2017 Texas League Top 20 Prospects
Walker Buehler (John Williamson)
|Championship Series Midland (Athletics) 3 Tulsa (Dodgers) 2|
|Best Record San Antonio (Padres), 78-62 (.557)|
|Most Valuable Player Matt Beatty, 1B/3B, Tulsa (Dodgers)|
|Pitcher Of The Year Dakota Hudson, RHP, Springfield (Cardinals)|
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.
One of the most impressive streaks in the minor leagues continued this season when Midland won its fourth Texas League title in a row. The Athletics affiliate did so in come-from-behind fashion against Tulsa, winning three straight road games after dropping the first two at home.
After allowing a combined 10 runs in the first two games of the championship series, Midland’s pitching staff sparked the three-game rally. The Rockhounds allowed a total of just three runs in their final three victories, including a 1-0 win in the winner-take-all Game 5 that was led by six scoreless innings from righthander James Naile.
While Midland’s playoff run stole the end-of-season headlines, San Antonio boasted the best regular-season record at 78-62, one game better than Tulsa and Springfield.
From a prospect standpoint, the 2017 crop of players might not have the star power of the 2015 class that featured Carlos Correa and Corey Seagar, or even the 2016 group led by Alex Bregman, but several talented pitchers on this list have already made their major league debuts, and there are a bevy of young hitters in their early 20s who seem on track for big league success in the near future.
Before making his big league debut as a reliever in September, Buehler made successful stops at three different minor league levels in 2017, which included a 10-week stay at Tulsa. After recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and pitching just five innings in 2016, he threw 88.2 innings in the minors prior to his callup.
Buehler made 11 starts in the TL during his meteoric rise and pitched off a 95-99 mph fastball that jumps on hitters quickly. He also throws a plus slider and true north-to-south curveball to help rack up 11.8 strikeouts and just 2.8 walks per nine innings.
Having feel for an at least average changeup that’s especially effective against lefthanded hitters gives Buehler the full arsenal necessary to project as at least a No. 2 starter. The biggest questions he face regard his lean frame and thus questionable stamina and durability.
Promoted to Corpus Christi just a few months after his 20th birthday, Tucker started to show his power potential in the TL. After hitting nine home runs in 117 games in 2016, he hit nine longballs in 48 games at high Class A Buies Creek in 2017 before breaking out for 16 at Double-A.
Tucker improved his flyball rate in 2017, and more of his fly balls found the seats. He has a chance to be a plus hitter with plus power from the left side. His swing can look unorthodox at times, but his contact skills are excellent for a player with power. Tucker’s pitch recognition has also improved as he focused on swinging only at pitches he can drive.
Defensively, Tucker has the athleticism to play center field, but ending up as an above-average right fielder seems like the more likely landing spot thanks to average range and a strong, accurate arm.
A physical lefthander, Puk was the first college pitcher drafted in 2016 and responded by splitting time between high Class A Stockton (61 innings) and Midland (64 innings) in his first full season of pro ball. He ranked third in the minors with 184 strikeouts at the two stops.
Using a four-pitch mix headlined by a plus fastball and wipeout slider, Puk struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings to lead all starters who qualified for the TL list. At 6-foot-7, he does a good job of getting extension on all of his pitches, especially his 95-98 mph fastball. While maintaining balance throughout his delivery has been a constant concern, Puk’s walk rate stabilized at 3.5 per nine in his full-season debut.
Puk shows the pure stuff—including an average changeup and curveball—and enough control to project as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
4. Jack Flaherty, RHP, Springfield (Cardinals) Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205 Drafted: HS—Los Angeles, 2014 (1)
Flaherty cruised through the TL on his way to Triple-A Memphis in early June and the big leagues on Sept. 1. In his 10 starts for Springfield, he recorded a 1.42 ERA and .205 opponent average in 63.1 innings.
Typically reliant on his 92-94 mph fastball that can reach up to 96 with plus control, Flaherty’s secondary stuff took a step forward this season. He works ahead in the count and walked just 1.6 per nine innings in the TL. Flaherty mixes in an effective, potentially plus slider in the mid-80s, as well as an above-average curveball and an improving feel for a fourth-pitch changeup.
Given his progression this season, Flaherty has a chance to join the Cardinals’ big league rotation at some point in 2018, less than four years removed from being the 34th overall pick in 2014.
One of the youngest position players in the TL, Urias finished with more walks (68) than strikeouts (65) for the fourth consecutive season. He hit .296 and his walk rate improved to 13 percent, a career best.
With a career slugging percentage of .396, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Urias will never provide much power, but his feel for the strike zone and bat-to-ball skills are advanced, leaving one TL manager to describe him as someone who could “flat out hit.”
Splitting time between second base and shortstop with an above-average arm and above-average range, Urias held his own at both positions. The emergence of 18-year old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who ended his season alongside Urias in San Antonio, gives the Padres one of the top middle-infield duos in the minors.
Traded from the Yankees to the Athletics on July 31 as a part of the Sonny Gray trade, Mateo spent the last five weeks of the season in the TL. Known for his top-of-the-scale speed, he showed well at Midland by hitting .292/.333/.518 with 13 stolen bases and tied for the league lead with seven triples in just 30 games.
Though his speed would play all over the diamond, including center field, Mateo played only shortstop following the trade. He is at least an average defender there with an above-average arm. While he’s not yet a finished product at the plate and is susceptible to breaking balls—as evidenced by his strikeout rate of 25 percent— Mateo does show plenty of bat speed and surprising power for his size.
7. Yohander Mendez, LHP, Frisco (Rangers) Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 200 Signed: Venezuela, 2011
The only prospect to make this list in each of the last two seasons, Mendez ranked No. 19 last year and now jumps inside the top 10. He spent 2016 making stops at four different levels, including a pair of relief appearances in the majors, before spending the entire 2017 season with Frisco prior to a September callup.
While Mendez’s performance didn’t markedly improve from last season, he still showcased a plus changeup that kept hitters from making hard contact. Opponents hit just .228 against him.
Mendez doesn’t overpower batters with a low-90s fastball, but he mixes and sequences pitches well. He throws a slider and curveball that give him two more average to above-average offspeed offerings to pair with his changeup.
8. Edwin Rios, 1B/3B, Tulsa (Dodgers) Age: 23 B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt: 220 Drafted: Florida International, 2015 (6)
Considered by many to be the best pure hitter in the TL, Rios played 77 games for Tulsa before a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City on July 7. Before departing, Rios led the league in OPS (.891), and he continued to hit for average and power in Triple-A.
A physical lefthanded batter with an advanced approach, Rios can drive the ball to all fields and has maintained a high line-drive rate as a pro. He hit 24 home runs overall this season, and his power profiles well on an infield corner. Defensively, he probably fits best at first base, though he also saw ample time at third base (where he is error-prone) and sporadic time in left field (where he lacks range).
9. Magneuris Sierra, OF, Springfield (Cardinals) Age: 21 B-T: L-L Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 160 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012
Sierra started the season at high Class A Palm Beach, received a surprising two-week callup to St. Louis in May to fill in for injured players, and then spent the rest of his year at Springfield.
A naturally gifted defensive player with plus-plus speed, Sierra can play all three outfield positions well, as he did in the TL, where he split his time fairly evenly between right (34 games), left (26) and center (25). His defensive versatility, which includes an above-average arm, gives him an avenue to be an instant contributor at any level.
Sierra’s bat has farther to go to help a team. He uses more of a contact-first approach to make use of his speed, and he hit just .269 with Springfield with a low walk rate and minimal power. He still is learning how to use his speed on the basepaths, where he totaled 22 stolen bases in 2017 but was caught 12 times.
While Flaherty was the pitcher with the highest ceiling to come through Springfield this season, Hudson’s consistency and extreme groundball rate could make him a future mid-rotation starter.
Hudson excels at moving his pitches around the strike zone to draw weak contact and navigate a lineup. He topped the TL with a 2.53 ERA by working off a 93-96 mph fastball and plus curveball that took a step forward this year. He occasionally mixes in a below-average changeup and hard cutter/slider.
Hudson improved his control by cutting his walk rate to 2.7 per nine innings, but he didn’t miss many bats as the Cardinals emphasized learning how to pitch both horizontally and vertically to improve his command and generate early-count outs.
A 24-year-old Cuban outfielder who spent last season playing in the Japanese minors, Garcia signed with the Cardinals in February. He spent 84 games at Springfield and 40 at Triple-A Memphis, batting .290/.340/.476 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases at two levels. He is the younger brother of Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia.
Possessing a higher offensive upside than fellow Springfield outfielders Magneuris Sierra and Oscar Mercado, Garcia has a free-swinging approach but also showed good pitch recognition while hitting the ball to his pull side more than half the time.
Defensively, Garcia has a plus-plus arm that fits in right field, though he showed enough speed and defensive versatility to log more than 150 innings in center field.
12. Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Corpus Christi (Astros) Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 215 Signed: Cuba, 2014
One of the top performers in the minors, Armenteros made 10 starts (14 appearances) for Corpus Christi this season before finishing the year with another 10 at Triple-A Fresno. His 1.93 ERA and .207 opponent average ranked in the top 10 for TL starters who qualified for this list.
Though a lack of pure stuff might knock Armenteros’ ceiling down to No. 4 or 5 starter, he has five pitches he can throw for strikes and a fastball that reaches up to 95 mph. His changeup took a step forward this season, giving him a swing-and-miss pitch that he’s comfortable throwing in nearly any count. He rounds out his arsenal with a curveball, slider and cutter, all of which have average potential.
Many observers believe Armenteros will reach his ceiling because of his deception, propensity to keep the ball down, and his ability to compete, while also showing plus command with a strikeout-to-walk ratio nearing 4-to-1.
13. J.D. Davis, 3B, Corpus Christi (Astros) Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 225 Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2014 (3)
The best power prospect in the TL, Davis hit 21 home runs in 87 games at Corpus Christi before spending 16 games in Fresno and receiving a callup to Houston on Aug. 5.
Davis has great leverage is his swing, which helped him produce 26 home runs in the minors this season. He swings big and sometimes misses big, with high rates for swinging strikes, which will limit his ability to hit for average.
Defensively, Davis has good hands and one of the strongest infield arms in the Astros organization, though an eventual move to first base is possible based on Houston’s infield depth.
14. Oscar Mercado, OF, Springfield (Cardinals) Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 175 Drafted: HS—Tampa, 2013 (2)
Mercado might not have a single tool as loud as his Springfield teammates Magneuris Sierra (speed and defense) or Jose Adolis Garcia (arm and power), but he is a solid all-around player who broke out at Double-A this season. He led the TL with 38 stolen bases and ranked 10th with a .287 average.
Described as a late bloomer, Mercado began the transition from shortstop to center field last season and played only the latter this year. His biggest jump came in the power department, where he hit 13 home runs in 120 games after hitting just eight in his first 344 games.
Mercado showed above-average range and a good arm while playing all 120 games in the outfield, 108 of which came in center.
The oldest pitcher to make this list, Lucchesi also was one of the top TL performers in 2017. Promoted to San Antonio at the beginning of July, he made 10 appearances (nine starts) and ended his time in the league with a 1.79 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and .208 opponent average.
Possessing one of the quirkiest deliveries in the minors, Lucchesi has a deceptive 90-93 mph fastball, which is paired with a loopy, potentially plus curveball and a late-moving changeup that helped him to strike out 148 in 139 innings. He held lefthanded batters to a .129 average.
In his first full season of pro ball, Lauer made 12 starts and pitched 67.2 innings at high Class A Lake Elsinore before being promoted for nine starts (10 appearances) and 55 innings at San Antonio. His strikeout rate slipped from 11.2 to 7.9 per nine innings following the promotion.
Lauer sits mostly 90-92 mph with his fastball and can reach 94, and he locates his pitches to both sides of the plate. Good arm speed, a consistent release point and an above-average changeup all pair nicely with his fastball, while an improving slider is competing with an average curveball to break out as a clear third pitch.
Regardless of stuff, Lauer is advanced at mixing his pitches and keeping hitters off balance, which should help him maximize his potential as a mid-rotation starter.
A 2014 first-round pick by the Dodgers who was traded to the Athletics last July in the Rich Hill-Josh Reddick trade, Holmes spent the entire season at Midland. After a career-high 148.1 innings, he ended the season with a 4.48 ERA.
Working off of a 91-95 mph fastball, Holmes recently added a cutter to his four-pitch repertoire that has helped him against lefthanded batters, who hit just .189 off of him this year. Conversely, righthanders hit .309 despite Holmes’ above-average big-breaking curveball with power. He throws a fringy changeup.
Poor command of his fastball has limited Holmes’ ability to maximize his secondary pitches. If he improves his command, he has No. 3 starter upside.
One of the youngest players to make his TL debut this season, Naylor was promoted to San Antonio on July 11 and hit just .250/.320/.346 in 42 games.
A large, physical first baseman, Naylor has plus-plus raw power that has not yet translated into game power. He hit just two home runs in Double-A after collecting nine at high Class A. Despite excellent hand-eye coordination, Naylor still needs to shrink his strike zone to hit for a high average. He struck out a career-worst 21 percent of the time at Double-A and must improve his power production to sustain a rate that high.
A well below-average runner, Naylor showed enough flashes to be an at-least-average defensive first baseman.
Griffin recorded a 5.43 ERA in 27 starts last season before showing marked improvement this year, which he began at high Class A and concluded in the TL after a late-May promotion.
Griffin has above-average control but never has missed many bats. He saw an uptick in velocity this season with a fastball that now sits in the low 90s and touches 93 mph regularly. His fastball features some movement and comes out of his hand well, but his 11-to-5 curveball might be his most improved pitch.
Griffin’s changeup gives him a third offering to help keep hitters off balance, but both offspeed pitches must continue to progress if he is going to come close to reaching heightened expectations as a 2014 first-round pick.
The long and wiry Alcantara, who made 25 appearances (22 starts) for Springfield this season before the Cardinals called him up on Sept. 1, showcased an upper-90s fastball and a power breaking ball. He ranked sixth among qualified TL pitchers with a strikeout rate of 7.6 per nine innings.
Though his stuff is electric, Alcantara has some command issues to work through. His walk rate of 3.9 per nine ranked second-worst in the TL, leaving some doubt whether his future role is as a late-innings reliever or high-upside starter. A changeup in the high 80s to low 90s works as a quality third pitch for Alcantara, who struck out five of the first 11 batters he faced at the major league level.
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