Top MLB Prospects In Each League for 2017
As a complement to our organization prospect rankings, Baseball America also ranks prospects in each minor league at the end of their seasons. Like the organization lists, they place more weight on potential than performance and should not be regarded as all-star teams.
Unlike the organization lists, which are from more of a scouting perspective, the minor league lists reflect the views of minor league managers, who give more weight to what a player does on the field now. We think both perspectives are useful, so we give you both, even though they don’t always match up. For a player to qualify for a league prospect list, he must have spent at least one-third of the season in a league.
Also unlike the organization lists, players can make the league lists even if they exhausted their rookie eligibility during the 2017 season.
Subscribers can click the league name to see scouting reports for all 20 ranked prospects. Chats are free for all readers.
2017 Appalachian League Top 20 Prospects
1. Kevin Maitan, SS, Danville (Braves) Age: 17. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
Maitan headlined the 2016 international signing class and was considered by some to be the best international amateur since Miguel Sano in 2009. The Venezuelan shortstop signed for $4.25 million with the Braves, who assigned Maitan to Danville after a brief tuneup in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Maitan scuffled in the early part of the season but as he got his feet under him, evaluators began to take notice of his switch-hitting ability and plus raw power. He flashes impressive hitting hands and keeps his swing under control when he’s in the zone. While his pitch recognition needs work, Maitan’s ability to make consistent hard contact should come to life with more repetitions. At peak, he could be a plus hitter with greater than plus power.
Maitan’s ultimate position is in question. He has gained mass rapidly at a young age and may outgrow shortstop. One manager described him as “barrel-bodied.” Despite notable athleticism and a plus arm, he faces a potential move to third base down the line.
2017 Arizona League Top 20 Prospects 1. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Wt: 6-3. Wt: 180. Drafted: HS—Whiteville, N.C., 2017 (1).
Gore started his career with a significant amount of hype after being selected third overall by the Padres and winning the BA High School Player of the Year. The North Carolina native lived up to the accolades with an outstanding pro debut, earning raves as one of the best pitching prospects in the AZL’s 30-year history.
Gore dominated AZL hitters, holding batters to a .184 average and striking out 34 in just over 21 innings. The 18-year-old southpaw showed a solid four-pitch mix and extreme athleticism which allows him to repeat what could be a high-maintenance delivery with his high leg kick. Gore has plus command of all of his pitches, notably a sneaky fastball that sits 92-96 mph with good plane. Both the cut-like slider and curveball project as plus pitches, and he has good feel for a changeup that tumbles on batters and causes them to swing through it.
“I'll be surprised if he spends a long time in the minor leagues,” manager Shaun Cole said. “He's so far advanced than most of the high school guys and even the college guys. He's a good one.”
2017 California League Top 20 Prospects
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lancaster (Rockies) | Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 180 Drafted: HS—Lake Mary, Fla., 2015 (1)
Rodgers turned heads when he hit .400 in the first half before being promoted to Double-A. He returned to Lancaster at the end of the year to get extra reps in the playoffs after missing nearly 40 games with a hand injury and a quad strain.
When healthy, Rodgers earned wide praise for his elite hand-eye coordination, approach, pitch recognition and ability to drive the ball to all fields. He stays balanced in the box and is quick and controlled with his hands, resulting in a smooth swing that looks easy but packs thump.
“The way he’s able to have that knack of taking a nice easy swing, even on 100 mph fastballs, just how easy his swing was . . . that’s something for me that really stood out,” Rancho Cucamonga manager Drew Saylor said.
Evaluators want to see Rodgers walk more but still regard him as a future plus hitter with enough power to impact a game. He hit .461 at home but also .308 with a .523 slugging percentage away from hitter-friendly Lancaster.
Rodgers lacks the optimal speed for shortstop but positions himself well, possesses sure hands and has a plus, accurate arm. He covers more ground than expected because of advanced instincts and projects to stick at the position.
2017 Carolina League Top 20 Prospects 1. Eloy Jimenez, OF, Myrtle Beach/Winston-Salem (Cubs/White Sox) Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013 (Cubs)
The prize of the four-player package that the Cubs used to pry Jose Quintana from the White Sox, Jimenez had an easy transition from organizations. Myrtle Beach and Winston-Salem were playing each other when the trade went down, so he and teammates Matt Rose and Bryant Flete simply grabbed their equipment and switched dugouts.
Jimenez’s carrying tool is obvious. He has easy plus-plus raw power and at least plus in-game power. But he’s no one-trick pony. Jimenez can hit the ball 400-plus feet, but he can also rip line drives to all fields and projects to hit for average in addition to power. His approach is beyond what evaluators would expect for a 20-year-old, and his 18.9 percent strikeout rate is low for a power hitter.
In the outfield, Jimenez is average at best and some see him as a tick below-average thanks to his below-average speed, but he should be fine in a corner.
2017 Eastern League Top 20 Prospects 1. Rafael Devers, 3B, Portland (Red Sox) Age: 20 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 195 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013
From the beginning of the EL season until the moment he left on July 15, Devers ranked among the very best prospects in the minors. His tools, especially offensively, were obviously impressive, but he also wowed managers with the ease with which he played.
Devers this season developed into an all-fields hitter, a departure from the days when teams had the lefthanded batter shifted heavily to his pull side. He hits a fastball as well as anyone—as demonstrated when he hit an opposite-field home run on a 104 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman in the big leagues— but didn’t show particular vulnerability to offspeed stuff, either. Devers projects as an above-average hitter with above-average or better power. He has improved defensively and should stick at third base with decent range as well as soft hands and an above-average arm. The Red Sox, who traded many high-profile prospects last winter, look wise for keeping Devers, a potential cornerstone player who sparked Boston’s offense in the second half.
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Florida State League Top 20 Prospects (No. 2 prospect Bo Bichette) 1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Dunedin (Blue Jays) Age: 18 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 200 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015
Guerrero came up to Dunedin after the all-star break and had 16 multi-hit games while dominating the league offensively, finishing with such a flourish that he passed teammate Bo Bichette for the minor league on-base percentage crown at .425.
Guerrero does it with stunning bat speed thanks to the fastest hands in the FSL, and scouts don’t shrink from grading him as a 70 hitter on the 20-80 scale. He belies his family name with plenty of patience at the plate, with more walks than strikeouts. His power rates lower than than his hitting ability at present, but he’s just 18, and scouts see plenty of home runs in his future. The biggest question about Guerrero is defense, where he lacks his father’s arm strength but has enough—earning above-average grades from some scouts—to stick at third base, at least in the short term.
“He’s solid there now,” one pro scout with an American League club said, “and I put him at third until he can’t do it anymore. But he doesn’t have a great body . . . I have reservations over how it will hold up at third. He has more than enough bat for first base though.”
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2017 Gulf Coast League Top 20 Prospects 1. Royce Lewis, SS, Twins Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 188. Drafted: HS—San Juan Capistrano, Calif., 2017 (1).
The Twins drafted Lewis with the top overall pick in June, then signed him for $6,725,000. He looked as advertised in his pro debut in the GCL before an August promotion to low Class A Cedar Rapids, where he will likely open the 2018 season.
Lewis has an exciting blend of top-shelf tools and instincts for the game. With a high waist and wide shoulders, Lewis has outstanding bat speed and plus raw power. He makes frequent contact with a mature hitting approach, driving the ball with authority to all fields. His sharp eye for the strike-zone should make him a high on-base threat to go with his power, and his plus-plus wheels make him a power-speed threat. There are questions about whether Lewis will stay at shortstop or fits better in center field. Lewis showed plus arm strength before the draft, though in the GCL he didn’t have the same zip behind his throws.
2017 International League Top 20 Prospects 1. Ronald Acuna, OF, Gwinnett (Braves) | Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 180 Signed: Venezuela, 2014
Acuna began the year in high Class A before pushing all the way to Gwinnett and getting better at every level. He has a mature hitting approach, tantalizing tools and all-star potential.
Acuna’s bat speed is elite, which will produce above-average power or better. He has excellent feel to hit and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. More power could come as Acuna continues to develop physically, with 30 home runs a possibility.
On top of that, Acuna is currently a plus-plus runner, though he needs to become a more efficient basestealer and improve his decision-making on throws. He has plus arm strength from center field, and evaluators have pegged him as an above-average to plus defender.
Midwest League Top 20 Prospects 1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Lansing (Blue Jays) Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
In a testament to Guerrero’s talent and aptitude, he exceeded expectations in his full-season debut. He ranked as the No. 1 international amateur in 2015, then as the top prospect in the Appalachian League in 2016 and, finally, as the No. 20 prospect in the game entering the 2017 season. He nearly led the minors in on-base percentage (.425).
Guerrero’s bat-to-ball skills are without peer. He doesn’t have his father’s gangly physique and long arms but still shows the ability to cover the plate. Thanks to his plus bat speed and the strength from his stocky build, Guerrero has at least plus power, with some scouts not shying from plus-plus grades on that tool. His hit tool is a plus weapon, at least the equal of his power. He has been compared with Edwin Encarnacion for his potential offensive impact.
On defense, Guerrero has average to tick above arm strength, enough to play third base, but his thickening body has scouts projecting a move to first base. He has the soft hands, athleticism and footwork to be an average defender there. His one lacking tool is running, where his consistent 4.45 run times leave him a below-average runner.
New York Penn League Top 20 Prospects 1. Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP, Hudson Valley (Rays) Age: 21. B-T:: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 212. Drafted: Louisville, 2017 (1).
The Rays were willing to let the most decorated amateur in Baseball America history pitch and hit, so they gave their first-round pick an unusual schedule. The former Louisville star pitched on Sunday, served as a DH on Monday and played first base on Tuesday. He then took Wednesday off for his pitching side session, spent another day as a DH on Thursday, played first on Friday and Saturday and pitched on Sunday.
Pitching once a week, McKay’s fastball was as firm as it was at his best at Louisville. He pitched at 92-95 mph, pounding the zone and mixing in an effective cutter, slider and changeup. He has a chance to have four average or better pitches and he has advanced feel for pitching.
At the plate, McKay was helpless against lefthanders (.107/.265/.107) but generally put together professional at-bats, showing a simple, effortless swing that generated plus power. His home runs were often no-doubters, including one off of a Jorge Guzman fastball. He was smooth around first base, even though because of his two-way status, he didn’t get as much time to work defensively as the normal first baseman.
2017 Northwest League Top 20 Prospects 1. Cole Ragans, LHP, Spokane (Rangers) Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Tallahassee, Fla., 2016 (1).
Drafted by the Rangers with last year’s 30th overall pick and Signed out of a Florida State commitment, Ragans excelled in his first full year in pro ball. The 19-year-old southpaw anchored Spokane’s rotation, going 3-2, 3.61 and striking out 87 to 35 walks in 57.1 innings. In a league strong on pitching, Ragans stood out.
“The swing-and-miss on his fastball is what impressed me,” said Matt Hagen, Ragans’ manager at Spokane. “It never got squared up that often.”
The 6-foot-4 lefthander typically works 90-93 mph with that fastball, touching the mid-90s. His fastball plays up due to a high spin rate and late action, which gives it the appearance of rising as it crosses the plate. Adding to the pitch’s effectiveness is Ragans’ delivery. Ragans closes off his front side, hiding the ball well and creating a tough angle—particularly when he pitches inside to righthanders.
While advanced for his age, Ragans still needs to refine his command and cut down on the amount of deep counts he works himself into. His 79-84 mph changeup is already graded as plus by some and forms a potent one-two punch with his fastball. However, his low-70s curveball could use tightening. The pitch has a soft, loopy shape and lacks the bite needed to put away hitters at higher levels. If he can develop his breaking ball into at least an average offering, Ragans has No. 2 or No. 3 starter potential.
2017 Pacific Coast League Top 20 Prospects 1. Amed Rosario, SS, Las Vegas (Mets) | Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 189 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012
Rosario already boasted some of the best tools among minor league shortstops, including terrific athleticism and the strongest throwing arm in the PCL. This season he added much more polish, paving the way to his Aug. 1 callup to the Mets.
The shortstop has great hands, plus range and high reliability. “One thing he learned this year was how to position himself,” Las Vegas manager Pedro Lopez said, “how to better learn swings and take control over the infield . . . Especially last year, some of the errors he made were staying back on balls and relying too much on his arm.”
Rosario’s approach at the plate also improved drastically. He established career highs with a .328 average and seven home runs. He also stole 19 bases with plus-plus speed. “He’s still aggressive,” Lopez said, “but he’s staying away from those marginal pitches and focusing on pitches he can drive.”
2017 Pioneer League Top 20 Prospects 1. Jo Adell, OF, Orem (Angels) Age: 18. B-T R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS—Louisville, 2017 (1).
After making his pro debut with 31 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League where he ranked as the second best prospect, Adell arrived in Orem on Aug. 17, getting into 18 games with the Owlz and giving them a late-season boost on their way to the playoffs.
Just like in the AZL, Adell was limited to DH duties because of a minor shoulder issue. He’s a five-tool athlete who receives multiple plus grades. He makes hard contact and has the strength and plus bat speed to drive balls, giving him a chance to hit for average in addition to showing plus power.
Adell is an impressive baserunner with plus speed, with scouts projecting that he’ll keep his speed even as he grows. While PL observers didn’t get to see him play the outfield, he’s expected to be capable of staying in center field, though his plus-plus arm could also play in right field.
It didn’t take long for Adell to make an impression with the Orem coaching staff. “He's made some adjustments and the ball comes off his bat like a grown man,” Orem manager Tom Nieto said, “and of course he runs like the wind . . . He’s something special.”
South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects 1. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Lakewood (Phillies) Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Signed:
Dominican Republic, 2015. The Phillies didn’t want to stretch Sanchez out too much in 2017. He was kept on a tight pitch limit while in Lakewood–he never topped 80 pitches and usually was held to between 65-75. But he still managed to go five or more innings nearly every time out because of how efficient he was.
Sanchez is the rare 18-year-old who combines exceptional stuff (95-100 mph fastball) and advanced control. His command in the zone continues to improve, but his ability to throw strikes is already above-average. Shorter pitchers (Sanchez is 6-foot) often have a problem with home runs because their fastball lacks plane. It’s not been an issue for Sanchez, as he’s allowed one home run in three pro seasons.
Sanchez’s curveball, slider and changeup all show flashes of being above-average pitches, but none of the trio is yet there. That’s about the biggest complaint anyone lodged against one of baseball’s best young pitching prospects. His combination of stuff and control makes him much more advanced than the average teenager.
2017 Southern League Top 20 Prospects 1. Ronald Acuna, OF, Mississippi (Braves) Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 180 Signed: Venezuela, 2014
Simply reaching Double-A would have been an accomplishment for Acuna, who missed three months with a broken thumb while at low Class A last year. Instead, the 19-year-old’s mature hitting approach earned him promotions to Double-A in May and Triple-A in July. All told, the high-energy center fielder batted .325/.374/.522 with 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases.
Acuna has superstar potential because all five of his tools grade as plus or better. His outstanding power to all fields made Mississippi’s spacious park look small, and when he stays short to the ball he can turn around velocity with ease. He will hit for a high average because he identifies pitches well and lines the ball gap to gap.
With his top-of-the-scale speed, Acuna is an excellent baserunner and prolific basestealer, albeit an inefficient one. He shines in center field with plus-plus range and arm strength as well as strong instincts.
2017 Texas League Top 20 Prospects 1. Walker Buehler, RHP, Tulsa (Dodgers) | Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 175 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2015 (1)
Before making his big league debut as a reliever in September, Buehler made successful stops at three different minor league levels in 2017, which included a 10-week stay at Tulsa. After recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and pitching just five innings in 2016, he threw 88.2 innings in the minors prior to his callup.
Buehler made 11 starts in the TL during his meteoric rise and pitched off a 95-99 mph fastball that jumps on hitters quickly. He also throws a plus slider and true north-to-south curveball to help rack up 11.8 strikeouts and just 2.8 walks per nine innings.
Having feel for an at least average changeup that’s especially effective against lefthanded hitters gives Buehler the full arsenal necessary to project as at least a No. 2 starter. The biggest questions he face regard his lean frame and thus questionable stamina and durability.