Delving deeper into Burning River Baseball’s 2017 minor league rankings, today we’ll take a look at those players who made a significant movement up or down the list compared to the 2016 rankings. We’ll start with the players who dropped entirely out of the top 50.
Ineligible in 2017
We have a very strict rule that any player with a single plate appearance or Major League inning is no longer considered a prospect. By this rule, Bradley Zimmer (#2 in 2016), Francisco Mejia (#3), Yandy Diaz (#4) and Greg Allen (#7) are no longer ranked. In addition, Anthony Santander (#10) was taken by the Orioles in the 2016 Rule 5 draft while Thomas Pannone (#47) and Samad Taylor (#51) were traded to Toronto for Joe Smith. Michael Letkewicz (#43) retired during the 2016 season.
Voted Off in 2017
While many players on the edge last year didn’t receive votes this season (89 players received at least one vote last year while only 78 did this time), only three players that made it into the top 50 last year were completely ignored this time around. Those three players were AAA relief pitcher Jeff Johnson (#36), AAA utility man Todd Hankins (#48) and A 1B/OF Jose Medina (#50). With four players from the 2017 draft and two international signings breaking into the rankings in addition to four other players who were eligible last year, but didn’t receive a vote some players had to go off the wayside.
Johnson has been an interesting reliever that we’ve followed since 2013 and after good seasons in Akron in 2015 and Columbus in 2016 he seemed like an obvious choice for the Indians MLB bullpen this year. Instead, he had a similar season to last year with a slightly higher walk and hit rate and significantly higher ERA, keeping him from a call-up when many other AAA pitchers came up in September. Johnson will be 28 when next season starts, so it’s getting harder to call him a prospect of any kind.
After pitching 1.1 innings in 2017, Hankins has now played every position on the field except catcher, but his career MiLB OPS of .660 doesn’t make him a great fit for any of them. He will be a minor league free agent this off-season if the Indians don’t add him to the 40 man roster and they will almost certainly let him go. While he was once a potential utility option, Erik Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela have already had some MLB success in that role and, if he stays with the team, that could be the ceiling for Eric Stamets as well.
Medina had a bit of a break out season in 2016 that put him on the map enough to break into the top 50, but after having a rough start to the season in Lake County he moved back to the outskirts. He did play better after an August promotion to Lynchburg, so unlike the other two, he has a reasonable chance to return to the rankings in the future.
Looking only at players who were eligible in 2016, but didn’t make the cut, twelve players received a vote for the first time with four of those jumping into the top 50. The most impressive move was by left handed starting pitcher Francisco Perez. He made his debut on the prospect list at #19 after a decent season in Mahoning Valley, although it was bolstered by great seasons in the DSL and AZL from 2015 through 2016 including the pitcher of the year award in 2016. With Thomas Pannone traded to Toronto, Rob Kaminsky injured and Brady Aiken struggling, Perez came in second among left handed starting pitchers in the prospect rankings.
Another pitcher made great strides this year as well as Shao-Ching Chiang made the list for the first time in his sixth season. A ground ball specialist, Chiang was part of a potent Lynchburg rotation before a promotion to Akron and some subsequent struggles. He now ranks #22 on the overall list and sixth among right handed starting pitchers.
Dalbert Siri jumped onto the list all the way to #40 as the closer of the Lake County Captains. He struck out batters at an incredible 14.2 K/9 this year and does not give up home runs. Literally he has allowed just one home run during his 106 MiLB innings and that came during his first season in the Dominican Republic.
Finally, short stop Marcos Gonzalez made the list at #48. He was the only player to play exclusively in the DSL and be included this season. He is a slick fielding short stop who is great on the bases. While he didn’t play in 2016, he was signed early enough that he was eligible for the list and this year two players, George Valera and Aaron Bracho, made it into the rankings on hype alone.
Twenty players moved up at least ten spots from 2016 to 2017, but the biggest leaper of all was Mitch Longo, who went from 77 to 29. In just his second season, Longo has already advanced to Lynchburg after an incredible first full season in Lake County.
Three other players moved up 40 or more spots as left handed starter Tanner Tully moved from 73 to 31, right handed starter Matt Esparza from 57 to 16 and short stop Eric Stamets moved from 49 to 9. These three couldn’t be at more different periods of their development as Tully is in just his second season and played in four different levels in 2017, Esparza is in his third year and took a more normal route to Akron through Lynchburg this year and Stamets is a six year MiLB vet who’s rise came from an incredible increase in power both in Akron and Columbus.
The rest of the ten to move the highest were reliever Argenis Angulo (recently named an AFL All-Star moved up 32 spots, but is still not in the top 50), C/3B Gavin Collins (+30), 2B Sam Haggerty (+25, but not in the top 50), utility man Ronny Rodriguez (+24), recently returned from injury Grant Hockin (+21) and catcher Li-Jen Chu (+21).
As some go up, others must go down and 11 players fell 20 or more spots this year, six of whom fell out of the top 50 entirely. Of these, the biggest name to note was Nellie Rodriguez, who fell 39 spots after coming in 17th last year. Like Hankins and Johnson, this should have been his season to break into the Majors and an extremely poor season in AAA has instead removed him from legitimate prospect consideration. Outfielder Luigi Rodriguez (-34), SP Micah Miniard (-23), C Daniel Salters (-22), RP Louis Head (-22) and 1B Ulysses Cantu (-21). Unlike Rodriguez, these are generally younger players and could return to the rankings in the future.
The biggest drops within the rankings were largely injury based. Rob Kaminsky missed the entire season with a shoulder problem and fell from 14 to 41. Mark Mathias separated his shoulder during a Major League Spring Training game and was never the same. He dropped from 11 to 32 and has been greatly surpassed by his draft-mate Tyler Krieger.
Dorssys Paulino deserves a rise and fall section of his own as he’s went from being the Indians top prospect to completely forgotten, back to #27 last year before falling to #47 in 2017. This is still largely based on the hope that he will someday hit his potential, but the chances of that get lower every year. Of course, he’s still only 22 despite this being his sixth year in the system.
Luis Lugo has already played seven years in the Indians system and thus, is eligible to be a minor league free agent at the end of the season. After putting up the worst season of his career in Akron, it’s unlikely the Indians will sign him, but he still had enough potential to rank him #50 this year after he came in at #29 last year.
Finally, the biggest faller who remained in the top 50 was last year’s #6, Brady Aiken. Aiken has been ranked off hype since being drafted (he ranked third in 2015 before he ever threw a pitch), but as the excuses disappear, there is little to be impressed by. His fastball velocity has yet to return and without it, he can’t get hitters to swing at his curve which he struggles to throw for strikes. This is just his first full MiLB season, so there’s definitely still a ton of room for improvement and potential, but there is also more evidence to consider.