If you are like me, and live in the upper midwest (MN/IA/WI/MI/IL/IN) then the best chance you have to see top level prospects in minor league baseball is in the Low A level Midwest League. If you are unlike me, and single, have no children or mortgage or job to attend to, and have the time, the MWL has 18 different franchises, within a day's drive from a central location like Chicago or Milwaukee, that you can go and see some great baseball at a cheaper price than the MLB games. And if you are a prospect watcher, the MWL this year offers plenty of potential all stars in their first full season as professional baseball players.
Here is a list of players I would deem "must see" in the Midwest League this year:
Beloit Snappers, Oakland A's:
Addison Russell, SS, potential 5 tool player, projectable line drive power, very athletic and "explosive", with great speed and the ability to stick as a shortstop. Potential to be the best A's shortstop since Miguel Tejada. And as I just learned this AM, the A's promoted him all the way past low A to high A Stockton in the California League. As a side note, the CA League is another chance to get to see a lot of great players, and if you are in central CA like my wife was from, you are right in the middle of all of those teams, Bakersfield and Visalia are right there, and you get to see a ton of offense.
Matt Olson, 1B, future middle of the order bat with power and hitting ability to go along with good defense as a 1B.
Burlington Bees, Los Angeles Angels:
Mark Sappington, RHP, high velocity (97 peak on the fastball) high effort delivery with questionalbe secondary stuff. Angels will continue to use him as a starter, but most likely winds up in the bullpen long term.
Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota Twins:
Byron Buxton, CF, top rated player from 2012 draft. 5 tool player with tremendous speed and quick reflexes for defense and the bat. Stong line drive hitteer right now, but if power develops becomes an Andrew McCutchen type of player.
JC Berrios, RHP, potential top of the rotation starting pitcher with above average FB (sits at 92-95 mph) good changeup and slider. Big frame and good mechanics, cocky mound presense.
Max Kepler, LF, very athletic signee from Germany. First full season assignment where he will be expected to focus on more power, but the bat profiles as a plus. Not an all star projection, but a solid, high average average power MLB player.
Adam Brett Walker, 1B/LF, big power bat who will be plaing less than an hour away from where he grew up. Lots of swing and miss, but light tower power if mistakes are made against him.
Clinton LumberKings, Seattle Mariners:
Victor Sanchez, RHP, big bodied (muscular) Venezuelan with a plus fastball and above average change up. Will be working on his slider a lot this year and projects as a middle of the rotation starter.
Kane County Cougars, Chicago Cubs:
Albert Almora, CF, Gold glove CF in waiting with potential to hit 20 HR a season and hit 3rd in an MLB lineup. Line drive swing will allow him to hit for average as well.
Pierce Johnson, RHP, 92-94 mph live fastball, 12-6 plus curveball, with a developing changeup/cutter. More of a thrower than a pitcher, future is as a middle of the rotation starting pitcher.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B, big bodied (Prince Fielder type) with huge power from the left hand side. In addition to power, has great plate presence so should also hit for average.
Peoria Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals:
Patrick Wisdom, 3B, great defensive third baseman with above average arm, and plus raw power. He will have to develop some pitch recognition and patience if he wants to mature and become a major leaguer some day, as he has a younger Carson Kelly ahead of him on the Cards' 3B depth chart.
Quad Cities River Bandits, Houston Astros:
Carlos Correa, SS, probably the best prospect in the entire league, if not one of the best in the game. Explosive all around game, with quick twich deffense ability, strong arm, power to the gaps, and ability to hit to all fields. Power should develop as he matures. Comparisions to Troy Tulowitzki.
Lance McCullers, RHP, 100 mph fastball with plus slider, needs to work on control/command but profiles more as a dominant closer than frontline starter. Doubts about delivery and command will move him to the bullpen long term despite the ability to be a starter based on his stuff.
Rio Ruiz, 3B, potential for true 4 tool talent, with plus power and good defensive ability with strong arm. Will most likely move step by step through the Astros system to gain experience and confidence before becoming a solid major leaguer.
WisconsinTimber Rattler, Milwaukee Brewers:
Clint Coulter, C, offensive minded catcher who will most likely move to a corner OF spot in the long run as his defense needs tons of work. Potential fpr solid offensive production down the line with some power. Nice line drive swng and patient approach.
Mitch Haniger, RF, solid all around player who either profiles as a 2nd division starter wtih some power, hitting ability, nice defense and a bit of speed, or a very good 4th OF type. Strong arm will move him to RF most likely down the road. Lots of puside and potential for a higher ceiling if he can answer some of the doubts about his bat.
Victor Roache, LF, serious wrist injury hampered his senior year in college as well as first season in pro ball. Still in extended spring training and may not even be sent to Wisconsin when ready. If he does, has the potential for plus power but that will be his only tool.
Fort Wayne TinCaps, San Diego Padres:
Max Fried, LHP, probably the best pitching prospect in the league. High ceiling and high floor with mid 90s fastball, good curveball and developing changeup. Will most likely move through the minor leagues quickly to become a top of the rotation ace.
West Michigan Whitecaps, Detroit Tigers:
Danry Vazquez, LF, Venezuelan signee with advanced plate approach and solid swing mechanics with potential to drive the ball to all fields. Has a patient approach and will have to develop power to become more than a spare OF down the line.
Great Lakes Loons, Los Angeles Dodgers:
Corey Seager, SS, polished approach at the plate with potential for plus power down the road. Will most likely move to 3B as he matures with the ability to be at least an average defender. Potential All star bat.
Lansing Lugnuts, Toronto Blue Jays:
Roberto Osuna, RHP, Mexican native with plus fastball from which he can add and subtract velocity easily. Good mechanics, solid frame to endure as a innings eater, plus change up and will spend time this year developing his slider.Profiles and a middle of the rotation starter.
DJ Davis, CF, blazing speed, slap hitter who could develop high teens for HR. Draws comparisons to Reds' prospect Billy Hamilton. Still in extended ST, but should make his MWL debut in June and spend the year working on his hitting.
South Bend SliverHawks, Arizona Diamondbacks:
last year was the year to see this team with Archie Bradley as part of the rotation, and has moved on the California, High A league. And potentially by season's end, C Stryker Trahan may make an appearance, but the team does not have any sure fire top prospects this season.
I have not included the Ohio teams in the league, as it is quite a hike from WI or the western side of the MWL towns. But among those teams there are top prospects such as flamethrowing RHP Taylor Guierrieri at Bowling Green, as well as LHP Blake Snell who profiles as a mid rotation starter if he can develop a 3rd pitch. At Lake County the Indians have Dominican SS Dorssys Paulino, an exciting player all around with surprising power at the plate as well as speed, RHP Mitch Brown whose 2 solid pitches (FB, Curve) profile him as a bottom of the rotation starter as long as he can develop a 3rd pitch with consistencey.
In Dayton, the Reds will have th most prospect laden roster including RHP Robert Stephenson, a 3 plus pitch potential rotation anchor, and potential late inning reliever RHP Nick Travieso who needs to work on his command and mechanics, as well as OF Jesse Winkler who shows flashes of power and hitting ability and draws comparisions to being a "less athletic" Jay Bruce, and backwards pitching LHP Ismael Guillon who has a plus plus change up but less than stellar other pitches, and extremely athletic and speedy CF Jonathan Reynoso who needs to work on a lot of the parts of his game but has a high ceiling, anf finally top of the rotation potential RHP Dan Langfield, who has two plus pitches already in his FB and slider and shows the potential for an above average change up and curve, just needs to work on his mechanics and command and continue to mature.
The Midwest League has a Western and and Eastern Division, where teams play interleague games throughout the year, with a majority coming against teams in the same division. A home and home series is played against teams in the opposite division. So if you are in the West and want to see one of the western players, you will only get one chance.
My hope this year is to get to a game at Kane County to see Almora and Vogelbach.against Quad Cities in a July weekend to also see Correa, and then maybe make a week day trip to either Beloit or Appleton to see whoever is playing. Best part for me is that I have a pass to get in free to any Minor league game, so its a cheap ticket. For those of you with kids who play baseball, its much easier access to players at this level, autographs are easier to come by, its a cheap ticket, and its a nice time for families.