2016 Appalachian League Top 20 Prospects
Championship Series Johnson City (Cardinals) 2 Burlington (Royals) 0
|Best Record Burlington (Royals), 42-26 (.618)|
|Most Valuable Player Alex Kirilloff, of, Elizabethton (Twins)|
|Pitcher OF The Year Cristian Castillo, lhp, Burlington (Royals)|
|Did Not Qualify Ian Anderson, rhp, Danville (Braves)|
See Also: 2016 League Top 20 Index
See Also: League Top 20 Prospects Historical Index
The journey from Danville, Va., the easternmost point in the Appalachian League, to its westernmost counterpart in Greeneville, Tenn., takes just more than four hours. It’s a long ride, but it isn’t insurmountable. In fact, many major league stars have been along the same ride, flourishing in the mountainous Appy League on their way to the big leagues.
Just five years ago, the Appy league hosted Cy Young Award candidates Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez, as well as burgeoning regulars in Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Brandon Drury. This year, the pool of talent was particularly deep, with a number of high draft picks stacking up against a stout international class.
The highest-picked player from the 2016 draft to play in the Appy League this summer was Danville righthander Ian Anderson, who missed by two innings the required total to qualify. Anderson was joined by Princeton third baseman Josh Lowe, Elizabethton outfielder Alex Kirilloff, Pulaski outfielder Blake Rutherford and Greeneville righthander Forrest Whitley, who were all among the top 17 picks in the draft, as well as sandwich-round lefthander Joey Wentz of Danville.
Princeton shortstop Adrian Rondon and Bluefield third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ranked as the No. 1 international prospects in their respective classes in 2014 and 2015, and they both made impressive strides forward this season. Other highly-ranked international prospects also occupied the league, with Danville outfielder Cristian Pache headlining a group that also included Danville shortstop Derian Cruz, Greeneville shortstop Miguelangel Sierra, Pulaski shortstop Wilkerman Garcia, Pulaski third baseman Dermis Garcia and Elizabethton first baseman Lewin Diaz.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3b, Bluefield (Blue Jays) | Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Guerrero, the No. 1 international prospect in the 2015 class, lived up to the hype in his pro debut by more than holding his own despite being the youngest player in the Appy League for the entire season.
Guerrero showed elite hard-hit ability, consistently squaring up pitches and covering the plate well. He shows plus bat speed, natural timing in the box, an understanding of the strike zone and an ability to recognize and track offspeed pitches.
Guerrero moved to third base from the outfield last fall in instructional league. His stocky build, with some less-than-ideal weight, leads some evaluators to project a move to first base if his actions stiffen as he matures. He does have surprising athleticism, though, with a quick first step and passable footwork around the bag. Guerrero showed improved arm strength, with grades on his arm ranging from 55 to 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
2. Blake Rutherford, of, Pulaski (Yankees) |
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Canoga Park, Calif., 2016 (1).
Rutherford, who ranked No. 9 in this year’s BA 500, slid in the draft due to concerns over his age (he was 19 on draft day) and signability, but the Yankees nabbed him with the 18th pick and saw him excel at Pulaski this summer. He performed like a college hitter in the Appy League, with his plus bat speed and advanced feel for hitting.
Rutherford controls at-bats and has a sound understanding of which pitches he can drive. His swing is geared more for line drives than home runs, and he hits lots of hard doubles from gap to gap, projecting for more over-the-fence power as he matures. He showed advanced outfield instincts and a quick first step this summer, but he lacks the elite, game-changing speed often found in big league center fielders. With an arm that earns fringe-to-average grades, he profiles best as an above-average corner outfielder.
3. Estevan Florial, of, Pulaski (Yankees) | Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Signed for $200,000 after a one-year suspension stemming from his Haitian birth certificate, Florial wowed evaluators with his raw tools this summer and earned a late-season promotion to low Class A Charleston.
Florial shows plus bat speed from a wide-shouldered, long-levered frame, giving him plus-plus raw power in batting practice. He has plus arm strength in the outfield, where his plus speed pairs well with his impressive routes, though he doesn’t run as well out of the batter’s box.
In spite of his pure bat speed and raw power, Florial is far from his offensive ceiling. He does show some aptitude in recognizing pitches, but he has an aggressive swing and can sometimes sacrifice balance. Multiple scouts noted he was prone to swinging and missing at pitches down and away, and he ranked second in the league in strikeouts. When he does connect, however, the ball explodes off his bat. He has impact tools if he can make the necessary hitting adjustments.
4. Kolby Allard, lhp, Danville (Braves) | Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—San Clemente, Calif., 2015 (1).
The Braves’ top draft pick in 2015, Allard made his debut in June, shaking off some rust for low Class A Rome before a quick stint in Danville. There, Allard made five dominant starts and earned a promotion back to Rome in less than a month.
Allard has arm strength, and his fastball works comfortably at 90-94 mph. As an amateur, his best pitch was his deep curveball, which showed late snap and 1-to-7 break this summer. It still projects as an above-average or plus pitch. This season, Allard’s changeup showed significant progress, giving him a third weapon in addition to his advanced pitchability and composure on the mound.
5. Jordan Hicks, rhp, Johnson City (Cardinals) Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—Houston, 2015 (3s).
Hicks made his pro debut in the Appy League this summer, and left quite an impression, garnering interest from multiple clubs as the trade deadline approached. The Cardinals held onto Hicks and promoted him to short-season State College as the deadline passed.
Hicks would sometimes fly open and lose fastball command and has a long arm action with a wrap in the back, but his strong athleticism could allow him to overcome both issues. He pitches with a mid-90s fastball that has reached 98 mph. The pitch shows late life as well.
Hicks throws a low-80s slider that flashes plus spin often and shows tight two-plane break, though its shape can vary. His slider projects as plus though some evaluators rated it even better. Hicks’s changeup is also a weapon, and he flashes feel for it down in the zone, particularly against lefthanded batters.
6. Alex Kirilloff, of, Elizabethton (Twins) | Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Pittsburgh, 2016 (1).
The 15th overall pick in June, Kirilloff has a strong, muscular frame, with wide hips and shoulders. He has a fluid swing with loose wrists, sound strike-zone awareness, and he covers the plate well. He has a chance to develop a plus hit tool, though his approach may take some fine tuning.
Kirilloff is an aggressive hitter, content with hunting for early-count mistakes, which he’ll find less often at higher levels. He has plus raw power and plus arm strength. He is a slightly above-average runner, but projects to slow down as he matures and adds strength. Kirilloff fits a classic corner-outfield profile.
7. Adrian Rondon, ss, Princeton (Rays) | Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
Rondon, the No. 1 prospect in the 2014 international class, struggled in his pro debut in 2015, but he rebounded well at Princeton, showing flashes on both sides of the ball and playing with more energy than he had before.
Rondon’s profile is built around his plus righthanded power, which plays to all fields and comes from his plus bat speed and relatively long arms. He showed power to all fields this summer, and his power projects as plus.
Rondon has some length to his swing, with a wrap hitch to his load, but he has fluid hands and the loose wrists to make adjustments. Defensively, he projects to stay on the left side of the infield, though some evaluators question his actions and quickness at shortstop and see third base as a better fit.
8. Thomas Szapucki, lhp, Kingsport (Mets) | Age: 20. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 2015 (5).
Szapucki has a stout, wide-shouldered frame with the physicality of a starting pitcher but the delivery of a reliever. Despite a plunging arm action, a recoil in his finish and a head whack, he was able to consistently find his lower three-quarters arm slot and showed the ability to throw all of his pitches—a mid-90s fastball that touched 96 mph, an 89-91 sinker and two breaking balls—from the same release point.
Szapucki’s slider lives in the low 80s and features powerful 2-to-8 sweep and late depth. His high-70s curveball shows more top-to-bottom action. His changeup shows late tumbling action, and he throws it with fastball arm speed. His season ended with a back injury, and he has previously had back issues, so he’ll have to prove he can hold up physically.
9. Cristian Pache, of, Danville (Braves) Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Signed for $1.4 million in 2015, Pache made a positive impression in his pro debut, showing increased strength and speed that earned him a promotion from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to Danville. Pache has a chance to develop into a solid all-around player, with average raw power and plus-plus speed.
Pache’s swing includes a long bat path, and he has some issues maintaining balance, but he showed bat control and natural bat-to-ball ability. Defensively, his quick first step, closing speed and above-average arm were encouraging signs for him to fit the center-field profile.
10. Joey Wentz, lhp, Danville (Braves) Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Prairie Village, Kan., 2016 (1s).
Wentz focused on pitching in the spring and showed significant progress, prompting the Braves to sign him for $3.05 million. He thrived in four starts in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to earn a promotion to Danville.
Wentz has a short, repeatable arm action and some athleticism in his delivery. His long limbs help him get deep extension towards the plate and pitch downhill. His fastball reached the mid-90s this spring but topped out at 93 mph and sat 87-91 with four days of rest.
Some evaluators thought Wentz’s best offspeed pitch was his curveball, a deep vertical breaker that shows late depth and competes in the strike zone. Others favored his changeup, which earned above-average to plus reviews.
11. Josh Lowe, 3b, Princeton (Rays) | Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS—Marietta, Ga., 2016 (1).
As a rising high school senior, Lowe showed explosive tools on the showcase circuit, both as a power-hitting third baseman and as a righthanded pitcher. This spring, he had some hot and cold streaks, and evaluators had mixed opinions on his ability to hit. Enamored of his tools, the Rays chose Lowe with the 13th pick in the draft.
Lowe’s most exciting tool may be his raw power, which grades as at least plus, especially when he tries to hit home runs at the end of his batting-practice sessions. In game action, he has the ability to drive the ball with authority to the gaps, and he will hit more home runs when he matures and learns to loft the ball. He has a patient approach and takes competitive at-bats. He has long levers that allow him to generate torque in his swing, but those levers also create holes for pitchers to exploit.
Lowe’s other tools are also exciting. He shows plus speed and arm strength at third base. His hands and reactions drew skepticism from scouts who saw him in Princeton, but he has the physical tools for the position and the athleticism to play the outfield.
12. Derian Cruz, ss, Danville (Braves) Age: 17. B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Cruz signed for $2 million as the Braves’ most expensive international signee in 2015. He made his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this summer and quickly earned a promotion to Danville. While he struggled in the Appy League, he flashes an intriguing package of raw tools.
Originally a righthanded hitter, Cruz has learned to switch-hit as a professional. His lefthanded swing is raw, but as a righty hitter, he can drive the ball to the gaps with surprising thump. While he doesn’t project as a significant power threat, he should be able to impact the ball enough.
Defensively, Cruz has plus hands and smooth actions at shortstop, though he’ll need to improve the consistency of his glove work and get better at controlling his body. Multiple evaluators noted above-average arm strength in extended spring training, but he showed a well below-average arm in Danville. His footwork and core strength are lacking at present. His weaknesses are concerning but not deal-breakers given his youth.
13. Allen Cordoba, ss, Johnson City (Cardinals) Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Panama, 2013.
While he wasn’t a high-profile international prospect, Cordoba opened eye this year by hitting .362 to win the Appy League batting title. He has made slow progress since turning pro in 2013, however, by spending two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and now two in domestic Rookie ball.
Evaluators noted Cordoba has an unconventional swing and setup. Despite that, he made consistent, authoritative contact, a testament to his pitch recognition and bat-to-ball ability. He built his high batting average with hard, low-trajectory line drives and not a series of bloop hits. He showed an aggressive approach and looked to do damage early counts, but he has a sound understanding of the strike zone for a young player.
Cordoba has a chance to stick at shortstop, though he doesn’t have the standard, quick-twitch athleticism typically found in shortstops at the highest level. Cordoba has an average arm and near-average range. He is a plus runner and knows how to use his speed on the basepaths.
14. Miguelangel Sierra, ss/2b, Greeneville (Astros) Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
Sierra signed with the Astros for $1 million in 2014 and ranked as the No. 25 prospect in the organization following the 2015 season. This summer, he showed surprising power production in the Appy League as he earned a promotion to short-season Tri-City.
Despite his 11 home runs and .331 isolated slugging percentage at Greeneville, Sierra’s power doesn’t project to plus. He has average to slightly above-average raw power and bat speed, but he got pull-happy and sold out for power as his home-run total climbed. After striking out 28 percent of the time in the Appy League, his strikeout rate jumped to 33 percent in the New York-Penn League. He has the elements to hit, but he also has the supporting tools to buy his bat time to develop.
What makes Sierra exciting is his defensive upside. He has lateral quickness and shows above-average range in either direction. He controls his body well and routinely shows above-average arm strength. His athleticism plays well on the basepaths, and he showed above-average speed. Sierra has gotten much more physical since signing and is likely heavier than his listed weight.
15. Ian Oxnevad, lhp, Johnson City (Cardinals) Age: 19. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—Shoreline, Wash., 2015 (8).
The Cardinals liked Oxnevad's size, pitchability and projection, so they made him an eighth-round pick in 2015 and signed him for an over-slot bonus of $500,000. He endeared himself to scouts this year with command of a three-pitch arsenal, and the Cardinals player-development staff lauded his work ethic and poise.
Oxnevad has a repeatable delivery, with a short arm action and a repeatable stride with a drop-and-drive delivery. He repeats his arm speed well on all three of his pitches, and his stuff plays up because of his command and deception. He shows the ability to locate his pitches down and to both sides or throw his fastball up in the strike zone. He projects to have above-average command.
Oxnevad throws his fastball mostly at 88-90 mph and can touch 92. His fastball has downhill angle and late sink, allowing him to induce weak ground balls and popups at a high rate. His curveball projects to above-average or better, with plus depth and late snap from 12-to-6. His average to above-average changeup flashes late tumbling action and disrupts the timing of hitters.
16. Garrett Davila, lhp, Burlington (Royals) Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS—Belmont, N.C., 2015 (4).
Scouts were split on Davila as an amateur, with some dismissing him due to his lack of physicality or elite velocity. In high school, he mowed through his competition, mostly with an upper-80s fastball and a loopy, 12-to-6 curveball. He spent his draft year getting stronger, then made his pro debut this summer.
In high school, Davila would throw his changeup while warming up in the bullpen but not in games. Evaluators this summer praised his changeup, with some grading it as a future plus. He throws his change with the same arm speed as his fastball and generates plus fade, allowing him to get swings and misses. His fastball works in the upper 80s and touches 92 mph, showing enough late movement to generate poor contact. The presence of his fastball-changeup combo allows his curveball, which grades as a below-average, to play as a third weapon and change the batter's eye level.
Davila has a slight plunge in the back of his arm action, but he is loose through his three-quarters arm slot and has an athletic hip swing into his stride. He’s able to locate his pitches and has above-average control. He projects for average command as he continues to gain reps.
17. Yennsy Diaz, rhp, Bluefield (Blue Jays) Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
Diaz ranked as the No. 19 prospect in the Blue Jays system heading into the season thanks to his elite arm speed and projectable athleticism. Though he ran up a 5.79 ERA in 56 innings this season, but he remains projectable.
Diaz's best pitch is his fastball, which works at 92-95 mph and shows late finish, jumping on hitters late. He throws his fastball early and often, and his secondary stuff remains raw as he aims to figure out his delivery. Diaz has a slingshot-like arm action, with his pitching hand cocking backwards as he extends his glove hand forward. He has a tendency to rush off the rubber and cut off his front side, and his arm can be late as a result, costing him command as he struggles to repeat his release point.
That in turn makes Diaz's curveball, which shows average spin, more inconsistent and easier for hitters to pick up. As he irons out his delivery and learns stay online and pitch downhill, he has a chance to develop an arsenal of three average pitches, though neither his curveball nor his changeup plays as average at present.
18. Travis Blankenhorn, 2b, Elizabethton (Twins) | Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 208. Drafted: HS—Pottsville, Pa., 2015 (3).
A prolific prep basketball player from a cold-weather climate, Blankenhorn’s baseball experience may have been lacking, but his tools and offensive potential made him a significant draft prospect. The Twins took him in the third round in 2015, and he played well at Elizabethton that summer. He began this season back in the Appy League before earning a promotion to low Class A Cedar Rapids.
Blankenhorn’s profile is dependent on his hit tool. He has a compact, fluid swing with above-average bat speed and loose, flexible wrists that allow him to cover the plate well. He has a compact build with strength and balance in his actions, both on offense and defense. He projects for an above-average or better hit tool, though he will have to refine his approach and pitch selection as he moves up the ladder. He projects for average power.
After playing third base in his pro debut, Blankenhorn moved to second base this season. He doesn’t have a ton of first-step quickness, but he makes routine plays well with a chance to develop into a passable defender. The Twins liken him to a poor man’s version of Ben Zobrist, because he could eventually play second, third and perhaps an outfield corner while his offense carries him.
19. Nicky Lopez, ss, Burlington (Royals) Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Creighton, 2016 (5).
Lopez quickly established himself as a gamer with plus makeup. Evaluators lauded his character and work ethic as well as on-field body language and demeanor. His tools are not explosive, but the sum of his parts makes him an intriguing high-floor prospect.
Lopez is a sure-handed shortstop with above-average range and plus hands. He doesn’t take plays off and has a knack for reading the ball off the bat, reacting quickly and accurately. His arm grades as above-average for some evaluators and plus for others. He’s a plus runner and can reach first base from home in 4.15 seconds on a routine ground ball.
Lopez has a crouched, open setup and looks to step forward and transfer his weight into the ball, but he projects for below-average power. He has a sound understanding of the strike zone and does not expand it regularly. His offensive track record is light and limited, but this summer was an encouraging sign.
20. Brett Cumberland, c, Danville (Braves) Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 205. Drafted: California, 2016 (2s).
After the Braves selected three high school pitchers to start their draft, they popped Cumberland, a bat-first college catcher, in the second round and signed him for $1.5 million. Atlanta believed in his ability to hit from both sides of the plate and improve his defense.
Reviews of Cumberland’s pro debut were largely negative. He hit just .216 with some gap power, in part due to tiring over long spring and summer seasons, and scouts heavily criticized his defense. He has a stocky build with strength, and he flashes plus bat speed from both sides. His swings from both sides have some holes, and he struck out 26 percent of the time this summer. He has plus raw power and the ability to drive the ball over the fence to the opposite field, though he is still learning to get to his raw power consistently.
Several scouts projected a move to first base for Cumberland because of his slow-twitch footwork behind the plate, lack of fluidity and difficulty blocking ball in the dirt this summer. Others noted his framing ability and hands that showed well at times. His defense requires projection, but he has the work ethic and aptitude for the position.
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