South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
Hickory catcher Sam Huff finished tied for eighth in the South Atlantic League with 15 home runs. That’s remarkable because Huff was promoted out of the league on May 8. In just 30 games, Huff set the league on fire, impressing with his power and solid work behind the plate.
But because he moved on so quickly, Huff did not qualify for the South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects list. Catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, also made a cameo in the league, but his late arrival meant he also did not qualify.
Even without those catchers, the 14-team Sally League had plenty of prospects, though numerous managers and scouts noted that once again it seemed like the Midwest League had more elite prospects among low Class A leagues this season.
1. Jarred Kelenic, OF, West Virginia (Mariners)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 196. Drafted: HS—Waukesha, Wis., 2018 (1/Mets).
Drafted sixth overall by the Mets in 2018, Kelenic was traded the Mariners in December as part of the deal that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York. Kelenic began his season by blitzing the South Atlantic League, and he ended it as the second-youngest hitter in the Double-A Texas League.
The 20-year-old Kelenic impressed at every step along the way with a smooth, level swing. He can line doubles to left field, but he also has the ability to yank home runs over the right-field fence. He seemed one step ahead of pitchers throughout his time with West Virginia.
"He asks questions you don’t hear 18- to 19-year-old hitters talk about,” West Virginia manager David Berg said. "He’s a good hitter. He was hitting balls to the opposite field in spring training like righthanded hitters pull them. He has a really good approach. He impacts the baseball hard.”
Scouts generally said they believe Kelenic can stay in center field as an average defender, but his plus arm would also fit in right field.
2. Julio Rodriguez, OF, West Virginia (Mariners)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
A hand injury sidelined him from mid-April to mid-June, but when he returned, Rodriguez was nearly as impressive as Jarred Kelenic, his teammate and fellow outfielder. Rodriguez’s approach and understanding of how pitchers would try to attack him was far beyond his 18 years.
"He has an unbelievable feel for hitting," West Virginia manager David Berg said. "He’ll take a pitch, and you can see he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got him,’"
Rodriguez had some of the best power potential in the league to go with his ability to lay off pitches until he found something to drive. He played his way out of the league in early August with seven multi-hit games in his final 13.
Rodriguez played both center and right field for West Virginia and is an above-average runner, but Kelenic is more likely to stay in center. Rodriguez is more of a prototypical right fielder. He has a plus arm that fits well in right, and he showed his athleticism by leaping to rob numerous home runs.
3. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Delmarva (Orioles)
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Nacogdoches, Texas, 2018 (1).
After several years of fallow rosters, Delmarva had the most promising starting pitcher in the league. After Shorebirds lefthander DL Hall impressed last season, Rodriguez was even more impressive this year.
Rodriguez’s 94-96 mph fastball was dominating, mainly because of his future plus command. He showed he could work it to the edges of the strike zone, rarely straying over the heart of the plate.
But managers and scouts were even more impressed by Rodriguez’s advanced feel for a pair of breaking balls and his changeup. His slider and curveball aren’t always clearly separated, but both are potential above-average pitches.
Rodriguez can spin an 81-83 mph slider that dives away from the strike zone and a 79-82 mph curveball with more of a 12-to-6 shape that he can throw in the strike zone or bury at the bottom. His potentially plus command of both pitches stands out.
4. Triston Casas, 1B, Greenville (Red Sox)
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 238. Drafted: HS—Plantation, Fla., 2018 (1).
Because of their well-rounded skill sets and defensive value, Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic of West Virginia were viewed as the most promising position players in the league. But when it came to hitting, Casas was viewed as a comparable prospect.
"For a 19-year-old, he’s very advanced at the plate,” one scout said. "He doesn’t swing at much out of the strike zone.”
Interestingly, Casas chokes up significantly on his bat, especially with two strikes, much like Joey Votto, and sacrifices a little leverage for better barrel control. He’s strong enough that it doesn’t significantly diminish his power—he hit eight of his 19 home runs with two strikes. He has a chance to be an above-average hitter with plus power.
In the field, Casas didn’t play third base after mid-July. At first base, he should be an average defender with an above-average arm. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 240 pounds, he presents a big target.
5. Ronny Mauricio, SS, Columbia (Mets)
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 166. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.
Two divergent paths seem equally possible for Mauricio as he matures from the 18-year-old he is now into the 25-year-old physically mature big leaguer he will be one day.
Some evaluators believe Mauricio’s narrow hips will help him remain long, lean and athletic. He has the body control and twitchiness to be an impact defender at shortstop with the plus arm that the position demands. Others see the long limbs and sneaky present power and expect that he’ll end up filling out and sliding over to third base as he slows down.
Whichever way his body turns out, Mauricio impressed despite modest offensive numbers. The switch-hitter hit better from the left side. For a teenager he showed an advanced understanding of hitting, recognizing offspeed pitches well, but his swing has some length and he projects as a slugger more than a hitter.
6. Seth Corry, LHP, Augusta (Giants)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Highland, Utah, 2017 (3).
When the Giants drafted Corry, they knew they were getting a project. He had a solid fastball and a potentially plus curveball, but at the time it didn’t matter much because he so rarely found the strike zone.
Corry cut his walk rate to 4.3 walks per nine innings this season, and he went a sensational 8-1, 1.10 in the second half of the season with 1.9 walks per nine as he finished with the second best ERA (1.76) in the minors.
Corry’s 93-96 mph fastball can blow hitters away, but he mainly uses it to set up a 1-to-7 curveball that he can manipulate, making it tighter or bigger depending on the situation. Despite his improved control, Corry’s command needs refinement, and despite his impressive performance, some evaluators see him as a future two-pitch lefty reliever.
7. Simeon Woods-Richardson, RHP, Columbia (Mets)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS—Sugar Land, Texas, 2018 (2).
Woods-Richardson’s stay in the South Atlantic League and in the Mets organization ended in late July when he was sent to the Blue Jays in the Marcus Stroman deal. Prior to that, he had caused plenty of managers to scratch their heads because he was an 18-year-old who carried himself and pitched like a much older man.
Woods-Richardson seemed nonplussed when he got into a jam, and he has three pitches that he throws with conviction. He also has demonstrated potentially above-average control. He relies heavily on a 12-to-6 power curveball as well as a 91-95 mph fastball. He also shows some feel for his changeup, which could give him three average or better pitches.
Woods-Richardson lives up in the strike zone. He can work to both sides of the plate, but he catches too much of the middle of the plate at times.
As young as he is, Woods-Richardson is physically mature. He projects as a future No. 3 starter.
8. Kris Bubic, LHP, Lexington (Royals)
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Stanford, 2018 (1 supp).
It’s fair to wonder if Bubic was a little too advanced for the South Atlantic League, since he had three strong seasons at Stanford, but the Royals had a logjam of starters between low Class A Lexington and high Class A Wilmington, so Bubic was tapped to be Lexington’s ace.
He responded by dominating before being promoted after nine starts. Bubic led the minors with 185 strikeouts thanks to a dominating, plus changeup. The pitch has late movement and excellent deception thanks to plenty of arm speed. He can throw it for strikes but can also nibble with it to induce chases out of the zone, and he’s comfortable doubling up on it. Because of his changeup, Bubic had a significant reverse split. SAL righthanders hit just .145/.225/.220 against him.
Bubic’s 89-93 mph fastball is merely average. His 11-to-5 curveball is short and shows some bite, but he doesn’t show consistent feel for it. All three pitches play up because he has deception to his delivery, with some deliberate funkiness and a front side that he uses to hide the ball.
9. Braden Shewmake, SS, Rome (Braves)
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Texas A&M, 2019 (1).
Shewmake quickly proved he was too advanced for the South Atlantic League. Signing quickly after the 2019 draft ended, he arrived in Rome on June 20 and was promoted to Double-A Mississippi less than two months later. In those 51 games, Shewmake showed a confident, advanced approach at the plate to go with above-average bat speed.
"(He showed his) hit tool to all fields—a lot of line drives gap to gap," Rome manager Matt Tuiasosopo said. "He competes in the box, and he loves to hit."
Shewmake is a tall, 6-foot-4 shortstop, but he moves well and showed solid athleticism with Rome. Like many young shortstops, he needs to improve his consistency. He had six errors in an eight-game stretch at one point, but overall, he showed the tools to stay at the position.
Shewmake is an asset on the basepaths as well. A plus runner, he swiped 11 bags in 14 attempts, taking advantage of pitchers with slow moves to the plate.
10. Josh Jung, 3B, Hickory (Rangers)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215. Signed: Texas Tech, 2019 (1).
Jung was a productive third baseman and shortstop at Texas Tech. Drafted eighth overall in June, he quickly found himself in the thick of the South Atlantic League pennant race and helped Hickory earn the second-half Northern Division crown.
Jung impressed defensively. He’s a big-bodied third baseman, but he shows excellent body control, soft hands and a plus, accurate arm.
Offensively, he showed an advanced approach, but he struggles to fully take advantage of his significant strength. He understands the strike zone and draws walks, but his swing is entirely geared to driving the ball to right field and right-center. He has yet to show the ability to consistently pull an inside pitch.
11. Cole Winn, RHP, Hickory (Rangers)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS–Orange, Calif., 2018 (1).
Winn's first six South Atlantic League starts are best forgotten. Three different times he was knocked out of the game in the first four innings, and he had a 9.35 ERA.
But over his final 12 starts, Winn went 4-1, 2.81 as one of the most improved pitchers in the league. Winn attacked hitters with five pitches, and all five have a chance to be average or better. His 90-95 mph fastball shows a little life, and he locates it well. His low-80s slider has good tilt, and his changeup flashes plus thanks to late sink. He throws his mid-70s curveball that he showed he could consistently throw for strikes.
There are multiple young starters in the South Atlantic League with more upside than Winn (including a few of Winn's Hickory teammates), but Winn's easy delivery and promising command gives him a solid shot of being a useful back-of-the-rotation starter.
12. Roansy Contreras, RHP, Charleston (Yankees)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016.
Lining up the Charleston staff based on future potential was difficult, as almost every coach and evaluator consulted had a different order. Roansy Contreras has the most polish. Alexander Vizcaino's changeup may be the best pitch of the four. Luis Gil may have the easiest delivery, and Luis Medina has the most jaw-dropping stuff.
Contreras has the best combination of stuff and feel. His plus, 92-96 mph fastball pairs well with his plus, 86-89 mph changeup and average curveball. Contreras has shown that he understands how to work out of jams. Unlike many young pitchers, he doesn't just try to throw harder when he gets in trouble—he'll mix in a changeup in those situations to get an aggressive hitter to get himself out. He has average control now and projects to have future above-average control.
Contreras does not have much—or any—projection remaining, and there are some scouts who still see the 6-foot righthander as a future reliever, but most project him as a solid No. 4 starter.
13. Alexander Vizcaino, RHP, Charleston (Yankees)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2016.
It used to be that a fastball-changeup righthander would be ticketed for the bullpen unless they could develop an average breaking ball. But Vizcaino may be able to succeed over longer outings even if his fringe-average slider doesn't improve. His changeup is that good, and unlike most changeups, it functions more like a split-finger fastball.
Vizcaino's plus-plus, 90-91 mph changeup is a dastardly weapon, and it's hard with late drop. It looks like it's headed to the bottom of the strike zone before diving toward the dirt.
Vizcaino's 94-98 mph fastball give him a second plus pitch. The development of his inconsistent fringe-average slider could help him turn into a mid-rotation starter. It's bigger, slower (82-84 mph) and he doesn't show confidence to throw it in tough counts.
14. Luis Gil, RHP, Charleston (Yankees)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 176. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015 (Twins).
Gil was one of the toughest pitchers in the South Atlantic League to hit thanks to an exceptional 70-grade fastball. He's touched 100 mph and sits 93-98 mph from an easy, relaxed delivery that is short in the back. Gil can generate consistent swings and misses at the top of (and above) the strike zone.
But some scouts see him as a future power reliever because his secondary pitches need work and his velocity will often tail off his second time through the lineup.
Gil's slider is a slurvy pitch that sometimes looks more like a curve and sometimes shortens up into a slider. His average changeup has more potential. Like many of his RiverDogs teammates, it's a hard changeup that relies on late action to get swings and misses instead of deception to get weak contact.
Gil has several paths to future MLB success. If he can develop better stamina and a better breaking ball he could be a mid-rotation starter. With less development he still should be a useful reliever.
15. Luis Medina, RHP, Charleston (Yankees)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Throughout his career, Medina has both tantalized with some of the best stuff in baseball and disappointed with long stretches of wildness that have torpedoed his success start after start.
He also finished his time in Charleston with a 6.00 ERA (which was a drop from his 6.25 ERA in 2018 in the Appalachian League) thanks to 6.5 walks per nine innings, but he did show significant improvement as the season wore on. Medina had a 0.40 ERA with 29 strikeouts and six walks in 22.2 innings in his four August starts (including two with high Class A Tampa).
Medina has the rare ability to dominate with just his fastball if he locates it, as he sits 96-99 mph (touching 100-101 mph), but the fastball's movement makes it play even better as it generates an abnormally high number of swings and misses in the strike zone. His breaking ball is just as good. At times, it's a hard, 12-to-6 curveball, and at other times it morphs into a two-plane slider diving away from righthanded bats.
16. Sherten Apostel, 3B, Hickory (Rangers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Signed: Curacao, 2015 (Pirates).
The Crawdads had the knack of replacing talent with talent as players moved up during the season. Matt Whatley didn't match Sam Huff at catcher, but he did impress as a solid catcher himself. When first baseman Curtis Terry moved up, his replacement Tyreque Reed slugged over .500. And first-rounder Josh Jung's arrival at third base filled a hole opened when Apostle was promoted to high Class A Down East.
There's a healthy debate about whether Apostel or Jung has more MLB potential. Jung is a better defender at third base and has a better hit tool, but Apostle has more raw power and significantly more productive power. He shows fence-clearing power from right-center field to the left-field foul pole. Apostle has a plus arm as well.
Apostel has a big frame at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, but he should be able to stay at third base.
17. Hans Crouse, RHP, Hickory (Rangers)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS–Dana Point, Calif., 2017 (2).
Every pitch, Crouse's delivery makes it appear that he is trying to throw the ball through the catcher's mitt. His delivery is high-energy, high-effort and carries with it a significant head whack. So a skeptic can worry that Crouse won't have the durability to replicate this effortful delivery for 100 pitches every five days.
Adding to those concerns, Crouse had to be shut down at the end of the season with a bone spur in his pitching elbow that required surgery.
But there are reasons to believe that Crouse's delivery is sustainable because he may be strong enough and athletic enough to make it work. Most pitchers with an extreme head-whack can't throw strikes—Crouse walked less than two batters per nine innings. He carries a plus fastball late into his outings, and he mixes in an above-average slider and a future average changeup.
Crouse is extremely competitive and evaluators were impressed with how he battled through jams.
18. Ji-Hwan Bae, 2B/SS, Pirates
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Signed: South Korea, 2018.
Bae was originally signed by the Braves, but then was declared a free agent as part of MLB's penalties for Atlanta's violations of international signings rules and signed with the Pirates. Bae was suspended by MLB for 30 games this season for violating MiLB's domestic violence policy after a South Korean court found him guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
Bae won the league's batting crown while showing dynamic speed and defense. In a power-oriented game, Bae is a throwback who shows near bottom-of-the-scale power, but he fits at either the top or bottom of the lineup because of his ability to hit and his top-of-the-scale speed.
Bae has the range, actions and hands to be a plus defender at second base. At shortstop, his arm is a little short.
19. Trey Harris, OF, Rome (Braves)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-8. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Missouri, 2018 (32).
Harris was arguably the best hitter in the South Atlantic League until he was promoted to high Class A Florida in early June. Harris showed an ability to hit for average, get on base and power. After just a month in the Florida State League, he was promoted again to Double-A Mississippi.
"He blew our expectations away. He kicked down the door and showed he has tools and skills," Rome manager Matt Tuiasasopo said. "He had his game plan. He knew what he wanted to do in every at-bat. He understood the situation of the game. He was very confident. He was ready to hit."
Harris quickly showed he could handle premium fastballs, but he also showed he could handle breaking balls early in counts once pitchers stopped giving him fastballs to hit.
Harris played all three outfield positions, but he's best in the corners. His 50-grade arm can handle right field.
20. Canaan Smith, OF, Charleston (Yankees)
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS–Rockwall, Texas, 2017 (4).
Smith doesn't do much of anything pretty. He's already filled out and does not cut a sleek figure in the outfield. At the plate, sometimes he'll open up too early in his swing.
But Smith squares up pitch after pitch. Even when he steps in the bucket at the plate, his hands work well enough to drive the ball. He catches up to quality fastballs. Smith finished among the South Atlantic League's leaders in most offensive categories. He has above-average raw power, but he's best at hitting for average and getting on base.
Smith is a left fielder who likely could also play first base. He's fringe-average defensively and will have to keep hitting to have an major league future.