With the Durham Bulls playing the Columbus Clippers and going for their third straight International League Governor’s Cup this week, and the season nearing a close, what better time to name the top performers in the league for the 2019 season?
With the juiced balls and so many strong performers during the campaign, the best format appears to be going with the best season for each position. Additionally, the edge will be given to prospects, rather than journeymen.
We can go ahead and start with the player who would be considered the MVP – Orioles first base prospect Ryan Mountcastle. The slugger, playing first base predominantly for the first time in his professional career, continued his strong offensive play. Mountcastle was the model of consistency in 2019. He did not have a single month at the plate in which he hit lower than .283. He also did not have a single month under .814 OPS.
While looking at outfielders, it is hard to compare to the season that Adam Duvall had with Gwinnett. However, again, we are edging on the side of youth. The first outfielder is Aristides Aquino. Prior to setting Major League records for home runs in the big leagues, Aquino tormented Triple-A pitching this season. In just 78 games, Aquino still finished just five homers off the league lead. He finished the Triple-A season with a .992 OPS, by far a career high.
The second outfielder is Cleveland’s Daniel Johnson, who split the season between Double-A and Triple-A. Even in limited action of 84 games, Johnson still impressed enough that he had to be on this list. In his 337 at bats at the level, Johnson hit .306 and smacked 27 doubles.
Rounding up the outfield trio is Zander Wiel. While he flew a bit under the radar, Wiel led the league with 40 doubles and ranked tied for 14th in the league with 24 home runs. If not for a tough July, Wiel would have posted a much higher average than the .254 mark that he did.
Jake Cronenworth was the best shortstop in the league during the 2019 season. In what seems like a theme, Cronenworth also split time between two levels. However, the damage he did at Triple-A was impossible to ignore. From the shortstop position, he posted a .949 OPS with 40 total extra base hits.
After it being unclear where he was ultimately going to end up playing, with fellow catcher Seby Zavala starting the season with Triple-A Charlotte, Zack Collins had the best season of any catcher in the league. Collins did play 20 games at first base, but played a vast majority behind the plate. Power has always been there for Collins, as it was in 2019 with 19 home runs and 19 doubles. The biggest difference was that he hit for average this season at .282.
Mark Mathias was the top second baseman in the league, in his first season at Triple-A after three straight in Double-A. In this debut campaign, Mathias ranked tied for fifth with 31 doubles. He added 12 more home runs and two triples in 115 games.
Michael Brosseau was the top third baseman of the 2019 season. In just 73 games, he pounded 21 doubles and 16 home runs, while driving in 60 runs. Brosseau has seen some similar success in 2019 in the big leagues with a .282 average and .804 OPS.
The top starting pitcher in the league was Mitch Keller. In a season where it was nearly unheard of for a hurler to post an ERA under four, Keller featured a 3.82 ERA in 19 starts. He also posted a 10.7 K/9 mark and a 3.51 SO/W ratio. His WHIP was a miniscule 1.244 for league standards. He allowed only 94 hits in 103.2 innings.
Once again, 2019 featured offensive numbers that the league has never seen before. We all know that the difference is the ball. It was able to create a hitter’s league where a pitcher’s league used to reside. At the same time, it also provided some really strong seasons with the bat, many of which are presented above.
Ryan Palencer is a lifelong baseball fan who covers the Triple-A International League upper level MiLB prospects. He is located in Indianapolis, which features the AAA Indians. Ryan has covered Minor League, Major League, and All-Star games with Pirates Prospects prior to joining Prospects1500. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPalencer.