International League Prospects Preview

Bo Bichette - photo credit Scott Greene, @Scotty_Ballgame on Twitter

With Minor League Baseball Opening Day upon us, now feels like a great time to look at the top 20 prospects that we can expect to see in the International League this season.

As a disclaimer, the list does not include players expected to miss the entire season, like Michael Kopech. It also does not include players who are starting the season in the major leagues, as undoubtedly some of those players will also play in Triple-A this season. Finally, it also includes some players starting the season in Double-A, who will likely see some time in the International League this season after a promotion.

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B

We start with Guerrero Jr., who is about as can’t miss of a prospect that the level has to offer this season. Guerrero does it all and has shown that he is big league ready, but is still down to “polish some aspect of his game.” The slugger posted a 1.250 OPS in 234 Double-A at bats. Following a post All-Star break promotion, he boasted a .978 OPS in 30 Triple-A games.

2. Nick Senzel, 3B/2B/OF

Senzel was battling for a big league roster spot with the Reds before being cut late in camp in favor of Scott Schebler in center. When Scooter Gennett went down in one of the final spring games, Senzel could have made sense to bring up to play second, but the Reds decided not to. Coincidentally, Senzel injured his ankle in the days following the Gennett injury in a minor league game. Injuries have been the biggest concerns for Senzel over the past couple of seasons, but he is versatile defensively and has a polished bat. Expect him to join the Reds this summer if he comes back healthy after missing the first several weeks of the season.

3. Bo Bichette, SS

While a ledge lower than teammate, Guerrero, Jr., Bichette has seen similar offensive success as him over the past couple of seasons. In a full season at Double-A in 2018, Bichette hit .286 with 61 extra-base hits in 539 at-bats. It has yet to be determined if Bichette will play short or second at the next level ultimately, but either way, he will debut late this summer of the success at the plate continues.

4. Mitch Keller, RHP

After dominating Double-A last season, Keller was promoted to Indianapolis last summer. While he struggled with both command (3.8 BB/9) and hits (10.1 H/9), Keller still has a huge upside. The velocity is in the mid-90s for Keller and he will turn just 23 during this campaign. With some early success, expect Keller to put himself in position to see some starts with the Pirates this season, despite the strong start from the big league rotation.

5. Brent Honeywell Jr., RHP

Though he is coming off Tommy John surgery, Honeywell could be pitching in games again as soon as May. One of the top prospects in the league coming into last season, Honeywell was well on his way to debuting last season prior to the February surgery. He features a screwball that baffles hitters and solid velocity. If Honeywell returns with the feel of his stuff, expect him to hit the ground running with his full arsenal of pitches.

6. Dylan Cease, RHP

Cease is a hard-thrower that will making his Triple-A debut this summer. While he has not reached the level, it would not be a shock if he sees some time on the South side of Chicago this season as well. Part of the Jose Quintana trade, along with Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox collected quite a bounty from the Cubs. In 10 starts in Double-A last season, Cease posted a 1.72 ERA and fanned 78 hitters in just 52.1 innings, showing he was ready for the next step.

7. Cristian Pache, OF

Though Pache will start the season in Double-A, he turned a lot of eyes during the spring in Braves camp. At just 20, Pache already has over 100 Double-A at bats. He is also an elite defender in center, which should allow him to reach the big leagues even sooner. In the spring, Pache posted a 1.031 OPS in 39 at-bats. While it would be difficult to see Pache making it to the next level early this season, if the spring success carries over he will certainly play in Triple-A by the end of the season.

8. Triston McKenzie, RHP

McKenzie dominated Double-A last season after a delayed start to his season and will make his Triple-A debut to start 2019. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, McKenzie has also showed strong command over his Minor League career. With this combination, he could debut for the Indians this season, but at worst he looks like a strong candidate for 2020.

9. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B

Hayes is the son of long-time MLB veteran Charlie Hayes, but is making a name for himself in professional baseball. After posting just a .708 OPS in High-A during the 2017 season, Hayes broke out and raised that number over one hundred points last season in Double-A to a career high .819. He also hit for twice as many doubles in 2018. A continued progression for the 22-year-old could really tap into his talent fully. However, being a corner infielder, his power will need to continue to progress for success at the next level.

10. Austin Riley, 3B

In his first taste of Triple-A last season, Riley knocked 17 doubles and 12 home runs. After starting the season in Double-A, Riley posted a 1.071 OPS, allowing for the promotion. While the raw power is clearly there, Riley has also seen a tendency to strike out. In Triple-A last season, his 32.6 percent strike out rate was a bit up from his career average.

11. Touki Toussaint, RHP

Toussaint made his big league debut in 2018, but was optioned back to Triple-A after a tough spring. However, the talent is still clearly there. He has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter (as Jason Woodell discusses on Episode 3 of our Futures Focus podcast), but command continues to haunt the right-hander. He walked 21 in 29 big league innings last season. While he allowed just three free passes in 15.2 innings in the spring, Toussaint also allowed 18 hits and 15 earned runs. If he can harness his electric stuff, Toussaint could achieve his ultimate potential and be that front-line starter.

12. Matt Manning, RHP

Manning will begin the season in Double-A, but could certainly make it to the next level this summer. The ninth-overall pick in 2016 advanced three levels last season, and posted a strong 11.8 K/9. At 6-foot-6, command will always be an issue with all of his moving parts, but Manning will see Triple-A time this season if he can maintain BB/9 even in the mid-threes.

13. Yusniel Diaz, OF

Diaz will also start the season in Double-A, after a slow start with Bowie following the Manny Machado trade last season. However, prior to the trade, Diaz posted a .905 OPS in 220 at-bats with Tulsa at the same level. Diaz split time defensively in the outfield in 2018, but 11 home runs in 354 at bats could project well if he can stick in center.

14. Ryan Mountcastle, SS/3B

While there are some questions where Mountcastle projects defensively, there are not as many questions about his bat. In his first full season at Double-A, Mountcastle posted an .806 OPS with 13 home runs and 19 doubles. While it is doubtful he sticks at either short or third, where he has played the past two seasons, Mountcastle has the offensive ability to project at any position that he slides into.

15. Michael Chavis, 3B

Chavis made his first jump to Triple-A at the end of last season after 100 games at Double-A. After hitting 31 home runs in 2017, Chavis had only nine in 171 at bats last season. However, he also improved his walk rate and still posted a .919 OPS. The Red Sox are still looking for where Chavis will play defensively, but he projects to be ready by 2020 with a continuation with where he left off last year.

16. Nate Lowe, 1B

Making a three level jump in 2018, Lowe saw at least 100 at bats at each level. Having this experience already at Triple-A makes Lowe a candidate to see some early success at the level. In exactly 100 at bats at the level last season, Lowe hit .260 with six doubles and four home runs. His strike out rate was slightly up, but if the power surge continues (27 total home runs and 102 RBI) from 2018, expect Lowe to see some time in Tampa soon.

17. Tony Santillan, RHP

Early on, Santillan struggled with command, with K/9 rates over five his first two professional seasons. However, the right-hander has put it together for the past two seasons, and was just 2.3 BB/9 last season between High-A and Double-A. Between the two levels, he also posted a 8.1 K/9 and an ERA of 3.50. Continuing to command the fastball is key for Santillan, and he will advance to Triple-A quickly in 2019.

18. Cole Tucker, SS

While Tucker is behind Kevin Newman at shortstop for the Pirates, he has been nipping at his heels. Tucker will make his Triple-A debut in 2019. However, injuries and consistency has provided some struggles for Tucker. This said, he has the athleticism and is just waiting for it all to come together. Tucker will look to build upon his success in the Arizona Fall League, posting a .899 OPS in 81 at bats, his best stretch as a pro.

19. Andres Gimenez, 2B/SS

After a strong start to his season in High-A, Gimenez made the jump to Double-A for 137 at bats to end 2018. In that stretch, he stole 10 bases in 37 games. He also picked up 10 extra-base hits in that stretch too, showing a bit of power. He projects well as a defensive shortstop and will likely make his Triple-A debut toward the end of 2019.

20. Keegan Akin, LHP

The southpaw Akin put together a solid season in Double-A last season and will make the jump to the next level in 2019. Akin has a fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s. While he has shown good strikeout numbers, his command has slipped as well. Akin posted a 3.8 BB/9 after seeing 4.1 the season before. However, he also strikes out nearly 10 per nine innings as well.

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.

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