- “The strong belief is that” 2019 is Ned Yost’s last year as manager of the Royals. Yost hinted at such a timeline near the end of the 2017 campaign, and his recently-announced contract extension only covered the 2019 season.
- Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp, Brewers assistant GM Matt Arnold, and Blue Jays VP of baseball operations Ben Cherington have all been linked to the Giants’ general manager position, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. Going into more detail on Cherington, Cafardo believes Cherington’s use of both traditional scouting and modern analytics makes him an ideal all-around candidate for both the Giants and Mets jobs, as Cherington is reportedly also under consideration in New York.
- Salvador Perez will undergo surgery this week to repair ligament damage in his thumb, as per an announcement from the Royals (Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star was among those to report the news). Perez said he has been playing through the injury for the last six weeks, and that while he’ll face some rehab time, it won’t keep him from being ready for Spring Training. “Twelve weeks [off], then start to hit,” Perez said of his immediate timeline. While Perez hit 27 homers this season, he contributed only a .235/.274/.439 overall batting line in 544 plate appearances, as his bad thumb and a Grade 2 MCL tear suffered in March likely kept him from operating at close to 100 percent all year.
The Royals and manager Ned Yost have agreed to a one-year extension, Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets. The deal is for next season, which will be Yost’s 10th as the Royals’ skipper.
At 58-103, the Royals have already clinched the majors’ second-worst record, but it’s hard to blame that on Yost. The rebuilding club is low on talent, after all, and figures to be in for another lean year next season, when it’s slated to reduce its payroll. That’s apparently OK with Yost, who has the full confidence of general manager Dayton Moore.
“We definitely want him back,” Moore said in April, adding that Yost has earned the right to manage the club for as long as he wants.
While the Royals have gone an underwhelming 687-735 under Yost, who took the reins in 2010, they’ve been resoundingly successful at times during his tenure. The Yost-led team won back-to-back American League pennants from 2014-15 and broke a 30-year championship drought in the latter of those seasons. Kansas City has also posted records of .500 or better in two other seasons during Yost’s reign.
Prior to joining the Royals, Yost managed Milwaukee from 2003-08, a span in which the Brewers logged a 457-502 record.
By the end of the 2017 season, the list of pitchers closing out games for their respective teams included Matt Belisle, Alex Claudio, Juan Minaya and Mike Minor. Three of them were without a career save coming into the season—Belisle had five in 13 MLB seasons—and none had been expected to fill a significant late-inning bullpen role. By way of injuries, trades or ineffectiveness from those ahead of them on the depth chart, they were given a chance to record the final out in a close win and proved themselves capable.
Things haven’t changed much this year. Raise your hand if you thought Wily Peralta would have one save in 2018. He has 13! Of the 15 American League teams, only four currently have a closer situation that mirrors what they had on Opening Day. When it comes to closers, uncertainty is the only certainty. And that’s why Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are Hall of Famers and the relief pitchers who will join them in Cooperstown in the future are few and far between.
Here’s a look back at each American League team’s closer situation on Opening Day versus where they are now and where they will be as they head into the offseason. (Click HERE to view the National League.)
Future Outlook: Brach got the majority of the committee’s save chances prior to Zach Britton reclaiming the job shortly after returning from the disabled list in late June. Soon after, Givens was the last man standing following a series of July trades (Brach to the Braves; Britton to the Yankees). O’Day, meanwhile, suffered a season-ending hamstring surgery and was later traded to Atlanta in a separate deal.
A valuable setup man for most of the past three seasons, Givens has done a fine job since taking over ninth-inning duties. In his last 19 appearances, he has a 2.18 ERA and eight saves in 10 chances. With so many holes to fill on the roster, upgrading at the closer position is probably low on the Orioles’ priority list. Givens, therefore, likely enters 2019 with the job — if he isn’t traded himself this offseason as the O’s continue their rebuilding efforts.
Boston Red Sox | Red Sox Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Craig Kimbrel
September 2018: Craig Kimbrel
Future Outlook: Kimbrel, who recently became the fourth pitcher in MLB history to record at least 40 saves in five different seasons, has been a huge part of Boston’s historic season. As a free agent following the 2018 campaign, the 30-year-old will command a contract that rivals the highest-paid relievers in the game. Can the Red Sox afford to let him walk? Just in case he does, they’ll have to plan accordingly.
With Joe Kelly also set to become a free agent, Matt Barnes is the logical choice to inherit the closer’s gig. He’s earned the opportunity with a 3.28 ERA and 25 holds while serving as the primary setup man on the best team in baseball. The 28-year-old also has an impressive 13.9 K/9 in 60.1 innings of work, an increase from 10.7 K/9 in ’17 and 9.6 K/9 in ’16. The only question is whether a team capable of winning over 100 games will entrust the role to someone with two career saves. If Kimbrel signs elsewhere, it seems likely that the Sox would pursue alternatives in free agency and/or trades.
Chicago White Sox | White Sox Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Joakim Soria
September 2018: Committee — Nate Jones, Jace Fry, Minaya, etc.
Future Outlook: Soria was as good as he’d been in years, posting a 2.56 ERA with 16 saves and 11.4 K/9 in 40 appearances. The White Sox cashed in by sending him to the Brewers for two pitching prospects in late July. Since then, they’ve handed off the closer’s job to a committee that included just about any relief pitcher on their active roster—seven different pitchers have recorded saves since the Soria trade.
The next step for the rebuilding White Sox is to put together a roster that can, at the very least, be a .500 team and potential playoff contender. Having a reliable closer would be an important part of that plan. Jones looks the part, but he’s missed most of the last two seasons recovering from elbow surgery and still might not be ready to take on the workload of a primary closer. A healthy Zack Burdi, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2016 and one time “closer of the future,” could also be in the mix at some point, though he spent 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. They’ll likely play it safe, however, and add at least one veteran with closing experience this offseason.
Cleveland Indians | Indians Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Cody Allen
September 2018: Co-Closers – Allen and Brad Hand
Future Outlook: Allen has a lot of mileage on his arm, averaging 71 relief appearances per season since 2013, and it’s showed at times during the current season. With Andrew Miller on the disabled list and Allen’s ERA creeping up near 5.00, the Indians’ acquisition of Brad Hand from the Padres on July 19th was a no-brainer.
Not only has it helped them down the stretch—Hand has a 2.45 ERA and eight saves while Allen has 10 consecutive scoreless appearances—it also gives the Indians a very good closer option for 2019. Allen and Miller are both headed for free agency while the 28-year-old Hand is under contract through 2021. The job should be his moving forward.
Detroit Tigers | Tigers Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Shane Greene
September 2018: Shane Greene
Future Outlook: With a 5.20 ERA and six blown saves in 37 chances, Greene is probably lucky to have held on to the job for the entire season. But on a rebuilding Tigers team, who is going to close out games for them is the least of their worries. With that said, Greene probably fits best as a setup man. Even if they don’t upgrade this offseason, All-Star Joe Jimenez (11.2 K/9, 22 holds, 3 saves, 2.88 FIP) could supplant Greene in 2019.
Houston Astros | Astros Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Co-Closers – Chris Devenski and Ken Giles
September 2018: Roberto Osuna
Future Outlook: Despite a drop in strikeout rate—8.0 K/9 in ’18; 11.7 K/9 in ’17—Osuna has continued to perform at a high level amid abuse allegations that led to a 75-game suspension under MLB’s domestic abuse policy. The Astros still decided to acquire him in a trade with the Jays despite the ongoing investigation.
Barring any struggles during the team’s playoff run — he’s postseason eligible in spite of that suspension — or any further off-the-field troubles, the 23-year-old Osuna seems likely to enter 2019 as the Astros’ closer. He’s under club control through the 2020 season.
Kansas City Royals | Royals Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Kelvin Herrera
September 2018: Wily Peralta
Future Outlook: Soon after Herrera was traded to Washington in mid-June, Peralta emerged from the closer committee to become one of the unlikeliest ninth-inning success stories of 2018. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the 29-year-old has 13 saves in 13 chances and a 9.5 K/9 rate.
After getting booted from the Brewers’ rotation last May, he had a disastrous 11-appearance stint as a relief pitcher (17 1/3 innings, 23 ER, 28 H, 15 BB) before getting designated for assignment in late July. He signed a Major League deal with Kansas City this offseason, only to be designated for assignment again and outrighted to Triple-A. He returned to the Majors one day before the Herrera trade and picked up his first MLB save eight days later.
Peralta has a $3MM club option in 2019, which could very well be exercised. Even if it’s not, he’s remain under team control for one more season via arbitration. While he’s been better than anyone could’ve anticipated in his current role, his 22 walks in 31 1/3 innings serve as a red flag that will likely keep the Royals from locking him into the job next season without some form of competition.
Los Angeles Angels | Angels Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Keynan Middleton
September 2018: Ty Buttrey
Future Outlook: Blake Parker, who finished 2017 as the closer, picked up the team’s first save of 2018 after finishing last season in the role. But it was Middleton who got the call for the next six save chances, all successful, making it clear that he was manager Mike Scioscia’s preferred choice in the ninth inning. A few weeks later, however, Middleton had undergone season-ending Tommy John surgery and it was back to the drawing board for the Angels.
Parker got the majority of save chances with Middleton out. And as was the case in 2017, he got the job done with a 3.21 ERA and 13 saves in 16 chances from May 14th—the day after Middleton’s last game— through September 3rd. But Buttrey, acquired from the Red Sox in the July deal for Ian Kinsler, is getting a chance to show what he can do as of late. In six appearances from September 7th through September 18th, the 25-year-old tossed seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and four saves. He has failed to convert his last two save chances, though.
Regardless, there probably wasn’t enough time for Buttrey to seal the job for 2019. He will be a candidate alongside Parker, though, unless the Angels acquire a closer this offseason.
Minnesota Twins | Twins Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Fernando Rodney
September 2018: Trevor Hildenberger
Future Outlook: After saving 25 games and solidifying the ninth inning for Minnesota over the first four months of the season, Rodney was traded to Oakland in August. Ryan Pressly, who would’ve been the logical choice to succeed him, was traded to Houston in late July. A closer committee appeared likely, but Hildenberger has been the go-to guy with seven saves in eight chances since Rodney’s departure. Taylor Rogers, while serving mostly in a setup role, has not allowed a run over his last 23 2/3 innings while logging two saves and 11 holds over that span.
Between Hildenberger, Rogers, Addison Reed and Trevor May, who has five walks and 31 strikeouts in 23 innings in his first season since Tommy John surgery, the Twins have some decent late-inning options for 2019. It’s probably not enough to keep them away from the offseason closer’s market, though.
New York Yankees | Yankees Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Aroldis Chapman
September 2018: Co-Closers – Zach Britton and Dellin Betances
Future Outlook: Chapman might not have enough time to reclaim the closer’s job before the end of the regular season—he returned from the disabled list last Wednesday—or even the playoffs for that matter. But there’s no reason to think a change is on the horizon in 2019. The 30-year-old lefty, who is 31-for-33 in save opportunities and is striking out 16.1 batters per nine innings, will be entering year three of a five-year, $85MM contract.
Oakland Athletics | Athletics Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Blake Treinen
September 2018: Blake Treinen
Future Outlook: Treinen has been one of the breakout stars in 2018, saving 37 games while posting an 0.80 ERA and striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings for a playoff-bound A’s team. The 30-year-old is still under team control for two more seasons, although he’s in line for a significant raise from the $2.15MM he made in ’18. Barring injury, there’s no doubt that he’ll retain the job in 2019.
Seattle Mariners | Mariners Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Edwin Diaz
September 2018: Edwin Diaz
Future Outlook: No other closer, arguably, has contributed more to his team’s success than the 24-year-old Diaz, who has 14 more saves (56) than any other pitcher in baseball and 13 more save chances (60). The Mariners play a lot of close ballgames—they are 36-21 in one-run games—and Diaz rarely gives his opponent a chance in the ninth inning. He has held his opponent scoreless in 59 of his 71 appearances and hitless in 44. He also has 41 multi-strikeout games.
The 24-year-old is going to get paid once he reaches arbitration, although he could fall just short during the upcoming offseason. The Super Two cutoff has not fallen under 2.122 (two years, 122 days) since 2009. Diaz will be one day shy of that total.
Tampa Bay Rays | Rays Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Alex Colome
September 2018: Co-Closers – Sergio Romo/Jose Alvarado
Future Outlook: When Colome was traded to Seattle on May 25th, the Rays were two games under .500 and 10 games out in the division. It’s not clear whether they were throwing in the towel or whether they just had enough confidence in Romo, who had 84 career saves coming into the season, and the remaining group of young arms. In any case, it’s worked out just fine.
Since the trade, the Rays are 64-44 with Romo as the primary closer (3.38 ERA, 23-for-28 in save chances) and Alvarado, a 23-year-old lefty, also playing an integral role (1.98 ERA, 7 saves). Not that you can count on the Rays to do anything conventional like name a closer prior to the season or at any point during the regular season, but Alvarez and the hard-throwing Diego Castillo would be the leading in-house candidates if they did. Tampa Bay could also look to bring Romo back into the fold.
Texas Rangers | Rangers Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Keone Kela
September 2018: Jose Leclerc
Future Outlook: No relief pitcher has boosted their value more in the second half of the season than Leclerc, who spent the first four months in a setup role. Once Kela was traded to the Pirates on July 31st, it was the 24-year-old Leclerc’s chance to shine. It’s hard to imagine a more convincing way to show that he wouldn’t be relinquishing the job anytime soon.
Aside from converting each of his 11 save opportunities, Leclerc has allowed just two hits and six walks over 17 scoreless innings while striking out 28. The Rangers will look to bolster their bullpen this offseason, but finding a new closer isn’t likely to be on the agenda. Leclerc is controlled through 2022.
Toronto Blue Jays | Blue Jays Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Roberto Osuna
September 2018: Ken Giles
Future Outlook: Despite being the primary closer on the World Champion Astros, it was clear that Giles was not trusted with the game on the line. The trade to Toronto in late July gave the 28-year-old a chance to re-establish himself, out of the spotlight, as a reliable late-inning reliever. So far, so good.
After a few shaky appearances to begin his Blue Jays tenure, Giles has settled into the closer’s role with 1.29 ERA over his past 15 appearances with 12 saves in 12 chances. It might not be enough to prevent the Jays from pursuing another option this winter, but Giles should at least be in the mix.
The Royals entered the 2018 season with a payroll of roughly $122MM — their fourth straight season with a $100MM-plus payroll — but Fancred’s Jon Heyman writes in his latest notes column that the team is expected to pare that figure back by as much as $30-35MM for the 2019 campaign.
Scaling back the payroll isn’t exactly a shock for a club that has been working to rebuild its farm system, though the cut described by Heyman would be a fairly substantial downturn in on-field spending. Unlike the Marlins, though, who slashed payroll to similar levels this past offseason, the Royals won’t have to orchestrate any type of fire sale to do so. They already saved money by trading impending free agents like Kelvin Herrera, Mike Moustakas and Jon Jay prior to the non-waiver trade deadline (plus Lucas Duda and Drew Butera in August). The Royals are also paying Travis Wood, Joakim Soria and Brandon Moss in 2018 as part of previous trades to shed each of those contracts; all of those obligations will be off the books come 2019.
[Related: Kansas City Royals depth chart]
After all those subtractions, the Royals have about $69.5MM on the books for the 2019 season by way of guaranteed contracts for Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler. They’ll have several arbitration cases in the form of Brandon Maurer, Nate Karns, Brian Flynn, Cheslor Cuthbert, Jesse Hahn and Paulo Orlando, though some (if not most) of that group could be non-tendered this winter.
It’s unlikely that the Kansas City front office will be able to find a taker for any of the team’s most onerous financial commitments (Kennedy, Gordon), and it seems equally unlikely that the team would sell low on Duffy or Perez coming off lackluster seasons. Perez’s power numbers remain quite strong, but he’s turned in a career-worst .270 OBP to date — third worst among qualified MLB hitters. Duffy, meanwhile, posted a 4.88 ERA through 155 innings in a season that was marred by shoulder issues.
The Royals could organically scale back payroll by as much as $50MM, though it seems reasonable to expect that they’ll invest some funds in second- and third-tier free-agent pickups. They’re not likely to contend next season even with the rampant mediocrity that permeates the AL Central, but GM Dayton Moore has been candid about his desire to improve the on-field product sooner rather than later. To that end, Moore and his staff prioritized near-MLB assets in many of their trades over the past calendar year, landing players like Brett Phillips, Jorge Lopez, Heath Fillmyer, Trevor Oaks and Jerry Vasto. The Royals were also aggressive in the Rule 5 Draft (Brad Keller, Burch Smith) and picked up cast-offs with MLB experience from other organizations (Brian Goodwin, Ben Lively) over the summer.
Adding some low-cost veterans on short-term deals could help to field a more competitive product than the one the Royals trotted out for much of 2018 — and a full season of Adalberto Mondesi won’t hurt, either. Such investments could also present the opportunity to further stock the farm with some upper-level talent prior to the 2019 non-waiver deadline (as was the case with last winter’s Moustakas reunion, which ultimately netted both Phillips and Lopez).
- Both Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn have been impressing with the Royals lately, Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star writes. Mondesi, in particular, is the focus of the column, with manager Ned Yost and quality control coach Pedro Grifol (via Yost) weighing in on the improvements in the second-generation infielder’s improvements. “I just think he’s really, really talented,” Yost said of Mondesi, noting that the organization is pleased and feels he’s improved in “all phases of his game.” Mondesi has indeed been a bright spot in a bleak Kansas City season — MLBTR’s Jeff Todd just recently listed him as the primary silver lining for the Royals — as he’s shown a promising blend of speed, power and defense. Mondesi, who homered again tonight, is now hitting .290/.316/.496 with 11 homers, 26 steals and quality defensive marks at both shortstop (+2 DRS, +2 UZR) and second base (+3 DRS, +1.7 UZR). O’Hearn may not have garnered as much attention, but the 25-year-old first baseman is sporting a ridiculous .272/.372/.632 slash and 11 homers through his first 145 MLB plate appearances (albeit while showing some enormous platoon splits in that small sample).
It’s often difficult to feel positive about a team when it is finishing out a season that won’t end in meaningful games, let alone postseason play. Still, there are silver linings to be found in even the worst campaigns. We’ll tick through every division in the coming days to identify the brightest spots for the non-competitive organizations.
First up is the division most in need of a pick-me-up: the American League Central. With the Indians cruising to a title, the four remaining clubs are all looking ahead to next year. Here’s each of those organizations’ most promising development from the ’18 campaign (with link to current depth chart):
Royals: The Middle Infield
Entering the year, the K.C. organization had a middling outlook up the middle on the dirt. Whit Merrifield had turned in a late-twenties breakout, sure, but could he keep it up? Meanwhile veteran Alcides Escobar was brought back to keep things patched up at short.
As it turns out, though, Merrifield has more than doubled down on his 2017 effort. Entering play today, he was — *checks* — **double-checks** — 25th (!) among all position-players by measure of fWAR. With ample cheap control remaining, he’s a heck of an asset, even if he is already 29 years of age.
Shortstop, though, remained an evident conundrum for much of the year. Enter (okay, re-enter) Adalberto Mondesi. The 23-year-old, whose first MLB action improbably came in the 2015 World Series, is presently carrying a .284/.311/.467 slash with nine home runs and 25 steals in 241 plate appearances. He’s grading as an elite baserunner and high-quality defender at short, making him a potential core piece.
White Sox: Eloy On The Cusp
With apologies to Daniel Palka, Omar Narvaez, and Matt Davidson — nice seasons, all — the most notable development this year for the South Siders has occurred in their minor-league system. Many fans would like to see Eloy Jimenez in the majors right now, finishing off his spectacular campaign in style. Instead, they’ll have to wait until early 2019, though that also means their favorite club will control him for one more precious season.
Jimenez, 21, made good on his top-prospect billing, turning in a monster .337/.384/.577 campaign in 456 plate appearances split evenly between the organization’s top two affiliates. That makes him one of the truly elite prospects in baseball and, quite possibly, the much-needed superstar of the future.
Of course, there was a real shot that this nod would have gone to the pitching staff, but the hurlers just came up short. Michael Kopech’s otherwise promising campaign ended in agony, with Tommy John surgery. Reynaldo Lopez has settled in as a solid, but hardly dominant starter. And while Carlos Rodon’s return has been excellent in terms of results, his peripherals tell quite a different story.
Tigers: Landing Mize
No kidding, having the first pick the draft is a good thing. But it’s not every year — far from it — that a player like Casey Mize is there to be taken. Not only was Mize considered the top talent, he was also likely the most advanced player on the board.
Shades of Stephen Strasburg? The Tigers have reason to hope. He’s already sitting at the #20 spot on MLB.com’s ranking of the top prospects in baseball, to cite but one account of the impact to a Tigers system that has had its share of questions in recent years. Of course, Mize is also now but one of several intriguing young hurlers percolating up toward the majors through Detroit’s minor league ranks.
In a way, though, this is not quite the news you’d hope for. The Tigers’ MLB roster has obviously had its share of good news, including a strong year from Matt Boyd; continued success from Nicholas Castellanos (though he’s just one year from free agency); and the emergence of Niko Goodrum as a useful MLB asset. However, there hasn’t been much else to write home about otherwise at the major-league level. And a concerning season from Michael Fulmer and tepid output from Jeimer Candelario leave some cause for pessimism.
Twins: Encouraging Arms
In numerous ways, 2018 was quite a disappointment for a Minnesota organization that had designs on contention. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton not only failed to improve, but ended up on optional assignment. The team’s slate of short-term veteran signing fell way shy of delivering the anticipated value. Its leading hitter, Eduardo Escobar, was traded away months ago.
But there was one area where things went just about as well as might have been hoped: the team’s group of controllable MLB rotation pieces. Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, and Jake Odorizzi have all been worth at least 2.5 fWAR and look to be quality values heading into 2019. Michael Pineda fully rehabbed from Tommy John surgery before being felled by a meniscus tear, so there’s good reason to think he’ll be at full health. And though well-regarded prospect Stephen Gonsalves struggled badly in brief MLB action, he just turned in a strong outing today and was rather dominant at Triple-A, working to a 2.76 ERA with 9.0 K/9 against 4.8 BB/9 (but only 5.7 hits per nine) in 120 2/3 innings. 23-year-old Fernando Romero, a highly regarded young right-hander, gave the team some reason for optimism as well, though his overall numbers are dragged down by one particularly catastrophic start (eight runs in 1 2/3 innings).
It wasn’t all roses in the forward-looking portion of the pitching staff. Ervin Santana’s option doesn’t seem desirable. More worryingly, Adalberto Mejia was cut short due to injury in an otherwise promising season. And it’s not as if the showing from the above-noted hurlers was particularly exciting. More might have been hoped for from Berrios and Odorizzi.
That said, it’s perhaps too easy to dismiss this kind of affordable productivity. Setting a sturdy baseline from the rotation is a notable development, particularly for an organization that must operate within spending limitations.
Of course, finding star-level players is still of greater importance. And there were notable developments there for Minny. While the outlook on Sano and Buxton is nowhere near as promising as it once was, both still have future value. And there’s now a pair of elite prospects rising through the system. Both Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff both landed among the twenty top minor-league performers in 2018 and are graded among the top twenty prospects in the game (see, e.g., “The Board” at Fangraphs). They’d have represented a worthy recipient of my “silver lining” label, to be sure, but neither is expected to be ready until 2020, so I’m taking the immediate value in the staff.
Over at Roster Resource, I rank Minor Leaguers throughout the regular season using a formula that takes into account several statistics with age and level serving as important factors in how they are weighed. These are not prospect rankings!
This is how it works:
- Hitters are mostly rated by total hits, outs, extra-base hits, walks, strikeouts and stolen bases.
- Pitchers are mostly rated by strikeouts, walks, earned runs, home runs and hits allowed per inning.
- A few counting stats are included (IP, plate appearances, runs, RBI) to ensure that the players atop the list played a majority of the season.
- The younger the player and the higher the level, the more weight each category is given. Therefore, a 19-year-old with an identical stat line as a 25-year-old at the same level will be ranked much higher. If a 23-year-old in Triple-A puts up an identical stat line as a 23-year-old in High-A, the player in Triple-A would be ranked much higher.
A player’s potential does not factor in to where they are ranked. If you’re wondering why a certain prospect who is rated highly by experts isn’t on the list, it’s likely because they missed time due to injury (see Victor Robles or Nick Senzel), MLB promotion (Juan Soto) or just weren’t productive enough. While there are plenty of recognizable names throughout the MiLB Power Rankings Top 200 list, it’s also full of players who were relatively unknown prior to the season and have seen their stock rise significantly due to their performance. Here’s a closer look at the Top 20.
Guerrero probably deserved to start his MLB career sometime between the debuts of NL Rookie of the Year candidates Ronald Acuña Jr. (April 25th) and Juan Soto (May 20th). All things being equal, that would’ve been the case.
But his call-up was delayed, mostly because third baseman Josh Donaldson was healthy in May and designated hitter Kendrys Morales was being given every opportunity to break out of an early season slump. As Guerrero’s path to regular playing time was becoming clearer, he suffered a knee injury in early June that kept him out of action for a month. When he returned, the Jays’ playoff chances had dwindled. Instead of adding him to the 40-man roster and starting his service time clock, they chose to delay his MLB debut until 2019.
You can hate the rule, but I’m certain Jays fans would rather have Guerrero under team control in 2025 as opposed to having him on the team for a few meaningless months in 2018 and headed for free agency after the 2024 season. And maybe it’s just me, but I kind of enjoy seeing what kind of numbers a player can put up when he’s way too good for his competition. And all this 19-year-old kid did was slash .381/.437/.636 with 20 HR, 29 2B, 37 BB, 38 K in 408 plate appearances, mostly between Triple-A and Double-A (he had 14 PAs during a rehab stint in the low minors). Thanks for providing us with that beautiful stat line, Vlad Jr.
Despite a slow start—he had 21 hits in his first 83 Triple-A at-bats with one homer and 20 strikeouts— the 21-year-old Tucker showed why the World Champions were willing to give him a chance to take their starting left field job and run with it in July.
Tucker wasn’t quite ready for the Big Leagues—he was 8-for-52 in two separate MLB stints prior to a recent third call-up—but his stock hasn’t dropped one bit after slashing .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers, 27 doubles and 20 stolen bases over 465 plate appearances in his first season at the Triple-A level.
A 21-year-old shortstop just finished a Minor League season with 50 extra-base hits (7 HR, 30 2B, 13 3B), 41 stolen bases, as many walks as strikeouts (75 of each) and a .299/.399/.452 slash line. If the name Luis Rengifo doesn’t ring a bell, you’re probably not alone. He kind of came out of nowhere.
The Mariners traded him to the Rays last August in a deal for Mike Marjama and Ryan Garton. Nine months later, the Rays shipped him to the Angels as the PTBNL in the deal for C.J. Cron. Based on those two trades, I can say without hesitation that the Mariners and Rays did not think Rengifo was this good. Not even close.
Lowe’s breakout season mirrors Juan Soto’s in one way: They both posted an OPS above 1.000 at two different levels before a promotion to a third. Soto’s third stop was in Double-A, and it was a very short stint before heading to the Majors. After destroying High-A and Double-A pitching, Lowe’s final stop of 2018 was Triple-A, where he finally cooled off.
Still, the 23-year-old has put himself squarely on the Rays’ radar. After homering just 11 times in his first 757 plate appearances, all in the low minors, Lowe broke out with 27 homers and 32 doubles in 555 plate appearances in 2018. His overall .330/.416/.568 slash was exceptional.
We’re four seasons into the Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano era—both debuted during the 2015 season—and we can’t say for certain whether either player will even be penciled into the regular lineup in 2019. They could be still turn out to be perennial All-Stars someday. But you can’t blame Twins fans if they temper their expectations for the next great hitting star to come up through their farm system. And yet, that might be difficult with Kirilloff, a first-round draft pick in ’16, and last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Royce Lewis, after the year each of them just had. Both are moving up the ladder quickly.
The 20-year-old Kirilloff, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, was a hitting machine in his first full professional season. After slashing .333/.391/.607 with 13 homers in 65 games with Low-A Cedar Rapids, he hit .362 with seven homers and 24 doubles in 65 games with High-A Fort Myers. He also had 11 hits in the playoffs, including a 5-hit performance on September 5th.
All Bichette did during his age-20 season was hit 43 doubles and steal 32 bases while manning shortstop for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the 2018 Eastern League Champions. It’s unlikely that he’ll join Vlad Jr. in the Majors early next season, but he might not be too far behind.
Alonso’s monster season (.975 OPS, 36 HR, 31 2B, 119 RBI between AAA/AA) ended in disappointment when he was passed over for a September promotion. As was the case with Vlad Jr., it didn’t make much sense to start his service time clock and fill a valuable 40-man spot during the offseason—neither Guerrero or Alonso have to be protected from the next Rule 5 draft—while the team is playing meaningless games. The 23-year-old Alonso did establish, however, that he is the Mets’ first baseman of the very near future, and they’ll plan accordingly during the upcoming offseason.
As tough as it will be to crack the Braves’ rotation in the coming years, the 22-year-old Toussaint has put himself in position to play a significant role in 2019 after posting a 2.38 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in 24 starts between Triple-A and Double-A. He’s also starting meaningful MLB games down the stretch as the Braves try to seal their first division title since 2013. After spending last October in the Arizona Fall League, where he followed up an underwhelming 2017 season by allowing 10 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings, he could find himself on the Braves’ playoff roster.
The highest-ranked player to spend the entire season in Low-A, the 20-year-old Brujan slashed .320/.403/.459 while stealing 55 bases in his first crack at a full season league (27 games in High-A; 95 games in Low-A). He’ll still be overshadowed a bit in a deep Tampa Bay farm system that includes two of the best young prospects in the game, Wander Franco and Jesus Sanchez, but it’s hard to ignore such a rare combination of speed and on-base ability displayed by a switch-hitting middle infielder.
The Yankees’ offseason trade that sent two MLB-ready players, Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith, to the Marlins cleared a pair of 40-man roster spots prior to the Rule 5 draft and brought back $250K in international bonus pool money. They also received King, who—whether anyone expected it or not—was about to have a breakout season.
After posting a 3.14 ERA with a 6.4 K/9 over 149 innings in Low-A in his age-22 season, numbers that typically indicate “possible future back-of-the-rotation workhorse,” he looks to be much more than that after his 2018 performance. In 161 1/3 innings across Triple-A, Double-A and High-A, King posted a 1.79 ERA, 0.911 WHIP and 8.5 K/9. He was at his best once he reached Triple-A, posting a 1.15 ERA with only 20 hits and six walks allowed over 39 innings.
Unlike the trade to acquire King, the Yankees appear to have gotten the short end of the stick in a three-team, seven-player offseason deal with Arizona and Tampa Bay. They traded away Nick Solak to the Rays and Widener to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Brandon Drury, who was supposed to fill a short-term need for infield depth.
While Drury was a bust in New York—he had nine hits in 51 at-bats before being traded to Toronto in a July deal for J.A. Happ—Solak, a second baseman/outfielder, put up terrific numbers in Double-A (.834 OPS, 19 HR, 21 SB) and Widener has emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in the game. The 23-year-old right-hander posted a 2.75 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 11.5 K/9 over 137 1/6 innings with Double-A Jackson.
The offseason signing of first baseman Eric Hosmer certainly didn’t bode well for Naylor’s future with the Padres. Whether he had an MLB future at all, however, was already in question. First base prospects can’t just be good hitters. They need to mash, which is far from what Naylor did in 2017 (.761 OPS, 10 HR between Double-A and High-A). But a 20-year-old holding his own in Double-A is still interesting, nevertheless. So it was worth paying attention when he hit .379 with seven homers, five doubles, 13 walks and 12 strikeouts in April. He also spent most of his time in left field in 2018, adding a bit of versatility to his game.
Although April was his best month, by far, he still finished with an impressive .297/.383/.447 slash line. He’ll enter 2019 as a 21-year-old in Triple-A who has flashed some power (17 HR, 22 2B in 574 plate appearances) and above-average plate discipline (64 BB, 69 K).
Unlike the Jays and Mets, who had multiple reasons to keep Guerrero and Alonso in the Minors until 2019, the Sox’s decision to bypass Jimenez for a September call-up was more questionable.
Already on the 40-man roster and without much to prove after slashing .337/.384/.577 with 22 homers and 28 doubles between Triple-A and Double-A, Jimenez’s MLB debut appeared imminent as September approached. But White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, citing Jimenez’s need to improve his defense, confirmed in early September that he would not be called up. Of course, the 21-year-old probably would’ve benefited greatly from playing left field in the Majors for 20-25 games in September. And, of course, Hahn is just doing a good job of not saying the quiet part out loud: Eloy under team control through 2025 > Eloy under team control through 2024.
After posting a 5.18 ERA in 2017, mostly as a relief pitcher in High-A, Kremer’s stock rose quickly with a full-time move to the starting rotation in 2018. In 16 starts for High-A Rancho Cucamonga, the 22-year-old right-hander posted a 3.30 ERA with a 13.0 K/9. After tossing seven shutout innings in his Double-A debut, the Dodgers included him as a key piece in the July trade for Manny Machado. Kremer continued to pitch well with Double-A Bowie (2.58 ERA, 45 1/3 IP, 38 H, 17 BB, 53 K) and now finds himself on track to help a rebuilding Orioles’ team in 2019.
Lopez started to turn some heads during last offseason’s Arizona Fall League, and it carried over into 2018 as he slashed .308/.382/.417 with nine homers, 15 stolen bases and more walks (60) than strikeouts (52) between Triple-A and Double-A. It’s a sign that the 23-year-0ld’s bat is catching up with his stellar defense and that he’s closing in on the Majors, where he could team with Adalberto Mondesi to form one of the better young middle infield duos in the game.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft didn’t disappoint in his first full professional season, posting an .853 OPS, nine homers, 23 doubles and 22 stolen bases in 75 Low-A games before a 2nd half promotion to High-A Fort Myers. He didn’t fare quite as well (.726 OPS, 5 HR, 6 SB in 46 games), but he did hit three homers in the playoffs to help his team win the Florida State League championship. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the if he reached Double-A early next season as a 19-year-old with a jump to the Majors in 2020 not out of the question.
Throwing a 100 MPH fastball isn’t as rare as it used to be, but Kopech has reportedly touched 105 MPH, putting him in a class of his own. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old right-hander is expected to join a long list of pitchers who have had their careers interrupted by Tommy John surgery after he was recently diagnosed with a torn UCL.
The timing isn’t great, as Kopech had just arrived in the Majors in late August and would’ve likely been a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year in 2019. Still, he’ll only have to prove that he’s back to full health before he returns to the Majors—he should be ready to return early in the 2020 season— after making a strong impression in Triple-A with a 3.70 ERA and 12.1 K/9 in 24 starts.
Not only do Guerrero, Bichette and Cavan Biggio likely form the best trio of infield prospects in the game, two are sons of Hall of Famers—Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and Craig Biggio, and Bichette’s dad, Dante, was also pretty good. And yet, another Blue Jays infield prospect with a very ordinary name and without MLB lineage managed to stand out. The 22-year-old finished the season with 25 homers, 31 doubles, 29 stolen bases and a cumulative .302/.358/.528 batting line between High-A and Low-A.
The former first-round pick wasn’t overly impressive in his first full Minor League season in 2017, slashing .244/.331/.362 with seven homers and 27 stolen bases for Low-A Great Lakes. A move to the hitter-friendly California League in 2018, however, seemed sure to give his offensive numbers a boost. It did. Lux had a .916 OPS and 41 extra-base hits in 404 plate appearances, but he also didn’t slow down once he reached the upper minors late in the year.
In 28 regular season games with Double-A Tulsa, the 20-year-old Lux slashed .324/.408/.495 with four homers in 120 plate appearances. It didn’t end there. Over an eight-game playoff run, the left-handed batter went 14-for-33 with five multi-hit games.
Acquiring the 21-year-old Sandoval from the Astros for free agent-to-be catcher Martin Maldonado could turn out to be the steal of the trade deadline. While the lefty didn’t stand out in Houston’s deep farm system, he was having a strong season at the High-A and Low-A levels at the time of the trade (2.56 ERA and 9.9 K/9 in 88 innings). The change of scenery didn’t affect him one bit as he tossed 14 2/3 shutout innings in the California League before finishing the season with four impressive Double-A starts (19 2/3 IP, 3 ER, 27 K).
Power Ranking Leaders By Level
With the season effectively over for all but a few teams, many front offices and fanbases alike are turning their sights toward the 2019 season and beyond as they hope for better days. With that in mind, here’s a look at some notes on some of the game’s top prospects from around the league…
- ESPN’s Keith Law named Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. his prospect of the year for a second consecutive season (subscription required), citing familiar questions about his long-term defensive capabilities but adding that there’s “zero question in my mind” that Guerrero is more than ready to thrive against Major League pitching at the moment. As for 2018 draftees, Cardinals third baseman Nolan Gorman and Royals lefty Daniel Lynch have been the two most impressive in his estimation. Gorman destroyed Appalachian League pitching and was promoted to full-season Class-A ball despite only having turned 18 in May. Lynch, a University of Virginia product, split his pro debut between those same two levels and pitched to a 1.58 ERA with a 61-to-8 K/BB ratio in 51 1/3 innings.
- Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com took a longer-term look at prospects yesterday, attempting to forecast who will be the top-ranked prospects this time a year from now. With names like Guerrero, Eloy Jimenez, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Kyle Tucker all expected to graduate from prospect lists next year, Callis and Mayo tab Twins shortstop Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick from 2017, as their pick to be the game’s top prospect a year from now. More encouraging for Twins fans is that 2016 first-rounder and outfielder Alex Kirilloff, who missed the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery, lands third on the same list after hitting .348/.392/.578 between Class-A and Class-A Advanced in his return from that surgery.
- Meanwhile, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser writes that Rays shortstop Wander Franco has been tabbed as BA’s breakout prospect of 2018. (Franco also appears on the previously mentioned lists from Law and MLB.com.) The 17-year-old Franco grew up living next to Indians superstar Jose Ramirez in the Dominican Republic and calls his childhood neighbor and friend his “idol” and greatest influence as a hitter. Glaser speaks to Franco about his relationship with Ramirez and his progress in 2018, and he also chats with Franco’s Appalachian League manager, Danny Sheaffer, about the young phenom’s strengths and upside. Franco was one of just two 17-year-olds playing in the Appy League this year but crushed older pitching to the tune of a .351/.418/.587 slash with 11 homers, 10 doubles and seven triples in 273 plate appearances.
- Evaluating pitching prospects is among the most challenging endeavors for teams and online analysts alike. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs recently explored the pitfalls of attempting to do so, suggesting that many mainstream publications (his own past work at Fangraphs included) have leaned too heavily in favor of “power-over-feel” prospects and downplayed the potential significance of players cut from the Shane Bieber cloth — those who possess above-average command and stuff but perhaps not an overpowering arsenal of 60- or 70-grade offerings. McDaniel highlights Tigers righty Matt Manning, White Sox righty Dylan Cease and Rays lefty/first baseman Brendan McKay in examining the various elements that have contributed to this line of thinking in an interesting column that those who avidly follow prospects will want to check out in its entirety.