Announcement: Described by Michael Salfino of The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports as “an insightful and often contrarian viewpoint to prospect rankings,” The 2017 Prospect Digest Handbook is now on sale! Check it out here!
|1. Yadier Alvarez, RHP|
|Born: 03/07/96||Age: 21||Bats: R||Top CALs: Jose Quijada, Trevor May, Joe Jimenez, Eduardo Paredes, Stephen Gonsalves|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 175||Throws: R|
Background: According to a MLB.com report prior to agreeing to his stateside contract, one anonymous high-ranking National League official called the latest Cuban Missile – sorry, Aroldys – was “the best 18-year-old pitcher he had ever seen.” I guess it’s easy to see why one of the richest franchises in baseball paid $16 million plus a $16 million tax in a successful effort to reportedly outbid the Phillies and Diamondbacks. And just like his fellow countryman, Yoan Moncada, who was also part of that wild international spending spree by big league teams, Alvarez is proving to be one helluva bargain – even with the hefty price tag. The lanky 6-foot-3, 175-pound right-hander out of Matanzas, Cuba, made his highly anticipated debut in the Arizona Summer League last season by blowing away the overmatched hitters: he fanned 26 and walked 10 in 20.0 innings of work.
Los Angeles pushed the flame-throwing Alvarez all the way to the Midwest League in late July. And he arrived in style.
Alvarez punched 20 and walked just one in his first nine innings of work. Of course, it happened to come in two separate games, but that’s pretty damn impressive nonetheless. He would lose a little momentum over his final seven starts – because, who the hell wouldn’t? – and posted a 35-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30.1 innings of work.
Overall, the right-hander finished his professional debut with 81 strikeouts, just 21 walks, and an aggregate 2.12 ERA in 59.1 innings.
Projection: Small sample size be damned. Alvarez is entering his age-21 season with only 59.1 innings under his belt, 39.1 of those coming above the lowest stateside rookie league, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reach Class AA by the end of 2017. There’s an awful lot to like here: size, projectability, a plus-plus ability to miss bats, and surprising control. Fingers crossed that he can stay healthy because that’s the only thing that could stop Alvarez from ascending towards superstardom.
Ceiling: 5.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018/2019
|2. Cody Bellinger, 1B|
|Born: 07/13/95||Age: 21||Bats: L||Top CALs: Nelson Rodriguez, Domingo Santana, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Carter|
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 210||Throws: L|
Background: Fun Fact Part I: The 20-year-old baby-faced bopper slugged 23 homeruns in Class AA last season; the next highest total for a player that age in the level: 14, by Jake Bauers. Fun Fact Part II: The last time a 20-year-old bashed more homeruns in a Class AA season was in 2013 when Domingo Santana achieved the feat with 25. Fun Fact Part III: Since 2006, here’s a list of players to slug 20 or more homeruns at the level before their age-21 season: Bellinger, Santana, Jonathan Singleton, Oscar Taveras, Anthony Rizzo, and Colby Rasmus. That’s it, just six players over the past 11 years have done it. Bellinger was one of the bigger breakout prospects two years ago when he slugged .264/.336/.538 with 67 extra-base hits as a teenager in High Class A – granted, it was an incredibly favorable hitting environment. But he followed that up with an even more impressive showing in the Texas League last season: in 114 games with the Tulsa Drillers, the former fourth round pick hit .263/.359/.484 with 17 doubles and one triple to go along with all the long balls. He also managed to swipe eight bags in 10 attempts. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by a whopping 42%.
And to put that into context a bit, consider the following:
- Bellinger’s production was seven percentage points better than the next 20-year-old bat (Tampa Bay’s Willy Adames).
- The last time a 20-year-old posted a 140 wRC+ or better: Oscar Taveras in 2012.
- Since 2006, here’s a list of players to post a 140 wRC+ or better: Bellinger, Taveras, Mike Trout (who was 19, by the way), and Colby Rasmus.
Finally, for his career Bellinger’s sporting a .267/.349/.494 with 73 doubles, 17 triples, 60 stolen bases, and 29 stolen bases in 343 total games.
Projection: Here’s my analysis – as well as my thought process – I wrote about in last year’s book:
“During my initial pre-pre-rank I fully expected to opine about how the 6-foot-4 first baseman was likely overhyped. But the more research I did, the more in-depth I delved into the numbers I came to a vastly different conclusion. Take for example the list of 19-year-olds at any High Class A league that have posted a walk rate above 9% and an ISO north of .200 since 2006: Domingo Santana, Xander Bogaerts, Addison Russell, and Bellinger, of course.
Granted, the California League tends to inflate offensive numbers, but Bellinger didn’t just top a .200 ISO, he surpassed it by a whopping 74 points. The power is going to play in any league, at any level. The patience at the plate is more than serviceable. It will likely come down to Bellinger’s ability to make consistent enough contact. But any 19-year-old that can slug 30 bombs in High Class A is a legitimate prospect. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup force, but there’s risk here.”
Well, Bellinger helped alleviate some of that risk with another big year in the minors’ most important level. The patience at the plate remained impeccable. And for a player with above-average or better power, Bellinger’s strikeout rate was rather modest; it was also a career low 20.2%. The lefty-swinging first baseman also continued to prove that he can handle both southpaws and right-handers equally well.
In terms of overall ceiling, he has a chance to be one of the better first baseman at the Major League level. Veteran Adrian Gonzalez is signed through the end of 2018, but I fully expect Bellinger to be the starter before that point.
Ceiling: 4.5- to 5.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|3. Willie Calhoun, 2B|
|Born: 11/04/94||Age: 22||Bats: L||Top CALs: Taylor Lindsey, Nolan Arenado, Renato Nunez, Luis Cruz, Lonnie Chisenhall|
|Height: 5-8||Weight: 187||Throws: R|
Background: Every year there seems to be a guy that doesn’t go very early, enters pro ball, and subsequently sets the world ablaze. Enter: Willie Calhoun, a fourth round pick out of Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona, two years ago. And if you’re wondering if a massive bonus demand caused him to slide in the draft, well, that’s definitely not the case. The Dodgers inked the middle infielder to roughly a $300,000 bonus – one of the smallest handed out to all fourth rounders that year. So, without further adieu, here’s what he’s done in roughly a season-and-a-half: hit and hit for power. Calhoun blew through three levels during his debut, hitting a combined .316/.390/.519 between the Pioneer, Midwest, and California Leagues. And he followed that up with an equally impressive performance in the minors’ toughest challenge: Class AA.
The lefty-swinging second baseman slugged a robust .254/.318/.469 with 25 doubles, one triple, 27 homeruns and a solid 65-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 23%. For his – brief – career, Calhoun’s sporting a .277/.345/.487 with 48 doubles, a pair of triples, and 38 dingers.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book as I obviously wasn’t fully committed to his emergence as a top prospect:
“Obviously, CALs already a big fan by comparing him to another pocket-sized power-packed second baseman: Jose Altuve. While the data on Calhoun is limited, it’s also otherworldly as well. He finished the year with a combined .316/.390/.519 with a staggering 35 extra-base hits. Just to put that into perspective, Calhoun slugged one extra-base hit every other game.
Now is he this good. Nope. His BABIPs spiked once he moved out of the rookie league, so he’s going to seemingly take a step back in 2016. But the patience is average, the power is going to be in the 15- to 20-HR territory if everything breaks the right way, and the hit tool could continue to push him up the ladder. He could be a solid big leaguer, but there’s some risk until we see his BABIP normalize.”
Well, now I’m sold. But there’s a few things we need to talk about:
- The lefty-swinging Calhoun looked absolutely hapless, helpless, and hopeless against fellow southpaws last season, hitting a lowly .219/.299/.276 with just four extra-base hits in 118 plate appearances. Yes, it’s a small sample size. And, yes, he torched lefties during his debut. But it’s still something to watch in the future.
- If we ignore his expected slow start to 2016 – and I say expected because, really, he barely had half of a season between entering Class AA and leaving college – Calhoun slugged .267/.334/.504 over his final 104 contests.
- Among all MiLB second baseman Calhoun trailed only Atlanta’s Travis Demeritte in homeruns at the position (28 vs. 27). The significant difference: Calhoun spent the full year in Class AA and posted a 0.69 BB/9 ratio. Demeritte, on the other hand, spent the entire year in High Class A and finished with a dramatically worse 0.39 K/BB.
The easy comparison would be Chase Utley or even Mookie Betts. Either way, if he can stick at the keystone and hit lefties, Calhoun’s going to be an impact, middle-of-the-lineup thumper at a premium position. One final word: he’s been atrocious defensively according to Clay Davenport’s numbers.
Ceiling: 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|4. Yusniel Diaz, CF|
|Born: 10/07/96||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Delta Cleary, Billy McKinney, Dorssys Paulino, Francisco Martinez, David Mailman|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 195||Throws: R|
Background: As was the case when the organization signed top prospect Yadier Alvarez, the Dodgers were willing – and able, which certainly helps – to pay a pretty hefty tax for signing the Cuban import. Diaz’s deal called for a $15.5 million bonus, but the pact inflated to a cool $31 million thanks to the penalty on international amateur spending. Diaz, according to Baseball Reference, proved to be one of the best players in the Cuban National Series when he slugged .348/.447/.440 with 13 doubles and three triples while swiping seven bags in 65 games – at the ripe ol’ age of 17, by the way. Los Angeles sent the now-19-year-old prospect straight into the California League where, despite a bit of slow start, he managed to slug .272/.333/.418 with eight doubles, seven triples, eight homeruns, and seven stolen bases en route to topping the league average mark by 2%.
Projection: Sometimes numbers lie. It’s a fact. Case in point: Yusniel Diaz, who was more or less a league average bat. But it’s important to remember that (A) he was one of just seven 19-year-olds in any High Class A league and (B) he hadn’t played competitive baseball since 2014. Given both of those points, it’s also important to factor in a bit of learning curve as he adjusted to the California League pitching as well.
Diaz batted a decent-ish .253/.328/.376 over his first 47 games. But after a return from the DL in late July he slugged .295/.340/.466 in 35 games. I’m going to put my money down on the latter production given what we know. Very promising tools across the board, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Diaz put up some All Star caliber numbers at the big league level.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2018/2019
|5. Andrew Toles, LF/RF|
|Born: 05/24/92||Age: 25||Bats: L||Top CALs: David Lough, Juan Lagares, Francisco Peguero, Chris Swauger, Tim Smith
|Height: 5-10||Weight: 185||Throws: R|
Background: The book on the former third round pick’s disciplinary issues reads more like a George Orwell novel due to its sheer length. And depending upon your feeling of the young man you might classify it as a redemption story. Or maybe not. Despite winning the SEC Freshman of the Year following his stellar campaign with the Tennessee Volunteers in 2011, Toles, who batted .270/.296/.368 with 11 doubles, three triples, one homerun, and 21 stolen bases (in 28 attempts), was dismissed from the team as a result to unspecified disciplinary actions. So he packed his bags and headed down to JuCo powerhouse Chipola College for a year – albeit, a pretty damn good year. The speedy center fielder slugged .387/.447/.565 with 14 doubles, a pair of triples, five homeruns, and 32 stolen bases (in 40 attempts). But he was reportedly benched – and subsequently suspended – during his time there too.
But the Rays, led by Andrew Friedman, still came calling in the third round in 2012. Just like his other stints, though, it seemed like Toles had simply wasted another opportunity.
Less than three years after making him the 119th player taken in the draft, Tampa Bay released the enigmatic outfielder, their 2013 Minor League Player of the Year. The cause for his departure: reportedly disciplinary issues. Go figure…
So Toles, who seemed destined to become just another name in the annals of baseball history books, missed the entire 2015 season, some of which was spent working for $7.50 at a local Kroeger Grocery Store. But as fate – or luck, or whatever – would have it, the Dodgers, Andrew Friedman’s new organization, came calling again in late September 2015.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Los Angeles signed the former top prospect to a minor league deal and sent him back to High Class A – the level he finished the 2014 season in. And Toles took off like a bat out of hell – thanks, Meatloaf – in the California League, slugging .370/.414/.500 in 22 games. He then got promoted up to the Texas League, where he continued to rake, before moving onto the PCL (where he continued to rake). Eventually, LA came calling twice last season: the first in July and second in late August. Toles, never once, stopped hitting.
He would finish his return to the minors with a .331/.374/.511 triple-slash line, slugging 27 doubles, five triples, and seven homeruns while swiping 23 stolen bases (in 34 attempts). He also batted .314/.365/.505 in 115 plate appearances in The Show.
Projection: So is it a story of redemption? You decide…
Anyway, Toles shows off an impressive offensive array tools – an above-average hit tool, one which could eventually league the league in average; double-digit power with the ability to slug 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 10 homeruns in a full season; and lightning-quick speed.
If there was a red flag that reared its ugly head, it was his inability to handle southpaws last season. He’s had mixed results in the past – all short sample sizes – so it’s something to keep in mind moving forward.
Ceiling: 3.0-to 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016
|6. Alex Verdugo, OF|
|Born: 05/15/96||Age: 21||Bats: L||Top CALs: Danny Vasquez, Albert Almora, Juremi Profar, Manuel Margot, Tyrone Taylor|
|Height: 6-0||Weight: 205||Throws: L|
Background: Here’s a “is the glass half full or is it half empty?” type of question for you. Verdugo hit an aggregate .311/.340/.441 between the Midwest and California Leagues two years ago. So was his true talent level in the first half – he batted .267/.302/.348 over his first 66 contests – or was it in his second half surge when he slugged .360/.382/.545 over his final 58 games? Me, personally, I was a glass is half full type of guy – at least when it comes to the Arizonan outfielder. And wouldn’t you know it? The former second round pick rewarded my optimism with another quietly strong year – this one, though, coming as one of the youngest players in Class AA. In 126 games with the Tulsa Drillers, Verdugo batted .276/.336/.407 with 23 doubles, one triple, 13 homeruns, and a pair of stolen bases en route to topping the league average mark by 13%. For his career, Verdugo is sporting a solid .302/.352/.439 triple-slash line with 70 doubles, eight triples, 25 homeruns, and 27 stolen bases in 304 total games.
Projection: Here’s what I opined about Verdugo as I named him among The Top 25 Breakout Prospects for 2016:
“The former second round pick sparkled in his debut in the rookie leagues two years ago, hitting .353/.421/.511 in 216 plate appearances. And while his numbers from last season are more than solid, .311/.340/.441, take a look at how he performed over the final four months of the season: .356/.380/.520. He’ll be on every Top 100-list come this time next year.”
Without naming names…but Verdugo only made a few of the major publications lists heading into 2016. But I guarantee he’ll be found squarely smack-dab in the middle of them all. For what it’s worth, I had the talented outfielder ranked as the club’s #5 prospect and the #45 MiLB’er among all minor leaguers heading into last year.
I know, I know. My ego…
Anyway, Verdugo actually started off really well last season, hitting a solid .291/.351/.448 over his first 90 games. But it was the final 36 games (.229/.301/ .307) that sunk his overall stat line. But even with the late-season slump, Verdugo still finished as the 17th most productive bat in the Texas League – again, not bad work for a 20-year-old.
His walk rate took a tremendous leap forward as he posted the second best mark of his brief career and nearly double that of his 2015 showing. The power’s slowly coming along, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s going to develop into anything more than 17- to 20-homeruns in a year. Very, very solid prospect – though I would expect him to move to corner outfield spot thanks to some not-so-terrific center field defense.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|7. Brock Stewart, RHP|
|Born: 10/03/91||Age: 25||Bats: L||Top CALs: Manny Parra, A.J Griffin, Preston Guilmet, Andrew Heaney, Hiram Burgos|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 210||Throws: R|
Background: Another fantastic example of scouting work by the Dodgers’ brass. Stewart, a weak hitting everyday player for the first two-plus years at Illinois State, moonlighted as a reliever during his redshirt junior campaign – throwing just 26.2 IP. And while the short sample size was good – he fanned 30 and walked 8 – it hardly screamed noteworthy. Except to the scouting department. The Dodgers gambled on Stewart with a sixth round pick in the 2014 draft and just about two years later he made his debut in with the big league club. He spent the overwhelming majority of last season bouncing between just about every level of the minor league rung: he opened the year with Rancho Cucamonga, moved up to Tulsa, zoomed up to the Pacific Coast League after 11 total games, made his MLB debut a couple weeks later, and he would spend the remaining months alternating between LA and Oklahoma City.
Overall, Stewart fanned 129 and walked just 19 – just 19! – in 121.0 minor league innings. He also tossed another 28.0 innings in the big leagues, averaging eight strikeouts and just 3.0 walks per nine innings.
Projection: Listed among the Bird Doggin’ It section in last year’s book. Stewart rapid ascension was aided by a power-pitcher’s arsenal – he showed a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, and an 80 mph changeup during his time in LA – with an extreme ability to pound the strike zone. Let’s just breakdown Stewart’s pure dominance last season in the minors, shall we? Among all minor league arms with 120 or more innings thrown last season:
- His strikeout-to-walk percentage, 23.8%, was second to no one.
- His 1.79 ERA was good enough for third overall.
- His 2.28 FIP was the lowest.
Again, that’s out of 372 qualified minor league arms.
But let’s expand that out a bit. Since 2012, there have been just three other pitchers to post at least a 23.8% strikeout-to-walk percentage with 120 or more under their belt: Daniel Norris, Daniel Straily, and Jose Fernandez. The total number of qualifiers during that period: 1,853.
Let’s stick with it for one more time…
Since 2006, there have been just six other pitchers to post a FIP equal to or less than 2:28: Tyler Duffy, Jose Fernandez, Tommy Milone, Madison Bumgarner, Phil Hughes, and Yovani Gallardo.
While I don’t think he’s going to ascend to the levels of a Jose Fernandez or a Madison Bumgarner – because, really, who can? – I do think it’s important to point out that Stewart’s thrown a total of 312 innings since entering college baseball. Meaning: theoretically speaking, there could still be some growth and/or projection in his right arm…
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|8. Austin Barnes, C|
|Born: 12/28/89||Age: 27||Bats: R||Top CALs: Charlie Cutler, John Jaso, Stephen Vogt, Brayan Pena|
|Height: 5-10||Weight: 195||Throws: R|
Background: You ever want to climb atop a mountain and scream something to get everyone’s attention? Yeah, that’s how I feel about Austin Barnes and his inability to break into a starting role despite (A) owning a career .299/.388/.439 minor league triple-slash or (B) entering his age-27 season or (C) throwing out roughly 30% of would-be base stealers in his MiLB career. But, alas, another strong showing in the PCL last season – he batted .295/.380/.443 with a 123 wRC+ – wasn’t enough to earn more than a couple dozen big league plate appearances. And, well, neither was his .315/.389/.479 slash-line in the PCL two years ago. And neither was his .296/.406/.507 mark in Class AA in 2014.
Projection: In last year’s book I made an interesting – and I think, reasonable – comparison. So let’s revisit it, shall we?
“Let’s just compare Barnes’ MiLB production to Yan Gomes, whom I always find incredibly intriguing because he was so overlooked:
Gomes, likely the greatest pickup in Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti’s career, has the noticeable edge in power. But in every other offensive category the nod goes to Barnes. On the defensive side, both backstops tossed out 30% of potential thieves during their respective MiLB runs. CAL is also a rather large fan of Barnes as well, linking him to John Jaso (career 120 wRC+), Josmil Pinto (120 wRC+), and Robinson Chirinos (92 wRC+). Is Barnes the top catcher in the minors? Absolutely, unequivocally no. But can he hold down a starting position on a championship caliber squad. If I were a small market GM, I’d bet on it. Too bad he’s in LA.”
Admittedly, that’s a big freakin’ proclamation. Could Barnes The Underrated – sort of like his badass Viking name – hold down a starting role on a championship contender. Hell yeah. He has a nose for first base, a solid hit tool, and enough power to keep defenses honest. But unfortunately for Barnes, he’s kind of locked into this too-valuable-as-a-potential-backup mode to move to another team.
One final thought: Derek Norris is a better-than-average catcher; are you telling me Barnes couldn’t match his .250/.305/.404 showing in 2015 when he tallied 2.4 fWAR? I’d bet everything on it that he could.
For the love of Johnny Bench, please give this guy some serious playing time. Seriously. I’m begging.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2015
|9. Omar Estevez, 2B|
|Born: 02/25/98||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: Willy Adames, Hector Gomez, Dorssys Paulino, Tim Beckham, Yu- Cheng Chang|
|Height: 5-10||Weight: 168||Throws: R|
Background: If you could say one thing about the Dodgers’ brass it’s this: they are not afraid to tap into the Cuban market – at all. And Estevez s just another example in what’s already become a strong pipeline to the big leagues. Signed for $6 million late November 2015, Estevez hit a respectable .255/.298/.389 with 32 doubles, a pair of triples, nine homeruns, and a trio of stolen bases en route to topping the Midwest League average by 1% – certainly not a terrible showing considering his age, 18, and the fact that he last played a meaningful ball game in 2014 (when he played in the Cuban National Series at the age of 16.
Projection: Taking a page out of Verdugo’s book, I’ll pose the question again: Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person? Because Estevez, like his organizational counterpart, got off to a predictably slow start against the significantly older competition as he batted a lowly .230/.272/.364 through his first 83 games. But from July 22nd through the end of the season, a span of 39 games and 172 plate appearances, the 5-foot-10, 168-pound second baseman slugged a healthy .302/.349/.434. I’d expect him to be one of the bigger breakouts in 2017.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|10. Gavin Lux, SS|
|Born: 11/23/97||Age: 19||Bats: L||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 190||Throws: R|
Background: Fun Fact Part I: Since 1965 the Dodgers have taken 10 shortstops in the opening round of the draft – seven of those, including Lux, have come from the high school ranks. Fun Fact Part II: Corey Seager has already become the most successful first round shortstop in team history. Fun Fact Part III: Not including Lux, they have owned the 20th pick in the first round five times; two of those players, Rick Rhoden and Bob Welch, tallied nearly 80 wins above replacement between their respective careers. Anyway, Lux, a lefty-swinging shortstop out of Kenosha, Wisconsin, had a more than respectable professional debut, slugging an aggregate .296/.375/.399 with 13 doubles, five triples, and a pair of stolen bases in 56 games.
Projection: Per the usual, there’s not too much data to go off of, but Lux did some things well: he hit for average, walked more a solid amount of the time, and showed solid contact skills. But he also didn’t flash a lot of power – he posted a .104 Isolated Power – and he committed 15 errors in just 56 games.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com