Ranking 10 Possible Prospect 'Super Teams' In 2019
The minor league season is still more than a month away, but it's clear from simple intuition that there will be more than a few super teams assembled to open the year. Some come from the top farm systems in the game. Others come from clubs that happen to have most of their top-end talent clustered at one level.
The obvious example to open 2018 was the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, who boasted a roster that included Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Max Pentecost and Sean Reid-Foley. One of those players is the No. 1 prospect in baseball, two have made their big league debuts, and one has graduated from prospecthood.
Projecting the Fisher Cats as a super team was easy, but few people would have expected the low Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods to turn into one of the most prospect-laden clubs in the minors. The gem of their Opening Day roster was obviously two-way talent Brendan McKay, who bullied his way out of the Midwest League in short order.
Sure, the team featured seven of the Rays' Top 30, but only McKay ranked among the BA's Top 100 prospects. A year later, two more of those prospects have blossomed into Top 100 talents. That list includes McKay at No. 47, Ronaldo Hernandez at No. 56 and infielder Vidal Brujan at No. 64.
For the prospect hounds out there, here are the teams we project to open the year with the most talented rosters. The obvious caveat, of course, is that we don't have any rosters in hand and there will be surprise assignments and injuries that could put a damper on what could have been an enviable collection of players. And in some cases, teams will hold a player or two back at the start of the season to keep them from playing in the coldest days of April.
1. Triple-A Round Rock (Astros)
Projecting Whitley to Triple-A after just eight starts at Double-A Corpus Christi might be a stretch, but the righthander showed such special stuff in the Arizona Fall League that some evaluators joked that he wouldn't have been out of place on the Astros' postseason roster instead of carving up hitters across the desert. He's BA's top-ranked pitching prospect and has the most spectacular array of pitches in the minors. He's likely to be joined by Tucker, who appeared overwhelmed in his big league debut toward the end of 2018. With Triple-A Fresno, however, Tucker showed the same combination of power and patience that has been his hallmark throughout the minors. Alvarez, who was good but not great in his Triple-A debut, will return to the level in the hopes of proving his power and plate discipline will play at the last step before the big leagues.
2. Double-A Pensacola (Twins)
Even if you stopped at three prospects, this team has monster potential. Once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gets the call to Toronto, Lewis and Kirilloff instantly become the most high-powered prospect duo in the minors. Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, was excellent at low Class A Cedar Rapids and held his own in the Florida State League. That's especially true considering 2018 was his first full season as a professional. Kirilloff, after missing a year with Tommy John surgery, led the minor leagues in extra-base hits and had a case for the best overall season in the minors behind Guerrero. Graterol showed high-octane stuff once he got to Fort Myers and has the makings of a top-end starter, while Rooker and Alcala should provide the Blue Wahoos even more punch in their first season as a Twins affiliate.
3. High Class A Wilmington (Royals)
Even if the Royals had leaned more toward high school prospects in last year's draft, the Wilmington roster would have looked fantastic. It would have featured the best parts of South Atlantic League-champion Lexington, which would have been tantalizing enough. Add in three talented arms from the top of the draft, however, and you're looking at one of the best rosters in the country. Singer's college workload kept him from making his pro debut, but his arsenal and pedigree were more than enough to land him atop the system's Top 30 ranking. Lynch and Kowar each aided Lexington down the stretch, and should benefit further from the extremely pitcher-friendly environment at Wilmington's Frawley Stadium. Melendez's development will be significantly aided by catching such a talented pitching staff, and his blend of skills on both sides of the ball will be even louder if he can continue in Wilmington. Matias was on pace to challenge for the minor league home run crown before a broken thumb cost him the last month of the season, and it will be fascinating to see if he can duplicate the production at the next level while also working to cut down on his nearly 35 percent strikeout rate.
4. Low Class A Bowling Green (Rays)
Franco alone would be worth the cost of Hot Rods season tickets, but the Rays are likely to surround him with young, high-end talent on the mound and in the field. First, though, let's gush once more over Franco. He blew away the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2018 with numbers that dwarfed what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. produced in the league at the same age. He made tons of loud contact while swinging and missing at a preposterously low rate and vaulting himself to No. 4 overall in BA's Top 100. McClanahan and Baz each provide high-velocity heat with potentially plus or better offspeed pitches. Schnell and Dodson each bring intriguing tool sets (Dodson showed well on the mound and at the plate at short-season Hudson Valley) out of the 2018 draft.
5. Triple-A Buffalo (Blue Jays)
Sure, this roster will take a hit once Guerrero has, ahem, ironed out his defensive issues enough to join the big club, but Buffalo's Opening Day roster should be special. Once he leaves, the infield will be headlined by Bichette, who ranks No. 8 on BA's Top 100 entering the season and helped the Fisher Cats sweep the Double-A Eastern League playoffs en route to a championship. He'll be flanked by Biggio, whose 26 home runs led the EL, as well as Reid-Foley, who impressed enough to earn seven big league starts down the stretch.
6. Triple-A Gwinnett (Braves)
As far as Triple-A rotations go, the Stripers could be cooking up something special to start the season. Because it's Triple-A, however, there's a whole mess of uncertainty baked in. All of the pitching prospects above except Weigel have big league experience, and any combination of them could show well in spring training and make the big club out of the gate. It's highly unlikely that all of them will be Braves on Opening Day, however, so the Stripers will have an impressive array of arms no matter what happens in Kissimmee in March. Their lineup will be fronted by Riley, the team's top overall prospect and the No. 22 prospect on BA's Top 100. The addition of Josh Donaldson gives Riley time to further develop in the minors, but the long-term job at the hot corner likely belongs to Riley.
7. Triple-A El Paso (Padres)
Balance is one of the hallmarks of a great farm system. There should high-end prospects sprinkled—or clustered, if the system is truly elite—throughout the upper and lower levels. That's the case with the Padres, who are the lone organization to land two teams on this list. The Chihuahuas' roster will obviously be fronted by Tatis, the No. 2 prospect in the game, but his supporting cast is pretty special, too. The roster as a whole showcases San Diego's savvy trading skills over the last few years. Tatis was acquired straight-up for James Shields, Paddack was pried from Miami for Fernando Rodney, Naylor came from the Marlins as part of a seven-player trade in 2016, and Allen was part of the four-player haul that San Diego got from Boston for closer Craig Kimbrel. The lone homegrown prospect on this list is Quantrill, whom the Padres drafted out of Stanford in 2016. If this prediction comes true, half of the Padres' Top 10 prospects will start the year in El Paso.
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8. High Class A Lake Elsinore (Padres)
The (Potential) Prospects: LHP MacKenzie Gore, RHP Luis Patino, RHP Anderson Espinoza, OF Tirso Ornelas, OF Jeisson Rosario, C Luis Campusano, 2B Esteury Ruiz, SS Gabriel Arias, LHP Osvaldo Hernandez.
The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, so it was extremely likely that one of their squads would qualify as a super team. Low Class A Fort Wayne was bursting with uber-young talent in 2018, so it stands to figure that Lake Elsinore would be next in line to receive those riches. Because most of the prospects were extremely young for the Midwest League in 2018, it's not out of the question that some of those players could return to the level in 2019 for further seasoning. The group is highlighted by Gore, one of the highest-upside arm talents in the minors whose season was scuttled only by a series of blisters that kept him on the sideline. With those out of the way, Gore could shine brighter than the California League sun. The wild card in all of this is Anderson Espinoza, who hasn't pitched since Barack Obama was in the White House (look it up!). If he returns to form, he has the pure stuff to remind people why he was valued so highly in the first place.
9. Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates)
With Keller and Hayes seemingly destined to begin the year in Indianapolis, the Indians will boast two Top 50 prospects, including one of the biggest risers from last season. Keller still holds two plus or better pitches in his fastball and curveball, but needs to make strides with his changeup before he's ready to make his big league debut. Hayes entered 2018 needing to improve his power numbers to profile at third base—where his defense is among the best in the minors—and he bettered his career totals in doubles, triples and homers over the course of 117 games with Double-A Altoona. Tucker and Kramer will form the keystone combination in Indianapolis, with the latter coming off a very strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. Reynolds shows classic fourth-outfielder skills, while Craig needs to show he can hit for both average and power at the same time.
10. Double-A Birmingham (White Sox)
This ranking hinges a bit on the assignments of Cease and Robert. If the White Sox decide that 52.1 innings at Double-A in 2018 was enough to bump Cease up to Triple-A Charlotte to start the year, then the roster obviously takes a hit. If not, it will house the system's top hitting and pitching prospects once Eloy Jimenez gets the bump to the big leagues. Cease (No. 38 on the Top 100) would form an impressive one-two punch at the top of their rotation. Madrigal's first full season as a pro will be fascinating to watch to see how much time he gets at shortstop (having manager Omar Vizquel by his side will certainly aid his development in that regard) and to see if he can make adjustments at the plate to show a bit more power than he's produced as both an amateur and during his brief time as a pro. Robert showed standout tools between injuries both in the regular season and the AFL, and Rutherford and Gonzalez were steady forces on a stacked roster at high Class A Winston-Salem club.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Triple-A Syracuse (Mets), Double-A Mississippi (Braves), Double-A Erie (Tigers), Triple-A Oklahoma City (Dodgers), Double-A Jacksonville (Marlins), Triple-A San Antonio (Brewers), Triple-A Las Vegas (A's), High Class A Charlotte (Rays)
Projected Top Prospect Teams By League
International League: Buffalo (Blue Jays), Gwinnett (Braves), Indianapolis (Pirates), Syracuse (Mets)
Pacific Coast League: Round Rock (Astros), El Paso (Padres), Oklahoma City (Dodgers), San Antonio (Brewers), Las Vegas (A's)
Southern League: Birmingham (White Sox), Pensacola (Twins), Mississippi (Braves), Jacksonville (Marlins)
Florida State League: Charlotte (Rays)
Carolina League: Wilmington (Royals)
California League: Lake Elsinore (Padres)
Midwest League: Bowling Green (Rays)