The Class A Advanced Florida State League begins play Thursday with a full slate of six games. Below are some of the best and brightest prospects expected to open the season on the circuit:
Nick Senzel, 3B, Daytona Tortugas (Cincinnati Reds)
As the Reds' top prospect (26th overall), Senzel carries high expectations, not only because he was the second pick in the 2016 Draft, but on the heels of his impressive 58-game debut with Class A Dayton. Senzel batted .329/.415/.567 with seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 15 stolen bases and ranked ninth among Midwest League third basemen in fielding percentage out of 21 players with at least 100 total chances.
Not only does Senzel bring the ability to hit for average and power along with his glove at the hot corner, he already displays an advanced approach at the plate, collecting 32 walks while striking out 49 times with the Dragons. His above-average speed and solid baserunning instincts add another layer to a strong set of tools, one that has immediately translated to the Minors -- a place where the 21-year-old may not finish the season if he picks up where he left off in 2016.
"[Nick is] an incredibly talented young man -- he's extremely driven and takes instruction well," said Reds senior director of player development Jeff Graupe. "We're very excited to see what he can do in his first full season. Obviously, the profile of recent top-five picks who were college hitters, all of those guys went up three levels at once, and we're going to challenge Nick to do the same."
Justin Dunn, RHP, St. Lucie Mets (New York Mets)
The Mets boast an embarrassment of pitching riches as a new wave of arms works its way to Queens. In Dunn, New York believes it's found another potential impact starter who has the ability to dominate along the way.
Drafted 19th overall last year out of Boston College, Dunn throws four pitches well, including a mid-90s fastball and an above-average slider. The No. 3 Mets prospect made 11 appearances and eight starts for Class A Short Season Brooklyn last season, posting a 1.50 ERA with 35 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 30 innings. Though there are some concerns that the 21-year-old's 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame isn't large enough to hold up to the rigors of a full season of starts, the Mets don't foresee any such issues.
The organization hasn't said definitively where Dunn will begin 2017, but because he's regarded as a more advanced pitcher coming out of college, a start in the Florida State League seems likely.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers)
Considered a steal in the fourth round of last year's Draft, Funkhouser quickly excelled for the Tigers. The 23-year-old did not allow a run in nine of his 13 starts with Class A Short Season Connecticut, resulting in a 2.65 ERA with 34 strikeouts and eight walks over 37 1/3 innings.
"He's a very mature person and intelligent and I think combined with having a big, strong body and four pitches that he throws for strikes, I think he's an advanced pitcher in our system that has potential to take off as he gets a little more time," said Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield. "He did a real nice job at Connecticut, and we're very optimistic about him being a starter and moving quickly through the system."
With an above-average fastball and a good walk-to-strikeout ratio, Funkhouser should quickly move through the system, potentially even skipping Class A West Michigan. Littlefield said Funkhouser is more advanced than his Draft classmates, and the Tigers are confident he'll have a good year.
Jake Fraley, OF, Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay Rays)
Fraley joined Class A Short Season Hudson Valley's outfield last season and proceeded to wreak havoc on the basepaths. The 21-year-old racked up a New York-Penn League-high 33 steals in 55 games after Tampa Bay snatched him with the No. 77 pick in the Draft. Fraley's other numbers don't jump off the page -- .238 average, nine doubles, one homer, 18 RBIs -- but his 70-grade speed and plus defensive skills still stood out.
"He has skill," said Mitch Lukevics, Tampa Bay's director of Minor League operations. "That's what it comes down to. He's one of those sandwich picks coming from a really good college program at LSU. I'm sure by his standards he didn't hit as well as he would like by normal batting average and on-base percentage, but this young guy has skill. He's a really good defender, he can throw well and he runs really well."
Though Fraley's destination for 2017 has yet to be decided, there is a chance his speed and advanced college bat could land him in Class A Advanced Charlotte.
Luiz Gohara, LHP, Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves)
The Braves added to their stable of young pitching talent in January when they acquired Gohara as part of a four-player deal with the Mariners.
The 20-year-old went 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 13 starts last season for Class A Clinton and Class A Short Season Everett. Gohara signed with Seattle in 2012 out of Brazil for $800,000 as a 16-year-old and is 12-19 with a 4.40 ERA in 48 career outings, earning Northwest League All-Star honors in 2015 with the AquaSox.
The 6-foot-3 left-hander features a fastball in the upper-90s and also throws a slider and a changeup. Gohara could potentially join a Class A Advanced Florida rotation in 2017 expected to also include Atlanta's No. 9 prospect Max Fried and No. 12 Touki Toussaint.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.