Bleacher Report's 2016 MLB Prospects of the Year
MLB's most valuable commodity isn't sluggers with prodigious power, innings-eating workhorses or flame-throwing relievers. It's prospects, players in their teens and early 20s who have yet to establish themselves at the game's highest level.
Teams are loathe to trade them, for prospects represent not only hope for the future but an inexpensive way to build a roster—at least in the short term. We need only look at recent success stories in Chicago, Kansas City and Pittsburgh for proof of that.
What follows is a look at the best that the minor leagues have to offer, level by level. We'll hand out three awards for the upper levels—Breakout Star of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player—and a Cy Young Award and MVP Award at the lower levels, as most of those players are just starting their careers.
Statistics were the driving force behind these selections, but prior experience and age also factored into the process. Some of the following names are familiar, while others you may be seeing for the first time.
Who made the biggest impact down on the farm in 2016? Let's take a look.
Breakout Star: Hunter Dozier, 3B, Omaha Storm Chasers
Hunter Dozier not only shed the bust label that had been stuck to his back like a "kick me" sign but looks like he could be a legitimate replacement for Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas at a corner infield spot, should either one of Kansas City's current core players depart via free agency after next season.
He looked very much like the same player who hit just .213 with a .631 OPS over 128 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas last year in the spring, but something finally clicked for the 25-year-old once the regular season began.
The season was such a big success, Dozier was rewarded with his MLB debut on September 12—going 0-for-1 with a strikeout.
"The hitter that I'd seen in spring training to the hitter I'd seen when he got here had made big adjustments," Omaha manager Brian Poldberg told the Omaha World-Herald's Tony Boone in early September. "He can play left or right. He can play third or first. His bat is going to play."
Honorable Mention: Carson Kelly (STL)
Cy Young Award: Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Indianapolis Indians
Tyler Glasnow's numbers speak for themselves and make it easy to understand why Jonathan Mayo and the rest of the MLB Pipeline crew voted him their Pitcher of the Year for the second time since 2014.
But those numbers could be significantly better. That's right—better. If you notice, the 23-year-old issued nearly as many walks as he allowed hits. That's partially because of the difficulty pitchers his size (6'8") have repeating their delivery.
He thinks it's a problem that can be solved. "It's getting mechanics that are comfortable that I don't need to consistently think about and work on," he told Mayo recently.
Promoted to Pittsburgh in July, Glasnow made only two starts for the Pirates (5.40 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. While that time off has kept him from finding those comfortable mechanics, Glasnow still has tremendous upside.
It'd be surprising if Pittsburgh's top prospect weren't a part of the team's Opening Day rotation next year.
Honorable Mentions: Jose De Leon (LAD), Chad Green (NYY), Brady Rodgers (HOU)
Most Valuable Player: Hunter Renfroe, OF, El Paso Chihuahuas
There's always going to be plenty of swing-and-miss in Hunter Renfroe's game, but you can't argue with the numbers. While he had an advantage playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the 24-year-old dominated opposing pitchers.
Named MVP of the PCL, he led all Triple-A players in extra-base hits and total bases (297), and was second in RBI and among the level leaders in multiple offensive categories. With San Diego rebuilding, he could play his way onto the team's Opening Day roster next spring.
Honorable Mentions: Yandy Diaz (CLE), Brandon Nimmo (NYM), Dan Vogelbach (CHC/SEA)
Breakout Star/Most Valuable Player: Dylan Cozens, RF, Reading Fightin' Phils
You could make a strong case that Rhys Hoskins, Dylan Cozens' teammate in Reading, deserves the nod for both Breakout Star and MVP. The 23-year-old hit .281 with 38 home runs, 116 RBI and a .943 OPS while getting his first taste of life at Double-A.
But Cozens, also in his first full season as a Fightin' Phil, was just as good—and perhaps more of a surprise star. Heading into the season, the 22-year-old had never topped 16 home runs in a season and had hit only 38 in nearly 1,500 career plate appearances.
But his game goes beyond power, as Phillies farm director Joe Jordan told Jim Salisbury for Baseball America.
"Dylan's gotten better in multiple phases of the game, [including] on the bases and in the outfield, and his throwing has improved," Jordan said. "And obviously his power production has taken a big step forward. Everybody pays attention to the power, but he's gotten better in every aspect, and that's exciting."
Not only did Cozens lead the Eastern League in a slew of categories and rank among the league leaders in others, but he became the first player in the league to crack 40 home runs since Ron Kittle pulled it off for the Glens Falls White Sox back in 1981.
Honorable Mentions: Hoskins (PHI), Tyler O'Neill (SEA), Rowdy Tellez (TOR)
Cy Young Award: German Marquez, RHP, Hartford Yard Goats
While Jake McGee and Corey Dickerson were the big names involved in the four-player swap between Colorado and Tampa Bay back in January, German Marquez might wind up being the best player involved.
The 21-year-old was named the Eastern League's Pitcher of the Year in his first taste of Double-A batters and pitched his way to both Triple-A and the big leagues, though it's fair to say that he was rushed a bit, as his performance has dropped off against the highest levels of competition.
That said, Marquez has quickly cemented himself in the middle of a throng of young arms with significant upside, including Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman and Riley Pint, who could all become mainstays in Colorado's big league rotation before too long.
Honorable Mentions: Chase DeJong (LAD), Chih-Wei Hu (TB), Ryan Yarbrough (SEA)
Breakout Star: Luis Urias, 2B, Lake Elsinore Storm
Named the California League's Rookie of the Year and MVP, 19-year-old Luis Urias found himself facing off against Triple-A pitching before the regular season came to an end—and he didn't look out of place, going 4-for-9 with a home run, three RBI, five walks and a gaudy 1.444 OPS in three games.
But we're focusing on the season he put together for Lake Elsinore, one that saw him bounce around the infield (second base, third base and shortstop) while ranking among the league leaders in multiple categories.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Urias' numbers is the fact that he walked more than he struck out, showing the kind of plate discipline and pitch recognition that it often takes prospects years to acquire.
Honorable Mention: Aristides Aquino (CIN)
Cy Young Award: Luis Castillo, RHP, Jupiter Hammerheads
Miami should be breathing a sigh of relief that it was able to get Luis Castillo back from San Diego after Colin Rea's elbow didn't pass the team's medical exam. Castillo has far more upside than Rea ever did.
The 23-year-old is armed with a three-pitch mix that includes a triple-digit fastball and nasty slider that not only keeps batters off balance but gives him a real chance to develop into a front-of-the-rotation arm.
Named the Florida State League's Pitcher of the Year, Castillo figures to start the 2017 season at Double-A Jacksonville, with a chance to get his first taste of the big leagues toward the end of the regular season.
Honorable Mentions: Trevor Clifton (CHC), Felix Jorge (MIN), Josh Sborz (LAD)
Most Valuable Player: Bobby Bradley, 1B, Lynchburg Hillcats
Bobby Bradley is never going to be a guy who hits .300 or walks more than he strikes out. It's just not how the slugger is built. But he doesn't need to do either of those things to have a successful career, as his raw power, which the 20-year-old is still learning how to tap into, plays anywhere.
That said, the High-A leader in home runs and RBI isn't about to stop trying to improve his approach at the plate."You've just got to get in day in and day out and say, 'Hey, I'm going to do this, and this is what I need to get better at, and this is what I'm going to do to do it,'" he told MiLB.com's Damien Sordelett.
"I just don't focus too much on the past—no matter good game or bad game—and I always take it one at-bat at a time," Bradley added.
Honorable Mentions: Aquino (CIN), Christin Stewart (DET), Urias (SD)
Breakout Star/Most Valuable Player: Eloy Jimenez, LF, South Bend Cubs
Eloy Jimenez made waves in this year's All-Star Futures Game with an impressive acrobatic display of athleticism to chase down a fly ball at Petco Park, but it's his overall game that's most impressive.
"Eloy is going up there with an idea now," South Bend manager Jimmy Gonzalez told MiLB.com's Curt Rallo about his 19-year-old outfielder. "It's not just 'I'm a baseball player. I'm playing baseball.' He's up there thinking, knowing how he's going to be pitched, knowing how he's going to be approached and sticking to the approach he has. Those things will also make him a better player. Those things are evident in his numbers."
Honorable Mentions (Breakout Star): Ryan Helsley (STL), Mitch Keller (PIT), Yermin Mercedes (BAL)
Honorable Mentions (MVP): Isan Diaz (MIL), Mercedes (BAL)
Cy Young Award: Mitch Keller, RHP, West Virginia Power
A forearm strain limited Mitch Keller to fewer than 20 mostly forgettable innings in his first full professional season last year. With a clean bill of health in 2016, the 20-year-old showed the stuff that convinced Pittsburgh he was worth taking in the second round of the 2014 draft.
Keller didn't allow an earned run over his final six regular-season starts, a streak spanning 29 innings that saw him scatter 18 hits with five walks and 35 strikeouts. With a mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curveball, it's no wonder the opposition hit just .211 against him.
Honorable Mentions: Brian Gonzalez (BAL), Helsley (STL), Patrick Weigel (ATL)
Low-A (Short Season)
Cy Young Award: Triston McKenzie, RHP, Mahoning Valley Scrappers
There might not be a more exciting low-level pitching prospect than Triston McKenzie, who has been nothing short of stellar in his first full professional season. He allowed a total of three earned runs over nearly 50 innings of work with Mahoning Valley, utilizing his high-80s fastball, plus curveball and improving changeup to keep hitters off balance.
The lanky 19-year-old held his own against older competition in Single-A, pitching to a 3.18 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with the Midwest League's Lake County Captains, which is where he figures to start the 2017 season.
As he adds bulk to his 6'5", 165-pound frame, it's not hard to envision McKenzie becoming a hard-throwing, front-of-the-rotation arm.
Honorable Mentions: Dylan Cease (CHC), Joey Lucchesi (SD), Manuel Rondon (CHC)
Most Valuable Player: Heath Quinn, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
My pick for the biggest steal of the 2016 MLB draft, Heath Quinn wasted little time in making his mark as a professional ballplayer.
The 21-year-old ranked among the Northwest League leaders in multiple categories, including batting average (fifth), home runs (tied for second), on-base percentage (fourth), total bases (117, third), slugging percentage (second) and OPS (.993, first).
"I didn't really have any expectations coming into professional baseball," Quinn told MiLB.com's Brandon Chinn in early September. "I just try to work hard and make myself better every day." Clearly, he's accomplished just that.
Honorable Mentions: Bobby Dalbec (BOS), Garrett Hampson (COL), Stephen Wrenn (HOU)
Cy Young Award: Sixto Sanchez, RHP, GCL Phillies
A great name and great stuff make for a great season—and nobody would dare describe Sixto Sanchez's 2016 season as anything else.
The 18-year-old didn't lose a game or allow a home run among the 33 hits that he scattered around the Gulf Coast League. For as good as his numbers are, his finish to the season was even more impressive.
Sanchez tossed 41 innings over his final eight starts, allowing 23 hits and one earned run, walking four while striking out 30. That works out to a 0.22 ERA and 0.66 WHIP.
Honorable Mentions: Lupe Chavez (HOU), Alec Hansen (CHW), Thomas Szapucki (NYM)
Most Valuable Player: DJ Peters, Ogden Raptors
DJ Peters laid waste to Pioneer League pitching in his first taste of professional baseball, using his tremendous raw power to send the ball screaming off his bat more often than not. That power plays everywhere, and as the 6'6", 225-pound outfielder learns how to harness it, his numbers could become even more eye-popping than they already are.
Like most sluggers his size, Peters has a long swing that results in a high strikeout rate, but that didn't stop him from leading all of rookie ball in total bases (161). The trick, as he continues to develop, will be to figure out a way to cut down the whiffs without sacrificing any of the pop in his bat.
Honorable Mentions: Allen Cordoba (STL), Ronnie Gideon (MIL), Meibrys Viloria (KC)