2020 Carolina League Prospect Preview

MJ Melendez, Wilmington Blue Rocks. April 13, 2019. Photo credit Jim Zele, @ZelePhotography on Twitter

I hope this article finds you all healthy, well, and missing baseball. This year I am shifting my coverage from the Low-A South Atlantic League to the Carolina League, one step up the ladder at the Class A Advanced level. There is plenty of talent that I’m excited to hopefully see in person this summer, and below I will detail many of those prospects below, team by team.
Disclaimer: I wrote this article under the assumption that there would indeed be a minor league baseball season in 2020, with teams separated into affiliates as normal, despite this possibility unfortunately still being up in the air as of publish date. 

Carolina Mudcats(MIL)

Former Mississippi State ace LHP Ethan Small should spend at least a chunk of the season in Zebulon, NC. Small is certainly not as his name implies, small. He’s a tall, lanky lefty who can throw a lot of strikes, while also featuring a solid curveball. Playing behind him at shortstop will be Brice Turang. Turang was a well-known HS prospect even as an underclassman from California and he has a bunch of exciting tools in his game.

Down East Wood Ducks(TEX)

On the mound, the WoodDucks will feature RHP Hans Crouse, who I saw on Opening Day last season and detailed that look here. He’s a big, physical righty with a high ceiling but lacks a third pitch and has some red flags in his delivery. Another arm to watch will be RHP Cole Winn, who rose up draft boards at the perfect time in 2018, before being selected by Kip Fagg and company at 15th overall. Lastly, it will be interesting to see where the Rangers choose to play Josh Jung, a 2019 first rounder who has a long track record of hitting in college whether at shortstop or third.

Fayetteville Woodpeckers(HOU)

I’ll be looking out for a couple of infield prospects that should get some time with the Woodpeckers this year. Grae Kessinger is a polished SEC shortstop out of Ole Miss. He doesn’t have the loudest tools but he is a relatively high-floor prospect. Freudis Nova has questions surrounding him regarding where his best fit is position-wise, but it is somewhere in the infield. What stands out with Nova is his plus arm and solid offensive tools.

Frederick Keys(BAL)

This will arguably be the most attractive prospect team in the Carolina League. C Adley Rutschman may not be in Frederick long, but while he’s there Keys fans will have the unique opportunity to watch one of the best prospects in all of baseball. There aren’t many things Adley isn’t good at. He has as much offensive skill as almost any player in minor league baseball, and certainly won’t disappoint behind the plate either. I wrote about him last year so feel free to check that out. Another Orioles prospect I saw a lot of in the South Atlantic League is RHP Grayson Rodriguez. The 2018 first-rounder has No.2-3 starter ceiling and I wrote a detailed scouting report on him here. The Orioles clearly aren’t in good shape at the major league level, but they have the right people in charge now and O’s fans have a lot to be excited about.

Fredericksburg Nationals(WSH)

The Nationals ceased operations with their Potomac affiliate after the 2019 season and headed down I-95 about 35 miles to Fredericksburg. 2019 first-rounder Jackson Rutledge is a prospect to watch. The 6’8″ 250 lb RHP has as high of a ceiling as any arm in the organization. He was up to triple digits in his draft year at San Jacinto JC. The new affiliate will also have some exciting infielders. Drew Mendoza is a corner-infielder who played college ball at Florida State. Mendoza had some of the best power in last year’s draft. 20 year-old Yasel Antuna looked bigger and stronger to me at spring training this year. I’m intrigued in his profile, especially if he can stick at shortstop.

Lynchburg Hillcats(CLE)

The Hillcats will have plenty of talent on the roster if the season is to get going eventually, especially on the position player side. Will Benson, a former first-rounder with elite bat speed and a projectable frame, has not had the career he hoped to have up to this point, but he’ll hope to figure it out at the plate in 2020. Brayan Rocchio spent last summer in the New-York Penn League but he will likely move to full-season ball this season. Scouts rave about his hit tool. Bo Naylor is a bat-first catcher who is entering his age 20 season. He’ll be working on his skills behind the plate. On the mound, RHP Luis Oviedo is a 6’4″ 170 projection arm who will try to improve his strike-throwing ability a bit, however the stuff is there.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans(CHC)

I should get at least a couple looks at LHP Brailyn Marquez this season. The Cubs gave him 0,000 as a 2015 July 2 international prospect. The 6’4″ Santo Domingo native can run his fastball into the high 90’s. He’s a high-upside arm. OF Brennen Davis is a premium athlete but he had his 2019 season cut short after getting hit in the hand with a pitch. Davis has tools for Cubs fans to dream on. Another potential Myrtle assignment to look out for is Chase Strumpf, a day one pick out of UCLA last season. Strumpf is a solid all-around player who may be able to stick in the middle of the infield.

Salem Red Sox(BOS)

The big name in Salem will be Triston Casas, Boston’s first-round pick in the 2018 draft. He’s a large-framed prospect with massive power potential out of American Heritage HS in Florida. Casas spent the whole 2019 season in Greenville slashing .254/.349/.472 with 19 home runs. He’s entering his age 20 season. On the mound righty Brayan Bello struggled a bit last year with a 5.43 ERA, but Bello has good stuff and many believe he can start. He’ll try to improve on his 2019 numbers as a 21 year old.


Wilmington Blue Rocks(KC)

Frawley Stadium is known to suppress offensive statistics, but last year was especially rough for a select few Royals prospects. MJ Melendez will return behind the dish in Wilmington this season after struggling through 2019 with the bat. He’s a solid catcher, so any hint of an adjustment to his offensive approach would be very encouraging. 1B Nick Pratto is another guy that failed to put up numbers last season with the Blue Rocks. Pratto is a terrific defender, but offensive expectations are rather high the right-right first base profile. Another player to fit into this bucket is Seuly Matias. Matias had a huge 2018 season, showing off some of the best raw power in the game, with plus arm strength in right field to go along with it. His hit tool still needs improvement.

Winston-Salem Dash(CWS)

The main guy to watch for here is Andrew Vaughn. The first baseman out of Cal has one of the best offensive skillsets in the game, even if not much else. It is possible he jumps up to AA to start the season, but I think there is a chance the 2019 3rd overall pick gets some early-season work in in the Carolina League.


Owen Surett covers the South Atlantic League for Prospects1500. Owen is an enthusiast of baseball at all competition levels from college/MLB Draft, to all levels of the minor leagues and MLB. He is an avid fan of the New York Mets and West Virginia Mountaineers. His springs and summers revolve around going to as many baseball games as possible, seeing prospects, and writing scouting reports. He is from New Jersey and regularly attends minor league games in Lakewood (Phillies A) and Trenton (Yankees AA). You can follow him on Twitter @CountryRoads277.

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