Each MLB Team's Breakout Prospect of 2019
Every MLB season has its share of breakout players.
This year, Ketel Marte, Jorge Soler, Austin Meadows and Marcus Semien took their games to another level at the plate, while Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito were among the biggest breakout stars on the mound.
The minor league ranks were no different.
Ahead we have selected one breakout prospect from each of the 30 MLB organizations, with the focus being on players who were well removed from the top prospect conversation at the start of the season.
Let's get to it.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Michael Baumann
A third-round pick in 2017, Baumann in 2019 built on an already strong start to his pro career.
The 6'4", 225-pound right-hander can touch 97 mph with his fastball and backs it with a good slider and developing changeup. He used that arsenal to post a 2.98 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 142 strikeouts in 124 innings between High-A and Double-A, showing better swing-and-miss stuff while raising his strikeout rate from 7.3 to 10.3 per nine innings.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Thad Ward
Used primarily as a reliever at Central Florida, Ward has made a smooth transition to starting since he was picked in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
The 22-year-old rattled off 34.2 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run during the first half of the season and finished with a 2.14 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 157 strikeouts in 126.1 innings. He's looking more and more like a future starter with a high floor given his history in a relief role.
Center fielder Jarren Duran (.303/.367/.408, 37 XBH, 46 SB at A+/AA) also deserves mention.
New York Yankees: RHP Luis Gil
The Yankees have a plethora of high-ceiling young arms in the lower levels of the minors, so one of them was bound to separate himself from the pack.
Gil, 21, used a 70-grade fastball that touches triple digits and a hammer curveball to rack up 123 strikeouts in 96 innings between Single-A and High-A. He still has some things to iron out in his delivery, and he'll need to further refine his changeup and his command to stick as a starter, but he's already taken significant steps.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS/RHP Jake Cronenworth
Who doesn't love a two-way player?
After a disappointing .666 OPS in 2018, Cronenworth got some work on the mound as the Rays tried to maximize his versatility. He had served as Michigan's closer during his time on campus, racking up 27 saves and 104 strikeouts in 98 innings over three years.
In 7.1 innings in 2019, he showed a fastball in the mid-90s, a plus curveball and a good cutter, striking out nine and walking eight without allowing an earned run. Equally intriguing was the development of his offensive game, as he batted .334/.429/.520 with 26 doubles and 10 home runs at Triple-A.
Toronto Blue Jays: RF Griffin Conine
The son of two-time All-Star Jeff Conine, Griffin was a second-round pick in 2018 after a somewhat disappointing junior season at Duke knocked him out of the first round.
After hitting just .243/.314/.430 in 239 plate appearances during his first pro season, he showed an improved hit tool this season and better tapped his plus power. In 80 games at Single-A, he batted .283/.371/.576 with 19 doubles and 22 home runs, and he could soon join the collection of second-generation MLB players in Toronto.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: RHP Jonathan Stiever
With Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning recovering from Tommy John surgery and Dylan Cease making the jump to the majors, Stiever was the White Sox's best pitching prospect.
Splitting the season between Single-A and High-A, he logged a 3.48 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with a terrific 154-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145 innings. With a 6'2", 205-pound frame, a polished four-pitch mix and plus command, he has all the makings of a middle-of-the-rotation staple.
Cleveland Indians: RHP James Karinchak
To call the numbers that Karinchak posted in the minors "video game-esque" would be a bold proclamation of how good you are at video games.
He faced 125 batters over three minor league levels and struck out 74 of them. That's a 59.2 percent strikeout rate. Add 17 walks, and opposing hitters put the ball in play just 27.2 percent of the time.
The 24-year-old added eight strikeouts in 5.1 innings in the big leagues, and with an upper-90s fastball and a lethal 12-to-6 curveball, he should become a key cog in the Cleveland bullpen.
Detroit Tigers: LHP Tarik Skubal
As arguably the breakout pitching prospect of the year, Skubal went from ninth-round pick in 2018 to consensus top-100 prospect in 2019.
The 22-year-old racked up 179 strikeouts in 122.2 innings while posting a 2.42 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and .196 opponents' batting average between High-A and Double-A. The lefty backs a mid-90s fastball with a plus curveball-slider paring, and his changeup has shown potential.
He now slots behind Casey Mize and Matt Manning in a farm system loaded with quality arms.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Jonathan Bowlan
The Royals made five picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft, and four of them—Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic—became top prospects.
The fifth was Bowlan, who was selected 58th overall out of Memphis. He's well on his way to joining that quartet after posting a 3.14 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 150 strikeouts in 146 innings between Single-A and High-A. With a heavy mid-90s fastball and plus slider, he'd have a lot of upside as a reliever if his changeup doesn't develop as hoped.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Jordan Balazovic
Balazovic is perhaps the biggest competition to Skubal for the title of "breakout pitching prospect of the year" after he shot up top-100 lists and earned a spot in the Futures Game.
The 21-year-old turned heads in 2018 with a 78-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61.2 innings at Single-A, and he busted down the door this year with a 2.69 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 93.2 innings between Single-A and High-A.
There's still some projection remaining in his 6'5", 215-pound frame, and he already possesses a quality three-pitch mix and advanced pitchability.
American League West
Houston Astros: SS Abraham Toro
After a middling 2018, Toro turned heads in the Arizona Fall League with a .348/.463/.561 line and nine extra-base hits in 80 plate appearances.
That performance seemingly carried over, as he hit .324/.411/.527 with 31 doubles, 17 home runs and 80 RBI in 114 games between Double-A and Triple-A before making his MLB debut Aug. 22. How will the switch-hitting 22-year-old factor in to the Astros' 2020 plans?
Shortstop Jeremy Pena (.303/.385/.440, 35 XBH, 20 SB at A/A+) also was considered.
Los Angeles Angels: LHP Hector Yan
Signed for just $80,000 in 2015, Yan's velocity has steadily climbed since he started his pro career, and he now touches 96 mph with his fastball.
His changeup lags behind his fastball-curveball pairing, and he has a ways to go with his command as evidenced by his 4.3 walks per nine innings. After posting a 3.39 ERA while allowing just 74 hits and striking out 148 in 109 innings, however, he's squarely on the prospect radar. He has plenty of bullpen upside if he doesn't stick as a starter.
Oakland Athletics: SS Nick Allen
Viewed as the best defensive shortstop in the 2017 draft, Allen slipped to the third round but signed for an above-slot bonus of $2 million.
After hitting .239/.301/.302 at Single-A in 2018, he took his offensive game to another level with a .292/.363/.434 line that included 30 extra-base hits and 13 steals. If he can maintain a strong on-base percentage and find ways to use his plus speed, he should provide enough value at the plate to be an everyday player thanks to his stellar glove work.
Seattle Mariners: CF Jake Fraley
The Mariners acquired Fraley in the deal that sent catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays during the offseason.
After hitting just four home runs in 260 plate appearances in 2018 amid a terrific .347/.415/.547 batting line at High-A, he added some over-the-fence pop to the equation this year with a .910 OPS and 19 home runs to go with 22 steals in the upper levels of the minors.
He made his MLB debut Aug. 21, and with the defensive tools to stick in center field and a power-speed mix, he could quickly develop into a regular.
Texas Rangers: C Sam Huff
A seventh-round pick in 2016, Huff showed intriguing pop with 18 home runs in 2018, but they were accompanied by a .241/.292/.439 line.
With a more refined approach, he increased his walk rate (+1.3%) and hit .278/.335/.509 line with 22 doubles and 28 home runs during a breakout season, emerging as one of the top catching prospects in baseball.
While he doesn't have a prototypical catcher's frame (he's 6'4"), he nailed 47.6 percent of base stealers in 2019 and appears to have all the necessary tools to stay in the crouch.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: OF Trey Harris
Undrafted following his junior season at Missouri, Harris was selected in the 32nd round in 2018 and was given a $10,000 bonus as a senior signee.
Playing with a chip on his shoulder, he reached full-season ball in his debut campaign and then climbed two levels to Double-A in 2019. He hit .323/.389/.498 with 47 extra-base hits, and while he doesn't have a standout tool, he offers a little bit of everything.
Even as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, he would be a steal relative to his draft position.
Miami Marlins: RF Jerar Encarnacion
Encarnacion possesses what MLB.com called "immense raw pop." After three forgettable seasons to begin his pro career, that power started to show up in 2019.
The 21-year-old hit .276/.331/.425 with 26 doubles and 16 home runs between Single-A and High-A, and he's off to an 8-for-31 start with two home runs in the Arizona Fall League. With his power and plus arm strength, he profiles as a prototypical right fielder.
The hard-throwing Edward Cabrera (2.23 ERA, 116 K, 96.2 IP) also raised his game.
New York Mets: LHP Kevin Smith
After spending the bulk of his junior season pitching out of the Georgia bullpen, Smith was selected in the seventh round of the 2018 draft.
The Mets saw upside in his projectable 6'5" frame, and with good extension and a high-spin-rate fastball along with a plus slider, he posted a 3.15 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 130 strikeouts in 117 innings between High-A and Double-A.
He has a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling—and a high floor as a reliever.
Philadelphia Phillies: C Deivy Grullon
The Phillies have some intriguing catching prospects in their system with Rafael Marchan and Rodolfo Duran headlining the crop.
Grullon, 23, joined them with a breakout season.
After swatting 21 home runs at Double-A in 2018, he became a more complete hitter in 2019, raising his walk rate from 5.1 to 9.8 percent while hitting .283/.354/.496 with 24 doubles and 21 home runs. His future will be significantly impacted by J.T. Realmuto.
Washington Nationals: RHP Joan Adon
In a top-heavy system, Adon is a pitcher on the rise.
The 21-year-old had a 4.11 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 22 walks in 30.2 innings in 2018, and he trimmed his walk rate from 6.5 per nine innings to 3.8 this season. He also posted a 3.86 ERA in 105 innings while making the jump to Single-A. He has a ton of upside and is just starting to tap his vast potential.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: RHP Kohl Franklin
Brailyn Marquez was already on the top prospect radar after a strong 2018, so he didn't qualify for inclusion.
Instead, we picked another young pitcher on the rise: Franklin, who signed an above-slot bonus as a sixth-round pick in 2018. The 20-year-old has projection remaining in his 6'4", 190-pound frame, and he already has a strong fastball-changeup combination that he used to post a 2.36 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 42 innings between Low-A and Single-A.
Cincinnati Reds: LHP Packy Naughton
Despite flashing plus stuff, Naughton posted a 6.13 ERA over 177.2 innings in three seasons at Virginia Tech, and the Reds grabbed him in the ninth round of the 2017 draft, hoping to tap his upside.
After a 4.03 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 154 innings at Single-A in 2018, he was even better this season, logging a 3.32 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 131 strikeouts in 157 innings between High-A and Double-A.
His ceiling is limited, but he has a high floor thanks to an advanced three-pitch mix.
Milwaukee Brewers: C Mario Feliciano
A second-round pick in 2016, Feliciano hit a disappointing .213/.291/.331 with three home runs in 180 plate appearances during an injury-plagued 2018 campaign.
With his stock trending downward, he began the season at High-A and hit .273/.324/.477 with 25 doubles, 19 home runs and 81 RBI in 116 games there. An above-average athlete with good receiving skills, the 20-year-old looks like a potential two-way standout.
Pitcher Drew Rasmussen (3.15 ERA, 96 K, 74.1 IP at A/A+/AA) is another prospect on the rise.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Cody Bolton
The Pirates went slightly above-slot to sign Bolton as a sixth-round pick in 2017, and he made just nine starts in his first full pro season because of forearm tightness.
Despite that, the 21-year-old was aggressively promoted to High-A, and he posted a 1.61 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 69 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. He was knocked around a bit following a promotion to Double-A, but he turned heads nonetheless. His age and a strong three-pitch mix give him significant upside in an organization with a history of developing pitching talent.
St. Louis Cardinals: CF Dylan Carlson
Based on predraft rankings, it appeared the Cardinals reached a bit for Carlson when they selected him with the 33rd overall pick. He was ranked as the No. 92 prospect in the class, according to Baseball America.
After posting a .738 OPS with 22 doubles and 11 home runs in 2018, he lived up to his first-round pedigree, hitting .292/.372/.542 with 28 doubles, 26 home runs and 20 steals between Double-A and Triple-A.
The 20-year-old could debut in 2020 since he's emerged as one of baseball's top prospects.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: CF Alek Thomas
The D-backs scooped up Thomas with the 63rd pick in the 2018 draft, and he could prove to be one of the steals of the class.
After hitting .333/.395/.463 in rookie ball after signing, the 19-year-old made the leap to full-season ball and broke out in a big way, batting .300/.379/.450 with 40 extra-base hits and 15 steals. With a 60-grade hit tool, 60-grade speed and a plus glove, he has the tools to be a prototypical table-setting center fielder.
Right-hander Levi Kelly (2.15 ERA, 126 K, 100.1 IP at A) also belongs in the breakout category.
Colorado Rockies: SS Terrin Vavra
After a standout junior season at Minnesota, Vavra jumped straight to Low-A Boise upon signing and hit .302/.396/.467 with 16 extra-base hits in 44 games.
The 22-year-old was even better this year, making the jump to Single-A and hitting .318/.409/.489 with 32 doubles, 10 home runs and as many walks as strikeouts (62). He has also shown the glove to play on both sides of second base, and the Rockies have valued defensive versatility in recent years.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Josiah Gray
Acquired from the Reds in the deal that sent Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati, Gray emerged as an elite-level pitching prospect in 2019.
The 21-year-old posted a 2.28 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 147 strikeouts in 130 innings over three levels while reaching Double-A. With a dynamic four-pitch mix and solid command, he looks like a future middle-of-the-rotation starter with the potential to be better.
He didn't become a full-time pitcher until 2017 after beginning his college career as a shortstop, so there's a lot of upside to tap.
San Diego Padres: C Luis Campusano
The first catcher chosen in the 2017 draft at No. 39 overall, Campusano hit .288/.345/.365 with just 14 extra-base hits in 284 plate appearances at Single-A in 2018.
With the jump to High-A, his offensive game took off, as he hit .325/.396/.509 with 31 doubles, 15 home runs and 81 RBI in 110 games. With a cannon arm, strong pop times and good receiving skills, he also profiles as an above-average defender.
Still just 21 years old, he could soon push the tandem of Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia in San Diego.
San Francisco Giants: LHP Seth Corry
The Giants went way over slot to sign Corry with a $1 million bonus as a third-round pick in 2017, and after he had command issues early in his career, everything clicked this season.
He finished with a 1.76 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 172 strikeouts in 122.2 innings at Single-A, showing better control of his electric repertoire while lowering his walk rate (5.0 to 4.3 BB/9) and raising his strikeout rate (9.2 to 12.6 K/9).
The 20-year-old still has work to do, but few pitching prospects took a bigger step forward.