Graduates: Mike Soroka (SP), Colin Poche (RP)
Risers: Gavin Lux (SS), Dustin May (SP), Oneil Cruz (SS), Kristian Robinson (OF), Josiah Gray (SP)
Top Prospects: 1. Gavin Lux (SS), 2. Dustin May (SP), 3. Michael Kopech (SP), 4. Ryan Mountcastle (SS), 5. Brent Honeywell (SP), 6. Oneil Cruz (SS), 7. Keibert Ruiz (C), 8. Kristian Robinson (OF), 9. Deivi Garcia (SP), 10. Josiah Gray (SP), 11. Jordan Balazovic (SP), 12. Jon Duplantier (SP), 13. Simeon Woods Richardson (SP), 14. Jose Devers (2B)
Graduating starter Mike Soroka thrived in his rookie campaign. He showed poise and maturity on the mound mixing his three above-average to plus pitches expertly. Soroka is not overpowering but he has pinpoint control, allowing all his offerings to play up. The first of a strong crop of young starters in the system, Soroka will be an able leader to the rotation as the likes of Dustin May, Michal Kopech and Brent Honeywell graduate to the majors over the next year or two. May burst onto the scene as a 21 year old, blowing through the high minors on his way to a major league call up. He throws both a four seam riding fastball and two seam cutter, both in the low to mid-90’s, but his best pitch is his 70 grade slider. The pitch has excellent two plane break and has become a true strikeout offering as May has learned how to throw the pitch both on and off the plate. Rail thin at present, May’s 6’6” frame could mature physically which could boost his power even further. Kopech is coming back from 2018 Tommy John surgery and is projected to be at full strength come 2020. When healthy, Kopech has one of the most electric arms in the game, firing upper-90’s heat that touches triple digits. His backfoot slider runs in at 93-94 mph and can be a wipeout offering, but Kopech will have to show command of both pitches as he returns. His command and control will be the last step to his development, but it will be his changeup that decides his future role. Improve it to major league quality to keep hitter off his power stuff and Kopech has front of the rotation upside. Honeywell has lost the last two seasons to injury, and at this point needs to just prove he can return to the mound with any semblance of his former status. Any further delay in his development could all but derail his once highly promising development. Deivi Garcia and Josiah Gray both took major steps forward in their development last season, jumping from fringy major leaguers to legitimate rotation pieces. Garcia has a well rounded arsenal, if not the power of other arms in the system, but he continues to rack up eye popping strikeout numbers at every stop. Don’t bet against him once again exceeding expectations once he gets a shot at the majors. Gray is a pure power arm at this point with a mid-90’s fastball and plus slider and he could move quickly as a bullpen piece, but further development of his changeup in 2019 showed that he could force his way into the starting mix in Ankeny. He has excellent control to go along with his quality stuff and more often gets ahead of hitters and forces them to hit his pitch. At the top of the ACL’s rankings this season is probably the fastest riser in baseball, shortstop Gavin Lux. He broke out in 2018 in the low minors, and then backed that up with an even better 2019 in the upper minors. He stands at the doorstep of Ankeny, now looking like a young Chase Utley with .300 averages, power, speed, and above-average defense in the middle infield in his future. Another fast riser in the system, shortstop Oneil Cruz continues to ignore convention that says a player his size can not play shortstop. He has remained at the position and grades as an above-average defender at the major league level. His offensive production continues to climb, so even if he does eventually move of short his bat will still play.
Graduates: Bo Bichette (SS), Michael Chavis (2B), Cal Quantrill (SP)
Risers: Sixto Sanchez (SP), Brett Baty (3B)
Top Prospects: 1. Forrest Whitley (SP), 2. Sixto Sanchez (SP), 3. Mitch Keller (SP), 4. A. J. Puk (SP), 5. Triston McKenzie (SP), 6. Hans Crouse (SP), 7. Brett Baty (3B), 8. Khalil Lee (OF), 9. Nick Allen (SS), 10. Sam Carlson (SP), 11. Levi Kelly (SP), 12. Matt Wallner (OF), 13. Will Wilson (MI)
Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. The Arizona farm is again littered with quality arms. There are ace level arms, mid-rotation arms, and high powered late inning arms. Forrest Whitley leads the rankings with his 70 grade fastball and changeup, 65 grade curve and slider, and 55 grade cutter. He still needs to learn to command his high quality arsenal a little better, but at 22 years old that’s not a surprise. Sixto Sanchez boasts a 70 grade fastball as well, along with a plus changeup and curve, and has excellent command and control of all three. Sanchez’ nagging concern has always been injury. He had only completed 220 innings over his previous four seasons before 2019. Last season saw Sanchez complete a full healthy season and rise to AA, all while continuing to show the top of the rotation stuff that has always been there. If Whitley and Sanchez have A+ stuff, both Mitch Keller and A.J. Puk have A level stuff. Coming off TJ surgery in 2018, Puk rose through three levels and ended with a cup of coffee in the majors, all the while firing mid- to high-90’s fastballs and wipeout sliders just as he always has. Last year saw him improve his changeup to at least above-average status and plus level at times. Further refinement of a third plus pitch would mark Puk as a third ace in waiting. Triston McKenzie is another arm with immense talent limited to date by injury. When healthy, McKenzie holds mid-90’s heat late into games while buckling knees with his curveball. Development of his seldom used change will be the final step on the hill for the one time first rounder. Before even that though, McKenzie needs to get on and stay on the mound. He lost all of 2019 to back injuries after missing significant time in 2018 with forearm issues. The top position player prospects include 2019 1st rounder, Brett Baty. Whether he is able to stay at third base defensively is yet to be seen, but his bat will be his carrying tool nonetheless. Baty has immense power and has shown the ability to get to that power in games, albeit not on a consistent basis. Outfielder Khalil Lee has a well rounded game, but will have to shed the tweener tag and show more power to his
game. The opposite can be said about Matt Wallner. Drafted in the first round, he has some of the most prodigious power in the minors. At 6’5”, 230 pounds he comes by that power honestly, but by the same token he will have to keep his body in check as he matures or lose what athleticism he currently has. Starters Hans Crouse, Sam Carlson, and Levi Kelly add even more pitching depth to the system, while middle infielders Nick Allen and Will Wilson give the infield some needed depth.
Graduates: Pete Alonso (1B), Brandon Lowe (2B), Alex Verdugo (OF), Josh James (RP)
Risers: Bobby Witt Jr. (SS), Shea Langeliers (C)
Top Prospects: 1. Royce Lewis (SS), 2. Jesus Luzardo (SP), 3. Bobby Witt Jr. (SS), 4. Brendan Rodgers (SS), 5. Nick Madrigal (2B), 6. Ian Anderson (SP), 7. Jesus Sanchez (OF), 8. Heliot Ramos (OF). 9. Trevor Larnach (OF), 10. Ronaldo Hernandez (C), 11. Luis Garcia (SS), 12. Shea Langeliers (C), 13. Triston Casas (CI), 14. Brandon Marsh (OF)
Two years of focus on the farm has built a deep, talent laden system in Bako and propelled the Bums into the upper tier of this year’s rankings. Even with the graduation of three of their pre-season top seven prospects Bako has a stocked farm. First baseman Pete Alonso heads the talented trio of position graduates. Once seen as a power hitter who would struggle to reach his power due to extreme swing and miss tendencies, Alonso learned to curtail his swings out of the strike zone and force pitchers to come to him. The results have been eye popping, with Alonso blasting homers out to all fields and hitting several tape measure blasts. His defense has upgraded to average and he now looks to be a consistent middle of the order power bat and a cornerstone type piece for the Bums. Second baseman Brandon Lowe lost significant time to injury, but his time on the field was outstanding. Lowe combines an above-average hit tool with uncanny power for a middle infielder, but he will need to learn to limit his strikeout numbers. Outfielder Alex Verdugo also lost significant time to injury, but like Lowe his time on the field was highly productive. Power is the only missing ingredient to his offensive game, but his 12 home runs in half a season of at bats is not lightweight. He rips line drives from line to line racking up doubles and able to leg out triples with his above average speed. He is a plus defender at any outfield position and has a cannon for an arm that baserunners are already leery of. With three of their current top four prospects at the position, shortstop is the highlight of the farm with 2019 draftee Bobby Witt Jr. joining Royce Lewis and Brendon Rodgers. All three have middle of the lineup potential to go along with their middle infield defensive profiles. Witt comes to Bako with a near impossible tag: best shortstop prospect since Alex Rodriguez. But the tag also shows the depth and range of his skill set. Rodgers suffered from the injury bug in 2019, but still retains his 60 grade potential. Outfield is also deep, led by Jesus Sanchez, Heliot Ramos, Trevor Larnach, and Brandon Marsh. Second baseman Nick Madrigal continued to show a 70 grade hit tool, rising from High A ball to AAA, striking out just 16 times in over 500 plate appearances and stealing 35 bases. Starter Jesus Luzardo suffered through an injury plagued season, but he returned late in the season and picked up right where he left off dominating hitters with his high 90’s fastball, plus-plus change and knee buckling curve. Ian Anderson, Shane McClanahan, and Thomas Szapucki add depth on the mound. Anderson is the closest and his mid-90’s fastball and advanced three-pitch mix could see him graduate to the major league rotation very soon. McClanahan has a live arm capable of mid-90’s heat and he began to develop beyond his reliever/back-end starter standing in 2019. A shift in his mentality to be more aggressive in the strike zone and pitch more to contact helped him reduce his walk rate and pitch count, and with a new found trust in his stuff his changeup developed into a possible 3rd above-average offering. 2019 3rd rounder, Shea Langeliers, joins the rising Ronaldo Hernandez to give the Bums a pair of top ten backstop prospects. Langeliers is a defensive standout who will have to prove his offense, while Hernandez is just the opposite. As a converted infielder, Hernandez has taken to the challenge of developing his defense behind the plate and he shows the athletic ability to become a major league backstop.
River City Cutthroats
Graduates: Eloy Jimenez (OF), Nick Senzel (3B), Luis Arraez (2B), Cole Tucker (SS)
Risers: Wander Franco (SS), Marco Luciano (OF), Jasson Dominguez (OF)
Top Prospects: 1. Wander Franco (SS), 2. Jonathan India (3B), 3. Jasson Dominguez (OF), 4. Marco Luciano (OF), 5. Jahmai Jones (2B), 6. Miguel Amaya (C), 7. Ronny Mauricio (OF), 8. Jordyn Adams (1B), 9. Cole Winn (SP), 10. Seth Beer (1B), 11. Derek Hill (OF), 12. Justin Williams (OF), 13. Keoni Cavaco (SS)
Eloy Jimenez graduated and posted a 31 home run, 2.0 WAR season as a 22 year old; Nick Senzel graduated and posted an excellent first half before slumping while dealing with nagging injuries that eventually ended his season in the second half, all while learning a relatively new position in centerfield; Cole Tucker graduated mid-season and took over shortstop full time and while he struggled offensively, he played near flawless defense. And then there’s Luis Arraez. Arraez started the season in AA and ended it starting at 2B and hitting .334 in the major leagues. He posted a miniscule 7.9% K-rate and walked more than he struck out (9.8% BB-rate). To say that level of production was unforeseen would be an understatement, but Arraez’ bat control skills and patience bode well for sustained success. Even with the River City farm losing that level talent to graduation, the Cutthroats remain one of the top systems in the league. And discussion of the Cutthroat farm has to start with the consensus #1 prospect in baseball: Wander Franco. There isn’t anything on a ball field Franco can’t do. His defense at short, while needing some polish (after all, he’s only 18 years old), is already above average and there is little doubt he will be able to stick at the position long term. In the batters box, Franco can do it all. He has a 70 grade hit tool and has walked more than he has struck out (10.8 BB% – 7.0 K%); he has 65 grade power; and he even has 60 grade speed. Over two seasons and three levels, Franco has posted a .336 average and a .405/.523/.928 slash line, and he hasn’t even hit his 19th birthday. Another 20 year old phenom hitting the big leagues alongside Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto, and Vlad Guerrero Jr. . . . don’t bet against it. And for all the hype surrounding Franco’s rise, there may be another player in the River City system with even more hype: Jasson Dominguez. The Dominican teen comes to the professional ranks with what one scout calls, “the best combination of tools, athleticism and performance that I’ve run across”. Dominguez is a baseball rat, not only playing or practicing whenever he can, but also studying the game. His baseball IQ is said to be top shelf. Dominguez plays a fluid and near flawless centerfield and in the batters box combines contact ability, power, patience, and intellect. There is obviously a whole lot of time and at bats for Dominguez to put in to realize his current potential, but the talent and work ethic is there for him to be a fast riser. Third baseman Jonathan India jumped from Low-A to AA in 2019 and continued to show the promise that made him a top five pick. He could be ready for the Show sometime next season. Marco Luciano is another teenage shortstop that has the skill base to move quickly and produce middle of the order numbers. He may eventually be moved off short, but if the bat progresses as it should that will not matter. There is a host of other promising talent in the Cutty’s system, including outfielder Ronny Mauricio, first baseman Seth Beer, second baseman Jahmai Jones, and catcher Miguel Amaya. The one weakness in the River City system is the pitching. Outside Cole Winn, there are no quality arms, and even in Winn the Cutthroats will need to invest time. Winn has the arm to be successful in a major league rotation, but he is a ways away at present.