This week Domenic Lanza and I will name our Player of the Year for each of the four full-season, minor-league levels (Single-A, High-A, Double-A, Triple-A). Here are profiles of my four choices, along with a brief statement on their outlooks as MLB prospects:
Single-A: Eloy Jimenez, OF, South Bend Cubs (Cubs)
In 2016 no player ascended the prospect rankings more quickly than did Jimenez. After failing to crack preseason lists, Jimenez now appears at #25 on MLB.com’s Midseason Top 100 Prospects update. He slashed .329/.369/.532 with 14 HR, 81 RBI, 40 doubles, and 8 steals in 112 games at South Bend. In July his defense in right field was the talk of the Futures Game. And he will not turn 20 until the week after Thanksgiving. Teenagers aren’t supposed to make the Midwest League look so easy, but Jimenez is no ordinary teenager. At 6’4”, 205 lbs and growing, he already has the physical maturity to handle a full-season grind. Small wonder he was considered the top player in a 2013 international class that included SS Gleyber Torres and 3B Rafael Devers.
MLB Outlook: There’s no telling how long it will take for Jimenez to reach the majors, but when he does, look out. He has the talent to become a perennial All-Star and franchise player.
High-A: Anthony Santander, OF, Lynchburg Hillcats (Indians)
Santander is an under-the-radar choice. On one hand, he does not appear on MLB.com’s list of Cleveland’s Top 30 prospects. On the other hand, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tells me that Santander would have been a candidate for BA’s All-Minor-League Third Team (BA recently named only First- and Second-Team players). In 2016 Santander slashed .290/.368/.494 and stuffed the stat sheet with 20 HR, 95 RBI, 90 R, 40 doubles, and 10 steals. He was the most productive player on a dominant Hillcats squad that included C Francisco Mejia and 1B Bobby Bradley, finished the season 84-56, and won the Carolina League Northern Division as I predicted they would back in April. In 2017 he’ll be a player to watch as he moves up (presumably) to Double-A Akron.
MLB Outlook: It’s difficult to say. Prior to this season Santander generated little prospect buzz. Batting third in a powerful Lynchburg lineup, however, Santander obviously has caught his organization’s attention. The jury’s still out, but he’s only 21, and after 2016 the arrow is pointing upward on his career.
Double-A: Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Reading Fightin’ Phils (Phillies)
Domenic will make the case for teammate Dylan Cozens, but Hoskins gets the nod for me. Although he finished behind Cozens in home runs (40 to 38), RBI (125 to 116), runs scored (106 to 95), doubles (38 to 26) and steals (21 to 8), Hoskins did finish with a higher OPS (.943 to .941) thanks to a solid advantage in OBP (.377 to .350). In fact, Hoskins’s ability to generate so much power while keeping his walk-to-strikeout ratio within reason (71:125) is a major factor that separates him from teammate Cozens, whose 61:186 BB:K ratio in Double-A amounts to a bit of a red flag.
MLB Outlook: Hoskins could be an average ML regular with above-average pop, or he could be the right-handed half of a first-base platoon. Either way, there is nothing wrong with his minor-league resume.
Triple-A: Josh Bell, 1B, Indianapolis Indians (Pirates)
This was a tough call. Nothing about Bell’s Triple-A numbers stands out except for his plate discipline (57:74 BB:K). He simply enjoyed a solid season across the board, slashing .295/.382/.468 with 14 HR, 61 RBI, and 23 doubles in 114 games. To Bell’s credit, he has maintained his offensive productivity while making a difficult position switch from RF to 1B. Perhaps the glare of Bell’s prospect luster has blinded me to other equally-deserving candidates across Triple-A, but I did not want to overreact to the inflated offensive numbers of the Pacific Coast League.
MLB Outlook: Bell already has reached the majors, where he has taken over the starting first base job for the reeling Pirates. Thanks to his exceptional plate discipline, Bell bats second in the Pittsburgh lineup. He’s been a Top 100 prospect for a while and has the ability to become a first-division regular or even a perennial All-Star