The Carolina League offers the second best BBQ in the country to the Texas League, which is how all minor-league leagues should be ranked going forward if you ask me. Losing an organization in this round of the affiliation shuffle game hurts the overall talent of the league. Yet they were replaced by the Cubs, who if you haven’t heard, have the best farm system of all time. The league had an abundance of offensive talent pass through in 2014, including Joey Gallo, Tim Anderson, Hunter Dozier, Jose Peraza, Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams. On the pitching side, Andrew Faulkner, Sean Manaea, Jose LeClerc, Francellis Montas, and Christian Binford made up an adequate class of arms. High-A is the gatekeeper between the low and high minors, so while this year’s class may not have the star power of hitters, there should still be plenty of talent to pass through.
Potomac Nationals (Washington Nationals)
If you like velocity, this is the team for you. Three out of every five days that you see this squad, Lucas Giolito, Jake Johansen, or Reynaldo Lopez will be throwing. That does not suck. The latter two may still see some time in Low-A—although it’s doubtful (Johansen due to performance, Lopez due to inexperience)—but 60% of the time, they’ll be entertaining to watch every time. Based on their improvements and age, I’m not sure that Wilmer Difo and Spencer Kieboom are long for High-A, but it’s likely they start there before making the jump to the Double-A level. If nothing else, go to this park to see a certain prospect team member’s statue outside, as he was an intern there for one summer.
Frederick Keys (Baltimore Orioles)
I’d be lying if I told you that this is a prospect-laden group. Last year’s Delmarva squad gave Tucker Blair the sads, and it’s a similar team that will likely be arriving to High-A this season. With the main attraction in Hunter Harvey sidelined for an unknown amount of time, Chance Sisco is the main reason to catch this team. He’s quickly burst onto the scene as a young catcher to watch, one of the most talented all around backstops in the minors. Josh Hart certainly has the talent to make it to Frederick after the all-star break, but he struggled mightily in his full-season debut last year. Other than that, you’re looking at a roster full of potential up-and-down types—at best—like Jon Keller, Mitch Horacek, David Hess, and Drew Dosch. You can probably catch Tucker for a barrel-aged something or other after the game—he’ll need it.
Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland Indians)
One of the three teams to flip affiliations in the Carolina League, the Hillcats (not a real animal) will be be a fun squad to watch on the offensive side, as Clint Frazier, Bradley Zimmer, and Mike Papi will hit at the top of the lineup. Frazier in particular is the most interesting to track, as he’s made some adjustments already, but is still having trouble with his weight transfer and timing mechanism. If you like home runs from rotund individuals who aren’t likely to translate to the high minors, Nellie Rodriguez is a must-watch as well. On the mound, Carlos Melo throws really fast, but allowed 29 baserunners while getting 30 outs in 2014’s High-A go around, and the last time I checked, that’s bad. Mitch Brown is a cold weather, high-school kid with very good stuff—a 91-95 mph fastball, potential plus slider, and feel for a changeup. He’ll likely be the best pitcher on their staff. It’s imperative to go to at least one game featuring this team though, just to enjoy Frazier’s breathtaking red mane.
Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals)
It’s plausible that Adalberto Mondesi and Sean Manaea could open the year with the Blue Rocks, with Mondesi the more likely of the two considering his age. Bubba Starling could potentially be back again, because his first tenure in High-A wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. After that, however, the talent pool thins. The Royals low minors are not what they once were, and all of their talent is in the high minors at this point in time. Other than the aforementioned names, none of the other top-ten prospects are slated to see time in Wilmington this season. Two ‘On the Rise’ players will suit up in the Carolina League this year however, in Elier Hernandez, an outfielder with a quick bat, and Brandon Downes, a potential 5/5 hit/power type with a realistic fourth-outfielder type profile.
Carolina Mudcats (Atlanta Braves)
Frankly, I’m unsure why this league is so hell-bent on inventing various types of felines, but that’s neither here nor there. The Braves brought in a large influx of talent during this offseason after trading away Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Jason Heyward. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this exercise, most of these players are either above or below this particular level. Lucas Sims may return to High-A, but only for a few starts at most, his stuff is too good. Mauricio Cabrera throws really hard with no command, and could very well be the team’s closer. Andrew Thurman could be a nice back-end starter if his velocity sticks at its current level—he should open the season as the Mudcats’ best hurler. Dustin Peterson and Johan Camargo are likely depth pieces, but two intriguing prospects who will see time here as well.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs)
The Cubs are new to the Carolina League, and will be taking the place of the Rangers. Luckily for the league, the talent drop off will not be significant going forward, although the difference between the Pelicans’ 2014 and 2015 lineups is severe. The Cubbies offer a few promising young pitchers, though, in Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood, Paul Blackburn, and Daury Torrez, with Jake Stinnett only 15 really good starts away from joining the rotation. As mentioned, the bats lag behind the arms, but Shawon Dunston Jr. could be a nice fourth outfielder, Victor Caratini can hit a little bit, Mark Zagunis has nice plate discipline with a chance to play all over, and Carlos Penalver is nothing if not fun to watch play shortstop.
Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)
Per usual, the Red Sox boast a deep system with plenty of talent at each level. The mini Sox will be a fun team to watch this year, with Manuel Margot, Wendell Rijo, and Teddy Stankiewicz— which I swear I spelled correctly on the first try. Margot is one of the most fun guys to watch in the low minors, with a combination of power, speed, tenacity, and up-the-middle defense. Trey Ball may start in Low-A again, but he’ll see some time with the High-A club, depending on performance. Sam Travis doesn’t offer much in the way of secondary skills, but he can hit, and it should be fun to watch him for a few hundred plate appearances before he moves up to Double-A. Carlos Asuaje could also return to Salem, where he had an impressive .323/.398/.516 line over 176 plate appearances.
Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox)
The White Sox system is much improved, as their top 10 is formidable, with some decent depth as well. Cleuluis Rondon, the slick fielding shortstop, is likely to try his hand at High-A pitching this season. He needs to add strength, and hopefully the bat plays well enough to be a defense-first starting shortstop. Tyler Danish is a very divisive prospect due to his funky mechanics and stature, but he’ll get 20-25 starts for the Dash while headlining their rotation.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now