April 11, 2012
Minor League Road Trips
At the start of the minor league season, the most frequent question I get is, “Hey, I live in or near [insert minor league town here], who should I go see?” Sometimes the talent isn't in your home town, but that's what visiting rosters are for, and who doesn't like a good old-fashioned road trip to go see future stars? Here are the rosters to watch in each league. But make your plans quickly; these rosters are good because they have good prospects, and when good prospects play well, they move on.
International League (Triple-A)
Team to Watch: Pawtucket Red Sox. While many teams use Triple-A as a place to store insurance policies, Boston has plenty of prospects at Triple-A, led by third baseman Will Middlebrooks and catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who could be the club's top trade chip come July. Shortstop Jose Iglesias is one of the best defensive players in baseball, period, and keep an eye on Japanese righty Junichi Tazawa; he’s healthy, has been moved to the bullpen, and could reach the big leagues this year.
Backup: Syracuse Chiefs (Nationals). Bryce Harper. 'Nuff said. Beyond the most hyped prospect in the game's history, first baseman Tyler Moore has some very real in-game power, and Cuban righty Yuniesky Maya is still trying to figure out how to allow his command and control to trump his pedestrian stuff.
Pacific Coast League (Triple-A)
Team to Watch: Sacramento River Cats (Athletics). The Athletics began a rebuilding phase with a flurry of off-season trades, and many of the new faces are in Sacramento with a rotation that includes right-handers Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock., who are throwing to slugging catcher Derek Norris. They're joined by legacy prospect Grant Green, Chris Carter and Michael Taylor.
Backup: Tucson Padres. The Padres have the deepest system in baseball. Catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman James Darnell could put up huge numbers in a great hitter's park, but that same park will present a challenge to two of the organization’s top pitching prospects in Casey Kelly and Joe Wieland.
Eastern League (Double-A)
Team to Watch: Bowie BaySox (Orioles). After a strong 2011 in terms of prospects, the Eastern League is weak this year, but Bowie has one of the top prospects in the game in 19-year-old shortstop Manny Machado, along with his double play partner Johnathan Schoop. First baseman Tyler Townsend has plenty of power, and while he's nowhere near the pitcher that younger brother Dylan is, righty Bobby Bundy has major league potential.
Backup: Reading Phillies. It's not a great lineup, although second baseman Cesar Hernandez and outfielder Jiwan James bear watching, but the rotation is where it's at as top prospect Trevor May could pitch his way to the big leagues by September, while Jonathan Pettibone and Julio Rodriguez could see their stocks soar if they can prove themselves at the upper levels.
Southern League (Double-A)
Team to Watch: Jackson Generals (Mariners). The two best rotations in the minor leagues are in the Southern League, but the Generals win out due to some interesting names in the lineup. Starting pitchers Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have the potential to give Seattle one of baseball's best rotations. Hultzen will likely be the first to be big league ready, as early as this year; Walker should arrive last, but he has the highest ceiling. Shortstop Nick Franklin and third baseman Francisco Martinez form an impressive left-side infield combination.
Backup: Mobile Bay Bears (Diamondbacks). Because Arizona wants to avoid putting their pitchers in the high-octane environment of Triple-A Reno, righthander Trevor Bauer and lefties Pat Corbin and Tyler Skaggs begin the year at Double-A, and all three could be ready for big league looks this year, although it will be difficult to find them the innings.
Texas League (Double-A)
Team to Watch: Springfield Cardinals. Arguably the most talented roster in the league, and definitely the most fascinating, with right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, second baseman Kolten Wong, and outfielder Oscar Taveras all making the two-level jump after playing last season at Low-A Quad Cities. Taveras is both the best prospect and the youngest of the group, as few hitters in the game can combine ultra-violent swings with that kind of bat control.
Backup: Frisco Roughriders (Rangers). 19-year-old shortstop Jurickson Profar is worth the cost of a ticket on his own, but third baseman Mike Olt should be scouted heavily, as he's one of the better hot corner prospects in the game, and he's interminably stuck behind Adrian Beltre. The Rangers don't have their top pitching prospects here, but Jacob Brigham, Miguel De Los Santos, Justin Grimm and Barret Loux all deserve some attention.
California League (High-A)
Team to watch: Visalia Rawhide (Diamondbacks). More pitching for Arizona as southpaw David Holmberg leads a rotation that includes high 2011 draftees Andrew Chafin and Anthony Meo. A left-hander who had Tommy John surgery in college, Chafin was especially impressive in his season debut. The Diamondbacks hope that a move to the outfield will unlock the bat of disappointing first-round pick Bobby Borchering, and while shortstop Chris Owings impresses with his tools, he's another player looking for a better year while repeating the level.
Backup: Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres). The Storm should put plenty of runs on the board behind an offense that includes last year's Midwest League MVP, outfielder Rymer Liriano, and last year's first-round pick, second baseman Cory Spangenberg. While not nearly as well-known, 20-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Luis Domoromo is a sleeper. The top pitching in the system is at levels higher than this, but 2011 fifth-round pick Mark Pope could turn into a back-end starter.
Carolina League (High-A)
Team to Watch: Salem Red Sox. Not much on the pitching side, but plenty of interesting everyday players, led off by 19-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who won't be a shortstop in the long run, but has some of the best raw power in the game. Second baseman Sean Coyle is a unique prospect with power and walks but some questions about his pure hitting ability, while the outfield provides a pair of high-ceiling athletes in Brandon Jacobs and Jackie Bradley.
Backup: Lynchburg Hillcats (Braves). Plenty of interesting stories as former top pick Matt Lipka tries to recover from an ugly 2011 season while moving to center field. Cuban emigre Edward Salcedo is another player with all sorts of potential but not a whole lot of numbers, while catcher Evan Gattis, a catcher who walked away from the game at one point and is now in his second full year at the age of 25, has definite offensive potential.
Florida State League (High-A)
Team to Watch: Bradenton Marauders (Pirates). This pick is far more about star power than depth, and you'll have to keep track of probable pitchers to make seeing this team worth your while. The lineup is non-descript, but no affiliate in baseball has a pair of high ceiling pitchers like Jameson Taillon, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, and last year's top pick, Gerrit Cole. Big lefty Colton Cain is nowhere in their class, but is nonetheless a very real prospect.
Backup: Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins). The Marlins had one of the more intriguing teams at Low-A last year, and that class has moved en masse to the Florida State League, with the club's top prospect, outfielder Christian Yelich, joining the team soon after he recovers from a minor elbow injury. Even for now, the lineup boasts slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Nick Perio, with catcher J.T. Realmuto being one of the best prospects in the game that few have heard about.
Midwest League (Low-A)
Team to Watch: Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays). The Jays have a remarkable collection of young pitching, and the Lansing rotation features three of them in Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez, and Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard is one of the hardest throwing teenagers around, while few pitchers so young can match Nicolino's polish. It's not a star-studded lineup, but some scouts think outfielder Christopher Hawkins could take a step forward this year.
Backup: Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays). The Rays had a boatload of early picks in last year's draft, and built the Bowling Green infield's left side with two of them: shortstop Jake Hager and third baseman Tyler Goeddel. They're joined by 2010 picks Ryan Brett (second base) and Drew Vettleson (outfield) who both feature above-average hit tools.
South Atlantic League (Low-A)
Team to Watch: Charleston Riverdogs (Yankees). The Yankees have precious little at the upper levels of the system after Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but the next wave begins here. In terms of athletes, the team has center fielder Mason Williams and infielder Angelo Gumbs. In terms of power, you get catcher Gary Sanchez, and in terms of pure hitting the Riverdogs feature 2011 top pick Dante Bichette. 2010 first-rounder Cito Culver provides plenty of defense. Almost a lost name in the Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda deal, righty Jose Campos features tremendous upside.
Backup: Hickory Crawdads (Rangers). If you like both youth and high ceilings, then of course you get it from the Rangers. Catcher Jorge Alfaro, second baseman Rougned Odor, shortstop Luis Sardinas and outfielder Jordan Akins all have big ceilings, and all of them are still teenagers.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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