Head of the Class: A Advanced

Padres' Paddack, O's McKenna stand out entering All-Star break

Chris Paddack has walked only 1.9 percent of the batters he's faced over 42 1/3 innings this season. (Jerry Espinoza/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | June 18, 2018 10:00 AM

With All-Star Games approaching across the Minor Leagues, members of the MiLB.com staff are looking back at some of the most notable performers from the first half of each of the four full-season levels and who could take off in the months to come. Here, we look at players in the Class A Advanced California, Carolina and Florida State leagues.

Most exciting hitter

Orioles OF Ryan McKenna, Frederick: Baltimore's No. 29 prospect has been the epitome of an all-around hitter over the first half. He leads all Class A Advanced hitters with a .377 average and .467 on-base percentage, while his .556 slugging percentage and 1.023 OPS both sit atop the Carolina League leaderboard. He's collected 28 extra-base hits in 67 games and has a nearly even 45/37 K/BB ratio. There have been some players with video-game slugging numbers at this level, but they are all in the launching pad that is the California League. McKenna has been miles better than any hitter in the Carolina League in almost every offensive aspect.

Most exciting pitcher

Padres RHP Chris Paddack, Lake Elsinore: San Diego's No. 20 prospect doesn't qualify in any rate-stat categories because he's thrown only 42 1/3 innings since debuting April 30, but there's little doubt he's been the level's most reliable hurler in the first half. Paddack hasn't struck out fewer than seven in any of his eight starts, fanning 70 batters total and walking only three. His rate of 23.3 K/BB is by far the best among all Minor League pitchers with at least 40 frames this season, and his 43.5 percent K rate is also tops among the same group. Paddack's start to the season was delayed as he continued his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He's healthy now and effective with a plus fastball and changeup. Don't believe the numbers? Ask Cal League hitters.

Video: Storm's Paddack fans Marsh

Best team

Winston-Salem Dash: The Class A Advanced squad was the first White Sox affiliate to clinch a first-half division title, but that's not exclusively why it's here. The Dash have one of the more stocked teams in an already loaded system with five of Chicago's top 15 prospects playing for Winston-Salem right now. It'd be six if Dane Dunning hadn't been so good with a 31/3 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings before getting promoted on April 26. Dylan Cease, MLB.com's No. 52 overall prospect, has thrived without any restrictions in his first full season with the White Sox, and No. 13 Chicago prospect Luis Alexander Basabe has looked like the toolsy outfielder the club thought it acquired from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal. Left-hander Bernardo Flores, right-hander Matt Foster and outfielder Joel Booker also earned trips to the Carolina League All-Star Game. It's fun to see a club this talented perform up to its capabilities.

Video: Winston-Salem's Cease records career-high 12th K

Second-half breakout

Angels 2B Jahmai Jones, Inland Empire: MLB.com's No. 83 overall prospect was thrown a curveball before the season even started when he was moved from the outfield to second base. That's going to stick for the time being, especially now that Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh have joined him in Inland Empire. What's less likely to stick are some of his rough numbers from the first half of the California League season. Through 60 games, Jones is hitting .246/.347/.408 with seven homers and 10 steals. That still works out to an above-average 109 wRC+, but there are plenty of inidicators that the right-handed slugger, who batted .302 in 2016 and .282 last season, should be prepared to produce a lot better in the second half. Start with the fact that his OPS has been better with each passing month -- .829 in April, .740 in May, .813 in June -- and add in that he was an even slower first-half starter last season. (His .263/.328/.391 line on this date a year ago actually isn't far from the one he has now; he bumped that up to .282/.348/.446 by season's end.) There's also the fact that his .289 BABIP is below his career norm, and with his speed, that should go up -- and his average with it -- as more hits fall and he beats out more balls in the second half. Jones is one of the rare Angels top prospects to not have a killer first half, but don't be surprised if he turns things around in a big way entering July and August.

Video: Inland Empire's Jones homers

Coming soon

Twins OF Alex KirilloffThe biggest worry about Kirilloff entering 2018 was his health. The Twins' 2016 first-rounder missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in his left elbow. He's looked no worse for wear, though, in his return to the Minors, and it's getting to the point where Minnesota might think about aggressively pushing him up in the back half of 2018. The left-handed slugger is hitting .333/.391/.607 with 13 homers, five triples and 20 doubles in 65 games at Class A Cedar Rapids and has only gotten better with each passing month. It's clear that he isn't being challenged anymore in the Midwest League, so a move to Class A Advanced Fort Myers would make sense at some point in the second half. If that happens, the 20-year-old would be back on track or even ahead of most prep bats taken in the 2016 Draft.

Video: Kirilloff hits first full-season homer

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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