Known for the high-octane offensive environment that surrounds the bulk of the league, the California League should have several impact offensive talents moving through the ranks this summer. Highlighted by prospects like David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, and others, offense should not be an issue during the first half of the season. Many of these top-flight offensive talents will be heading to Double-A around the All-Star break, leaving many lineups a little less potent, though new hitters are sure to emerge as the season moves along. While many clubs have begun to keep top pitching prospects away from the challenging pitching conditions in the Cal League, there should still be some intriguing arms toeing the rubber from time to time. Prospects like Edwin Diaz, Michael Feliz, Kyle Freeland, and Keury Mella should all log significant innings for their clubs this summer. All told, the California League is likely to see its fair share of highly ranked prospects throughout the season, but fans should expect the talent to taper off in the second half as the upper echelon of prospects are promoted to Double-A; meaning the goal in the Cal League should be to get to the park early and often to catch the best talent.
High Desert Mavericks (Texas Rangers)
A new addition to the California League, the Rangers debut club will initially feature two premium athletes and potential impact prospects in outfielder Lewis Brinson and Travis Demeritte (the Rangers ninth- and tenth-best prospects, respectively). Both players are loaded with tools and have the potential to excite observers on a daily basis. Though not highly ranked in the Rangers quality system, Ronald Guzman should see time at High-A this summer, adding another very intriguing prospects to the roster. In the season’s second half, left-hander Yohander Mendez and 18-year-old infielder Michael De Leon could join the field and make things even more exciting for High Desert fans. Though it has seemingly become routine at every level of the Rangers system, their High-A club should have excellent talent around the diamond and should be a must-see roster for prospect watchers.
Lancaster JetHawks (Houston Astros)
If fans have a chance to catch Lancaster early in the season, that should be an absolute priority. If the Astros send stud prospect Carlos Correa to High-A at all this year, it will only be for the earliest portions of the season, making them a priority viewing when the season debuts. Similarly, outfielders Brett Phillips and Derek Fisher should spend time in High-A, but their stay may be brief before the Astros push them to Double-A. Right-hander Michael Feliz, ranked sixth in the system, brings his power arsenal to the Cal League and should excite fans with his potential. Previous highly thought of arms like Adrian Houser and Kevin Comer could look to get back on track in Lancaster this year, and first baseman A.J. Reed has a chance to put his substantial raw power on display at some point this summer.
Modesto Nuts (Colorado Rockies)
As I await the arrival of much of this roster in Double-A, fans in the California League should be flocking to the park to see the Nuts’ prospect-laden roster. Headlined by four of the organization’s top six prospects, the outfield will offer fantastic offensive ability from David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, and at the hot corner, fans can look for third baseman Ryan McMahon’s power skill set. Catchers Wilfredo Rodriguez will see time behind the dish, and fifth ranked prospect, left-hander Kyle Freeland, should highlight the Modesto rotation. If you have a desire to see plenty of high-end prospects on the field at once—and who doesn’t—then get to Modesto early and often before this talented roster graduates to Double-A.
Bakersfield Blaze (Seattle Mariners)
With the Mariners now in town, fans should expect to see at least a few intriguing talents, including No. 10 prospect Austin Wilson and On-the-Rise candidate Tyler O’Neill. The two should combine to give the Blaze a dynamic outfield that could put impressive offensive numbers as they continue to make a name for themselves and climb the minor-league ladder. If the Mariners don’t shy away from sending No. 5 prospect Edwin Diaz to the California League, he should headline the rotation and provide a feature attraction every fifth game for the bulk of the season. The club could see a charge in the second half as fourth-round pick Ryan Yarbrough and third-round pick Austin Cousino could be pushed to High-A after successful full-season debuts in the Midwest League.
Lake Elsinore Storm (San Diego Padres)
For all the flash of the Padres offseason and the appeal they should have at the major-league level in 2015, their High-A club could be a little lacking for the advanced prospect hound. Mildly intriguing Low-A graduates like Franmil Reyes, and Josh Van Meter should see time on the Lake Elsinore diamond, as well as high-ceiling infielder Fernando Perez; giving the Storm some potential around the infield. Eighth-ranked prospect Zech Lemond (RHP) is advanced enough to jump straight to High-A and he could be the highlight of the club’s roster this summer. If seventh-round pick Ryan Butler can harness his triple-digit heat, he could see time in the Storm’s bullpen as well, offering some late inning excitement.
San Jose Giants (San Francisco Giants)
Coming off yet another World Series title, the Giants High-A club should feature several prospects that could continue to keep the Giants among the teams contending for division titles, at a minimum. With No. 5 prospect Keury Mella slated to front the rotation, and the potential addition of right-hander Tyler Beede (No. 4) in the second half, the starters are worth watching in San Jose. In addition to those two top prospects, the rotation should also feature left-hander Luis Ysla as he emerges from Low-A with an intriguing mid-rotation profile. Coming out of the bullpen, high-powered right-hander Joan Gregorio should light up the radar gun and make for some fun late-inning adventures. The second half of the season could see the arrival 2014 second-round pick Aramis Garcia, a college catching prospect with polish and the potential to reach High-A quickly.
Inland Empire 66ers (Los Angeles Angels)
Though the Angels have one of the worst overall systems in baseball, the 66ers’ roster should have at least a couple of players worth watching this summer. The No. 9 ranked prospect, Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin, could see time on the roster early in the year before shooting to Double-A to face competition more appropriate for his experience level. Second-ranked prospect and first-round pick Sean Newcomb should anchor a starting rotation that will also feature right-hander Victor Alcantara and his upper-90s heater. Newcomb should be the target when you head to the park to see Inland Empire, so time your visits wisely. In the late innings, keep an eye out for 2014 15th-round pick Greg Mahle who fanned 49 hitters in under 38 innings during his pro debut last summer, and should continue a rapid ascent through the system.
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The Dodgers are going to be a fun club to watch at the big-league level—and they should have some interesting rosters at the upper levels of the minor leagues—but the High-A Rancho Cucamonga roster is going to be more than a little thin this summer. Right-hander Zach Bird offers past pedigree as an intriguing prospect, but has yet to truly put things together through the early stages of his career. The second half could afford fans an opportunity to lay eyes on seventh-ranked right-hander Jose De Leon and On-the-Rise arm AJ Vanegas, who could add excitement to the rotation and bullpen, respectively.
Stockton Ports (Oakland Athletics)
Early in the season, the Ports are likely to be a little dry, leaving plenty of time to focus on prospects on the opponent’s roster. Outfielder B.J. Boyd and right-hander Dylan Covey should both be on the roster from the outset, but neither is likely to inspire a ton of interest from prospect watchers. Right-handed reliever Bobby Wahl has the potential to draw some interest throughout the season if he can harness his plus-plus fastball to dominate hitters in the late innings. With health, something that is an open question, left-hander Dillon Overton could jump through Low-A to reach the Cal League in the second half of the season, giving fans at least one additional bright spot every fifth day.
Visalia Rawhide (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Rounding things out, Visalia’s roster is unlikely to inspire much excitement among fans, though a resurgence from former first-rounder Stryker Trahan could provide some entertainment as the season progresses. Acquired in the three-way offseason trade with the Tigers and Yankees, second baseman Domingo Leyba has a knack for hitting and a confident approach to the game, giving him a chance to find success in High-A this summer. Though he’s not a high-ceiling prospect and has a limited window for any big-league future, first baseman Daniel Palka’s above-average raw power should play well in the Cal League, offering some excitement in Visalia. The highlight of the summer could be the arrival of right-hander Brent Jones in the second half. The club’s fourth-round pick in 2014, Jones has a plus fastball and potential plus curveball that could help him develop as a back-end starter.
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