The Top 25 Breakout Prospects for 2017

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Ofelky Peralta, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

Since 2006, there have been only 38 teenage arms to post a strikeout percentage north of 22% in Low Class A (minimum 100 innings). Here’s a breakdown of those 38 arms:

13 have developed into above-average big league pitchers: Noah Syndergaard, Michael Fulmer, Madison Bumgarner, Carlos Carrasco, Michael Pineda, Lance McCullers, Jake McGee, Shelby Miller, Trevor Cahill, Jon Niese, Jarrod Parker, Archie Bradley, and Travis Wood.

7 are current top prospects (or was a top prospect in 2016): Alexander Reyes, Tyler Glasnow, Justus Sheffield, Grant Holmes, Roniel Raudes, Jose Berrios, and Lucas Sims

3 became serviceable big league arms with some upside: Randall Delgado, Matt Wisler, and Jordan Lyles.

11 were once considered top prospects, but never panned out: Kyle Crick, Will Inman, Michael Bowden, Manny Banuelos, Jesse Biddle, Nick Adenhart (who tragically passed away), Clayton Blackburn, Brandon Erbe, Robbie Erlin, Ryan Tucker, and Henry Owens.

4 never took the necessary developmental steps after their Low Class A showings: Paul Demny, Aneury Rodriguez, Omar Poveda, and Tyler Robertson.

So far those counting at home: 89.5% of the teenage arms to post a 22% strikeout percentage since 2006 have either developed into big league arms and/or were considered top prospects. Peralta is the 39th member of the group. His control/command has ways to go, but he’s looking awfully promising.

Fernando Romero, RHP, Minnesota Twins 

Fresh off of Tommy John surgery, the hard-throwing right-hander was simply unhittable during his return to action last season. And he’s just scratching the surface. Expect Romero’s name to jump up among the best arms in the minors as he removes himself further and further away from the surgical procedure.

Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland Indians 

The Indians haven’t churned out a dominant high school arm since C.C. Sabathia. McKenzie’s poised to walk in the hefty lefty’s footsteps. Cleveland has handled the former first round pick with kid gloves. But expect some huge numbers and a potential rise as high as Class AA in 2017.

Luiz Gohara, LHP, Atlanta Braves 

It was a big, big time win for the Braves, who acquired the hefty Brazilian lefty from the Mariners in an offseason trade. Heading into last season I ranked Gohara as Seattle’s #3 prospect. And that’s before his control took a tremendous step forward. His 10 starts in the Midwest League – he threw 54.1 innings with 60 punch out and just 20 walks – is just the beginning. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Fernando Romero, Triston McKenzie, and Luiz Gohara all among the Top 25 prospects in baseball come this time next year.

Thomas Szapucki, LHP, New York Mets 

Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Jake deGrom, Steven Matz…Thomas Szapucki? The 2015 fifth round pick might just be the latest Metropolitan arm to quickly – and dominantly – ascend up through the minor league system. Szapucki looked awfully good in his brief stops in the Appalachian and New York-Penn Leagues last season. Because he was an older high school prospect, the lefty is now entering his age-21 season. A second half call-up to High Class A seems plenty reasonable.

Jose Lopez, RHP, Cincinnati Reds 

Admittedly, I’ve always been a fan of the Lopez since his early days at Seton Hall. Despite not appearing in a game during the 2014 season – thanks to Tommy John surgery, of course – I ranked him as 83rd best collegiate prospect available in the draft. The Reds eventually grabbed Lopez in the sixth round three ago, though he wouldn’t make it up to Low Class until last season. The peripherals are far better than his 4.07 ERA would indicate. After throwing 34.2 innings in High Class A at the end of last season, it’s very likely he’s on pace to spend a significant part of 2017 in Class AA. Lopez is like a right-handed version of Amir Garrett.

Sandy Alcantara, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Similiarly with the Mets, St. Louis has this uncanny ability to churn out hard-throwing pitcher after hard-throwing pitcher. Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes and, now, Sandy Alcantara. The then-20-year-old blew away the Midwest League by averaging nearly 12 K/9 and looked awfully good in his late-season push to High Class A. He’s ticketed to spend at least half of a year in Class AA.

Junior Fernandez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals 

A member of the Top Breakout List in last year’s book. Fernandez, unfortunately, didn’t. But I’m still betting on a coming out party in the near future. The Dominican-born right-hander made it up to High Class A before his 20th birthday. Obviously, the front office sees something special. Expect a bounce back in his strikeout rate in 2017.

Franklyn Kilome, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies 

The overall production in the Sally is impressive enough by itself: 115.1 IP, 130 K, 50 BB, and a 3.82 ERA. But consider what Kilome did after getting battered around during his first three starts of the year: in 105.2 IP with the Lakewood BlueClaws, the hard-throwing right-hander averaged 10.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with a 2.73 ERA. But, wait, there’s more: Over his final 57.1 IP, he posted a laughable 74-to-18 K-to-BB ratio. That’s how top prospects are born.

Albert Tirado, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies 

Part of the bounty the club received from the Blue Jays in exchange for Ben Revere at the trade deadline two years ago. Tirado’s battled some major control issues throughout his career: he’s averaged nearly six walks every nine innings. And last season started out that way as well; he walked nine in his first 7.1 innings. But after taking some time off something seemed to click for Tirado when he made the move back to the rotation. Over his final 45.1 innings he struck out a mindboggling 73 and walked just 19 – or an average of 14.5 K/9 and 3.79 BB/9.

Adrian Rondon, SS, Tampa Bay Rays 

The overall production – .249/.301/.430 with a 100 wRC+ – is far less impressive until you consider his age, 17, and level of competition (Appalachian League). Consider the following: since 2006, there have been just five 16- or 17-year-old prospects in the Appalachian League with an ISO above .170 and a K-rate below 30%: Billy Rowell, Carson Kelly, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Wilmer Flores, and Adrian Rodon. A second half swoon depressed Rondon’s overall production; he batted .300/.343/.554 over his first 33 games and just .145/.221/.177 over his final 19 contests. Again, he was young and it looks like he simply tired down the stretch. I may be a year or two early, but I expect big, big things from Rondon.

Juan Soto, RF, Washington Nationals 

Following in the footsteps of future teammate Victor Robles, I aggressively ranked the 18-year-old outfielder among the Top 100 prospects in baseball. Soto ripped through the Gulf Coast League and short-season ball during his debut, hitting a combined .368/.420/.553 with 14 doubles, three triples, and five homeruns. Here’s an extensive list of 16- and 17-year-old hitters to top his 184 wRC+ mark in the GCL since 2006: none. It won’t be so much of a breakout for the gifted corner outfielder, but everyone will begin to take notice.

Omar Estevez, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers 

Signed after defecting from Cuba two years ago, the front office aggressively challenged the then-18-year-old by pushing him directly into Low Class A at the start of last season. And the overall numbers look like it was a massive miscalculation: he batted just .255/.298/.389. But consider this: after an expected learning curve, Estevez slugged .308/.358/.473 with 16 doubles and seven homeruns over his final 56 games. His overall production, during that stretch, topped the league average mark by 45%. If you don’t have him in your dynasty leagues, grab him now.

Max Fried, LHP, San Diego Padres 

Limited to just 10.2 innings between 2014 and 2015 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, Fried finally made it back to the mound last season: he would throw 103.0 innings with the Rome Braves in the South Atlantic League. But, again, look at his second half numbers: 49.2 IP, 64 K, and 15 BB. He’s poised to make a couple stops in 2017 and regain his once bright prospect shine.

Franklin Perez, RHP, Houston Astros 

Here’s a list of 18-year-old pitchers to post a strikeout-to-walk percentage north of 20% in either Low Class A league (minimum 60 innings): Madison Bumgarner, Tim Collins, Jordan Lyles, and, of course, Franklin Perez. Obviously, that’s a pretty good list to be on. Ignoring his two clunkers against the Kernels and Cougars, here’s Perez’s overall numbers: 57.2 IP, 2.18 ERA, 65 K, and 16 walks. I have a strong suspicion that he’s going to be one of the most talked about teenagers in 2017.

Vladimir Gutierrez, RHP, Cincinnati Reds 

The Reds doled out a hefty bonus near $5 million to secure the services of the Cuban-born right-hander. And despite not appearing in a professional game, how do I know Gutierrez is going to be a breakout prospect in 2017? Consider this: In his last stint in the Cuban National Series, the then-18-year-old averaged 8.6 punch outs per nine innings; the third best showing in the league, better than Yaisel Sierra who was five years his senior.

Anderson Tejeda, 2B/SS, Texas Rangers 

The then-18-year-old shortstop blitzed through three separate levels last season – Dominican Summer League, Arizona Summer League, and short-season ball – en route to hitting .283/.326/.520 with 14 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homeruns, and seven stolen bases. That’s an impressive array of skills wrapped up into a wiry frame. The Rangers have had tremendous success in developing similar prospects. Watch out.

Blake Bivens, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays 

Over his final seven starts with the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Bivens posted a 1.88 ERA with a dominant 51-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The opposition batted a meager .179/.2447/.245 against him during that stretch as well. He could be the next great underappreciated arm the Rays have developed. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him mentioned in the same breath as Jacob Faria and Brent Honeywell.

Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago Cubs 

The former sixth round pick finished out the year with a bang: he tossed a 5.0 inning, one hit gem against the Hillsboro Hops with 10 punch outs and zero walks. Cease was just one of just 11 pitchers to post a strikeout percentage north of 36% last season, at any level (minimum 40 innings). The control has ways to go, but he has some front-end potential packed in his power-laden right-arm.

Paul DeJong, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals 

The front office made the unexpected – and risky – move by pushing the 2015 fourth round pick straight up to Class AA after spending just 56 games in Low Class A during his debut. DeJong’s overall numbers, while impressive, don’t tell the entire story. After a predictably abysmal month of April – which is also known as the learning curve – DeJong slugged a robust .271/.334/.490 with 24 doubles, one triple, and 22 homeruns over his final 112 games; his overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 32%. And just for fun, here are those numbers prorated for a full 162-game season: 35 doubles, one triple, and 32 homeruns.

Dan Slania, RHP, San Francisco Giants 

The Giants’ system remains incredibly thing as it sports just three players – Tyler Beede, Chris Shaw, and Christian Arroyo – among the minors’ Top 250 prospects. But Slania, a fifth round pick out of Notre Dame in 2013, could potentially join the trio. Working exclusively as a reliever during his first three seasons, the organization started transitioning him into a full-time starting pitcher in the second half of last year. The results were encouraging: 97.2 IP, 81 K, 31 BB, and a 2.40 ERA between High Class A, Class AA, and Class AAA. It’s difficult to see where he fits into the big league’s rotation, but he’s a name to watch nonetheless.

Drew Anderson, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies 

After missing some of 2014 and the entire 2015 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, Anderson split his return between the Sally and Florida State League, throwing 70.0 innings with a 78-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s likely going to spend a good portion of 2017 working in the Eastern League.

Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves 

The teenage outfielder looked awfully good in limited action in the Sally last season, slugging .311/.387/.432 with two doubles, two triples, and four homeruns in 40 games. His brief career has been littered by success in small samples, so I’m betting that it adds up to a big breakout in 2017 – barring injury, of course.

Meibrys Viloria, C, Kansas City Royals 

The numbers will never, ever approach his MVP-winning Pioneer League showing (.376/.436/.606 and a 159 wRC+). And, yet, no one’s really talking about him? But here’s a list of teenage prospects to post a wRC+ total of at least 150 and a strikeout percentage below 14% in the Pioneer League (minimum 150): David Dahl and Viloria. Granted, Viloria was a year older than the Rockies’ young outfielder.

Nabil Crismatt, RHP, New York Mets

Ridiculously dominant during brief stretching in the NYPL, the Sally, and Class AA last season. The Columbian right-hander posted an impeccable 74-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65.2 innings of work. All he needs is a full season’s worth of innings.

Additional Potential Breakouts to Watch:

  • Domingo Acevedo, RHP, New York Yankees
  • Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Houston Astros
  • Luis Arraez, 2B, Minnesota Twins
  • Dakota Chalmers, RHP, Oakland Athletics
  • Yu-Cheng Chang, SS, Cleveland Indians
  • Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, Chicago Cubs
  • Lewin Diaz, 1B, Minnesota Twins
  • Yusniel Diaz, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Marcos Diplan, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
  • Steven Fuentes, RHP, Washington Blue Jays
  • Wladimir Galindo, 3B, Chicago Cubs
  • Derian Gonzalez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
  • Taylor Hearn, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Clay Holmes, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Desmond Lindsey, OF, New York Mets
  • Shedric Long, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
  • Nick Longhi, 1B, Boston Red Sox
  • Francys Peguero, RHP, Washington Nationals
  • Luis Pena, RHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  • Freddy Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
  • Franmil Reyes, OF, San Diego Padres
  • Victor Reyes, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Justin Steele, LHP, Chicago Cubs
  • Emilio Vargas, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Tyler Watson, LHP, Washington Nationals
  • T.J. Zeuch, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays


About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.