Today is the final day of the 2018 minor league regular season. Florida has already concluded their regular seasons while Rome, Mississippi, and Gwinnett will finish up today. Meanwhile, Rome begins a playoff series with Lexington on Wednesday.
With all that in mind, here is my 2018 Minor League Organizational All-Stars. If you see a number beside the player, that represents his placement on our Midseason Top 50.
Catcher – William Contreras, #12
While the catcher of the future slowed down after moving to Florida to finish the season, he emerged as clearly the top catching prospect in the system. Despite not joining Rome until late April, Contreras hit .293/.360/.463 over 82 games with the South Atlantic League squad. He was a big reason why they took home a First-Half Division Title. After hitting just four homers with Danville in 2017, he smacked eleven with Rome to go with 17 doubles and one triple. As I said, things slowed following a promotion to Florida as he hit just .241 with no homers in 22 games. But at just 20, Contreras’s stock continues to climb. He’ll probably return to the Fire Frogs to open 2019, but will be a good start away from a promotion to Double-A.
First Base – Ray Hernandez
Pickings were slim at first base. The Braves let a few of their long-time first base options like Joey Meneses and Carlos Castro leave last offseason and replacements like Tyler Marlette and Michael Snyder didn’t impress much. So, here’s to Alabama State’s own Ray Hernandez. After being picked in the 29th round last June, Hernandez went to the Gulf Coast League and hit .283/.357/.486 with eleven doubles and five homers in 154 PA. Outfield Fly Rule’s Andy Harris recently interviewed the youngster and it’s worth a read. I don’t know if Hernandez will continue to hit – after all, he was a 29th rounder. But he’ll be a fun name to keep track of in 2019.
Second Base – Alejandro Salazar
You could also go with Braulio Vasquez or Greg Cullen here, but I’m going with the full-season performance of Alejandro Salazar. The gifted gloveman only had a .649 OPS in 2018 split mostly between Florida and Mississippi – plus a cameo in Gwinnett. But that was nearly an 80-point gain on his 2017 OPS of .572. Salazar is a singles hitter and while he has some speed, it’s probably never going to be a weapon. But he hit .284 in 2018, which made him a somewhat useful option at the bottom of the lineup. Salazar, who can play all over the infield, is a great fit at second base.
Shortstop – Riley Delgado, #38
The pop left him almost completely after a promotion to Florida – that’s not unusual as we have found out with Florida the last couple of seasons. That said, Delgado, whose name comically sounds like he should be in detective film noir piece, had a productive 2018. After hitting just .217 last season – mostly in Danville – not much was expected from Delgado this year. However, he hit .330 with a .793 OPS in Rome. He only had two extra-base hits in 2017 – both doubles. The shortstop picked up 19 doubles and a pair of homers this year before the promotion to Florida. He kept finding holes, hitting .295 with a .348 OBP. However, he only had five doubles. Delgado maxes out as a bench player with a good glove, defensive flexibility, and fringy hit tool. He grades high in intangibles and could continue to surprise people like he did this season.
Third Base – Austin Riley, #3
Honorable mention to CJ Alexander, who hit .358/.432/.503 in his first summer as a professional. But this is still Riley’s spot as far as Organizational Lists go. While he missed some action, he’s still a homer short of back-to-back 20-HR seasons. The only Braves that hit more home runs this season than Riley play in Atlanta. There’s still a chance he joins the rest of his young Braves brethren in the big leagues at some point this month. With his defensive improvements, if there is something to nit-pick about with Riley, it would be the strikeout rate. Still, he hit .292 this season so the hit tool is still there.
Outfield – Travis Demeritte (#24), Michael Reed, and Drew Waters (#9)
Certainly, you could argue for others – Jefrey Ramos and Cristian Pache especially. And certainly, these are not the top three outfield prospects. Well, at least two aren’t. But we awarding performance here so that’s all that matters.
Demeritte was in the midst of another lost year before finding his bat down the stretch. After hitting .214/.324/.375 over the first 60 games, he picked up three hits on June 14 and found his power stroke. Over the final 68 games, he only hit .229 with a .310 OBP, but belted eleven homers along the way for a .759 OPS. He was especially good over the final 23 games with a .293/.391/.573 slash. Not sure it will be enough to earn a spot on the 40-man and with more defensive flexibility, a team might be willing to take a look at Demeritte this winter in the Rule 5.
While his run in the majors was short and forgetful, Reed was a force over 97 games in the minors between Mississippi and Gwinnett. He hit .342 with a .453 OBP and a .520 SLG. Give him 26 doubles, 11 homers, and even ten steals. Reed won’t be included in any Top Prospect lists after the season – he turns 26 in November. But he’s got a chance to compete for a spot on next year’s bench if he sticks around long enough.
When I saw Waters last summer, I saw a player with a long swing and timing issues at the plate. Hard work and adjustments, though, allowed Waters to impress plenty of on-lookers in his first full season of professional ball as a 19-year-old. With Rome, he dominated, slashing .303/.353/.513. He even stole 20-of-25 and hit nine homers over 84 games. In a similar story to Contreras, his numbers slowed after a promotion to Florida to open August – .268/.316/.374. But did I mention he’s just 19?
Top 3 Starters – Ian Anderson (#6), Touki Toussaint (#5), Bryse Wilson (#10)
I’ve been slow to the Ian Anderson hype train. I actually preferred the draft choices of Joey Wentz and Muller more. But at just 20 years-old, Anderson flashed his big right arm in 2018. He spent most of the season in Florida, which was just unfair to the Florida League. Once he hit his stride in his last eleven starts there, he struck out 66 in 58 innings with a 1.71 ERA. He was awarded with a promotion to Mississippi and after a couple uneven starts, he shut the door on Biloxi and Jacksonville to end the year (12.2 ING, 0 runs, 3 walks, 19 K’s). Once Wright gets into a game, Anderson will be Atlanta’s top pitching prospect to not yet pitch in the majors.
We’ve been patiently waiting for Toussaint to turn the corner and in 2018, he found his dominant self. In two dozen starts with Mississippi and Gwinnett, Toussaint K’d 163 in 136.1 innings – good for tenth-most in the minors this season. He shrunk his walk rate from double digits to around 9%. He also induced a lot more soft contact on the ground. For the first time, we are not dreaming what Toussaint will look like if he reaches his potential. We are witnesses.
Bryse Wilson’s ERA is a wee bit higher, but few pitchers were more impressive in minor league baseball during 2018 than Wilson. He opened the year with Florida, a perfectly acceptable spot for a 20-year-old to begin his second full season. By August, he was in the majors. All the while, he flashed even stronger strikeout rates and the same amazing control that opened so many eyes in 2017. Making solid contact in the air remains a difficult proposition for hitters facing Wilson. Oh, and hey, he doesn’t turn 21 until December.
Left-Handed Reliever – Thomas Burrows, #34
We were surprised to see him open the year in Rome. After an impressive K of Juan Soto in his first game, he quickly joined Florida and earned a second promotion to Mississippi before the season was over. He led all Braves relievers with 85 K’s in 66.2 innings and even finished fifth in saves with ten. The former Alabama arm is rising and rising fast. With Corbin Clouse, the Braves have two top left-handed prospects coming out of the pen.
Right-Hand Reliever – Chad Sobotka, #36
But Chad Sobotka didn’t fall into this designation. He earned every bit of it, opening the year with Florida and likely finishing the year with the big league club. Along the way, he pitched in 44 games in the minors with a K/9 of 12. He allowed just one homer in 57.2 innings and saved eleven games as well. Sobotka, Webb, Burrows, and Clouse will all be ready to battle for positions in the bullpen next spring. All are filthy.
What do you think? Did I make a mistake with my choices? Let me know below.