Top Lineup – C – Connor Wong – It’s ironic that we segue from the Colorado Rockies right into the Dodgers. In yesterday’s Colorado Rockies post, we mentioned how organizations have a difficult time developing catchers. Colorado being one of them. However, one system fans and baseball people have been able to count on to churn out great catching prospect after great catching prospect is the Los Angeles Dodgers, and what they have in the hopper now is no different. The Dodgers currently have two catchers sitting within MLB Pipeline’s 2019 Top 30 prospect list, Keibert Ruiz (#2) and Will Smith (#6), while Baseball America lists Ruiz as the L.A.’s #1 prospect with Smith coming in at number five. Both Smith and Ruiz are just about ready to crack the major league seal, so for us here, we take a look at the 2018 season to see who’s raising the floor, and Connor Wong fits nicely. The Dodgers drafted Wong in the 3rd round back in 2017 out of the University of Houston. What they got was a great athlete with solid skills across the board: a good hit tool; good glove; above-average arm and above-average speed. After a late start, he put it all on display in his pro debut. He spent one game in the Arizona League before being shipped straight to LoA Great Lakes where he did pretty much what his scouting report said. Batted. 278 with five home runs, 18 RBi, 19 runs scored and logged a .981 fielding percentage. This past season, the 6’1”- 180 lb. righty spent all season with HiA Rancho Cucamonga and as much as you’d expect from the Cal League, Wong put on a power display, blasting 19 home runs along with 20 doubles, scored 64 runs, drove in 60, stole six bases and posted a .986 fielding percentage. Yet this is an all-star list and we understand that with the upper minors stacked with top tier catchers, probably the biggest asset going for Wong is his position versatility. As a freshman at Houston, Wong was the Cougars starting shortstop having started 62 of 63 games. Then in his sophomore year, he saw action at third base, outfield and catcher. So, Wong is no stranger to moving around the diamond, and that might be his ultimate ticket to possible success in the majors. 1B – Dillon Paulson – This opinion might not be too popular, but am I one of the few people who are just waiting for Dodgers slugger Max Muncy to become Max Muncy again? He’s L.A.’s listed starter at first base heading into the 2019 season and truth be told, in comparison to previous seasons (he didn’t even play in 2017), he had as big a coming out party last year as any slugger I’ve seen in quite a long time. His 2018 is almost bordering on “too good to be true” territory. In fantasy, if you gave Muncy a shot, god bless you. You rode him for everything he gave last season, however it’d be foolish to expect him to do the exact same this season. Call me fatalistic, but Muncy could be in for a huge regression, but you know what, if he goes out there and mashes again, I’ll be the first in line to applaud him. So, what this does is adds another first baseman into the Dodgers mix that includes 2017 Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, which helps take the pressure off finding that next up-and-comer at the position. The Dodgers may have found another in 2018 – 13th rounder Dillon Paulson. Drafted out of Southern Cal, Paulson brought big power upside, a polished approach at the plate with a quick bat, and showed off all of those skills in his pro debut with Rookie Ogden. The 6’3”- 200 lb. lefty led the Raptors in runs scored (64), doubles (20), RBi (61), total bases (117) and ranked within the team’s top five in hits (61), home runs (10). Paulson also posted an incredible 42:51 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Defensively, he logged a. 984 fielding percentage, committing eight errors in 54 games started at first. With not much competition in the low minors, Paulson could move rather quickly, and despite being on top of the the age/level curve, Paulson could get ahead of it quickly if he mashes out of the gate next season for LoA Great Lakes or even HiA Rancho Cucamonga. Keep an eye on him. 2B – Jeremy Arocho – With Corey Seager now healthy and ready to assault National League pitching once again from the shortstop position, this shifts the focus to what the Dodgers are going to do with their all of their middle infield prospects, at least until Seager becomes a free agent in 2022. MLB Pipeline houses five middle infield prospects inside their 2019 Dodgers top 30, while Baseball America lists three shortstops, with Gavin Lux leading the way. Chris Taylor is pencilled in as the the opening day starter, with super utility man Kiki Hernandez as the primary backup. Quite the conundrum I’d say. However, when situations like this arise, Jim and I sit back and our primary hope is that a prospect will hit us out of nowhere and add himself to the fray. Maybe that’ll be Jeremy Arocho. Drafted out of Old Mill HS (MD) in the 27th round back in 2017, the 5’10’- 165 lb. switch-hitter tied for second on the Rookie Ogden roster in hits (65), tied for first with 12 steals and posted a .978 fielding percentage. Now after reading that you might say to yourself, “Ok, so?” And that’s exactly the reaction that I’d expect because that was pretty much the state of the low level second basemen in the organization in 2018. Which is why the Dodgers will most likely (and rightfully) shift their top middle infielder Lux from short to second base, where with his potent offense, he could become one of the better power hitters at the keystone in a big hurry. Jim and I will take a wait-and-see approach with Dodger second base prospects again in 2019. Maybe Arocho steps up his game, maybe not. Either way, L.A. has second covered for awhile. 3B – Rylan Bannon – As a Justin Turner owner in my N.L.-only fantasy league, I’ve taken a vested interest in the third base hierarchy in the Dodgers system. Obviously, being in a league that allows minors, I’ve bookmarked several because you always look for that handcuff, that potential replacement for that solid fantasy contributor, and it’s actually crucial in league-specific leagues. Well, I thought I had my prime suspect, that perfect under the radar prospect that I could sneak onto my roster in the last round of my draft for a $1 dollar. Sadly, this year’s Dodgers UTR OAS third baseman Rylan Bannon will be a one-and-done, the one that got away, as Bannon was part of the five-player package L.A. sent to Baltimore in the Manny Machado mega-trade back in July 2918. Prior to being dealt, Bannon, 2017 – 8th rounder out of Xavier University (OH), was lighting the HiA Cal League on fire to the tune of a .296 batting average, 17 doubles, 20 homers, 58 runs scored and 61 RBi in 89 games before the trade. So, it was no surprise that once he became a member of the American League East, he was sent straight to Double-A Bowie, where he slowed down considerably, which was expected. New organization, new level, new teammates, etc. Despite the trade of Bannon, L.A. still has a few intriguing bats at the position like Christian Santana, Edwin Rios to name a couple. But for UTR it’s back to the drawing board. SS – Jacob Amaya – I’m not one to make bold predictions. As if readers don’t already know, Jim and I are a lot more “whatever the stats say is what is” type evaluators if you will. However, after the season Jacob Amaya had with Rookie Ogden and LoA Great Lakes, coupled with his overall player profile, I’m making the bold prediction that next year Amaya could very well find himself seated within several Dodgers top 5 prospect lists. There is nothing not to like here. The Dodgers stole the 6’0”- 180 lb. righty from a Cal State Fullerton commitment and assigned him to the AZL after being drafted out of South Hills HS (CA) in the 11th round in 2017. Amaya didn’t bring with him any overly loud tools. He carried an above-average hit with solid power and great defensive with an above-average arm and those skills were well on display last season with Rookie Ogden where he registered a .346/.465/.535/.1.000 slashline along with nine doubles, three home runs, 11 stolen bases and 27 walks to 29 strikeouts. This was enough to warrant a promotion to LoA where his bat died down a bit, but getting on base remained a strength, as he walked 20 more times and got on base at a .390 clip in his last 27 games. Over two levels, Amaya finished the season batting .311 with 17 extra-base hits, 54 runs scored, 29 RBi and perfect 47:47 BB:K ratio. My definite favorite Dodger prospect follow heading into 2019. LF – Dan Robinson – If you’re a Dodger fan, you have to be pretty excited about what the organization has assembled in their major league outfield. The Dodgers traded veteran Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to the Reds, making room for Joc Pederson to gain everyday at-bats, young superstar Cody Bellinger and recent trade acquisition A.J. Pollock. Oh, and I haven’t yet mentioned top outfield prospect phenom Alex Verdugo. So, as far as the Dodgers go, outfield is pretty well set for the near future. And honestly, that’s a great thing because other than Verdugo and Double-A slugger D.J. Peters, L.A.’s outfield ranks leave a lot to be desired, even in the UTR sense. Therefore, we are taking a grain-of-salt approach with this year’s Dodgers OAS outfielders starting with Daniel Robinson. Los Angeles selected the 6’2”- 215 lb. lefty out of Central Michigan this past year, sending him to Rookie Ogden to start his pro career. The 29th rounder was one of the Raptors team leaders in walks (32), posted a .423 on-base percentage and ranked fifth on the team with 95 total bases. Again, there’s nothing eye-popping about what transpired statistically, but someone who bats .332 and walks eight more times than he struck out deserves an asterisk by his name heading into the following season. CF – Brayan Morales – In his third year in the organization, the 23-year old Morales recorded his most productive pro season to date. He hit a career high .273 with 15 doubles, three home runs and 47 runs scored for LoA Great Lakes. However, what stood out most was Morales’ organization-leading 46 stolen bases. In fact, his 46 steals ranked him eleventh in all the minors. Defensively, the 6’1”- 170 lb. Puerto Rico native committed only five errors in 77 center field starts. With a possible, but more likely promotion to HiA Rancho Cucamonga in 2019, I’ll be anxious to see how many more steals Morales can add to his resume. RF – Cody Thomas – As I said in the Robinson bio above, power-hitting stud prospect D.J. Peters is the heir apparent to the right field job in L.A. I like Joc Pederson, but let’s face it, Peters carries the quintessential right fielder profile: huge power (with some rating it an 80 on the 20-80 scale), plus arm strength and great athleticism. But for this year’s OAS, we’re visiting an old friend in Cody Thomas, a 2016 – 13th round draft choice out of Oklahoma University. We use the term “old friend” not because we know him personally, because not only was Thomas an 11-time Hitter of the Day choice in 2018, but a 2016 Organizational All-Star selection after batting a combined .297 with 10 home runs and 50 RBi in his debut season wit the AZL and Rookie Ogden. He saw a big dip in batting the following season with LoA Great Lakes (.222), but still clubbed 18 doubles and 20 home runs (5th in the Midwest League). This past season, Thomas took his power to the Cal League, raised his batting average 63 points, and led all everyday Cal League right fielders in extra-base percentage (.430) by bashing 35 doubles, seven triples and 19 home runs. In quite the under-the-radar fashion, the 6’4”- 210 lb. former Sooner quarterback has assembled quite a nice resume. However, he’s poised to see Double-A Tulas in 2019 and we’ll see then if the bat truly is for real. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Edwin Uceta – (14) / HiA Rancho Cucamonga
**Uceta went from 56 innings in his 2017 U.S. debut season (Odgen – Pioneer League) to 120.1 innings across two levels in 2018, reaching HiA Rancho Cucamonga as a 20 year old. He handled the batters in the LoA Midwest League with a 3.83 K/BB ratio and 1.18 WHIP in 99.2 innings. At times, he was overmatched in the California League but still posted a very respectable 12.2 K9 rate. The 6′ 0″ 155 lb Dominican righty already shows good pitchablity for his age, but his smallish frame lends doubt he can stay in the starting role. At this point, his changeup surpasses his fastball (90-95), as his best pitch, and his continued work on the curveball will develop into a plus offering.
2. RHP Alfredo Tavarez – (13) / LoA Great Lakes**This shouldn’t be Tavarez’ first mentioned as a OAS. The 21 year old Dominican took the reins as the ace at Great Lakes, when Uceta was promoted to Rancho Cucamonga. The big framed (6’5″ 190 lb) right-hander remains raw, but already shows the tools of having excellent command and control. Equipped with a strong arm, Tavarez has strikeout potential with his repeatable delivery, but work remains on his mechanics.
3. RHP Tony Gonsolin – (11.5)/ Double-A Tulsa “Take a Flyer”
**I would say Gonsolin is sneaky good. I mulled over a considered amount of time around this time last season, to place the 9th round pick (2016) as my Dodgers “One to Watch” in 2018. And honestly, the fact of him turning 24 this past season lead me away to choose Leo Crawford instead. Gonsolin went out to have a breakout season and garnering the Dodgers Pitcher of the Year. The 6′ 3″ 204 lb went out posted 155 strikeouts in 129 innings and a 1.14 WHIP over two advanced levels. With a mid-90’s fastball that’s capable to touching 100 mph, look for Gonsolin to find his way to Los Angeles in 2019.
4. RHP Dustin May – (11) / Double-A Tulsa “Legit UTR” / “Solid Stash”
** May will be the first to get the call to wear Dodger Blue this season, when the injuries begin to befall the LA rotation. It can all be summed-up by: Nasty stuff, advanced fastball command (elite), that all produces a high K and groundball rates.
5. LHP Leonardo Crawford – (9) / Triple-A Oklahoma City “Legit UTR”
**Crawford was my choice over Gonsolin as my Dodgers 2018 “One to Watch” and he didn’t disappoint. With a command of a 3-pitch mix, the 6′ 0″ 180 lb left-hander displayed solid production over two levels. It was at HiA Rancho Cucamonga that capture attention for the 22 year-old. Crawford went 8-0 with a 2.77 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 68.1 innings and only 19 walks, on his way to a 1.14 WHIP. Let’s not discuss his one outing at Triple-A…..the stat line say it all.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Marshall Kasowski – (17) / Double-A Tulsa
2. RHP Nolan Long – (8)/ Double-A Tulsa “Legit UTR”
3. RHP Andre Scrubb – (7)/ Double-A Tulsa
Top Lineup C – Willie MacIver – Over the time Jim and I researched, then put together the UTR OAS lists, it occurred to us with each passing team how rare it is for a team to develop great, all-around catching prospects. And quite honestly, the Rockies are no exception. You have aging major leaguer in Chris Iannetta as your starter, defense-first backup Tony Wolters and what seems like forever star-in-waiting Tom Murphy at the highest level. I wouldn’t call it living paycheck to paycheck, but one thing organizations hope for is finding that long term solution. Is Murphy the answer? Who knows. He’ll be 28 a week into the 2019 MLB regular season and destined to start the year in Triple-A. Since 2015 he has a .219 average with 10 home runs and 34 RBi in 81 games. Not exactly Hall-of-Fame material. As far as the 2018 season goes, and the overall catcher package you’d like to see however, 2018 – 9th rounder Willie MacIver fit the bill. Drafted out of the University of Washington, the 2018 – 9th rounder came to the organization with several intriguing tools: plus-raw power; plus arm; a solid glove behind the plate; good plate discipline; and good speed for a catcher. The junior draftee was assigned to SS Boise and didn’t necessarily put on a show, but gave the Rockies exactly what you’d want in a catcher. Good offense at the plate and and above average skills behind it, as he posted a .284 batting average, hit five home runs, drove in 30, stole four bases and logged a .984 fielding percentage in 31 games. Thing is, the 6’2”- 205 lb. righty is fairly new to the position, having played third base up until his sophomore year at Washington, which is evident of how good an athlete MacIver is. He’s absolutely someone to watch in the Rockies system, and even has the chance with a solid/stellar sophomore season to inch his way toward “top overall minor league catchers” discussion. Place him on all prospect watch lists.
*Update: The Rockies designated catcher Tom Murphy for assignment*
1B – Roberto Ramos – With the recent contract extension awarded to Nolan Arenado, you’re almost forced to ask yourself what current Rockies top prospect will find his way over to first base. Is it Tyler Nevin? Or incumbent major leaguer Ryan McMahon? Colton Welker perhaps? Maybe not because scouts and evaluators say Welker is athletic enough to move to first base of even the outfield if need be. As long as the organization can keep his potent bat in any lineup. So, despite all the possibilities, let’s not discount some of the other sluggers in the organization. This past season will probably be the last UTR go around for this year’s OAS Roberto Ramos, but he certainly earned it. The 2014 – 16th rounder out of the College of the Canyons is known for two things: Power and strikeouts. In 2018, over two levels (HiA Lancaster and Double-A Hartford), Ramos tied for third overall for the minor league lead in home runs with 32. However, as sexy as the long ball is, strikeouts can kill that vibe real quick. Over 122 games, he struck out 124 times. In fact, over his 369 game minor league career, he’s suffered a startling 393. Defensively, the 6’5”- 220 lb. lefty hasn’t proved a liability at first posting a .992 fielding percentage last season, and .989 over his career. More than likely Ramos is ticketed for another go at Double-A, and with a burst out of the gate, a promotion to Triple-A isn’t out of the question. 2B – Hunter Stovall – I’m a huge believer in Garrett Hampson; and after he batted .301 with 24 extra-base hits, 43 runs scored, 44 RBi with 36 bases in his debut season back in 2016 (for SS Boise) he was an easy UTR OAS choice at shortstop. But with the presence of #1 prospect Brendan Rodgers, Hampson was destined to shift to second base, and it’s kind of a proud moment since the once “future utility role” tagged player is poised to open the 2019 season as the Colorado Rockies starting second baseman. So, the UTR book is wide open again, we’re ready to anoint the next under-the-radar star at the position and hopefully Mississippi State University draftee Hunter Stovall doesn’t disappoint. The 2018 – 21st rounder was sent straight to Rookie Grand Junction after his junior year where he was a 2018 College World Series All-Tournament Team selection at second base. The 5’8”- 170 lb. righty batted .296 and was among the Pioneer League leaders in home runs (10) and ranked just outside the top ten in slugging percentage (.588) and total bases (117). If Stovall can continue hitting like this, his path to the big leagues could be quick, however, despite the “future utility role” once stamped on Hampson, this might be more true for Stovall, as he saw time at catcher and infield in college, while seeing time at every position on the diamond last year except pitcher, catcher, and first base. It’ll be intriguing watching Stovall ascend through the system. Not because of his bat, but where the organization plans to play him. Stovall is a great athlete with plus speed, well-above-average defensive tools and a real good bat. Should be a fun one to watch.3B – Bret Boswell – As I mentioned in first baseman Ramos’ bio above, Nolan Arenado pretty much cemented his status as a lifetime Rockie by signing an 8 year- $260M dollar contract extension. This keeps him in Colorado until his age 34 season. Therefore potential third basemen, including Welker are kind of in a holding pattern, yet still have to go out and produce everyday, working hard to earn an opportunity elsewhere. However, I’ll throw my own curveball into the equation and choose Bret Boswell as this year’s OAS third baseman. I mean, how in the world can I leave 25 doubles, 27 home runs, 97 runs scored and a .296 average off this list? In spite of Boswell being listed as a second baseman in the organization, he registered more games at third in 2018 than second, and logged a better fielding percentage at third (.973) than he did as a second baseman (.970). Sure, Boswell was a 23 year-old in HiA last year, will be 24 all year long, thus it being his last season as a UTR qualifier, unless he spends all of 2019 with Double-A Hartford, which we expect him to do so. But, we’ve used this term a lot over the course of this website’s existence: formality. Boswell deserved a spot, but he won’t unseat Arenado. No one will. So, why not celebrate an under-the-radar power hitter who could actually find himself in the mix for major league playing time at second base if he continues to show this much power as he continues to ascends up the ranks.SS – Eddy Diaz – I love kids like Diaz. Not because of his skills as a player, but how his production ranks next to top prospects who sit above him on the depth chart. Now let’s make it clear that we here acknowledge that, despite Trevor Story’s presence in Colorado, 2015 – first round draft pick Brendan Rodgers is the heir apparent to the shortstop position and deserves every top prospect ranking linked to his name. He’s less than a year away from making an impact in the majors. So, with Rodgers, 2017 draftee Ryan Vilade and 2018 – third rounder Terrin Vavra ahead of Diaz, the 5’11”- 170 lb. righty has to do more to earn equal attention. And I think he did just that in 2018. He’s not called “Fast Eddy” for nothing, as he stole 54 bases in 2018, which ranked fourth in all the minors behind Houston’s Myles Straw (70); the Cubs Rochest Cruz (56) and Tampa Bay’s uber prospect Vidal Brujan (55). Diaz isn’t just a set of wheels. He’s batted .311 and .309 his first two seasons and carries a career .411 on-base percentage. Defensively he needs work, but with this kind of speed (87 steals in 84 games), you wonder with the overload of middle infielders in the system, Diaz may find himself in either a potential trade or a target for a possible position change to help utilize his speed.LF – Yolki Pena – With the MLB regular season less than a week away, looking at the Rockies projected opening day lineup, there’s one thing that I’m really hoping for; and that’s for soon-to-be 25 year old left fielder David Dahl to stay healthy and finally reach his full potential. Much like I said about first baseman Corey Zangari in our Chicago White Sox UTR OAS post a few weeks ago. There’s nothing worse than watching a player begin to make his mark and within a flash it’s all over. So, we hope Dahl can prove his worth with a full season of heath. After all, he’s under team control for another five seasons. So, we head to the UTR drawing board and see a bevy of outfielders; and as far as the 2018 season goes, we’re going to take a chance on the crooked numbers of second-year Dominican Republic native Yolki Pena. Signed back in 2016 for $600K, the 6’2”- 165 lb. lefty started his pro career in the Dominican Summer League. Pena batted .301 in his debut and also led the 2017 DSL Rockies squad in hits (64), runs scored (36) and total bases (82), yet most notably was his (team leading) 40 walks to only 34 strikeouts. When you look at Pena’s line score from 2018, you realize that his debut was absolutely no fluke. Sure, his batting average dipped to .257, however, Pena played 13 less games in 2018 than he did the previous year, but walked an astonishing 58 times to (another) 34 strikeouts. That’s nearly a 28 percent walk rate. This helped him to a .467 on-base percentage, which ranked sixth in the league. And for a kid with below-average power, he still clubbed 12 doubles, six triples a home run, equating to a .439 slugging percentage. As true an under-the-radar prospect that there is in the Colorado system. I’m surprised he repeated the DSL in 2018, however, with numbers like this, he’s destined for either Rookie Grand Junction or even SS Boise if the organization really wants to test him. CF – Matt Hearn – Here we are with another position in the organization who’s top star is under contract for the next several years. Three-time all-star and former National League batting champion (2017) Charlie Blackmon isn’t set to see free-agency until the 2023 season; where he can exercise an opt out clause. That’s five years away, and in circumstances like this, Jim and I have to go back to the basics. We have to find ourselves a solid UTR candidate who could possibly work his way up through the organization in pure centerfielder fashion. With the exception of former UTR Organizational All-StarYonathan Daza (along with some other intriguing names on that list) there aren’t many centerfield stars in the organization yet. So, let’s throw 2016 – 24th round draft choice Matt Hearn’s name into the mix. Selected out of Mission College (CA), the 5’9”- 165 lb. lefty doesn’t really do anything truly special. He was drafted by Atlanta, but the Braves cut him after his rookie year in the pros. The following year Hearn found himself playing for the Gateway Grizzlies of the Independent League before the Rockies gave him a call, signed him in March 2018, and assigned him to SS Boise of the Northwest League. In 36 games, Hearn batted .377 with eight extra-base hits, 12 stolen bases and 24 runs scored before receiving a late-July promotion to LoA Asheville. With the Tourists, he slowed down a bit (.271), but slightly boosted his walk total and stole six more bases. Will Hearn unseat Blackmon? No. As a 23-year-old prospect in LoA, will major publications give him any attention? No. However, he had a decent season in 2018 and you know what, that’s a good thing. Can he surprise us again in 2019? Us little guys sure hope so. RF – Niko Decolati – There are some kids you just have a gut feeling about when you not only see their stats, but read their story. Decolati is one of those kids. I know for me, the 6’1”- 215 lb. right fielder will immediately find his way to my personal long-term prospect watch list after the debut season he had for Rookie Grand Junction last year. Colorado drafted righty slugger out of Loyola Marymount University (CA) and the junior came to the organization as a super athlete with plus raw power; well above-average speed, great arm and plus bat speed. He was Loyola’s third baseman and shortstop, but was immediately shifted to the outfield upon being drafted and true to his athleticism, committed only four errors in 58 games in right field. With the bat, Decolati ranked within the Pioneer League top five in runs scored (55), hits (86), home runs (11), RBi (56), walks (34) and ranked second in the league with 140 total bases. There is nothing not to like here. Decolati can hit, he can field and he can throw with the best of them in the entire Rockies organization.I fully expect Decolati to open the 2019 season with SS Boise or even an aggressive push to LoA Asheville. One of my favorite Rockies follows heading into 2019. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Garrett Schilling – (15) / LoA Asheville
**Schilling posted a solid numbers in his first full season at Asheville. The 18th round pick in 2017 recorded 135 strikeouts in 144.1 innings, along with a 2.8 BB9 rate and 3.87 ERA in 26 appearances (25 starts).
2. RHP Rico Garcia – (11.5) / Double-A Hartford
**The undersized right-hander defied the odds in 2018. The 5′ 11″ 190 lb was drafted in the 30th round in 2016 only posted subtle numbers over the last two season. He made his debut in the Northwest League (Boise) where he made 16 appearances, half of them starts, and was scorched with a 6.37 ERA and 12.7 H9 rate. He split time between Boise and LoA Asheville in 2017 and his 2.97 ERA and 4.29 K/BB ratio in 8 appearances (4 starts) did not raise any eyebrows. Garcia was making delivery adjustments over those past seasons, and it all came together last season. Garcia started at Asheville and was promoted to Hartford in early July. He finished with a 1309 record, a 2.96 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts), and 162 strikeouts in 167 innings. His arsenal contains a low’s 90 fastball and a buckling breaking ball, and hitters have a difficult time picking-up his release point. Garcia could become an innings-eating back-end type.
3. LHP Lucas Gilbreath – (10) / LoA Asheville
**The Rockies like Glibreath so much, they drafted him twice. In 2014, when he was a high schooler, Colorado drafted him in 36th round, but Gilbreath went to the University of Minnesota. The Rox came calling again in 2017 and signed the 6′ 1″ 185 lb lefty from the 7th round. He finished his first full season in Asheville with an outstanding 4.96 K/BB ratio, but with a 5.04 ERA. Digging deeper, Gilbreath registered a 3.33 FIP, which indicates that luck wasn’t on his side.
4. RHP Antonio Santos – (9.5) / HiA Lancaster “Legit UTR”
** Santos becomes a Legit UTR with a return visit to the OAS roster. The projectable 6′ 3″ 180 lb Dominican has held his own against older competition on each of his stops the last four seasons. The organization took note last season when the right-hander took on hitters in HiA California League and posted a 7.7 K9 and 2.9 rates, but gave up 15 home runs in 65.2 innings. Santos has a 92-95 fastball that will touch 97 mph. He also has a good feel on his breaker and changeup, but needs to work on his consistency. Santos solid 2018 season follows-up the selection as my Rockies 2018 “One to Watch”.
5. RHP Brandon Gold – (9.5) / HiA Lancaster “Legit UTR”
** Gold also repeats as a UTR-OAS from 2018. The 12th round pick in 2016 took his raps in the Cali League last season, but my system got the flashes of his potential
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Reid Humphreys – (14) / Double-A Hartford
2. RHP Tommy Doyles – (13)/ LoA Asheville
3. LHP Ben Bowden – (13)/ HiA Lancaster
Top LineupC – Daulton Varsho – Although some within baseball say he may eventually move away from the position, this year’s Diamondback UTR OAS catcher Daulton Varsho stood far above the rest of his organizational catching competition in 2018. Even with the recent acquisition of Carson Kelly from the Cardinals in the Paul Goldschmidt deal, the 5’10”- 190 lb. lefty keeps his standing as the potential heir to the major league job. After all, when you add in the rare ability of Varsho’s bat (.294 in 2018; .301 career) with plus speed (19 stolen bases last year) to the fact that he’ll most likely spend all 2019 with Double-A Jackson, and that the major league squad houses a trio of catchers (Carson Kelly, John Ryan Murphy and Alex Avila) who sported a combined .179 batting average in 2018, Varsho couldn’t arrive to Chase Field soon enough. With a healthy, solid performance this coming season, Varsho very well could see time in the majors as soon as late 2019, even if it’s in a utility role, as some say he could see time at second base or even the outfield, so to utilize his 55 grade speed. 1B – Zack Shannon – Despite his prospect stock falling a bit, I firmly believe 2017 – 1st round draft choice Pavin Smith will eventually wind up as the Diamondbacks first baseman of the future. He has too much power not to find a way to tap into it. However, when you look at the Diamondbacks 2018 season in a statistical microcosm, first-year Diamondback Zack Shannon did a pretty good job despite being old for the level he played. And speaking of power, the 6’3”- 230 lb. righty, drafted in the 15th round out of Delta State University, has it in surplus. Not only did Shannon lead Division II Gulf South Conference in home runs in 2018, but the nation with 31 and in runs-batted in with 93. Arizona assigned Shannon to Rookie Missoula to start his pro career and did exactly what you would have expected; led the Pioneer League with 14 home runs, ranked second in OPS (1.116), third in slugging percentage (.677) and fifth in with 55 runs batted in. At this point, what Shannon did was great, however he has mountains to climb in order find himself in serious prospect discussions moving forward. We here will absolutely be rooting for him as he takes a step up the organizational ladder to either SS Hillsboro or LoA Kane County. 2B – Jose Caballero – When scanning the middle infield landscape organizationally, you immediately see a plentitude of second basemen at the high levels includingIldemaro Vargas, Domingo Leyba, free agent signee Kelby Tomlinson and Andy Young, whom I’m not a bit surprised St. Louis added him in the Paul Goldschmidt deal. Young is a real good prospect who has the overall goods to become a major league regular, But with the sea of talented middle infielders the Cardinals boast in their system, it’s a huge gain for Arizona and gives this year’s UTR OAS Jose Caballero another hurdle to clear in his ascent up the organizational ranks. Make no mistake though, the 5’10” – 185 lb. Panama native is no slouch. The 2017 – 7th rounder out of Chipola College (FL) started his career with Rookie Missoula in 2017. He batted .319, logged a .377 on-base percentage, .844 OPS and talled 63 total bases in 36 games. The organization gave Caballero a well-earned promotion to SS Hillsboro and he responded with a .290/.367/.464/.831 slash line along with five home runs, 12 steals, and 14 walks to 20 strikeouts in 37 games, which earned another jump, this time to LoA Kane County, where he saw practically zero slowdown. He bumped up his overall slashline, and although his stolen base total dipped slightly, (12 to 5), he registered a perfect 1:1 BB:K ratio (16:16). I love this kid and with a possible promotion to HiA Visalia in 2019, it will be very intriguing to see if Caballero’s skills, his baseball acumen and instincts can take another step offensively. If so, he could rocket up prospect boards. 3B – Buddy Kennedy – The trade of Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis left a gaping hole at first base for the Diamondbacks. You just can’t replace what “Goldy” contributed to the organization, not only on the field, but as a community ambassador. However, on the field, the immediate solution was to shift 28-year-old slugger Jake Lamb across the diamond from third base, opening up the hot corner for 2018 trade acquisition Eduardo Escobar, who the Diamondbacks received from Minnesota for three Class-A players last July. This now slows things down a bit behind both players prospect-wise as Lamb isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021, while Escobar isn’t up until the year 2022. But in a way, it actually ramps up prospect excitement a little more at both positions. At third base this season, 2017 – 5th rounder Buddy Kennedy laid his claim as this year’s OAS and a definite one to watch at the hot corner. The Diamondbacks lured the 6’1”- 190 lb. righty from a commitment to the University of North Carolina, signing him for $550K, then assigning him to the Arizona League. He came with a good hit tool, plus-speed, a solid glove and good arm. He finished his debut season as the AZL squad leader in hits (48), runs scored (29), triples (8) and total bases. This more than garnered him a promotion for 2018, finding himself with Rookie Missoula for the 2018 season where he improved drastically. Kennedy played in only seven more games (57) than in 2017 (50), but scored 17 more runs, collected 26 more hits, clubbed 8 more doubles, and saw his strikeout rate decrease over 10 percent. How can you not be excited when talking about Buddy Kennedy? At 19 years old, much like Caballero above, Kennedy has the potential to skyrocket up prospect boards with another season of improvement like he had in 2018. SS – Blaze Alexander – I’m as big a Jazz Chisholm fan as anyone. So much so, in fact, that I drafted the 5’11”- 165 lb. Nassau, Bahamas native in the much-talked-about Pennsylvania Furnace League Jim and I share after his debut season in 2016. But this is UTR and although I firmly recognize that Chisholm is the Diamondbacks #1 prospect heading into 2019, I’ll also identify that Blaze Alexander is right on his heels. Coming in at #10 on the 2019 Baseball America Diamondbacks Top 10, what sticks out mostly about Alexander is his 80 grade arm. In the summer of 2017 during a Perfect Game National Showcase, Alexander made history throwing a ball from shortstop to first base clocked at 99 mph, breaking the PG National Showcase record. This if course prompts some to consider the idea of converting the 19-year-old to the pitcher’s mound. But for now, Arizona plans to move forward with the 6’0”- 160 lb. righty at shortstop, and he made a good step in that direction after dismissing a South Carolina University commitment, and signing with the organization after being taken in the 11th round in 2018. Alexander went straight to AZL where his bat took center stage, batting a team-leading .362 with 25 runs scored, 10 doubles and a near perfect BB:K ratio (19:21). After 28 games, the organization saw enough and promoted the Cape Coral, FL native to Rookie Missoula where he continued to hold his own with a .302/.364/.509/.873 slash line with nine more doubles and another 27 runs score. Obviously Alexander is a great athlete with a plus arm and growing bat. I just hope he can iron out the errors at short (16 in 33 games started). Call me selfish, but one of my favorite ball players growing up was Shawon Dunston. Watching him rocket throw after throw from short day after day still amazes me, and to think we have the chance to see another should get anyone excited. Just keep in hitting kid. Keep on hitting. LF – Ryan Grotjohn – I’m going on record to say that Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta is one of the most grossly underrated outfielders in the National League. He played 146 games last year, batted .293 with 30 home runs and drove in 87 and is under contract in 2019 with arbitration 3 in 2020 and full free agency in 2021. But aside from contract status, when healthy, it’s guys like him that are the reason you win fantasy championships. So, I believe it’s safe to say that Peralta’s job is safe for the next few years. Therefore, in pure UTR mode, we’ll look at 2018 in a nutshell and we determined that 2017 – 10th rounder Ryan Grotjohn is a more than choice. However, he’s no pushover. In fact when the Diamondbacks drafted the 6’2”- 175 lb. lefty, they were getting an absolute professional hitter. In his senior season with Cal-State Bakersfield, Grotjohn led the nation in hitting for a good portion of the 2017 season, finishing with a .390 average along with 15 doubles, 51 runs scored and 23 walks to 20 strikeouts. Despite spending all his time at shortstop defensively, evaluators projected that Grotjohn would be better suited in a utility role due to his athleticism on both sides of the ball. Well, they were right as, he may have found a home in the outfield, committing zero errors in 60 games playing left field in two levels last season, all while batting .287 with eight homers, 22 doubles, stealing six bases and scoring 58 runs over three levels last season. It’s difficult not to root for guys like this. Honestly, as long as the Ryan Grotjohn’s of the world keep on hitting, they are just as important to both professional baseball organizations as they are fantasy rosters. CF – Jorge Barrosa – This is almost the perfect UTR set up. Fellow Bahama native (re: Chisholm) and first-year outfielder Kristian Robinson ranks within several Diamondbacks top prospect lists. And rightfully so. When your overall bat and glove skills draw comparisons to the likes of Andruw Jones, recent free-agent acquisition Adam Jones, Jermaine Dye or Jorge Soler, umm, you take direct notice. However, as I said, it’s almost the perfect UTR setup because while all the attention is aimed toward Robinson, it places fellow first year player and Venezuela native Jorge Barrosa in the perfect spot to be this year’s OAS choice in centerfield. Signed for $415K in July 2017, the 5’9”- 165 lb. switch-hitter headed directly to the Dominican Summer League, where he spent 52 games. Before his mid-August promotion stateside to the Arizona League, the 17-year-old led the Diamondbacks1 squad in runs scored (57) and stolen bases (37), ranked second in hits (61), total bases (84) and doubles (8). His 37 stolen bases not only led the Dbacks1 squad, but ranked fifth in the DSL; while his 39 combined stolen bases across three levels led the entire Diamondbacks organization. Barrosa is praised for his hand-eye coordination, good instincts on the base paths and his ability to roam center with ease. Barrosa is also lauded for his high baseball IQ. There’s a lot to like here. It’s not out of the question for Barrosa to spend all of 2019 in Rookie Missoula, and if he shows off all his skills, he could potentially reach the Midwest League as a 18-year-old. Place him on all prospect watch lists. RF – Mark Karaviotis – With a contract structure similar to fellow outfielder David Peralta, Steven Souza Jr. should man right field for at least the next two seasons. Couple that with an upper-minors that is loaded with UTR post-age criteria guys and journeymen, right field is probably the weakest position within the entire Diamondbacks system. So, until the organization sorts out the mess, we’ll toss two-time Diamondback draftee Mark Karaviotis onto this year’s OAS list. The recently turned 23-year-old righty is no stranger to the organization, as the Dbacks drafted the Hawaii native out of Maui HS in the 39th round back in 2013, but Karaviotis decided to attend the University of Oregon, where he primarily played shortstop. In three years with the Ducks, he batted .255 with a solitary home run, 43 RBi and 12 stolen bases. This was enough for the organization to revisit him, drafting him once again, this time in the 19th round in 2016 Upon selecting him, the organization pulled him off of the shortstop position after he logged 10 errors in 40 games during his rookie season, but he got it done with the bat, hitting a combined .347 with three home runs, 33 RBi, 34 runs scored and 81 total bases in 51 games. In 2017, he spent most of his time at first base and posted a respectable .988 fielding percentage all while continuing to wave a solid bat. (.289/.379/.419/.798). Last season Karaviotis acted as the super utility man for HiA Visalia with time at first, second base and the outfield. Karaviotis will most likely spend all of 2019 in Double-A, where we will no longer track him due to UTR-level criteria. At this point, we believe his ceiling may be solid organizational filler. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Emilio Vargas – (15.5) / Double-A Jackson
**Vargas has been languishing within my Diamondbacks spreadsheets since we began this endeavour in 2014. Unbelievably, the 2013 International free agent signee is only 21 years old and has finally cracked the Arizona season-end UTR OAS roster. Vargas had a breakout season in the hitter-friendly California League in earning the starter role during the mid-season All-Star game. He also was named as the Cal League’s Pitcher of the Year. He posted a an 8-5 record, 2.50 ERA, 140 strikeouts over 108 innings in 20 appearances (19 starts), and received a promotion to Jackson during the final month of the season. This success was bolstered from his improved slider and changeup, that accompanies a mid 90’s fastball. More seasoning should be in the cards for Vargas, as he returns to Double-A Jackson.
2. RHP Jeff Bain – (14.5) / HiA Visalia
** Bain was the D-Backs 16th round pick in 2017 and has easily reached Visalia in his second season. He posted very strong numbers during his time with LoA Kane County in 18 starts. He finished 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA , and a 3.36 K/BB ratio before getting his HiA promotion. Bain keeps the ball in the yard with a strong groundball rate and only allowed 5 home runs in two stints.
3. RHP Riley Smith – (11.5) / HiA Visalia
** The 24th round pick in 2016 posted respectable numbers in 26 HiA appearances (25 starts).
4. RHP Bo Takahashi – (11.5) / Double-A Jackson
** Like Vargas, Takahashi has been a journeyman in the Diamondback system. The 21 year-old has seen 5 seasons on the farm and spent the most of 2018 at Double-A Jackson. Signed as an International free agent in 2013, Takahashi was added to the 40-man roster back in November. The 6′ 0″ 197 lb rihgt-hander made huge strides this past season improving his K% and BB% rates.
5. RHP Connor Grey – (10) / HiA VisaliaTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Carlos Bustamante – (12) / HiA Visalia
2. RHP Matt Brill – (11) / HiA Visalia
T3. LHP Junior Garcia – (8) / HiA Visalia
T3. RHP Kevin Ginkel – (8) / Double-A Jackson
Top LineupC – Ivan Herrera – I have to say that although I grew up (and still am) a Pirates fan, from a UTRMinors standpoint, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of my favorite organizations to cover. In short, they never disappoint. Cardinals hitters can always be counted on to produce and looking down through this year’s lineup of minor leaguers, it’s the same old thing. It’s like making difficult cuts in a keeper league. You love this guy and that guy, but you can’t keep them all. You have to whittle your roster down to the best of the best; and we’ll kick off this year’s Cardinals list with Panamanian teenager Ivan Herrera. Signed for $200K during the July international free agent signing period in 2016, the 6’0”- 180 lb. righty made his pro debut in 2017 in the Dominican Summer League. He led the team in hitting (.335), on-base percentage (.425), OPS (.866), doubles (15) and ranked second with 57 hits and RBi 27 runs batted in, earning him Dominican Summer League All-Star team honors and a promotion to The Gulf Coast League last season where he (again) ranked as one of the team leaders in hits (T-3rd), RBi (T-3rd), batting (.348) and total bases (56). In 70 career games, Herrera carries a .989 fielding percentage, which is good, but not great and the organization feels he has work to do behind the plate, but he’s still a teenager with an obvious bat-first profile. And with (absolute) Hall-of Famer Yadier Molina in tow for another season (or two), Matt Wieters recently signed to a 1-year deal and former 2-timeUTR OASAndrew Knizner patiently awaiting his turn in St. Louis, Herrera has plenty of time to develop; and if he stays on the path he’s on, maybe, just maybe he’ll find himself together with Knizner in St. Louis within the next 3-4 seasons. 1B – Freddy De Jesus – Despite the presence of Paul Goldschmidt, the recent extension given to Jose Martinez, Stefan Trosclair and top prospect Luken Baker at first, much like catcher, we’re sticking with the lower levels. When Jim and I look at who earned a place on the OAS lists, it isn’t always about what a player did in one season. Sometimes it’s about the improvement from one season to the next. So, we’re going with another second year player in 6’0”- 200 lb. Freddy De Jesus. The righty slugger signed with the Cardinals from the Dominican Republic in September 2016 and started his pro career in the hometown DSL the following summer. De Jesus was teammates with the aforementioned Herrera on the Cardinals DSL squad in 2017 and led the roster in home runs (7), tied Herrera in RBi (27) and ranked second on the team in total bases (79). Last year, De Jesus repeated the DSL with the new DSL split affiliate Cardinals Blue roster. Although De Jesus saw a small dip in batting average (.263 from .277) and home runs (7 to 3), he led the Dominican Summer League in doubles (29) and tied for 6th in walks with 50. In fact, De Jesus increased his walk rate nearly 7 percent and his K rate dropped by 4.5 percent. In other words he more than doubled his walk rate and posted only 10 more strikeouts than he had his previous season. With a performance like this, I fully expect De Jesus to head to either the Gulf Coast League to start 2019 or maybe even a stronger push to Rookie Johnson City of the Appalachian League. 2B – Ramon Mendoza – The Cardinals are loaded with infielders in the mid-to-upper minors. When you boast the likes of third basemen Nolan Gorman and Elehuris Montero and Malcolm Nunez, and up-the-middle guys like Edmundo Sosa and former UTR OASTommy Edman, it’s a fantastic problem to have even from a UTR point of view, and although the competition is stiffer, it gives us a chance to lean back in our seats a little further and survey a little longer, even for an annual all-star list. Going back to the DSL, first-year pro Ramon Mendoza fits perfectly here. Signed as a non-drafted free-agent in April 2018, the Tijuana, Mexico native had zero time to waste and headed straight to the DSL. In 41 games he batted .311 with 47 hits, legged out five triples, drove in 33 and walked 22 times to 29 strikeouts. He got on base to a .419 clip and ranked fourth on the team with a .916 OPS. Now, long-time readers understand that the goal Jim and I set forth is not to reinvent the wheel. We just want to add a spoke or two to it. In this case with Mendoza, he’s another spoke on the wheel of second basemen within the system, but with light hitting Kolten Wong manning second and 24-year-old Yairo Munoz at the major league level, I firmly believe that despite our highlighting Mendoza as this year’s OAS, push will definitely come to shove, and one or two of the Cardinals top prospects will eventually replace not only Wong, but Munoz too. My money is on Sosa being the full-time successor with Edman as an uber infield backup. Hopefully Mendoza can continue the trend of top hitting middle infielders, with 2019 coming in the Gulf Coast League. 3B – Nolan Gorman – Even with all of the drool-worthy stats that Cuban-born Malcolm Nunez blasted onto the scene with as a 17-year-old in the DSL last season, I’m going with Gorman here. Normally, I’d take that high quantitative measure over age/level, but the fact that Gorman performed at such a high level last season speaks volumes to what this kid is capable of. The 6’1”- 120 lb. lefty played in only 38 of Johnson City’s 69 Appalachian League games and still ranked among the league leaders in home runs (11) and OPS (1.107). Gorman moved onto LoA Peoria, where he slowed a bit as would be expected, batting .202, but still clubbed 6 home runs in 25 games. As an 18-year-old, the Phoenix native ranked fifth among all Cardinals Triple-A down to the DSL in home runs (17) and there’s really no reason to believe he’ll stop anytime soon. I believe Gorman will begin 2019 back in Peoria, however, with another scorching start, he’ll be headed to HiA Palm Beach in no time. Twenty-five games into Gorman’s pro career, I added him to my fantasy roster. If you haven’t already done the same, it may be too late. SS – Franklin Soto – It’s funny that with the fifth anniversary of UTRMinors coming next month, Jim and I now find that prospects we promoted from the very beginning are up against the new waves of kids we’re talking about now. Case in point, Baseball America’s #12 overall prospect Tommy Edman. He’s been a favorite of mine since his pro debut back in 2016 with SS State College, yet wasn’t recognized until 2018 when he came in at #29 on the (BA) Cardinals top 30 list. I mentioned above that Edman is a two-time UTR OAS choice, so it’s pretty cool, to see Edman knocking on the door, while talking about another kid we hope follows in his footsteps. And after reading so far, you’re probably getting the picture that the Cardinals boasted some of the better talent in the Dominican Summer League last year. Several Cardinals Blue kids put on a show, and now it’s Cardinals Red turn. Franklin Soto did everything you’d want a young middle infielder to do: hit for average (.305), show some pop (18 extra base hits), get on base (.402), steal bases (23) and show great patience at the plate (38 walks to 31 strikeouts). His 97 total bases and 23 steals ranked second on the Cardinals Red roster, but one glaring mark on Soto’s 2018 resume is the errors at short. Twenty-four to be exact, and no matter how solid a bat Soto waves each and every game, to be a top shortstop, you have to have the defensive chops. This is what makes Edman a great prospect. He does everything well and plays up his tools. If Soto can iron out the huge wrinkles in his defense, might we have another Edman’esque UTR on our hands. Only 2019 will tell. LF – Leandro Cedeno – I’m a Marcell Ozuna owner in the ever-so-talked-about National League-only fantasy league that Jim and I share, and when you own players like Ozuna in league-specific leagues that allow minor leaguers, your sonar commonly points toward who within your player’s organization might be his eventual successor. The Cardinals can certainly crow over the bevy of outfield talent, as nine out of Baseball America’s 2019 top 30 roamed the outfield in 2018. Most of them reside in the upper minors so I’ll definitely have plenty to choose from, but this is UTR, this is an all-star list and in 2018, the now 20-year-old Cedeno had himself quite a season. In his second year in the states, (2017 – GCL), the 6’2”- 195 lb. Venezuela native parked himself with Rookie Johnson City and all he did was rank second in the Appalachian League in hits (75) and home runs (14) and total bases (132), third in runs scored (47), and fifth in RBi (47). Cedeno spent time in both outfield corners, registering a perfect fielding percentage in right than in left, yet still committed only two errors. He also saw time at first base and held his own with a .976 in 23 games. For 2018, Cedeno was great. His bat earned him a spot on this year’s list. However, with the avalanche of high-minors talent ahead of him, I just can’t see him breaking through and making a huge impact moving forward. However, you can’t erase him completely from your radar. CF – Joerlin De Los Santos – Now talk about making an impact. The same goes for the 5’11”- 175 lb. De Los Santos when it comes to the pile of outfield prospects ahead of him. In fact, as a center fielder, he actually has more competition for organizational supremacy. However, after the 2018 that the DSL Mid-Season All-Star put up, he could very well be the next star outfielder in the St. Louis system. The now 18-year-old dominated the Dominican Summer League last season batting .359 with a league-leading 84 hits and 66 runs scored, all while stealing 30 bases, totalling 117 bases and walking 41 times to 36 strikeouts. He did it all last year. On the defensive side, he’s a burner in center field, yet some people look to his size as a potential roadblock to staying at the position. But wow, though, when you create a wave like De Los Santos did in 2018, your goal is to continue to ride it as long as possible, which he’ll have the chance to do, most likely in the Gulf Coast League this coming season. As true a UTR prospect that there is in the Cardinals system. Place him on all necessary “watch” lists. RF – Dylan Carlson – As much as I tried to avoid it, there was no denying Cardinals #10 overall prospect in 2019 (BA). Even though the switch-hitter batted a combined, less-than-stellar .246 on the season, take into consideration that after a late-April promotion from LoA Peoria to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the 2016 – 1st round draft choice out of Elk Grove HS (CA) crushed 9 home runs, 19 doubles and walked 52 times for HiA Palm Beach as a 19-year-old. Carlson not only brings an advanced approach at the plate with plus-power potential, but he’s also a plus defender. As a right fielder, Carlson is the whole package. Power, plus-plus arm, the potential to hit for high average and the baseball IQ and acumen for the game at a very young age. Carlson was last year’s UTR OAS right fielder. Hopefully this is his last year on this list, and that he segues directly onto your fantasy rosters. I love everything about this kid. And you should to. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Alex Fagalde – (21) / HiA Palm Beach
** Leave it up to the Cardinals system to have a UTR-OAS roster consisting of middle round draft picks, an Independent signee, and reclamation project. Fagalde was a 30th round pick in 2017 and has had the stigma of having success because his age/level dont match. His debut season was spent in the relief role, sans one GCL start, with short-season State College. Over 14 appearances, the 6′ 3″ 225 lb right-hander struckout 26 and walk only four in 22.1 innings with a 2.42 ERA. Fagalde’s first full season saw more of the same across two levels. At LoA Peroia, he posted a 1.63 ERA and 4.53 K/BB ratio and he was equal to task with a late season promotion to HiA. His ERA may have spiked at Palm Beach (3.20), but the K/BB (4.33) ratio against advanced hitters remained steady. Fagalde turns 25-years old to start the 2019 season, but only has 139 pro innings under his belt. Look for his to return to Palm Beach to begin the new season, but watch closely when the promotion to Springfield occurs.
2. RHP Jake Walsh – (15) / HiA Palm Beach
** Walsh was taken in the 16th round in 2017 and was assigned to the bullpen at Johnson City (Appy League). In 16 starts, the 6′ 1″ 192 lb right-hander posted a 0.95 ERA in 28.1 innings and a 12.4 K9 rate. The impression was made and Walsh was quickly sent to LoA Peroia to begin the 2018 season. Now within the Chiefs rotation, Walsh only made 8 starts (3.12 ERA, 43.1 IP, 47 K, 15 BB) before receiving a promotion to Palm Beach. The 22 year-olds strikeout rate dipped (6.4 K9) but continue to impress with his 2.24 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
3. LHP Austin Warner – (14) / Triple-A Memphis
** Warner was signed by the Cardinals from the Frontier League on June 2017. He got a taste at the HiA level (1 appearance) in his debut season and looked good starting with Palm Beach to begin 2018. The Cardinals challenged him with promotions to Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, where he was overmatched. At this point, the 5′ 11″ 185 lb looks to be organizational filler.
4. RHP Evan Guillory – (12.5) / HiA Palm Beach
** The 23rd round pick in 2017 flashed decent outings, only to get shellacked next time out. It looked like the workload of starting started to wear-down the 6′ 3 ” 210lb right-hander, but he finished with a strong month of August.
5. RHP Casey Meisner – (10.5) / Double-A Springfield
** Meisner was a 3rd round high school draft pick by the New York Mets in 2013. He never preformed up to his high draft choice billing and was traded to Oakland for Tyler Clippard. He never gained traction with the Athletics and was again traded to the Cardinals before the start of the 2018 season. After 6 pro seasons, Meisner probably enjoyed his best season in 2018 playing across two levels, and reaching Double-A Springfield. Meisner turns 24 years-old in May, so there’s plenty of time for re-development with the Cardinals. His size (6′ 7″ 190 lb), pitch repertoire, and his capability to pitch deep in games places his ceiling as an innings-eating #4-5 type arm.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Thomas St. Clair – (12.5) / HiA Palm Beach
2. RHP Cory Malcom – (6) / LoA Peoria
3. LHP Jacob Patterson – (5) / HiA Palm Beach
Top Lineup C – Arden Pabst – In the upper minors, the Pirates possess a collection of backstops that don’t necessarily light the scoreboard on fire. Yet at the same time, it’s a bit surprising the Pirates haven’t traded Francisco Cervelli after the 11-year veteran posted his best season ever as a regular in 2018. However, with one year remaining on Cervelli’s contract, hopefully this gives current backup Elias Diaz a pathway to the everyday job, because truth be told, and with all of his injuries behind him, he’s more than capable of handling everyday duties after batting .286 with 10 home runs, 34 RBi and .984 fielding percentage in 82 games last season. This allows the Pirates time to slow-cook their minors despite the fact that several of the catchers in the system are in their mid-to-upper 20s. The 6’1”- 200 lb. righty Pabst has improved each season since his debut in 2016, with 2018 being his best overall to date. The Pirates drafted Pabst in 2016 out of the 12th round from Georgia Tech and he came to the organization with a defense first, average-at-best bat. He left college with a three-year batting average of .234, six home runs and 54 RBi in 124 career games. Yet as a pro, he’s more than overplayed his scouting report. Last season he started with HiA Bradenton and in 46 games he batted a surprising .281, hit eight home runs (two more than he hit during his entire collegiate career) with 29 RBi. The Los Angeles native received a one-game push to AAA Indianapolis, went 2-3 with a run scored and a strikeout before heading to Double-A Altoona where he finished the season with a .193 average, two home runs and six runs scored in 19 games. However, when you add it all up, he posted a .264/.306/.472/.778 slashline with 10 home runs, 14 doubles and 36 RBi in 66 games to go along with a .992 fielding percentage. I expect Pabst to spend all year in Double-A Altoona, and if he can post similar offensive numbers while maintaining above-average defense, he could find himself in the position to walk with Elias, as Diaz’ primary backup. 1B – Mason Martin – With Josh Bell under team control until the 2023 season, Pittsburgh has more than enough time to toil their system for the next star at the position. They may have found it in former third baseman and 2016 – 1st rounder Will Craig, who after his debut season in 2016, shifted across the diamond from third to first. Last season, with Double-A Altoona, Craig hit only .248, but crushed 30 doubles, 20 home runs and drove in 102, while logging a rather impressive .993 fielding percentage. So, this obviously gives this year’s UTR OAS Mason Martin plenty of time to iron out his strikeout issues, despite his massive power potential. Martin came to the Pirates out of Southridge HS (WA) with one glaring tool: huge raw power. And from the moment the 2017 – 17th rounder took the field as a pro, he’s displayed it, crushing 11 home runs in 30 games for the Gulf Coast League Pirates, then last year when he moved up to Rookie Bristol of the Appalachian League. There, he clubbed 10 more before a late-June promotion to the South Atlantic League. With West Virginia, he belted four more to end last season with 14 home runs, 18 doubles, 58 RBi and 58 runs scored in 104 games. However, let’s pump the brakes a bit. We all love the long ball. The 6’0”- 200 lb. lefty batted .307 in the GCL with 11 dingers in 2017, however, even though the power arrived last year, so did the dip in average and the strikeouts. To go from a 32:41 BB:K ratio (in 39 games) to 60:149 in 104 games is astounding. But you can’t give up on the kid. He’s only 19, and obviously has a lot of work to do. Ironically, you can always look at that debut season and see that he has potential way past his “huge raw power-first” scouting report. 2B – Carlos Arroyo – As a Pirate fan, you just have to love seeing Adam Frazier’s name pencilled in as the potential opening day starter at second. This is a guy who (since being drafted in the 6th round back in 2013 out of Mississippi State University), has kicked, clawed and scratched his way all through the minors, playing every single position management ever asked of him, and no matter where he’s played, he’s hit. He logged games at every single position in the minors except catcher and pitcher and provided adequate enough defense to hold his own no matter what. As a major leaguer, the organization has backed off on the amount of gloves the 27-year-old lefty needs to bring to the park each day, but Frazier is the ultimate gamer and offers that versatility so badly needed in today’s game. Yet one of the more important elements of such versatility is when you have a big time surplus of minors who will eventually need room to play. The Pirates are loaded with middle infielders in their upper minors, with 2B Kevin Kramer, and shortstops Oneil Cruz, Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman all sitting firmly inside Baseball America’s 2019 Pirate Top 10. This basically kicks the door wide open for us UTR folk to highlight another second baseman like Carlos Arroyo, a highly regarded Columbia native whom the Pirates signed in July 2017, soon after he turned the ripe age of 16. The 5’9”- 170 lb. righty debuted in the Dominican Summer League, was one of only four 16-year-olds in the entire DSL, yet batted .294, led the Pirates1 DSL squad in on-base percentage (.416) and sat within the roster’s top five in hits (53), stolen bases (15) and walks (33). Arroyo flashed a good glove too, as he played 45 of his 58 games at second posting a .971 fielding percentage. It’s always a good thing to temper enthusiasm for a 16 year old who performed extremely well in his debut, but it’s absolutely worth noting even though the organization is extremely top heavy with middle infielders. I fully expect Arroyo to start 2019 stateside in the Gulf Coast League, and if he can build upon his 2018 debut with another more-than-solid season, he’ll creep himself onto the cusp of top up-and-coming prospect talk. 3B – Sherten Apostel – As a former fantasy owner of Pirates top third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes in the much-talked-about N.L.-only fantasy league Jim and I partake in, I had to do what everyone does in our league, try to replace one top prospect with another upon making a trade. So, I traded Hayes and replaced him with the Braves Austin Riley when he was crushing it for HiA Florida in 2017. Well, I ended up trading Riley too and I’m now moving forward with the Cardinals Nolan Gorman, whom I added eight days after he played his 24th professional game. In the case of the Pirates third base OAS, Apostel falls into the same principle in which he has to be replaced with another prospect. I chose the 6’4”- 200 lb. Curacao native because he had a solid 2018 with Rookie Bristol, batting .259 with seven homers, 26 RBi and 32 walks to 42 strikeouts in 41 games, but Apostel was one of the infamous “PTBNL” in the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline deal that sent Texas reliever Keone Kela to Pittsburgh. Texas immediately sent the righty slugger to their short season Spokane affiliate and in his final 12 games of the season, he killed Northwest League pitching, batting .351 with a homer, a double, 10 runs batted in and walked 9 more times to only 8 strikeouts. So, the Pirates will have a hole to fill at third base with the departure of Apostel, but as long as Hayes is in town, it’s only a matter of filling depth, and not replacing a top prospect. Fantasy versus reality. SS – Oneil Cruz – As much as Jim and I like to promote the “notspects” as we so call them, on the flip side, we have to take our numbers for they are and promote whomever comes out on top. We do that with our off-season OAS as well as our in-season Players of the Day feature. Well, Oneil Cruz falls into that, “wow, there wasn’t really anyone in the organization that was even close” category, thus choosing him as this year’s shortstop OAS. Mind you, Jim and I do follow Double and Triple-A, but for this website, it’s HiA down through the DSL only, which is why the 6’6”- 175 lb. Cruz sits atop our standings despite the presence of Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman in the organization. At 19, Cruz had a killer season for LoA West Virginia ranking in the South Atlantic League top ten in runs scored (66), triples (7), home runs (14) and just outside the top ten in total bases (196). Due to his size, some say he won’t stay at short and his plus-plus power could either shift him to third base or right field. Either way, he’s a stud in the making and could show off even more with a move to HiA Bradenton in 2019. LF – Juan Pie – Other than maybe Seattle and Milwaukee, who we saw yesterday, there might not be an organization more top heavy with outfield prospects than the Pirates. Four outfielders are listed with MLB Pipeline’s 2019 Pirates Top 30 and Baseball America lists four within their Pirates Top 10: 2018 – 1st rounder Travis Swaggerty, 2nd round draft choice in 2017 Calvin Mitchell, Brian Reynolds, whom the Pirates acquired in the 2018 pre-season Andrew McCutchen trade and Jason Martin, the former Houston Astro product who arrived in Pittsburgh in exchange for former 1st round pick (2011) Gerrit Cole. So, there’s a lot to work with here and the sense of urgency in the Steel City might be sooner rather than later as none of the Pirates current major league outfield (Marte, Dickerson, Polanco and recently signed Lonnie Chisenhall) are under contract past the 2021 season (Polanco). For Pirate fans and N.L.-only fantasy leaguers, this is a bit hair-raising, but for UTR, it’s an opportunity, and it should come as no surprise that we’re going deep again with first-year Pirate Juan Pie. The organization loved the young Dominican’s bat signing him to a deal in July 2017. They sent him to the DSL in 2018, where with Pirates1, the 6’2”- 170 lb. lefty hit .258, clubbed 12 doubles (second on the team), tied for the team lead with 8 triples, ranked second in both walks (36) and total bases (88). Defensively, Pie has quite a bit of work to do. He spent time in all three outfield spots, and although his .917 fielding percentage was poor, it was the better number than what he registered in each corner (.893 in left; .824 in right). However, he’s poised to turn 18 in early April, which gives the organization time to improve his defense while he builds upon his potential impact swing. CF – Jared Oliva – Had I added a little more length the Pirates top outfield prospects listing above, there would have been a great possibility that 2017 – 7th rounder Jared Oliva would have brought up the rear of that discussion. Simply put, Oliva doesn’t really have a standout tool, yet what he doesn’t possess in physical tools, he makes for it in intangibles. The Pirates love his makeup and according to the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10 Prospect Chat back in mid-December, moderator Dustin Dopirak said about Oliva, “The Pirates look at him as a captain type, and he’s just not the sort of guy you bet against.” After not being recruited out of Valencia HS (CA), Oliva walked on at Arizona State University and in three seasons with the Sun Devils, batted .280 with 9 home runs, 108 RBi and 27 stolen bases. After being drafted, the 6’3”- 185 lb. righty went straight to the New York-Penn League, where with West Virginia, he stayed on pace with a .266/.327/.374/.700 slashline and stole 15 bases, but went homer-less and walked 17 times to 57 strikeouts. One of the things Jim and I look at from season to season is improvement upon a promotion. Oliva did just that, and even more impressive was he did it in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. With Bradenton, Oliva batted .275, belted 9 home runs and led the FSL in runs scored (75), ranked second with 33 stolen bases and just outside the top 10 in total bases (168). RF – Jack Herman – Now we’re talking. Nothing says under-the-radar like a 30th round draft pick out of central New Jersey. Pittsburgh drafted the 6’0”- 190 lb. right out of Vorhees HS and got a prospect with an above average arm plus-plus speed, but a bat-first profile and boy, he didn’t disappoint, putting his skills on display in the Gulf Coast League. Herman posted a .340 average, drew 23 walks, struck out 24 times and an eye-popping .435 on-base percentage. Herman also went errorless in the outfield. Now as UTR advocates, we can’t help but be a bit giddy over Herman’s 2018 performance. Even though this is our wheelhouse, we understand that Herman will suffer his share of struggles as he ascends through the ranks, but for 2018, what a way to conclude an all-star list. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP James Marvel – (16.5) / Double-A Altoona “Legit UTR”
** Marvel quietly had an outstanding season for the Pirate organization. The 36th round pick in 2015 made 27 appearances (26 starts) across two levels, but began to gain traction in the prospect realm with his 5 starts at Altoona. His 167.1 innings of work was tops amongst all pitchers in the minor league system. He posted overall pedestrian numbers with a 12-7 record, 3.55 ERA and 122/40 K/BB ratio (3.05 K/BB). The 6′ 4″ 197 lb right-hander is a sinkerball, pitch-to-contact, control type pitcher that generates groundball, but with enough solid velocity to miss bats. Marvel should return to Altoona to start the 2019 season, and should be their #1 starter. Marvel repeats as a UTR-OAS after finishing at #3 after the 2017 season.
2. LHP Domingo Robles – (20) / HiA Bradenton** Robles filled the vacancy at HiA Bradenton left by Marvel and got rough-up in his first start ( 9 ER in 3.1 IP). The 20 year-old southpaw shook it off and finished strong in his last 4 starts. The 6′ 2 ” 170 lb Dominican native saw his first full season as a pro, since coming out of the DSL in 2015. Robles is a finesse lefty who’s fastball averages around 90 mph and throws a curve and change. During his time with LoA West Virginia, Robles posted a 9-6 record a 2.97 ERA over 115 innings.
3. RHP Luis Escobar – (11) / Double-A Altoona “Legit UTR”
** Escobar enjoyed a breakout season in 2017 and was the UTRMinors #1 UTR-OAS for the Pirates. He spent the whole 2017 season with LoA West Virginia and struck out 168 batters over 131.2 innings. The 6′ 1″ 205 lb right-hander only throws three average rated pitches and currently lacks command, as displayed by his 4.1 BB9 last season. The Pirates may aggressively push Escobar to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin 2019.
4. LHP Oddy Nunez – (11) / HiA Bradenton
5. RHP Max Kranick – (10.5) / LoA West Virginia
** Kranick should show his upside in 2019. Last season he was hampered with shoulder soreness and blisters and was limited in innings work. The 11th round pick from 2016 spent his first full season with West Virginia and posted a 4.28 K/BB rate.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Angel German – (8)/ HiA Bradenton
** German came to the Pirates from the LA Dodgers in the Tony Watson trade.
2. LHP Blake Weiman – (5) / Double-A Altoona
3. RHP Scooter Hightower – (4) / Double-A Altoona
** Hightower was a 15th round pick in 2015 and returns as a UTR-OAS (2016) with a strong 2018. Across two levels Hightower posted a 7-1 record, 1.99 ERA and 66 strikeouts (13 walks) in 68 innings
Top LineupC – David Fry – Even though I predicted it, the Milwaukee Brewers surprised many by signing free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to a 1 year-$18.25M contract this past January. They probably surprised even more by winning the N.L. Central last season, and the Grandal signing shows that they are truly riding the wave of success and want to stay in the playoff hunt. Yet they did so last year with Manny Pina as their primary backstop. Having the power-hitting Grandal gives the position a big boost and Milwaukee may now have the best 1-2 punch of catchers in the National League. But the good depth doesn’t stop there. Light hitting defensive stalwart Erik Kratz finds himself ready to jump into action from AAA and 2013 – 6th rounder (of Houston) Jacob Nottingham is ticketed for AAA Colorado Springs as well, but could see increased time at first base just to keep his bat fresh. So, let’s dig deeper, zero in on that UTR frame of mind and focus on the season 2018 – 7th round selection David Fry had. Drafted out of Northwestern State University (LA), Fry played second base his freshman and sophomore seasons, but suffered an arm injury prior to his junior year. The 6’0”- 195 lb. righty played a little third base before settling in as the Demons regular catcher, despite rotating between catching and first base. Regardless of where he played defensively though, he hit, as Fry finished his collegiate career with a .301 batting average, 31 home runs, 156 RBi and 2018 Southland Conference Player of the Year honors his senior season. Milwaukee assigned Fry to Rookie Helena, where he batted .315 (collecting 70 hits) and led the team in doubles (15), home runs (12), RBi (57), on-base percentage (.406), SLG% (.563), OPS (.963), and total bases (125). Fry also earned end-of-the-season 2018 Pioneer League All-Star team honors at catcher. Fry concluded 2018 with an early-September promotion to LoA Wisconsin, batting .222 in only two games. Fry is an advanced bat, but moving forward it’s hard to tell what his direction will be defensively. No matter where, Fry is a real hitter, a 7th round steal and UTR gold. He should spend all of 2019 back in LoA Wisconsin. 1B – Chad McClanahan – Going back to the “surprised many” sentiment, it’s a bit mind boggling when you look at the recent carousel the Cleveland Indians have had surrounding first base. They’ve interchanged veterans Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, Yonder Alonso and now Jake Bauers heads into the 2019 season with Kevin Plawecki acting as Bauers’ backup. Yet, had Cleveland just employed a bit more patience, they could have avoided that revolving door and just held onto Jesus Aguilar, who, over the last two seasons has a .271 batting 51 home runs, 160 RBi, 120 runs scored after Milwaukee claimed Aguilar off waivers. Understand however that this is all tongue-in-cheek. One can’t perfectly predict what can happen statistically, but wow, you’d have to say that Aguilar’s contribution was crucial to the Brewers success last season. Looking downward though, Milwaukee lacks true blue-chip options at the position. Sure, you could point the dial to Jake Gatewood, but boy-oh-boy, the strikeouts are alarming, plus does he hit for enough average and power? Let’s add 6’5”- 200 lb. Chad McClanahan to the mix. Milwaukee drafted the lefty slugger out of Brophy College Preparatory (Phoenix, AZ) in in the 11th round in 2016. The organization got a great athlete with big power upside, average speed and good defense, and assigned him to the AZL for his rookie year. In his first two seasons, McClanahan batted a meager .224 with only six home runs, 44 RBi and 55 runs scored. Last season, he went back to Rookie Helena (after finishing the 2017 season there) and made big improvements, logging a .301 batting average with eight home runs, 14 doubles and 35 RBi in 49 games. An early-August promotion to LoA Wisconsin put a halt to his solid season, as he posted a .171 average and only three extra base hits in 21 games. Obviously he has work to do with the bat, especially if he wants to succeed as he ascends through the ranks. For 2018 however, he made a decent mark. But with Jesus Aguilar under team control until 2023, his free agency year, Milwaukee has plenty of time to iron out any underbelly first base issues. 2B – Keston Hiura – Let’s make this short and sweet, All future at second base talk begins and ends with Keston Hiura. Not even UTR aside. Hiura played only 50 games in HiA (Carolina) before a promotion to Double-A Biloxi, and he still obliterated his HiA-down-through-the-DSL competition. The #20 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s 2019 Top 100, Hiura is as polished a bat that there is in the minors and there might not be a prospect who carries a better overall game than Hiura. You’ve read this several times before in select player bios, but if you’re in a league that houses minor leaguers and Hiura is sitting in free-agency, grab him immediately. He’s a middle-of-the-order, major league star in waiting and once he hits the majors, will keep the Brewers second base job secure for the foreseeable future. 3B – Eddie Silva – I’m a Travis Shaw owner in mine and Jim’s shared N.L.-only fantasy baseball league. Ironically, he owns Lucas Erceg, the #8 overall prospect and top listed third baseman in MLB Pipeline Brewers 2019 Top 30. Erceg spent all of last season with Double-A Biloxi so he wasn’t UTR eligible, but he kept his top organizational third baseman crown secured by clubbing 21 doubles, 13 home runs and driving in 51 runs for the Shuckers. Jim and I both chronically preach how depth is key in fantasy, so (again) in UTR speak, we wonder who will be eyeing up either recently signed Brett Lawrie or maybe this year’s UTR OAS Eddie Silva. Truth be told, Erceg is probably the closest Milwaukee has to a full-blown prospect making an impact at third base, but Eddie Silva made a solid case in 2018, despite being older for the levels he played in. Milwaukee signed the undrafted Silva in late June 2018 out of Florida International, where in his red-shirt junior season, he led the Conference USA with 16 home runs and ranked second in the league in slugging percentage (.686). The Brewers assigned the 5’11”- 180 lb. righty to Rookie Helena, where he crushed Pioneer League pitchers with a .361 average, 11 doubles, a home run and 17 RBi in only 20 games. The organization game him a quick hook, sending him to LoA Wisconsin in late July. As a Timber Rattler, he didn’t really slow down. He hit .321, added five more home runs, drove in 20 and scored 16 runs in 33 games. In the field, Silva seems more suited to play second base based solely on his fielding percentages, but with Hiura entrenched at second base above, we had a find a way to get Silva on our list. SS – Brice Turang – In the same sense in which Keston Hiura was a part of this year’s OAS list, thus is the case for our shortstop choice Brice Turang. The 2018- 1st rounder out of Santiago HS (CA) came to the system boasting above-average athleticism, advanced ball-to-bat skills and plus-plus speed. Milwaukee assigned the 6’1”- 165 lb. lefty to the AZ, where he played only 13 games, but batted a cool .319 with two doubles, stole eight bases and scored 11 runs. The organization wasted no time sending him to Rookie Helena in early August. He hit .268 including his first pro home run, stole six more bases, and for the season, he walked a combined 31 times versus 34 strikeouts. He may not hit for much power, but with good bloodlines, he’s a potential star in the making. LF – Je’von Ward – With an outfield of Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich, you’d think that would be enough to keep guys like us excited. It does, yes, but from our point of view, when you also have outfield prospects like Corey Ray, Tristen Lutz, Joe Gray and Troy Stokes Jr. waiting in the wings, it’s almost laughable thinking about the embarrassment of outfield riches sitting inside the Brewers organization. Well, in true UTR fashion, let’s pile on and conclude this year’s Milwaukee Brewers UTR OAS; by adding three more outfielders that had attention-getting seasons in 2018, and provided enough for us to keep an eye on moving forward. We’ll start with 2017 – 12th rounder Je’von Ward. Milwaukee drafted Ward out of Cerritos HS, just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Ward came to the organization with great athleticism, a quick bat, good raw power, solid speed and an average arm. The now 19-year-old was assigned to the Arizona League to start his career, where he posted a .276/.326/.325/.651 slashline with six doubles two stolen bases and 15 runs scored in 32 games. Nothing eye-popping, but enough to earn him a promotion Rookie Helena this past season. And the Brewers saw more of the prospect that they drafted. He hit .307, scored 40 runs, 13 doubles with two home runs and stole 13 bases. You’d think that by looking at his stats, they seem a bit pedestrian so far. But when you note that he was one of the overall minor league leaders in ground ball rate, yet look at his scouting profile, that you get the idea that he could be huge breakout waiting to happen. CF – Carlos Rodriguez – The July 2017 International free agent signee out of Venezuela spent his debut season inside the Dominican Summer League, then moved state side for a short five game stint with the AZL Gold squad. With the DSL Brewers, the 5’10”- 150 pound lefty led the team in hits (70), batting (.323), RBi (32) and total bases. After 56 games, the organization gave Rodriguez a well-earned promotion to the AZL and although he played only five games, he didn’t slow down, posting a .350 average. He’s a no-power, high contact type hitter with great bat speed and speed on the base paths as well as in centerfield. He played 31 games in center, committing zero errors. Rodriguez turned 18 in December, so he still has a ton of development in front of him, but if 2018 was even a small glimpse of what Rodriguez is capable of, he might be one of the more interesting teenaged prospects the system has going. RF – Alwinson Valdez – Ending the Brewers OAS with another teenager, Milwaukee signed the 17-year-old Dominican Republic native for $80K during the July 2017 International free agent signing period. He (naturally) started his career in the Dominican Summer League, and after starting the season 2-22 (.091), he finished the month of June in mediocre fashion with a .242 average, yet collected only three extra-base hits in the whole month of June. His bat came alive in late July, where he batted .327 and finished the month with six home runs in six games. Valdez cooled off in August, but for season he led the DSL roster in home runs (7), ranked third in total bases and drew 30 walks to 60 strikeouts. A lot can be said about raw, teenaged prospects Like Valdez and Rodriguez playing well in their debut and/or sophomore seasons. But sometimes, (sadly), not a lot is said about raw, teenaged prospects performing well in their debut or sophomore seasons. You just can’t ignore it. You can’t, because how many times have we, as baseball fans, seen a #1 draft pick fade into thin air because they just couldn’t get the job done on the field, while kids who overplay their scouting reports get ignored because they come with little or no pedigree. Not here. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again. Hall-of Fame catcher Mike Piazza was a 62nd round draft pick as a favor from Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to Piazza’s father.Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. LHP Cam Roegner – (18)/ Triple-A Colorado Springs
** Roegner just slid into the Brewers 2017 UTR-OAS roster at #5, and took the huge step getting the top spot this season. The 22nd round pick in 2016 was one of the best pitchers in the Carolina league, but unfortunately was one of the oldest at 25 years-old. He cruised through HiA Carolina with the only outstanding stat line being a 28.2 scoreless streak. He finished 9-5 with a 2.16 ERA over 108.1 innings, striking out only 97, and 1.15 WHIP. He took his lumps with promotions to Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs. A pitch-to-contact type possesses a 87-91 fastball within his 4-pitch mix. Roegner could be a diamond in the rough, but needs to prove he can excel at the higher levels.
2. RHP Bowden Francis – (15) / HiA Carolina
** After 10 innings with the AZL Brewers in his debut season, the 7th round pick in 2017 advanced to HiA Carolina last season. Francis didn’t post inspiring numbers across his stints at Wisconsin and Carolina.
4. RHP Braden Webb – (14.5) / AA Biloxi
**Webb also didn’t post decent numbers in 2018, but did show flashes during his brief end-of-the-season stint at Biloxi. The 3rd round pick in 2016 has three possible plus pitches with a mid-90’s fastball/curveball combo and a split-change. The lack of control is keeping him back with a possible ceiling as a #2-3 starter. He walked 56 batters over 1002 innings at HiA Carolina.
5. RHP Christian Taugner – (13.5) / HiA Carolina
5. RHP Alec Bettinger – (13.5)/ HiA CarolinaTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Rodrigo Benoit – (10) / HiA Carolina
2. LHP Clayton Andrews – (7) / LoA Wisconsin
3. RHP Miguel Sanchez – (5) / AAA Colorado Springs
Top Lineup – Levels C– Hendrik Clementina – I’ll begin with the admission that I firmly believe that 2015 – 1st round draft choice Tyler Stephenson is the heir apparent to the full-time catching job in Cincinnati. He spent all season with HiA Daytona where he batted .250 with 11 home runs, 20 doubles, 59 RBi and 60 runs scored. He’s a huge 6’4”- 225 pounds, his power potential is quite impelling at the position and he’s working on becoming a better overall defender behind the plate. However, power at the position isn’t all that common, but the 6’0” – 250 lb. Curacao native Hendrik Clementina supplied serious lumber and for that, is this year’s UTR OAS choice. Clementina came to the Reds in the July 2017 trade that sent relief pitcher Tony Cingrani to the Dodgers. He spent his first three seasons inside the DSL and AZL before splitting time between Rookie Pioneer League North Division Ogden, then heading to the Pioneer League South Division to play for the Billings Mustangs. From his debut in 2014 through the end of the 2017 season, the righty swinger hit a combined 14 home runs with 31 doubles; a span of 170 games. In 2018, he threw the gloves off. In his first full season with Cincinnati and in full-season ball, Clementina batted .268 with 22 doubles, had 59 RBi, scored 38 runs and belted 18 home runs, which ranked fifth in the Midwest League and third overall in the Reds organization behind first baseman and April 2018 (Dodgers) trade acquisition Ibandel Isabel (36) and Double-A outfielder Aristides Aquino (20). It’s difficult to predict where a prospect would be if injuries didn’t curtail his ascension. Thus is the case with Stephenson. Had he not lost the end of 2016 nor the start of 20117 to injuries, you might be able to predict/project that he might have spent all of 2018 with Double-A Pensacola. Which, as a 21-year-old power hitting catcher (now 22), would be pretty impressive because he’s already a top prospect. Clementina had a great year, however, let’s be smart, honest and look at the bigger picture. 1B – Ibandel Isabel – Speaking of Ibandel Isabel, for an annual All-Star list, it would be downright foolish to leave the 6’4”- 225 pound, right-handed slugging Isabel off after he hit an overall minor league tying 36 home runs. His 36 bombs tied New York Mets uber-prospect Pete Alonso and his home runs nearly tripled the amount of doubles he hit for HiA Rancho Cucamonga last year. The 64 home runs Isabel has hit over the last two seasons is pretty indicative of what he brings to the table as a prospect: huge power. However, he’s also a solid defender at first, posting a .985 fielding percentage in 2018, and carrying a .989 career number. He’s logged time in each corner outfield spot, but first base seems to be his most comfortable defensive home moving forward. However, When looking deeper at Isabel’s numbers, it’s obvious that he’s taken advantage of the high octane atmosphere of the Cal League. He has 87 career minor league home runs with 29 of them coming courtesy of the Cal League. Thirty-five of Isabel’s 36 home runs were in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League last season, but based on his power output from his debut in 2013 until the end of 2016, he had only 23 homers. So, it’s not hard to figure out. Thing is, regardless of Isabel’s power, he will undoubtedly be overtaken by 2018 – 26th round draft choice Rylan Thomas. The University of Central Florida draftee punished his own set of baseballs to the tune of 10 home runs and 12 doubles for Rookie Greeneville in 2018. He came to the organization with a great hit tool with big time power potential, but some are put off by his stout 5’11- 235 lb. frame, but you can’t argue with production. But the Reds have a lot of time to develop another prospect at the position, as 2010 N.L. MVP and 6-time All-Star (and one of my favorite players of all time) Joey Votto has dibs on first until the 2023 season. 2B – Jonathan Willems – It’ll be interesting to see what the Reds do with Scooter Gennett this coming season. He’s on the final year of his contract and after breaking out in 2017 and sustaining that success all the way through 2018, you’d think Cincinnati might try dangling the 28-year-old, to try capitalizing on his offensive output. But recent trades prove the Reds could be solid contenders in N.L. Central. Now, for hypothetical sake, let’s say they trade Gennett. Filling in could be fellow 29-year olds Derek Dietrich, or defensive whiz Jose Iglesias. However, neither looks to be a long term answer at the position. 2016 – 1st rounder Nick Senzel, whom the Reds have discussed playing second base, is projected to see the vast majority of his time in the outfield moving forward possibly?!?! So, in a UTR sense, you’re led to wonder who the next top second base prospect could be. I’m not declaring that 19-year-old Jonathan Willems is the next great top second base prospect in the system, but a solid 2018 certainly throws his name into the hat. It wasn’t earth shattering, but the Curacao native’s 102 total bases led all of Rookie Greenville. His 57 hits ranked second on the Rookie Greenville squad and his eight home runs slotted right below the aforementioned Rylan Thomas. He also batted a career high .263, drove in 39 and scored 30 runs in 55 games for the APPY League Reds. Defensively, he has a lot of work to do, as he committed a jaw-dropping 24 errors in 56 games. Again, in a nutshell, he made the list. Moving forward, if I were Reds GM Nick Krall, I’d be signing Scooter Gennett to a small extension asap. 3B – Jonathan India – It looks as if the Reds are moving on from Nick Senzel as their third baseman of the future despite his career .314 average and 27 home runs since his debut in 2016. Cincinnati is transitioning the former University of Tennessee stand out to the outfield, yet haven’t ruled out spotting him in the infield on occasion. But the Reds more than made up for pulling Senzel off the hot corner when they drafted Jonathan India fifth overall in the 2018 draft. The 6’1”- 200 lb. right came via the University of Florida and in spite of a .240 batting average across three levels, he’s the most advanced hitter in the Reds system and a plus-defender at third. Of all the third basemen we stacked for the OAS series, India led the pack. However, much like Votto at first base, Cincinnati has fifth-year pro Eugenio Suarez signed through the 2023 season, so it will be intriguing as to what the organization does with India, especially if he moves quickly through the system like Senzel did. Either way, India is going to hit. But wow, a pretty good problem to have. SS – Jeter Downs – I’d like to know the special relationship the Reds have with the Dodgers. It’s not a purposeful thing, but despite the late December 2018 blockbuster trade that sent Veterans Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood, catcher/infielder Kyle Farmer and $7MM to Cincinnati for righty Homer Bailey, young righty Josiah Gray and infielder Jeter Downs to Los Angeles, the 5’11” – 180 lb. Downs earned his way into this year’s OAS spot. I mean, from a major league standpoint, the trade made sense. Cincinnati has 24-year-old Jose Peraza on tap for the next four seasons, so what’s the rush right? However, dealing Jeter from a position that doesn’t boast much organizational strength to one that has a multitude of plus-prospects at the same position makes me scratch my head a little. Especially after the season the 5’11”- 180 lb Colombian had. Spending all year with LoA Dayton, Downs held his own in an incredibly loaded Midwest League, ranking fifth in stolen bases (37) and tying for 12th with Minnesota’s Akil Baddoo in total bases with 183. Downs batting average slipped ten points from his 2017 debut season, but the extra base hits arrived in droves, as he boosted his extra-base percentage by nearly 10 percent. I fully expect the Dodgers to promote the 20-year-old righty to HiA Rancho Cucamonga, where his numbers could explode. But the difference is Downs has already proven he can hit. It’s just a matter of what position he’ll hit from moving forward. LF –Taylor Trammell – Prior to the December trade that brought Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati, the Reds major league outfield wasn’t one to make your jaw drop. Now, I’m a big Jesse Winker fan and Scott Schebler is bit underrated, However, the addition or Kemp and Puig suddenly made/makes things interesting in the N.L. Central and firmly plants the Reds in the middle of possible division-winner discussion. As far as their minor league outfield goes though, I believe it’s their biggest position player strength, and by a very wide margin. If I’m going purely by UTR numbers, Taylor Trammell is the guy here. There isn’t a thing he can’t do. In his three years in the organization, he’s made a steady climb through the ranks starting with Rookie Billings in 2016, then LoA Dayon in 2017 and onto HiA Daytona of the Florida State League last season. He batted .277 with eight home runs, 19 doubles and stole 25 bases, and even though his overall production took a slight hit in 2018, he’s still the heir to the left field position in Cincinnati. Oh, he’s also committed only five errors in 172 career games in left. Reds fans are in for a treat when this guy finally makes it to Great American Ballpark. CF – Mariel Bautista – Guys like Bautista are why Jim and I do what we do. Looking at the minor league centerfield hierarchy, you could place current Reds top 10 prospect Stuart Fairchild at the top. And sure, you could place Reds 2018 – 4th rounder Mike Siani close to Fairchild, but in UTR talk, give me the guy who’s done it longer. Production over projection. But like I said in Trammell’s bio above, outfield is by far the biggest position player strength in Cincinnati system, which allows us to choose a guy like Bautista, who registered his best season as a pro in 2018. After beginning his career with two consecutive seasons in the Dominican Summer League, the 6’3”- 170 lb. righty finally made it stateside to the Arizona League in 2017. In his first three seasons he batted a combined .307 with five home runs. Last season with Rookie Billings, the 20-year-old Dominican Republic native led the Mustangs with a .330 average, belted eight home runs, stole 16 bases and yet logged a disappointing .928 fielding percentage. Some prognosticators say Bautista is poised to breakout soon. I definitely won’t disagree with that. He possesses solid power potential, has great plate discipline and scouts say he’s a very good defender. Better than he showed last season. We’ll see how 2019 goes, as he’s projected to move up a level to LoA Dayton. RF – Michael Beltre – The 6’3”- 220 lb switch-hitter has made a methodical climb through the Reds system since his debut back in 2013. He started off with two consecutive seasons in the DSL, before heading to the AZL, where he stayed for the entire 2015 season. He started 2016 back in the AZL before a promotion to Rookie Billings in early August. Beltre moved to LoA Dayton in 2017, but started back there this last season, only to see a promotion to HiA Daytona in early June and finished the year with the Tortugas. He batted a combined .278 with five home runs, 13 doubles, eight triples, scored 55 runs and stole 22 bases. However, this may all sound like fluff. Beltre is one of those prospects who’s posted good numbers, has all the tools to both hit and defend, but his weaknesses just seem to hover too closely to his overall skill set, and he just hasn’t put everything together yet. I liked him this year, but moving forward, unless he truly breaks out for either HiA Daytona or when challenged with a promotion to Double-A Pensacola, it’s best to take a wait-and-see approach. There’s just too much talent in the Reds minor league outfield to get overly excited for anything other than his solid performance this past season. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. LHP Scott Moss – (16) / HiA Daytona “Legit UTR”
**Moss can be labeled as a finesse type lefty, with excellent command and control, that also features a repeatable, but deceptively funky delivery. The 4th round pick in 2016 also has the “injury risk” tag hanging from his 6′ 5″ 215 lb frame. He missed a large portion of his collegiate seasons due to having Tommy John surgery. Despite that, the Reds took the chance and the 23-year old southpaw hasn’t disappointed. He also hasn’t disappointed my system, in repeating as the Reds #1 UTR-OAS and tagged as a Legit UTR. In 25 starts last season, Moss finished with a 15-4 record and a 3.68 ERA. His punchouts in 2018 (7.8 K9) fell considerably when compared to the 2017 season (10.3 K9), but at the other end, so did his walk rate slightly. Now it’s time to see if the lefty can hurdle the Double-A wall and possibly establish himself as a #4 type starter.
2. LHP Packy Naughton – (13) / LoA Dayton
** The 9th round pick in 2017 was a nice surprise to this roster after the numbers shook out. Naughton is true UTR, as there is nothing that stand outs, other than a 6′ 2″ 195 lb right-hander with pitchability and control. His fastball lives in the range of the upper 80’s / low 90’s, but will touch in the mid 90’s. His secondaries are all average, except his changeup which is a near plus offering. All this and his solid velocity showed flashes of strikeout stuff. During his first taste of full season in 2018, Naughton struck out 137 in 154 innings and only walked 34 hitters. He led all Reds system pitchers in 28 starts and innings pitched. Work needs done to improve his command (168 hits) in 2019, as the soon-to-be 23 year-old begins the new season at HiA Daytona.
3. RHP Hunter Greene – (11)/ LoA Dayton
** All eyes will be on Greene when he take the mound in 2019. The 1st round pick in 2017 suffered a strained elbow (partial UCL tear) halfway through his first full season, and was shutdown. Damage wasn’t enough to require surgery, so Greene immediately started rehabbing. Even with only a half season’s worth of work, the 6′ 4″ 215 lb right-hander easy scored to make the OAS roster. Noted for his power arm coming from the draft, which fetched a bonus-pool record 7.2 million dollars, Greene’s factor score was bolstered by his blazing fastball. With a repeatable and easy delivery, the 19-year old’s heater fires-off in the upper 90’s and occasionally north of 100 mph (104).
4. LHP Wennington Romero –(11)/ HiA Daytona
** The Reds usually won’t push their pitching prospects quickly through their system, but Romero has already reached HiA as a 21-year old. The Dominican lefty spent the whole season at Daytona and posted near identical peripherals compared to his 2017 season at LoA Dayton, except a steep decline in his K9 rate. Romero was my Cincinnati selection prior to the 2018 season, as the “One to Watch”.
5. RHP Tejay Antone – (10.5) / HiA Daytona
** Antone’s 2019 UTR story begins….what could have been. The story is far from finished for the now 25-year old right-hander. Drafted in the 5th round in 2014, Antone was on his way by reaching HiA Daytona and a Triple-A cup of coffee by 2016 and making back-to-back (2015/2016) UTR-OAS rosters. The momentum halted in 2017 when Antone underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the whole season. He repeated at Daytona last season to work his way back, making 17 starts, with near half lasting five innings to less.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Ryan Hendrix – (17) / HiA Daytona “Legit UTR” / “Solid Stash”
** Hendrix repeats on the UTR-OAS roster and getting the Legit UTR tag in the process. I also assigned the Solid Stash label based solely on his stuff. He owns two plus pitches, a near 99 mph fastball (which rates plus-plus) and hammering breaking ball that bites on a 12-6 plane. Throwing that type of heat, Hendrix has suffered command and control issues (4.6 BB9), but he took a step-forward correcting that in 2018. Future closer?
2. RHP John Ghyzel – (14) / LoA Dayton
3. RHP Joel Kuhnel – (10) / HiA Daytona “Legit UTR”