While the majority of the full-season leagues throughout the Minors have already reached the midseason mark, another batch of leagues, commonly referred to as short-season leagues, are just beginning and contain many of the game’s top up-and-coming prospects.
The New York-Penn and Northwest Leagues (Class A Short Season) as well as the Pioneer League (Rookie) are all wrapping up their first week of play after launching on June 14, while the Arizona and Appalachian Leagues (Rookie), which began on June 17 and 18, respectively, are just a few days into their seasons.
The Dominican Summer League (Rookie), which features many of the top international signings from last year’s July 2 class, is nearly three-weeks old at this point, having begun on June 1, whereas the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) is yet to begin, with Opening Day slated for June 24.
With so many impressive young players now in action, and even more to come, MLB Pipeline is here to highlight one prospect from each organization playing in a short-season league.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, No. 6
Toronto’s ability to sign 2018 first-rounder Jordan Groshans for below-slot value in turn enabled the club to sign his Magnolia (Texas) High teammate Kloffenstein for $2.45 million -- well above his slot's recommended value of $652,900 -- after they drafted the right-hander in the third round. An imposing presence on the mound, at 6-foot-5, 243 pounds, the 18-year-old Kloffenstein could have four three above-average or better pitchers once fully developed and impresses scouts with his athleticism and relatively easy and repeatable delivery.
Orioles: Joey Ortiz, SS, 4th-rounder
Baltimore popped Ortiz (No. 179 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 200 Draft prospects) in the fourth round after he led all of Division I during the regular season in hits (106) while also finishing third in average (.422) and RBIs (84) as a New Mexico State junior. A 20-year-old who signed for below slot value at $450,000, he projects to be an average hitter and should have no problem sticking at shortstop in the professional ranks.
Rays: Greg Jones, SS, 1st-rounder
Selected by the Rays out of UNC Wilmington and signed for slightly below slot value ($3.02 million), Jones, an 80-grade runner who scouts regarded as one of the fastest players in his class, has made an immediate impact in the pro ranks, posting back-to-back two-hit games in the New York-Penn League. To go along with his blazing speed, the 21-year-old switch-hitter shows the potential to hit for both average and power from both sides of the plate, with on-base skills that would fit nicely atop a big league lineup. There's less certainty about his defense as a shortstop, leading some to believe he'll eventually land in center field.
Red Sox: Antoni Flores, SS, No. 6
Signed for $1.4 million out of Venezuela in 2017, Flores is one of just a few 18-year-olds in the short-season New York-Penn League. A member of the Lowell Spinners, he stands out most with his hitting ability and arm strength.
Yankees: Everson Pereira, OF, No. 7
The youngest regular in the Rookie-level Appalachian League last summer at age 17, Pereira was the youngest player on a short-season New York-Penn League roster this year. Signed for $1.5 million out of Venezuela in 2017, the Staten Island Yankee shows the potential for four solid or better tools with close to average power.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: George Valera, OF, No. 5
One of the top hitting prospects in the 2017 international class, the New York-born Valera signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic but played just six games in his pro debut last summer before a broken hamate bone in his right hand sidelined him. He has a pretty left-handed stroke and doubled twice in his first game for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers before homering in each of his next two.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS, 1st-rounder
The No. 2 overall pick in the Draft is bringing his full toolbox and his passion for the game to the rookie-level Arizona League to kick off his pro career. He has the chance to be a generational-type player, one who becomes the face of the Royals franchise.
Tigers: Kingston Liniak, OF, No. 30
The Tigers gave Liniak, the club’s fourth-round pick in the 2018 Draft, an above-slot bonus of $900,000 last year to lure him away from a San Diego State commitment. The results have been great early in his career, but it’s important to remember that the 19-year-old outfielder, who checks in at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, is all about projection right now, and the hope is that he’ll develop into a player who hits for average while also impacting the game on both sides of the ball with his plus speed.
Twins: Misael Urbina, OF, No. 20
Signed last July out of Venezuela for $2.75 million, Urbina is making his pro debut this summer in the Dominican Summer League. He’s already showing top-of-the-lineup skills, with six steals and more walks than strikeouts during his first dozen games, not to mention his five extra-base hits.
White Sox: James Beard, OF, 4th-rounder
The White Sox top three picks in the 2019 Draft have yet to sign, making fourth-rounder Beard their highest choice currently playing pro ball. A Mississippi high school product who was the fastest player in the 2019 class, he's in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: D’Shawn Knowles, OF, No. 9
The Bahamian outfielder signed for $850,000 in July 2017 then excited everyone with a strong pro debut stateside in 2018 that saw him earn a promotion from the Arizona League to the Pioneer League at the end of the summer. The toolsy outfielder is back with Orem this summer at age 18.
A’s: Yerdel Vargas, SS, No. 25
Vargas, who got seven figures to sign during the 2016-17 international signing period, has yet to really get his bat going as a pro, though he did pick up his first career home run on Wednesday. He has the skills to be a terrific defender at shortstop and the tools to be a more polished hitter as he matures, something he’s continuing to work on with Vermont in the short-season New York-Penn League.
Astros: Korey Lee, C, 1st-rounder
The biggest surprise of 2019's first round, Lee signed for $1.75 million after the Astros selected him at No. 32. They love his raw power and arm strength, and they assigned him to the short-season Tri-City ValleyCats.
Mariners: George Kirby, RHP, 1st-rounder
As a college starter, it remains to be seen how much Kirby will throw for Everett in the short-season Northwest League. But one thing is certain: The Elon product is going to throw strikes. Kirby walked only six (while striking out 107) over 88 innings during his junior season, for a ridiculous BB/9 rate of 0.61.
Rangers: Osleivis Basabe, SS/2B, No. 17
After failing to sign Shohei Ohtani after the 2017 season, the Rangers used part of their leftover international bonus pool money to land Basabe for $550,000 out of Venezuela that December. He finished third in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League batting race at .344 in his 2018 pro debut, then delivered two hits and three RBIs on Monday in his first game in the United States (Rookie-level Arizona League).
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Beau Philip, SS, 2nd-rounder
A junior college transfer to Oregon State this season, Philip’s stock took a hit when he missed time with an injury. But he showed good bat speed as the Beavers’ leadoff hitter when he was healthy, and the athletic infielder who went in the second round to the Braves will get to show how good he is at shortstop with Danville in the Appalachian League.
Phillies: Starlyn Castillo, RHP, No. 27
Castillo was the second-highest rated pitcher on our Top 30 international prospects list for the 2018-19 class, earning a bonus of $1.6 million from the Phillies to sign. The slightly undersized, but strong and athletic, right-hander will make his professional debut this summer in the Gulf Coast League, where he’ll showcase his three-pitch mix led by a fastball that can touch 97 mph.
Marlins: Nasim Nunez, SS, 2nd-rounder
Arguably the best defensive shortstop in the 2019 Draft, Nunez got late first-round money ($2.2 million) as a second-round pick. The Georgia high schooler also possesses well above-average speed and should get assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in the near future.
Mets: Junior Santos, RHP, No. 11
Signed for $275,000 during the same 2017 international period in which the Mets landed shortstop Ronny Mauricio ($2.1 million), Santos could end up being one of the biggest steals from his class if it all comes together. Just 17, Santos has plenty of projection remaining in his 6-foot-8, 218-pound frame, and the expectation is that he’ll be someone who sits comfortably in the mid-90s as he fills outs physically. He made his season debut on Wednesday in the Appalachian League after posting a 2.52 ERA with 39/6 K/BB ratio over 50 innings last summer between the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues.
Nationals: Mason Denaburg, RHP, No. 3
Selected with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Denaburg passed on his Florida commitment to sign for $3 million, more than $500,000 above his slot's recommended value. But because he had been limited at times that spring due to bicep tendinitis, the Nats decided not to send him out for his pro debut, instead giving the young right-hander extra rest until instructional league, where he drew rave reviews. Denaburg checks all the boxes teams look for in a future big league starter, starting with his highly projectable and athletic 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. In terms of stuff, Denaburg typically at sits 93-95 mph with his heater, throws a plus curveball that’s a high-spin-rate hammer and shows feel for developing a changeup with average-or-better potential.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Antoine Kelly, LHP, 2nd-rounder
Signed by Milwaukee for slot value ($1.03 million), Kelly, 19, might have the best pure stuff of any left-hander in his class. The 6-foot-6 southpaw generates easy velocity, sitting in the mid-90s and touching 98 mph, and he could throw even harder in the years to come. Both his slider and changeup need work, but the raw ingredients are all there for that to happen. This spring at Wabash Valley College (Ill.), he led national junior college pitchers both in strikeouts and strikeouts-per-nine.
Cubs: Richard Gallardo, RHP, No. 14
The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown pitching, and they're hoping that the top-rated amateur mound prospect in the 2018 international class can help change that. Signed for $1 million from Venezuela last July, Gallardo has the potential for a plus fastball and curveball. He threw three scoreless innings in his pro debut Monday in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he's the lone 17-year-old pitcher.
Cardinals: Malcom Nunez, 3B, No. 6
The Cardinals signed Nunez for $300,000 in July 2018, then watched as the 18-year-old Cuba product hit .415/.497/.774 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs in 44 games to win the Dominican Summer League triple crown in his pro debut. He received his first taste of full-season earlier this season, but batted just .183 in 21 games before St. Louis decided he might be better suited for the Appalachian League. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Nunez doesn’t come with much physical projection and faces questions about his future defensive home. The good news is that he possesses the type of hitting ability and power upside that could ultimately offset many of those concerns.
Reds: Nick Lodolo, LHP, 1st-rounder
Lodolo carried a full workload as TCU’s Friday night starter, so the Reds will likely be careful in their usage of their first-round pick this summer. Fans in Billings and the Pioneer League will get the first look at the top-rated arm in the 2019 Draft class, a lefty with three above-average pitches and excellent command of all three.
Pirates: Quinn Priester, RHP, 1st-rounder
One of the more projectable high school arms in the 2019 Draft class, the Illinois prep product and Pirates’ first-round pick will make his debut in the Gulf Coast League. He already brings a plus fastball and one of the best curveballs among the high schoolers in his class.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Kristian Robinson, OF, No. 5
There aren’t many players below full-season ball who can match Robinson’s ridiculously high ceiling. Signed out the Bahamas for $2.5 million in July 2017, he showed massive power potential last year as well as feel for hitting last year while reaching the Pioneer League in his professional debut at age 17. Now playing in the Northwest League, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has tallied eight hits in his first five games for the Hops.
Dodgers: Diego Cartaya, C, No. 9
The top-rated international amateur in the 2018 class, Cartaya signed for $2.5 million out of Venezuela. He has the upside of a solid hitter and defender, and he's batting .240/.316/.420 through 13 games in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS, No. 3
Some scouts considered Luciano the best all-around hitter in the 2018 international class, and his offensive prowess earned him a $2.6 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic. The third-youngest player in the Rookie-level Arizona League at age 17, he homered in his third game as a pro on Wednesday.
Padres: CJ Abrams, SS, 1st-rounder
The No. 4 prospect on the Draft Top 200, Abrams signed with San Diego for $5.2 million -- below his slot's recommended value of $5.74 -- after garnering Gatorade high school player of the year honors in Georgia this past spring at Blessed Trinity Catholic High. The 18-year-old has absolutely raked in his first two pro games, going 4-for-4 with a homer in his debut followed by a 3-for-6 performance. While the 6-foot-1, 178-pounder was regarded by scouts as one of the fastest players in his class, he also has a promising offensive profile, with the ability to hit for a high average and surprise with his power from the left side of the plate.
Rockies: Jared Horn, RHP, 7th-rounder
Horn has overcome tremendous adversity already, surviving a car crash and the loss of family members at the hands of a drunk driver to come back and pitch effectively for California this spring. Still only 20, the Rockies may have gotten a steal in the seventh round of this year’s Draft and will get a first look at what Horn has to offer with Grand Junction in the Pioneer League.