It was a down year for the Florida State League last year, at least in terms of big name prospects. Even most of the well-known prospects that saw action in the complex-based, sunshine-drenched conference received promotions midseason and were not replaced with as much vigor by their Low-A counterparts.
But this year should prove to be different. We don’t have all of the exact names solidified on the rosters just yet, but we have a pretty good idea of who could spend at least part of 2015 in each city along one of Florida’s coasts.
Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh Pirates)
We already know for sure that Reese McGuire will be in Bradenton, and there’s a good chance that Austin Meadows will spend time in the FSL as well, even if he doesn’t start the year there. Meadows, the ninth overall pick in 2013, would have been an obvious candidate to be a Marauder had he not missed an extended period of time last season in Low-A West Virginia, but even still, the Pirates could choose to be aggressive with the 19-year-old. Either way, he should see the Sunshine State at some point this season. Two additional prospects, outfielder Harold Ramirez and right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, are expected to spend the majority of their seasons in Bradenton as well, but their arrivals could be delayed as both have been held back in spring training with issues regarding their conditioning.
Brevard County Manatees (Milwaukee Brewers)
In a system that still isn’t terribly deep, but is now in the bottom third in the league rather than the bottom 30th, Brevard County might still be the odd team out within its own organization. Orlando Arcia, Tyrone Taylor, and Jorge Lopez will be leaving Florida behind for Double-A pastures, while younger players like Devin Williams, Monte Harrison, and Kodi Mederios aren’t ready yet for the Florida State League. No. 4 prospect Taylor Williams made only five starts for the Manatees last year and should return, at least for the majority of the season. The most notable player making the jump from Wisconsin is likely Clint Coulter, the catching prospect turned outfielder with a funky swing but tremendous plate discipline and productivity.
Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay Rays)
There won’t be a ton to see in Port Charlotte this season, though that’s more a testament to the lack of depth in the Rays system right now rather than the Stone Crabs themselves. Top prospect Willy Adames will be the big ticket and could spend the entire season in the FSL. Another big name—and still possibly a big-time prospect—who should be ticketed for Port Charlotte is Taylor Guerrieri, the former first-rounder from 2011 who missed virtually all of the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. All in all, the Stone Crabs won’t be the most talented team in the FSL, but there should still be enough there to watch.
Clearwater Threshers (Philadelphia Phillies)
Last year’s version of the Threshers was one of the least prospect-laden teams on the minor-league landscape, at least until J.P. Crawford showed up. There’s always the chance he could return to Clearwater, especially with the news that he will miss the first 4-6 weeks with an oblique strain, but given his stature as the top prospect in the Phillies farm system, his success in the second half last year, and his now unblocked path to the majors, it’s unlikely he begins the year anywhere other than Double-A. Graduating from last year’s Lakewood team should be outfielder Dylan Cozens, whose raw power will be tested by the spacious FSL parks and thick Florida air. With a strong start, Carlos Tocci could also finally graduate from the South Atlantic League and head to Clearwater.
Daytona Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds)
Last year’s Daytona team was stacked. Of course, that was stacked with Cubs prospects. Now a Reds affiliate, most of the promotions heading from Dayton to Daytona (yeah, that won’t get confusing) will be on the mound. Former first-rounders Nick Travieso and Nick Howard will make up the starting staff, while 2013 first-rounder Phil Ervin should see the FSL eventually, even if he doesn’t start the year there. If shortstop prospect Alex Blandino makes his way to Daytona by the second half, it could make for a destination scouting trip.
Dunedin Blue Jays (Toronto Blue Jays)
Injuries have put a dent into what could have been a monster of a Dunedin team, but the southern Blue Jays should still tout pitching prospects Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro (unless you buy into spring training hype), and hopefully at some point Alberto Tirado. Max Pentecost will get a late start to the season due to shoulder surgery, but when he does return, he could jump straight to the FSL, especially if it means keeping an additional eye on him at the complex.
Fort Myers Miracle (Minnesota Twins)
The biggest tickets in Fort Myers this season will be rotation-mates Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe, both of whom could have their games closed out by 2014 second-rounder Nick Burdi, at least for the start of the year. Left-hander Stephen Gonslaves only threw 36 2/3 innings in Low-A ball last year, but if and when he returns and handles Cedar Rapids, he could join the Miracle to form a potent rotation.
Jupiter Hammerheads (Miami Marlins)
There isn’t a ton of high-end talent in the Marlins system, and what talent they do have isn’t slated for Jupiter, leaving one of the two teams in my back-yard less than exciting. No. 7 prospect Avery Romero ascended to Jupiter late last season and continued his hitterish ways. He should return to Roger Dean Stadium for the start of the 2015 season with hard-throwing Domingo German likely headline the rotation.
Lakeland Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers)
It’s unlikely that top prospect Derek Hill makes it all the way to the FSL by the end of the 2015 season, though stranger things have happened. Without him, there are a few interesting names like college lefty Kevin Ziomek, who could move quickly, and 19-year-old second baseman Javier Betancourt, who could spend the entire season in Lakeland.
Palm Beach Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals)
The headliner in Palm Beach will be right-hander Alexander Reyes, whose talent has him shooting up prospect rankings but will be looking for more consistency from start to start. Reyes should be joined in the PB rotation by 2013 first-rounder Rob Kaminsky and 2014 first-rounder Luke Weaver, who made one late-season start for the Cardinals and could spend only a few months there. Catcher conversion project Carson Kelly should be behind the plate.
St. Lucie Mets (New York Mets)
Given that he’s a college bat, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mets jump Michael Conforto directly to the Florida State League for his first taste of full-season ball. Even if he starts in Savannah, he should hit his way to the FSL by midseason. Many expected Dominic Smith to do the same thing last year, but his complete power-outage kept him in the Sally League for the duration. He should get a test in the FSL, which won’t make it any easier for him to show off his power.
Tampa Yankees (New York Yankees)
It’ll be tough to compete with the prospect names in last year’s Tampa lineup, but 2013 first-rounder Ian Clarkin headlining the rotation is a good start. Miguel Andujar is an interesting prospect at third base and could move up the prospect rankings with more consistency. The Yankees have a strong class of prospects who will be reaching full-season ball for the first time this season, but they are unlikely to reach Tampa. For this year, the FSL affiliate is in between talent waves within the organization.
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