Farm system storylines: April edition

News and notes on each organization from season's first month

A's prospect Jesus Luzardo's April began with Class A Advanced Stockton and ended with Double-A Midland. (Shawn E. Davis/MiLB.com)

By MiLB.com Staff | May 2, 2018 11:00 AM

Around the start of each month, MiLB.com staff will break down the state of all 30 organizations with updates on their top prospects, Minor League affiliates and more in a new feature called "Farm system storylines."

AL East

 Baltimore Orioles

There was little doubt that the O's rotation would be in some dire straits entering 2018, and the fact that Baltimore starters rank among the bottom third in most big-league categories has only reinforced that notion. There's been some small glimmers of hope in the lower levels, however, specifically at Class A Delmarva. Zac Lowther, the team's No. 17 prospect, may have been the Minors' most dominant pitcher in April with a 1.23 ERA, 39 strikeouts and only three walks in 22 innings, including a no-hit, 13-strikeout effort in his season opener. But No. 10 prospect Brenan Hanifee (2.77 ERA, 0.96 WHIP), No. 15 Michael Baumann (2.37 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) and No. 16 Cameron Bishop (1.44 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) weren't too shabby out of the Shorebirds rotation either. Hanifee, at 19, is the only non-22-year-old of that group, meaning the other three could move quickly in their first seasons out of college. -- Sam Dykstra

 Boston Red Sox

Michael Chavis was suspended for the first 80 games of the season, making good news for Red Sox position player prospects hard to come by in April. The good hitting news that could be found came primarily from the bats of Bobby Dalbec and C.J. Chatham. Chatham got off to a fast start with a .351 average and .868 OPS in 14 games with Class A Greenville after missing almost all of 2017 with hamstring injuries. Dalbec, who's experienced his own injury woes, is back to his powerful ways and led the system with five April home runs for Class A Advanced Salem. Boston's No. 12 prospect did struggle to make consistent contact (.215 average, 32 strikeouts in 23 games), but he was the system's only ranked prospect with multiple homers in the first month. Sam Travis showed signs of performing to his potential with a .292 average and .370 OBP for Triple-A Pawtucket, but he had only four extra-base hits in 17 games and is currently on the DL with a left intercostal strain. -- SD

 New York Yankees

With bigger names like Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate and Jonathan Loaisiga all jumping out for various reasons in April, No. 15 prospect Trevor Stephan could have flown under the radar in the first month of his first full season. His performances made sure that didn't happen. The 2017 third-rounder out of Arkansas posted a 1.66 ERA and 0.74 ERA with 28 strikeouts and only four walks in 21 2/3 innings at Class A Advanced Tampa. He was particularly impressive over back-to-back scoreless six-inning starts on April 11 and 18, fanning 15 and walking only two. Stephan has two above-average pitches in his fastball and slider, and despite some worries about a reliever-like delivery, he can fill up the zone regularly. There have been more electric arms in the Tarpons rotation so far, like that of Freicer Perez and the now-healthy Albert Abreu, but Stephan is doing all he can to not get outmuscled. -- SD

 Tampa Bay Rays

No. 22 overall prospect Willy Adames played like, well, the game's No. 22 overall prospect, hitting .315/.411/.507 with two homers, two triples, four doubles and 13 walks in 21 games for Triple-A Durham in April. Why is that significant? Well, it was quite the opposite last April when Adames first joined the Bulls. Then only 21, the shortstop hit .210 with a .642 OPS in the first month of 2017. Both he and the organization acknowledged that he may have been pressing in order to climb the final hurdle to Tampa Bay. Though his 2017 was inconsistent offensively, Adames eventually played a big role in getting Durham a Triple-A National Championship, and after turning his lessons into a hot start back with the Bulls, there are few who doubt that he's solidified his spot as the future long-term shortstop in Tampa Bay. -- SD

 Toronto Blue Jays

There's a lot of focus on the Double-A New Hampshire infield, and for good reason. Top Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continued to be a marvel as a 19-year-old in the Eastern League, hitting .380/.442/.582 over 20 games. But don't sleep on another left-side infielder: No. 19 prospect Kevin Smith. The 2017 fourth-rounder out of Maryland hit .330/.381/.568 with three homers, a triple and 10 doubles in 22 games with Class A Lansing. The 21-year-old shortstop has shown decent power in the past, especially for his position, and he translated that into being a big-time run producer for the Lugnuts. His 25 RBIs tied him with Guerrero for the organizational lead in April and put him in a three-way tie for fifth-most in all the Minors. Toronto is pretty deep at shortstop with Bo Bichette, Logan Warmoth and Richard Urena in the system, but Smith is doing plenty to keep his name in the conversation. -- SD

Video: Vlad laces triple to right field for Fisher Cats

AL Central

 Chicago White Sox

The South Siders started their month with three of their top four prospects on the disabled list. During Spring Training, Luis Robert sprained his thumb, Alec Hansen suffered right forearm stiffness and Eloy Jimenez felt a mild pectoral strain, but fortunately for the White Sox, baseball's No. 4 overall prospect was back in action April 19. It took a few games for Jimenez to return to form, though, as he started the season 0-for-10 in his first three contests with Double-A Birmingham. After that, the 21-year-old outfielder went 11-for-37 (.297) with four homers, two doubles and 13 RBIs in his last nine games of the month. -- Kelsie Heneghan

 Cleveland Indians

For top Indians pitching prospects, it's been either success or disabled list. While top hurler Triston McKenzie, Julian Merryweather, Ryan Merritt and Brady Aiken have not toed the rubber this season, the rest of Cleveland's prospect arms have been a treat for fans. Shane Bieber (1.16 ERA in 31 IP) and Aaron Civale (2.22 ERA in 28 1/3) led the Double-A Akron rotation in April -- Bieber has since been promoted to Triple-A Columbus -- while Sam Hentges (2.13 ERA in 25 1/3 IP) performed well for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Elijah Morgan (1.37 ERA in 26 1/3 IP) was stunning for Class A Lake County. Indians fans just have to hope when the other arms get healthy, they can continue the trend those on the mound have started. -- KH

 Detroit Tigers

With four of their top five prospects being pitchers, it's hard not to focus on the Tigers' young arms, and this quartet has had varying degrees of success so far this season. For starters, top prospect Franklin Perez is likely out three months with a lat strain he suffered in March. Next up, Matt Manning also began the season on the disabled list with a low-level oblique strain, but he returned in time to make two starts with Class A West Michigan. He showed rust in the first outing, but then twirled four hitless frames in the next. Alex Faedo shined from his No. 3 ranking with a 2.48 ERA in 29 innings with Class A Advanced Lakeland, while Beau Burrows (No. 4) lowered his ERA to 3.66 in his fourth and final start of the month as he hit his stride with Double-A Erie. -- KH

 Kansas City Royals

As a collection, April wasn't the best month for Royals affiliates, going a combined 38-54 and ranking among the bottom of most team statistical rankings on both sides of the ball. One bright spot, however, has been Class A Lexington and its sluggers. At 12-10, the Legends were the only affiliate to finish the month above .500. And with 23 team homers (the other three affiliates combined for 35), the club sits at second in the South Atlantic League. A lot of that power has come from Seuly Matias. The Royals' third-ranked prospect collected four long balls in the first three games and finished with seven for the month. The power is spread throughout the lineup, though, with 11 different Legends leaving the yard thus far. -- KH

 Minnesota Twins

Success starts at the top for the Twins with their top four prospects having exciting Aprils. Last year's first overall pick, Royce Lewis hit .316 with five stolen bases in 14 games for Class A Cedar Rapids. Fernando Romero, the club's top pitching prospect, earned his Major League debut after posting a 2.57 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 21 innings for Triple-A Rochester. Southpaw Stephen Gonsalves went 3-0 with a stingy 1.77 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings for Double-A Chattanooga before a promotion to Triple-A, while teammate Nick Gordon hit .345 with nine extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in 23 games. -- KH

Video: Royce Lewis notches fourth hit

AL West

 Houston Astros

Houston got some frustrating news in February in the form of a 50-game, drug-related suspension for top prospect Forrest Whitley, but other pitchers in the system used April to set themselves up for a strong season. The Class A Advanced Buies Creek staff, in particular, was fantastic. It led the Carolina League in ERA (2.09 -- Salem was next at 3.36), strikeouts (261) and WHIP (1.03) with standout showings from circuit-ERA leader Carson LaRue (0.46) as well as Abdiel Saldana and Jorge Alcala, combined on an April 16 one-hitter. Looking for some good news on a more projectable player? While neither Kyle Tucker's speed nor power has been as much of a factor as it will be in the long run, he's been an exceptionally tough out in his first crack at Triple-A, posting a .371 on-base percentage in 22 April games for Fresno. -- Josh Jackson

 Los Angeles Angels

Shohei Ohtani finished the month with his prospect status technically intact, but he's also eliminated any and all doubts that he's a big leaguer. Down on the lower levels of the farm, a trio of recent position-playing Draftees are giving pitchers headaches. Class A Burlington teammates Jo Adell (No. 2 in the system) and Brandon Marsh (No. 5) combined to drive in 27 runs in April, with Adell posting an .835 OPS and Marsh coming in at .855. Up at Class A Advanced Inland Empire, Jahmai Jones has not caught a lot of breaks -- his first multi-hit game came April 22 -- yet he still managed a .338 on-base percentage while balancing a transition from the outfield to second base. -- JJ

 Oakland Athletics

Not much can dull the blow of A.J. Puk missing the year after Tommy John surgery on April 11, but Jesus Luzardo sure did his part. The 20-year-old left-hander was assigned to Class A Advanced Stockton to start his first full season, but it took him all of three starts to demonstrate the California League wasn't much of a challenge for him. He struck out 25 over 14 2/3 innings, holding batters to a total of two runs on six hits and five walks for a 1.23 ERA. His first two starts for Double-A Midland weren't so outrageously dominant, but he's definitely showed he can hang with Texas League hitters. On April 24, he held Corpus Christi to two runs while whiffing five over five innings, and he punched out seven while limiting San Antonio to three runs (two earned) over five frames on Monday night. -- JJ

 Seattle Mariners

There are plenty of negatives here. Kyle Lewis hasn't played a competitive game yet this year, and people who question whether he'll ever play a full season have begun to seem slightly less paranoid, slightly more reasonable than they did last summer. Braden Bishop, who might otherwise have permanently put the "defense-first center fielder" descriptor behind him with a breakout 2017, struggled at the plate with Double-A Arkansas. Right-hander Sam Carlson, shut down after two starts last year, remains in extended spring camp. Can't M's fans get any relief? Yes. Yes, they can. Seattle's eighth-ranked prospect, Art Warren, was masterful out of the bullpen for Arkansas, and No. 10 Wyatt Mills has been even better snuffing rallies for Class A Advanced Modesto. Warren posted a 2.00 ERA with 13 strikeouts to show for seven appearances amounting to nine innings, while Mills was 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 11 innings across nine games. They each had a pair of saves. -- JJ

 Texas Rangers

This has not shaped up to be the greatest spring the Rangers system has ever seen with Willie Calhoun struggling to get on base for Triple-A Round Rock, 2016 first-rounder Cole Ragans requiring Tommy John surgery and 2017 second-rounder Hans Crouse recovering from biceps tendinitis. A couple of Class A Advanced Down East Wood Ducks, though, are floating above those concerns. Top Texas prospect Leody Taveras -- a 19-year-old defensive wunderkind in center field -- posted a .375 on-base percentage despite 21 strikeouts in 22 April games. If he can cut down the K rate as the season goes on, he stands to steal a lot of bases and score a lot of runs. Right-hander Jonathan Hernandez didn't allow more than two runs in any of his four starts, holding opponents to a .179 average while striking out 28 in 22 1/3 innings. -- JJ

NL East

 Atlanta Braves

The prospect party in Atlanta just keeps growing. The late-April graduation of baseball's No. 2 prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. to the Majors was expected. The promotion of Atlanta's No. 3 Mike Soroka to The Show just days later was not. Soroka impressed in his four Triple-A starts, going 2-0 with a 1.99 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 24 strikeouts against five walks in 22 2/3 innings, but he's still just 20 years old, making his call to SunTrust Park even more impressive. Along with lefty Max Fried, who has already made two relief appearances for Atlanta this year, Soroka became the third player in the Braves' top seven to see big league time already in 2018. Luiz Gohara, Atlanta's No. 4, isn't far behind after getting his season started on a delay thanks to a left ankle injury out of Spring Training.  -- Tyler Maun

 Miami Marlins

With Lewis Brinson having graduated from prospect status, there are signs Miami's new top prospect Monte Harrison was getting himself figured out at the Double-A level. After batting .149/.310/.213 through his first 14 games with Jacksonville, Harrison finished with hits in nine of his last 10 contests to close April, boosting his slash line to .253/.350/.437. The former Nebraska quarterback commit tallied seven of his eight doubles this year over that span as well as his two 2018 home runs. Though he cooled at the end of the month, infielder Isan Diaz was on a similar upswing. Diaz tallied hits in nine of 11 games from April 17-26, including a 4-for-5 performance with a homer and two doubles against Pensacola on the final day of that string. -- TM

 New York Mets

TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW! Now that we have your attention, it's his Double-A Binghamton teammate (and fellow Florida alum)  Peter Alonso who's been grabbing headlines early this year. Through 21 April games, Alonso hit .408/.505/.776 with seven home runs. One level lower at Class A Advanced, Mets No. 3 prospect Justin Dunn impressed through five starts. The Boston College product and 2016 first-rounder, repeating a tour through the Florida State League, registered a 2.13 ERA in his first five starts of the season, and his command appears improved after giving him issues in 2017. A year ago, the righty walked 48 against 75 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings. Over 25 1/3 in April, he had 28 K's to nine free passes. -- TM

 Philadelphia Phillies

Four of the Phils' top five prospects are on the roster of Class A Advanced Clearwater, and the one who isn't -- Scott Kingery -- is in the big leagues. That collection of talent hasn't yet produced many wins. The Threshers closed April at 9-15, the worst mark among the Phillies' full-season clubs, and for those prospects, results have been a mixed bag. Philadelphia's top prospect, Sixto Sanchez walked four and gave up four runs on seven hits in four innings over his April 15 season debut but rebounded with back-to-back quality starts, including a one-run, seven-inning gem on April 28. Mickey Moniak, the Phils' No. 4 and top overall selection in the 2016 Draft, hit just .213 with a .487 OPS in the season's first month. The left-handed hitter struggled notably against right-handed pitching, batting .180/.190/.213 in 61 at-bats. -- TM

 Washington Nationals

Triple-A Syracuse boasted the International League's best offense by team batting average (.268, tied with Indianapolis) and third-best pitching staff by ERA (2.86), and the Chiefs have experienced early-season success despite the absence of top Nationals prospect Victor Robles, who suffered a hyperextended elbow on a diving catch attempt in his fourth game of the season. Helping to pick up the offensive slack has been No. 19 Nats prospect Rafael Bautista, who raked at a .429/.442/.524 rate over 10 games after his promotion from Double-A Harrisburg and before his quick move up to the Majors on April 24. Three of Syracuse's starting pitchers boasted ERAs of 2.25 or lower, including Washington's No. 4 Erick Fedde, who has posted two scoreless starts already this year. -- TM

NL Central

 Chicago Cubs

Like their South Side counterpart, the Cubs benefited from their top prospect returning to the field. One day after Jimenez came off the disabled list, Adbert Alzolay left extended spring training for his Triple-A debut. The right-hander had been building up arm strength and showed it off from the beginning. Of Alzolay's three starts this season, he has carried a no-hitter into the sixth twice. In total, the 23-year-old is 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA, 14 punchouts and six walks in 17 innings for Iowa. The Cubs will especially need Alzolay to keep it going while their next two top arms -- Oscar De La Cruz (7.48 ERA in five starts) and Jose Albertos (27.00 ERA in four starts) -- work out the kinks. -- KH

 Cincinnati Reds

Yes, top prospect Nick Senzel was feast or famine in April, going from a 4-for-9 stretch to an 0-for-16 skid and then back to a 4-for-9. But perhaps the most noteworthy Reds prospect this month was Tony Santillan. The club's No. 4 prospect showcased his 70-grade fastball with a stingy 0.64 ERA for Class A Advanced Daytona. That's two earned runs in 28 1/3 innings as he began the season with 21 frames without an earned run. The 2015 second-round pick ranked eighth in the Minors in April ERA, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. Santillan is 3-0 with 29 strikeouts and eight walks in five starts. -- KH

 Milwaukee Brewers

The bats have not been showing up in ways Brewers fans would like with top prospects Keston Hiura, Lucas Erceg, Corey Ray, Trent Grisham and Tristen Lutz all hitting below .275 in April. The brightest spots for the Milwaukee farm system offensively, though, were with Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Sky Sox led the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in team average (.300) and stolen bases (36) while ranking second in doubles (54) and triples (14). The veteran presence of Kyle Wren, Nate Orf, Andres Blanco and Christian Bethancourt -- coupled with the young talents of Jacob Nottingham and Mauricio Dubon -- have led to an exciting lineup. --KH

 Pittsburgh Pirates

Mitch Keller and Austin Meadows have been among the Pirates' top prospects since they were early picks in 2014 and 2013, respectively. And it looks like it's all coming together for both. Keller, the No. 5 pitching prospect in baseball, was 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA, 23 punchouts and 12 walks in 22 2/3 innings over four April starts with Double-A Altoona. Meanwhile, Meadows, the No. 43 overall prospect, had his best April yet, hitting .313/.380/.453 with eight RBIs and only nine strikeouts in 17 games for Triple-A Indianapolis. The 22-year-old outfielder could see time at PNC Park in no time with the right-hander following in a few months. -- KH

 St. Louis Cardinals

The whole point of the Minor Leagues is helping the Major League club. And Cardinals prospects have done just that with Jack Flaherty, Tyler O'Neill, Yairo Munoz and Austin Gomber all getting called up to The Show, while Harrison Bader and Jordan Hicks were there all month. That's six of the organization's top 15 prospects already contributing at Busch Stadium. More could follow shortly too with Carson Kelly, Dakota Hudson, Ryan Helsley, Max Schrock, Randy Arozarena and Oscar Mercado all competing at the Minors' highlight level with Triple-A Memphis. -- KH

NL West

 Arizona Diamondbacks

Jon Duplantier's back, and there's going to be trouble (for Southern League hitters). Coming off a season in which he won a MiLBY as Top Starting Pitcher with 165 strikeouts, a 1.39 ERA and 165 strikeouts over 136 innings across two levels, the D-backs' top prospect was held out of the opening weeks with a hamstring issue. There weren't any issues after his season debut on April 21, though. The right-hander struck out six and allowed two earned runs on four hits and a walk over five innings in his first Double-A game, and he improved to 2-0 by allowing an unearned run on four hits and a walk as he punched out eight over five innings for Jackson on Thursday. All signs point to another dominant year for the Rice product. -- JJ

 Colorado Rockies

The core that led Class A Advanced Lancaster to the California League Finals last year hasn't missed much of a beat at Double-A Hartford, with top prospect Brendan Rodgers homering four times and stealing four bases over the first 22 games of the new season. Garrett Hampson (No. 7) collected 10 extra-base knocks and an Eastern League-leading 12 thefts in 23 games, and Sam Hilliard (No. 12) has four homers, two doubles and six steals in the same span. Brian Mundell, Yonathan Daza and Dom Nunez are holding their own with the Yard Goats, too. (Bonus: Albuquerque's Daniel Castro led the Pacific Coast League with a .407 batting average in April and was rewarded with a Major League promotion on Tuesday.) -- JJ

 Los Angeles Dodgers

With Triple-A Oklahoma City starting 18-4 for the best record in the Minors and top prospects Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo getting big league time, fans can be forgiven if they've missed something exciting going on lower in the ranks, deeper in the system and 50 miles from Dodger Stadium at Rancho Cucamonga. The trio of Gavin Lux (No. 13), Connor Wong (No. 15) and Rylan Bannon (No. 30) have been among the hottest hitters over the beginning of the Class A Advanced California League season. Through Monday, Wong and Bannon were tied for the league lead with eight home runs, and Lux was named the circuit's Player of the Week for April 23-29. -- JJ

 San Diego Padres

The pipeline is flowing smoothly. Say what you will about Fernando Tatis Jr.'s "slow" first month (he collected 32 total bases in his first 24 games), but you'll be hard-pressed to be down on 19-year-old middle infielder Esteury Ruiz's first April out of a complex. While Franchy Cordero has wowed with his power at Petco, Austin Allen and Josh Naylor combined for 15 homers over the first few weeks of the Texas League. Lefties Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi have broken through to the bigs, but younger southpaws Adrian Morejon and Logan Allen are cruising along at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels, respectively. (A blister has MacKenzie Gore on the disabled list, but we needn't concern ourselves with such unfortunate matters in this otherwise cheery organizational outlook.) -- JJ

 San Francisco Giants

Double-A Flying Squirrels pitchers are driving Eastern League hitters nuts -- Richmond was third with a 2.99 ERA after 23 games -- led by a trio of standout starters and a strong bullpen. Shaun Anderson, ranked eighth in the San Francisco system, struck out 28 over 28 across five starts, allowing a total of nine runs -- eight earned. Jordan Johnson (No. 29) held opponents to a .228 average over his first five starts. Matt Gage posted a 3.18 ERA through his first four outings. Caleb Simpson, Ray Black and Tyler Cyr have combined for 12 saves. -- JJ

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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