While the Minor League season kicked off back in early April, there are several leagues just kicking off their seasons now. Short-season schedules began on Friday, giving prospects at the bottom rungs of organizations a chance to show what they can do.Rosters on teams of these leagues will be filled
While the Minor League season kicked off back in early April, there are several leagues just kicking off their seasons now. Short-season schedules began on Friday, giving prospects at the bottom rungs of organizations a chance to show what they can do.
Rosters on teams of these leagues will be filled with members of the 2016 Draft class, as well as those who had been toiling away in extended spring camps waiting for an assignment, either because of injury or simply because they weren't ready for a full-season assignment.
A total of six leagues are getting started. The New York-Penn and Northwest Leagues are the most advanced circuits, and a spot where many draftees from the college ranks will head. The Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues are rookie-level leagues. Draftees will also head there, including some high schoolers, as well as some young players who possibly got their feet wet last year in what is known as the "complex leagues." That's the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues, which play in Spring Training facilities, generally without fans. Those rookie levels are usually home to high school draftees and international prospects making their United States debuts.
• Complete look at the Top 100 prospects
Just who is worth watching as all this new baseball gets underway. Here's a quick list of the Top 10 prospects in short-season ball, keeping in mind this list will change as more draftees sign.
1. Riley Pint, RHP, Rockies (Grand Junction Rockies, Pioneer League):
The No. 4 overall pick in the Draft, Pint is a Kansas high school product who touches triple digits consistently with his fastball. But he's not just all power, with a very good curveball, a decent slider and even a feel for a changeup.
2. Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds (Billings Mustangs, Pioneer League):
The No. 2 overall pick in the Draft, don't expect Senzel to stay in rookie ball long. He was the most advanced hitter in the class, with an ability to hit for average and power to come. Look for him in a full-season league near you in short order.
3. Brady Aiken, LHP, Indians (AZL Indians, Arizona League):
The story, by now is well known: Aiken was the No. 1 pick, taken by the Astros, but didn't sign. The Indians took him in 2015 even though he had Tommy John surgery that spring. The first pitch he throws in Arizona will be the first official professional pitch of his career.
4. Daz Cameron, OF, Astros (Tri-City ValleyCats, New York-Penn League):
Cameron is actually ranked ahead of Aiken on the overall Top 100 prospects list (they are the only two Top 100 guys on this list here), but if a re-ranking were to take place right now, Aiken might land ahead. Cameron struggled in the Midwest League, but could very well right the ship with Tri-City.
5. Garrett Whitley, OF, Rays (Hudson Valley Renegades, New York-Penn League):
There are those who are concerned about the 2015 first-round pick's struggles out of the gate last summer. But the tools are there and he just needs more pro experience. Look for the upstate New York product to feel right at home in the NY-Penn League and remind people why he was a first-rounder to begin with.
6. Michael Kopech, RHP, Red Sox (Lowell Spinners, New York-Penn League):
Talent-wise, an argument can be made that Kopech belongs on the Top 100 list. A 50-game suspension for a banned stimulant set him back and a broken hand suffered because of a fight with a teammate called his maturity into question. Getting back to pitching in Lowell might be just what he needs.
7. Will Craig, 3B, Pirates (West Virginia Black Bears, New York-Penn League):
Another advanced hitter on this list, Craig put up ridiculous numbers in the ACC this spring. His patient approach and strength should allow him to hit for average and power, especially at this level.
8. Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers (AZL Dodgers, Arizona League):
Had he been healthy, Buehler would have likely gone higher in the 2015 Draft. But word of him needing Tommy John surgery caused him to drop to No. 24, and he might be a steal for the Dodgers. He has the chance to have four pitches, all average or a tick above, with excellent command of all four.
9. Mike Nikorak, RHP, Rockies (Grand Junction Rockies, Pioneer League):
The Rockies' second first-rounder in 2015 really struggled during his summer debut, unable to command the ball, both in terms of wildness and hitting spots witihin the strike zone. Don't put too much weight into one summer, give Nikorak a mulligan and see what he does as he repeats the Pioneer League.
10. Matt Thaiss, C, Angels (Orem Owlz, Pioneer League):
Thaiss possess one of the better left-handed bats in the 2016 Draft class. Like Senzel, he may not be long for this level, though staying there to work on his catching may not be a bad thing. He can hit for average, draw walks and has plenty of power to tap into.
Others to watch: Luis Carpio, RHP, Mets (Appy); Jahmai Jones, OF, Angels (Pioneer); Triston McKenzie, RHP Indians (NY-Penn); Ashe Russell, RHP, Royals (Appy)
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.