Last week our prospect staff previewed the two Triple-A and three Double-A leagues with MLB affiliates. This week we shift our focus to the five full-season leagues classified as Single-A: three High-A "advanced" leagues and two Low-A leagues. Today's installment features the High-A Carolina League.
The Carolina League dates to 1945 and today features eight teams, which makes it, along with the Double-A Texas League, MiLB's smallest full-season league. The eight teams are divided into two divisions. The Northern Division is comprised of the Frederick Keys (Orioles), Lynchburg Hillcats (Indians), Potomac Nationals (Nationals), and Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals). The Southern Division consists of the Carolina Mudcats (Braves), Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs), Salem Red Sox (Red Sox), and Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox).
The 2016 Carolina League
Myrtle Beach will look to defend its 2015 league title in what appears to be a wide-open race. One team's lineup is loaded with elite talent, but the overall distribution of top prospects should make for a balanced league.
The star power is concentrated in Salem, where the Red Sox have sent 2B Yoan Moncada, 3B Rafael Devers, and OF Andrew Benintendi. It's not often that a single roster includes three players who rank among the top 30 overall prospects. Moncada checked in at #4 on our Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospects List, Devers at #11, and Benintendi at #29. Only mid-season promotions could keep Salem from fielding an offensive juggernaut all year.
As loaded as the Red Sox appear to be, the Mudcats and Pelicans are not far behind them. Carolina fans will enjoy watching Atlanta's top prospect, #13 on our list and the #1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, SS Dansby Swanson. The middle of the Mudcats' order also will feature the Braves' #1 pick from 2014, OF Braxton Davidson, who acquitted himself rather well last season as a teenager in the South Atlantic League.
As if living in Myrtle Beach were not sufficient reward, Pelicans' fans will have the chance to watch SS Gleyber Torres (#36 overall) and 2B/OF Ian Happ (#51). Last season, as a teenager, Torres was one of the best position players in the Midwest League. Happ, meanwhile, was the Cubs' first-round pick (9th overall). Assuming Happ remains at 2B, he and Torres, who have perhaps the best hit tools in the organization, will give Myrtle Beach the most dynamic middle infield in the minor leagues.
The Carolina League lacks star power on the pitching side, but there are several interesting prospects. Frederick's Hunter Harvey (#68) is the highest rated of the group, but he already has experienced a setback in recovering from the groin injury he suffered in spring training.
Other pitchers worth watching include Lynchburg's Justus Sheffield, Potomac's Erick Fedde, and Winston-Salem's Spencer Adams.
Sheffield and underrated young 1B Bobby Bradley will lead the Lynchburg Hillcats to the 2016 league title.