Sally League Top 20
By J.J. Cooper
1Delmarva (Orioles) LHPNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 195.
Drafted: HS—Valdosta, Ga., 2017 (1).
The Orioles were careful with their 2017 first-round pick. Hall threw more than 80 pitches just three times and never topped 90. But within those parameters, he dominated. Over the second half, Hall allowed a mere 32 hits in 53.2 innings as he posted a 0.84 ERA in 11 outings. He didn't allow more than one earned run in any of his final 13 appearances.
"He was far and away the best pitcher I saw (in the SAL)," a pro scout said.
Hall dominated hitters with a 92-96 mph fastball that seems to find another gear as it nears the plate. He's better locating to his arm side than glove side right now. He's comfortable elevating his fastball, but he can also tickle the bottom of the zone. Hall's 10-to-4 curveball isn't as consistent yet, though he'll break off several above-average ones each outing. His plus low-80s changeup is more consistent. It had both deception and some late fade.
Hall's frame is compact but strong and his delivery is simple. He has potential future plus command and control, making him a possible front-of-the-rotation starter.
2-7, 2.10 ERA
94.1 IP, 68 H, 42 BB, 100 SOMore Less
2Hagerstown (Nationals) 2B/SSNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 190.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016
Early in 2018, Garcia's confidence in his hands and swing could sometimes be his undoing, because he swung early and often. He still ranked among the SAL leaders in average (.297) and hits (88) when he moved to high Class A Potomac in July. At his new level, Garcia quickly became a much more selective hitter who waited for a better pitch to hit.
Garcia's feel for the game, intelligence and ability to improve quickly are advanced for an 18-year-old. He has the bat speed to hit premium velocity, which could help him develop average power as well.
Garcia could eventually slide from shortstop to second base or third base. His average speed this year is a grade lower than it was last year, and he played all three positions for Hagerstown. He has an above-average arm, but his range is based more on his ability to anticipate and read swings than quick feet.
296 AB, 3 HR, 31 RBI, 19 BB, 49 SOMore Less
3Rome (Braves) OFNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 183.
Drafted: HS—Woodstock, Ga., 2017 (2).
A year ago, center fielder Cristian Pache wowed Rome fans with highlight catches and elite range. Waters proved to be a worthy successor before earning a promotion to high Class A Florida at the end of July.
Some scouts say Waters will slide to right field eventually as he gets bigger and probably slower, but he's an above-average defender in center right now.
That profiles well with the switch-hitter's excellent barrel control and hands that work well at the plate. He is too aggressive now, especially early in the count as he looks to find a fastball to punish, but he has future 20-home run potential once he improves his approach.
337 AB, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 21 BB, 72 SO, 20 SBMore Less
4West Virginia (Pirates) SSNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-6. Wt: 175.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015 (Dodgers).
Not many shortstops look like Cruz. Lanky and 6-foot-6, he has more of a small forward's body. Cruz also stands out for his combination of tools and potential.
In a second season in low Class A, Cruz finished fifth in the SAL with a .291 average and posted double-digit home runs (14) and steals (11). Scouts are more confident in his power potential than his ability to hit for average, because he's an aggressive hitter with long levers, which leads to an unavoidably longer swing path. But when he connects, he has all-fields power. Scouts see plus-plus raw power in Cruz and at least 25-home run potential.
Where Cruz ends up defensively is open to debate. Few expect he can stay at shortstop because of his size, but he has a rifle of an arm and the body control to potentially be a plus defender at third base or right field. He takes time to get up to speed, but he's an average runner.
402 AB, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 34 BB, 100 SOMore Less
5Hickory (Rangers) OFNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 180.
Drafted: HS—Mobile, Ala., 2017 (1).
Thompson reported to Hickory at the start of May and stood out in all facets. He hit .289/.344/.446 with eight home runs and 32 steals. He showed plus power potential, plus speed and the bat speed to continue to hit for average.
The 2017 first-rounder gave reminders that he split time between baseball and football as an amateur and remains raw. His strike zone expands, the load in his swing needs to be cleaned up and he sometimes struggles to hit velocity—but despite it all, his first full season was a success. Despite his over-aggressiveness, Thompson puts together good at-bats because he has good timing and hand-eye coordination to go with his bat speed.
Thompson's bat is ahead of his defense. His plus speed plays well in center field, but he must work to clean up his routes and reads.
332 AB, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 23 BB, 104 SOMore Less
6Lexington (Royals) CNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 185.
Drafted: HS—Palmetto Bay, Fla., 2017 (2).
Melendez is not your typical catcher. The 19-year-old not only finished in the top five in the SAL in home runs (19), slugging percentage (.492), extra-base hits (54) and total bases (203), but he also ranked third with nine triples. He also tied for the league lead by throwing out 42 percent of basestealers.
Melendez is more athletic than most catchers. He has some mechanical work to do with his framing, but he blocks balls well and moves nimbly behind the plate.
As a hitter, Melendez can get power hungry at times and his swing gets a little big. But unlike many young lefthanded hitters, he stays in well against fellow lefties and there are few fastballs he can't hit thanks to a level swing and excellent bat speed. He presently strikes out too much because of his aggressive approach, but he has the hand-eye coordination to improve.
419 AB, 19 HR, 73 RBI, 43 BB, 143 SOMore Less
7Rome (Braves) CNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 180.
Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
The younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras has a chance to give the family a second everyday catcher in the big leagues.
The younger Contreras reinforced his reputation as one of the better young catchers in the minors. He's a bat-first backstop, but he has a chance to be an average defender as well, with solid athleticism and strength to go with a plus arm. He needs to clean up his footwork and transfer, which is why he threw out just 30 percent of basestealers.
What makes Contreras stand out is his bat. He coils into a big load, then explodes to generate plus raw power that plays in games. He hit 11 home runs for Rome but has bigger home run numbers in his future. Contreras gets to that power without selling out because he has a solid understanding of the strike zone and the contact skills to hit for average as well.
307 AB, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 29 BB, 73 SOMore Less
8Columbia (Mets) LHPNotes:
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 218.
Drafted: Connecticut, 2016 (1).
Fellow first-rounder David Peterson posted a 1.82 ERA with Columbia while Kay scuffled to a 4.54 ERA, but it was Kay who impressed scouts thanks to better stuff and his ability to be a potential mid-rotation starter.
In his first season back after Tommy John surgery, Kay showed a plus 91-95 mph fastball with above-average command and late life. He showed an ability to cut it and manipulate the spin and movement of his heater. Kay pairs that fastball with a plus 76-80 mph curveball that has excellent spin and depth and that he can locate to both sides of the plate.
Kay's changeup is less consistent right now but flashes above-average as well. For an experienced college pitcher, Kay's pitch selection and feel is less advanced than scouts expected, but he has upside as he moves farther away from surgery.
4-4, 4.54 ERA
69 IP, 73 H, 22 BB, 78 SOMore Less
9Hickory (Rangers) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-5. Wt: 200. Drafted: HS—Pennsauken Township, N.J., 2015 (16).
Phillips' development path has been the oft-desired but hard-to-predict journey of a projectable high school righthander. He largely sat in the upper 80s in high school, which explains why he lasted until the 16th round.
Three years later, Phillips sat 90-92 mph and touched 95 with one of the most effective fastballs in the SAL thanks to his ability to paint. Phillips led SAL starters with 0.98 walks per nine innings and ranked third in ERA (2.27).
Phillips can sink and run his fastball as well as locate it, and he paired his fastball with a plus changeup that baffled young hitters. If he's going to end up as a No. 4 starter, his projected role, he'll have to continue to improve his slurvy breaking ball. It was a well below-average pitch early in the season but improved to flash average.
11-5, 2.67 ERA
128 IP, 117 H, 14 BB, 124 SOMore Less
10Augusta (Giants) OFNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 185.
Drafted: HS—Guanyabo, P.R., 2017 (1).
Ramos' output was mediocre at best, but he showed flashes of potential in his first full season. He hit much better after a poor first two months, and evaluators remained optimistic he will grow to be a future above-average hitter with power. They wrote off many of Ramos' struggles as a result of him being one of the youngest players in the league.
"I think it's a good swing," one scout said. "He drives the ball the other way. He stays in (against righthanders). I think he's on track."
There's less certainty that Ramos will be able to stay in center field. Evaluators see his thick frame getting even bigger as he ages. He has present above-average speed to go with his power potential and bat speed, giving him enough tools to profile in a corner.
485 AB, 11 HR, 52 RBI, 35 BB, 136 SOMore Less
11West Virginia (Pirates) OFNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 209. Drafted: HS–San Diego, 2017 (2).
Mitchell's final stat line was solid but unspectacular, but scouts came away convinced that he was one of the best pure hitters among a rather nondescript crop.
Mitchell has to hit, as he's a fringe-average left fielder with a fringe-average arm. Evaluators are quite confident he will. His one-piece, fluid swing is the epitome of simplicity as he quickly whips the bat through the zone. Mitchell's home run power is largely confined to pull power right now, but the expectation is that some of his doubles to left center field will eventually turn into home runs as well.
There are plenty of hitters with more all-around upside and tools than Mitchell, but multiple scouts see Mitchell as a safe bet to hit for average with at least average power as well. He hit lefthanders surprisingly well for a young lefthanded hitter (.357/.413/.409), but he did wear down in the second half of the season.
443 AB, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 41 BB, 109 SOMore Less
12Lakewood (Phillies) RHPNotes:
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 205. Drafted: Cal Poly, 2017 (2).
Howard was surprisingly ineffective during a midseason stretch that saw his ERA balloon to well over 5.00. But as he improved his command and regained some velocity he dominated the league down the stretch, culminating with the first complete-game playoff no-hitter in Sally League history.
Howard is a high-risk prospect as his control wavers and his stuff isn't always consistent, but when he's on, he dominates. He flashes a mid-90s fastball he can locate to all four quadrants of the strike zone and he carries that velocity deep in games. He sat 94-96 mph in the final inning of his no-hitter. His 86-87 mph power slider gives him a plus secondary, while his changeup and curveball both are average at times. That power and four-pitch mix helped him lead the league with 11.8 strikeouts-per-nine and finish tied for the league lead with 147 strikeouts overall.
Considering his college pedigree and age, Howard should have dominated the league more than he did. But at his best, he was the best pitcher in the circuit.
9-8, 3.78 ERA
112 IP, 101 H, 10 BB, 147 SOMore Less
13Greensboro (Marlins) SSNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-0. Wt: 155. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016 (Yankees).
Usually shortstops in low Class A impress for their flashiness. They make the highlight play, but don't make the routine play regularly. Devers stands out for just how he's reliable he is. The baby-faced 18-year-old has an excellent internal clock. He rarely shows off his plus arm unless he needs it and he doesn't rush himself. The result was an absurdly low seven errors in 74 games at shortstop and second base for Greensboro before a promotion to high Class A Jupiter.
Devers is also a plus runner who turned in plus-plus times at his best. At the plate he currently doesn't really try to drive the ball. His pre-swing setup involves almost no load as he's geared to make contact. But on the very rare times he looked to take bigger swings, he did show some ability to line balls to the gaps, hinting at future gap power when he matures. He rarely strikes out, giving him a baseline to hit for average.
337 AB, 0 HR, 24 RBI, 15 BB, 49 SOMore Less
14Lakewood (Phillies) LHPNotes:
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 175. Drafted: HS–Hazel Green, Ala., 2015 (20).
Stewart battled Greenville's Denyi Reyes and Lakewood's David Parkinson for the title of the league's most-effective pitcher. Stewart finished second in the league behind only Reyes with a 2.06 ERA. He was also second-best in the league to Reyes in WHIP (0.98) and opponent average (.218).
But while Reyes and Parkinson are righthanders with fringy fastballs, Stewart is a lefty with an 89-93 mph fastball and a plus changeup. Stewart is well-built, strong and athletic and he fills the strike zone with plus control.
Stewart is able to work his fastball both arm-side and glove-side, and he's comfortable throwing his changeup to lefties as well as righthanded hitters. His low-80s slider has made strides. Right now one out of every five or so will be an average pitch. If he can up that ratio, he has the makings of a No. 4 starter.
8-1, 2.06 ERA
113.2 IP, 90 H, 21 BB, 90 SOMore Less
15Greensboro (Marlins) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Marlins 2017 first-round pick Trevor Rogers is more promising than his 5.82 ERA would indicate, but it was Cabrera who established himself as the Grasshoppers' most promising starting pitching prospect. He has an excellent 6-foot-4 frame and can be dominating at his best. He's just wildly inconsistent at this point.
Cabrera has a potentially plus 93-96 mph fastball that touches the upper 90s. It has excellent sink and arm-side run when he's on top of it. His 89-90 mph changeup gives him a second potentially plus offering. It has solid deception and plenty of late tumble to miss bats.
Cabrera's slider is far behind his other two pitches. He'll have to improve it to avoid eventually moving to the bullpen. His control is more promising than his 3.77 walks-per-nine nine innings would indicate, but it is fringe-average at this point and needs to improve. Getting all his stuff to play will take time, but Cabrera's power fastball and plus changeup are a promising foundation.
4-8, 4.22 ERA
100.1 IP, 105 H, 42 BB, 93 SOMore Less
16Rome (Braves) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 175. Dominican Republic, 2014 (Twins).
Ynoa showed three above-average pitches at different times during the season—he just usually had only one or two working for him on any given night. That was still enough for him to rank seventh in the SAL in strikeouts (100) and third in opponent average (.205) before being promoted to high Class A Florida on July 24.
Ynoa's 92-96 mph fastball was his most consistent weapon. His two-seamer showed excellent late sink and he could elevate to 97-98 mph when he needed. His changeup flashed signs of turning into a weapon as well. It's hard with only modest velocity separation from his fastball, but it succeeded as a weak-contract pitch thanks to late fade and sink. His mid-80s slider was his most erratic pitch, but it showed plenty of promise if he can learn to control it and make it more than just a chase pitch.
Most pitchers with Ynoa's erratic secondaries and below-average control end up as power relievers, but he has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter if he can improve his control.
7-8, 3.63 ERA
91.2 IP, 69 H, 42 BB, 100 SOMore Less
17Lexington (Royals) 1BNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS–Huntington Beach, Calif., 2017 (1).
When Pratto was elected to play in the South Atlantic League all-star game, it seemed like a mistake. The first baseman was hitting only .238/.288/.367 at the break. But he rewarded voters by hitting .322/.394/.518 in the second half as he turned himself into one of the more feared hitters in the league. He also hit .333/.474/.600 during the playoffs as he helped the Lexington to the league title.
Pratto struggled some with velocity early in the season, but got better at both figuring out his pitch to hit and being short enough to the ball to do something with it as the season wore on. There are still scouts who question whether he'll hit for the plus power expected of a first baseman, but evaluators see a future above-average hitter. He's an above-average defender at first base and is surprisingly adept at swiping bases despite fringe-average speed, stealing 22 bags in 27 tries, giving him another way to beat teams beyond his above-average bat and glove.
485 AB, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 45 BB, 150 SOMore Less
18Lexington (Royals) OFNotes:
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
In the majors, players bags are taken care of. In the minors, every player is responsible for their own bags. That caused Matias' season to end early, as he cut his thumb on a door of the bus as he loaded his luggage.
Matias' injury cost him a chance to battle for the minor league home run crown, and it ended up costing him the Sally League title as well--Asheville's Casey Golden topped him by three home runs. But scouts were enamored with Matias' easy plus-plus all-field power and near prototypical right field tools, as he's an average defender with a plus arm. Matias got better at recognizing breaking balls as the year wore on, but his ability to hit remains an open question.
Matias' feasts on mistakes, and he's going have to make a lot more contact to have success at higher levels. Matias struck out in a league-worst 34.8 percent of his plate appearances, a huge concern considering there is little precedent for players with that sort of strikeout rate in the low minors to go on to have big league success.
338 AB, 31 HR, 63 RBI, 24 BB, 131 SOMore Less
19Hickory (Rangers) RHPNotes:
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS–Elverson, Pa., 2016 (11/Dodgers)
The Rangers acquired Alexy from the Dodgers in last symmer's Yu Darvish trade and he proved to be one of the SAL's most overpowering pitchers in a second try at low Class A. He ranked fourth in the SAL with 138 strikeouts, second with 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings, and finished the season with back-to-back 10 strikeout outings.
Drafted out of Pennsylvania, Alexy is a cold-weather arm who has grown into velocity. He sat in the upper 80s in high school with a senior year bump to 88-92 mph. Now he sits 91-94 and touches 96 with a fastball that has armside life.
Alexy packs raw power but still needs plenty of work. His command of his fastball and curveball both need significant improvement, although both his changeup and curveball show the potential to become average pitches. He has the body to continue to get stronger and potentially throw even harder, but it's all going to depend on him developing from a thrower into a pitcher.
6-8, 3.58 ERA
108 IP, 89 H, 52 BB, 138 SOMore Less
20Lexington (Royals) RHPNotes:
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-2. Wt: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016 (Braves)
If the Sally League handed out a most-improved award, Del Rosario would be a top candidate. Over the course of the season he gained a couple of ticks of velocity, significantly improved his curveball and started to figure out how to mix in a developing changeup. Rosario went 5-0, 0.75 in six August starts and followed it up with six scoreless innings (allowing one hit) in his lone playoff start.
Early in the season Del Rosario relied almost exclusively on a 91-94 mph fastball. By the end of the season he was sitting in the mid-90s with a fastball that has solid late life. His curveball is a potentially plus pitch, but most importantly he started to show that he can throw it for strikes.
Del Rosario has an easy delivery and has a solid fallback option as a reliever. His developing feel gives him a solid chance to remain in the rotation.
6-5, 3.19 ERA
79 IP 69 H, 29 BB, 72 SOMore Less