Checking In On The Next Wave of Top Prospects: American League Edition

 

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In January, I selected and profiled one player from each American League team to be the next breakout prospect for their respective organizations (view article here). Six months later, I wanted to take the opportunity to check in on the status of each of these prospects and in certain cases, offer an alternate prospect or two in the organization who is grabbing headlines with their noteworthy performance this season.

Jhon Peluffo, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

Peluffo has pitched across two levels to begin 2018, yielding lots of contact (51 H in 36.2 IP), while the 21 year old Colombian hurler has struggled with a 26 K to 23 BB ratio.

The Oriole prospect taking the scene by storm is OF Ryan McKenna, Peluffo’s teammate for the Frederick Keys (Carolina League, A+). McKenna is second in the league in hitting with a .375 BA to go along with a .466 OBP and .557 SLG. Of McKenna’s outstanding 95 hits in 66 games, he has 18 doubles, 2 triples, and 8 HR, while adding 5 SB. McKenna is quickly proving to be one of Baltimore’s top prospects. 

Lorenzo Cedrola, OF, Boston Red Sox

Currently playing for the Greenville Drive of the Sally League (A), Cedrola is making a push for a promotion to High A with his impressive play thus far in 2018. While only 7/14 in SB attempts, Cedrola’s .315 AVG is good for 11th overall in the league. Other Sally Leaguers Seuly Matias (KC), Chad Spanberger (COL), Drew Waters (ATL) Oneil Cruz and Cal Mitchell (PIT) are grabbing most of the attention, but Cedrola is still putting together a solid season atop the Drive lineup. Gifted with an overall athletic profile, Cedrola should have no problem ascending through the Red Sox minor league system. While Cedrola might not have the name recognition across the game just yet, he has all of the tools to become the next gem in the Red Sox organization.

Aaron Bummer, LHP, Chicago White Sox

Bummer has pitched in 26 big league games for the South Siders, putting together a solid ERA of 3.26. The WHIP of 1.71 tells a different story, as he has surrendered 27 hits in 19.1 IP. While the 6 BB haven’t proven to be problematic, and the 21 K during those innings has been positive, Bummer finds himself behind fellow lefty Jace Fry in the White Sox bullpen picture. 

Of the two lefties, the 24 year old Fry is emerging as the more reliable choice thus far, where his 0.7 WAR so far in 2018 ranks him above other quality RP’s such as Brad Peacock (HOU) and Kenley Jansen (LAD). 

Luke Wakamatsu, SS, Cleveland Indians

Wakamatsu hasn’t quite put it together with the bat this season for High A Lynchburg, but a tough April has skewed his otherwise productive May, which he hit .258 AVG to go along with a .356 OBP last month. The switch hitter remains a promising talent in the stacked Indians prospect pool. 

Outfielder Will Benson has grabbed more headlines this season so far in the Indians organization, swatting 11 HR. The 14th overall pick back in 2016, Benson has an intriguing blend of power and speed, with contact questions still to be answered (31% K rate in 2018 is a slight improvement on last year’s 34% K rate). Another outfield prospect, George Valera, is on the brink of being the next big thing, and has impressed everyone in Extended Spring Training.

Gregory Soto, LHP, Detroit Tigers

Pitching out of the rotation for Lakeland (High A), Soto’s 12 starts have not seen the progress of his secondary offerings (curveball and changeup) with as much consistency as to silence the future bullpen labels that have been attached to him to this point. While Soto can flat-out bring it with the fastball and he has given up less hits than innings pitched, the Tigers would like to see progress on his 44 BB in 51.1 IP. 

For the Tigers, outfielder Christin Stewart has demonstrated he is knocking on the door of a big league job with 13 HR and a .349 OBP for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens. The Tigers are hoping that Stewart will develop into a middle of the order bat, where he will carry an offense-first profile wherever he ultimately lands defensively.

Jorge Alcala, RHP, Houston Astros

Alcala began the year at High A, and his sterling performance there earned him a promotion to AA. Alcala put together dominant outings as a starter and during bullpen days, netting more K’s per inning in 70% of his appearances. He limited contact and demonstrated excellent control, allowing more than two walks only twice. His latest outing at AA: 5IP, 1H, 1BB, 5K showed the kind of impact starter Alcala can be for the Astros. As the Astros make a run at a repeat championship, Alcala will surely be a name that rival organizations inquire about as they look to put the finishing touches on a roster poised for a deep October run.

Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City Royals

Lopez opened eyes during the Arizona Fall League by putting up a .383 AVG, and he picked up right where he left off this season. In 66 games at AA Northwest Arkansas (Texas League), Lopez has compiled a .327 AVG, good for 9th overall in the league, to go along with a .399 OBP. His 83 hits are good for tops among qualifiers. Lopez has knocked 7 doubles and 4 triples for extra base hits and is successful on 9/13 SB attempts. Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi look to be the future infielders up the middle for Kansas City as they rebuild their organization from within in the same mold as their 2014 AL Pennant run.

Trent Deveaux, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Deveaux has yet to log official professional games outside of Extended Spring Training, yet all reports this season are that Deveaux excites scouts with his advanced approach at the plate, top notch speed, and defense in centerfield. Deveaux should quickly take to the field and explode with popularity once he gains a wider level of exposure.

The Angels, for the first time in a little while, have a solid crop of prospects at the top of their rankings. Jo Adell, hardly a secret in the prospect world, is looking every bit as talented as when the Angels invested the 10th overall pick on him in 2017. Jahmai Jones is handling a move back to 2B, the position where he was originally drafted, very well. But the big breakout in the organization has been from LHP Jose Suarez. Suarez created quite a scuttle as he put up a 51K:8BB ratio in 29.2 IP at AA this year. Now at AAA, Suarez is knocking on the door of making an impact for the Angels at just 20 years old. 

Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Minnesota Twins

Graterol has quickly become more of a known commodity in 2018 due to a brilliant start for Cedar Rapids, sharing the field with high profile teammates Royce Lewis, Akil Baddoo, and Alex Kiriloff. Across 7 starts, Graterol has put together a 2.48 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, where he has limited walks (6) in 36.1 IP. Graterol has two starts with 9+ strikeouts so far this year, and looks destined for a consensus top 100 prospect billing by season’s end. 

Luis Medina, RHP, New York Yankees

The Yankees sit atop the AL East standings due in large part to the production they have received from the products of their farm system: Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Domingo German, and Jonathan Holder. Medina is on the brink of a 2018 debut for the Pulaski Yankees (Appalachian League, Rookie), after being limited to simulated game action so far. Scouts rave about his offerings and ability to miss bats, but command has been inconsistent to date. Medina has a ways to go, but a fast start to this season will surely vault him into the conversation along with other top Yankee prospect arms such as Albert Abreu and Chance Adams.

Will Toffey, 3B, Oakland Athletics

Toffey leads all qualifiers in the California League (High A) with a .455 OBP, where he has more BB’s (23) than K’s (22). Indeed, Toffey has lived up to the bill of an on-base machine so far in 2018 in a league scattered with bigger prospect names (Colton Welker, Connor Wong, Daulton Varsho, Gavin Lux, Evan White, Hudson Potts, and Heath Quinn among others). Toffey is one to continue to watch fly under the radar, while the A’s will be tremendously pleased that they have him as a productive bat to build towards a future big league spot. 

Mike Ford, 1B, New York Yankees (formerly Seattle Mariners at the time of the original article release)

Fresh off of a Rule 5 selection by the Mariners, Mike Ford was returned to the Yankees with the positional log jam at 1B in Seattle. Ford remains an intriguing on-base hitter but has struggled at the outset of 2018, where he has seen his K rate (20%) increase well above his MiLB career average of 14%, while simultaneously walking less (10.5% BB in 2018 versus a career average of 14.1%). Currently on the disabled list, Ford will need to see an uptick in productivity to be called up should Greg Bird continue to struggle or face injury. 

For Seattle, Seth Elledge has without doubt been a bright spot for the Mariners farm system, earning a Cal League All-Star nod by putting together a down right dominant campaign. In 27 IP, the reliever has allowed only 10 hits and 3 earned runs while amassing 39 K. 

Joe McCarthy, OF/1B, Tampa Bay Rays

McCarthy’s brother, Jake, was the 39th overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Meanwhile, Joe has held his own this season at AAA Durham, putting up the highest OPS of his career (.863). McCarthy has seen time at 1B, LF, and CF this season for the Bulls, and should get a call up to Tampa Bay sometime in 2018. 

Kyle Cody, RHP, Texas Rangers

Cody has yet to pitch this season due to injury, and the Rangers are rightly being cautious as they have seen fellow top pitching prospect Cole Ragans fall victim to Tommy John surgery earlier this year. Cody still has the makings of a mid rotation workhorse, and may begin the year in High A Down East (Carolina League), where he left off last season, before advancing to a bigger developmental test in AA. 

Edward Olivares, OF,  San Diego Padres (formerly Toronto Blue Jays at the time of the original article release)

Olivares was traded to San Diego in Toronto’s acquisition of Yangervis Solarte shortly after New Years. Olivares is off to a good start in High A, albeit overshadowed by louder performances from teammates Hudson Potts, Buddy Reed, and pitchers Chris Paddack and Adrian Morejon. Olivares’ 73 hits are good for 5th in the league, to go along with 16 doubles, 5 triples, and 5 HR. His 9 SB in 12 attempts has been a positive improvement as well this year. Difficult to stand out in the Padres’ loaded system, Olivares has nonetheless had a solid start in his new organization. 

In Toronto, the Blue Jays have seen breakout performances from two middle infield prospects: Cavan Biggio and Kevin Smith. Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig, has broken out on one of the most viewed minor league teams this year in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA), who feature Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Biggio in the middle of the lineup. In Smith, the Blue Jays had a hitter who produced a monstrous .355 AVG in Lansing (A) before being promoted to Dunedin (A+), where he has continued to hit everything thrown his way. The Blue Jays are boasting stud middle infielders at seemingly every level of their organization, and fill the fan base with optimism for perhaps a post-Josh Donadson era rebuild.

Summer and The NY PENN League

League Presentation

Written by Mark Firkins

While spring brings me comfort and the start of a new baseball season, it’s summer that brings out my true passion for the game. June signals the start of the NY PENN League. A Class A, short season league that plays from mid June until Labor Day weekend (75 games), featuring 14 teams in three divisions (McNamara, Pickney, and Stedler). The NY PENN League has a long and proud history dating back to 1939. The team closest to my home in Western NY is in Batavia (halfway between Rochester and Buffalo). Batavia has been called home of the NY PENN League and is one of the founding clubs.

The current team is called the Muckdogs and they are affiliated with the Miami Marlins. In the past they have been called the Clippers, Trojans, Indians, and Pirates. They have been affiliated with the Pirates, Mets, Indians, Tigers, Cardinals, and Phillies.

With a population of less than 16,000, Batavia is one of the smallest cities to host a professional baseball team in 21st century United States. Yet, they have produced more than their share of Major League players. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Carrasco, J.A. Happ, Gene Baker, Woodie Fryman, Matt Carpenter, Andy Ashby and dozens of others have all called Batavia home for a summer.

While I enjoy my trips to MLB stadiums and my press box view at AAA Rochester, I honestly feel most at home in Batavia and the other NY PENN League stadiums I visit. There is no seat that is not up close to the action. You can hear the players chatter and manager/coaches talk in the dugout. The Umpires calls are loud and clear. The crack of a maple bat can be heard anywhere in the park. While most stadiums are more modern with plenty of good amenities; the crowds, character, and feel of this league is not that far removed from the classic baseball movie Bull Durham.

For most of the players in this league, this is their first taste of professional baseball and part of their long journey to the majors. It’s a diverse mix of the occasional #1 draft picks through #40 picks. Recently graduated and drafted high school players, junior college, Division I, and international players are assembled onto a team and all play together. I’ve seen Indians top pick Will Benson, OF – Mahoning Valley Scrappers, play against Marlins #40 pick Matt Foley, Catcher (both players I have profiled and can be seen in my older posts). I was treated to a perfect game on June 24, 2015 (thrown by Muckdogs Pitchers, Gabriel Castellanos, Brett Lilek, and Steven Farnworth) and have seen 22-0 losses. On rare occasions I’ve seen veteran MLB players on rehab assignments face off against top prospects.

The players are there to learn, mature and develop. There’s no shortage of ex-MLB players who have, or still are, coaching at this level to teach these fresh players the ins and outs of the pro game. Pat Borders, Travis Fryman, Tim Raines, Luke Carlin, Joel Skinner, Buck Showalter and many other famous names have all manned the dugouts in this league. The Brooklyn Cyclones alone feature 1980’s Mets greats Edgar Alfonso, Howard Johnson, and Bobby Ojeda as their coaching trio.

The NY PENN League opens on June 18th. I will once again find my seats in the sun a few rows above the visitors dugout, on the third base side. While rosters are still being put together, I’m excited to watch a fresh batch of eager, young players from all of the teams. I look forward to seeing all of the different uniform colors, interesting team names and logos. I’m eager to witness a player get his first professional hit, RBI, and home run with a wooden bat. As the season progresses I start to wonder, which of these players will eventually make it to their MLB club? Who will be the next Francisco Lindor and rise rapidly through the MiLB system to stardom? Will I watch a player quietly fly under the radar and play his way to a Major League roster like Brian Anderson? Which player will be like Pitcher Brandon Mann? A player who grinds out another season in the minors, becomes a fan favorite, has the heart of a lion, and never gives up on his dream of playing in the MLB.

Summer and baseball go hand in hand. It’s time to get outside, visit with friends you haven’t seen since the end of last season, and meet and chat with new, great baseball fans at the ballpark you’re at that night. To me there’s nothing more American than watching our national pastime and seeing young talent getting their first chance to play professionally. The NY PENN League offers just that, 14 teams, 350 players, most playing professional baseball for the first time and providing their fans with entertainment.

For more minor league player news and graphing information check us out on Twitter. Also, feel free to check out our online store on eBay.

Minor League Road Trip

BrodWritten by Mark Nikolov  Photo by MiLB.com

A recent trip to Hartford exposed me to a few minor league baseball games. The Yardgoats have a very strong team with quite a bit of talent. Here are some player notes:

Sam Hilliard (40 man roster) – Defense is improved. Got his AVG. up to .315, OBP is sitting at .383 and increased speed is very much apparent.

Garrett Hampson (40 man roster) – Very hard working player. He was promoted to AAA during my visit. Power has improved from last season. Defense is plus at shortstop and second base. Has picked up a fanbase in Hartford because of the huge effort he displays. on the field.

Yonathon Daza (40 man roster) – All of his tools seem to be developing except for perhaps his arm. He uses an open stance right now. Saw him hit a LF bomb while I was in Connecticut. He’s much more relaxed at the plate.

Brendan Rodgers (40 man roster) – He’s showing improved power. Saw him go left center with no problem. His defense is still somewhat relaxed. He played 3B, SS and 2B while I was there. He should get the call this year.

Peter Lambert (40 man roster) – Still pitches low to mid 90s. Had a good performance against New Hampshire while I was there. He should finish off the year with very good stats.

Graphing Notes

s-l300Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – After the first game he signed for about 25 graphers (autograph seekers). Some of the graphers got aggresive but security did a good job keeping them calm. From my view it looked like he was signing 2-3 items per person.

Bo Bichette – Bo was signing his usual 1 per. He was in a rush to leave the stadium but he still signed for everyone that approached him. I’ve picked up some of his signed cards last year from Nick Thiel but I doubt we will pick up much more for our eBay store. His initals can be easily copied and we suspect that there might be counterfits out there.

Brendan Rodgers – I didn’t see him sign for anyone but I imagine he is still 1 per. Last season I was able to obtain several autographs from him with the help of a teammate. I was planning on asking him about his favorite non-profit so that a percentage of the signature can go to charity. Next time I get a chance to speak with him I’ll get that information.

For more minor league player news and graphing information check us out on twitter at @REALMcCOYMINORS. Below is a video of Oscar Gonzalez. He’s an up and coming prospect from the Indians farm system.

MiLB – Never Give Up

Brandon Mann

Written by Mark Firkins Photo by MiLB.com

Stay positive. Stay focussed. Have a good attitude. Keep your eye on the prize. Don’t quit. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Follow your dreams. One more, and the most important, NEVER, give up.

We’ve all been given this type of advice and life lessons from our parents, teachers, or coaches. Let’s face it, most of us have had to alter our life’s plans. We’ve made sacrifices, done what’s best for our families, and convince ourselves to be practical. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just what we need to do. Sometimes dreams don’t come true and life finds a different path for you. However, once in a while, someone with courage and determination so strong, defies the odds and inspires a whole new generation of dreamers. A 34 year old Minor Leaguer who made Major League headlines last week is a prime example of this.

Most of my articles concentrate on rookies or young prospects in their first few years of professional baseball. Yet when inspiration strikes, it strikes hard and the story needs to be shared. Brandon Mann, who after toiling in the minors, Japanese, and Independent Leagues since 2002, finally achieved his dreams of playing Major League Baseball and is the inspiration of my latest article.

Brandon Mann is a left handed pitcher, drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (yes, you read that correct, Devil Rays) in the 27th round in 2002. A true journeyman in every sense of the word. He has played in order, in the following leagues:

2002 – Appalachian League   

2003 – NY Penn League & Appalachian League

2004 – NY Penn League

2005 – Midwest League

2006 – California League

2008 – Florida State League

2009 – Southern Atlantic League

2010 – Atlantic League (Independent)

2011 – Japan Central League

2012 – Japan Central League

2014 – Atlantic League (Independent)

2015 – American Association (Independent)

2016 – Pacific Coast League, Texas League, & Arizona League

2017 – Texas League

2018 – Pacific Coast League

2018 – American League – MLB

* Note in 2007 and 2013 he did not play professional baseball.

That’s a lot of traveling, in a lot of leagues, with a lot of organizations.

Call him lucky. Call him blessed. Call him persistent. Or as the old joke in baseball goes, what do you call an old righty pitcher? Coach. How about an old lefty pitcher? Crafty. Let’s face it, lefty’s sometimes get picked on, teased, and in years past, were forced to be right handers in school and jobs. But in baseball, they still come at a premium, and if there’s a chance they can help your club, they’re worth taking a look at it. That’s exactly what the Texas Rangers did on January 10, 2018. They offered him a minor league contract and assigned him to the Round Rock Express, their AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.

Brandon Mann has a 15 year resume of minor league pitching and has held every job a pitcher can have; starter, long relief, set up, and occasional closer. Through all of his leagues and travels he owns a 59-91 record. A 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He’s recorded 4 saves and has 1052 strikeouts in 1274 innings pitched. Brandon Mann wasn’t even on the Rangers 40 man roster. So why make a roster move and purchase the contract of a 34 year old rookie? Surely the Rangers must have a qualified player, righty or lefty, already on their 40 man capable of relief duties. Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “The command of his fastball, command of his delivery, secondary stuff, how he was handling hitters, all our scouts felt he was a solid option.”

The baseball Gods have smiled upon Brandon in 2018. In his 12 appearances with Round Rock, he has pitched 17.1 innings, posting a 1-0 record, with 13 strikeouts, a 1.04 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and has kept opponents batting against him to a .133 AVG. A small sample size in the beginning of this AAA season, but arguably his best start to a season and statistics in his pitching career.

On May 13, 2018, 3 days before his 34th birthday, he got the call that all minor leaguers long to hear. His contract had been selected by the Texas Rangers and he had been called up to pitch in the Major Leagues. He would now share a locker near veteran pitchers Cole Hammels, Doug Fister, and Bartolo Colon. He would join the Rangers bullpen and get prepared for when he was to be called upon. In his first ever Major League game (5/13/18), he was summoned from the bullpen and pitched 1.2 innings of relief. He allowed 1 hit, 0 runs and registered no walks or strikeouts. He put up the the same exact stats in his next appearance on 5/15/18.

What does the future hold for Brandon Mann? No one knows. Baseball is a beautiful game but can also be fickle and cruel. He could spend the rest of the season finding his groove and filling a role with the Rangers in the big leagues. He could be DFA, have to clear waivers, and/or be claimed by and play for yet another team and another league. Whatever it may be, you must know by now that Brandon Mann will face any challenge thrown his way. Work as hard and diligent as possible. Be prepared for whenever he is needed and in whatever situation that may be. And of course, Brandon Mann will never give up.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!

Captains of the Midwest League

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 5.49.15 PMWritten by Mark Firkins

Minor League Baseball has started. With three weeks of play behind us we’re starting to see trends appear from some of the games younger talents. It seems like an eternity since I last visited a baseball stadium. However now that the weather seems to be turning in my favor, I’m making the most of it. I’m getting out to the ballpark as often as I can and visiting as many teams and cities as my schedule allows this season.

It’s no secret that North East Ohio is a favorite road trip of mine. There’s plenty of Major and Minor League baseball in and around Cleveland. Located only 15 minutes east of Cleveland, in East Lake, Ohio, is Classic Park. Home of the Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians A affiliate of the Midwest League. Plenty of the Indians current roster have made this a stop on their way to big leagues, including Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor.

A lot of the players on this years Captains roster are familiar to me as I saw plenty of them in action last season in their rookie years with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the NY PENN League. Their manager Luke Carlin is also a familiar face. Carlin managed the Scrappers last season and led them to the NY PENN League playoffs and finals. It was wise of the Indians to promote Carlin as the Captains manager as well. He’s familiar with most of the roster, the players have a good rapport, respect, and will continue to develop with him for another year.

Two names from last season that are off to an impressive start this season are SS Ernie Clement and Starting Pitcher Eli Morgan. Ernie Clement is not a name that most baseball fans are familiar with, yet. After being drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Indians with the No. 132 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Clement has flown under-the-radar a bit. Those who do know about him are excited for his future with the Indians.

In his first MiLB season, he split time between second base and shortstop. In 149 innings at second he fielded a perfect 1.000 FPCT. At SS, he played 187 innings, with a .951 FPCT.  At the plate Clement went 49 for 175 for a .280 AVG. So far in 2018 Clement has appeared in 14 of the 16 Captains games as their SS. He’s off to a fast start with the bat, going 20 for 59, a .339 AVG. Clement is definitely a tough out for opposing pitchers. He has an excellent batting eye and rarely strikes out. He has an open batting stance, quick level swing, squares the ball on the barrel, and makes hard contact. He features the potential for a being a top of the order table setter with good base running skills and the ability to steal a few bases.

Clement is known for his enthusiasm and extreme work ethic. I caught up with Ernie during a rain delay, before a game last season and asked him what it was like to be a player in the Indians farm system. He answered “It’s been amazing. First of all the organization has treated me so well. From the coaches to the strength and conditioning department, everyone is fully invested into your development as a player. And then all the guys around me on the field are amazing. Every teammate I’ve had so far has been positive and wants to work hard. It’s really cool to be a part of. I just love playing the game. I have fun and try to make that positive energy contagious. It’s not a job for me, I look forward to showing up to the park every single day.” With a positive attitude like that, strong work ethic, and the skills he has, Clement is likely to have a stellar season with the Captains.

Elijah Morgan was an 8th round pick by Cleveland in 2017. Last season for Mahoning Valley, Eli went 3-2, with a 1.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and struck out 58 batters in 35 innings of work. So far in 2018 he has started 4 games, has a 1-0 record, 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts through 20 2/3 innings. Morgan mixes a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s with a hard slider and a change-up that rates as on of the best in the Indians’ farm system. Morgan is a classic power pitcher who is not afraid to challenge opposing hitters. He idolized Pedro Martinez growing up and said he likens his approach to pitching like Pedro did. “The guy wasn’t afraid of any batter, he threw hard strikes, challenged them to swing at his stuff, and had swagger on the mound.”

Morgan has learned a lot from former MLB catcher and now manager Luke Carlin and his fellow pitchers from last season at Mahoning Valley. He has confidence in himself and teammates after their 44-29 record and run in the NY PENN League playoffs last summer. “The pitchers we have here this season dominated last year at Mahoning Valley. Our goal is to do the same this season in the Midwest League and win a champion-ship.” Morgan’s confidence and abilities will make him a positive addition to the Lake County pitching staff.

Spring baseball has just begun. Summer is just around the corner. One that promises to be one full of adventurous road trips. New stadiums, cities, and exciting baseball at different levels of play for me to view. The opportunity to see how players I’ve enjoyed in the past mature and develop. The chance for me to watch new players show off their baseball skills all summer long.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!

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.