This year’s list presents a special challenge for us at MadFriars. For the first time in over a decade, there are many players who have a reasonable claim on spots in the top 10 whom we’ve not seen in person. I watched one bullpen session by Jacob Nix at instructs. I’ve only seen a few at-bats by Manuel Margot on minor league game broadcasts. Down the list, I last saw Jabari Blash play in Yakima – which lost its Northwest League affiliate before Wil Myers took his first big league at-bat. And that’s more than I have on Logan Allen, Javier Guerra, and several others.
I remain, as I said last year particularly unsure how to divine which relievers will get a chance to break through in the majors, and whose window will never open, which adds another of layer of difficulty to putting together this sort of list in a day when Trevor Gott is a commodity valued enough to acquire a quality starting big-league infielder.
With those challenges noted, I’ve put together my list, which usually leans a bit more heavily toward upside than John’s, and which will probably provide as many opportunities to look both sage and silly in a few years as past efforts.
1) Javier Guerra, SS
2015 Stats: Low-A: .279/.329/.449 23 2B, 15 HR, 112K/30BB
The Panamanian native got a relatively modest $250,000 bonus to sign with the Red Sox in 2012, but has been on the radar since he came stateside. Don’t let this year’s home run totals fool you – Guerra’s glove is the reason he’s at the top of the list. As he moves up, he’ll make every play defensively, and has the arm that AJ Preller’s consigliere Don Welke has always valued in a shortstop. To max out his upside, he’ll need to stop selling out for power, work the ball the other way some more, and cut his alarming strikeout totals from this season. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like from a guy who will start his age-20 campaign in Elsinore.
2) Travis Jankowski, CF
2015 Stats: Double-A/Triple-A: .335/.413/.425 50K/49BB 32 SB in 90 games
After a dreadful, injury-marred 2014, Jankowski was a total wildcard coming into the season. But the former first-rounder came out with a vengeance and didn’t take his foot off the gas until he reached the big league club. Though he doesn’t have Margot’s strength, he has a more patient approach at the plate, and is at least his equal defensively. I’ve given him the nod over Margot here for two reasons. One, he showed the ability to turn on pitches enough this year that I think he’ll keep big league pitchers honest and be able to get on base enough to be valuable offensively. Despite Margot’s big-time name, as someone who can sometimes fall victim to “shiny new toy syndrome,” I want to stick with the player I know better.
3) Hunter Renfroe, RF
2015 Stats: Double-A/Triple-A: .272/321/.462 20 HR, 27 2B 132K/37BB in 133 games
The 2015 campaign offered glimpses at both the immense talent and gaps in on-field production that exist in the club’s top 2013 draftee. The 23-year-old was abysmal in April and the first half of August in San Antonio. In between, he was a force, OPSing north of 900 through June and July. He finished the year by obliterating the PCL for three weeks. In the field, he showed off his plus arm, but had periods when, despite his athleticism, he was sub-par defender. Renfroe will always have plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, but I believe in the natural athletic ability and fantastic power, and suspect that we’ll see him in the big leagues before the end of the 2016 campaign.
4) Manuel Margot, CF
2015 Stats: Hi-A/Double-A: .276/.324/.419 51K/30BB 39 SB in 110 games
Margot’s strengths – his plus defense and speed – are the same as Travis Jankowski’s. The question for the 21-year-old Dominican is whether his aggressive approach at the plate will limit his offensive upside. At worst, he should be a high-contact/low-OBP center fielder. If he can build his patience a bit and make sure he hits his pitch hard rather than the pitcher’s pitch weakly, he could provide league-average offense as well and emerge as a very valuable big leaguer.
5) Ruddy Giron, 3B
2015 Stats: Low-A: .285/.335/.407, 9 HR, 68K/29BB 15SB/14CS in 98 games
I suspect I’ll be the high man on Giron even though I’m already moving him off shortstop. Though he’s listed at 5’11, 175, he’s already moved past that before his 19th birthday, and I can’t imagine he’ll stay up the middle beyond next year, if that. I also don’t think it will matter to support the high ranking. I love Giron’s bat and expect him to offer more than enough at the plate to play at the hot corner. Giron’s makeup is off-the-charts and as he gets used to the rhythm of the full seasons, I expect his tools to shine.
6) Colin Rea, RHP
2015 Stats: Double-A/Triple-A: 5-4, 1.95 ERA, 80 K/23BB .210 BAA in 101.2 IP
To call 2015 a breakout for the big righty would be a major understatement. Long a favorite of many in the player development system, Rea took a giant step forward, more because of trusting his stuff than any particular change in his repertoire or ability. He doesn’t have one plus pitch, but can use his cut- and four-seam fastballs and overhand curve very effectively. If he can establish his change (a split-finger) as a consistent strike-getter, Rea will be a valuable addition to the big league rotation for the foreseeable future.
7) Ryan Butler, RHP
2015 Stats: High-A/Double-A: High-A/Double-A: 3-5, 3.90 ERA, 40K/23BB, .275 BAA, in 64.2 IP
This is the one with the highest likelihood for raised eyebrows. For the first six weeks of 2015, Butler the starter was as dominant as Butler the closer was at the end of 2014. But after a quick promotion to San Antonio, the 23-year-old from Charlotte was shut down with shoulder soreness. He spent a few months doing strengthening and flexibility work in Arizona, but when he came back, he was pretty ineffective in highly limited work. The risk of injury short-circuiting his 2016 season, and the organization may just decide to send him back to the bullpen full-time. But if he’s healthy in spring, he’ll get another chance to show that his fastball/slider/change-up approach can sustain him as a starter. The (non-injury) worst-case scenario for Butler is as a shutdown reliever who can often hit triple digits on the radar gun.
8-10) Logan Allen, LHP; Austin Smith, RHP; Jacob Nix, RHP
2015 Stats: 61 total innings pitched between them
Sure, this is something of a cop-out. But I’m okay with that given the situation with the trio of 2015 draftees. All three had very little work in their professional debuts. I haven’t seen any of the three throw competitively yet, and all three, based on tools and pedigree, have significant upside. Allen was part of the Kimbrell trade just a few months after the Red Sox selected him as one of the youngest pitchers in the 2015 draft (he’s two weeks older than Luis Urias). The lefty spent his last two years of high school at the IMG academy in Florida, and definitely showed his experience against top-notch competition in his pro debut.
Nix, who will turn 20 in January, and Smith, who is exactly six months younger, had rougher professional debuts in even more limited exposure than Allen. The Padres’ top two picks in the abbreviated 2015 draft, the duo also have had more than their fair share of success in high-profile scouting circles for some time, both having already toed the rubber at Petco Park as part of the Perfect Game All-America Classic.
All three will likely start 2016 in the rotation at Fort Wayne (which should be quite a unique experience for a trio of warm-weather guys). The organization will hope for better results than the last time they sent three high-profile draftees out to head a TinCaps rotation.
11) Rymer Liriano, OF
2015 Stats: Triple-A:.292/.383/.460 31 2B, 14 HR, 18 SB, 132K/64BB in 131 games
A year after he struggled in his (rather inexplicable) big league debut, Liriano even more inexplicably never got a September call-up after a strong, if not spectacular, Triple-A campaign. I suspect that, if given the opportunity, Liriano could be a solid big league contributor. I’m also growing less inclined to believe such an opportunity will come his way. Though he has seemingly been around forever, he is five days younger than Jankowski. He has a tantalizing combination of power and speed, but there have long been whispers around the game about his focus and it seems that perhaps the new regime might be inclined to agree. Liriano (if he isn’t traded) will get a chance with a new big league on-field staff, but is quickly running out of pathways to the majors. I hope the club will prove me wrong on this.
12)Dinelson Lamet, RHP
2015 Stats: Low-A: 5-8, 2.99 ERA, 120 K/44BB, .214 BAA, in 105.1 IP
It would be easy to characterize the club’s approach with the first 22-year-old Dominican signee in recent memory as aggressive because his first stateside pitch was in full-season ball. On the other hand, the highly calculated inning and pitch count limits could be seen as protective. In 2016, the leash will be completely off, and they might once again push the hard-throwing righty up to Double-A. It would be unconventional, but so far everything else about the guy’s path has been. Stepping past his unique journey, Lamet’s stuff and ability are top-rate. He already has two above-average big league pitches and definitely has room to grow.
13) Michael Gettys, CF
2015 Stats: Low-A: .231/.271/.346, 27 2B, 6 3B, 6 HR, 20 SB, 162K/28BB in 122 games
Yes, the slash line is ghastly. Yes, it’s entirely possible Gettys will never figure out a way to make consistent enough contact to tap into his easy plus raw power in games. Yes, it’s possible that he’ll continue to spend too much time in his own head, worrying about one thing that went wrong rather than thinking of five that went well. Yet, even with all that, Gettys still has nearly as high a ceiling as anyone in the organization. Player development is non-linear, and trying to guess whether a guy will synthesize everything to make a jump to the next level can make you crazy. I don’t think I could fully bet on Gettys to do it, but I sure can’t bring myself to walk away from his immense talent either.
14) Luis Urias, 2B
2015 Stats: Low-A/Short Season-A: .299/388/.335, 8 SB (13! CS) 19K/21BB in 61 games
Urias was seemingly born to put the barrel of the bat on a baseball. However, the 18-year-old could also be easily mistaken for the bat boy in most Midwest League ballparks. He’s smaller than his listed 5’9”, 160 and doesn’t offer an awful lot of physical projection. The question is whether he’ll be able to add enough strength to put the ball in the gaps with enough frequency to make him viable at upper levels. The club will likely let him start the year back in Fort Wayne, where he might still be the youngest player on the circuit, and he’ll likely hit for high average once again.
15)Nick Torres, RF
2015 Stats: Low-A/High-A: .305/.352/.439 44 2B, 5 HR, 97K/27BB, 14 OF Assists in 129 games
Yes, the 44 doubles were good for second in minor league baseball in 2015, but the extra-base hit total didn’t crack the top 30. Torres lit up Midwest League pitching but then was only so-so in the offense-friendly Cal League – a trend that extended to the AFL. It’s tough to get a read on how much of that was the grind of his first full season of professional baseball, but Torres certainly showed flashes of a plus hit tool. During instructs, he was working on adding loft to his swing, which will obviously be important if he’s going to build on a successful 2015 campaign.
16) Enyel De Los Santos, RHP
2015 Stats: Rook/SS: 6-0, 3.47 ERA 71K/18BB .262BAA in 62.1IP
The primary piece to come back in the Joaquin Benoit trade, De Los Santos was one of a number of talented young arms with some pitchability in the Mariners system. Still 19 until Christmas day, the Dominican righty had success at the two short-season levels for Seattle this summer, striking out better than 10 hitters per nine innings. While his fastball sits comfortably north of 90, he’s much more than a thrower, walking only 18 total. He’ll likely head to Fort Wayne as yet another young starter in 2016, and offers plenty to project for the future.
17) Jose Urena, OF
2015 Stats: Short Season: .258/.390/.409 7HR 59K/47BB in 63 games
The big outfielder had a dreadful 2014 campaign, but rebounded nicely in a park that doesn’t really play to his strength in Tri-City this year. He’ll turn 21 just after the new year and will get a second crack at the Midwest League in 2016. The Sonoran native sees a lot of pitches, and may benefit from being slightly more aggressive on hitter’s pitches early in counts. He’ll never be a high average guy, but he has been among league leaders in home runs twice in three years and has more thunder in the bat than he’s tapped into yet.
18) Brad Zunica, 1B
2015 Stats: Rookie: 271/.329/.496, 7 HR, 40K/10BB in 35 G
The massive first baseman has long levers in his swing and will need to get shorter to the ball as he moves up, but the man-child can hit a ball out to any part of the field. Zunica’s journey has been an odd one that includes graduating from high school early to go to the University of Miami, only to struggle on the field and within the program. So he went to a JuCo last spring where he absolutely destroyed lower competition and earned himself an over-slot bonus in the 15th round – all before he turned 20. The Padres will get some sense of his dedication to improving when the big man arrives in camp this spring and they see how he’s handled his offseason conditioning program. Not coincidentally, he was attached to Trae Santos throughout instructs, and the club will hope that the Guamanian's commitment inspires the same from Zunica.
19) Phil Maton, RHP
2015 Stats: Short Season: 4-2, 1.38ERA, 58K/5BB in 32.2 innings
A four-year starting pitcher at Louisiana Tech, the hard-throwing righty never averaged more than a strikeout per inning in the WAC until his senior year. But working in relief for the Dust Devils in his pro debut, he had nearly 16 K/9 and an even more ridiculous walk rate of one every six-plus innings. A Midwesterner who scouting director Mark Conner watched as a high-schooler in Illinois, Maton has the skills to work in the rotation going forward, so the club will have an interesting decision to make with him in 2016. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them take the same aggressive approach with him we saw them use with Ryan Butler this past spring. I’ll concede that the aggressive ranking here is in part a reaction to disappointment in myself for backing off on Butler last winter.
20) Alex Dickerson, LF
2015 Stats: Triple-A: .307/.374/.503 36 2B, 9 3B, 12 HR, 96K/45BB in 125 games
After five professional seasons, the book on Dickerson remains essentially what it was when he came out of Indiana as a third-rounder. The big man can hit, but he may wind up as a tweener who doesn’t have enough power to break through as a big league regular. He has the advantage of strong platoon splits as a left-handed hitter, so he may earn a shot at a platoon in 2016, depending on how the big league roster shapes up this winter. If that opportunity comes open, then he’ll have the chance to play into more than that. If the club makes a move for an established everyday player in left, Dickerson will likely spend the remainder of his option years as insurance tucked away in El Paso.
21) Jose Rondon, IF
2015 Stats: Hi-A/Double-A: 267/.320/.359, 38K/21BB, 18 SB in 85 games
National pundits are much higher on him than any of us at MadFriars. They’re banking on him staying at shortstop, adding some strength to be able to do more than spray the ball around, and finding a way to be a threat against advanced pitching. I don’t see any of those as likely for the 21-year-old Venezuelan. That’s why I had him at 22 last year, and why he appears in essentially the same spot now. Defensively, I think he’s going to come up short as anything more than utility guy, and offensively, I don’t see the approach working at Double-A, much less in the majors. The broken elbow that ended his season after an atrocious debut in San Antonio certainly didn’t help matters. Obviously the team saw things very differently when they chose to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but I suspect he will ultimately move back off the 40-man roster in a few years having never put on a big league uniform.
22) Luis Perdomo, RHP
2015 Stats: Low-A/Hi-A: 6-12, 3.98ERA 118K/37BB .273 BAA in 126.2 innings
This is a tough ranking for a lot of reasons. The hard-throwing righty could really use time to develop in the minors, but as a Rule 5 pick, the Padres won’t have the luxury of allowing him to do so. The chances of last summer’s Futures Game participant finding success out of the bullpen in the majors in 2016 is low, but the club will have plenty of incentive to find a way to keep him to avoid having him join Ivan Nova among the “ones that got away” by getting returned to their original system. He has the makings of enough to work as a starter if he was going to move level-by-level, but he’ll likely get shoehorned into a bullpen role if he is with San Diego come April 1.
23) Jose Castillo, LHP
2015 Stats: Short-season/Low-A: 4-2, 3.74 ERA, 51K/32 BB, .264 BAA, in 79.1 IP
This ranking is more about pedigree than performance that I’ve seen so far. The big lefty received one of the biggest bonuses in 2012 when the Rays signed him out of Venezuela, and he was a key component of the Wil Myers trade. That said, his velocity readings in 2015 didn’t match his promotional materials, and his performance was fairly pedestrian. But at 19, and with the arm he has, he still has big-time upside, and will get plenty of opportunities to convert on it. He’ll be another of the high-profile starters in Fort Wayne to open 2015 and, with more professional experience than the others, could be in line to move up midseason if he performs up to his billing.
24) Franmil Reyes, RF
2015 Stats: Low-A : .255/.320/.393 8HR, 91K/46BB in 123 games
After getting returned to the Midwest League, Reyes scuffled along for much of the year, only nudging his season line above his 2014 stats thanks to an eight-game hitting streak to end the campaign. But the giant right fielder has the tools and skills to be a middle-of-the-order producer from a corner outfield spot. A small taste of success would go a long way to reassuring the big man that he can play at the any level, and the Cal League is the ideal venue for him to find that positive reinforcement as a 20-year-old in 2016.
25) Justin Hancock, RHP
2015 Stats: Double-A/Triple-A : 8-6, 3.51 ERA, 97K/53BB, .283 BAA in 130.2 IP,
Hancock confuses me. He has above-average velocity with his fastball and a solid mix of offerings, but he doesn’t get strikeouts. He puts way too many runners on base, but he continues to minimize damage opponents do against him. I thought he’d plateaued when he reached Elsinore in 2013, and made the same incorrect bet against him after he labored through his first pass in San Antonio in 2014. Yet, here he is, having made a couple of impressive starts in Triple-A to end his 2015 campaign. I worry that it could all come crashing down around him in the PCL, but he’s in control of his own destiny at this point. If you’re going to be on someone to beat the odds, it might as well be a kid from Defiance.
26) Yimmi Brasoban, RHRP
2015 Stats: Low-A 5-3, 12 Saves 2.26 ERA 80K/25BB .244 BAA in 71.2 IP
Trying to stack up the relievers in Single-A in any semblance of a cohesive order is a challenge. There are arguments for six or seven guys in the back-end of these rankings, from Colby Blueberg to Kyle McGrath to the newly-acquired Jose Torres. But I’ve been a fan of Brasoban’s filthy slider since I first saw him in a side session in Peoria in 2013, and I think it’s one of the top three pitches anywhere in the system. That sets him apart from the crowd for me. He was just fine through the first half, but really turned it on late in the summer, posting a 1.86 ERA after he moved into a timeshare of the closer’s duties post All-Star break. I think that’s who he is going forward, and wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s widely considered a potential closer of the future a year from now.
27) Jay Jackson, RHRP
2015 Stats: Double-A/Triple-A 3-4, 15S, 2.42 ERA, 86K/18BB, .232 BAA in 74.1 IP
Listing a 28-year-old who’s been in five organizations in four years here feels as weird to write as it probably does to read. But Jackson - who landed between Peter Bourjos and Jake Arrieta at the very back of Baseball America’s pre-2010 Top 100 list – found his groove as a reliever and strikes me as a much better bet to provide actual big-league value at this point than fireballer/backstop-destroyer Tayron Guerrero or one-time Rangers outfield prospect Jon Edwards, who are popular picks by many. As I noted above, there are many, many pitchers in the upper minors who have a skillset that could work in late-inning relief. Jackson’s one of them. Edwards, Guerrero, Leonel Campos and others who worked in El Paso in 2015 all could as well. But I’m going to hitch my horse to the one who most consistently knows what’s going to happen when the ball leaves his hand.
Note: If you ever want a reminder of what an adventure it can be to try to undertake an exercise of ranking players, check out the final 20 spots on BA’s list from six years ago!
28) Walker Lockett, RHP
2015 Stats: Rookie/Short Season/Low-A: 4-4, 4.14 ERA, 70K/20BB, .260 BAA in 87 innings
After Walker Weickel’s Tommy John surgery this past summer, Lockett and now-reliever Corey Kimber are the last two arms standing in the system from the Padres’ high school-heavy class of 2012. Despite staying healthy for the first time in his career, Lockett still managed to derail himself with a violation of team rules in Tri-City that got him sent backward to finish the season. Which is a shame, because he was really starting to show what he can do when on the mound. Now, the 22-year-old has some work to do to position himself headed into 2016 with a crew of younger arms coming on behind him. With the size and mechanics you look for in a projectable starter, Lockett still offers a lot as project/prospect but this will likely be his last shot at it.
29) Auston Bousfield, CF
2015 Stats: High-A/Double-A: .268/.355/.328, 96K/58BB, 23SB in 121 games
A year after he was drafted out of Ole Miss in the fifth round, the defense-first center fielder handled an aggressive assignment to High-A to begin the year and even got a late-season cameo in the Texas League. Bousfield flashed his strong defense and good contact skills early, but looked gassed by the time I saw him again in August. He’ll need to add strength not just to avoid wearing down, but to hit the ball with enough authority to put his speed and instincts to work. If things go well, he has a pretty good floor as a fifth outfielder. If not, he could follow in the footsteps of Drew Macias.
30) Alberth Martinez, CF
2015 Stats: Double-A: .276/.341.397 85K/44BB in 129 games
The 25-year-old Venezuelan has no one standout tool, but he provides defensive value at all three outfield spots, has enough speed and power for both to be factors, and has had stretches when he shows the ability to barrel the ball enough for everything else to play. He certainly could stall out in Triple-A in 2016, but he’s also got enough going for him that he could get a chance while holding down the position for higher-end talents coming behind him. Several times in the last year, I’ve said or written that he’s the kind of guy who winds up in the majors before anyone’s ever heard his name: now if he does, our faithful MadFriars readers can be the exceptions to that statement!