Opening Day in AAA Rochester

Red Wings logoWritten by Mark Firkins

While the calendar may say April, Winter obviously didn’t get the memo in the North East. Many home openers in the region were canceled, postponed, and will have to be made up later in the season. Temperatures dipped below freezing. Snow, ice, and tarps covered what were supposed to be manicured fields of green grass and groomed dirt infields. Like so many of my friends and fellow Western New Yorkers, I was aching to get outside, sit in the stands, enjoy some good ballpark food, and witness live baseball again.

Friday, April 6th was the scheduled home opener for the AAA Rochester Red Wings (Minnesota Twins). A few inches of slushy wet snow-covered Frontier Field. Opening day would be moved to Saturday, April 7th. Saturday brought light rain and temperatures in the mid 30’s, no way the field would be dry to play on by the 1:05 scheduled start. Sunday, April 8th would now be opening day. Sunday brought sunshine and mainly clear skies, unfortunately the temperature never got above freezing that day. A three game opening series against our I-90 rivals, the Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays) wiped out.

Monday, April 9th was now opening day! A new series with another I-90 rival, the Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals), would begin. Monday brought clear skies and low temperatures, the 6:05 game start temperature was a brisk 34 degrees, but baseball would be played that night.

I enjoyed most of the game from the comforts of the press box above home plate. As seen being played out in many other ballparks so far this spring, when the temperatures are that cold, hitting is a luxury. The crowd (announced at 3,286, but I’m guessing the actual number was closer to 500) was not treated to an offensive explosion, but to a classic Pitchers duel.

Rochester Opening DayThe Red Wings started Aaron Slegers, a 2013, 5th round pick by the Minnesota Twins. In 4 MiLB seasons in the Twins organization Slegers has posted a 43-29 record, 3.48 ERA, with 448 strike outs in 107 games. In 2017 he was the Red Wings Ace and showed his best minor league season, starting 24 games, going 15-4 with a 3.40 ERA. On a frosty night in Rochester, Slegers pounded the strike zone and worked 6 solid innings. He allowed 5 hits, walked and struck out 1 and allowed 1 ER. He worked ahead in the count almost all night, throwing first pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 batters he faced. An admirable effort on a bone chilling night.

Relief pitcher, Tyler Duffey entered in the 7th. Duffey was a 5th round pick of the Twins in 2012. He has spent the past few seasons with the big league club. In 2016 he started 26 games and posted a 9-12 record with a 6.43 ERA. 2017 saw him pitch out of the Twins bullpen, where he threw 71 innings of relief in 56 appearances, going 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA. While the Twins aren’t closing the door on Duffey returning as a starter, working in the bullpen as a multi inning reliever will probably be his quickest way back to the big leagues.

In his first relief appearance of 2018, Tyler Duffey was almost perfect. He tossed 3 innings, giving up 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 ER and 1 K, but took the loss. In the 9th inning, with one out, Syracuse SS, Adrian Sanchez hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to CF. The ball hit Rochester CF Zack Granite’s glove on the heel and popped out, resulting in a 3 base error. Second baseman Irving Falu hit a sacrifice fly to RF to score Sanchez. Rochester threatened in the bottom half of the 9th, but wasn’t able to respond. The Red Wings, after 3 days of delaying their home opener, lost 2-1 on brilliant starting and relief pitching.

This pitchers duel game went by quick and was played in 2 hours and 37 minutes. Thank goodness, as the temperature on the RF scoreboard showed 29 degrees at games end. I give credit to the few hundred die hard fans still left at the end of 9. Sooner or later, warmth will come to my corner of the world. Ski hats will be replaced by ball caps, scarves for shorts, pitchers will lose their advantage of cold bats and baseballs will fly again in the summer air.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check  out our collection of autographed photos on eBay!

Prospect Profile: Yonathon Daza – Colorado Rockies

daza960_tyywsk15_h9k34fkcWritten by Mark Nikolov Photo by MiLB.com

Yonathon Daza is a name that Colorado Rockies fans are becoming more and more familiar with. Last season in the California League, Daza was named a post-season All-Star after hitting .341 for the Lancaster JetHawks. He was also named MiLB.com organizational All-Star, not just for his spectacular play at the plate, but also for his leadership abilities that led the JetHawks to the Cal League Championships.

Since last season, Daza has not taken a break from baseball and the results are paying off. In 2017, he got an opportunity to showcase his talents in the Arizona Fall League. He performed well in the Fall League and had an even better showing in Major League Spring Training. In 16 game appearances, Yonathon was 8-21 at the plate with two doubles, a triple and two stolen bases. His K/BBs were identical at 1:1.

This season Daza will be playing for the Hartford Yard Goats along with other organizational top prospects such as Brendan Rodgers, Sam Hilliard, Brian Mundell, Peter Lambert and Garrett Hampson. If past performance is any indication of future success, the Yard Goats should have a good chance at winning the Eastern League this year. Aside from the guys mentioned above, Jesus Tinoco, Chris Rabago, Wes Rogers and Mylz Jones are some other talented players to keep eyes on.

You can expect more of the same results from Yonathon Daza in AA this season. Hartford is a tougher hitting environment than Lancaster, though that shouldn’t affect Daza all that much. The guy can flat out hit! You can expect him to bat over .300 again over the course of the season, with a good chance of capturing the Eastern League batting title like he did in California.

Be sure to follow @REALMcCOYMINORS on Twitter for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League team issued sets and autographed cards.

MiLB players to watch in 2018

McKenzieWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by MLB.com

Winter and the off-season is no more. The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are done playing. Spring training 2018 has come and gone. MLB and MiLB stadiums and fields have been prepared for the fans to enjoy again. Center Field by John Fogerty can be heard again. Baseball season,  IS –  FINALLY –  HERE.

As the 2018 season begins, I look back on the articles and players I have enjoyed researching and wrote about in the off-season. Here’s an update on their status. These up and coming players will start their seasons:

Mitch Garver – C (Minnesota Twins)

After an impressive season in AAA Rochester (International League), Mitch earned a call up to the big leagues last summer. He entered spring training as the solid choice to and will back up Twins established catcher, Jason Castro in 2018. Look for Mitch to take over catching duties when the Twins face an opposing lefty. The Twins are expected to adjust their line up against lefties, and spelling the left-handed hitting Castro follows the Twins logic.

Sam Perez – P (Miami Marlins)

2017 was a tale of two seasons for Perez. In 17 games for the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Carolina League), Sam posted a 2-1 record, 6.21 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and pitched out of the bullpen. He was assigned to the Batavia Muckdogs (NY PENN League) in June, started 14 games, went 4-2, with a 2.21 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and struck out 53 batters. How the Marlins will use Perez in 2018 is a mystery. Some Marlins officials project him as a high leverage pitcher with a good fastball, curve and change-up and suited for the 6th and 7th innings. Others describe him as a durable starter who eats innings, keeps the ball in the park, and will give a solid start every 5th day. Sam will start the season for Batavia in June where we will find out if he’s on the mound at the start of the game or get called out of the bullpen for relief.

Thomas Jones – OF (Miami Marlins)

The Marlins #26 prospect will stay in extended spring training and play for the Batavia Muckdogs (NY PENN League) when their season begins in mid June. Jones is arguably one of the best athletes in the Marlins system. He’s a speedy OF who played the majority of his games in CF last season in Batavia, but with his strong and accurate arm can also play the corners. With a year of NY PENN League experience behind him, expect Jones to improve on the offensive side. Jones has a good eye, takes walks, and can swipe bases. Time at the top of the order will probably be seen. He has a quick and level swing and Marlins scouts feel power should develop as Jones matures.

Kyle Nelson – RP (Cleveland Indians) 

Hard throwing Lefty relief pitcher Kyle Nelson will see more action in 2018 as he will be assigned to the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). Nelson is a guy who gets players out from both sides of the plate equally. With a blazing, spinning fastball and excellent off speed slider, Kyle isn’t just a lefty specialist, he is guy you call on to get outs in tough situations and get them out quickly. Dare I say that Kyle Nelson reminds me of another high-profile, Lefty relief pitcher, employed by the Indians, Andrew Miller.

Nolan Jones – 3B (Cleveland Indians) 

Currently the Indians #4 prospect, Nolan will look to continue his impressive batting with the Lake County Captains (Midwest League) in 2018. Captains manager, Luke Carlin, will be patient with Nolan and no doubt help him to improve his defensive skills at the hot corner, as this is only his second season at 3B. A full season of baseball in Lake County will give Nolan plenty of extra at bats and chances in the field to showcase his skills.

Logan Ice – C (Cleveland Indians) 

Logan will move up another level this year and play for the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). A true defensive catcher, excellent at blocking balls, has a strong and accurate arm, and who pitchers trust and respect calling their games. At the plate, look more at Ice’s OBP than AVG. He’s got a little pop in his bat and can find the wall and gaps, but equally important, is smart enough to take walks and just get on base. Logan has caught for some of the Indians top pitching prospects in his short MiLB career. Playing in the High A Carolina League will get him even more of these opportunities. Logan Ice is the Indians #21 prospect.

Tristan McKenzie – P (Cleveland Indians)

Currently the #2 prospect in the Indians system, the potential is real for Tristan McKenzie to develop into a frontline MLB starter. The 2017 Carolina League Pitcher of the Year winner started 25 games for the Lynchburg Hillcats. He posted a 12-6 record, 3.46 ERA, kept opposing batters to a .203 AVG and struck out 186 batters in 143 innings. The Indians will place McKenzie at Lynchburg to start the 2018 season, but should he continue to meet the Indians expectations, a placement to challenge him further at AA Akron (Eastern League) could be in order.

Matt Foley – C (NY Mets) 

The little engine that won’t quit, Matt Foley, vowed to return to spring training with the Mets organization with a work ethic and determination to advance his career. Playing mostly in the Gulf Coast League the past three seasons, Matt will stay in extended spring training and report to the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY PENN League when play begins in June. Matt looks to build on his 2017 season where he batted .290 and proved he is a defensive gem behind the plate. Look for this 40th round pick (2015 – Marlins) to give you 100% effort, 100% of the time, and surprise you at the ballpark with his natural abilities.

Royce Lewis – SS (Minnesota Twins) 

The Twins #1 prospect will begin his 2018 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League). Lewis earned a promotion to Cedar Rapids in August last season and proved he belonged. In 18 games he batted .296, scored 16 runs, and blasted his one Midwest League HR in his first game. Look for Royce to continue hitting for good average and driving the balls to the gaps for extra bases. Derek Jeter is who he inspires to be. Lewis has a good work ethic and aspires to improve his defense and replicate his hero. There’s no doubt that Lewis will be an exciting and fun player to keep an eye on this season.

Nick Gordon – SS/2B (Minnesota Twins) 

The Minnesota Twins #1 pick in 2014 and current #4 Twins prospect will begin his 2018 season with the Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). In 2017 for AA Chattanooga, Nick batted .270, with 9 HR’s, 29 doubles, and 66 RBI’s. A SS through most of his career, Nick will be shifted over to 2B for the majority of his playing time this season. Nick is a very quick infielder with excellent range and a good throwing arm. With Brian Dozier the Twins current 2B, expecting to become a free agent after this season, the shift to 2B for Gordon could be his path to the big leagues.

Emmanuel Tapia – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

Last year’s Midwest League Masher, “Manny” Tapia will move up another level to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). Manny led the Midwest League in home runs (29) and RBI’s (71) last season. A powerful, Dominican player who can definitely not just hit for power but also average. Look for Manny to improve his pitch recognition, lay off out of the zone pitches, and take some walks. Still somewhat new to 1B, Manny is a hard worker who will take any extra fielding practice he can get and wants to improve all facets of his game.

Ulysses Cantu – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

Strong and athletic are the two perfect words to describe Cantu who will advance to the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). There’s no doubt Cantu has all the tools of a good, professional hitter. He sees the ball well from the pitcher, recognizes pitches, and rarely gets fooled. Where he’ll play on the field in 2018 is a little bit of a mystery. A catcher by trade, who can play 3B but due to all of the Indians prospects there, was shifted to 1B. A 6 foot, righty, first baseman doesn’t translate well. If Cantu’s bat can do the talking, a position will be found for him.

Austin Wynns – C (Baltimore Orioles) 

Austin was assigned to the Norfolk Tides (International League) on March 25th and will begin his first full season at the AAA level. The textbook definition of a catcher; a career .994 FPCT, throws out would be stealers, calls an excellent game, handles his pitchers with respect, and is a natural leader on the field and clubhouse. A decent hitter, who is smart at the plate, structured and disciplined, and gets the job done. Placed on the 40 man roster by the Orioles to protect him from the November rule 5 draft, Austin should be the 1st catcher called up to the O’s should something happen to Caleb Joseph or Chance Sisco.

Chance Sisco – C (Baltimore Orioles)

The Orioles top prospect is ready for the majors. All he has done at every level in the minors is hit for high average, drive in runs, hit doubles, and get on base. In his first full spring training with the big league club, Chance did nothing but impress. He batted to the tune of .429, with 2 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in 35 AB. Look for him to learn the craft of being a solid defensive backstop from veteran catcher Caleb Joseph and ex MLB catcher (now Coach) Einar Diaz.

Alex Murphy – C (Baltimore Orioles)

Drafted as a catcher in 2013, The Orioles asked Alex to learn and play some first base in 2016 and 2017. He did just that and will now call that home for the Frederick Keys (Carolina League) to start the 2018 season. Murphy is just fine with that, “anyway to get to the big leagues” is his attitude. Murphy is a strong right-handed batter with power to all fields. Since learning first base, Murphy has seen a spike in his home runs, bashing 27 of his 35 in 2016/17. With the Orioles thin on first base prospects this may be the perfect opportunity for Murphy and his attitude to succeed.

Will Benson – OF (Cleveland Indians) 

1st round pick in 2016 and current #7 Indians prospect, Will Benson will play a full season of baseball for the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). Benson lead the NY PENN League in home runs last season and will look to build his offensive capabilities at the next level. Benson has all of the tools you need in an OF, speed, strong arm, alertness, and agility. Benson played most of his games in RF last year but can and probably will learn to play all three OF positions this year.

Conner Capel – OF (Cleveland Indians) 

Capel moves up another level of baseball this season and is assigned to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). Conner brings a little bit of everything to his game; good arm strength and can play all three OF spots equally well, has speed and can steal bases, at the plate features a smooth left-handed swing, good batter’s eye, and decent power (22 HR’s & 61 RBI’s in 2017). Currently ranked #12 on the Indians prospect list, watch for Conner to continue his success and development in the Carolina League in 2018.

Mitch Longo – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Mitch pummeled his way through the Midwest League’s pitchers last season showing a slashline of .361/.431/.530  – He covers the entire plate and strike zone with his swing and places the ball in all parts of the field. Mitch has excellent speed and stole 20 of 21 bases. Longo’s speed and arm strength make him a natural fit for RF, where he played all of his games defensively last season. Mitch earned a late season call up to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League), impressed in his short stint there, and will be assigned to for the 2018 season. Mitch ranks #27 on the Indians prospect list.

Zack Littell – P (Minnesota Twins) 

Zack Littell will begin his second season in the Twins organization with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). Zack has done nothing but impress in his short time in AA baseball. He has gone 19-1, with a 2.21 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He is a RHP with excellent command, rarely gives up a walk, and has finesse. His pitch arsenal features a cut fastball, flashy curveball, and deceptive change-up. Zack gets ahead early in the count, mixes his pitches well and produces a lot of ground ball outs. Zack Littell is currently the #15 prospect in the Twins system.

LaMonte Wade – OF (Minnesota Twins) 

Wade will begin another season with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). Since being drafted in the 9th round in 2015, Wade has performed above average at every level he’s played. Through three MiLB seasons, Wade shows a .295 AVG, .404 OBP, 24 home runs, and has stolen 27 bases in 34 attempts. Wade’s alertness and speed has played him defensively mostly in CF and LF. Launch angle and leverage are key buzz words you’re hearing from successful MLB batters lately. The Twins want to teach those mechanics to Wade and see the results turn into more power and HR’s. LaMonte Wade currently places #13 in the Twins prospects rankings.

Jim Curtis – RP (Minnesota Twins)

Curtis will look to build on the success he had at AAA Rochester (International League) last season and start the year there. The Twins brought in some quality veteran arms in Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Fernando Rodney to replace retired closer Glen Perkins and traded away reliever Brandon Kinztler. If Curtis produces similar results at AAA like he did last year, there’s no doubt that his services will be one of the first called upon, should the Twins bullpen need some help. Curtis currently is ranked as the #21 prospect in the Twins farm system.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster and check out our eBay store for autographed Minor League Baseball cards and team sets. Thanks!

Firkins

Spring Time in AAA Rochester

Rochester-Red-WingsWritten by Mark Firkins Photos by MiLB.com

“Baseball, it happens every Spring.” I’ve seen that phrase on posters, social media posts, and captioned on photographs with beautiful blue sky, green grass, and Rawlings baseballs lying lazily somewhere near a base line of a freshly prepared spring training field. To me, that phrase means a little bit more. Living in Western New York, near the shore of Lake Ontario, winter hangs around a little longer. We get teased by some mild weather days in March, only to be brought back to reality by a fresh round of snow and ice the next few days. Then the process repeats, sometimes until April (even May, don’t laugh, I have experienced snow on Mother’s Day).

Like a lot of baseball fans, I stare at the calendar and count down the days until opening day of baseball season. I live for that opportunity to sit outside and watch live baseball again. For me, that day comes around the first weekend in April. That’s when my hometown Minor League team, the Rochester Red Wings begins play. As stated, Rochester weather in April can be fickle. I’ve been to opening day in my winter gear and sat through snowflakes. I’ve gotten sunburn in shorts and T-shirts on those rare summer-like days. I’ve been to a game in every type of weather in between. The Red Wings have an excellent opening day promotion, their 50 degree guarantee. If the opening pitch temperature is under 50 degrees, your ticket is good for a free admission to any other game in April or May. I have received that “free” ticket offer at a 90% rate.

The Red Wings are the AAA affiliate (International League) of the Minnesota Twins, one step away from Major League Baseball. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a lot of great Twins prospects and MLB stars. Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, and Byron Buxton are some of the more notable alumni of the Red Wings.

The Minnesota Twins do an admirable job of drafting and developing their players. They are also very wily on recognizing players put on waivers from other organizations, claiming them, and unearthing their success. While I’m excited to see the entire team in action soon, I am especially intrigued to see the following players in a Red Wings uniform.

John Curtiss – Relief Pitcher

John CurtissWith his tall 6′ 4′ frame, downward angle, and fastball that ranges 95-98 mph, it’s clear that the back-end of the bullpen is where Curtiss’ future lies. He has also developed a slider that’s a true out pitch that misses bats. In 2017 Curtiss spent time in AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester. In 49 innings pitched he posted a 2-0 record, 1.28 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, kept opposing batters to a minuscule .135 AVG, and converted 19 of 20 save opportunities.

The Twins added some quality veteran arms to their bullpen for the 2018 season (Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke) which will allow Curtiss to experience a full season at AAA and/or get ready for his call to Minnesota. It wouldn’t be any surprise if John Curtiss one day is the Twins valuable set up man or even closer.

LaMonte Wade – OF

LaMonte WadeWhen a 9th round pick continually performs at every level he’s assigned to, you have to take notice and start believing that this player is legit. Drafted in 2015, Wade has played his way up the Twins Minor League ladder. In 3 seasons of minor league ball, Wade has posted a .295 AVG, with 44 doubles, 12 triples, 24 home runs, and walks more than he strikes out. He has good bat speed that translates into a high average.

The Twins want to teach Wade to leverage the ball more, add a little extra power and some home runs. He has decent speed and can play all three outfield spots. LaMonte Wade could be that surprising player who can become an everyday guy; best suited for left field or be a solid, productive fourth or platoon outfielder.

Zack Littell – Starting Pitcher

Zack LittellZack Littell is the type of pitcher that maybe you call “in demand”. He’s been traded twice, first from his original team the Mariners, then to the Yankees after the 2016 season. The Yankees then traded him to the Twins for Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline in 2017.

Littell features an average fastball in the low 90’s. He also throws a flashy curveball as his secondary pitch and has developed a quality change up for a third offering. Zack’s success is largely due to his ability to get ahead early in the count and show good command. He mixes his pitches well and produces a lot of ground balls.

The past two seasons Littell has pitched extremely well at the AA level. In 2017 he posted an outstanding 19-1 record, 2.12 ERA, and 1.12 WHIP. Littell rarely gives free passes as shown by his 2.2 walks per nine innings ratio thus far in his minor league career. The Twins are no doubt excited to have Littell in their system for a full season and knocking on their big league door someday soon.

Frontier Field will soon be open. The sights, sounds, and smells of the ballpark will fill the air. Baseball will be played at 1 Morrie Silver Way and Spring in Rochester will officially begin.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographs. Thanks!

Dynasty Baseball Deep League Gems

MLBpipelineWritten by Matthew Gille  Photo by MLBpipeline.com

I joined a deep fantasy baseball league five years ago and really had no clue where to start with my research. I’ve made moronic mistakes (drafted Luis Sardinas first overall in my initial minor league draft) and monumentally stupid trades, but I can now say that I know a few things about deep league fantasy baseball.

Each squad in our league is slotted a maximum of 200 minor league players. Currently, we are embarking on a 20 round minor league draft. Players eligible in the minor league draft include available minor league players and international free agent signings. Last fall we completed our 20 round “First Year Player Draft” which consisted of high school and college players drafted and signed through the MLB draft. As you may see, the depth of research for the league is not shallow. The following are results from the first round:

  1. Shohei Ohtani – RHP/DH, LAA

Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement in baseball, international free agents must now sign a minor league deal before signing a major league deal. Ohtani falls into that category and the Angels of Anaheim got a steal when they signed Ohtani. Sure, there are many question marks (adjustment to MLB from JPPL, ankle injury, two-way player status, etc.), but when you can sign a two-way player with the skill-set of Ohtani, one must jump.

  1. Luis Robert – CF, CWS

It did not take long for Robert to get started as he tore up the Dominican Summer League to the tune of a .310/.491/.536/1.027 slash line over 82 at-bats. He also added 3 home runs and 12 stolen bases while maintaining an excellent K/BB rate. Robert is a special talent with a rare blend of power and speed. Robert will be given ample time to adjust to life as a baseball player (first full year in America), which will give White Sox fans tantalizing thoughts of Robert roaming center field of the future with Eloy Jimenez in right.

  1. Wander Franco – SS, TB

Ranked number one on MLB Pipeline’s top-thirty international signings list, Wander Samuel Franco signed with Tampa Bay for a cool $3.85 million. The switch-hitting shortstop has “flashy” skills and good speed to combine with baseball bloodlines (older brothers also named “Wander” in Royals and Astros organizations) and pedigree (nephew of Erick Aybar). Franco is a complete player, but very young and it will most likely be five years before he sniffs the bigs.

  1. Everson Pereira – CF, NYY

The Yankees were the favorites to land Pereira, a true center field prospect, and signed him to a $1.5 million signing bonus. A teenager from Venezuela, Pereira is ranked as the fourth best international free agent by both Ben Badler from Baseball America and MLB.com. Badler stated that Pereira’s calling card will be his speed, but defense and a strong arm also highly regarded. Pereira’s short swing also has attributes of future power possibilities.

  1. Brusdar Graterol – RHP, MIN

Our league is Minnesota-based, so Twins often become a hot commodity. The weather in Minnesota is often prohibitive to outdoor activity, so deep league fantasy baseball research is not as guilt-ridden for Minnesotans when the weather is beautiful elsewhere. Guiltless research helped me find Graterol, the true definition of a sleeper. His status as a Tommy John-surgery survivor unfairly shrouds the talent beneath the fear of the two letters, T and J. Graterol took his rehabilitation seriously, gained 60 pounds of muscle and parlayed that into a career 10.9 SO9 rate and top-of-the-rotation future possibility. I’m all-in on Graterol.

  1. George Valera – RF, CLE

Scouts seem to differ a bit regarding the right field-destined teenager from the Dominican Republic. Valera has a drool-inducing left-handed swing in which “the powers that be” are seemingly wetting their pants over. Signed for a $1.3 million bonus in July of 2017, Valera is projected to hit for average and produce a strong on-base percentage. The only real knocks on Valera are that his defense most likely relegates him to a corner outfield spot and he lacks impact speed.

  1. Julio Rodriguez – RF, SEA

I’m not a huge fan of drafting players from the Seattle Mariners farm system, but talent can override derisive thoughts connected to system loathing (i.e. Sam Carlson – RHP). Although I’m not a Mariners system guy, I am a fan of Julio Rodriguez’s skill-set. Signed for $1.75 million out of Venezuela, Rodriguez boasts prodigious power, a patient approach and ability to spray the ball to all fields. Limited to a possible future corner outfield spot, Rodriguez’s bat must play at all levels.

  1. Kristian Robinson – CF. ARI

The only real negatives that I can find regarding Robinson are his youth (probably won’t see majors until 2023) and the lack of quality pitching he faced in the Bahamas. Otherwise, Robinson has the tools to be the most impactful signing from the 2017 international signings group. Robinson has great size, which has not diminished his ability to use his wheels around the diamond. Robinson might, eventually, move to a corner outfield spot and his speed may decrease as he adds weight. Added weight plays into plus power potential that many scouts suggest Robinson possesses.

  1. Lolo Sanchez – CF, PIT

Lolo Sanchez is another sleeper with promising upside. Sanchez put up some impressive numbers in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 (.284/.359/.417/.776) and shouted “Hola! Mi llamo Lolo!” to scouts everywhere and nerdy deep leaguers like myself. Sanchez is ranked tenth in Pittsburgh’s farm system top twenty by John Sickels at Minor League Ball and 21st by Ryan James at Prospects1500 Top 50. Sanchez is the possible CF of the future in Pittsburgh. Speed and defense paired with power potential makes this 18-year old intriguing.

  1. Raimfer Salinas – CF, NYY

The Brochachos (favorite team name in our league) selected Venezuelan free agent Raimfer Salinas in the ten spot. Salinas is ranked the 10th best international free agent by Baseball America and 6th best at MLB.com. Salinas’ plus arm and good defense with 5-tool upside is worth the roulette wheel spin gamble in selecting the youngster. Salinas has also shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields with some home run potential.

  1. Adbert Alzolay – RHP, CHC

The 23-year old Alzolay had a breakout 2017 that propelled him to the top of the Cubs farm system rankings in many lists. Originally signed out of Venezuela in 2012, Alzolay has great fastball velocity and routinely hits 95 mph on the radar gun. John Sickels grades Alzolay to have a mid-rotation ceiling. Alzolay’s arsenal needs refinement, but he is ripe for a 2019 call to the majors if he can repeat his 2017 success.

  1. Ronny Mauricio – SS, NYM

Mauricio signed with the New York Metropolitans for $2.1 million. The soon to be 17-year old Dominican Republic native hits well from both sides of the plate, hits to contact and projects to hit for average. Mauricio is ranked 10th in MLB Pipeline’s top 30 international free agent ranking and third at Baseball America. Like any other player drafted at his age, Mauricio is a project, albeit with the tools to become an outstanding player at the premium position of shortstop.

Follow Matthew Gille on Twitter @MatthewGGille for more fantasy baseball news and updates. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos.

TOP 50 DYNASTY BASEBALL PROSPECTS

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Written by Ben Wilson and Mark Nikolov

Pick 1 (Mark) Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels

OhtaniIf you have the chance to get Ohtani in a weekly league that will reward you for both his pitching and hitting stats, you MUST draft him. The numbers that he could put up are potentially massive. He’s already flashed ace stuff in Spring training, with a fastball that hits between 92-97 mph. If he stays healthy and manages to get everyday at-bats in the Angels lineup, he might score more fantasy points than Mike Trout.

Pick 2 (Mark) Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves

Acuna Jr.Acuna is an absolute phenom. At only 19 years of age, he has excelled at every level of the minors. He was named 2017 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America and MVP of the Arizona Fall league. Recently, he’s been tearing the cover off of the ball in Spring Training. If he doesn’t start off the season in Atlanta, he’ll get his big league call sooner than later.

Pick 3 (Ben) Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals

img451Victor Robles is an impressive ballplayer. An athletic outfielder with elite speed, Robles has the makings of an true fantasy star. Robles’ ability on the field is special, but what sets him apart are his leadership skills and intangibles to help a ballclub win games. If he adds more game power into his already formidable offensive profile, look out!

Pick 4 (Ben) Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago White Sox

Eloy Light Tower PowerLight-tower power is an accurate description of this big time baseball talent. Jimenez is one of the premier power bats in all of the minor leagues, but he is also a well-rounded hitter with strong on-base ability. He played very well in 2017 after being traded from the Cubs and has a chance to blossom into one of MLB’s elite, middle of the order run producers.

Pick 5 (Mark) Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

2016 Bluefield Jays Rookie Ball - V Jr. 1st MiLB team setVlad Jr. has the most advanced hitting approach of any teenager on the planet. He should continue to hit for average and power in 2018 and beyond that. His plate discipline is unreal: 76/62 BB to K ratio in 2017. Once He gets called up to Toronto he will have the benefit of playing in a launching pad ballpark. May not stick at third base in the bigs but will still be a very valuable fantasy asset nonetheless. Roster him now and reap the benefits in 2019.

Pick 6 (Mark) Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros

img571A left handed hitter with all five tools. Power is underrated. Will be playing in what could be the best lineup in baseball. Tucker didn’t tear up the Arizona Fall League (only hit .213) but he didn’t need to. The AFL is not meant to be super competitive. It’s simply a prospect league where MiLB players go to get more exposure and work on maybe one particular aspect of their game. His true potential has become apparent in spring training, where he has hit extremely well against major league pitching.

Pick 7 (Ben) Gleyber Torres, 2B/3B, New York Yankees

2016 Myrtle Beach Pelicans - Gleyber TorresMany people had Torres ranked in the top two before he succumbed to Tommy John surgery last June. Torres could very soon be the next great Baby Bomber to grace The Bronx. With the recent trade of Starlin Castro for Giancarlo Stanton, Torres may break into the majors as a middle infielder. His versatility will ensure that his talented right handed bat finds its way into the Yankee lineup for years to come.

Pick 8 (Ben) Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Senzel MugThe 2016 number two overall pick, Nick Senzel, could make a swift MLB impact similar to that of 2015 second overall pick, Alex Bregman. Senzel radiates talent and baseball acumen, has a knack for hard contact and on-base skills, and is an adept baserunner. With the announcement that the Reds will increase his positional versatility, Senzel may make himself a tremendously valuable asset in dynasty leagues, similar to a Kris Bryant.

Pick 9 (Mark) Brendan Rodgers, SS, Colorado Rockies

2015 Brendan Rodgers Bowman Chrome ASIA Black RefRodgers was the most talented offensive player in the California League in 2017. He has an aggressive approach at the plate (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a young hitter) but needs to develop a bit more patience. Started 2017 on the DL with a wrist injury. Should be able to rake in Coors Field if he stays healthy. Draft him with confidence in your dynasty league(s).

Pick 10 (Mark) Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres

img587Petco Park, or as some call it “the Grand Canyon”, is anything but a hitter friendly ballpark. Nevertheless,Tatis Jr. has tremendous upside after putting up excellent numbers in 2017. He hit .278 with a .379 OBP, 22 HR and 32 SB. Also, the Padres farm system is loaded right now. So he should be surrounded by some serious talent for years to come. This should equate to more at bats, more runs, more RBIs and more stolen bases. At only 18 years of age, the sky’s the limit for Tatis.

Pick 11 (Ben) Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto Blue Jays

2017 Lansing Bo BichetteBichette slashed a mighty impressive .362/.423/.565 between Low A and Advanced A in 2017. He also compiled a staggering 59 extra base hits in 110 minor league games between A and High A. While his offensive results this past season are undeniable, Bichette’s only questions are how he will handle higher level pitching and what will be his ultimate defensive home?

Pick 12 (Ben) Willie Calhoun, OF, Texas Rangers

img513Calhoun has proven himself as a true high-average and power threat, while limiting strikeouts across the highest levels of minor league competition. He popped 32 HR between the Dodgers and Rangers AAA affiliates, as well as securing his first big league HR this past season. While he was traded from the Dodgers for Yu Darvish at the deadline, the deal may go down as “The Calhoun Trade” when all is said and done.

Pick 13 (Mark) Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox

KopechKopech is a fast ball pitcher with a lot of upside but he also comes with a lot of risk. He’s had some issues with self discipline in the past (broke his hand punching a water cooler in A ball). There’s also the possibility of Tommy John with the kind of high velocity he throws with. The reward probably outweighs the risk at this point but you never really know with starting pitchers. Pick him up if he slips in your draft or let someone else take the risk.

Pick 14 (Ben) Francisco Mejia, C/3B, Cleveland Indians

img195Mejia is on my short list of prospects that I would build an IRL team around, though Mejia is certainly profiling as a heck of a dynasty player too. A switch hitter, with a cannon for an arm, Mejia has the makings of a perennial All-Star who will contend for numerous batting titles. Once he gets some more polish at 3B to start next season (where he got his feet wet at the hot corner during the AFL), Mejia will transition seamlessly into the big league lineup starting in mid-2018 as both a 3B and dynamite catcher. If the Indians do decide to move him permanently from behind the plate due to his offensive talents, let’s hope his career of other catching converts has more of a Josh Donaldson trajectory, than say, a Pablo Sandoval one (although, early career Panda, especially in the postseason, is not a bad place to be).

Pick 15 (Ben) Royce Lewis, SS/OF, Minnesota Twins

668904Lewis had a fantastic debut season after claiming the top overall draft spot in the 2017 draft. Given his exceptional athleticism, hit and on-base profile, and base-stealing prowess, Lewis has the chance to be a high impact bat as either a SS or CF at the big league level. With a patient approach, and eye-popping hit tool, the power should continue to develop as he adds strength to his projectable frame. To top it off, his amiable personality makes it easy to see that he can be the face of the Twins a few summers from now. To read more on Royce Lewis, check out Mark’s article of the young star from earlier this off-season, published on this site.

Pick 16 (Mark) Ryan McMahon, IF, Colorado Rockies

img577McMahon was one of the best hitters in the minor leagues in 2017. Between AA Hartford and AAA Albuquerque, he hit .355 with a .403 OBP, 20 HR and 11 SB. He’ll be the starter at first base for the Rox at some point in 2018. Get him on your team before this happens! Coors Field has always been a hitter’s haven and Colorado has one the best run producing lineups in baseball. What more do you need to be convinced of McMahon’s future potential? Ralph Lifshitz @ProspectJesus is calling him a dark horse candidate for NL Rookie of the Year. P.S. – word has it that Ralph will be dropping a top 200 prospect list soon!

Pick 17 (Mark) Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles

Austin HaysNo other player accelerated through the minors with the same amount of success as Hays did last year (with the exception of Ronald Acuna). He should continue to hit for power and average at the major league level. He’ll also benefit from playing in one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball and in a lineup that can produce a lot of runs. He’s not a five tool guy but he does have a bit of speed. Hays and Willie Calhoun could be competing for AL Rookie of the Year.

Pick 18 (Ben) Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins

Lewis BrinsonA tall, lean athlete, Brinson boasts one of the most impressive set of tools in the minor leagues and could be a serious power-speed threat with some more seasoning. While the short 2017 MLB debut was uninspiring, Brinson has a bright future in Miami and as a potential future building block in dynasty leagues. A clear path to MLB playing time this year with the Marlins boosts his ranking.

Pick 19 (Ben) Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Alex ReyesLike Torres, Reyes was a surefire top prospect before yielding to Tommy John surgery. Of course as a pitcher, Reyes presents us with a bit more pause, but before the injury there was sure a lot to be excited about. Boasting filthy stuff and three dynamite offerings, Reyes has the chance to be a top of the rotation force after regaining his form post-surgery. As an added bonus, the Cardinals organization has a good track record of developing pitching, which helps make Reyes a worthwhile investment to build a pitching staff. Given the volatility of pitching prospect outcomes, Reyes possesses as dynamic talent as any that will play an important big league role in the future.

Pick 20 (Ben) Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

WalkerWith the strength of the Dodgers minor league system, it is a testament to the kind of talent that Buehler possesses in his right arm that he tops their organizational prospect lists. Buehler has big K stuff, and the ability to flat-out dominate on the mound. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Buehler soared through the minors this past year (A+ to the MLB) by piling up 125 K against 31 BB in 88.2 IP. Like the Cardinals, the Dodgers have a track record of developing impact pitchers, and Buehler looks like a special arm. The Dodgers dream that he can be the #2 behind Clayton Kershaw, and at the very least, he will be an electric high-leverage reliever. It may take some time to crack the Dodgers rotation; but once he does, the NL will have their hands full.

Pick 21 (Mark) Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies

Scott KingeryFive tool second basemen are pretty hard to come by and Kingery has shown all five tools at the highest level of the minor leagues. The Phillies are high on this guy and you should be too. Cesar Hernandez is a great second baseman but there are injury concerns with him. If Hernandez goes down and Kingery is given the opportunity to shine in 2018, he might run with it. Playing in the same lineup as Rhys Hoskins makes his stock even more appealing. Dan O’Dowd from MLB Network compares him to Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins.

Pick 22 (Ben) Taylor Trammell, OF, Cincinnati Reds

TrammellI feel like one of the most common questions this season in dynasty was, “who will be the next Ronald Acuna?” As Mark accurately called Acuna a phenom, the question really means to address which young, athletic outfielder possesses the offensive tools to fly up rankings and project as a five category contributor in fantasy circles in the future? Trammell is as good a bet as Florial, Jones, and Sanchez (all appear below) to be in that discussion. Given Trammell’s 15 HR potential and high 2B, 3B, and SB profile, the comp I hear most with Trammell for offensive output is Starling Marte, which is a great outcome to hang your hat on developing an OF 1-2 profile. If for some reason Trammell is not owned in your league, you should snatch him up immediately. An incredible athlete, Taylor will be a fun player to watch terrorize the minor leagues, and soon enough, the NL central.

Pick 23 (Mark) Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston Astros

img730Whitley has, arguably, the highest ceiling of any pitcher on this list. After making the jump to Double-A at the age of 19, he’s already received comparisons to Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. He would’ve made our top 10 if he hadn’t failed a recent drug test. There is concern that the MLB will keep going after him. The league tends to target guys when they smell blood. Again, as with Kopech, the risk is high but the reward could be much higher.

Pick 24 (Mark) Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

Willy AdamesAdames got off to a slow start in Durham last season but he finished off strong. In over 500 AAA at bats he hit .277 with a .360 OPB, though he did strike out a lot. He has above average power potential with decent speed as well. His batting average has gone up consistently every year in the minors since 2013. Tropicana Field, however, is not a hitter friendly ballpark. Willy will have to continue to improve on his bat to ball skills at the MLB level. His best tool is his defense, which is plus plus. This should give him the opportunity to play as the Ray’s starting shortstop on opening day.

Pick 25 (Mark) Miguel Andujar, 3B, New York Yankees

Miguel AndujarJohn Sickels @MinorLeagueBall has speculated that Andujar might not have the defensive skill set to stick at third base. However, the way he’s been raking this spring, I don’t see how the Yankees can keep him out of their everyday lineup. Even with the recent acquisition of Brandon Drury, Andujar’s spectacular offensive profile is just too good to leave on the bench. Look for him to be a mainstay in the Yankees lineup, whether it be at 3B, 1B or DH.

Pick 26 (Ben) Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals

img464Hailed as the “Dominican Bryce Harper,” the sweet-swinging lefty sure has some thunder in his teenage bat. As a side note, part of the exercise of digesting such grand statement around prospects is seeing what is actually real: with Soto, the Nationals believe they have a guy here with a ceiling at least that of Victor Robles, if not quite Harper. If not for two injuries (hamate bone and ankle), Soto would have logged some more developmental innings. But with that, comes this relatively conservative ranking for Soto: injury free, there’s no reason to believe the numbers wouldn’t have put him in the top 15, and a little more noise around his name to boot. Speaking of Harper, if he leaves the nation’s capital for “greener pa$ture$” (aka zillionaire land), Soto has all of the talent to become an impact bat in his stead, albeit probably not quite a top 2 bat in MLB like Bryce.

Pick 27 (Ben) Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland Indians

663474The lanky 6’5”, 165 lb righty, affectionately nicknamed “Sticks,” has dazzled the minor leagues. While Triston doesn’t exactly look the part of a physically imposing hurler you’d see on a Wheaties Box, McKenzie’s nasty fastball-curveball-changeup combination has befuddled hitters in his professional career. For such a prolific strikeout pitcher (32.8% K rate in 238.1 IP), the control has been really impressive. Some talent evaluators wonder how his frame will hold up with a big league SP workload, but I say the results speak for themselves: McKenzie should be considered among the highest ceiling pitching prospects in the minors. Those that invested historically in slighter frames (Pedro Martinez, Tim Lincecum, Marcus Stroman) surely scoff at those skeptics; and given McKenzie’s performance, you should too.

Pick 28 (Mark) Jahmai Jones, OF, 2B Los Angeles Angels

img545Jones was impressive last year in the Midwest and California Leagues. He hit a combined .282 with a .348 OBP, 14 HR and 27 SB. Not bad for a 19 year old. The thing that scouts like the most about him is his strong work ethic. If he continues to succeed in AA, he should be able transfer that success to the majors. Go after him now before his stock price is out of reach.

Pick 29 (Mark) Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Mitch Keller Bowman 1stThe Pirates have had a reputation for grooming talented young pitchers and Keller is their best prospect. Apparently his curveball is more of a ground ball inducing curve rather than a swing and miss pitch. If he can improve on that his fantasy appeal becomes much more attractive.

Pick 30 (Ben) AJ Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics

AJ 1Taken 6th overall in the 2016 draft, Puk put together a blistering 2017 campaign that saw him climb all the way up to AA Midland for 64 IP. The strikeout stuff is certainly there for Puk to be a frontline starter (24.5% K rate in 157.2 IP), and the “control issues” are more of the “spotting stuff in/out of the zone” variety versus walking guys. Puk is as high-end a pitching prospect as you can get of the group mentioned so far, with the added left-handed bonus. I like Puk more and more with each passing day, and this ranking may someday be too conservative.

Pick 31 (Ben) Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

img490The UC Irvine standout and former member of Team USA became the 9th overall draft pick this past summer, and the Brew Crew most definitely found a pure hitter in Hiura. Huria obliterated rookie ball to the tune of 4 HR and 18 RBI while slashing .435/.500/.839 in his first 15 professional games. The Brewers aggressively pushed him to A ball, where he found similar success through 27 games. Though there are thoughts that he will move off the dirt to the outfield as he continues his development, Hiura can hit wherever his ultimate defensive position happens to be. He has a fast track to the major leagues with the level of polish and high profile experiences he has already.

Pick 32 (Mark) Alex Verdugo, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 Great Lakes - Alex Verdugo 1st MiLB team setVerdugo started off last season as one of the youngest players in AAA. In a full season for the Oklahoma City Dodgers, he hit .314 with an impressive .389 OBP. The Dodgers seem to be experts at grooming prospects and in Alex’s case they’ve certainly done everything right. I’ve been following Verdugo’s progress since his first season in Rookie Ball and he’s exactly the kind of player I want to roster in dynasty leagues. He plays above his age level. He’s in a great system. His hit tool is plus plus. He has some speed. All he needs to do is increase his power, something he already worked on in AA by adding a toe tap to his batting stance.

Pick 33 (Mark) Estevan Florial, OF, New York Yankees

MiLB: AUG 18 FSL - Fort Myers Miracle at Tampa YankeesFlorial is one of the hottest prospects in baseball right now. Ironically, at this time last year few people even had him on their radar. Even prospect guru John Calvagno @SALNotes admitted that he underestimated this guy. Last season he hit .298 with a .372 OBP, 13 HR and 23 SB. He followed that up with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. His AFL coach gave him very high praise, mentioning him as a future big league All Star. Once he gets called up he should benefit from batting left handed in Yankees Stadium.

Pick 34 (Ben) MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres

Gore-242x300The third overall pick of the 2017 draft landed Gore, a high school lefty, atop one of the game’s strongest farm systems. With four solid offerings and advanced feel for them already, Gore is a poised competitor who has the makings of a big time ace. The 6’3” southpaw has had legitimately unbelievable performances as a high schooler heading up to draft day; and his first taste of rookie ball was very promising for the Padres, where he compiled a 1.27 ERA, 34K/7BB, and allowed just 14 H in 21.1 IP. While the Padres have no reason to rush him, Gore will continue to emerge as one of the brightest young arms in all of baseball.

Pick 35 (Ben) Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

SixtoThe Phillies have one of the most exciting and electric arms in the minors in Sixto Sanchez. At 19 years old and hovering around 6’0”, Sanchez sizzles the fastball in the upper 90’s to go along with above average control. Though there is some thought he may be a high leverage reliever in the future given his size, and with only a respectable curve and change to this point, Sanchez has still impressed with his quick pace and competitiveness on the mound. While he lit up A ball, his ascent to High A in Clearwater was underwhelming. Though he had just five starts, Sanchez racked up 4 losses and his ERA (2.41 to 4.55) and WHIP (0.82-1.30) jumped significantly after the transition. The K and BB rates were similar at both stops, but nonetheless, Sanchez and his 80-grade name has flown up lists in prospect land.

Pick 36 (Mark) Jordon Adell, OF, Los Angeles Angels

img701Adell hit .325 in 222 at bats last season in Rookie Ball. Then he really turned it up a notch in Orem, where he hit .376 with a .411 OBP. With his five tool capabilities, Adell has a very high ceiling. Add in his high character profile and his future becomes even more appealing. Pick him up now in dynasty leagues and track his progress in the minors.

Pick 37 (Mark) Michael Soroka, RHP, Atlanta Braves

SorokaSoroka doesn’t pitch with the same amount of velocity as some of the other Atlanta prospects. He’s more of a spot pitcher. He ranks higher than Gohara because of the success he had in AA at only 19 years of age. Gohara will help you more this season but Soroka should pay higher dividends if you can be patient and stash him.

Pick 38 (Ben) Franklin Barreto, SS, Oakland Athletics

BarretoBarreto is an exciting hitting prospect, who some have soured on due to his rough debut against MLB pitching in 25 games in 2017. Still just 21 years old, Barreto flashes a good blend of power-speed while playing in the middle infield. While second base seems his likely fielding destination in the majors and he is a bit of a free swinger, there is plenty to like with him.

Pick 39 (Ben) Jorge Mateo, SS/OF, Oakland Athletics

2015 Charleston RiverDogs - Jorge Mateo 1st team setMateo is a true speedster who can impact the game with his wheels on the bases, but can also hold his own in the box. Acquired from the Yankees as the top prospect in the Sonny Gray haul, Mateo had 57 SB and also swatted 12 HR between A+ and AA in 2017. Mateo gets on base enough to warrant him as a top-of-the-order hitter; and as speed becomes more elusive in the fantasy landscape, Mateo may be a valuable asset who can deliver that unique category while still contributing across the board.

Pick 40 (Mark) Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers

Keibert MiLB photoRuiz may not have a lot of power but his hit tool is off the charts for a player his age. He has been “en fuego” thus far in spring training and is now easily considered to be the second best catching prospect behind the highly touted Francisco Mejia. He’s another guy that you want to have on your roster right now and track his progress throughout the year. Look for him to start the year off in AA Tulsa.

Pick 41 (Mark) Luis Robert, OF/1B, Chicago White Sox

RobertThe White Sox paid an enormous amount of money to sign Robert and he’s surrounded by a lot of talent in the White Sox farm system. He is currently getting comparisons to big league teammate Yoan Moncada. This can either be a good thing and a bad thing. Perhaps we won’t know until after this season. What worries me about the comparison is that Robert might fit the mold of better athlete than baseball player. He does draw a lot of walks and I’m always encouraged by guys with good plate discipline. So for right now I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Pick 42 (Ben) Luiz Gohara, LHP, Atlanta Braves

GoharaIn just one year, Gohara went from a decent prospect acquired from the Mariners, to a rotation building block for the rebuilding Braves. Gohara is a big-bodied lefty with a hard fastball/slider combination that has proven to pile up strikeouts. Gohara impressed as a September call-up last season by showing advanced feel on the mound, and proved that he has massive upside as a big league starter.

Pick 43 (Mark) Jesus Sanchez, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

JesusSanchez was named the number two prospect in the Rays organization by Prospects 1500 and I like the aggressive ranking. Projected as a number two hitter in the Rays lineup, Sanchez is another guy that should be surrounded by some very talented players – i.e. Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, etc. Draft Sanchez now and just be patient.

Pick 44 (Mark) Carter Kieboom, SS, Washington Nationals

img731Kieboom got off to a great start last season until he was hit with the injury bug. He came back healthy toward the end of the season and picked up right where he left off. His stats are encouraging. The injuries are not. Nevertheless, he ranks this high on our list based on his offensive potential in a system that produces a lot of talent.

Pick 45 (Ben) Leody Tavares, OF, Texas Rangers

LeodyThe Rangers’ minor league switch hitting center fielder is a can’t miss, high ceiling prospect. At just 19 years old, Tavares can impact the game with all five tools. He has been a fast mover since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, rarely being outmatched while consistently being one of the youngest at his respective level. Tavares has the blueprint of a speedy, impact bat at the top of the lineup. Playing his home games in Arlington will only add to his future HR projections.

Pick 46 (Mark) Michel Baez, SP, San Diego Padres

micWhen Ralph Lifshitz says he’s taking a guy in all his leagues, I’m paying attention. Baez performed well last season in both the summer and the fall. His K/BB rate was particularly impressive. The Friars are on the up and up right now. Baez could be in a very good predicament in the coming years, pitching in an ideal ballpark with a team that will give him good run support. I’m not as high on Baez as others are but I’m not going to miss the boat on him either.

Pick 47 (Mark) Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds

2013 Dayton Dragons - Jesse WinkerThe biggest question surrounding Winker in fantasy baseball circles is: can he hit for power at the major league level? The good thing, for him, is that the hitting environment in Cincy could facilitate that, even if the answer is “no.” Winker is too good of a hitter not to succeed. If the power isn’t there right away he’ll have time to develop it.

Pick 48 (Mark) Jake Bauers, OF/1B, Tampa Bay Rays

2015 Bowman Chrome Jake Bauers autoBauers might not win a starting job out of spring training this year but I’m still a fan of his. His offensive profile is very intriguing. He has a tendency to strike out, but he also takes a lot of walks and runs the bases really well. In AAA last year he stole 20 bags and was only caught three times. His power is still developing and we could eventually see him hit 20 plus homers a year in a full time role. Hitting conditions can be rough in Tropicana Field but Jake’s talent and potential are too good to ignore. If he starts the year in the minors again make sure to track his progress and add him to your roster BEFORE he gets called up. If he can hit .280 in AAA and continue to do everything else well, that should be a good indication that he’s the real deal.

Pick 49 (Mark) Austin Riley, 3B, Atlanta Braves

img729Over the past year Austin Riley has been up and down on prospect lists. We like him as a top 50 guy because of his encouraging performance in the minors last year. In AA Mississippi, he not only improved his batting average and K/BB ratio but he also continued to show advanced power (8 HR in only 178 AB). Riley followed up the regular season with a spectacular showing in the AFL. For further reading, check out this article that Ben wrote this past November. After receiving an invite to big league camp Riley seems to be holding his own there at only 20 years of age. Once he gets the call, we expect him to thrive in Atlanta’s lineup and new ballpark for years to come.

Pick 50 (Ben)  Monte Harrison, OF, Miami Marlins

MonteFinally demonstrating his five-tool talents during a fully healthy season, Harrison generated plenty of excitement, particularly during the Arizona Fall League. Boasting loud, athletic tools, Harrison was one of the top prospects sent from the Brewers to acquire Christian Yelich. If Harrison’s hit tool approaches his others as he advances through the minors, he will be a future All Star.

Follow Ben Wilson on Twitter @TBDubbs11 for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. You can also click or press on any of the cards pictured above to make a purchase. Thanks for checking out our top 50 list.

7, 8, & 9 – The Outfield

TribeWritten by Mark Firkins Photos by MiLB.com

Will Benson – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Will BensonThe Indians were definitely targeting Benson’s offensive abilities when they drafted him with their #1 pick (14th overall) in 2016. The 19 year old has everything that scouts drool over.  A 6′ 5″  – 225 lb – powerful build. A combination of bat speed and physical strength that translates into raw power from the left side of the plate. The ability to pull the ball to the short corners of RF. And, for as tall as he is, the rare combination of speed and agility.

In his Pro debut season in 2017, Will Benson played for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the NY-PENN League. It was definitely a tale of two seasons for Will. In his first month of the season, from June 9th – July 16th, his slashline was .169/.244/.296 – However, from July 17th – September 6th, Benson raked to the tune of .275/.399/.575

Benson connected for just one home run in his first month but smashed nine over the final months to lead the NY-PENN League with 10. Like all young hitters Benson struggled with strikeouts, swinging and missing almost 30% of the time. He did make up for that by walking 16% of the time as well.

The Indians can take their time with Benson and allow him to develop his hitting. He may be a project, but all the ingredients are there for Benson to develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter. Some scouts and reports view Benson as the most exciting teenage prospect the Tribe has had since Grady Sizemore, with the potential to become a 30 home runs/20 stolen base player.

Conner Capel – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Conner CapelCleveland’s 5th round pick in 2016, Conner Capel showed scouts everything they wanted to see – speed, alertness, versatility, power, and instinct. On the offensive side, Capel’s bat heated up as the weather did in Northeast, Ohio. Assigned to Lake County of the Midwest League in 2017, Conner overcame a slow start and improved with each month throughout the season showing impressive tools. In June he was deservedly named Midwest player of the week for going 12-25 with 3 home runs, 2 doubles, a triple, and 8 RBI’s. He finished the season with 22 home runs, 61 RBI’s, .478 SLG, and led the Indians farm system in runs scored with 73.

Capel showed he could hit the ball out of the deepest part of the parks with his clean, left handed swing, strength, and bat speed. While his climb in power resulted in more strikeouts, he showed maturity in recognizing spin and making plenty of hard contact.

Capel has above average speed and strong instincts which identify him as an ideal baserunner and defender in center field. He swiped 15 bases for the Captains and was always a threat to score anytime he got on base. He has the arm strength to play any OF spot and saw time in all OF positions in 2017, playing 26 games in LF, 24 in CF, and 67 in RF.

The 2018 season could be a big year for Capel as he’s expected to debut with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League. If he continues to make strides in his development, Capel can continue to surge up the Indians prospect rankings.

Mitch Longo – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Mitch LongoMitch Longo is from Mayfield, Ohio – not too far away from Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Drafted in the 14th round in 2016, Mitch has done nothing but torture minor league pitching. In his two minor league seasons he has batted to the tune of a .349 AVG, with a .411 OBP, 29 doubles, and 43 RBI’s.

In 2017 he played his first full season at Lake County – Midwest League, where he posted a .361/.431/.530 clip and earned a late season call up to High A Lynchburg, where in 5 games he went 9-16 and scored 8 runs. Add to all that the fact that he has a decent K/BB rate of 1.52, stole 20 bases in 21 attempts, and suddenly you have a very impressive and exciting 14th round pick.

What’s Mitch’s secret to his fast start in the minor leagues? An open batting stance that creates leverage on the ball and a swing that stays over the whole plate and in the strike zone. This allows him to cover both sides of the plate and use the entire field. There’s a little pop in his bat, though it’s mostly to the gaps and not over the fence. Longo has all the tools of a leadoff hitter. He hits for high average, he’s fast, he doesn’t strike out a lot, and he draws walks.

Longo’s speed also suits him well in RF, where he played all of his games defensively last season. He has good arm strength and is a natural fit for the position. Longo got a taste of High-A Lynchburg at the end of last season, and he figures to start there again in 2018. If he continues to hit and run, he could be in Double-A at some point in 2018. And once you make it to Double-A, you’re just one phone call away from the majors, which for Mitch is almost home.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

 

Early Spring Training Roundup

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Written by Ben Wilson  Photos by MiLB.com

Baseball is back! The first week of Spring Training games is in the books, and already there are plenty of 2017 minor leaguers who are putting up impressive performances out of the gates here in 2018. I will highlight some of the top performers across the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.

Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Houston Astros (Spring Training: West Palm Beach, FL)
Rogelio ArmenterosFor a team that goes seven solid starters deep at the major league level, Houston’s AAA rotation should feature the strong arm of Armenteros in 2018. Along with other highly talented young arms Francis Martes and David Paulino, Armenteros should not be overlooked as a premium young talent in his own right in the minor leagues. Through two spring outings and one start, Armenteros has 5 IP, allowing 1 R, 3 H, and putting up 9 K and only 1 BB. Armenteros features a low 90’s fastball, two breaking balls, and an excellent changeup. His good control and durable build signal a rotation future for the 23 year old Cuban, and a call up to help defend the World Series title in Houston at some point this season.
 
Miguel Andujar, 3B, New York Yankees (Spring Training: Tampa, FL)
Miguel AndujarIn December, I wrote about Andujar’s struggles in the Dominican Winter League. That seems like a long time ago now. Since the calendar has turned to March, Andujar is sizzling at the plate this Spring: 6 hits in 14 at bats, including 4 home runs and a double. With Gleyber Torres looking more like the everyday 2B for the Yankees, Andujar is playing for a shot to start at the hot corner in the Bronx. Newcomer Brandon Drury provides insurance for both top prospects, but Andujar is as hot as they come in the batters box right now. The energy in his swing is exciting here in the early going for the Yankees! If you don’t believe me just ask @PeoplezPen.
 
Franchy Cordero, OF, San Diego Padres (Spring Training: Peoria, AZ)
FranchyCordero is coming off of a stellar 2017 season at AAA, capping it off with an MVP award playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. Cordero is picking up right where he left off so far in the Cactus League, swatting 2 HR and 2 doubles in 13 at bats. Though he has 5 strikeouts, the Padres have an intriguing power-speed bat in Cordero that looks ready to contribute at the major league level. With the team’s signing of Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers will slide to LF, further complicating the already crowded OF picture for Cordero to emerge as an everyday option this season. The Padres may need to make some trades to clear space for Cordero, but his loud play for the better part of the last calendar year makes it hard to ignore his potentially bright future playing in San Diego in short order.
 
Greg Allen, OF, Cleveland Indians (Spring Training: Goodyear, AZ)

Greg AllenSpeedster Greg Allen profiles as a top of the order hitter and an excellent outfield defender. Similar to both Armenteros and Cordero, Allen is also blocked positionally in the big leagues. Nearly 25 years old, Allen played primarily for the Akron Rubberducks (AA) in 2017, swiping 24/26 bases (92%) in 76 total games. In 388 career minor league games, Allen has gotten on base at a stellar .379 clip. In 7 Cactus League games so far, Allen has 8 hits in 15 at bats, including 2 doubles and 1 triple. He also has 5 runs and 5 RBI. With incumbent LF Michael Brantley questionable for opening day, Allen could have an opportunity to begin the season in Cleveland. Regardless of where he starts the season, Allen should be among the first OF considered to be called up from the minor leagues, especially with his switch-hitting ability and all-around exciting skill set.

Follow Ben Wilson on Twitter @TBDubbs11 for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos! Thanks!

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Flashback: Stockton Ports vs. Modesto Nuts – July 28, 2017

PortsWritten by Brian Bice

I have always wanted to get a lineup card. I have seen people at Banner Island Ballpark with ones from previous games getting them autographed. I have never been lucky enough to get one from a coach or manager. Towards the end of the season I was at a Modesto Nuts game and in the team store they were selling game-used lineup cards. They were $25 and the proceeds went to the charity fund. I thought it was a decent price, but I didn’t think much about buying one until I noticed one detail: they were autographed by the Nuts players. This was a deal I couldn’t pass up.

I looked through the cards to find ones where they played Stockton. I found a couple and settled on the one from Friday, July 28th. I wasn’t at that game, but it turns out that I was at the game the next day. I went with this card for 2 reasons. The first is that Sheldon Neuse, Oakland’s No. 13 prospect, went 3 for 5 and hit his first 2 home runs in the Athletics organization. Neuse had come over from the Washington Nationals with Blake Treinen and Jesus Luzardo in the Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson trade on July 16th. The other reason is that Seattle’s No. 1 prospect, Kyle Lewis, is on the lineup card (on the bench) and he autographed it.

As you can see, I have since framed the lineup card with some autographed cards of some players on the Ports. I don’t think I am going to get the Ports players to sign the lineup card. At this point it will be too difficult. Many of them will likely not be on the team next year.

Please follow Brian Bice on Twitter @bicemusic  and check out our eBay store at http://stores.ebay.com/realmccoybaseball

nuts-ports-line-up-card-0728*This article originally appeared on www.elephantfarm.wordpress.com

Tools of Ignorance

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Written by Mark Firkins Photos by MiLB.com

Baltimore Orioles Catching prospects Chance Sisco, Alex Murphy, & Austin Wynns

Andy Etchebarren in the 60’s & 70’s, Rick Dempsey in the 80’s, Chris Hoiles in the 90’s, and Matt Weiters in the 2000’s. The Baltimore Orioles always seem to have a decade long plan at Catcher that produces offensively, has good defensive tools, earns the respect and has a good rapport with their pitchers.

The Orioles must have been looking to find that future long-term backstop in their 2013 draft when they picked 4 catchers through 10 rounds. The Orioles selected Chance Sisco in the 2nd, Jonah Heim in the 4th, Alex Murphy in the 6th, and Austin Wynns in the 10th. Jonah Heim was traded to Tampa in 2016 to get Steve Pearce back. That leaves Sisco, Murphy, and Wynns as their top home-grown catching prospects.

Chance Sisco – Catcher

Sisco

Currently ranked #1 on the Baltimore Orioles prospect list and #45 overall by MLB.com, Chance Sisco has done everything to impress offensively. Through five minor league seasons he has batted .311, with 98 doubles, 25 home runs, and 206 RBI’s. A lefty hitter, with a fast, level swing that makes a lot of quality contact. Sisco has excellent discipline at the plate and utilizes the whole field, as displayed in his very notable 98 doubles. While there is a little over the fence power, he has shown at all minor league levels that he will most likely hit for average and take a walk, as shown in his .390 OBP.

There are minor concerns with Sisco on defense. Passed balls and errors were an area where he had some troubles earlier in his career. Improvements is his blocking, receiving, and game calling have lessened that issue. The area of defense that needs the most improving is his ability to throw base runners out. While Chance has an accurate arm, it may not be the strongest or fastest getting the ball down to second base. Would be runners advanced at a 70% success rate. Working with and learning from former catcher and current O’s coach Einar Diaz, who in his playing days threw out runners 51% of the time could be exactly what Chance needs. At only 23 years old he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Alex Murphy – Catcher

Murphy

Alex Murphy grew up in Monrovia, Maryland, not far away from the Baltimore Orioles minor league affiliates, and within an easy day trip to Camden Yards. It was a dream come true and an opportunity for him to chase his goals and dreams. A chance to be like Steve Johnson and Steve Clevenger and play for his hometown Orioles.

A big, strong, right-handed batter, with good bat speed and power to all fields, is how most scouts and Orioles staff have described Alex Murphy. In his five minor league seasons he shows a .251 AVG, 84 doubles, 35 home runs, 172 RBI’s, and a .331 OBP. Alex has shown a spike in power over his past two seasons, hitting 27 of his 35 homers in 2016 and 2017. Murphy is the guy you want up to bat with RISP. He hits .327 when there’s a chance for an RBI. Defensively, Alex is solid. He owns a career .988 FPCT and throws runners out at a 40% rate. He shows decent ball blocking skills and has few inconsistencies.

During instructional league workouts Murphy was asked “what do you think you need to improve on?” Like most of his game thus far, his answer? “Consistency, not getting too high or too low with hitting, try to stay in that middle plateau all season. Same with catching. Stay solid behind the plate.”

Murphy played some first base in 2016 and 2017 and there may be some plans for him to play there more in the future. Alex is fine with that, “anyway to get to the big leagues is the way I look at it.”

Austin Wynns – Catcher

Wynns

Of the three catchers mentioned so far, Austin Wynns is the only player with collegiate experience, playing for Fresno State. While his offensive numbers don’t exactly jump out at you, they are admirable. Through his five minor league seasons, he has posted a .269 AVG, with 79 doubles, 20 home runs, 169 RBI’s, and a .336 OBP. He may not be the catcher who will hit 20 homers, but he is a smart, structured hitter and will get the job done.

Wynn’s greatest asset is behind the plate. He owns a remarkable .994 FPCT, rarely lets a ball get by him, throws out 48% of runners attempting to steal, and knows how to call games. At age 27, Austin definitely has the maturity over most of his minor league teammates. It also makes him a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Young pitchers love having him behind the plate. This is not just a guy flashing fingers and signals, he reads the hitters and is making decisions on the next pitch.

Although he has played most of his career no higher than AA, the Orioles must see value and a future for Austin, as they protected him from the Rule 5 draft last November and added him to their 40 man roster.

Former star catcher Matt Weiters departed after the 2016 season. The O’s split catching duties between Wellington Castillo and Caleb Joseph in 2017. Castillo was a 1 year deal and is now with the White Sox. The Orioles traded the Brewers for one time SF Giants (2nd round pick in 2011) prospect Andrew Susac. Caleb Joseph would appear to be the O’s top catcher in 2018. The question is who among these others will fill and learn the role of MLB back up catcher until it’s their time?

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster and check out our eBay store at http://stores.ebay.com/realmccoybaseball. Thanks!