The prospect staff here at Fake Teams has spent the last two weeks previewing each of the ten full-season minor leagues. Today we feature the Midwest League.
The Low-A Midwest League consists of sixteen teams spread across seven states. The Eastern Division includes eight teams from Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, while the eight Western Division teams hail from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Among the ten full-season leagues affiliated with MLB, only the sixteen-team Pacific Coast League (AAA) can equal the size of the Midwest League.
The Midwest League's Low-A classification means that its players have an interesting demographic profile. Most players are in their early 20s, and many of those come from college baseball programs in the U.S. Low-A, however, also can be a proving ground for advanced teenagers such as Cleveland 1B Bobby Bradley, who, at only 19 years old, led the 2015 Midwest League with 27 home runs. Bradley, in fact, is the sort of player who catches the eye of scouts and prospect junkies. Despite a 3rd-round pedigree (2014) and the fact that he plays a non-premium defensive position, Bradley got votes for our Fake Teams Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospects list in December because of his outstanding performance as a teenager in the Midwest League. He is an excellent example of why it is essential for fantasy players to evaluate prospects according to age and level. A 23-year-old first baseman with 27 HR in Low-A, for instance, would generate very little attention.
The 2016 Midwest League
The West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers) will try to defend their 2015 league championship. It will not be easy. The core of that team, including P Spencer Turnbull, OFs Michael Gerber and Ross Kivett, and the playoff MVP, 2B Joey Pankake, will move on to HIgh-A Lakeland. The Whitecaps' roster will feature Detroit's last two first-round picks, OF Derek Hill and P Beau Burrows, so fans in Grand Rapids should have plenty of reason for optimism.
Although the colder months of April and even early May tend to depress offense, the 2016 Midwest League will feature several prospects who could develop into impact-bats at the Major-League level. My favorite is C Tyler Stephenson of the Dayton Dragons (Reds). While other organizations sent their 2015 first-round picks to the Arizona or Gulf Coast Rookie Leagues, Cincinnati assigned Stephenson to Billings of the more advanced Pioneer League. The Reds know they have an outstanding offensive prospect in Stephenson, whom some believed the Diamondbacks were considering with the first overall pick. He's not close to the Majors, but fantasy players should remember his name for future reference.
Other top offensive prospects include OFs Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Astros), SS Jermaine Palacios of the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins), SS Ruddy Giron of the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres), OF Magneuris Sierra of the Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals), OF Luis Liberato of the Clinton Lumberkings (Mariners), SS Isan Diaz and OF Monte Harrison of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers). Fantasy players in search of a deep sleeper should consider watching Cedar Rapids CF LaMonte Wade, a 2015 ninth-round pick out of Maryland with some interesting tools and a good batting eye.
While lineups appear well balanced across the Midwest League, two teams could feature dominant starting rotations. Junior Fernandez and Jake Woodford, the Cardinals' top two teenaged pitching prospects, will head to Peoria, as will Sandy Alcantara (Baseball America and MLB.com's #19 organizational prospect) and Derian Gonzalez (BA #27). Fernandez, Alcantara, and Gonzalez are power arms who have reached triple-digits on the radar gun, while Woodford's arsenal might give him the highest ceiling as a starter. Likewise, the Fort Wayne TinCaps should feature a dominant rotation fronted by the dynamic triumvirate of Austin Smith, Jacob Nix, and Enyel De Los Santos. Smith and Nix came to the Padres via the second and third rounds, respectively, of the 2015 draft. De Los Santos was part of the offseason trade that sent reliever Joaquin Benoit to Seattle. Smith and Nix have the stronger pedigrees, but keep an eye on De Los Santos, a strike-throwing machine who projects to have a plus fastball, plus changeup, and plus command. He could be in line for a breakout season.
Other pitching prospects to watch include Dayton's Tanner Rainey, South Bend's Trevor Clifton,Wisconsin's Marcos Diplan, Kane County's Brad Keller (Diamondbacks), and Lansing's Sean Reid-Foley (Blue Jays).
Fort Wayne runs away with the Eastern Division title, Peoria edges Wisconsin for the Western Division title, and Fort Wayne defeats Peoria to win the 2016 Midwest League Championship.