With the 2018 season winding down, I figured it would be a fun exercise to look at who I think performed the best at each position across ALL of the minor leagues. Think of it as my version of an All-American squad, or my First Team All-MiLB squad. Jason Woodell joined me on the Prospects Live podcast to discuss our first-team picks. (Where we disagree, I included his picks as well.) Now, I’m not trying to look into the future and pick players that project out to be the top guys at these positions, but that does play a small role in this. It’s like 85% stats from 2018 while still having some future projection, so I guess I’m cheating a bit. Whatever, I can do what I want over here. Let’s dive in…
Finding the catcher for this squad was easily the toughest decision I had while filling out this 2018 Dream Team, but ultimately I decided on Ronaldo Hernandez from the Rays system.
Hernandez hit .284/.339/.494 and put up a wRC+ of 133 while spending the entire season in the Low-A Midwest League as a 20-year-old. He added 42 extra base hits (21 bombs) and even chipped in 10 steals. It was his first taste of full season ball and he didn’t disappoint. There are some defensive concerns here, but he has a plus arm and has hit at every level of pro ball thus far. He only struck out at a 15.4% clip while nearly leading the league in big flies. He’s a monster.
Woodell: Danny Jansen, Toronto. “He is the most complete overall catching prospect in the game. He is durable, blue-collar catcher with a cannon. The bat-to-ball skills are elite in the minors. With his build, power will come in the Rogers Centre.”
When I was picking my first baseman for this team, I quickly narrowed it down to two guys, Peter Alonso or Nathaniel Lowe. Ultimately I went with Nathaniel Lowe.
The 13th-rounder of out Mississippi State, Lowe had a true breakout campaign in 2018. He rose all the way from High-A to Triple-A and hit .330/.416/.568 across all three levels. Lowe spent 51 games each at High-A and Double-A and posted a 191 wRC+ and a 193 wRC+ during those stops. His 60-grade raw power and excellent hit tool and plate skills give Lowe the upside to be a top ten first baseman at his peak.
Woodell: Peter Alonso, NY Mets. “Reminds me a bit of Rhys Hoskins in so much as he was fairly under the radar, but has hit his way into the conversation. May never be a .300 hitter in the bigs, but 40 HRs is not out of the question. He, not Dom Smith, is the Mets future first baseman.”
My second base prospect of the year is yet another Ray’s prospect, Vidal Brujan.
The 20-year-old, switch-hitting second baseman absolutely cruised through Low-A and High-A as he put up a cumulative .320/.403/.459 triple slash with 25 doubles, 7 triples, and 9 home runs. He also swiped 55 bags in 122 games across both levels. Brujan only struck out 12.4% while also walking at an 11.5% clip. Insane plate skills. Despite only being listed 5’9” and 155 pounds, there’s a chance he can hit 20 homers at the big league level. He’s much more aggressive than his walk rate implies, but Brujan is a DUDE.
Woodell: Garrett Hampson, Colorado. “Elite athlete. Could become a .300 20/30 guy as soon as next season.”
I’m not even going to mess around here, the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is my third baseman of the year.
This was an easy pick as all Vladdy did was hit .381/.437/.636 in 2018. There’s not much to add here but Vlad is the consensus number one prospect in the game.
There was a bit of controversy here for me, as my pick for the shortstop of the year was going to be Wander Franco of the Rays. I mean he did hit .351/.418/.587 while walking more than he struck out, but he only played 61 games so I ended up going a different direction. The 2018 Shortstop of the Year is Royce Lewis!
The former first-overall pick hit .292/.352/.451 while splitting time between the Midwest League and the Florida State League. He has elite bat speed and hands and they pop when you see this kid in the box and at shortstop. He’s growing into his power and should start 2019 in Double-A. Lewis has handled all the pressure and expectations of being the number one pick beautifully and has been one of the leaders on every team he’s been on. Lewis is the complete package at shortstop for fantasy and has answered some of the defensive questions this year as well.
So I kind of cheated a bit with the outfield and I just picked the three best players regardless of position. My three, in no particular order, are Eloy Jimenez, Alex Kirilloff, and Kyle Tucker.
Eloy was only limited to 108 games this year due to injury, but the dude hit .337/.384/.577 across Double-A and Triple-A for the White Sox in ‘18. I think Eloy has Miguel Cabrera-esque upside and will be mashing on the South Side in mid-April of 2019.
Alex Kirilloff rose up prospect lists more than anyone else in 2018. He triple slashed .348/.392/.578 across two levels of A-ball with 44 doubles, 7 triples and 20 big flies. Jason W., Jason P. and I have all seen Kirilloff in person during 2018 and it was an impressive show. He uses all fields and has one of the more potent hit/power combinations in all of the minors. There’s a lot to love here. Reminds me of Freddie Freeman with more athleticism.
Kyle Tucker posted his second consecutive 20 homer/20 steal season in 2018 while also spending time in the Majors for the ‘Stros. He slashed .332/.400/.590 with a 155 wRC+ in one of the more pitcher friendly PCL parks. Tucker will only be 22 next year but should have a starting role in Houston on Opening Day if not shortly after. Tucker has one of the highest floors in all of the minors while still possessing mouth-watering upside. He’s absolutely the real deal despite his struggles during his cup of coffee.
RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHERS
For pitching I picked two arms from the right side and two from the left. My two right-handed choices are Chris Paddack and Michael Kopech.
Paddack put up some absolutely cartoonish numbers in High-A and Double-A. He was limited to only 90 innings since it’s his first full season after undergoing Tommy John in 2016 and missing all of 2017. He made the most of those 90 frames by racking up 120 strikeouts while only allowing 8! walks. I’ll repeat that. 120/8 K/BB ratio. INSANE. He has a plus changeup which is his bread-and-butter pitch, and he sets it up with a low-90s fastball that can touch the mid-90s. His breaking ball is a work in progress, but it’s still developing. Building innings is next on the list for Paddack, but he had as good as a return from Tommy John as I can remember.
My other righty arm is that of White Sox young gun Michael Kopech. We all just heard the unfortunate news about Kopech and his UCL, but he made significant strides with his command in 2018. He only issued 4 free passes in his final 38 Triple-A innings while striking out an absurd 59 hitters in that same span. We won’t see Kopech again until 2020, but he will be worth the wait.
Woodell: Touki Toussaint and Michael King. “Both guys have made tremendous strides this season. King has posted 8.48 K/9, 5.24 K/BB, 1.79 ERA, 2.76 FIP, .200 average against over three levels. Meanwhile, Touki has reached the big leagues and you could make a case that he is the Braves top overall prospect right now.”
LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHERS
My two picks for top left-handed starters are two arms that both reached Triple-A in 2018, Jesus Luzardo and Justus Sheffield.
Luzardo ripped through High-A and Double-A and was even selected as the starting pitcher for the World team for the Future’s Game. Although his 4 starts in Triple-A weren’t great, he still put up a 2.88 ERA with 129 K’s and 30 BB’s in 109 1/3 innings. Luzardo sits anywhere from 91-95 with the fastball with plus command. His changeup is a plus offering and his curveball is an above-average pitch. The Tommy John survivor will likely be limited to around 150 innings next year, but a majority of those should be in Oakland in 2019.
Justus Sheffield split 2018 between Double-A and Triple-A and posted a 2.48 ERA and a 123/50 K/BB in 116 innings. Sheffield sits 93-95 with the heater with a plus slider and above-average changeup. It was a bit of a surprise that the Yankees left Sheffield in the minors and didn’t call him up for the Wild Card push in September, but he should spend most of 2019 taking the ball every fifth day for the Yanks.
So there you have it. My 2018 Prospect Team of the Year. Here it is one more time.
SS- Royce Lewis, Twins
OF- Alex Kiriloff, Twins
3B- Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Blue Jays
OF- Eloy Jimenez, White Sox
OF- Kyle Tucker, Astros
1B- Nathaniel Lowe, Rays
C- Ronaldo Hernandez, Rays
2B- Vidal Brujan, Rays
RHP Michael Kopech
LHP Jesus Luzardo
RHP Chris Paddack
LHP Justus Sheffield