Best non-Top 100 prospects to build a team around

September 12th, 2019

With the Minor League season just about over -- there are still some playoff series going on -- we’re seeing a flurry of September callups. Some have been out of necessity, like the Cubs bringing up top prospect Nico Hoerner, who was slated to go to the Arizona Fall League, to fill a hole at shortstop. Teams contending have looked for help, like the A’s bringing up their top prospect Jesus Luzardo. Other teams looking to next year are giving their future a look, like in Seattle, where right-hander Justin Dunn and outfielder Kyle Lewis are getting their first chances to show what they can do.

Even if your favorite team didn’t have any exciting September callups, there’s still plenty to look forward to. Next week, Wednesday, Sept. 18 to be exact, the Arizona Fall League kicks off, and there’s no better place to be for prospect fans. I’m heading out for that first week of action, but before I head westward, I wanted to answer another interesting slate of Pipeline Inbox questions.

If I’m going to build a team, I’m usually going to want to stay up the middle. If I had to start somewhere, it would be a catcher, a middle infielder or maybe a center fielder. Looking at the current Top 100, there are a couple of up-the-middle types who are just on the outside looking in as of right now to consider, one catcher and one middle infielder.

The catcher is Luis Campusano of the Padres, whom is frequently the subject of questions we get concerning why he’s not on the Top 100 (trust me, he isn’t far off). Known mostly for his power bat and power arm, San Diego’s No. 8 prospect was a much more complete hitter in 2019. Playing in the Class A Advanced California League, Campusano finished with a .325/.396/.509 line in 110 games. He won the league’s batting title and finished second in OPS (.906). He still has that plus arm, though he threw out just 22.7 percent of potential basestealers. He still has work to do behind the plate, but the skills are all there and I can’t wait to watch him refine his craft in the Arizona Fall League.

Now on to the middle infielder. Jeter Downs, the Dodgers' No. 6 prospect, was one of 10 Minor League players to turn in a 20-20 season in 2019. He spent most of the year in the California League, but earned a late promotion to Double-A and continued to hit there, finishing with 24 homers and 24 steals. He’s now helping Tulsa make a Texas League playoff run, highlighted by his three-homer, five-RBI outburst in the Drillers' 18-9 win on Wednesday. Downs has played both shortstop and second base in his pro career, focusing on the former in his first season with the Dodgers organization.

As we all know, first rounders aren’t the only players who make it to the big leagues. After all, the current leader in WAR in the big leagues is Cody Bellinger, a fourth-round pick in the 2013 Draft. So this is a very worthy question to ponder. I even wrote a story about guys off to fast starts from the 2019 Draft class about a month ago and was sure to include some non-first rounders in the story.

Now that the Minor League season is all but over, there’s a little more data to sift through to pick out a handful of interesting candidates. I’ll throw out two hitters and a pair of pitchers.

Peyton Burdick is now No. 29 on the Marlins' Top 30, and after his debut, it wouldn't be surprising to see him climb in this vastly improved system. The third-round pick out of Wright State began the year in the Short-Season New York-Penn League, a typical debut spot for college draftees. He spent just six games there before moving up to full-season ball, where he continued to hit. He ended with a combined .308/.407/.542 line with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in 69 games, officially putting him on a faster track

Taken the fifth round by the Mariners, Austin Shenton was coming off an up-and-down junior season at Florida International. He really struggled at the start of that season as his mother was undergoing cancer treatments, then found his footing as the year went on. The third baseman looked every bit like an advanced college hitter when he put up a .367/.446/.595 line in 79 Northwest League at-bats. That got him bumped up to full-season ball, where the Mariners' No. 30 prospect held his own (.252/.328/.454).

On the mound, I’m interested to see what a pair of college hurlers do for an encore in their first full season in 2020. Matt Canterino (Twins No. 13 prospect) was taken in the second round out of Rice and used his unorthodox delivery to reach full-season ball. Yes, he only threw a total of 25 innings, but he gave up just eight hits (.096 average) and eight walks, while striking out 31 in those innings, 25 of which came in the Midwest League.

Stanford lefty Erik Miller, taken in the fourth round by the Phillies, has always had very good stuff. But command and delivery issues impacted his stock, with some thinking he might be best suited for the bullpen. We’ll have to wait and see about that, but his pro debut, which saw him reach the Class A South Atlantic League, proved his stuff is plenty good enough for the pro game. Across 36 innings, the Phillies’ No. 9 prospect allowed just 25 hits (.188 BAA) and struck out 52. He did walk 15 (3.8 BB/9), something he’ll have to keep working on, but that was an encouraging start for sure.

It’s always nice when one Twitter question can actually answer another one. Now, count me as someone who still believes in Mitch Keller’s arm and Ke’Bryan Hayes at third and even Cole Tucker at short (even if he’s no longer technically a prospect). And keep a very close eye on 2019 first rounder Quinn Priester. He’s going to be a good one.

But if you’re looking for excitement, for a player who could grow into the kind of franchise-changing player you crave? Then I think you have to look at Cruz. He’s No. 3 on the Pirates' Top 30 list now and No. 58 on the Top 100 and, truth be told, no one really knows what he can become. He’s 6-foot-6 and keeps getting better at shortstop, so while everyone thinks eventually he might be better suited at third or even a corner outfield spot, the Pirates have no plans to move him from the premium position.

And it might be a bad idea to put any limit on his offensive ceiling. Even though he missed a lot of time this year due to a broken foot, he still reached Double-A and performed capably there at age 20. There is tremendous raw power that he is just learning to tap into. He’s another one who I can’t wait to see in action in the AFL and he could use that as a big springboard to the upper echelons of prospect lists and then, of course, to Pittsburgh.