioning himself as an option for the big league rotation at some point in 2019. The hype around Luzardo ramped up even more after a dazzling spring training, but quickly came to a halt when he strained his left shoulder early in the minor league season. He experienced a setback in his recovery in July and missed another month. He made his big league debut on Sept. 11 and finished the season with 12 innings with Oakland. Luzardo showed the same mix of a mid-90s fastball and a potentially plus curveball and changeup in the big leagues, and should compete for a permanent rotation spot come next April.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-7. WT: 238. Drafted: Florida, 2016 (1st round).
Puk had Tommy John surgery in April 2018 and missed the entire season. He got back on the hill for the first time on June 11 with high Class A Stockton, then moved quickly through the system on his way to Oakland’s new Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. He brought his fastball back up into the upper 90s and coupled it with a plus slider and potentially average changeup. His long, lanky frame also gives him an advantage by adding deception to an already electric mix of pitches. Puk made his big league debut on Aug. 21 and finished the season as a particularly effective weapon—albeit in a small sample—against righthanders. He should open 2020 with a chance to move himself into Oakland’s starting rotation.
Michael King, RHP, Yankees
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 210. Drafted: Boston College, 2016 (12th round, Marlins)
King, whom the Yankees acquired in the 2017 trade that sent Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper to Miami, rose through the minors like an untethered helium balloon in 2018. He used pinpoint command of his group of fastballs—four-seam, two-seam and cutter—to move from high Class A to Triple-A in just 23 starts. A stress reaction in his right elbow plus a midseason setback cost him most of the season, thus keeping him from qualifying for any league Top 20. He wasn’t quite as sharp in 2019, understandably, but still showed enough promise to earn his first big league on Sept. 27 and rang up Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo for his first big league strikeout.
Noah Song, RHP, Red Sox
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 200. Drafted: Navy, 2019 (4th round).
The Red Sox took a gamble on Song, whose draft status has always been complicated by his Naval service requirements, in the fourth round. He made his pro debut at short-season Lowell and immediately showed evaluators the top-end stuff that had him high on scouts’ boards in his junior and senior seasons. He starts his arsenal with a fastball that explodes out of his hand and shows impressive glove-side life. His changeup flashed plus in the Penn League and coupled it with a short, late-biting slider that was effective but a bit inconsistent with its break. His downer curveball showed plus potential in college. He has extremely high potential and could fit in the middle of a rotation if he reaches his ceiling.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B, White Sox
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 214. Drafted: California, 2019 (1st round).
Vaughn was the fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft and moved through the White Sox system that he didn’t put together enough plate appearances to qualify for any league’s Top 20 ranking. He rose to prominence in college who could begin busting the stigma surrounding righthanded first basemen, and convinced scouts that he could be a player who hits for average and power in equal measure. He didn’t blow the doors off the competition at either level of Class A ball but showed supreme plate discipline (30 walks against 38 strikeouts) throughout the course of his pro debut. Scouts who saw Vaughn also noted that he made particularly hard contact a great majority of the time, even if it didn’t always result in damage.
Jordan Groshans, SS, Blue Jays
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted/Signed: HS—Magnolia, Texas, 2018 (1st round).
Groshans started his season about as well as possible. He was opening scouts’ eyes with a bat that projected as plus and defense that would allow him to stick at shortstop. This, after an extremely impressive turn in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2018, made it look like his prospect stock was about to rise very quickly. Instead, an injury to his left foot landed him on the injured list and ended his season. When healthy, Groshans showed the characteristics of player who could stick in the middle infield and mash at the plate with enough discipline to take his fair share of walks as well. His stock looked ready to explode before the injury, but a return to health in 2020 should give him plenty of time rocket back up rankings boards.
George Kirby, RHP, Mariners
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 201. Drafted: Elon, 2019 (1st round).
Kirby was known in college for impeccable control and command of a four-pitch mix, and that reputation continued in his first taste of pro ball. He did not walk a hitter with short-season Everett and used his limited time at the level to continue learning how to best utilize his arsenal. In fact, he did not issue a walk after making a start with Elon on May 4. He spent a good portion of his time with Everett learning to better harness his slider and reshape the pitch to get hitters to bite at it more often. The movement on the pitch is solid, but he still has to learn to control its break to the point where he can land it for a strike or getting hitters to chase it out of the strike zone. Once he does that, he has a solid chance to fit somewhere in a big league rotation.
Nick Lodolo, LHP, Reds
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 202. Drafted: Texas Christian, 2019 (1st round).
After three stellar seasons at Texas Christian, Lodolo was taken by the Reds in the first round and shined in his pro debut. The talented lefthander didn’t allow a walk between stops at Rookie-level Billings and low Class A Dayton and whiffed 30 hitters in 18.1 innings in the process. He utilized a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a sweeping breaking ball at TCU to great effect. The breaking ball was inconsistent but flashed plus, and was clearly good enough to flummox low-level hitters in pro ball. He also has a changeup, but he didn’t use it much in college thanks to the dominance of his two primary offerings. The Reds believe Lodolo still has projection remaining, which could mean an uptick in his already excellent arsenal.