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2016's Under-the-Radar Prospects staff predicts big campaigns for lesser-known players
April 5, 2016

There are a host of great players in the Minors who don't get the same attention as top-ranked prospects such as Corey Seager and Lucas Giolito. Here the staff highlights ballplayers ready to have breakout seasons in 2016.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: Tanner Scott

A southpaw who can notch 100 mph on the gun, Scott appeared in 18 games between Class A Short Season Aberdeen in the New York-Penn League and Class A Delmarva in the South Atlantic League last season. In 42 1/3 innings, the 21-year-old struck out 60 batters and posted a 3.83 ERA. Given Scott's size and sure-handedness, the Orioles will likely give the Ohio native every chance to develop the rest of his arsenal. He still has some work to do to develop his secondary stuff, but his first-choice pitch is so tantalizing that if he does build around it, he could cruise up the organizational ladder as a late-inning reliever.

Boston Red Sox: Austin Rei

The Red Sox grabbed Rei in the third round of last year's Draft after he broke out at the plate, hitting .330/.445/.681 with seven homers in 25 games during an injury-shortened junior year at the University of Washington. The offensive breakout made the catcher an even more intriguing prospect, given that his best talents actually lie on the defensive end. However, he struggled mightily with a .179 average and .579 OPS during a 34-game stint at short-season Lowell last summer, and because of that fallout, he enters the season as Boston's No. 25 prospect, according to The Sox, however, think he returned to form in instructs and this spring, and that should mean Rei has a chance to round into a solid all-around backstop in his first full pro season.

New York Yankees: Donny Sands

Sands very quietly put up nice numbers over two levels last year after the Yankees drafted him in the eighth round, and his future remains somewhat up for debate. A pitcher and catcher in high school, Sands is now a third baseman, and the Yankees may look to slide him back behind the plate this year as well. While he showed no power in 55 games last year -- he hit .309 with 30 RBIs -- New York is high on his smooth swing and bat control. A line-drive hitter, he struck out just 20 times in 191 at-bats, mostly at the Rookie level. The 19-year-old figures to start the year at Class A Charleston.

Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Koch

Tampa Bay selected Koch in the fifth round of the 2015 Draft out of Dallas Baptist University, and the right-hander rewarded the club with a dominating debut for short-season Hudson Valley. Koch walked five batters in 32 1/3 innings and paced the New York-Penn League with 13 1/3 strikeouts per nine. He'll get a chance to prove those small-sample results weren't a fluke over a full season in 2016. The 22-year-old utilizes a plus fastball and plus slider, and if he can continue to show the same command and maturity, the Rays may be looking at their future closer.

Toronto Blue Jays: Reggie Pruitt

Pruitt is one of many speedy outfielders in the Toronto system, but what sets him apart is the youngster's ability to use his aggressiveness both at the plate and on the basepaths to set the tone on any given day. In his 36 games in the Gulf Coast League last year, the then-17-year-old batted .333 (13-for-39) when he was leading off a frame with seven of his 15 steals coming in the first inning. He has plus range in the outfield to go with a solid arm and has the potential to become a top-of-the-order outfielder should he develop more consistent hitting mechanics.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: Thad Lowry

Lowry repeated the South Atlantic League in 2015, and through the first half of the season, he appeared to have turned a corner. The 21-year-old right-hander went 8-2 with a 3.61 ERA, striking out 60 strikeouts while walking 18. However, he stumbled in the second half, turning in a 4-6 record, a 5.29 ERA and 34 strikeouts vs. 22 walks. The Texas native possesses a mid-90s fastball along with a quality slider and a changeup. The struggle has been using them to their full potential. Recapturing his first-half form for an entire season could be the first step toward reaching that level.

Cleveland Indians: Ryan Merritt

Listed 6 feet, 180 pounds and throwing a sub-90-mph fastball, Merritt doesn't fit the profile of a traditional lefty. Look past that. Look past his low strikeout numbers (105 in 107 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year). See in Merritt a craftsman who knows how to get outs and put the ball where he wants it. When he does make a mistake, it doesn't tend to hurt him much -- last season, he gave out just 16 free passes over 141 innings in the Eastern League, where he was 10-7 with a 3.51 ERA and two shutouts, including a no-hitter.

Detroit Tigers: Josh Turley

Throughout his three-year career, Turley has been a reliable part of each rotation he has been a part of, most recently with Double-A Erie. The southpaw notched a 3.29 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 153 innings over 25 starts in 2015. Turley's season was highlighted by a no-hit bid that he carried into the seventh on July 4 after adding a knuckleball to his arsenal. While the Tigers have a handful of pitchers at the top of their rankings, the 25-year-old could make his own mark if he keeps his consistency.

Kansas City Royals: Zane Evans

Evans began the 2015 season with Class A Advanced Wilmington, but it wasn't long before the 24-year-old was driving in runs for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Across the two levels, Evans hit .258 with career highs of 10 homers and 56 RBIs. Defense will be the biggest question for Evans, but it's not about whether he has the ability to be a strong catcher, it's whether the Royals have the space for him with Salvador Perez holding court in Kansas City. But regardless of what happens in the Majors, Evans will stay focused on improving behind the plate and making his plus arm even better.

Minnesota Twins: Engelb Vielma

Signed in 2011, Vielma is already considered the best defensive shortstop in the Twins system. Should the 21-year-old native of Venezuela continue to develop the offensive side of his game, he could end up surpassing expectations as a defense-first shortstop. Vielma spent all of 2015 with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, batting .270 and stealing 35 bases across 120 games. Those numbers may not turn heads from some prospects, but a player with Vielma's makeup will never have to crush the ball to be highly valuable.

AL West

Houston Astros: Jonathan Arauz

Lost in the offseason trade that brought Ken Giles to the Astros and sent young pitchers Mark Appel, Vince Velasquez and Thomas Eshelman to the Phillies might have been the fact that Houston also picked up a prospect in the swap. Arauz debuted in the Gulf Coast League last season and held his own at age 16, hitting .254/.309/.370 in 44 games. Better on the defensive side, the Panama native has seen time at both middle infield spots, although most believe he's a worthy shortstop. Considering he'll only turn 17 in August, Arauz is likely headed for short-season ball, but if he can continue to show an advanced skill set for his age, the Astros should have another exciting young shortstop on their hands behind Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Kyle Survance Jr.

Speed plays anywhere, and outfielder Survance has it in to burn. With a run tool graded as a 65 according to, Survance raced to a .363/.434/.484 slash line with 17 stolen bases and 27 runs scored in his first 29 professional games last season with Rookie-level Orem. The University of Houston product was limited by injury last season, but could climb quickly as a polished college product. Survance posted two straight 30-steal seasons with the Cougars in college and moved to center field last year as a professional. He'll test himself in full-season ball for the first time this year, and if his abbreviated debut was any indication, he could take off quickly.

Oakland Athletics: Rangel Ravelo

Ravelo is a pure hitter -- he sports a career .302/.369/.426 line over six Minor League seasons -- who makes great contact but has never hit more than 11 homers in a year. That's a problem for a player defensively limited to first base. The 23-year-old came on strong in the second half last season and topped the Venezuelan Winter League with a 1.042 OPS. If he can deliver even a little more thunder this year in Nashville, his all-around bat skills will be hard to ignore.

Seattle Mariners: Paul Fry

A lefty reliever with a solid three-pitch arsenal is nothing to sneeze at, especially when one of those pitches is a sinking fastball in the low 90s. Fry dazzled in 2015 while pitching in the hitter-friendly California League and in the Southern League, posting a 2.03 ERA while holding Minor League hitters to a .230 batting average. Even more impressive were the 113 strikeouts he racked up over 80 innings.

Texas Rangers: Travis Demeritte

Demeritte slipped from No. 11 in the Rangers system last year to No. 21 this year after he was slapped with an 80-game suspension in early June. The 2013 first-round pick called his positive test for performance-enhancers an "error in judgment" and did his time before finishing the season with a few games in September. Beforehand, he struggled at Class A Hickory, hitting .241 with just five homers in 48 games. Remember, Demeritte hit 25 long balls as a 19-year-old in his first full season. What should we expect in 2016? Demeritte is healthy and months removed from the hiccup, so a power-hitting infielder with something to prove may be worth watching out for in the California League.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: Mike Soroka

It might be tough to consider a first-rounder "under the radar," but in the Braves' pitcher-heavy system -- which also includes another 2015 first-round pitcher in Kolby Allard -- hurlers such as Soroka can get lost in the shuffle. Make no mistake, though. The 18-year-old right-hander has a chance to take off in 2016. He already has two plus pitches in his fastball and curveball and showed impressive control with a 1.3 BB/9 over 34 innings during his first taste of pro ball last summer. With so much pitching talent in the upper levels, the Braves won't be in any rush to move Soroka, allowing him to develop at a steady pace. With that in mind, there's a chance he becomes one of the system's top arms by season's end.

Miami Marlins: K.J. Woods

Class A Greensboro possessed three of the South Atlantic League's top four home-run hitters last year. One of them was Woods, who broke out with a .277/.364/.496 line and 18 homers over 106 games, despite learning a new position. The 20-year-old left fielder-turned-first baseman is still raw in several areas -- notably his defense and high strikeout rate. However, if he can bring that power with him to the Florida State League and hit for a decent average this season, that might be all he needs to do to stand out in a Miami system largely devoid of impact position players.

New York Mets: Robert Gsellman

The Mets have become something of a pitching factory in recent years, and Gsellman has a chance to be the next to roll off the assembly line. A 13th-round pick in 2011, the Santa Monica, California native notched an organizational-best 13 wins in 2015 with a strong 2.89 ERA, thanks in part to a sinker that clocks in at the mid-90s. That pitch should serve him well in Las Vegas as the 22-year-old tries to make the jump to Triple-A for the first time.

Philadelphia Phillies: Thomas Eshelman

A second-round pick in 2015, Eshelman was moved within his Draft year -- shoutout to the Trea Turner Rule -- as part of the Phillies-Astros swap involving Ken Giles. While he dipped his toe in the pro waters with four starts last season, it's his college numbers that make eyes pop. The 21-year-old right-hander walked only 18 batters in 376 1/3 innings over his three years at Cal State Fullerton for a career BB/9 of 0.4. Only seven Major Leaguers in history have posted a single-season BB/9 lower than Eshelman's career marks in college, and only one of them (Carlos Silva, 0.4, 2005) came after 1880. Eshelman is only ranked at No. 15 in a solid Phillies system, however, because none of his individual pitches grade out as more than average. But if he keeps that control in the pro ranks for an extended period of time, his stock should jump in a big way.

Washington Nationals: Austen Williams

In just his first full season, Williams cruised through the lower levels and even made a spot start at Triple-A. The club's No. 20 prospect notched a 2.58 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings over 25 starts, mostly with Class A Hagerstown and Class A Advanced Potomac. Following his sophomore campaign, Williams was rewarded for his work ethic with the Nationals' Bob Boone Award. The right-hander hasn't had any headline-stealing outings just yet, but he's been consistently strong, collecting 14 quality starts last season.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: Brad Markey

The Cubs have gotten some impressive returns from mid- to late-round college Draft selections in recent seasons, and Markey fits that bill. Taken in the 19th round in 2014, Markey was a senior signee out of Virginia Tech. Since breaking into pro ball, he's put together an impressive resume. Markey put up strong numbers as a reliever with Class A South Bend last year, posting a 2.48 ERA in 11 bullpen outings and one start. He struck out 23 strikeouts while walking only four in 29 innings. After a promotion to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, he got better as a rotation member, registering a perfect 7-0 record and a 1.15 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts).

Cincinnati Reds: John Lamb

Once one of the top prospects in baseball after being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 Draft by the Royals, Lamb has a chance to impact the Reds at the big league level in 2016. It took a few years after Tommy John surgery in 2011 for his velocity to return, but last season, Lamb came in like a lion, going 10-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 20 Triple-A starts. Acquired by the Reds last July 26 for Johnny Cueto, Lamb was held out of Cactus League action as he recovers from offseason back surgery. When he's at 100 percent, he'll be in Triple-A Louisville until an opportunity arises for him to get into the Cincinnati rotation this year.

Milwaukee Brewers: Nate Orf

Orf has always been under the radar, so far beneath it he signed with the Brewers undrafted out of Baylor in 2013. If he's going to be more than an organizational player, the 26-year-old versatile infielder must keep producing the way he did last season, when he hit .274 with a .378 on-base percentage in Double-A ball. His efforts haven't gone unnoticed by the Brewers, who rewarded Orf with a trip to the Arizona Fall League. His time there was cut short by an abdominal injury that required surgery, but he's ready for 2016. He even got into five Cactus League games, going 5-for-7.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Max Moroff

Quick, name the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year in 2015. If you said Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows or Josh Bell, think again. It was the 22-year-old Moroff who impressed Pittsburgh management enough to claim the honor. The 16th-round pick in the 2012 Draft might not wow with his tools, but he is durable (136 games played in 2015), smart and gritty. If Moroff can continue to produce at Triple-A, he could develop into a Josh Harrison-type for the Bucs -- a sparkplug who can play multiple positions, provide a little pop and make some noise on the basepaths.

St. Louis Cardinals: Anthony Garcia

Since they selected Garcia at age 17 out of Puerto Rico in 2009, the Cardinals have taken their time with his development. But in 2015, Garcia showed he was ready to speed things up. The 27th-ranked St. Louis prospect batted .283 with 13 homers and 64 RBIs while walking a career-high 51 times for Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. Garcia showed off his power when he first got to big league camp, with seven of his eight hits going for extra bases and six RBIs. The 24-year-old spent 18 games with the Redbirds last season and will begin the 2016 campaign there.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Jamie Westbrook

Westbrook has steadily advanced through the Minors since the D-backs selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 Draft, spending last season with Class A Advanced Visalia. In the hitter-friendly league, the 20-year-old hit .319 with 17 homers and 72 RBIs while also stealing 14 bases -- all of which were career highs. Westbrook doesn't have any tools that jump off the page, but he shows strength across the board. The club's No. 25 prospect flashed the leather at second, but also spent time as the Rawhide's designated hitter. As Westbrook advances, the D-backs will look to see whether he can continue to surpass expectations.

Colorado Rockies: Ryan Castellani

With the infusion of top-end pitching talent into the Rockies system, Castellani gets forgotten. Colorado's second-round pick out of a Phoenix-area high school in 2014, the right-hander went wire-to-wire with 27 starts for Class A Asheville at just 19 years old last season. With a fastball that touches 96 mph, Castellani put up respectable numbers for the Tourists, going 2-7 with a 4.45 ERA while calling hitter-friendly McCormick Field home. The Rockies could challenge the righty with an aggressive promotion to the Class A Advanced California League this season, where he'll look to tame more hitters' havens.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Mitch Hansen

With Walker Buehler, Josh Sborz and Brandon Davis -- not to mention a horde of international prospects -- entering the system in 2015, Hansen's weak professional debut didn't earn him a spot among top Dodgers prospects. There's a slight chance his 30-for-149 (.201) stint over 44 Rookie-level games means his abilities won't translate from high school to the pros. More likely: Hansen's AZL campaign will be forgotten as his bat speed and clean swing have the 19-year-old outfielder accumulating base knocks o'plenty this year, and he'll mash taters down the line as his 6-foot-4 frame fills in.

San Diego Padres: Auston Bousfield

Bousfield's first season-and-a-half of pro ball might be indicative of how quickly the 22-year-old outfielder could become a valuable big league contributor, although not likely a perennial All-Star. Taken out of Ole Miss in the fifth round of 2014, Bousfield is a solid contact hitter with exceptional throwing and running abilities. Those skills got him assigned to A Advanced ball out of the shoot last year, and he reached Double-A for 19 games at the end of the season. Not officially invited to big league camp, he got into seven Cactus League games this spring, going 3-for-7 with a double.

San Francisco Giants: Austin Slater

The Giants are flush with midfield talent depth, and Slater is among that group. Primarily an outfielder in college before being selected in the eighth round of the 2014 Draft, Slater moved to the infield during his first full season in San Francisco's system. Last year, he climbed to Double-A and hit consistently throughout the season. Over 114 games between Class A Advanced San Jose and Double-A Richmond, the then-22-year-old batted a combined .294/.334/.381. Slater's run and arm tools grade out above average at 55, according to MLB Pipeline, and the site also thinks his power could eventually develop to the point that he's capable of 15 home runs per season.