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Domenic’s MiLB Players of the Year

Domenic takes a crack at selecting the best player in each of the four full-season levels of the minor leagues.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Houston Astros Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Michael named his Players of the Year for each of the full-season minor league levels - that is, Single-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. This is not a rehash of our top prospect lists, or anything of that nature; rather, it is a means to give recognition to and generate discussion about those players that absolutely crushed it in the minors. Both Michael and I are also offering an MLB outlook on each player, which is the most important aspect of these posts for fantasy purposes.

Here are my selections:

Single-A: Yermin Mercedes, C, Delmarva Shorebirds (Orioles)

Mercedes was released by the Nationals after the 2013 season, having failed to advance beyond the Dominican Summer League in three tries. He went on to bat a stout .380/.420/.699 as a 21-year-old in independent ball, and was subsequently signed by the Orioles. Two years later, the now 23-year-old Mercedes batted .353/.411/.579 with 58 R, 25 2B, 5 3B, 14 HR, 60 RBI, and 1 SB in 91 games (382 PA) in the South Atlantic League, and did so while continuing to learn the nuances of playing catcher (he was moved behind the plate just last year). He is not currently listed among the Orioles top-30 prospects, but, if his last two years are any indication, he is more than a flash in the pan. To be away from the professional level for a full season and jump back into it without missing a beat is rather impressive - and Mercedes actually got better.

MLB Outlook: Mercedes is at least a few years away, and still learning his position, but he has put in two strong years with the Orioles, reaching High-A at season’s end. He has a chance to be a solid regular in the future. His power and contact skills are legit.

High-A: Christin Stewart, OF, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers)

Stewart was drafted in the first-round of the 2015 draft, and checked in at number six our Tigers top-ten prospects list this off-season. His .264/.403/.534 slash line and 24 home runs (442 PA) are impressive on their own merits, but it’s important to note that the Florida State League is notoriously pitcher-friendly. As such, Stewart’s offensive line was 74% above-average, which is at least a bit staggering. He led the FSL in home runs, and his 174 wRC+ led all High-A players (and no other player had a wRC+ above 153). Stewart’s power was far more impressive than previously thought, particularly given his build (6’, 200 pounds), but he added significantly more loft and backspin this season. MLB.com’s Prospect Watch currently lists him as the team’s third best prospect, and, were it not for his fringe-y defense, he’d be a top-hundred prospect; he will simply have to settle for being a top fantasy prospect.

MLB Outlook: Stewart is going to hit, and he’s going to hit for power. His defense is less than ideal, even for a corner outfield spot, but it’s good enough to run him out there every single day. He profiles as a .270ish hitter that will take plenty of walks and hit 20-plus home runs regularly.

Double-A: Dylan Cozens, OF, Reading Fightin’ Phils (Phillies)

Full disclosure - I wrote about Cozens back in May, and he has been one of my guys for a few years now. He rewarded that prestigious designation by batting .276/.350/.591 with 106 R, 38 2B, 3 3B, 40 HR, 125 RBI, and 21 SB (against just 1 CS) this season, and leading all levels of the minors in HR and RBI. The massive Cozens is an athletic marvel, with prodigious raw power, average speed, terrific base-running instincts, and solid defense, and he is one of the most exciting at-bats to watch in the minors. He strikes out in bunches and he struggled against LHP (.640 OPS) - but he was arguably the best position player in the minors this year. And, as a brief counterpoint for Michael’s argument, MLB.com’s Prospect Watch prefers Cozens to Rhys Hoskins.

MLB Outlook: Is it too lazy to say Adam Dunn with better base-running and actual defensive value? Yes? Too bad. The more likely outcome, however, may be a platoon player along the lines of Seth Smith.

Triple-A: Brady Rodgers, SP, Fresno Grizzlies (Astros)

The Triple-A level was the hardest to narrow down, given the high-offense environs of the PCL, and the tremendous all-around performances by several hitters (many of which are players with substantial MLB experience). There are several pitchers clustered together, as well, but Rodgers stands out from the pack due to his all-around strong performance. The 25-year-old posted a PCL-leading 2.86 ERA, and placed at or near the top of the league in K/9, BB/9, K/BB, and K%-BB%. He also tossed 132.0 IP across 22 starts, averaging an even 6 IP per start. Rodgers has some of the best command that you can find in the minors, and that was on full display this year - and the fact that he wasn’t punished for staying around the plate in those ballparks speaks volumes.

MLB Outlook: Rodgers lacks the put away pitch to thrive in the Majors, but he has three fringe-average or better offerings and the command to make them all play up. He has the potential to be a back of the rotation starter, and, despite his horrendous debut this year, he’s as ready as he’ll ever be for that opportunity.