The full-year minor league season is about five months long and made up of ~140 games. One of the dangers of passionate prospect watching is that one becomes easy prey to sample-size errors. You need a decent sample of games to even bother to make an observation. As of now we’re 1/5 of the way into the season and while still fairly small, perhaps we can begin to make some observations beyond “Wow, he had a great game!”
Hottest Pitcher: Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz
It was completely impossible to pick between these two guys at this point so they get to share the honor. Reid-Foley has been a notable prospect for a few years now, posting typically great strikeout rates but initially struggling with command. In 2016 he took a huge step forward on that front and was appearing on most everyone’s Blue Jays Top 10 lists coming into last season, even appearing on the top 100 overall lists for Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline. The step up to AA was hard on him though, as he struggled with consistency all year, both from game to game and even in-game at times. While the five game sample is small, 2018 looks like a completely different story in the early going. SRF is currently dominating the Eastern League (1.53 ERA, .157 BAA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9) and pitching better than he ever has. Another month or so of this and a promotion to Buffalo would seem to be a given.
Diaz has been noted more in the high teens or 20s on some prospect lists, so he was on the radar as a hard thrower with good stuff, but more of unpolished project. If the early going is any indication, someone was buffing him to a high shine over the winter. In this, his second go at the Midwest League, hitters have been completely unable to solve the 6’1″ righty. In five starts covering 28 2/3 IP, he has given up a measly six hits. Opponents have hit .063 and his ERA is 0.31 and while the walk rate is still a tad high for the 21 year old Dominican, that’s picking at nits. Like SRF, one would assume a promotion is coming in the not too distant future if this continues.
Hottest Hitter: Vlad Guerrero, Jr
None of y’all saw THAT coming, am I right? Seriously, over the course of this season I might have to title this subsection “Hottest Hitter other than Valdito.” I really don’t know what to say here that hasn’t already been said by, well, everyone who has paid any attention at all. He has more extra-base hits than strikeouts, more walks than strikeouts, a .455 OBP, and leads the league in RBI. And oh yeah, he’s the youngest player in double-A. Still, if you want a note of slight caution, he’s only hit two out of the park so far, when the in-game power comes along they’ll have to come up with a new thesaurus full of adjectives.
Others of Note
- Cavan Biggio (2B)- Biggio had a lot of doubters, myself very much included, coming into the season but he has a better OPS than Vladdy at the moment. His six doubles and six homers drive a .319/.427/.708/1.135 slash line. The park in New Hampshire plays to left-handed power, but Biggio has apparently made a swing change this year, so he is worth watching closely going forward.
- Joshua Palacios (CF)- The speedy outfielder is regarded as the best natural athlete on the Dunedin roster and his first taste of the Florida State League hasn’t intimidated him at all. Palacios could stand to walk more but at the moment his .341/.398/.477 line is worthy of praise.
- Kacy Clemens (1B)- Praised last season for excellent defensive work in Vancouver, I can’t think of a single source that marked The Son of Roger as a hitter with true prospect upside. So far at Lansing, he is demanding a reconsideration of that judgment. With a batting line of .304/.466/.633, it’s hard to argue.
- Kevin Smith (SS)- Lansing, surprisingly, has been the most prolific offense in the system so far even while the star power is in AA. Seven regulars have an OPS over .800. This is a surprise to many as only three of them (Ryan Noda, Chavez Young, and Smith) were popping up near the back end of some top prospect lists (the ones that went 20 or more names deep). Smith is second to Clemens in driving the offense, with a slash line of .333/.381.583. Apologies to the others worthy of mention on this roster.
- Tim Lopes (2B)- Remember when Jason Leblebijian was on everyone’s lips last spring after a hot start? This is probably a repeat of that. Lopes wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a prospect and honestly likely still isn’t, but the 23 year old is carrying the Bisons offense with a startling .429/.484/.536 line.
Minor League Affiliates
– The Bisons have been severely hampered by the weather, having played seven fewer games than most of the other clubs in the league. They’ve also had Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford back for only a couple of weeks. Thus their sample sizes are even smaller. Worth noting, Danny Jansen is still rolling right along (.850 OPS) and could be knocking on the big league door very soon.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
– The Fisher Cats are in an unfamiliar place – first place, that is. Besides Guerrero and Biggio, Bo Bichette has, while not living up to the legend quite as much as VGJ, hit quite well and added to the impressive, resourceful offense. Toronto area native Jordan Romano is taking to AA just fine as well, providing a second threat in the rotation beyond Reid-Foley.
Dunedin Blue Jays
– The D-Jays have not been racking up the wins, thanks in part to a slow start from top prospects Logan Warmoth (he seems to be coming around) and Riley Adams (he doesn’t). Unheralded Nash Knight has helped Palacios provide offense and the ever-persistent DJ Davis has a .775 OPS in the early going. On the mound, the team is anticipating the debut of Nate Pearson any day now after he lost the first month to a lat strain. TJ Zuech has been pretty OK, and Angel Perdomo returned from the DL with impressive work. The talent is here for the team to get better, especially in the second half if some Lansing talent is plugged in.
– The first place ‘Nuts have been the surprise of the system so far. Besides Diaz, lefty Zach Logue has been carrying over last year’s success at Vancouver and piggyback starter Graham Sparker has been even better. Among those seven hitters I mentioned above, OF Ryan Noda has 28 walks already and Clemens and Cullen Large (2B/3B) also have more walks than strikeouts. It will be interesting to see how many of these guys keep it up.