The 2018 season was a good one for the youth rebellion in baseball. Ronald Acuña, Jr., Juan Soto, Harrison Bader, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres are amongst a horde of young talent exploding on the big-league level, while Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. flirted with .400 for most of the season in the minors.
Every year, we get excited for the new top 100, wondering which prospects will show out, and which will disappoint. In a season in which so many excelled, let’s take a look at a few that did so a little better than the rest.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a definitive list. In fact, it’s kind of a personal list, wanting to see if some of these guys could take the next step. In my opinion, they did.
Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins
Kiriloff was an exciting prospect when the Twins took him in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft. His sweet left-handed swing adjusted easily to professional pitching and he showed a solid hit-tool to all fields with nice gap and over-the-fence pop.
Sadly, Kirilloff missed the entire 2017 season, and although we all saw what he was capable of in his debut, there were plenty of question marks on how quickly he’d get back to form.
The answer was quickly. Very, very quickly.
(video from Minor League Baseball’s YouTube page)
Kirilloff tortured the pitchers of two different league this year, and was arguable at his best in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League where he slashed .362/.393/.578 with a .970 OPS. His power is much more gap-friendly, but he has plenty of pop to all fields. His ability to get the barrel on the ball is in rare company, and while he doesn’t walk a ton, he is a tough one to strike out. Kirilloff is just fine, and we should be excited to see how he performs in 2019.
Touki Toussaint, Atlanta Braves
Toussaint has long been a “you had to see it” prospect. Looking at his numbers didn’t justify the prospect he really was. He climbed the ladder with names like Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, and Max Fried who got a lot more recognition. The thing was, when he was on, he had the filthiest stuff of the bunch.
The problem with Toussaint was always strike throwing. This season, that seemed to all change. His strikeout rate was up, his walk rate was down. Even the contact against him wasn’t as hard as it was in the past, with an increased ground ball rate and lower batting average against. Toussaint was always seen as a project, picking up the baseball later in life. The Braves showed patience, and it looks like they are finally being rewarded.
The 2018 MLB Draft first round bats
Small sample sizes be damned. There was plenty of fun to be had watching this year’s first rounders hit.
I saw Joey Bart a few times at Georgia Tech this season and every time, walked away with something positive. He has a big bat with a lot of power, and he showed out in the Northwest League bombing 13 home runs and 14 doubles in just 45 games. He puts the bat on the ball pretty well and could very well be a .270-.280 hitter with some nice seasons ahead of him.
What can you say about Nick Madrigal? The guy just hits. He hit at Oregon State. He hit at Kannapolis and he hit at Winston-Salem. All while hardly striking out. He can manage the strike zone and get the bat on the ball, and showed that quickly in his pro debut. I’m curious to see how he develops at the higher levels, but he made a sound first impression.
Seth Beer had one of my personal favorite hit tools heading into the draft, which was helped out by the great Ken Griffey, Jr. (kinda). He faded down the stretch, jumping three levels after a long season at Clemson, but he lit the minors on fire in the New York-Penn League and Midwest League. A keen eye and plenty of pop, if he develops defensively, he can be a fun player to track.
What Nolan Gorman did to Appalachian League pitching wasn’t fair. He showed everything, an ability to barrel up, send one over the fence with easy power, hit the gaps and control the plate in drawing walks. He slowed down a bit once promoted, but it was an impressive debut by the 18 year old.
Peter Alonso, New York Mets
The only thing that was bad about Alonso’s season was the Mets reluctance to call him up. Arguably the most exciting power bat in the 2016 MLB Draft, Alonso showed it was for real in 2018.
(video from Minor League Baseball)
But we knew Alonso could smash. What he did this year was hit. Alonso showed struggles against right handers in 2017 (1.132 OPS against lefties as opposed to a .767 OPS against righties), although the power was always there. This year, he was much more balanced (.882 OPS vs. lefties in Triple-A, .962 vs righties). He also learned to draw walks, and while much of that may have been pitchers fearing to throw to him, he still walked at a rate more than double of what he had done in the past. If he can continue to develop defensively, which he took steps forward in as well this season, Alonso is going to be an exciting player to watch as he becomes more of a complete hitter.
Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres
Paddack was drafted by the Marlins in 2015 and was then completely absurd in 2016 before Tommy John cut his 2017 season out of the stat books. Paddack was always known for his pinpoint control and solid stuff, but he was also known for injuries. There was plenty to wonder about in 2018.
Wonder no more. Paddack tossed 90 innings, the most in his career by far, and posted a 1.91 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP. He did it by striking out 120 and walking eight. EIGHT. The next step is to see if the 22-year-old righty can throw 100 innings. I know I’ll be watching.