2017 Arizona League Top 20 Prospects
(Photo by Bill Mitchell)
|Championship Series AZL Cubs 2 AZL Giants 1|
|Best Record AZL Dodgers, 37-19 (.661)|
To qualify for a Minor League Top 20 Prospects list, a position player must have one plate appearance per team game, a starting pitcher must have one-third of an inning per team game and a reliever must have 20 relief appearances.
This year’s crop of prospects was perhaps the deepest in the 30-year history of the Rookie-level Arizona League, rivaling the rich group from the 2012 season. The quality and quantity was aided in part by a new high in the number of teams in the league, with the Padres adding a second AZL squad to bring the total to 15.
Nine 2017 first-round picks made their pro debuts in the AZL, with all but White Sox third baseman Jake Burger getting enough playing time to rank in the top 20. The other eight first rounders—MacKenzie Gore (Padres), Austin Beck (Athletics), Keston Hiura (Brewers), Jordon Adell (Angels), Nick Pratto (Royals), Heliot Ramos (Giants), Bubba Thompson (Rangers), Chris Seise (Rangers)—all rank among the league’s best prospects.
Gore, a North Carolina high school product selected by San Diego with the third overall pick, was cited by veteran league observers as one of best pitching prospects in league history. The 18-year-old southpaw was an easy choice as the top prospect, followed closely by outfielders Adell and Ramos.
Gore started his career with a significant amount of hype after being selected third overall by the Padres and winning the BA High School Player of the Year. The North Carolina native lived up to the accolades with an outstanding pro debut, earning raves as one of the best pitching prospects in the AZL’s 30-year history.
Gore dominated AZL hitters, holding batters to a .184 average and striking out 34 in just over 21 innings. The 18-year-old southpaw showed a solid four-pitch mix and extreme athleticism which allows him to repeat what could be a high-maintenance delivery with his high leg kick. Gore has plus command of all of his pitches, notably a sneaky fastball that sits 92-96 mph with good plane. Both the cut-like slider and curveball project as plus pitches, and he has good feel for a changeup that tumbles on batters and causes them to swing through it.
“I'll be surprised if he spends a long time in the minor leagues,” manager Shaun Cole said. “He's so far advanced than most of the high school guys and even the college guys. He's a good one.”
Few players in the 2017 draft matched Adell’s arsenal of tools and elite athleticism, though a shoulder issue limited him to DH duty in his pro debut and kept evaluators from observing his outfield play. But the rest of Adell’s toolkit was on display before a mid-August promotion to Rookie-level Orem.
Adell’s quick hands and special bat speed generate hard contact at the plate. While he struggles at times to identify secondary pitches, hisstrength allows him to drive balls even when not making good contact, and he showed an ability to get to high pitches. He projects to be a plus hitter with plus power as he refines his pitch recognition.
Adell is a plus runner with above-average baserunning instincts, and he will cover a lot of ground in the outfield when he gets back onto the grass. As an amateur Adell registered plus-plus arm strength, reaching 95 mph from the mound.
“He’s an intelligent young man who works hard,” Angels manager Dave Stapleton said. “The sky’s the limit.”
Ramos played his entire pro debut at age 17 after being selected with the 19th overall pick. Despite his youth and inexperience, Ramos was one of the AZL’s top performers, coming just two percentage points from winning the batting title while leading all hitters in slugging (.645).
Ramos has an advanced feel for hitting and the ability to consistently barrel up the ball with plus bat speed. He has a bit of a free-swinging approach and struggles with balls up in the zone, but has the aptitude to make adjustments.
While he has a thick build for his age, Ramos is at least an above-average runner who is aggressive on the basepaths. He’ll need to improve his routes in the outfield to stay in the middle of the diamond but an above-average arm will allow a move to right field if necessary.
“He surprised me with the way he adjusted and the way he takes care of business,” Giants manager Hector Borg said. “He shows that he loves this sport.”
A premier college hitter like Hiura wouldn’t normally spend much time in the AZL, but he stayed at the Brewers minor league complex to take part in a throwing program to help his rehab from an elbow injury that limited him to a DH role during his junior season at UC Irvine.
Hiura showed the explosive, strong hands, a compact bat path and plus-plus bat speed that made him arguably the top hitter in the 2017 draft class. He hit equally well after a mid-July promotion to low Class A Wisconsin.
Hiura is a polished hitter with a good knowledge of the strike zone. His raw power grades as at least above-average, and he projects to get even stronger. He’s an average runner but stealing bases is not expected to be part of his game.
An outfielder and second baseman in college, Hiura’s future position will be determined once his elbow is healthy.
Selected with the next-to-last pick in the second round and signing for an over-slot $1,450,000, the lean and lanky Crouse should provide outstanding value for his draft position.
Crouse flashed the AZL’s most electric stuff and held opponents to a .109 average with 30 strikeouts in 20 innings. His fastball velocity was consistently 96-99 mph and always in the zone, and his heater could become a true 80-grade pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale with added strength and size. His slider, another potential plus pitch, is best described as “nasty”. The 88-91 mph changeup that he rarely used as an amateur is a firm pitch with good fade, looking at times like a two-seamer, and should be at least an average offering.
Crouse commands all of his pitches, despite delivering them with a violent delivery that adds deception. He keeps batters off balance by varying his timing and occasionally doing a Johnny Cueto-type shoulder shimmy. He’s athletic and has an extremely fast arm and has long been known as an extreme competitior.
A multi-sport prep athlete from Alabama, Thompson came into pro ball with the expectation that he’d be less refined than other high school outfielders, compounded by the fact that he missed valuable playing time early in his Rangers career due to an ongoing knee injury. But few AZL prospects showed as much improvement throughout the second half of the season.
A high-waisted athlete with room to get stronger, Thompson showed more feel for the game than expected to go with plus bat speed and plus speed in the outfield. A natural center fielder, he covers the gaps well with a long stride. He still has trouble going back on balls but shows good defensive instincts, and his average arm is enough for center field. His power started to emerge with more reps. The good reads he gets on the bases allows his speed to play up even more.
“Bubba improved daily,” Rangers manager Matt Siegel said. “His hit tool is very good. It surprised some people as far as how advanced he is (with his) pitch recognition . . . He does a great job making consistent contact.”
Arias was one of many elite prospects procured during the Padres’ 2016 international haul, signing for $1.9 million. He began his pro career in the AZL at the tender age of 17. The Padres promoted Arias two levels to low Class A Fort Wayne in August when they moved Fernando Tatis Jr. to Double-A.
At the plate, Arias has a controlled swing that is short to the ball, with plus bat speed and batting practice power indicating that there’s more offense coming. He gets pull-happy at times but has enough hand-eye coordination to use all fields.
Arias really stands out on the infield dirt. A natural shortstop with a plus-plus arm, loose, strong hands and fluid actions, he should be able to thrive at the position. An average runner, he’ll have enough speed for shortstop even as his body matures.
“He can do some special things on the field, especially on defense,” Padres manager Mike Collins said. “For such a young player, the kind of range and arm he has at shortstop, he has no problem making difficult plays look fairly routine.”
A gifted athlete drafted sixth overall from a small North Carolina high school, Beck entered pro ball with high expectations. He missed the summer showcase season prior to his senior year after tearing the ACL in his left knee, and his relative inexperience showed when he reported for his first pro assignment. Facing better velocity than he had seen in high school, Beck started pressing and over-swinging early in the AZL season. But he started making more consistent contact as the season progressed, batting.253/.354/.468 in the second half.
“He’s making adjustments and catching up to speed,” Athletics manager Webster Garrison said, “and he’s looking good out there.”
An explosive athlete and true center fielder, Beck has plus-plus bat speed and consistently puts on a show during batting practice. He still needs to work on using the whole field and hitting the ball where it’s pitched, but he made progress late in the season. He needs more reps in the outfield, but showed good instincts to go with plus speed and at least an above-average arm.
Pratto was familiar to the baseball world long before his pro debut, first because of his exploits in the 2011 Little League World Series and later as a two-way player on the USA Baseball 18U National Team. He played both ways in high school, but the Royals will develop him as a hitter after drafting him 14th overall.
While the numbers didn’t show it in his pro debut, Pratto profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter thanks to a low-maintenance swing and ability to use the whole field. He doesn’t have plus power, but he projects to have enough pop for the position. Royals manager Darryl Kennedy compared Pratto with Eric Hosmer at the same age.
Pratto projects to be a plus defender at first base with solid footwork and good instincts. He’s a below-average runner, but has the instincts to steal 10-20 bases a year.
“He’s got a good attitude and a good demeanor about himself,” Kennedy said. “He stays on an even keel.”
10. Esteury Ruiz, 2B, Padres Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Wt: 6-0. Wt: 150. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015 (Royals).
One of the season’s biggest surprises was the emergence of Ruiz, first with the Royals and later the Padres after he was included in a midsummer trade that sent three big league pitchers to Kansas City. Slender but wiry strong, Ruiz, led the league in hitting (.350), doubles (20) and triples (10) and was named MVP.
With Ruiz, it’s all about his bat. His plus power to all fields comes from an advanced approach at the plate and long arms that give leverage to his swing. He is an average runner out of the box but possesses another gear that gives him a tick above average speed. His smarts on the bases allowed him to steal 26 bases in 32 attempts.
Ruiz is a below-average defender, but his hands are decent and he could become average with more experience. The way he carries himself on the field is another of his strong points.
“He said he was taught at an early age how to respect the game,” Padres manager Shaun Cole said. “That’s a rarity . . . His baseball savvy is way, way above-average.”
Lutz didn’t waste time making an impact as a professional. After signing with the Brewers a week before the deadline for an over-slot bonus of $2,352,000, the Texas high school product homered twice and drove in five runs in his initial AZL game. He continued to hit well before putting up even better numbers after a promotion to Rookie-level Helena.
A natural hitter with a strong body and powerful wrists that cause balls to jump off his bat, Lutz projects as a regular corner outfielder at the big league level. He generates power with average or better bat speed and torque that is generated from his broad shoulders.
Lutz played more in center field, but profiles better as a corner outfielder. He’s a tick above-average runner now, but his big frame and above-average arm will allow him to handle right field.
“He’s a hard worker and a really good overall player,” Brewers manager Rafael Neda said.
After picking a high-risk, high-reward player in Bubba Thompson with the first of their two first-round picks, Texas went with a higher floor prospect in Seise, a Florida high school shortstop.
Seise’s instincts are elite for his age, which allows all his tools to play up considerably. He has a long, loose athletic body suited for shortstop, with quality hands and good actions at the position and at least an above-average arm.
Seise is an instinctive hitter with quick hands and the ability to hit for power, especially as he gets stronger. He uses all fields and shows advanced pitch recognition with a solid two-strike approach. He’s an above-average runner, with regular times of 4.2 seconds to first base from the right side. His skills, work ethic and outstanding makeup have the Rangers dreaming of a top-of-the-order bat who can stay at shortstop.
“I think we got a steal in the draft,” Rangers manager Matt Siegel said. “He has all the ingredients to move quickly through the system.”
The Royals took Melendez in the second round knowing they’d need to lure him away from a commitment to Florida International, where his father is head coach. It took an over-slot bonus of $2,097,500 to get him on board, and early returns from his AZL debut indicate that it will be money well spent.
The lefthand-hitting Melendez showed solid power and got good carry off the bat and power to all fields, albeit with some swing and miss. He tends to get rotational in the batter’s box, so improvements to his swing will help as he progresses. He’s an average or better runner, good speed for a catcher.
As impressive as Melendez is offensively, it’s his defense that will carry him. He’s agile and has good hands, and improved his receiving and blocking during the year. A plus-plus arm is Melendez’s biggest strength. He gets rid of the ball quickly and has the ability to throw from his knees.
One of the most hyped teenaged prospects from Cuba in recent years, Armentaros signed with Oakland for $3 million during in 2016. Early reports showed him to be very raw and in need of plenty of reps, but scouts noticed him develop a much better feel for hitting during extended spring training and that progress carried over into the AZL.
Armenteros’ swings an explosive bat, with his strong hands generating very special, fluid bat speed. He runs more on his heels, but has shown plus run times and may be able to get even faster with better technique.
Armenteros played mostly left field, but he struggles with reading balls off the bat and doesn’t yet have the instincts for center field. His average arm is his weakest tool, but the organization is working with him on building arm strength.
“He’s a young kid and he’s learning,” Athletics manager Webster Garrison said. “It takes maturity and he makes his mistakes, but he’s learning about them and he wants to get better.”
15. Jacob Gonzalez, 3B, Giants Age: 19 B-T: R-R. Wt: 6-3. Wt: 190. Drafted: HS—Scottsdale, Ariz., 2017 (2).
The most frequent comment from scouts about Gonzalez pertains to his advanced approach at the plate, not surprising since he is the son of 2001 World Series hero Luis Gonzalez and has been around the game all his life. Picked by the Giants in the second round, the younger Gonzalez didn’t have to go outside the city limits of Scottsdale to start his pro career.
At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Gonzalez is already bigger than his dad was during his 19-year big league career. While better than advertised at third base, Gonzalez may eventually outgrow the position and move to first. For now he shows plus arm strength, though he is not always accurate. He charges in on balls very well but has trouble ranging to his left.
Gonzalez’s bat will be his calling card. He has plus raw power now and advanced strike-zone knowledge. He’s a below-average runner. He has a high aptitude for the game and shows the desire to get better. “
“He handles his business,” Giants manager Hector Borg said, “He’s always asking questions . . . He’s got a very good work ethic.”
Campusano was the first catcher picked in the 2017 draft, going 39th overall to the Padres and signing for $1.3 million. The Georgia high school product was coming off a solid senior year in which he got his mature, strong body in better shape, increasing his agility behind the plate.
While at times inconsistent, Campusano shows advanced blocking and receiving skills and moves well. He flashed some sub-2.0 second pop times on throws to second base, but he threw out just seven of 49 basestealers.
“He's got all the right tools and makeup for being a frontline catcher behind the dish,” Padres manager Shaun Cole said.
Campusano has plenty of pull-side power with a strong swing and an approach at the plate that is sometimes too aggressive, but he makes solid, hard contact. It’s a power over hit bat, and he gets good carry when he gets the barrel on the ball.
17. Jordy Barley, SS, Padres Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Wt: 6-0. Wt: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016.
The Padres’ record-breaking 2016 international signing class included Barley, a well-known Dominican who signed for $1 million. In a matter of months, he showed himself to be the most explosively athletic player of the 52 the Padres signed in that international spree.
Barley is extremely twitchy and plays with high energy. Controlling that energy level will help him in the future, because he tired late in the season. He was often behind on pitches, hitting just .183/.237/.254 in August, and he also needs to develop better timing at the plate. He’s got impressive raw power when he gets to it, but he hit all four of his home runs in the first three weeks of the season.
Barley should be able to stay at shortstop but has the skills and athleticism to handle center field. At shortstop he closes on balls quickly and flashes a plus arm, but his inexperience and lack of throwing accuracy resulted in 30 errors in 43 games. He is a tick above-average runner.
18. Jose Soriano, RHP, Angels Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Wt: 6-3. Wt: 168. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016.
Soriano was barely 6 feet tall when he first came to the U.S. for instructional league in 2016, bringing a fastball that occasionally touched 90 mph. The native Dominican grew three inches over the winter and added 4-6 mph to his fastball to become the most intriguing young arm among the Angels stable of projectable Latin hurlers.
Soriano’s development in 2017 wasn’t linear. He often struggled with his command from one inning to the next, but the lanky righthander continued getting stronger and more mechanically sound and finished the season on a high note with nine scoreless innings over his last two outings.
Soriano’s heater sits in the low 90s but touched as high as 96 mph, and his lean body indicates there may be more velocity to come with added strength. He delivers from a three-quarters delivery with a loose arm, easy arm strength and good arm action, getting downhill plane and life. Soriano’s main secondary is a promising slider in the low to mid-80s, and he recently started throwing a mid-80s changeup that could be an average pitch.
Of all players in the AZL this year, Allen is the most likely to make it to the big leagues for one big reason—he’s an elite defender at shortstop. He signed for $2 million as a third-round pick—he fell in part because he is 5-foot-9—and is a dynamic defender, often making multiple spectacular plays every game.
Allen has plus to plus-plus hands and top-of-the-scale instincts. He also showed a better-than-expected arm, at least average when he needs it, but he knows who’s running and exerts only as much effort as needed to get the out.
Allen takes competitive at-bats, with the ability to see the ball deep into the zone and consistently make good contact with line drive power up the middle of the field. He’s a plus runner with excellent instincts on the bases. Allen works very hard and earns the “grinder” label from scouts.
“I call him the ‘Little Magic Man’,” Athletics manager Webster Garrison said. “He’s amazing out there . . . cat-quick, very strong arm, can throw from all different angles.”
20. Nelson Velazquez, OF, Cubs Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Wt: 6-0. Wt: 190. Drafted: HS—Carolina, P.R., 2017 (5).
Selected with the last pick of the fifth round, Velazquez waited until just before the signing deadline to agree to terms with the Cubs for an over-slot $400,000 bonus. Despite not getting into a game until near the end of the first half, he often showed off plus raw power, smacking eight home runs in just 110 at-bats and falling one homer short of the AZL lead.
While still raw at the plate, Velazquez has a strong body and makes hard contact, generating power to all fields with excellent bat speed. He tends to open up on the front side and get pull happy, struggling with pitches away, but he barrels up balls on pitches middle in. He improved his two-strike approach during the summer. It’s a power over average profile now, but he’s got a chance to hit for average with a better approach and improved pitch recognition.
Velazquez flashed a plus arm and plus speed during pre-draft workouts, but was slower in his first pro season due to a nagging hamstring problem. While he played all three outfield positions in the AZL, he projects best as a middle-of-the-order corner outfielder.
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