Gulf Coast League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
While the talent was stacked at the complexes in Arizona for the Rookie-level Arizona League, that wasn’t the case this year in the Gulf Coast League.
Several top draft picks just missed qualifying due to their limited playing time. Tigers outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 overall pick) made a strong impression in his brief time in the GCL before being promoted. Righthanders JJ Goss (Rays), Kendall Williams (Blue Jays), Josh Wolf (Mets) and Matt Allan (Mets) and outfielder Shane Sasaki (Rays) were all top-100 draft picks who missed the playing time cutoffs to be eligible for this list.
Many of the top draft picks and high-profile international signings who did participate in the GCL struggled to perform. The main exception was Blue Jays shortstop Orelvis Martinez, who signed for $3.51 million out of the Dominican Republic last year and mashed as a 17-year-old in his first pro season.
Otherwise, the players on this list are mostly more raw than usual compared to typical years.
1. Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B, Blue Jays
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.
The Blue Jays signed Martinez out of the Dominican Republic last year on July 2 for $3.51 million, the biggest bonus for a 16-year-old in the 2018-19 class. Martinez skipped the Dominican Summer League and showed why the Blue Jays were so high on him, making the Gulf Coast League all-star team while showing a promising balance of hitting ability and power.
Martinez has excellent hands and uses them well at the plate to generate quick bat speed and easy, above-average power. He has some moving parts in his swing, but he has good enough hand-eye coordination to make frequent contact, with a swing geared for loft that allows his power to show up in games. His seven home runs tied for second in the league. He has a calm approach, manages his at-bats well and controls the strike zone.
Martinez’s hands play well in the field, too, and are his best defensive attribute. He has enough arm strength for shortstop, though his range isn’t ideal for the position and his body type suggests he’s going to add significant weight and strength over the next few years. He spent some time this season at third base, which is his most likely defensive home.
2. Quinn Priester, RHP, Pirates
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—Cary, Ill., 2019 (1).
Priester was the highest drafted pitcher to qualify for this list, and he came as advertised in his pro debut. The No. 18 overall pick, he signed for $3.4 million, then showed an impressive combination of size, stuff and polish for his age.
Priester has a loose arm action and a relatively easy delivery that he repeats well. That helps him throw strikes at a high rate with a lively sinking fastball that sits in the low 90s and has reached 96 mph. He complements his fastball with a hard curveball that offers good shape and depth to miss bats. He can get around the curveball at times, but it flashes above-average as well.
Priester has toyed with different changeup grips and he showed signs of progress with it in the GCL, though, like most prep picks, it’s still behind his curveball.
3. Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—Selma, Ala., 2019 (2).
After drafting Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick this year, the Orioles used their next selection (No. 43 overall) to add Henderson, who signed for $2.3 million.
Henderson is a physical, athletic shortstop with above-average raw power and the strength projection for that to increase. He’s a solid hitter as well, showing a solid balance of hitting ability and power, though the power didn’t show up as much in his pro debut.
Henderson made some nice defensive plays in his pro debut, with a plus arm and steady hands. How he develops physically might dictate whether he stays at shortstop or slides over to third base. He needs to improve his footwork and his throwing stroke can get long, but he’s athletic enough to get a chance to stick at shortstop.
4. Sammy Siani, OF, Pirates
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-0. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—Philadelphia, (1 supp).
The Reds drafted outfielder Mike Siani out of high school with the 109th overall pick in the 2018 draft. His younger brother, Sammy, went No. 37 overall in 2019 to the Pirates, who signed him for $2.15 million.
Siani got off to a hot start, finishing July with a .442 on-base percentage, but his numbers faded in August. He has a simple, direct swing from the left side. He has a good approach for his age, understanding which parts of the strike zone he can do the most damage in and generally not expanding off the plate. He has a hit-over-power profile, though with more strength, he could get to average power.
He’s a plus runner who takes gets good reads off the bat in center field and takes good routes to the ball, though his arm is below-average.
5. Antonio Gomez, C, Yankees
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 210. Signed: Venezuela, 2018.
Gomez was one of the top catchers in the 2018 international class when the Yankees signed him out of Venezuela for $600,000. When the season started, Gomez didn’t play due to pain in his left triceps, but he returned for the final month of the season.
Gomez has the tools to be an elite defensive catcher, starting with one of the best arms in the minors even though he’s still 17. It’s a 70 arm, with throws to second base in the upper 80s and pop times regularly in the 1.8s. His quick footwork and swift exchange help his arm play up even more, helping him erase 50 percent of basestealers.
He’s a solid blocker and receiver for his age as well, while his fluent English, intelligence and outgoing personality help him manage a pitching staff.
Gomez has an upright stance with solid bat-to-ball skills. He can square up high-end velocity and does a good job driving the ball to the opposite field, with a strong frame and a chance to grow into average power.
6. Andrick Nava, C, Phillies
Age: 17. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2018.
After signing with the Phillies last year for $400,000, Nava immediately performed well at Dominican instructional league. He kept raking in extended spring training, to the point where he forced an assignment to the GCL for his pro debut.
Nava responded by ranking sixth in the league in batting average, showing an advanced offensive skill set for his age. Nava uses his hands well from both sides of the plate. He has innate barrel control to make contact at a high rate, squares up breaking pitches and has an all-fields approach. Nava didn’t show much more than occasional doubles power during games, and while he has a hit-over-power profile, he can drive the ball over the fence in BP, so his game power should tick up.
Nava made some strides defensively this year, but he will need more work to stick behind the plate. He has a funky throwing stroke with an average arm.
7. Victor Mesa Jr., OF, Marlins
Age: 17. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-11. WT: 175. Signed: Cuba, 2018.
Mesa’s older brother, Victor Victor, got most of the attention when the Marlins signed him last year for $5.25 million, with the Marlins signing Mesa Jr. at the same time for $1 million.
Mesa Jr.’s father was one of the greatest Cuban players of all time and a longtime manager after he retired, so Mesa Jr. grew up around the game and it shows in his baseball acumen in all phases of the game. He has a good hand-eye coordination and plate discipline, so he doesn’t swing and miss and his patience helps him get on base. He hits with a middle of the field approach and is adept at driving the ball to all fields based on where it’s thrown in the strike zone. Mesa Jr. has mostly doubles power now. There’s loft in his swing and he should grow into more pop if he can get his legs into his swing more, but his offensive skill value is likely to come more from his on-base skills.
Mesa Jr. has excellent defensive instincts, reading the ball well off the bat and looking comfortable running down balls in the gaps. Mesa isn’t a burner, though, and his pure foot speed might limit his range in center field and fit better in a corner, with a solid-average arm that would play in any outfield spot.
8. Kevin Alcantara, OF, Yankees
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-6. WT: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.
After signing for $1 million last year, Alcantara made his pro debut in the GCL this summer as a 16-year-old. Alcantara’s youth showed as he struggled at the plate, but his combination of size, athleticism, tools and future projection stood out.
Alcantara sticks out immediately because he’s 6-foot-6 with a lean, athletic frame and handles center field comfortably. There aren’t many center fielders Alcantara’s size, but he’s a well above-average runner with long, gliding strides and strong defensive instincts. He works diligently at his defense and it shows, with good jumps off the bat, sharp routes and closing speed to make difficult catches look easy.
Alcantara has good body control in the field, but at the plate he doesn’t have that same body awareness at the plate. He has a big leg kick that disrupts his rhythm and balance, and at 6-foot-6, there will probably always be length to his swing. Alcantara needs to improve his pitch recognition, but he has solid bat-to-ball skills and plus raw power that’s evident in BP. If he can learn to sync up his hitting actions in games, he has a chance to be a power/speed threat in center field.
9. Alexander Vargas, SS, Yankees
Age: 17. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 148. Signed: Cuba, 2018.
The Reds had exceeded their international bonus pool in 2016-17, so they couldn’t sign any international players for more than $300,000 the next two signing periods. Vargas was expected to wait until July 2, 2019 to sign with the Reds, but he instead ended up signing with the Yankees in July 2018 for $2.5 million.
Vargas sticks out for his defensive skills at shortstop. Vargas is an athletic defender with a quick first step and good range. His hands and feet work well and his field awareness is advanced for his age. Vargas has quality hitting actions, good feel for the strike zone and bat-to-ball skills to make consistent contact. However, because he’s so thin and has little strength, Vargas does little damage when he does connect, so getting stronger will be critical for his development, even if it’s just to hit at the bottom of a lineup. He is a plus runner who stole 13 bases without getting caught in the GCL.
10. Nasim Nuñez, SS, Marlins
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-9. WT: 160. Drafted: HS—Suwannee, Ga., 2019 (2).
The Marlins drafted Nuñez with their second-round pick (No. 46 overall) and signed him for $2.2 million. Lauded for his fielding ability coming out of the draft, with scouts considering him one of the top defensive shortstops in the class, Nuñez lived up to that billing in the GCL, where he made a series of acrobatic, highlight plays. He’s a quick-burst athlete with fast hands, smooth actions and a plus arm. He has the athleticism, range and body control to making exciting defensive plays, throwing accurately on the run from different angles.
He’s a plus runner who disrupts the game on the basepaths, leading the league with 28 stolen bases while getting caught just twice for a 93 percent success rate.
Nuñez showed a patient hitting approach, but there are questions about how much offensive impact he’s going to deliver. His strike-zone judgment helps, but he has limited power, so finding a way to do more damage on contact will
be critical for Nuñez. He turned 19 at the end of the season, so he’s also on the older side for a 2019 high school draft pick.
11. Raimfer Salinas, OF, Yankees
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 185. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
Salinas received the biggest bonus the Yankees gave an international player in the 2017-18 signing period when he inked a $1.85 million deal in December 2017. He showed a mix of solid performance and strong tools this year in the GCL. He has a lean, athletic frame and projects to stick in center field, where he's a plus runner with an easy gait who moves around well in the outfield. He takes good routes and has an above-average arm as well.
At the plate, Salinas has good bat speed, makes hard contact when he connects and should have at least average raw power. He has a sound swing and uses the whole field, but his pitch recognition skills need to improve and he's prone to expanding the strike zone, which leads to a higher swing-and-miss rate.
12. Jairo Lopez, RHP, Astros
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.
The Astros went over their international bonus pool in the 2016-17 signing period, so they couldn't sign players for more than $300,000 the following two years. One of the players they gave that $300,000 maximum bonus to was Lopez, who pitched well this year in his U.S. debut, both in the GCL and after a promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League in late July.
Lopez has a smaller, compact build for a pitcher with a sound delivery that he repeats well. That helps him command his fastball well, with the pitch sitting in the low to mid-90s with late riding life to miss bats when he elevates. He also generates swings and misses with his tight-spinning curveball and slider, with his breaking stuff more advanced than his changeup.
13. Keoni Cavaco, SS, Twins
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—Chula Vista, CA, 2019 (1st round).
Cavaco was the biggest riser in the 2019 draft. He didn't get seen much on the showcase circuit the previous summer, but he skyrocketed up draft boards when top crosscheckers and scouting directors went in to see him in the spring. He vaulted all the way to the Twins with the 13th overall pick and signed for $4.05 million, but he had a rough pro debut as he struggled to put the ball in play.
Cavaco has a projectable frame and loud tools, starting with his bat speed and plus raw power that could tick up once he gets stronger. His speed and arm strength are both above-average tools as well, and after playing third base in high school, he played shortstop in the GCL. Third base is likely his long-term position though, and he's a potentially above-average defender there.
Cavaco has a lot of tools, but his hitting ability drew a lot of question marks coming out of high school and that risk is magnified after his GCL showing. Cavaco expanded the strike zone too frequently and had a high swing-and-miss rate, with scouts especially concerned about his ability to handle pitches on the outer third.
14. Matthew Lugo, SS, Red Sox
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 185. Drafted: HS—Florida, Puerto Rico, 2019 (2).
Lugo, whose uncle is Carlos Beltran, was the top draft prospect in Puerto Rico this year, with the Red Sox selecting him in the second round (69th overall) and signing him for $1.1 million. While a lot of amateur scouts considered Lugo to have promising tools but a little raw, pro evaluators who saw him in the GCL praised his baseball IQ and sound defense. He projects to stick at shortstop, where he has quick hands and footwork to go with a plus arm. He's not a flashy fielder, but he's an instinctive defender who consistently made the routine plays and played under control during his time in the GCL.
A plus runner, Lugo is at his best when he stays with his approach to the middle of the field, though he has a tendency for his swing to get long and pull-heavy, and some scouts saw him struggle against offspeed stuff. He has a solid frame and has a chance to develop solid-average raw power.
15. Michael Harris, OF, Braves
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-0. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—Stockbridge, GA, 2019 (3).
Harris was a two-way player in high school, and while a lot of scouts thought he had more upside on the mound, the Braves drafted Harris in the third round (98th overall) an outfielder, then signed him for $547,500. Despite skepticism about his pure hitting ability as an amateur, Harris was one of the top offensive performers in the GCL, to the point where he earned a promotion to low Class A Rome in August for the final three weeks of the season.
A Braves fan growing up in Georgia, Harris has quick bat speed and makes consistent hard contact. He showed a more advanced offensive approach than anticipated in the GCL, barreling balls consistently. Harris is an athletic center fielder with plus speed, running down balls with ease and showing a strong arm with a short throwing stroke.
16. Evan Fitterer, RHP, Marlins
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 195. Drafted: HS—Aliso Viejo, CA (5).
Fitterer was committed to UCLA, but the Marlins paid well above slot ($1.5 million) to sign him as their fifth-round pick this year. Fitterer has a projectable frame and a fastball that sits at 89-93 mph and can reach 96 mph. The pitch is notable for both its velocity and its life, with late, heavy action.
An athletic pitcher and a solid strike-thrower, Fitterer shows feel for spin on a curveball that's a potential out-pitch. He has shown some feel for a changeup as well that could give him three future average or better pitches. Fitterer is on the older side for a high school draft pick—he turned 19 in June—but he has a starter profile between his body type, repertoire and pitchability.
17. Alberto Rodriguez, OF, Blue Jays
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-11. WT: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Rodriguez stood out early on as an amateur in the Dominican Republic, then after some up-and-down showings later in the showcase process, he signed for $500,000 in 2017. After making his pro debut last year in the Dominican Summer League, Rodriguez took a step forward this year in the GCL.
Rodriguez is a strong, compact frame and a quick, loose swing, using his hands well at the plate even when he's caught off balance. He does a good job of using the whole field and makes a lot of hard contact, piling up doubles that should turn into home runs once he gets stronger. Rodriguez has played right field since signing, and he fields his position well. He's a solid-average runner with good defensive instincts and an above-average arm.
18. Jeremy de la Rosa, OF, Nationals
Age: 17. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-11. WT: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.
The Nationals signed de la Rosa out of the Dominican Republic last year for $300,000, the maximum bonus they could give while in the penalty box. He was advanced enough that the Nationals brought him to Florida last fall for instructional league, then he kept performing well enough to skip the Dominican Summer League and make his pro debut this year in the GCL.
De la Rosa got off to a slow start in the GCL, be he finished by hitting .318/.396/.568 in August. De la Rosa has an advanced hitting approach for a 17-year-old, and while he showed some swing-and-miss tendencies this year when he gets too pull-conscious, he makes hard contact when he finds the barrel. He has a chance to develop average or better power. De la Rosa is a good athlete who played all three outfield positions this year, with above-average speed underway and a strong arm.
19. Dasan Brown, OF, Blue Jays
Age: 17. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 185. Drafted: HS—Oakville, ON, 2019 (3).
Brown was the first Canadian player drafted in 2019, going to the Blue Jays in the 3rd round with the 88th overall pick and signing for $797,500. He was also one of the youngest players drafted, playing all season as a 17-year-old before turning 18 in September. Brown is an outstanding athlete and an 80 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Between his blazing speed, instincts and average arm strength, Brown has the tools to be a plus or better defender at a premium position. Once he learns better stolen base technique, he should be a prolific basestealer as well.
While Brown's athletic ability is exciting, his hitting skills are still relatively undeveloped. His fast hands generate quick bat speed, but his contact rate is an issue, especially against soft stuff, and his power at this point is minimal. Brown is a candidate to spend another year in a short-season league next season, where he would still be one of the younger players in the league.
20. Viandel Pena, SS/2B/3B, Nationals
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-8. WT: 155. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
The Nationals signed Pena out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 when he was 16 for $150,000. He showed good on-base skills in his debut last year in the Dominican Summer League, then took a step forward this season by leading the GCL in batting average and ranking third in OBP.
Pena has a smaller build and he doesn't have any standout tools, so he doesn't immediately grab the attention of scouts, but he's a savvy ballplayer with strong instincts. He has good bat-to-ball skills and a sharp eye for the strike zone, allowing him to spray line drives around the field and get on base. He lacks power though, and that probably won't ever be part of his skill set. He's an average runner who is smart on the basepaths and has a quick first step in the field. He rotated around between shortstop, second base and third this year, with second base probably his best defensive fit.