As we start to wind down the minor league season, I decided to go deep and present some players that have had very good starts to their professional career. All of them are still in rookie ball, so caution needs to be exhibited but the starts are indeed encouraging. Finally, Jesus Luzardo makes our list again and is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues with the ceiling of a number two starter. In fact, his stay in Triple-A will likely be short-lived as he could help the Oakland A’s now in their playoff run.
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Nolan Gorman (3B, STL, Rookie) – Drafted in the first round of June’s draft, Nolan Gorman’s calling card was his double-plus raw power. In 36 games in rookie ball, the raw power has translated to in-game power as he’s hit 11 with a .664 SLG. The power has come with too many strikeouts (22% strikeout rate) but he’s also walked 14.5% of the time. Given the state of the game today, that should make him a valuable contributor.
Alex McKenna (OF, Hou, Rookie) – With their fourth-round pick in last June’s draft, the Astros grabbed outfielder Alex McKenna. After signing, he was assigned to the New York Penn League where he’s done nothing but hit. He has a .968 OPS with five home runs and four stolen bases. Three of those home runs have come in the last week and given his college pedigree, he might see Low-A before the season ends.
Mark Vientos (3B, NYM, Rookie) – I’ve gotten a number of tweets about Mark Vientos. Basically, asking if he is for real? Well, if you like guys who can hit with plus raw power, then the answer is a resounding yes. He’s moved off shortstop to third base and should have enough chops to stay there long term. The only real downside from a fantasy standpoint is that he’s a below average runner. He’s only in rookie ball, but he’s posted a .888 OPS this year and has been red-hot over the past week, hitting .375 with a .667 SLG.
Gilberto Celestino (OF, Min, Rookie) – I drafted Gilberto Celestino last year in most of my Dynasty Leagues. While I always preach patience with young kids, of course, I had none and do not own him anywhere now. While he’s still in Rookie Ball, he doesn’t turn 20 until next year, so he’s right on schedule. He posted a .868 OPS for the Astros before being traded last week to the Twins and has kept it up. He’s a double-plus runner and should develop double-digit home run pop. Yeah…I know, I should have kept him.
Bobby Dalbec (3B, Bos, Double-A) – The Red Sox system is really barren. It’s a bottom five farm system easily. But with the best record in baseball and an excellent shot for a World Series appearance, do you think the fans care? Exactly. What’s interesting is that the core of their team is homegrown and the best part is most of them have become stars. A rare but impressive feat. While I don’t see any stars remaining (maybe Jason Groome), third baseman Bobby Dalbec has me wondering. He popped a league-leading 26 home runs in the Carolina League and has already hit two in his first four games in Double-A since his promotion.
Nate Lowe (1B, TB, Double-A) – The Lowe’s of Tampa Bay are having outstanding years. Brandon, just got promoted to the big leagues (who saw that coming?) and Nate Lowe, no relations, has been raking all year. He’s hitting .342 in Double-A with a .610 SLG. Plus, he’s gotten better as the year has progressed. In August, he’s hitting .342 walking more than he’s striking out. He’s gone from an extra bat ceiling to a legitimate regular at first base.
Cavan Biggio (2B, Tor, Double-A) – Cavan Biggio got off to a tremendous start this year and was one of the real pop-up players in the minor leagues. After all, he has the bloodlines. However, after a June and July where he hit below the Mendoza line, questions about his ultimate ceiling surfaced again. As August has rolled around, he’s back to his Spring form, batting .364 with a .773 SLG. So, who is Cavan Biggio? I’m not sure. The bat speed is not great and he’s only an average runner. But, he controls the strike zone, can steal bases even though he’s not a burner and has developed some power. I think he gets a chance to be the Blue Jays second baseman, perhaps as early as next season. If nothing else, it would fit the narrative of three kids of former MLB stars coming up together. If you don’t know the other two…well, it’s time to start digging into our site.
Jesus Luzardo (LHP, Oak, Triple-A) – Jesus Luzardo makes our list again and is bucking for our Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. He was promoted to Triple-A this week and pitched five shutouts innings with six strikeouts and no walks. If there is one criticism. He has only had one start where he has pitched more than five innings. It was a six-inning shutout in July. Are the A’s saving him for a stretch run? Have they determined his stuff doesn’t play the third time through the lineup? I don’t see that. He’s never been the model of health, so perhaps they are just limiting his work. Regardless, he’s quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues.
Dylan Cease (RHP, CHW, Double-A) – Dylan Cease is yet another big arm in the White Sox organization that is showing top-of-the-rotation potential. He’s always had great stuff with a fastball that can hit the upper nineties and a curveball that can bend knees, but his control has never been there. That is changing. In 13 starts in High-A, he posted a 3.52 BB/9 and in seven starts in Double-A, he’s been even better, only giving up 2.88 walks per nine. When you combine that with a strikeout rate of nearly 12, the ceiling is pretty easy to see.
Tony Santillan (RHP, Cin, Double-A) – I’ve always been a big fan of Reds right-hander Tony Santillan and of course because he spent a couple of years in Low-A, I dropped him for what I’m assuming is a guy I dropped as well. The breakout though has occurred in 2018. He tore through the Florida State League and in six starts in Double-A, is pitching to a 1.78 ERA. He’s also striking out a batter an inning while walking only two per nine. Want more…his fastball sits 96 to 97 MPH and the slider is finally working and getting a ton of swing and misses. That was best seen in his July 30th start where he struck out 11 in 5.2 shutout innings while walking two. He’s a strong candidate for making my 2019 Top 100 Prospect List.