The Minors' most intriguing teams in 2018

MiLB.com staff selects one key ballclub in each farm system

By MiLB.com Staff | April 5, 2018 11:00 AM

With 120 full-season Minor League clubs starting their seasons this week, the MiLB.com staff selects one intriguing team to follow in each farm system.

NL East

 Atlanta Braves: Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers

There was some debate about whether Ronald Acuña Jr. would ever put on a new Stripers uniform. Even if only there a few weeks, MLB.com's No. 2 overall prospect will be worth following, thanks to his five loud tools. In the rotation, Atlanta aggressively sent Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard to Double-A as 19-year-olds in 2017, and after passing those tests, the hurlers will begin their 20's in the International League. No. 7 Braves prospect Max Fried surprisingly will begin the season at Double-A Mississippi but is likely to move up early in the season after making nine Major League appearances last season, and No. 4 Luiz Gohara is likely to get a few Stripers starts when he returns from an ankle injury. The Braves need to know how far along their rebuilding process is, and how this talented core in Gwinnett fares will provide a clear answer.

 Miami Marlins: Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes

Picking a Triple-A affiliate is always risky considering the turnover each season. But an infusion of young talent through offseason trades -- several of whom are near Major League-ready -- puts the Baby Cakes in a good position to enjoy a strong 2018. New Orleans finished with the second-worst record in the Pacific Coast League last season, but will open this year with a solid rotation led by No. 3 prospect Sandy Alcantara and No. 14 Zac Gallen. Outfielders Magneuris Sierra (No. 7) and Braxton Lee (No. 17) are standouts in the batting order, which features a blend of Major and Minor League veterans. With hurlers like No. 10 Nick Neidert and No. 16 Merandy Gonzalez waiting in the wings at Double-A, the Baby Cakes are primed for a turnaround in 2018.

 New York Mets: Triple-A Las Vegas 51s

In addition to the return of Zack Wheeler, Las Vegas will get a bump from Opening Day starter Corey Oswalt (No. 16) and infielders Luis Guillorme (No. 10) and David Thompson (No. 22), who arrive from Double-A Binghamton -- the only Mets affiliate with a winning record last season. Left-hander P.J. Conlon (No. 24), right-hander Mickey Jannis and first baseman Matt Oberste will also debut after full seasons in Binghamton, and last year's Mets Minor League strikeout leader, Nabil Crismatt, joins the 51s from Class A Advanced St. Lucie. The 23-year-old right-hander collected 142 punchouts over 145 2/3 innings in 2017.

 Philadelphia Phillies: Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers

The Phillies' future will be on full display in the Florida State League, starting with Sixto Sanchez, the club's top prospect. Showcasing a plus fastball, the No. 26 overall prospect will return to the Threshers, but it might not be on Opening Day -- the flu delayed his spring schedule. Clearwater will also play home to two first-round picks in Mickey Moniak (2016) and Adam Haseley. It marks the first time two first-rounders will play for the Threshers at the same time since J.P. Crawford and Aaron Nola in 2014. Moniak and Haseley have both spent the majority of their careers in center thus far, so it will be interesting to see how that battle shakes out. No. 4 prospect Adonis Medina also joins Clearwater after notching 133 strikeouts and 39 walks in 119 2/3 innings for Class A Lakewood last season.

 Washington Nationals: Class A Hagerstown Suns

The Suns may retain outfielder and No. 29 overall prospect Juan Soto after multiple injuries limited him to only 23 games with the club in 2017, but the full-season debuts of infielders Luis Garcia (No. 6) and Yasel Antuna (No. 7) should capture the most attention. Both players signed at the start of the international signing period in 2016 and will be playing as 18-year-olds. Garcia, who is also a plus runner, and Antuna showed off impressive hit tools in the Gulf Coast League last season, and their stocks will jump if they continue to produce. The Suns also boast 2017 third-round left-hander Nick Raquet (No. 16) and seventh-round right-hander Jackson Tetreault (No. 15) after their promotions from Auburn.

NL Central

 Chicago Cubs: Class A South Bend Cubs

The Cubs system is all about pitching now, and the Midwest League will be the place to see many of its top arms. At 19, right-hander Jose Albertos features one of the best changeups in the system. Fans will get their first real look at left-hander Brendon Little, who was selected 27th overall last June. Ranked right-handers Erich Uelmen, Javier Assad and Cory Abbott round out the pitching staff. Navigating the matchups with them will be catcher Miguel Amaya, who has thrown out 44 percent of would-be basestealers over his first two seasons. The No. 10 prospect will likely also continue to get playing time at first base.

 Cincinnati Reds: Class A Dayton Dragons

While Tyler Stephenson and Jose Siri have moved on, in their place are prospects like Hunter Greene and Jeter Downs. Greene, the two-way phenom and first-round selection last year, is focusing primarily on pitching this season, but the Reds have said his bat will still get "some attention" this year. Whether that means game action remains to be seen. Downs, a shortstop, was taken in the competitive balance round of last year's Draft and made his mark with a solid debut for Rookie-level Billings. The Reds followed Greene and Downs with the selection of outfielder Stuart Fairchild from Wake Forest. Fairchild will patrol center field for the Dragons.

 Milwaukee Brewers: Double-A Biloxi Shuckers

The 2018 Shuckers are set to feature a talented, well-rounded group. Right-hander Luis Ortiz, Milwaukee's No. 5 prospect, will headline the rotation. No. 7 prospect and 2017 first-rounder Corey Ray hopes to bounce back after his stock fell with a rough first full season at the plate at Class A Advanced Carolina. No. 8 Trent Grisham and No. 22 Troy Stokes Jr. provide plenty of their own speed. No. 13 Adrian Houser will be part of a tandem to begin the season, but the right-hander is on the Brewers' 40-man roster and could contribute in the Majors this season. He's joined by fellow righty Cody Ponce, the organization's 14th-ranked prospect. No. 19 Jake Gatewood will be in his second season of Double-A and can play either corner infield spot. Even after an accelerated rebuild, the Brewers system's depth remains notable in Biloxi.

 Pittsburgh Pirates: Double-A Altoona Curve

Mitch Keller's return is good news for the Curve. MLB.com's No. 15 overall prospect has two special pitches in his fastball and curve, and he combined them with impressive control to post a 3.12 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 11 walks in 34 2/3 innings with the Bucs' Double-A affiliate last year. As a unit, the Curve infield could be something special with Cole Tucker, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Will Craig likely to get the bulk of the playing time at short, third and first respectively. Hayes and Tucker could be the best defensive third base-shortstop combo in the Minors. Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin also make their organizational debuts at this level, having come over from the Giants and Astros, respectively, in trades.

 St. Louis Cardinals: Triple-A Memphis Redbirds

After winning the 2017 Pacific Coast League championship, the Redbirds are in a solid position to repeat. The starting rotation will most likely be stacked with Cardinals top-30 prospects like Dakota Hudson (No. 6), Ryan Helsley (No. 8) and Austin Gomber (No. 14). John Gant also figures to be a part of the rotation. No. 4 Tyler O'Neill and No. 13 Oscar Mercado bolster the outfield right now, and No. 5 Harrison Bader is up with the big club now but could return before long. Cardinals No. 3 prospect Carson Kelly also starts the season in Memphis to make sure he can get plenty of playing time with Yadier Molina in St. Louis.

Video: O'Neill blasts two-run homer for Memphis

NL West

 Arizona Diamondbacks: Class A Advanced Visalia Rawhide

The notion that the club with the most prospects will finish with the best record is unproven, but it's hard to ignore in this case. Although top prospect Jon Duplantier will likely begin 2018 with Double-A Jackson after some time at extended spring training, Arizona's California League affiliate will begin the year loaded with top prospects, highlighted by second-ranked Pavin Smith. All told, four of the D-backs' Top 10 prospects and six of their Top 30 will be in the Rawhide's dugout on Opening Day. Known as a circuit friendly to hitters, the inclusion of Smith, No. 5 prospect Marcus Wilson, No. 6 Daulton Varsho, No. 8 Drew Ellis and No. 21 Anfernee Grier -- all position players -- brings significant offensive firepower to the San Joaquin Valley.

 Colorado Rockies: Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes

Coming off a Wild Card berth last year, the Rockies are hungry for more at the big league level, and the Isotopes' Opening Day roster includes a few players who could play critical roles in the Majors. Outfielder David Dahl made a splash with a terrific big league debut in 2016 but was limited to just 19 Minor League games last year due to injuries. He's back in Albuquerque to start the season. Outfielder Raimel Tapia has shined with his bat throughout his career but still needs defensive refinement. The Rockies are always in need of pitching depth, and Albuquerque will open the season with top starting pitching prospects Yency Almonte, Sam Howard and Harrison Musgrave.

 Los Angeles Dodgers: Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers

Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo -- the Dodgers' top two prospects and the Minors' No. 12 and No. 33 prospects overall -- have both already proven themselves in the Pacific Coast League but will remain with OKC until big league opportunities arrive. That could be sooner for Buehler than for Verdugo, if the right-hander dominates in his first few starts or there are health issues with the rotation in LA. But it's not hard to imagine a couple of key injuries opening a path for Verdugo, either. Add Edwin Rios, Jake Peter and Breyvic Valera -- not to mentionMajor League-quality outfielders like Andrew Toles and Rob Segedin -- and you've got a heck of a Triple-A ballclub.

 San Diego Padres: Double-A San Antonio Missions

Every San Diego affiliate is fairly loaded. But the Double-A club has the edge here, in part because No. 8 overall prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is ticketed for the Texas League. The 19-year-old shortstop may be the youngest on the circuit, but he's already shown he's ready -- the well-rounded wunderkind handled himself well in 14 games for the Missions at the end of last season. Cal Quantrill, MLB.com's No. 40 overall prospect, will lead the pitching staff with a four-pitch mix that features a very good fastball and an excellent changeup. No. 8 Padres prospect Logan Allen struck out 142 in 125 innings across two levels last year and will now join the Missions. San Antonio fans can also look forward to seeing catcher Austin Allen, outfielder Michael Gettys and first baseman Josh Naylor.

 San Francisco Giants: Triple-A Sacramento River Cats

While many eyes will be drawn to top Giants prospect Heliot Ramos at Class A Augusta, Chris Shaw (No. 2) and Steven Duggar (No. 3) will get their first full crack at the Pacific Coast League while leading a group of Sacramento sluggers likely to spend some time in the Majors this season. Duggar opens the year assigned to Double-A Richmond, but he did make his Triple-A debut last year. Austin Slater (No. 5) and Miguel Gomez (No. 23) both played in the Majors last year but will open the campaign in Sacramento. Right-hander Tyler Beede (No. 4) is repeating the level after posting a 4.79 ERA and .282 opponent's batting average last season. Left-hander Andrew Suarez (No. 10) performed admirably after being promoted from Richmond in June, owning a 3.55 ERA over 88 2/3 innings.

AL East

 Baltimore Orioles: Double-A Bowie Baysox

Both cautious moves and big leaps make the Baysox roster one to watch. Top prospect Austin Hays will be returning to the Eastern League after hitting .330 in 64 games there and going on to make his Major League debut. On the flip side, top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will be skipping Class A Advanced after logging just 8 2/3 innings at Class A in 2017. Back from Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old is finally on track after being selected in the first round in 2013. Bowie will also boast switch-hitter Cedric Mullins, southpaw Keegan Akin and second-ranked prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who will begin the season on the disabled list with a fractured right hand.

 Boston Red Sox: Class A Advanced Salem Red Sox

The Red Sox have struggled to develop Major League starters in recent years, Brian Johnson's latest gem notwithstanding. Their best hope to turn things around is in Salem, where four of their top 15 prospects will highlight the rotation. First-rounder Tanner Houck (No. 3) and fourth-rounder Jake Thompson (No. 13) will make their full-season debuts in the Carolina League while Bryan Mata (No. 4) and Darwinzon Hernandez (No. 7) will be jumping from Class A Greenville. No. 22 Roniel Raudes -- he of the funky windup -- returns to Salem and will be the club's Opening Day starter. Among the hitters, No. 12 Bobby Dalbec will focus on making more consistent contact to go with his above-average power.

 New York Yankees: Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

There was a point in the offseason when it looked like the Yankees would rely heavily on young players. Instead, they loaded up the Major League roster with veterans, and the RailRiders should be the beneficiaries. No. 5 overall prospect Gleyber Torres, who played 23 games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before undergoing elbow surgery in 2017, is healthy and back after the additions of Brandon Drury and Neil Walker squeezed him out of the Bronx infield. No. 65 Miguel Andujar is currently with the big club when injuries opened up a roster spot, but he'll likely bring his impressive offensive tools back to Triple-A soon to get regular playing time. No. 76 Chance Adams doesn't have much left to prove after posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 115 1/3 Triple-A innings last season, but he'll try to show his four offerings can get Major Leaguers out. Graduated top-100 prospect Clint Frazier is likely headed back to the IL when he returns from his concussion. Justus Sheffield, Domingo Acevedo, Dillon Tate and Thairo Estrada might not be too far behind, giving the RailRiders a loaded roster.

 Tampa Bay Rays: Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods

An obvious answer here might be Triple-A Durham, where Willy Adames, Jake Bauers and Christian Arroyo will headline a group of top Rays prospects that also includes Joe McCarthy, Justin Williams, Anthony Banda, Chih-Wei Hu, Diego Castillo and Jaime Schultz. But Bowling Green will offer something the Bulls can't yet match: the chance to watch an elite two-way player. Tampa Bay No. 4 prospect Brendan McKay will be taking the mound and playing first base for the Hot Rods to begin the 2018 season. Last year's first-round pick (fourth overall) led the Hudson Valley Renegades to a New York-Penn League title with his arm and his bat. Joining McKay in Bowling Green will be former Renegades teammates Austin Franklin, Tobias Myers, Vidal Brujan, Drew Strotman and Resly Linares. The Hot Rods will also open the season featuring 12 players from the 2017 Draft class.

 Toronto Blue Jays: Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. 'Nuff said.

Actually, the Fisher Cats have an exciting roster apart from the organization's top two prospects. Led by John Schneider, who managed Dunedin to a Florida State League title last year, Cavan Biggio will round out the trio of infielders with Major League bloodlines. New Hampshire's rotation will feature right-handers Sean Reid-Foley and Jordan Romano, who combined for 260 strikeouts last season. Jonathan Davis, whom the Blue Jays are very high on for his make-up and plus speed, will anchor the outfield. But seriously, future big league All-Stars Guerrero and Bichette should put on a show not to be missed.

Video: Bichette and Guerrero Jr. hit back-to-back homers

AL Central

 Chicago White Sox: Double-A Birmingham Barons

While the Charlotte Knights will have Michael Kopech to start the year, the Barons will welcome back No. 4 overall prospect Eloy Jimenez as soon as the slugging outfielder recovers from a pectoral strain. Alec Hansen, MLB.com's No. 54 prospect, will also head to Birmingham after a delay caused by forearm soreness in early March. He'll be joining a staff stocked with some of Chicago's top pitching prospects -- Jordan Stephens, Spencer Adams, Ian Clarkin and A.J. Puckett. For a batterymate, they'll have Seby Zavala, who knocked 42 extra-base hits in 107 games across two levels last year. Luis Robert -- the No. 28 overall prospect who sprained a thumb ligament before hitting a grand slam in a Cactus League game -- will probably head to Winston-Salem when he recovers, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him in Double-A soon.

 Cleveland Indians: Double-A Akron RubberDucks

Akron fans will get the chance to see two of the most fascinating pitching prospects in the game. No. 24 overall prospect Triston McKenzie, who will begin the season on the DL as a precaution for forearm soreness, will be building on a 2017 season in which he ranked second in the Minors with 186 strikeouts in 143 innings at Class A Advanced Lynchburg. The 20-year-old right-hander is a lean 6-foot-5 and 165 pounds with three above-average pitches and has the control to be dominant. (No. 10 Indians prospect Aaron Civale also pounds the strike zone, having walked just 14 batters in 164 2/3 innings last year.) But few can touch the accuracy of No. 8 Indians prospect Shane Bieber, who walked only 10 batters in 173 1/3 innings across three levels. Having made nine starts for Akron last season, Bieber might not be long for Double-A, but his outings are required viewing. Offensively, the RubberDucks are likely to boast top-five prospects Bobby Bradley and Willi Castro.

 Detroit Tigers: Class A Advanced Lakeland Flying Tigers

The members of the 2017 Best Team MiLBY-winning Whitecaps have graduated and no one deserves their full-season in the sun more than outfielder Derek Hill. The Tigers' No. 13 prospect debuted in Lakeland late last season, but various injuries kept him in the Midwest League for the better part of the last three years. No. 8 Gregory Soto and Austin Sodders also remain in Lakeland after debuting there late last season. The pair will be joined by Anthony Castro, Alfred Gutierrez and Trent Szkutnik, who also take the step forward after being part of a rotation that compiled team-record 28 shutouts and 1,260 strikeouts last season and setting the second-best franchise mark with a 2.77 ERA. Outfielder Daz Cameron (No. 9) is also set for his Florida State League debut.

 Kansas City Royals: Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Despite finishing last year with a losing record, the Naturals reached a winner-take-all Game 5 in the Texas League semifinals before seeing their season end. This year's squad includes 20 players who spent time with Northwest Arkansas in 2017, including four of Kansas City's top prospects. Left-hander Foster Griffin (No. 11) returns after winning 11 games to go along with a 3.61 ERA in his first 18 Double-A starts last season. He'll be joined by No. 6 Nicky Lopez, No. 9 Scott Blewett and No. 16 Donnie Dewees. Blewett, who posted a 4.07 ERA in 27 starts with Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2017, is the only Royals top prospect who will enter the season with no Double-A experience.

 Minnesota Twins: Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels

Looking for some excitement near Cedar Rapids, Iowa this summer? Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium could be the place to go. Featuring seven of the Twins' Top 30 prospects -- including MLB.com's No. 20 overall prospect Royce Lewis -- the Kernels look primed to improve upon their 75-65 record of a year ago. This season's club will showcase the full-season debuts of position players Alex Kirilloff (Twins No. 6), Akil Baddoo (No. 11), Andrew Bechtold (No. 20) and Jose Miranda (No. 28). Joining them from the mound will be No. 9 Blayne Enlow, Minnesota's third-round pick in the 2017 Draft, and No. 22 Tyler Watson, who was solid in five late-season starts with Cedar Rapids last year.

Video: Kernels' Lewis hits first Class A homer

AL West

 Houston Astros: Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies

The Astros graduated a host of prospects while building a World Series-winning Major League roster. One of the most prominent youngsters left is No. 16 overall prospect Kyle Tucker, who will be making the jump to Triple-A at just 21 following an incredibly strong Spring Training. Fresno will also benefit from a roster crunch in Houston. AJ Reed, Minor League home run leader two of the last three seasons, will again don a Grizzlies uniform to begin 2018, and he'll be joined by Tyler White, Tony Kemp and Francis Martes -- all of whom have made their marks in Houston at various points the last two seasons. Another prospect to watch is No. 12 Rogelio Armenteros. The 23-year-old right-hander impressed in a big way with a 2.16 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 19 walks over 58 1/3 innings with Fresno in 2017, and he might not need much more polish before joining the Astros rotation.

 Los Angeles Angels: Class A Burlington Bees

Jo Adell, the top-ranked Angels prospect whose name doesn't rhyme with Mopay Fopani, will start his first full season with the Bees and figures to be one of the most athletic players in the Midwest League. The No. 62 overall prospect has 65-grade speed and above-average power. Joining Adell in the Burlington outfield will be Brandon Marsh, who batted .350/.396/.548 with 10 steals over 39 games in the Pioneer League last year. Leonardo Rivas, a 20-year-old middle infielder who got into 26 games with the Bees in 2018, will return. He has a stellar sense of the strike zone and -- like both Adell and Marsh -- a great set of wheels. Brett Hanewich, a ninth-round pick in last year's Draft, headlines the pitching staff.

 Oakland Athletics: Triple-A Nashville Sounds

A's fans got a preview of the Oakland pipeline last season when Matt Olson and Matt Chapman came up from Nashville to make powerful Major League debuts. The next wave is coming close behind. No. 3 A's prospect Franklin Barreto is back with the Sounds, this time as a 22-year-old with Major League experience, and could soon take over in Oakland. Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler are prepared for their first season in the system after coming over from the Yankees in last year's Sonny Gray deal. A top-100 prospect again, Mateo brings 80-grade speed to Nashville. No. 11 A's prospect Sheldon Neuse might have the best overall hit tool after batting .321/.382/.502 across three levels in the Nationals and A's systems last season. The pitching might not be as top-notch -- A.J. Puk's elbow injury dealt the Sounds a blow -- but the club should score plenty of runs.

 Seattle Mariners: Double-A Arkansas Travelers

Led by outfielder Braden Bishop, the Travelers have six of the Mariners' top 30 prospects on their Opening Day roster. Bishop flourished after climbing to Double-A to finish last season. Reliever Art Warren, who impressed in big league camp this spring, will headline the Travs' bullpen to start the season, and he'll be joined there by Matthew Festa after he recovers from a neck issue. Ranked pitchers Anthony Misiewicz and Chase De Jong will anchor the rotation and outfielder Chuck Taylor is back after batting .274/.369/.397 in 122 games for the Travs last year.

 Texas Rangers: Class A Advanced Down East Wood Ducks

The Wood Ducks' Opening Day roster is loaded with intriguing prospects like top Rangers prospect Leody Taveras, who will anchor his team's outfield and lineup. Middle infielder Anderson Tejeda won't turn 20 until May but will get his season started in the Carolina League. On the pitching side, Jonathan Hernandez and Michael Matuella give Down East a strong starting tandem, and C.D. Pelham provides a dominant southpaw relief. These Wood Ducks will have quite a performance to live up to -- last year, in Down East's first season of existence, the club took home the Carolina League crown.

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

View More