The Texas League, which is now simply known as the Double-A Central League, has a storied history since its official inception in 1902. Since then, thousands of MLB hopefuls have roamed the plains in cities from Albuquerque to Shreveport on teams like the Beaumont Golden Gators, the Texarkana Casket Makers and the Amarillo Sod Poodles (side note – a “Sod Poodle” is another name for a prairie dog). All those players had a dream of using their AA stop as a springboard towards fame and fortune in the major leagues.
The current version of the AA Central is composed of two divisions and 10 teams including:
- North Division
- Wichita Wind Surge (Minnesota Twins)
- Tulsa Drillers (Los Angeles Dodgers)
- NW Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals)
- Arkansas Travelers (Seattle Mariners)
- Springfield Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals)
- South Division
- Amarillo Sod Poodles (Arizona Diamondbacks)
- Corpus Christi Hooks (Houston Astros)
- Frisco Roughriders (Texas Rangers)
- Midland Rockhounds (Oakland Athletics)
- San Antonio Missions (San Diego Padres)
For my first column on Prospects1500, I take a look at five prospects who are making a name for themselves in 2021 and what their major league trajectory might look like. NOTE: These are NOT the top 5 prospects in the league by any stretch, but just players doing some good things that you should take notice of.
MJ Melendez, C – NW Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
2021 AA Stats: 85 H, 18 2B, 28 HR, 65 RBI, 2 SB
The 22-year-old catcher is enjoying his best season since beginning his professional career. Drafted 52nd overall in the 2017 draft out of Westminster Christian HS in Miami, Florida, Melendez slugged his way through the AA season to the tune of .285/.372/.628.
On the strength of this performance, he rose from #15 to #6 on our Prospects1500 Kansas City Royals Midseason Top 50 list. It also saw him recently promoted to AAA Omaha, and hit 3 more homers! Despite the monster season from Salvador Perez, Melendez is the future behind the backstop for the Royals.
No surprise here! C MJ Melendez is the Double-A Central July Player of the Month!
— NW Arkansas Naturals (@nwanaturals) August 4, 2021
Alek Thomas, OF – Amarillo Sod Poodles (Diamondbacks)
2021 AA Stats: 76 H, 17 2B, 8 3B, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 8 SB
Expectations were high for Thomas after being drafted in the 2nd round of 2018. I’m not sure his bat will ever be strong enough to make him a star for the Diamondbacks, but the tools are there to be a solid MLB outfielder. Still young for AA (he just turned 21 years old in April), Thomas still has time to make a name for himself, but he’ll be doing that in AAA, having just received a promotion to the Aces! (as of August 16)
Luken Baker, 1B – Springfield Cardinals (Cardinals)
2021 AA Stats: 70 H, 16 2B, 23 HR, 61 RBI, 0 SB
Yes, he strikes out too much. Yes, the average will never be there. But Luken can mash the ball and should get a chance to see if that power translates to the major leagues at some point. The former TCU Horned Frog has almost doubled his career HR totals during his first stint in Springfield along with a .241/.320/.853 line.
Cole Winn, P – Frisco Roughriders (Rangers)
2021 AA Stats: 66 IP, 30 H, 19 ER, 23 BB, 82 SO
Being drafted out of high school in the first round (15th overall pick) in 2018 by the Texas Rangers instantly made Winn the heir apparent. Winn took part in the Rangers’ new “de-load” program that year meant to lessen the toll on young arms. He made his professional debut in 2019 and enjoyed moderate success. But, 2021 has been a breakout season so far. Sporting a mid-90’s fastball and a 4-pitch arsenal, Cole has been the standout performer for the first-place Roughriders. Striking out 82 batters in 66IP, he earned a spot in the Futures Game at Coors Field. His trajectory has him ready for an Arlington debut as soon as late 2022.
Rangers No. 3 prospect Cole Winn was nasty on the hill for @RidersBaseball.
🔹8 K pic.twitter.com/VOAI3gTBx0
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 7, 2021
Ryan Pepiot, P – Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers)
2021 AA Stats: 59.2 IP, 30 H, 19 ER, 26 BB, 81 SO
Pepiot debuted in 2019 with an impressive 23.1 innings that saw him sport a 1.93 ERA while striking out 31 opposing batters. Beginning 2021 as the #6 prospect on our preseason Dodgers Top 50, Pepiot began the season in Tulsa and continued that success with his deceptive delivery and impressive changeup. His arrow is pointing up and, in fact, it just earned him a promotion to AAA. With the Dodgers trading away some of their other top prospects, look for Pepiot to be near the top of the future rankings.