Texas League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
In the expansion franchise’s first season, the Amarillo Sod Poodles won the Texas League championship in 2019. The Padres’ Double-A affiliate defeated Dodgers affiliate Tulsa, 8-3, in Game 5 of the best-of-five championship series, capping off a season that also included a first-half division title for Amarillo.
Led by many of the prospects who help make the Padres’ farm system No. 2 in baseball, Amarillo received contributions from Top 100 prospects MacKenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon, Luis Patiño and Taylor Trammell. Speaking to the depth of the Padres’ system, none of the four qualified for the Texas League Top 20 Prospects list due to a lack of innings or at-bats.
Other top prospects who fell short of enough playing time in the Texas League to qualify for the list include outfielder Jarred Kelenic, righthanders Forrest Whitley, Michel Baez, Josiah Gray and Andres Munoz, lefthander A.J. Puk and shortstop Jeter Downs.
Even without those names, the Texas League had yet another strong crop of prospects. Seven of the league’s top 20 prospects went on to to reach the majors in 2019, including BA Minor League Player of the Year Gavin Lux.
1. Gavin Lux, SS, Tulsa (Dodgers)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Kenosha, Wis., 2016 (1st round).
Lux played his first 64 games in the Texas League before taking Triple-A by storm and making his major league debut Sept. 2. Lux showed the tools to be an above-average defensive second baseman or a capable major league shortstop in the future, but his ability at the plate is what turned him into one of baseball’s best prospects.
Lux posted an .896 OPS in just under half a season with Tulsa, which would have been second-best OPS among qualified TL hitters if he had enough at-bats. He added strength to his once-skinny frame and now projects for above-average power to go with potentially plus hitting ability. Lux is also an above-average runner, although knee issues slowed him down in 2019.
"He is the real deal,” one Texas League manager said. "He grinds out at-bats, he hits lefthanded pitching, the arm strength is there . . . I see no reason why he isn’t a no-doubt major league shortstop.”
2. Dylan Carlson, OF, Springfield (Cardinals)
Age: 20. B-T: S-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Elk Grove, Calif., 2016 (1st round).
One of 10 minor leaguers with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases this season, Carlson won the Texas League’s Most Valuable Player award after opening as the league’s second-youngest position player on Opening Day.
Carlson features burgeoning above-average power at the plate and profiles as an above-average defensive corner outfielder, but he’s playable in center field as an average defender. Carlson is an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases, although he could slow down as he continues to fill out his frame.
"He has the potential to be whatever he wants to be in the major leagues,” one Texas League evaluator said. "He’s going to provide some power, hit for a high average, probably steal quite a few bases early on in his career, but the scary part is I think he still has a lot of room to grow.”
3. Dustin May, RHP, Tulsa (Dodgers)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Justin, Texas, 2016 (3rd round).
May consistently attacked hitters in the TL with a mid-90s sinker and low-90s cutter, both of which played as above-average to plus swing-and-miss offerings. He ranked third in the league in WHIP (1.15) and eighth in opponent average (.237) when he was promoted to Triple-A on June 27, and he made his major league debut Aug. 2.
May’s sinker was especially effective down and in to righthanders, and he also mixed in a low- to mid-80s curveball and a changeup. His curveball produced elite spin rates, and he learned to dial back his firm changeup more effectively this year. With four pitches and plus control, May came after TL hitters confidently and aggressively and averaged more than one strikeout per inning.
"He’s as talented as any pitcher we saw this year,” a rival Texas League manager said. "He came right at you and just attacked you. Never afraid to step on your throat.”
4. Logan Gilbert, RHP, Arkansas (Mariners)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Stetson, 2018 (1st round).
Gilbert jumped three levels to land in the Texas League for the season’s final six weeks. He ranked second in opponent average (.194), tied for third in strikeouts (56) and fifth in ERA (2.88) from the time he joined the league.
The 6-foot-6 Gilbert showcased his low- to mid-90s fastball with excellent extension and solid carry that made him a first-round pick in 2018. He rode that fastball but also featured two distinct breaking balls, with both his mid- to upper-70s curveball and low-80s slider grading average to above-average. A mid-80s changeup rounds out Gilbert’s arsenal, and he threw all of his pitched with above-average control.
In all, Gilbert produced a .198 opponent average and 0.95 WHIP in 135 innings this season, both of which were nearly identical to his Texas League numbers.
5. Justus Sheffield, LHP, Arkansas (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Tullahoma, Tenn., 2014 (1st round).
The Mariners sent Sheffield down from Triple-A Tacoma to Double-A Arkansas after a rough start. Sheffield rediscovered his command in Arkansas, lowering his walk rate to 2.1 batters per nine innings, and led the Texas League in ERA (2.19) and strikeouts (85) from the time he joined until he was promoted to Seattle on Aug. 23.
Sheffield started his three-pitch mix with a low- to mid-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph and a hard, mid-80s slider. Both pitches have plus potential with the ability to be consistent swing-and-miss offerings. He also throws an average, mid-80s changeup early in counts before relying on his fastball and slider to finish hitters off.
Sheffield’s high-effort delivery contributes to his lack of control and needs to be watched, but his stuff is that of a mid-rotation starter.
6. Evan White, 1B, Arkansas (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Kentucky, 2017 (1st round).
Voted the best defensive first baseman in the Texas League and widely considered the best defensive first baseman in the minors, White took a step forward offensively in 2019.
Playing his home games in one of the country’s toughest parks for hitters, White tied for third in the TL in home runs (18), ranked fourth in OPS (.838) and ranked sixth in batting average (.293). He focused on getting the ball in the air more, and as a result his 18 home runs were more than he hit in 2017 (three) and 2018 (11) combined.
White is a potentially plus hitter with a solid, well-rounded approach at the plate. Combined with his offensive acumen, White’s plus-plus defense gives him a strong foundation as a prospect. He displays great footwork around the bag and possesses exceptional athleticism for a first baseman.
7. Keibert Ruiz, C, Tulsa (Dodgers)
Age: 21. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
The Dodgers’ catching logjam forced Ruiz back to the Texas League despite ranking as its top prospect a year ago. He spent just over half the year with Tulsa before being promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City on July 21. Ruiz struggled offensively in his repeat year, but evaluators came away impressed with his overall maturity and defensive ability.
Armed with excellent bat-to-ball skills, Ruiz struck out in less than seven percent of his plate appearances in 2019. His ability to make contact, however, also hampered his on-base skills with a walk rate in the single digits and negatively impacted his fringe-average power because he often made contact without doing damage.
Ruiz showed flashes of being an above-average catcher with average to above-average arm strength. He impressed with his game-calling and ability to handle a pitching staff despite being consistently young for his level and also showed improved blocking ability.
8. Justin Dunn, RHP, Arkansas (Mariners)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Boston College, 2016 (1st round).
Acquired in the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets, Dunn impressed in his first season in the Mariners’ organization. He led the Texas League in strikeouts (158) and WHIP (1.19) and made his major league debut on Sept. 12.
Dunn starts with a 92-94 mph fastball he can throw up in the zone for whiffs or down in the zone to induce ground balls. His fastball plays up off his plus slider, which draws swings and misses both in and out of the zone.
"The ball spins out his hand really well, and then he can get you with that fastball up in the zone that’s hard to lay off,” one Texas League manager said. "He’s always attacking.”
Dunn improved his changeup but is still vulnerable to lefties (.277 opponent average). His control improved to average to give him a better chance to stick as a starter.
9. Brady Singer, RHP, NW Arkansas (Royals)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Florida, 2018 (1st round).
The 18th overall pick last year out of Florida, Singer made his pro debut this season and jumped from high Class A to Double-A in late May. Singer got off to a rocky start in the Texas League with an 8.10 ERA in his first four outings, but he recovered to go 6-3, 2.43 with 77 strikeouts in 74 innings after the all-star break.
Singer’s 92-94 mph fastball pairs nicely with his low- to mid-80s slider, both of which received plus grades. The 6-foot-5 righthander is tough on same-side batters (.235 opponent average) and is working to improve his changeup in order to neutralize lefthanders (.260).
Lauded for his makeup and competitiveness coming out of college, Singer throws from a low three-quarter arm slot and shows above-average control.
10. Jackson Kowar, RHP, NW Arkansas (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Florida, 2018 (1st round).
Another Royals 2018 first-round pick out of Florida, Kowar followed in Brady Singer's footsteps by jumping to Double-A just before the all-star break. His 3.51 ERA ranked seventh in the Texas League from the time he joined.
Managers voted Kowar’s changeup the best in both the Carolina and Texas leagues this season. The pitch received some 70-grades from evaluators and allowed his low- to mid-90s fastball to play up. Kowar’s development of his average, upper-70s curveball will be key to his future development. He throws all three pitches with average to above-average control.
"[Kowar] and Singer are both really good,” one Texas League manager said. "I’m not sure if one is better, but I’d take both on my team. Their stuff is obviously good, but more than anything you can tell they know how to pitch. They have a plan out there.”
11. Seth Beer, 1B, Corpus Christi (Astros)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Clemson, 2018 (1st round).
Beer demolished Texas League pitching before being traded from the Astros to the D-backs at the trade deadline. In 63 games with Corpus Christi, Beer posted a .950 OPS and hit 16 home runs, just seven shy of Cody Thomas' league-leading 23 home runs in 130 games.
Beer’s plus power is paired with an advanced approach and discerning eye that gives him the profile of an above-average hitter. Beer possesses well below-average speed and is a below-average defender likely be limited to first base, which puts increased pressure on his bat. His bat and power potential have more than made up for those deficiencies so far.
"That guy is just a flat-out hitter,” one Texas League manager said. "I don’t know what other people think about his defense and all of that, but I know you don’t want to see him in the batter’s box.”
12. Elehuris Montero, 3B, Springfield (Cardinals)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
The Cardinals pushed Montero to Double-A Springfield in 2019 despite the fact that he’d played only 24 games above the low Class A level before this season.
The aggressiveness backfired, as Montero struggled mightily while also dealing with injuries that limited him to 59 games. His .552 OPS would have ranked last among qualified hitters had he received enough at-bats.
Still, evaluators remained bullish on Montero’s offensive potential and saw the ability to hit for a high average and above-average power in the future. In scouts’ eyes, Montero’s struggles were simply a product of him being injured and overmatched as one of the league’s youngest players.
Montero has a plus arm that plays at third base, but his lack of range and mobility may push him to first base in the future. A repeat year in Double-A is warranted, with the hope that full health will allow him to blossom.
13. Abraham Toro, 3B, Corpus Christi (Astros)
Age: 22. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Seminole State (Okla.) JC, 2016 (5th round).
Toro led the Texas League in on-base percentage (.393) and OPS (.906) before jumping to Triple-A and making his major league debut on Aug. 22. The Astros named him their minor league player of the year.
A switch-hitter, Toro’s swing is stronger from the left side, where he makes more consistent contact and drives the ball more regularly. He has above-average power and an advanced approach at the plate, making him one of the best all-around hitters in Houston’s system.
Toro has worked his way into becoming a fringe-average third baseman with a plus arm, but some believe he will eventually need to move to first base. He has also received playing time at second base, but his range is limited.
14. Leody Taveras, OF, Frisco (Rangers)
Age: 20. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 171. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Taveras was one of the 10 youngest players to start the season in the high Class A Carolina League. The Rangers then pushed him to the Texas League just before the all-star break and Taveras held his own, posting a .265/.320/.375 slash line at Frisco and improving as the year went on.
Taveras is a supreme athlete who is a plus defender in center field with plus speed and a plus arm. His speed plays on the bases, where he notched a career-high 32 steals in 2019. A switch-hitter, Taveras is still raw at the plate and has below-average power. His overall bat-to-ball skills are strong, but he struggles to drive the ball consistently.
Taveras has the potential to be a standout defensive center fielder and steal 30-plus bases in the majors. The development of his fringe-average hitting ability will determine if he ever actually gets there.
15. Daulton Jefferies, RHP, Midland (Athletics)
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 182. Drafted: California, 2016 (1st round supplemental).
Jefferies returned to the mound for his first extended action since having Tommy John surgery in April 2017. After beginning in the high Class A California League, Jefferies joined the Texas League in late April and made 26 appearances, often piggy-backing with another pitcher as he increased his workload.
Jefferies showed plus control even after his extended, post-surgery layoff. He didn’t issue a single walk in his first eight TL appearances and overall posted a 72-to-7 strikeout-to-walk mark in 64 innings.
Jefferies mainly uses an above-average, low- to mid-90s fastball that touches 95 mph and a plus, mid-80s changeup as a strong separator. Jefferies’ 86-88 mph slider is no more than average right now, sometimes acting more as a cutter than a true breaking ball.
With three usable pitches and plus control, Jefferies just has to continue building his durability to remain a starter.
16. Khalil Lee, OF, NW Arkansas (Royals)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HS—Oakton, Va., 2016 (3rd round).
Lee led the TL with a career-high 53 steals in 2019. Having never stolen more than 20 bases in a season before this year, Lee used his above-average speed much more aggressively while maintaining a strong .363 on-base percentage that remained in line with his career numbers.
Lee’s swing is stiff at times, and he saw his strikeout rate balloon to 28.2 percent this season. Some of that can be attributed to a passive approach at times, which puts him behind in the count, but he did manage to draw a walk in nearly 12 percent of his plate appearances.
Lee has above-average raw power, but he’s struggles to tap into it in games. An average center fielder with above-average arm strength, some think Lee may be best suited for right field as he continues to mature.
17. Jake Fraley, OF, Arkansas (Mariners)
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Louisiana State, 2016 (2nd round supplemental).
Fraley played just 96 games combined in 2017-18 due to knee and foot injuries. Traded from the Rays to the Mariners this past offseason, Fraley enjoyed a healthy, breakout campaign in 2019. His .539 slugging percentage and .925 OPS led the Texas League until he was promoted to Triple-A on June 20. He made his major league debut on Aug. 21.
A plus runner at full health, Fraley is an above-average defender capable of playing all three outfield spots with average arm strength. Where Fraley took the biggest step forward in 2019 was driving the ball consistently. After hitting just seven home runs in his first 151 minor league games, Fraley hit 19 homers in 99 minor league games this season.
Fraley showed the ability to be an above-average hitter in 2019. If he can maintain his health and power, he has the ability to be an everyday outfielder in the majors.
18. Edward Olivares, OF, Amarillo (Padres)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 186. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
Traded from the Blue Jays to the Padres in Jan. 2018, Olivares took a step forward in the Texas League this season. The 23-year-old Venezuelan set full-season career highs in batting average (.283), on-base percentage (.349), OPS (.801), home runs (18) and stolen bases (35), all while improving his outfield defense.
An athletic righthanded hitter, Olivares began filling out his frame, which helped him tap into his above-average power. He has a compact swing and solid bat-to-ball skills.
Defensively, Olivares is most likely a right fielder with above-average arm strength, although his above-average speed allows him to cover the necessary ground for center field when needed. His 35 steals ranked third in the TL.
Evaluators still largely project Olivares as a fourth outfielder, but he is trending in the right direction toward becoming a potential everyday player.
19. Owen Miller, 2B, Amarillo (Padres)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Illinois State, 2018 (3rd round).
Miller jumped straight from the low Class A Midwest League to the Texas League in his first full season of pro ball. He handled the jump easily, finishing in the top 10 in the TL in batting average (.290), on-base percentage (.355) and OPS (.785).
Miller has shown above-average to plus hitting ability every step of his career. He sprays line drives from line to line and keeps his strikeout rate among the lowest of his peers. He gets the most of his average power by frequently squaring balls up and making hard contact.
Miller mostly split between shortstop and second base and also received playing time at third base. He has soft hands and enough arm strength to stick at shortstop, although his range fits best at second.
"He’s one of those guys that is just a ballplayer,” one Texas League manager said. "He can really, really hit, better defensively than I thought—just the type of guy who helps your team win a lot of games.”
20. Ronald Bolaños, RHP, Padres
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Signed: Cuba, 2016.
Bolaños started strong in the California League before moving to the Texas League on June 4. He tied for sixth in the TL in strikeouts from the time he joined until his major league debut on Sept. 3.
Armed with a heavy, mid-90s fastball, Bolaños can touch 98 mph while manipulating the pitch to either cut or sink at its lower velocities. His fastball ranged from the upper 80s to the upper 90s, keeping batters wildly off-balance.
"It seemed like he rarely threw two fastballs the same,” one Texas League evaluator said. "He can sink it, cut it, (or) throw a straight four-seam right past you. It’s hard when he can throw 88-98 (mph) and you don’t know what the ball is going to do.”
Bolaños complements his fastball with a mid-70s curveball, low- to mid-80s slider and mid-80s changeup that are all at least average. He has a lot of moving parts in his delivery, especially from the windup, which contributes to his fringe-average control and may force him to a relief role.