(Article uses stats that are as of the game date of August 11)
A flurry of late-July trading has resulted in several teams improving their minor league systems rankings as the season enters the last quarter of the schedule, with Boston and Anchorage clearly at the head of the table.
Just before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, several teams closed deals to move players around for minor league prospects, including California and Dallas, Toronto and Anchorage, Battle Creek and Detroit, Battle Creek and Arizona, and earlier in July, Toronto and Nevada and Anchorage and California.
We will take a look at the top 5 teams by minor league system rankings, and see how the season’s trades and draft picks have affected them.
The Brawlers are sitting pretty with a great prospect pipeline, boasting five Top 100 prospects after their draft signings earlier this season. They are: (7th) Orlando Rios, OF; (12th) Lowell Woodford, OF; (13th) Ron Bayer, LHP; (28th) Al Woodridge, RHP; (38th) Branden Cassidy, RHP
Rios has taken some time to develop since being signed as an international scouting discovery out of Venezuela in 2013. But he has demonstrated consistent improvement since first being put on the roster at Short Season A-level Corpus Christi (when it was Rookie-level) in 2015. Blessed with speed and hitting for contact, he looks like a promising future outfield piece, but at 19 still has some years to develop.
Cassidy is the most recent addition to the Boston prospect stream, coming out of Utah State University in the Can-Am League, where he pitched a no-hitter back in March of this year. As he finds his groove, expect him to rise above 38th in the rankings soon. He signed at the end of June for a signing bonus of $1.9 million, and awaits a likely appearance at the winter development league this January.
Pipeline: (1st) Chris Zerkle, RHP; (16th) Sakae Sugimoto, OF; (39th) Josh Berman, 1B; (44th) Danny Rodriguez, 1B; (49th) Edgar Barrientos, OF; (54th) Eppe Dijkstra, OF; (73rd) Paul Webber, OF; (99th) Kevin Harter, OF
The Aces pipeline features the current OSA #1 prospect, RHP Chris Zerkle, a talented 2014 first round pick with a superior-level breaking pitch. Zerkle has gone 1-5 in his 11 starts with the AAA-level St. Anthony SeaWolves, holding a 3.06 ERA and sending down 62 batters in 61.2 innings.
Of the remaining top prospects in the system, Josh Berman shows the most promise as a game-changer. A first round pick in this year’s draft, scouts have assessed his big-league raw power as “plus” level, while his lack of speed won’t hurt him at first base, traditionally where slower fielders are placed. Expect Berman and possibly Rodriguez to make appearances in this winter’s developmental league.
It may be a while before the Aces need to delve into their solid prospect pipeline at any rate. They are in playoff contention, with some of the best offense in the AEL, including 2B Section Attack and HOF-bound veteran Takeo Otomo, along with stellar pitching in Jose Soto, picked up as an amateur free agent in May and already setting team and league records with a 13-0 run this season.
Pipeline: (6th) Jon Guillot, 3B; (27th) Justin Kelly, OF; (29th) Marco Martinez, RHP; (34th) Edwin Watters, OF; (46th) Jorge Soto, SS; (69th) Jon Chasko, SS; (83rd) Chris Roberts, OF; (100th) Aaron Stephenson, SS
The Pit Bulls have one of the best systems at every level except AAA, not only in terms of number of Top 100 prospects, with 8, but also overall team performance, with the AA-level Anchorage Sky Chiefs (48-24) and A-level Peoria Mosquitos (51-21) both finishing at the top of their respective divisions and in their league playoffs, and the Short A-level Aurora Swashbucklers (33-20) just 2 games out of first with a handful of games left in their season.
It must be tempting, then, to consider a promotion for these youngsters as the Pit Bulls have struggled through this year. They are currently 13 games out of the division lead and tangled up in a 3-way tie for third place with Toronto and Battle Creek in what has to be considered an underwhelming year so far.
But AAA-level guys like Soto and Chasko are waiting for a middle infield spot, and right now Roberto Castro is not giving the front office any reason to move them up. Castro’s slash line of .276/.317/.410 and 12 steals has greatly contributed to the team’s 32 wins. Castro is slotted at 2B instead of his usual SS, where George Hubbard is currently struggling. But Hubbard’s poor 2017 is off-set by his generally solid career numbers, and last year he led the Lake League in runs scored. Soto and Chasko are performing about average on a lower level team that is about average, making it a gamble to promote them to the top level at this point.
Chicago picked up Marco Martinez in the 2017 draft, a 27th overall pick. The key to the Pit Bulls success for next season could be a Martinez who has proven himself through the AA playoffs and perhaps some winter d-league games before a successful invite role at spring training next April, as the real weakness for Chicago has been pitching. If he meets his potential, Martinez could go a long way to solving that issue with his 99 mph fastball, and above average control.
Pipeline: (2nd) Jim Koch, RHP; (43rd) Juan Leos, 1B; (50th) Albert Toledo, OF; (51st) Brian Perron, SS; (64th) Tristan Malich, SS; (65th) Biao Kui, OF; (71st) Ryan Pellerin, OF; (93rd) Scott Carnell, SS
The Speeders have a very deep prospect pipeline that includes nine Top 100’s (see above). They have great organization strength as well, with their top three levels of minor league teams all above .500. Both of these facts shine like a bright silver lining on the cloud that has cast a shadow over their 2017 season, where they have been under-performing all year, currently at 31-45 and 16 games out of first.
Dual American-Swiss national Koch has been chomping at the bit to taste the major level, and is an impressive 21-10 in his third minor league season after being drafted 2nd overall back in 2015. He did manage to get a taste, but only at spring training this year, where he threw 10 scoreless innings over four games, striking out 12 batters and just letting up 10 hits and 7 walks.
After jumping from AA-level Hughes to AAA-level Oakland this season, he’s gone 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA, but opposing batters have still hit .247 off him, suggesting that he needs a bit more time to mature before coming to the Speeders roster. With Nevada effectively out of the playoff running for this year, there is a good chance they will leave Koch where he is and wait for him to develop more before trying him out next season.
Nevada doesn’t just have pitching woes this year, though. Albert Toledo’s speed and disciplined approach to the plate could easily be a welcome improvement to the Speeders outfield next season. His slash line this year at AAA has been .272/.307/.419 with 4 homers and 23 steals, which would go a long way to improve the team if they promote him and replace the one of the two underwhelming outfielders, Tsutoma Hiraoka or Tsuruo Yoshioka, neither of whom has been very effective all season.
Pipeline: (8th) Harry Hampton, RHP; (9th) Tyler Mixon, RHP; (40th) Bob Michaud, LHP; (77th) Ricky Gonzalez, 2B; (79th) Chris Fitzpatrick, OF; (87th) Luis Escobar, 2B
The Cannons have a pitcher-heavy prospect list, and it is likely by design rather than by accident, as they occupy the division with some of the strongest pitching in the Bull League — the Lake League East, where the Montreal Metros and New York Dragons prowl.
Kingston needs their pitching prospects, mostly power pitching guys with decent secondary pitches, to bloom into solid throwing arms if they hope to match the Sandy Koufax-winning big arms in the division like Montreal’s, Judson Martel and Yoshiaki Fujimara, or New York’s William Febres.
Of the stable of pitching prospects, Hampton shows the most promise, though he dropped from being OSA ranked #5 last season to being #25 at the beginning of this season. He’s now back up to 8th in the rankings, thanks to his 7-4, 3.47 ERA season so far, and his impressive 93 K’s in 83 innings. But it is his third year at AA-level Seba Beach, and it’s uncertain when the organization plans to move him up to AAA to judge his performance at that level.
Meanwhile, Tyler Mixon has switched from bullpen to starter recently, a sign that the Cannons organization recognizes his future potential. The 1st overall pick in the 2015 draft, Mixon shows the clearest signs of being a dominant Bull League starter one day – but this is his first year in AA-level, and at age 20, it could still be two years before he reaches the top level.
6) SEATTLE SALTS
The Salts system was ranked 9th at the end of 2016, and they have managed to climb up to 6th after seeing some improvement with OF Bill Covey (who went from 22nd overall to 14th overall in the OSA rankings), and adding international prospect 2B Alexis Torres out of Venezuela. Torres is just 16 but might get some playing time during the winter d-league or next season at the Rookie level, as he has the potential to be an impact power hitter.
7) DALLAS DEPUTIES
The Deputies rocketed from 20th overall at the close of 2016 to 7th in the current system rankings, mainly on the back of OF John Heart, their 2nd overall draft pick chosen in the 2016 draft. As a 2016 draftee, he had not been ranked by the OSA at the beginning of last season, and so did not factor in the Dallas minor league system until the OSA released their 2017 rankings in May of this year, when he was named as the #11 prospect in the Bull League. However, the OSA currently ranks him 4th, and he is talked about in terms of “near-elite level” with a good left-handed swing plane, plenty of power, and better than average speed, making him a high priority for development in Dallas, which had just one OSA Top 100 prospect at the end of December last year. That player, OF Yang Yin, is still in their system and is also showing improvement, jumping from 87th ranked in May 2016 to his current 57th rank.