2017 Pacific Coast League Top 20 Prospects
Amed Rosario (John Amis/Getty Images)
|Championship Series Memphis (Cardinals) 3 El Paso (Padres) 2|
|Best Record Memphis (Cardinals), 91-50 (.644)|
|Most Valuable Player Christian Walker, 1B, Reno (D-backs)|
|Pitcher Of The Year Wilmer Font, RHP, Oklahoma City (Dodgers)|
|Rookie of the Year Amed Rosario, SS, Las Vegas (Mets)|
|Did Not Qualify Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Oklahoma City (Dodgers)|
To qualify for a league top 20, a starting pitcher must have thrown 1/3 of an inning per team game played, a relief pitcher must have made 20 appearances, and hitters must average one plate appearance per game played.
Though some of the best prospects who played in the Pacific Coast League in 2017 were the ones who passed quickly through it, history was made by many of those who stayed in the Triple-A circuit.
Talent-rich Memphis, led by PCL manager of the year Stubby Clapp, posted the best regular season in franchise history with a 91-50 record, then won the league's playoffs as well. The Redbirds became the first PCL team since 2006 to win 90 games and just the third in league history to win the division by at least 20 games.
The Redbirds led all PCL clubs with a 3.77 ERA, thanks to contributions from righthanders and 2014 Cardinals first-rounders Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver. With the help of shortstop Paul DeJong, catcher Carson Kelly and center fielder Harrison Bader, Memphis led all Midwest-based PCL clubs in runs scored (714), home runs (164) and OPS (.795).
Rosario already boasted some of the best tools among minor league shortstops, including terrific athleticism and the strongest throwing arm in the PCL. This season he added much more polish, paving the way to his Aug. 1 callup to the Mets.
The shortstop has great hands, plus range and high reliability. “One thing he learned this year was how to position himself,” Las Vegas manager Pedro Lopez said, “how to better learn swings and take control over the infield . . . Especially last year, some of the errors he made were staying back on balls and relying too much on his arm.”
Rosario’s approach at the plate also improved drastically. He established career highs with a .328 average and seven home runs. He also stole 19 bases with plus-plus speed. “He’s still aggressive,” Lopez said, “but he’s staying away from those marginal pitches and focusing on pitches he can drive.”
Brinson recorded a 1.005 OPS in a 23-game trial in the thin air of Colorado Springs last year after coming over from the Rangers in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. The five-tool center fielder continued to rake in the PCL this season, hitting .331 and showing plus power and speed.
Key to Brinson’s continuing maturation as a player is improved discipline at bat and in the field. He walked more and struck out less this season than in any previous primary assignment, while also working to improve his jumps and routes in the outfield. He also learned a lot from three callups to Milwaukee, even though he barely hit .100 in those stints.
“I think the biggest thing is realizing (pitchers) aren’t going to throw you strikes unless you make them throw you strikes,” Colorado Springs manager Rick Sweet said. “. . . You have to make them throw strikes by not chasing out of the zone.”
Fisher finally put all the pieces of his offensive identity together this season. He hit more than 20 home runs for the third straight season and cut his strikeout rate back below 20 percent before the Astros called him up in July.
“He tried to use his (above-average) speed early in his career by putting the ball on the ground and running,” Fresno manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “Now he’s got his swing path probably elevated a little bit. He has exceptional exit velocity . . . He’s being more selective at the plate. He’s really focused on his swing decisions.”
Fisher’s altered batting approach didn’t cost him in other departments. He stole 16 bases in 84 games in the PCL. DeFrancesco said he expects Fisher to stay at left field in the majors, though he has the versatility for center and right.
Verdugo added to his reputation as one of the more disciplined young hitters in the minors by finishing with more walks (52) than strikeouts (50) and cutting his strikeout rate down to 10 percent.
The leap in home run power Verdugo showed at Double-A in 2016 with a career-high 13 longballs didn’t carry over to this season, but he continued to hit for average by spraying the ball around and driving the gaps with 27 doubles and four triples. His swing doesn’t feature much loft, so remaining sharp in center field will be imperative. Verdugo has speed despite his muscle-bound frame and a strong throwing arm, which allows him to profile in center in the majors.
5. Paul DeJong, SS, Memphis (Cardinals) Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 195 Drafted: Illinois State, 2015 (4)
DeJong hit 13 home runs in 48 games in Memphis before the Cardinals called him up, and he quickly morphed into one of big club’s most potent offensive players with plus power while starting games at shortstop and second base.
DeJong worked extensively with Memphis manager Stubby Clapp on his form at shortstop early this season. “His aptitude is outstanding,” Clapp said. “He just needed to learn how to use his feet to get his momentum through the ball, to help his arm get it across the infield. He’s average in terms of range, but if he gets to the ball, he’s going to catch it.”
Because DeJong doesn’t command the strike zone—he had six times as many strikeouts as walks this season—he probably won’t hit for a high average. “He’s able to hit off the fastball and make adjustments,” Clapp said. “He makes hitting as basic and easy as you can.”
A career .302 hitter in the minors, Smith stepped up his power production at Las Vegas by smashing a career-high 16 home runs and 34 doubles. The Mets called him up on Aug. 11.
While his power numbers have increased the past two seasons, Smith hasn’t changed his approach much. He projects for solid-average power, while hitting the ball to the off field enough to hit for a plus average. Thickly built but more athletic than he appears, Smith has plus hands and footwork at first base.
“His plate discipline is what stands out,” Las Vegas manager Pedro Lopez said. “He’s not going out there just to hit home runs. He has power, but he stays within himself. He stays up the middle with his approach, and most of his home runs come by hitting the ball the opposite way.”
Drafted as a third baseman out of high school, Kelly learned to play catcher after turning pro. He broke out offensively at Double-A in 2016 and continued to develop this season in the PCL with enhanced selectivity and a career-high 10 homer runs.
“When he’s on time, he’s dangerous,” Memphis manager Stubby Clapp said. “It’s just being consistent with his load phase and squaring up the ball.”
A big reason why the Cardinals in late July called up Kelly, who is lauded for his ability to work with a pitching staff, is because he’s the heir apparent to Yadier Molina. He has a good arm and good footwork with a durable body, but his ability to call a game could separate him from other young catchers.
8. Jack Flaherty, RHP, Memphis (Cardinals) Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205 Drafted: HS—Los Angeles, 2014 (1)
Flaherty blitzed through Double-A this year, allowing just 10 runs and just 11 walks in 10 starts with Springfield. He pitched effectively at Memphis, recording a 2.18 ERA between the two stops, before the Cardinals called him up on Sept. 1.
Flaherty still gets most of his work done with his fastball. He can hit 96 mph, but more importantly, he can locate the pitch and keep it down. “He’s just aggressive,” Memphis manager Stubby Clapp said. “He’s got a heavy fastball, and he’s aggressive with it. There’s no fear on the mound.”
Flaherty could still use a deeper repertoire, however. He used a changeup in high school but has relied more on a slider and a curveball as a pro. None is a plus pitch at this point, hence his reliance on the fastball.
McMahon reduced his strikeout rate markedly this season to about 18 percent, all while maintaining power and connecting for a career-high 20 home runs. He has a long, lean frame and large strike zone, but he improved his plate coverage this season by leveling his swing. He lost loft in his swing in the process, but enhanced selectivity helped his power play.
Drafted as a third baseman, McMahon has struggled to find a position. He first learned to play first base in 2016 and then added second base this season. He has the athleticism to man second and third as a fringe-average defender but probably fits best at first.
Weaver continues to dominate despite a rail-thin frame. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s, and he has command of that as well as his changeup, cutter and slider. He has sharp control with a walk rate of just 1.8 per nine innings in 53 minor league starts.
“He competes,” Memphis manager Stubby Clapp said. “Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s not giving in . . . He’s strong and wiry and he’s got good arm whip.”
Weaver has had issues with durability, which isn’t surprising considering his frame, but he surpassed 100 innings for the second straight season and showed much more comfort at the big league level when the Cardinals called him up three different times.
Rocked for a 5.22 ERA in 14 starts for Colorado Springs last year and a 5.37 mark this year in 12 more, Hader showed plus stuff in the PCL and morphed into a starring role—as a setup reliever—when called up to the Brewers on June 10.
Hader’s combination of mid-90s fastball and Wiffle-Ball slider confounded hitters, especially lefthanders. Though he dominated in the bullpen, the Brewers haven’t ruled out a return to the rotation next year. That’s because Hader throws a third pitch, a changeup, to give him a viable three-pitch mix.
“He’s got the stuff,” Colorado Springs manager Rick Sweet said. “He’s got the pitches. He just wasn’t ready as a starter.”
The hulking lefthanded batter slammed 24 home runs this season despite playing half his games in spacious parks at Double-A Richmond and then Sacramento. “He’s got big-time power,” Sacramento manager Dave Brundage said. “He’s a pretty polished guy, even though he’s not a finished product.”
Like most power hitters, Shaw trades some strikeouts for his plus power, but he hits the ball hard enough for an average hit tool. The bigger question is his future position. Drafted as a first baseman, Shaw won’t play there for the Giants as long as they have Brandon Belt, thus he spent the season learning left field, an apprenticeship he will continue in the Arizona Fall League.
While more comfortable at first base, Shaw has become playable in left field, albeit with limited range and arm strength.
13. Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Colorado Springs (Brewers) Age: 24 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 215 Drafted: Mississippi State, 2014 (11)
Following a breakthrough 2016 season in which he rose to Double-A, Woodruff looked sharp at Colorado Springs but had his big league debut delayed two months to Aug. 4 by a hamstring injury.
Woodruff’s sturdy frame, 94 mph fastball that reaches 96 and a power slider make him a probable workhorse starter. He struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings in the PCL, one year after leading the minors with 173 whiffs. He still has issues with control, but that can be expected with his velocity and movement.
“He’s a power pitcher,” Colorado Springs manager Rick Sweet said. “He can manipulate his slider. The key for him is his aggressive style. He goes after hitters. It’s just a matter of keeping that quality command all the time.”
Chapman always has struck out frequently, and that rate shows no sign of abating. He whiffed 31 percent of the time while at Nashville and held that rate after being called up to the Athletics on June 15.
Chapman’s power is plus-plus, particularly to his pull side, and he demonstrates the patience to stay away from pitches out of the zone. “He is so strong that when he can at least touch the ball with the barrel, great things happen,” Nashville manager Ryan Christenson said.
While Chapman is a below-average hitter for average, his power, defense and arm—which grades at the top of the scale—are impact big league tools. “His athletic ability is unbelievable,” Christenson said. “He’s one of the best third basemen I’ve ever seen.”
With a quick, compact swing, Calhoun packs a lot of power and muscle into his 5-foot-8 frame, and he doesn’t have to sacrifice contact to access his power. The Dodgers traded him to the Rangers in July as the headlining prospect for Yu Darvish.
Calhoun bashed 31 home runs at his two PCL stops this season, one year after hitting 27 at Double-A. He has enough feel for the barrel and using the middle of the field to yield an average hit tool.
Calhoun’s problem is finding a defensive home. His hands are too hard for second base, and he’s too short for first base, so left field is going to be his path forward. He shows average range and athleticism in the outfield.
Like other young sluggers such as Cody Bellinger or Joey Gallo, Olson is Three True Outcomes hitter, but his home runs and walks come frequently enough that they mitigate his strikeouts. Called up to the Athletics in June with a .364 career on-base percentage in the minors, Olson’s patience and power translated to the majors instantly.
“He (works the count) to get his pitch, because when he does that, he can leave the yard to any part of the yard,” Nashville manager Ryan Christenson said.
Olson received extensive minor league work at both first base and right field, which will give Oakland multiple options to get his bat in the lineup. First base, though, is his most comfortable position because he has quick feet and an average, accurate arm.
Barreto produced a career high 15 home runs in 111 games at Nashville as one of the youngest position players in the league. His strikeout rate also spiked to 28 percent in the PCL before becoming untenable in two callups to the Athletics. If he gets that under control, he should hit for average.
“His numbers are all going to continue to rise as he improves what he’s swinging at,” Nashville manager Ryan Christenson said, “. . . (but) he still has to tighten up his discipline and slow down and wait for his pitch.”
Barreto’s body has matured at a young age, which along with his error-prone, sometimes lackadaisical play at shortstop has hastened his move to second base. He’s a plus runner who knows how to steal bases.
18. Victor Caratini, C/1B, Iowa (Cubs) Age: 24 B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 215 Drafted: Miami Dade JC, 2013 (2/Braves)
The Cubs acquired Caratini in 2014 when they shipped Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to the Braves. The switch-hitter found his power stroke in 2017 with a career-high 10 home runs at Iowa, resulting in multiple big league callups to the Cubs.
A natural righthanded hitter, Caratini improved his production from the left side by learning to meet the ball out front more frequently. With solid command of the strike zone, he should hit for average.
Caratini is an average receiver with a fringe-average arm who threw out 27 percent of basestealers. Drafted as a third baseman before committing to catcher, he also plays first base regularly but lacks profile power to play there every day.
Bader has played all three outfield positions during his time in the Cardinals organization, but Memphis manager Stubby Clapp thinks his home is obvious: center field. “He needs space to roam,” he said. “He has too much speed to be stuck in a corner.”
The Cardinals seemed to agree. Bader saw most of his work in center during his two callups. Bader has shown significant power in three pro seasons and has the speed to contribute double-figure stolen bases. He could profile as a leadoff batter if he can improve his discipline and strikeout rate.
“Once he develops a two-strike approach, he’s going to be really good,” Clapp said. “He just has to be better at selecting pitches and figure out what pitchers are trying to do to him.”
Phillips had a rough 2016 season at Double-A Biloxi, but an assignment to hitter-friendly Colorado Springs restored his confidence this season. He drove the ample gaps at PCL parks to produce 19 home runs, 23 doubles and 10 triples. His all-fields hitting approach allowed him to hit .305 after bottoming out at .229 last year, despite identical strikeout rates of 30 percent.
“He’s probably one of the best players I’ve had in terms of maturing (baseball-wise) during a season,” Colorado Springs manager Rick Sweet said. “. . . He doesn’t chase (pitches) as much. He’s still swinging and missing a lot, but he’s swinging and missing in the zone.” Phillips can play all three outfield spots with above-average speed but is on track to be a corner outfielder in the majors.
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