Southern League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
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The Southern League was stacked with prospects this year, with perhaps its greatest quantity and variety of position players in a long time.
Despite being a 10-team league, the Southern League’s embarrassment of riches included 15 players who qualified for the Top 20 Prospects ranking who were first- or supplemental first-round picks. At least 20 players who ranked as Top 100 Prospects this season played in the league long enough to qualify for our ranking.
The talent pool was so deep that a number of players who joined the league later in the season were excluded from the ranking because managers and scouts didn’t get the same number of looks as the more tenured players.
The two exceptions were both Twins prospects who joined Pensacola in July: outfielder Trevor Larnach, who drew attention with his loud contact and mature hitting approach, and shortstop Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 who has a wide range of tools but must prove he can hit.
Examples of quality prospects who were tough omissions from the top 20 include Chattanooga third baseman Jonathan India, Montgomery second baseman Vidal Brujan and Mississippi lefthanders Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson. In an ordinary year, all four would have made the cut.
1. Jo Adell, OF, Mobile (Angels)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 215. Drafted: HS—Louisville, 2017 (1).
Adell missed April and most of May because of hamstring and ankle injuries suffered in spring training. He quickly caught up to speed with Mobile, recording a .944 OPS that led all Southern League batters who qualified for this ranking. The Angels promoted him to Triple-A in August.
Adell can impact the game with his bat, glove or legs. His ferocious bat speed and improving plate discipline produce high exit velocities. Adell stays balanced and drives the ball to all fields with impact power. He is a plus runner but not a huge stolen base threat, but his wheels serve him in the outfield, where he profiles as a right fielder with a solid arm.
2. Luis Robert, OF, Birmingham (White Sox)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 185. Signed: Cuba, 2017.
A torn thumb ligament impeded Robert’s development in 2018, but this season he showed what he can do when healthy. He emerged as one of the game’s brightest prospects in 2019 by hitting .328/.376/.624 with 32 home runs and 36 stolen bases across three levels, culminating in 47 games at Triple-A.
Robert is an 80-grade athlete with massive raw power. He can reach the deepest parts of the park in batting practice and often in games.
"His teammates talk about him in awe,” one scout said. "Even opposing pitchers charting in the stands talk about him in reverent tones.”
Robert doesn’t walk much and swings and misses frequently, and breaking ball recognition is an issue that affects his balance. Still, his elite exit velocity should allow him to hit for a decent average. He is a plus runner with a quick first step and plus range in center field.
3. Cristian Pache, OF, Mississippi (Braves)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Southern League managers nearly unanimously named Pache as the best defensive outfielder in the league in Best Tools balloting—and with one of the strongest, most accurate arms to boot.
Pache has dramatically improved his offensive profile since going homerless in his 2017 full-season debut. This season he used his quick, compact swing to rank second in the SL in extra-base hits (47), fourth in slugging (.474) and sixth in OPS (.814). Pache had one of the most extreme pull-heavy approaches in the SL, making him vulnerable to offspeed pitches away and prone to slumps. He runs well but exhibits poor basestealing instincts.
4. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Jacksonville (Marlins)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015 (Phillies).
The Marlins acquired Sanchez in February as the key prospect exchanged for J.T. Realmuto. But because Sanchez missed all but eight starts in 2018 with elbow inflammation, Miami kept its new top prospect in extended spring training until May to manage his workload.
Sanchez successfully navigated the final four months of the Southern League season, showing big time poise and arm speed from a modest, 6-foot frame. He pitches in the mid- to upper 90s and rears back for 101 mph when he needs it. Sanchez can work north with his riding fastball and south with a plus, upper-80s changeup that sinks under opponents’ bats.
Sanchez has exquisite control for a young power pitcher, and his power slider has made strides to become a third weapon. Some scouts worry about Sanchez’s stuff holding up as a starter because of his size; other scouts don’t because of his athleticism.
5. Drew Waters, OF, Mississippi (Braves)
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 183. Drafted: HS—Woodstock, Ga., 2017 (2).
The many dimensions to Waters’ game were apparent in his performance as the Southern League MVP. He led the league in average (.319), hits (134), doubles (35) and triples (nine) while placing second in slugging (.481) and OPS (.847). The Braves promoted him to Triple-A in August.
The switch-hitting Waters is a present plus hitter with a chance to hit .300 in the big leagues. His smooth swing appears mirrored from both sides of the plate, and his balance enables him to drive the ball to all fields. As he continues to mature, Waters should add power and could approach 20 home runs. He swings and misses frequently and needs to become more selective and make pitchers come to him.
Managers love Waters’ effort level and regard him as a five-tool player. He’s a plus runner with average range in center field and an above-average arm that plays in right.
6. Brendan McKay, LHP/DH, Montgomery (Rays)
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-2. WT: 212. Drafted: Louisville, 2017 (1).
The Rays intended to develop McKay, one of the most decorated two-way players in college history, as both a pitcher and first baseman when they drafted him fourth overall in 2017. Those plans are beginning to change.
McKay appeared exclusively at DH in 2019 and could be relegated to pinch-hitting in the big leagues. That’s a credit to his skill on the mound, where he developed into a viable mid-rotation starter—the Rays called him up three times in 2019—before his bat could catch up.
Command is the name of the game for McKay, both in terms of his stuff and demeanor. His ability to spot his low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter allows him to set up his above-average, low-80s curveball and occasional changeup. He draws swings and misses with all his pitches thanks to his ability to keep batters guessing with sequence and location.
7. Jazz Chisholm, SS, Jackson (D-backs)/Jacksonville (Marlins)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 165. Signed: Bahamas, 2015 (D-backs).
Chisholm began his first season in the Southern League with the D-backs' organization and ended it with the Marlins after Arizona traded him for big league rookie righthander Zac Gallen on July 31. Evaluations of Chisholm’s potential depended largely on which version one saw, pre-trade or post.
Power is a big part of Chisholm’s game, and so too are strikeouts. The lefthanded hitter ranked second in the league with both 21 home runs 147 strikeouts. Chisholm takes aggressive, powerful swings regardless of the count or situation, and he hit the ball in the air more frequently than virtually anybody in the SL. His hitting approach leaves him vulnerable to pitches away, but he showed greater willingness to hit the ball where it’s pitched late in the season, making the infield shift less effective against him.
Chisholm shines defensively with strong lateral range, soft hands and a plus arm he uses to make throws from anywhere and without having to plant his feet.
8. Ian Anderson, RHP, Mississippi (Braves)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 170. Drafted: HS—Shenendehowa, N.Y., 2016 (1).
The No. 3 overall pick in 2016, Anderson spent the bulk of 2019 in the Southern League and led the circuit with 147 strikeouts at the time he was promoted to Triple-A in August. He finished fourth overall in the minors with 172 punchouts.
Anderson throws from a high arm slot and gets results despite not having a "wow” pitch in his repertoire. He pitches at 93 mph and tops out in the mid-90s with a fastball featuring riding life up in the zone to miss bats.
Anderson changes eye levels with a pair of above-average secondaries. His mid-70s curveball plays because he locates it, but he doesn’t seem to trust his changeup to the same degree. While Anderson already has a firm understanding of the value of location and sequencing at a young age, mastering his changeup would open the bottom of the strike zone.
9. Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Pensacola (Twins)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 265. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
Graterol burned brightly in the Southern League early on, but his momentum was stalled after nine starts by a shoulder impingement. He missed three months, and when he returned he shifted to the bullpen. As a reliever, he rose to Triple-A in August and to Minnesota in September.
Graterol made a big impression on managers when healthy. They voted him as the best pitching prospect in the league when polled at midseason and also credited him with having the best fastball and best breaking pitch. Graterol peaks at 102 mph and pitches in the upper 90s with premium arm speed.
Graterol’s mid-80s slider is a double-plus pitch that he can land for strikes when behind in the count or backdoor to lefthanded batters. He also uses it to expand the zone against righthanded batters. His fringe-average changeup is less seen but effective in spots.
10. Brandon Marsh, OF, Mobile (Angels)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 215. Drafted: HS—Buford, Ga., 2016 (2).
More than one scout came away impressed with Marsh’s breadth of tools and his competitive makeup. His own manager lauded his leadership qualities and the way teammates respond to him.
"What he’s done in this league has been solid, but what he brings in the clubhouse is a separator,” Mobile manager David Newhan said.
Marsh ranked fourth in the Southern League batting race (.300) and third in on-base percentage (.383), with only an ankle sprain that cost him June slowing him down. He makes a ton of contact and has a discerning batting eye but tends to keep the ball on the ground. The Angels are working with Marsh to keep him more upright in his stance, stay through the hitting zone and try to generate the loft to take advantage of his strength.
Even if Marsh maxes out with average power, he has a full complement of supporting tools, including plus hitting ability, plus speed and plus range in center field to go with a plus arm.
11. Trevor Larnach, OF, Pensacola (Twins)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 223. Drafted: Oregon State, 2018 (1).
Drafted 20th overall in 2018, Larnach signed late after helping lead Oregon State to a College World Series title. One year later he had hit his way to Double-A, where he played just enough in the Southern League to qualify for this ranking.
Larnach has the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power, and he made a big impression on SL managers and scouts even in a short look. He makes loud contact and has the type of spray chart that doesn’t betray his batting hand. The lefthanded batter hits the ball where it’s pitched and drove the majority of his home runs to center field or to the opposite field.
As a large-bodied corner outfielder, Larnach has ordinary range and average overall defensive potential.
12. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B, Pensacola (Twins)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-2. WT: 215. Drafted: HS—Pittsburgh, 2016 (1).
A right wrist injury kept Kirilloff out for the entire month of April and cost him two weeks in June. As a result, Southern League observers didn’t see him at his best.
Kirilloff didn’t hit his stride until late in the season. He hit .303/.353/.467 in his final 30 games and then connected for homers in four straight games in a first-round playoff series against Biloxi. Kirilloff has deep power to his pull side and can barrel the ball to all fields. His ability to hit different pitch types gives him the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power.
Kirilloff played nearly as many games at first base as in right field for Pensacola, and given his mature frame and lack of twitchiness, first base could be his future home.
13. Lewin Diaz, 1B, Pensacola (Twins)/Jacksonville (Marlins)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-4. WT: 225.Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013 (Twins).
Diaz impressed Southern League managers with his new body and new purpose. After toiling in Rookie-ball and at Class A for parts of six seasons as a member of the Twins' organization, he advanced to Double-A in the second half of 2019 and thrived. He moved to the Marlins in July as part of the return for Sergio Romo.
Diaz shed weight before the season and that translated to a quicker bat and higher offensive production. He clubbed 14 of his 27 home runs in the Southern League and looked like a future first-division first baseman with presence and power. Adjusting his swing to reach high fastballs will be his No. 1 challenge.
The lost weight paid off for Diaz defensively, too, and he drew notice for his newfound range around the first base bag.
14. Daulton Varsho, C/OF, Jackson (D-backs)
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. HT: 5-10. WT: 190. Drafted: Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2017 (2 supp).
Varsho had a perfectly fine first half, but then a switch flipped in the second half and he hit .344/.420/.599 in 52 games. Overall, he led the Southern League in runs (85), slugging percentage (.520) and OPS (.898) while placing third in average (.301) and fourth in on-base percentage (.378).
Most notable in Varsho’s performance is his combination of power and speed from the catcher position. He missed going 20-20 by just two home runs. Varsho brings a hit-over-power mentality to the plate, rarely swinging and missing, and shows power mostly to his pull side.
Behind the plate, Varsho is a hard-nosed catcher who moves well laterally and receives well but has a fringe-average arm with below-average accuracy. Because of his above-average speed, Varsho tried his hand in center field late in the season to open another potential avenue to a big league role.
15. Nico Hoerner, SS/2B, Tennessee (Cubs)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 200. Drafted: Stanford, 2018 (1).
The Cubs drafted Hoerner 24th overall in 2018 but didn’t have to wait long to see a return on their investment. He reached Chicago as a September callup this season after a successful but injury-interrupted season in the Southern League.
Hoerner had no trouble jumping to Double-A in his first full pro season. He hit .300/.391/.500 in April, showing strike zone mastery and elite bat-to-ball skills before he fractured his left wrist and missed May and June. Hoerner uses an inside-out swing to deposit hits all over the field, but he can find the seats when he hunts his pitch.
Multiple evaluators used the word "grinder” to describe Hoerner, meaning that his raw tools don’t overwhelm but that his skill level and game awareness make him a winning player. He is a dependable fielder at shortstop and second base with an accurate arm, and the Cubs deployed him in 11 games in center field after he returned from the Tennessee injured list to enhance his versatility.
16. Taylor Trammell, OF, Chattanooga (Reds)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. HT: 6-2. WT: 215. Drafted: HS—Kennesaw, Ga., 2016 (1 supp).
Trammell stumbled in his first taste of Double-A but still drew acclaim from scouts for his athleticism, makeup and broad set of tools. He needs more experience to refine his hitting approach and possibly tweak his swing, a mission that the Padres are now undertaking after acquiring Trammell in July as part of the three-team deal that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds and Franmil Reyes to the Indians.
Trammell finished the season with Texas League-champion Amarillo, and his bat perked up in the playoffs with three home runs and a .998 OPS in 10 games. Trammell is adept at working counts and drawing walks, but the hit-first mentality he showed in the Southern League limited his impact. Scouts think Trammell can turn on inside fastballs for power but would benefit from loading his hands and getting his legs into his swing to develop greater power to all fields.
Trammell is a plus runner who steals bases efficiently but is not a natural center fielder. He spent most of his time in the SL in left field because of his below-average arm.
17. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Birmingham (White Sox)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-7. WT: 165. Drafted: Oregon State, 2018 (1).
Madrigal served as a 5-foot-7 spark plug at Oregon State, and his scrappiness has transferred to pro ball, where he is virtually impossible to strike out. He struck out just five times with Birmingham and 16 times overall at three stops this season. Madrigal’s swinging-strike rate of 2 percent was the lowest in the full-season minors among qualified batters, according to estimates presented by FanGraphs.com.
"You can’t strike him out. He just gets the barrel to the ball and finds holes,” Mobile manager David Newhan said.
Madrigal makes an impact offensively as a plus hitter who handles all pitch types and serves the ball to all fields. His power is slight—but improving—and he helps generate runs on the bases with his plus speed and overall awareness. Madrigal is one of the best defensive second basemen in the minors, and while his arm grades merely average, it’s firm enough to turn the double play.
18. Royce Lewis, SS, Pensacola (Twins)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 200. Drafted: HS—San Juan Capistrano, Calif., 2017 (1).
Lewis joined Pensacola at the end of July after a power surge in the Florida State League saw him knock four home runs and slug .500 in his final 15 games for Fort Myers. Still, the season was a wildly inconsistent one for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Lewis hit just .236 with a .290 on-base percentage in 127 games on the season, a reflection of the volatile nature of his hit tool. He can meet any fastball, but his pronounced leg kick and hand waggle get him out of whack on offspeed pitches. So while Lewis should be good for 15 homers or more per season, his ability to hit for average is an open question.
Lewis has double-plus speed and is an efficient basestealer. Likewise, he is a strong defensive shortstop with confident hands and a terrific arm. He plays with flair, and he rubbed multiple observers the wrong way with confidence that borders on arrogance.
19. Jesus Sanchez, OF, Montgomery (Rays)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 230. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
Sanchez has more raw power than his final numbers indicate, and accessing it more frequently is what stands between him and his ceiling as a big league corner outfielder. He changed organizations in July when the Rays traded him to the Marlins in a deal that netted them starter Trevor Richards and reliever Nick Anderson.
Sanchez improved his plate coverage this season and began syncing his long levers to hit inside fastballs and drive them with authority to his pull side. He already had proven capable of extending his arms and driving pitches away from him for power. With the natural loft in his swing, Sanchez looks power before hit and will be more of a .250 hitter with modest discipline.
Sanchez is a capable right fielder with enough body control and instincts for the position.
20. Josh Lowe, OF, Montgomery (Rays)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 205. Drafted: HS—Marietta, Ga., 2016 (1).
Lowe’s older brother Nate is a Rays first baseman who ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the Southern League in 2018 and made his major league debut this year. Josh put up a career year with Montgomery this season, belting 18 home runs to more than double his previous best and setting new personal standards with 30 stolen bases and 59 walks.
Lowe is a physical, 6-foot-4 athlete who shows all five tools and should maintain above-average speed to stay in center field. Inflicting damage will be no problem for Lowe, who drives the ball to all fields with a short, direct path with double-plus raw power. The challenge will be hitting for average based on his steep lefthanded swing path.
Lowe is a plus runner on the bases who has developed into an above-average outfielder after playing third base in high school. His solid-average arm would fit at all three spots.