Another year is in the books. And when one year comes to an end, that means a look back is always fun (and incredibly cliché, but sorry, not sorry — also cliche).
This isn’t a Top Prospects of 2017 list per se. This is a list — in no particular order, mind you — of the best prospects I was lucky enough to see either come through Rome or Gwinnett, or a few of the other places I was able to sneak away to this season.
Bligh Madris, OF, West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh Pirates)
I didn’t get to watch Madris at the minor league level, but I saw him up close at the Division II Baseball Championship in Dallas, TX. He looked special there, and after getting taken in the 9th round the next month, he didn’t disappoint.
Madris slashed .270/.344/.429 with 13 doubles, four triples and five home runs over 56 New York-Penn League games. He has pretty sound swing mechanics and was always known for solid, hard contact, despite playing in the offensive-friendly Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Keep him on the radar for 2018.
The Eastern League All Star Classic: Francisco Mejia, C, Cleveland Indians, Thomas Pannone, LHP, Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, Yefrey Ramirez, RHP, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, and Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
An All Star Game isn’t the best place to get an accurate feel of a prospect, but there was no denying the talent of some of the prospects in New Hampshire this July.
Pannone was my favorite breakout star of 2017. He was traded from the Indians to the Blue Jays at the deadline, and continued to excel as a gritty pitcher who commands the strike zone very well.
Ramirez is also nothing close to elite, but pitched well in Trenton before heading to Bowie in a trade to the Baltimore Orioles.
There’s little introduction needed for Mejia. While there are huge question marks surrounding where he’ll land in the field (trying out third base this fall), his bat is undeniable from either side of the plate.
If it weren’t for Ronald Acuña, Rafael Devers was the best prospect I saw last season. He seems like he really gets it, both physically and mentally, and it showed in his big league debut.
Tucker Davidson, LHP, Rome Braves
Blown away. Surprised. Impressed.
Any of those words can describe Tucker Davidson’s breakthrough 2017. Buried in a rotation that featured Ian Anderson, Bryse Wilson and Joey Wentz, Davidson flew under the radar. That won’t last much longer.
There isn’t much to Davidson’s delivery, which makes it very repeatable and effective. Since he seemingly isn’t afraid to attack the zone, he gets a lot of first pitch swings. His ability to throw strikes, paired with some quick at bats seem to help his pitch counts.
His fastball was touching the mid-90s with relative ease, and he held it easily through three and wavered slightly later on, but not by much. The breaking ball — which was considered one of the better sliders in his JUCO circuit — was sharp when he got it to break, but with more consistency it will become more of a weapon, especially since he takes about 25 miles per hour off his fastball when he throws it. He mixes up some off speed as well. If the three pitches mature as he does, he could become a back end of the rotation, innings eater. Still, it seems more of a swingman role may be in his future.
Luiz Gohara, LHP, Gwinnett Braves
Gohara was one of the most impressive pitchers in the minors in 2017. Now 21 years old, and dumped on the Atlanta Braves from the Seattle Mariners due to concerns over his work ethic, Gohara rose from the Florida State League to the majors.
By no means is he a “lock” for Opening Day, but Gohara was impressive at every stop.
Now that he uses his frame to his advantage, he hits the upper-90s with his fastball, and he mixes in a nice off-speed pitch to keep batters at bay. He slider may be his best offering, as he can both wipe it across the plate or make the bottom fall out, depending on the hitter.
Joey Wentz, LHP, Rome Braves
Starting to see a pattern? Yes, just like 2016, the Braves minor leagues were stacked with young and exciting pitchers to watch.
It’s hard to imagine, but Wentz ay have been the best of the bunch from start to finish in 2017. Mike Soroka deservedly took home the Braves MiLB Pitcher of the Year, but Wentz was simply too much for the SAL to handle.
His fastball was hitting around the 91-92 mark and the curve and change both seemed to top out around 79 in the early goings. He held these marks well into the fifth, seemingly able to drop the speed on the curve to the low-70s at some points.
Bryse Wilson, RHP, Rome Braves
Ok, last Braves’ pitcher. It’s impossible to leave Wilson off this list. I saw him at State Mutual during the R-Braves home opener. That was a Monday night in April. There was also a one Tim Tebow in town, which meant tons of media coverage, and a sellout crowd. On a Monday. In Rome. And Wilson delivered.
He did all season, finishing with a 2.50 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He also recorded 139 strikeouts, while walking just 37 in 137 innings, all while posting an impressive ground ball to fly ball ratio.
Jay Groome, LHP, Greenville Drive (Boston Red Sox)
Groome is a sight to see... when you can. Injuries have slowed the start of the Red Sox big time pitching prospect. He once again barely pitched in 2017, going only 55.1 innings, but his stuff is undeniable. His curveball is one of the best you’ll get to see.
The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Philadelphia Phillies)
The whole bunch of them was fun to watch.
I’m still big on J.P. Crawford. I don’t think he will be elite, and his swing is certainly funky. But there is no denying that he knows how to control a strike zone and can make consistent, sound contact.
I didn’t think Rhys Hoskins would adjust to the bigs as quickly as he did, but there is no denying his bat. It’s curious that he proved himself and is still not getting to play his natural position. Even if he takes a step back from his unbelievable power display (18 home runs in his first 50 big league games), he has always shown an uncanny plate discipline for such a big hitter that he will succeed as a big league hitter.
Scott Kingery had a a breakout to remember. He belted more home runs than he had in his baseball career, including his stellar career at Arizona, blasting 26 combined. His power definitely tailed off after leaving the power-friendly confines of Reading, but he still hit the ball well. Seems like a solid second baseman as well.
Brett Cumberland, C, Rome Braves
Cumberland was at his best when he was in Rome. He’s one of a bevy catching prospects for the Braves that have question marks about whether or not he’ll actually remain behind the plate. His bat was big before his promotion to the FSL, and his mustache was even bigger.
Estevan Florial, OF, Charleston Riverdogs (Yankees)
I watched Florial alongside Talking Chop’s Eric Cole. He wrote up his first big piece for us at Minor League Ball, and his scouting report is worth the read.
Florial rose from intriguing toolsy prospect, to untouchable at the trade deadline in 2017. He shows abilities to be a true five-tool player, despite having a lot of strikeout in him. This is a 20 year old, who is truly good at every aspect of the game and is showing he’s just touching the surface.
Miguel Andujar, Scranton-Wilkes Barre Railriders (Yankees)
Whether Andujar is the third baseman of the Yankees future depends on his continued improvement defensively at the hot corner. He proved to be much better this season, but still has a ways to go. His bat is big, but there is a lot of pre-swing noise that makes one wonder how much swing and miss will be there in the bigs. That said, he did handle big league pitching very easily in his limited at bats.
Cristian Pache, Rome Braves
I loved Pache, and he didn’t get a hit the first three or four times I saw him, before breaking out in a 4-for-6 performance in August. All four hits of course were singles, as the only question mark is will the power develop. Everyone seems to think it will, but zero home runs raise concern. Still, with his ability to make good contact, top-notch speed and probably the best arm in the SAL, Pache is a future big leaguer no matter what happens with the power.
Ozzie Albies, 2B, Gwinnett Braves
Albies spent his last days as a Braves’ top prospect in Triple-A before heading to Atlanta and being everything that’s advertised. He makes contact, he steals bases, he scores runs, and his power seems to be developing quickly. He struck out a bit more this season.
Ronald Acuña, OF, Gwinnett Braves
Here are all my notes combined into one piece.
Others of note: Blake Rutherford (with Charleston), Willy Adames (Durham Bulls/ Tampa Bay Rays), Jake Bauers (Bulls/ Rays), Drew Lugbauer (Rome Braves).
(Note: These are all my videos, available at The Minor League Prospect Video Page. If you want to follow my 2018 adventures, please go give it a follow and check out over 100 videos already posted.)