Carolina League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
Neither Frederick lefthander DL Hall nor Lynchburg third baseman Nolan Jones is a finished product by any means. Hall still has trouble commanding his mid-90s fastball and two plus breaking pitches, while Jones might eventually have to move to the outfield. Yet those two stood out to Carolina League managers and scouts as the league’s best prospects.
Three of the top talents to play in the league fell just short of qualifying for the list. Dynamic outfielder Luis Robert hit .453/.512/.920 in just 75 at-bats at the start of the season for Winston-Salem, and 2019 No. 3 overall pick Andrew Vaughn fell seven plate appearances short of the one-per-team-game minimum after joining the Dash in late July.
Wilmington’s young pitching staff impressed managers the most. Pitching coach Steve Luebber returned from Double-A to guide a new wave of pitching prospects, and four of those arms landed among the Top 20 in the league.
"I’ve been in this league enough to see what a great job Luebber does with them,” Potomac manager Tripp Keister said. "Between the guys that led them to a World Series to some of the guys they’ve traded to this group, they’ve had some great arms. With the prospects on their staff this year, I love them all.”
1. DL Hall, LHP, Frederick (Orioles)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Valdosta, Ga., 2017 (1st round).
Hall was fifth in the Carolina League in strikeouts despite throwing fewer than 81 innings. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he walked six batters per nine innings.
Scouts say command is the biggest issue with the 21st pick from the 2017 draft. Hall is a good athlete and repeats his mechanics fairly well, but he often misses, especially to the armside.
Hall’s 96 mph fastball, changeup and curveball all have plus potential. He found the zone in the Futures Game in Cleveland, throwing eight strikes in 12 pitches to retire the side in order.
With the Orioles rebuilding, Hall also has the benefit of time. The organization can afford to be patient while developing such a prized arm.
2. Nolan Jones, 3B, Lynchburg (Indians)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS—Bensalem, Pa., 2016 (2nd round).
After slugging just .353 without any home runs in April, Jones went on a tear that continued at Double-A Akron. He finished the season with 16 home runs, including nine in 179 at-bats in the Eastern League. That binge was no surprise to Carolina League managers.
"He’s a big, tall, lefthanded power bat,” Winston-Salem manager Justin Jirschele said. "He drives the ball to all fields.”
Scouts said Jones’ defense improved considerably at third base this season, but that he’s still below-average there. His arm could play in right field, though, and he also could ably move to first base or left field.
"He puts good at-bats together,” Down East manager Corey Ragsdale said. "The walks and strikeouts are good. I think he has untapped power potential as well. As he moves up ladder and the strike zone gets smaller, he’s going to be fine.”
3. Jackson Kowar, RHP, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Florida, 2018 (1st round).
The Royals took five college pitchers in the first 58 picks of the 2018 draft, and all fared well this year at Wilmington. There’s no consensus on which is the best long-term prospect, but Kowar might have the best overall arsenal. CL managers rated Kowar’s fastball and changeup as the best in the league.
"Kowar’s fastball was 97-98, and he had a really good breaking ball,” Down East manager Corey Ragsdale said. "He was on the attack all the time.”
Kowar, the 33rd overall pick in 2018, also throws a plus changeup. He posted strikingly similar numbers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas to the ones he had with the Blue Rocks. In the more hitter-friendly Texas League, he had a 3.51 ERA across 13 starts covering 74.1 innings. His strikeout rate went up from eight batters per nine innings to 9.4.
"Jackson’s a fierce competitor," Wilmington manager Scott Thorman said. "He brings a lot of energy to the table.”
4. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-7. Wt.: 165. Drafted: Oregon State, 2018 (1st round).
Madrigal didn’t put up nearly the batting average he did later in the year in Double-A (.351 in 171 at-bats) or Triple-A (.342 in 114 at-bats), but he showed his usual elite bat-to-ball skills with Winston-Salem.
"Nicky can change the game in many ways,” Winston-Salem manager Justin Jirschele said. "He has such a high baseball IQ. His bat-to-ball contact rate is through the roof, and he makes things happens with his legs.”
After leading Oregon State to the national title in 2018, he signed for more than $6.4 million with the White Sox and finished his first professional summer with Winston-Salem. He didn’t need much time to vault to Double-A this year. Madrigal played exclusively at second base, but his previous experience at shortstop can only help.
"He’s a solid defender,” Jirschele said. "He turns the double play at second as good as anyone. He has tremendous hands and good range.”
5. Sam Huff, C/1B, Down East (Rangers)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: HS—Phoenix, 2016 (7th round).
Huff was the Futures Game MVP after hitting a game-tying home run in Cleveland. He crushed 15 home runs in 108 at-bats at low Class A Hickory and continued to hit for power in high Class A.
"He’s going to be special,” Potomac manager Tripp Keister said. "His catch-and-release times are really good. He has big power. When we first faced him, he had a little bit of a hole in his swing, but he has made adjustments.”
Huff handles catching well at 6-foot-4. Even his run tool is decent.
"Huff doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he should, in my opinion,” Down East manager Corey Ragsdale said. "Obviously, he has power—and to do it at the position he has and throw the way he can is impressive. He handles the baseball; the baseball doesn’t manipulate him. He has an absolute bazooka.”
6. Daniel Lynch, LHP (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Virginia, 2018 (1st round).
Lynch, the 34th pick in 2018, needed a seven-week rest this summer because of arm soreness, but he came back as dominant as ever and is ticketed for a trip to the Arizona Fall League.
A late riser in his draft year, Lynch built on a strong professional debut with a consistently strong season. Managers said he was one of the most projectable pitchers in the league.
"There’s a lot to like about a 6-6 lefty that throws 97 with a wipeout slider,” Wilmington manager Scott Thorman said. "He’s a student of the game and diligent worker. He’s built back up to where he was.”
Scouts say Lynch regularly threw 94 mph and touched even higher with his fastball. He also has at least an average curveball. His changeup has a chance to be average as well, but he needs to throw it with the same motion as his fastball.
7. Jarren Duran, OF, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Long Beach State, 2018 (7th round).
Duran played just 50 games in the Carolina League before moving up to Double-A Portland, which came as no surprise to Salem manager Corey Wimberly, who had plenty of experience with Duran and had seen his potential.
"I had him last year, so I knew what kind of player he is,” Wimberly said. "His makeup is always going to be an edge for him. We saw him shoot through here. He has extra-base power, speed and bat-to-ball skills, and he made strides in the outfield.”
Scouts see Duran as an everyday player in the major leagues with elite speed, a lot of line-drive contact and a patient approach at the plate. His swing is somewhat choppy, but it has worked for him. Though some scouts would prefer he played a bit shallower in the outfield, Duran has excellent range and a strong throwing arm.
8. Bryan Mata, RHP, Salem (Red Sox)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 160. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
After going 6-3, 3.50 with 61 strikeouts and 58 walks in 72 innings as a 19-year-old in the Carolina League in 2018, Mata quickly pitched his way up to Double-A this season. With Salem, he added a cutter to his mid-90s fastball.
"The fastball explodes out of his hand with life,” Potomac manager Tripp Keister said.
Salem manager Corey Wimberly said the righthander has excellent mound presence for such a young pitcher. Mata’s most noticeable progression was in his control, as he went from 7.3 walks per nine innings to 3.2. In Double-A, he was 4-6, 5.03 with 9.9 strikeouts and four walks per nine in 53.2 innings, If this season was an indicator, that command should get better if he returns to the league in 2020.
Mata closed his season with a scoreless seven-inning performance with nine strikeouts, and he is scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Fall League.
9. Brady Singer, RHP, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Signed: Florida, 2018 (1st round).
Singer was the No. 1 starter for the 2017 College World Series champions at Florida and stayed in that role as a junior, with Kowar pitching behind him in the weekend rotation. He was taken 18th overall, and he, Kowar and Lynch are developing quickly.
"Brady Singer is really adjusting well to pro ball,” Wilmington manager Scott Thorman said. "He’s a competitor with pinpoint control. He really blossomed here. Now he has the ability to throw his slider as an out-pitch. He brings an intensity out there.”
Scouts are split on what role Singer will play in the long run, but at a minimum they expect him to be a successful groundball pitcher. In the Carolina League, he had a 2.06 groundout-to-fly ball ratio.
Singer finished his first professional season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he went 7-3, 3.47 with 85 strikeouts and 26 walks in 90.2 innings.
10. Tyler Freeman, SS, Lynchburg (Indians)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HS—Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., 2017 (2nd round).
Freeman continued to show excellent bat-to-ball skills while keeping his career minor league batting average at .318 through 900 at-bats. The short-season New York-Penn League batting champion a year ago, Freeman hit .289/.378/.419 in 239 at-bats at low Class A Lake County before adding a dimension to Lynchburg’s offense.
Questions continue about whether Freeman has the arm to stay at shortstop, and opinions were mixed among scouts and the league’s managers. He could wind up at second base but hitting for average will be his carrying tool. He hit .526 as a high school senior in Southern California, and that ability has translated to pro ball.
Freeman was the 71st pick in the 2017 draft and was one of the youngest players in the Carolina League this season. He hasn’t shown home run power, but he does have 71 doubles and nine triples in 234 minor league games.
11. Miguel Amaya, C, Myrtle Beach (Cubs)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Panama, 2015.
Amaya handled himself well as a 20-year-old in a league full of talented catchers. He continues to improve his receiving and presentation behind the plate, and he already has good patience as a hitter.
"He did a few things great,” Winston-Salem manager Justin Jirschele said. "I definitely see that the tools are there. He has a raw bat, but he’s getting an idea of the strike zone as he grows and matures.”
Scouts graded Amaya highly for his bat control and ability to hit to the big part of the field, which unfortunately for hitters is bigger at Myrtle Beach than most minor league parks. His catching remains behind his hitting, but his now-200-plus-pound frame has become more of the ideal size for a catcher. He also has good pop times between 2.01 and 2.05 seconds on throws to second base.
12. Kris Bubic, LHP, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Signed: Stanford, 2018 (1st round)
The 40th overall pick in 2018, Bubic struck out 185 in 149.1 innings between low Class A Lexington and Wilmington in his first full professional season. He kept the strikeouts going by adding 11 in seven innings to help the Blue Rocks win the Northern Division playoffs on their way to their first league championship in 20 years. He allowed two hits and one run in that playoff appearance against Salem.
Bubic was anything but overshadowed by his rotation mates for Wilmington, three of whom made the league’s Top 10 (righthanders Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer and lefthander Daniel Lynch). He was a late addition to the Futures Game and was a postseason league all-star.
"He’s a control pitcher who pounds the zone with three pitches,” Wilmington manager Scott Thorman said.
Bubic throws a 93-94 mph fastball with a sinking changeup and an average curveball. He also throws a two-seamer and has deception in his leg kick and delivery.
13. Leody Taveras, OF, Down East (Rangers)
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 171. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Less than three years after he signed for $2.1 million, Taveras played his entire 19-year-old season and most of his 20-year-old season with high Class A Down East. He turned 21 less than a week after the season ended at Double-A Frisco, where he hit .262/.315/.373 in 260 at-bats.
Though he played just 67 games for the Wood Ducks, he was tied for fifth in the Carolina League in stolen bases. At Double-A, though, he was successful on just 11 of 18 stolen base attempts. This was still a key year of learning for Taveras, according to his manager at Down East.
"It was good for him to refine what he does," Down East manager Corey Ragsdale said. "He’s taken another step with his baserunning and defense, and offensively. He's focused and ready to play. Any player that young will go through some struggles in Double-A. Defensively, he can go get it and throw with the best of them. He's good at going back on balls, and he plays with confidence.”
Overall, Taveras struck out 122 times and walked 53 this year. Scouts would to see him roll over on fewer pitches and hit with more quality contact. A good first step, excellent range and a plus arm leave no questions about his defensive ability.
14. Mario Feliciano, C, Carolina (Brewers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Florida, P.R., 2016 (supplemental 2nd round).
As a 20-year-old catcher, Feliciano won the Carolina League MVP award and led the league in home runs and slugging percentage while placing second in RBIs, third in OPS and tying for sixth in runs.
"I like him on both sides of the ball," Winston-Salem manager Justin Jirschele said. "He stays to the middle of the field. He has plus power and is an advanced hitter.”
Fastballs up and in are still a challenge for Feliciano, but his improvement at the plate was significant. In 2018, he was overmatched in the high Class A Carolina League, hitting .205/.282/.329 in 146 at-bats for the Mudcats. He was dealing with an arm injury and then had a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing in the Arizona Fall League.
But a healthy Feliciano showed plus raw power this season, and he impressed scouts with his athleticism, too. He shared the catching position with fellow Brewers prospect Payton Henry and hit much better in games in which he caught. In his 60 non-DH games, he hit .325/.364/.588 in 228 at-bats.
15. Tim Cate, LHP, Potomac (Nationals)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Connecticut, 2018 (2nd round).
Cate had a 2.65 ERA in 37.1 innings in August for Potomac, building on his 4-5, 2.82 showing with 73 strikeouts in 70.1 innings at low Class A Hagerstown. He has a plus curveball and is developing a complementary arsenal.
"He goes about getting his outs a little differently from the other top guys in the league," Potomac manager Tripp Keister said. "His command is plus. And he's starting to get a better feel for his two-seamer, which has been getting him so many ground balls.”
Cate had a 1.70 groundout-to-fly ball ratio with Potomac, bringing his career ratio to 1.46. His curveball is in the 77-83 mph range, and his fastball sits in the low 90s.
16. Brice Turang, SS, Carolina (Brewers)
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 173. Drafted: HS—Corona, Calif., 2018 (1st round).
The Brewers ambitiously sent the 19-year-old Turang to Carolina in early July after he hit .291/.388/.379 and stole 23 bases in 27 tries for low Class A Wisconsin. He continued to draw walks and steal bases with the Mudcats but struggled at the plate.
Nevertheless, scouts remain high on the 21st pick from the 2018 draft. Turang, who signed for more than $3.4 million, made all the plays at shortstop in the Midwest League and the Carolina League. The Wisconsin staff raved about his character and makeup.
Scouts say Turang has shown more pop since gaining 10 pounds last offseason. He knows the strike zone and drives the ball. He could be as good as a 70-grade runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
17. Kyle Isbel, OF, Wilmington (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 183. Drafted: Nevada-Las Vegas, 2018 (3rd round).
Isbel had a hot start to the season, but he missed time after taking a ball off his face while playing defense and later suffering a wrist injury. He’ll have the opportunity to make up for lost at-bats when he plays in the Arizona Fall League.
With a blend of power and speed, Isbel signed with the Royals for $592,300. He hit .289/.345/.434 in 159 at-bats for low Class A Lexington in his draft year, showing that his results at hitter-friendly UNLV were no fluke. This season, though, he struggled with the injuries while playing in a pitcher’s park. He still showed the tools needed to play a solid right field or center field.
"He’s just a smooth-swinging lefty with some pop who can run,” Wilmington manager Scott Thorman said of his team’s center fielder. "He’s finding his way back into rhythm.”
18. Payton Henry, C, Carolina (Brewers)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Pleasant Grove, Utah, 2016 (6th round).
Part of a two-prospect catching duo with Carolina, Henry impressed with his framing ability, leadership and power. He tied for fourth in the league in home runs and was third in RBIs.
After being invited to major league camp a year ahead of 40-man roster eligibility, Henry spent the whole season with the Mudcats. Scouts like his strength and toughness.
Henry has a plus arm and a stellar 1.89 pop time. He’s older than fellow Mudcats catcher Mario Feliciano and may take more time to develop, but he has already caught the eye of Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
19. Shawn Dubin, RHP, Fayetteville (Astros)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 154. Drafted: Georgetown (Ky.), 2018 (13th round)
Dubin transferred to NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) after his previous school, Division I Buffalo, dropped its baseball program following his junior year. The Astros took a flyer on him as a senior sign and gave him a $1,000 signing bonus.
Carolina League hitters batted just .196 off Dubin, who didn’t allow a run over 18 innings in his final three regular-season starts. In his first playoff start, he held Down East to one run in six innings to help the Woodpeckers reach the league championship series against Wilmington.
Dubin’s stuff plays more like that of a first-round pick than a player who entered the year as a relative unknown.
"He’s 95-98 with a hammer,” Fayetteville manager Nate Shaver said. "He’s electric and super-twitchy with a lot of feel. He has a wipeout slider, too.”
20. Steele Walker, OF, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Oklahoma, 2018 (2nd round).
Walker enjoyed a healthy season with Winston-Salem, finishing seventh in the league in slugging percentage and OPS and earning a spot on the postseason all-star team.
"His bat stays in the zone a long, long time,” Winston-Salem manager Justin Jirschele said. "He gives himself a good opportunity to square the ball up.”
Some scouts question how high Walker’s ceiling could be and see him as a second-division left fielder in the major leagues, but they also laud his passion for the game. Walker’s power is usually to the right-center field gap, and he’ll have to show more to all fields.
Jirschele, who played Walker in center field every day, praised the Oklahoma alum’s improvement in strike-zone judgment and his defense.
"He has raw power, and he’s just trying to figure things out,” Jirschele said. "He’s a plus outfielder as well, and he can run, too."