Midseason farm system grades: AL

Rays, Mariners, Indians earn high marks; A's receive incomplete

Brendan McKay struck out 88 over 66 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A before moving to the Majors. (Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

By MiLB.com Staff | July 2, 2019 10:50 AM

With about two months left in the Minor League schedule, the MiLB.com staff hands out grades to all 30 farm systems based on their prospect and team performance so far. The American League systems make up the first installment in the series, followed by the National League tomorrow. Chris Tripodi analyzes the AL East, Sam Dykstra breaks down the AL Central and Josh Jackson breaks out the red pen for the AL West.

American League East

 Baltimore Orioles

Grade: C

Baltimore's farm system is improving, but that's not a difficult feat when you start so close to the bottom; the O's ranked 23rd in our preseason rankings. DJ Stewart hit his way to the Majors with a .456/.512/.882 slash line over 19 May games, but he lasted just 25 plate appearances before hurting his ankle. No. 55 overall prospect Ryan Mountcastle has been very consistent and is making a strong push for his own promotion, and top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez is dominating the South Atlantic League with Class A Delmarva. Eighth-ranked Zac Lowther has struggled with his control this season, but he continues to suppress runs at an elite rate even as he climbs levels. Unfortunately, neither Yusniel Diaz nor Austin Hays have lived up to expectations, and 2017 first-round pick DL Hall has taken a step back by walking almost seven batters per nine innings in the Carolina League. There have been definite signs of progress, and No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman should give the Orioles system a nice midseason boost, but the aforementioned struggles of key prospects combined with a middling organizational record are enough to keep the optimism muted ... for now.

Video: Tides' Mountcastle goes deep

 Boston Red Sox

Grade: C-

At this time last year, Michael Chavis was in the middle of a PED suspension. Now he's playing an everyday role for the Red Sox and has already reached double digits in home runs, although he's cooled some since his hot start. Breakout prospect Jarren Duran lit up Class A Advanced, but he's struggled with the bat since his promotion to Double-A. Top hitting prospects Triston Casas and Bobby Dalbec have both turned it on after slow Aprils, and seventh-ranked Bryan Mata has found his control again after walking 58 batters in 72 innings in 2018; he's also pitched well since returning from a right shoulder strain in early June, earning a bump to Portland this week. No. 5 Tanner Houck and No. 27 prospect Joan Martinez are the only other Red Sox pitching prospects to thrive in 2019, but lower-ranked batters like C.J. Chatham, Marcus Wilson and Josh Ockimey are all producing at the plate. There are more positives here than last year, but as a system that landed last in our preseason rankings and ranks last in organizational winning percentage, those positives don't do much besides keep it out of failing range.

Video: The Sox's top prospect clubbed a home run

 New York Yankees

Grade: C

A promotion to Double-A Trenton has done nothing to stop Deivi Garcia's breakout season, as his 15-strikeout performance June 18 and five hitless innings in the Thunder's June 24 combined no-hitter would attest. The 20-year-old Garcia is striking out 40.8 percent of opposing hitters, best in the Minors. No. 13 prospect Luis Gil is also dealing at Class A Charleston, and a pair of Josh's -- Josh Breaux and Josh Stowers -- have hit well for the RiverDogs, although Breaux has been on the injured list for over a month. Beyond all that, you have to squint to find other positives. Top prospect Estevan Florial homered in his first game back from a fractured and dislocated wrist June 3, but he has three extra-base hits since and is striking out over 30 percent of the time. No. 97 overall prospect Jonathan Loaisiga and third-ranked Albert Abreu have struggled, and few hurlers in this pitching-heavy system are meeting expectations outside of Garcia, Gil and No. 16 Garrett Whitlock. A systemwide record over .500 saves this grade from landing a notch lower.

Video: Thunder's Garcia strikes out 15th batter of game

 Tampa Bay Rays

Grade: A

The synergy in the Rays' Minor League system this season has been almost as impressive as the organization's success at the Major League level. MiLB.com's No. 2 preseason farm system has the best combined record among Minor League affiliates, and most of its top prospects are performing as expected. Wander Franco, baseball's new top prospect, was the most exciting hitter in Class A at Bowling Green before his earned promotion to Class A Advanced Charlotte. Brandon Lowe signed a long-term extension this spring and has been one of Tampa Bay's best hitters, ninth-ranked Nate Lowe has made two stops in the Majors and the Rays' other top hitting prospects have all held their own, including Jesus Sanchez as a 21-year-old in Double-A. No. 23 overall prospect Brendan McKay has already shown his stuff will play in the Majors after opening at Double-A, while fellow Top 100 prospects Matthew Liberatore and Shane Baz, along with No. 11 prospect Shane McClanahan, have been outstanding at the lower levels. Any way you slice it, it's been a banner year for the Rays.

Video: Bowling Green's Franco clobbers fourth homer

Toronto Blue Jays

Grade: B+

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has yet to dominate at the Major League level as many expected, but he's 20. It'll come. He's not the only Toronto prospect to impact the big league club in 2019 either; right-hander Trent Thornton started hot in April and has been a decent backend starter for the Jays, Rowdy Tellez has shown his power can play in the Majors, and Cavan Biggio's combination of power and patience has helped him make a good early impression. Back on the farm, Bo Bichette missed a month and a half with a broken hand but is back hitting like the top-10 overall prospect he is. Jordan Groshans, Griffin Conine and Gabriel Moreno have thrived in small samples at Class A Lansing when they've been on the field, as did Alejandro Kirk before his promotion to Class A Advanced Dunedin. Anthony Alford had 10 stolen bases and a .361/.451/.525 slash line in June before hitting the injured list. No. 41 overall prospect Nate Pearson is striking out eight batters for every walk and hasn't allowed a run in six of his eight Double-A starts, although he's also sidelined with a minor groin strain. Aside from the struggles of Kevin Smith and Sean Reid-Foley, the Jays have enjoyed a productive first half as an organization, even if their overall record continues to hover around .500.

Video: Vlad Jr. blasts off for Bisons

American League Central

 Chicago White Sox

Grade: B

Eloy Jimenez opened the season in the Majors, graduated from prospectdom on June 5 and slugged over .600 last month, yet he hasn't been the standout young outfielder from the South Side system in the first half. Luis Robert has been one of the best-hitting Minor Leaguers through the first half, especially among those who haven't played with the Triple-A ball. With his five-tool skillset, Robert could push to join Jimenez in Chicago by season's end with the way he's trending. Elsewhere, 2018 picks Nick Madrigal and Steele Walker have been two of the most solid hitters in the system in their first full seasons; Madrigal, in particular, is already up to Double-A, where his elite contact skills are already translating. On the pitching side, it's been a little rougher. Top arm Dylan Cease is headed to the Majors, despite struggling this past month, and ranked prospects Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton and Jimmy Lambert will miss the rest of the season with various injuries. Codi Heuer (2.82 ERA at Winston-Salem/Birmingham), Bernardo Flores (3.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP at Birmingham) and Konnor Pilkington (83 K in 67 1/3 innings at Kannapolis/Winston-Salem) have been the statistical standouts, but none entered the season ranked above No. 19. Once/if Cease graduates, the pitching ceiling will take a hit until Michael Kopech returns healthy. But the bats, especially up top, have shown enough promise in early 2019 to earn a solid grade.

Video: Birmingham's Robert with a lead-off homer

 Cleveland Indians

Grade: A-

The Indians didn't have the brightest farm system in their own division at the beginning of the season, and top prospect Triston McKenzie hasn't even pitched in a game yet due to a back injury suffered in the spring. Yet there have been positive signs throughout the system in the first half. Oscar Mercado got off to a strong start at Triple-A Columbus and has brought some stability to the Cleveland outfield since arriving in the Majors. Infielders Nolan Jones and Tyler Freeman have only boosted their stocks as Top-100 prospects with impressive offensive showings. Bobby Bradley used 24 homers in 67 games to make his own jump to the Majors, Zach Plesac did the same with a 1.41 ERA and 0.78 WHIP over nine starts and Daniel Johnson might not be too far behind with the way his pop has jumped in his first season in the organization. All the way down the ladder, Mahoning Valley might have the best roster among Class A Short Season clubs with George Valera, Brayan Rocchio and Ethan Hankins all opening 2019 as Scrappers. With the organization ranking seventh in winning percentage, it's hard to find bad news in the Cleveland pipeline so far.

Video: Lynchburg's Jones' first homer

 Detroit Tigers

Grade: B-

If this were only about pitchers, the club would be in the A range. Casey Mize had as good a first half on the mound as anyone in baseball before a shoulder injury put him on the injured list. Matt Manning was right there with Mize during their time together at Double-A Erie, and the 21-year-old right-hander enters July with 102 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings as he fights his way toward Detroit. Tarik Skubal, a ninth-round pick last year, was definitely overlooked compared to other arms but has earned attention with a 2.70 ERA, 91 K's and 19 walks in 73 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced Lakeland. Alex Faedo has shown signs of bouncing back. Beau Burrows has put up solid numbers. Gregory Soto has climbed from Class A Advanced to the Majors (albeit with subpar results). If anyone wasn't on the Detroit pitching bandwagon before, they should be now. As for hitting, well that's where things get rough. No. 7 Willi Castro (.835) is one of only two ranked Tigers prospect with an OPS above .800 -- the other being catching phenom and Futures Gamer Jake Rogers, who is trying to show a bat that can match his glove. Outside of them, Isaac Paredes is looking his age (20) at Double-A, while Daz Cameron hasn't taken off, even though he's spent the entire season at hitter-friendly Triple-A. Those bats drop the Tigers into the B range, and the low collective winning percentage (29th in baseball) brings it down a touch further.

Video: Erie's Mize completes no-hitter

 Kansas City Royals

Grade: C

The Royals were expected to be a little more well-rounded than the Tigers, even if they lacked the same potential, but they've dealt with much of the same problems without the types of top-of-the-line performances Detroit has received from Mize and Manning. That said, the pitchers have been solid. Brady Singer has been in line with expectations as he moved quickly from Class A Advanced Wilmington to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, though he has struggled mightily at the latter. Daniel Lynch had become a popup Top-100 prospect in the Carolina League before he moved to the IL with arm discomfort. Fellow 2018 pick Kris Bubic has fanned 106 in 79 1/3 innings at Class A and Class A Advanced. Even Josh Staumont has reined in the control woes enough to post a 2.51 ERA with 63 K's in 43 innings at Triple-A. But it's much tougher news on the offensive side of things. MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto and Seuly Matias were expected to bring a lot of thump to Wilmington, but none of the three have an OPS above .601. Nicky Lopez hit .353 during his time in Omaha but has seen that crash to .244 in 42 games in the Majors. Khalil Lee has gotten on base (.373 OBP) and stolen plenty (34) to keep his stock afloat. In fact, it might be speed that the Royals can claim as their strongest offensive tool these days; Lee, Michael Gigliotti (31) and Brewer Hicklen (27) have all been stolen-base threats so far in 2019. Still, there hasn't been a sustained, standout offensive threat among ranked prospects, and the 13th-best winning percentage among farm systems makes this about as C-grade as it gets.

Video: Blue Rocks' Singer gets sixth punchout

 Minnesota Twins

Grade: B

This was meant to be one of the most exciting seasons on the Twins farm in some time with Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff both looking to build on stellar 2018 seasons. However, both have tripped up some with Lewis struggling to find consistency at Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Kirilloff missing time with a wrist injury and not quite taking off at Double-A Chattanooga. However, several other Minnesota prospects have picked up the slack. Outfielder Trevor Larnach has shown all-around solid offensive ability to become a Top-100 prospect one year after he was a first-rounder, and right-hander Jordan Balazovic has broken into the Top-100 as well with 91 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings across the two lower-level full-season circuits. Meanwhile, Brusdar Graterol looked every bit the part of the top pitching prospect in the system before he was put on the shelf in late May with a shoulder injury. Elsewhere, Luis Arraez has already hit his way to the Majors, and Brent Rooker, who leads ranked prospects with a .980 OPS, might not be too far behind. With the 10th-best collective winning percentage in the Minors and five top-100 prospects, things could have definitely gone worse for the Twins so far in 2019, even if their top two potential stars haven't sparked as much enthusiasm as expected a few months ago.

Video: Pensacola's Kirilloff's first Double-A homer

American League West

 Houston Astros

Grade: B

In March, it would have been highly unorthodox to suggest that Forrest Whitley could be limited to 24 1/3 innings -- and pretty miserable innings, at that -- in the first half of the Minor League season and that the Houston system could still call the first three months a win. But here we are. Yordan Alvarez's romp through the Triple-A level to land in the Majors (where he hit seven homers in his first 15 games) was arguably the most notable showing of the first half and counts for a ton here. But he's not the only one who came through. The organization has the eighth best overall winning percentage in the game, and individual performers like Kyle Tucker (who belted 23 homers and stole 18 bases through 54 games for Round Rock), Fayetteville's Jacob Meyers and Quad Cities hurlers R.J. Freure and Cody Deason stood out. Seth Beer, the 28th overall pick of last year's Draft, earned a promotion to Double-A after 35 games and continues to show a strong bat at the Minors' second-highest level. Corbin Martin, the system's best pitching prospect not named Forrest Whitley, was very good for the Express in April, struggled in the Majors in May and was good for Round Rock again in June… until he hit the IL with an elbow injury on the 25th. That's not ideal.

Video: Round Rock's Alvarez connects for 23rd

 Los Angeles Angels

Grade: B-

There's a lot of good news here. In a system that was nearly barren not too many years ago, six of the top 10 prospects -- all legitimately exciting players, with Jo Adell at the forefront -- have made their way to the upper two levels of the Minors. Meanwhile, Griffin Canning, the Angels' No. 2 prospect entering 2019, made three starts for Triple-A Salt Lake and graduated to the Majors, where he's been a genuine asset as Los Angeles tries to stay in contention in the AL West. Taylor Ward and Jose Rojas, breakout hitters of the last couple years, have continued to bop for the Bees, and D'Shawn Knowles is off to another hot start to short-season ball with Rookie Advanced Orem. On the other hand, one thing Angels prospects haven't done a whole lot of? Win. Class A Burlington was 39-31 to finish the first half tied for second in the Midwest League Western Division, but working up the system through full-season affiliates: Class A Advanced Inland Empire was a Cal League-worst 26-43; Double-A Mobile was 27-41, last in the Southern League South; and Salt Lake entered this week at 36-46, second from the bottom in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Southern standings.

Video: BayBears' Adell homers again

 Oakland Athletics

Grade: Incomplete

The A's came into the year with three of the game's top 50 prospects. Two of them -- top-notch left-handers Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk -- were out of action from the get-go because of injuries sustained before Opening Night (a Spring Training shoulder strain for Luzardo and 2018 Tommy John surgery for Puk). The third -- catcher Sean Murphy -- hit the injured list on May 1. The southpaws are back in action, but neither threw a pitch in a game that counted until June 11. Murphy tore his left meniscus, a key piece of cartilage for backstops, and required surgery. Injury recovery also seriously limited pitchers James Kaprielian and Grant Holmes in the first half. Double-A Midland outfielder Greg Deichmann was named a Texas League All-Star but didn't play because he was hurt and opened the second half on the IL, and Class A Advanced Stockton shortstop Nick Allen had to put his All-Star campaign on hold when he was sent to the IL, too -- on June 28. In what's left to assess, Triple-A Las Vegas has played well (46-37 entering the week), getting huge offensive performances from infielders Seth Brown, Sheldon Neuse, Franklin Barreto and Futures Game representative Jorge Mateo. Ports outfielders Lazaro Armenteros and Jameson Hannah have lived up to their billing, while Austin Beck is unable to join them as he currently sits on the IL.

Video: Stockton's Luzardo strikes out the side

 Seattle Mariners

Grade: A-

The Mariners boast six players on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list (third-most in baseball) and only two of them (2019 Futures Game selectee Evan White and teenager Julio Rodriguez) had played an inning of baseball in the Seattle system before this year. Right-hander Logan Gilbert, the M's 2018 first-round Draft pick, has been sharp all season and climbed to Class A Advanced Modesto at the end of the first month. Of the organization's three marquee-prospect offseason trade acquisitions -- outfielder Jarred Kelenic, right-hander Justin Dunn and left-hander Justus Sheffield -- only Sheffield hasn't been as good as advertised, taking a step back to Double-A after a frustrating 13 games in the PCL. It's been somewhat drowned out by the excitement surrounding newer names, but people pulling for Mariners Minor Leaguers have also gotten something they've yearned for since the start of 2017: Kyle Lewis playing good, steady baseball. He was a factor in Arkansas' TL-best 43-25 first half. No other full-season affiliate has played nearly as well, but West Virginia also finished with a winning record (37-33).

Video: Nuts' Kelenic launches solo dinger to right-center

 Texas Rangers

Grade: C+

Rangers affiliates collectively amount to the third-most-winning system in baseball as of Monday, but the lower levels have done the heavy lifting. Class A Hickory went 41-25, finishing third in the South Atlantic League Northern first half. Class A Advanced Down East was a force to be reckoned with, going 50-20 (.714) to punch its ticket to the Carolina League playoffs. But Double-A Frisco was last in the TL South in the first half, going 33-36, and Triple-A Nashville started 34-45 in the PCL. That rampaging Wood Ducks team benefitted tremendously from No. 19 Texas prospect Diosbel Arias while much more highly touted prospects Anderson Tejeda (who hit the IL at the end of May) and Julio Pablo Martinez underdelivered for Down East. (Martinez at least turned things around in June, when he had an .882 OPS over 22 games.) Top prospect Hans Crouse has been good in Crawdads starts that have generally been short or medium length, but teammate Cole Winn -- the Rangers' only other top-100 prospect -- has had a rough first exposure to the pro game. Defensive whiz kid Leody Taveras has been a major bright spot, hitting as well as his boosters long predicted he could and earning a bump to Double-A Frisco on June 20 at age 20. It's not a system with a high ceiling right now, but it could get interesting to see how those lower-level teams continue to play together in the second half and as they ascend toward Arlington.

Video: Wood Ducks' Taveras legs out triple

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

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