Toolshed: 17 prospect lessons from 2017

Buy stock in White Sox, Padres clubs; fear Jays', Reds' top twos

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has plenty of happy memories to look back upon from the year that was 2017. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 22, 2017 10:00 AM

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

In the Minor League landscape in 2017, let's hope the answer to that opening line of "Auld Lang Syne" is negative. There were lots to remember from this past calendar year across the Minors. With much of the sport going quiet over the holiday and New Year's celebrations to come, this Toolshed looks back at 17 lessons about prospects and farm systems that we can all take from 2017.

1. Trust in teens. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette tore up Class A and Class A Advanced at age 18 and 19 respectively. Fernando Tatis Jr., 18, reached Double-A while recording 22 homers and 32 steals. Forrest Whitley climbed three levels at age 19. Ronald Acuna was the breakout prospect of the year -- reaching the Minors' highest level at just 19. Whether this is indicative of team's willingness to push younger prospects more aggressively or this development speaks to the special qualities of this group is yet to be seen. But Toolshed will remember 2017 through the quality of teenaged prospects.

2. The Robles-Acuna-Guerrero-Torres debate could go on for years. Typically, there are perhaps two clear candidates to be the game's top overall prospect. Keeping Shohei Ohtani, who is technically a prospect but has years of experience at Japan's top level, out of the conversation, it's clear this will be no typical situation at the top for 2018. Acuna, Guerrero, Victor Robles and Gleyber Torres all have legitimate cases to be the Minors' top prospect come April. Robles and Acuna are five-tool monsters. No one in the Minors might have a better hit-power tool combo than Guerrero. Torres has the added bonus of playing the premium position of shortstop (though it's yet to be seen how he recovers from Tommy John surgery). Even when rankings are out and the dust is settled, the debate could rage for years when that foursome reaches the Majors, which could be in 2018.

3. The best Braves prospect in a generation is actually a position player. There was a lot of discussion in the spring that the Braves had arguably the deepest corps of pitching prospects in the game, and yet, it's Acuna that remains the crown jewel of the system as the winter begins. That says more about the outfielder than it does pitchers such as Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and Luiz Gohara, all of whom had solid seasons and would be top prospects in other systems. But even newest Braves addition Brandon McCarthy namechecked Acuna specifically when he first tweeted about his move to Atlanta.

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4. The international rules sanctions could have long-reaching effects. That's not just the case in Atlanta, which took a big hit in terms of depth by losing 13 prospects and will be hurt even further by international signing restrictions going forward. But commissioner Rob Manfred's penalties were more than just slaps on the wrist. One would think clubs will significantly rethink their approaches to the international market, knowing it could blow up if they try to skirt the rules even if (as rumored) most teams were trying to cut corners anyways.

5. Continue to buy stock in the White Sox. The South Siders already vaulted themselves into the discussion for top system last offseason when they acquired Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and others during the Winter Meetings. They kept the rebuild going by adding Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Blake Rutherford during the season and signed Luis Robert out of Cuba for $26 million in May. Add the development of Alec Hansen into a Top-100 prospect, and the system looks as strong now as it did a year ago, even after the graduations of Moncada, Kopech and Lopez. Jimenez and Kopech alone are top-10 overall prospects and seem ready to push for Chicago next summer after impressive 2017 campaigns. Stay buckled in.

6. The Padres might be the breakout system of 2017. We often talk about breakout prospects, but not breakout systems. San Diego's fit the bill this past season, however. Tatis and Michel Baez were nominated for the Breakout Prospect MiLBY for their play at Class A Fort Wayne. Adrian Morejon also handled his first stateside season well, Luis Urias continued to hit as one of the youngest players in the Texas League and 2016 first-rounder Cal Quantrill finished up healthy and productive one year after missing his final season at Stanford. What's more, MacKenzie Gore, the nation's top high school arm, was snatched up with the No. 3 overall pick. The talent pool might be a few years behind some other systems, but there are more than enough reasons to be excited about San Diego's future.

7. There is more than one way to build or rebuild. The story of the season at the Major League level was the Astros' ability to win a World Series four seasons after going 51-111. A lot of that had to do with Houston's reliance on homegrown talent in Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, and the takeaway could rightly be that rebuilds work. The Cubs certainly showed that the year earlier as well. But a few balls bounce differently, and it's possible the Dodgers, who married a big budget quite nicely with an impressive farm system, could be sitting atop the throne. Going even further back, the Yankees took the Astros to a Game 7, one year after they became deadline sellers/quick rebuilders, because of impressive campaigns by youngsters Aaron Judge, Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez. The blueprint might look like a few downtrodden years, some good Drafts and trades and finally contention. But it's possible to retool quickly as well.

8. Bright days for the Rays could be around the corner. In fact, if there's a team that could go from sell mode to contention quickly, it could be Tampa Bay. The Rays moved franchise mainstay Evan Longoria to the Giants this week, but received fellow infielder and Top-100 prospect Christian Arroyo as part of a four-player return. Of Tampa Bay's seven Top-100 prospects, five have Triple-A experience and should see time in the Majors at some point in 2018. Brent Honeywell, Willy Adames and Jake Bauers, in particular, already led a talented Durham squad to a Triple-A title. Should the Rays trade Alex Colome, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi this offseason, the system could get even deeper and more talented. Don't get this wrong; 2018 could be a lean year in St. Petersburg. But if 2017 is any indication, the Rays have the pieces to compete on their way shortly, and even more could be coming soon.

9. The Phillies are right on the cusp. The 2017 season saw the Major League debuts of Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro. Hoskins looks like one of the most promising young bats in the Majors, and Crawford and Williams held their own after previous rough patches at Triple-A. Scott Kingery shouldn't be far behind after his 26-homer, 29-steal campaign at the upper levels and could debut in the first half of 2018. It doesn't take much squinting to see the Phillies making the turn from a rebuilding club to a contending one. They took another step by adding free agent first baseman Carlos Santana this offseason, and by making such a big-money signing, that seems to be a sign Philadelphia believes all this internal talent is ready to be boosted by some external investment.

10. Miami has ways to go. Sticking in that same division, the Marlins should expect to go the opposite direction in the Majors after selling off Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon so far this offseason. Unfortunately for the system, those moves were primarily made to cut Major League payroll, meaning big-time talent didn't necessarily come back in deals for All-Stars, Silver Sluggers and Gold Glove winners. Don't get this wrong: Sandy Alcantara, Jorge Guzman, Magneuris Sierra et al are nice additions and make a Miami system with lots of question marks markedly better. But this is not the White Sox of 2017. The Fish still lack a clear Top-100 prospect or a farm that anyone would rank in the top half of baseball. Dealing cost-controlled players such as Christian Yelich or J.T. Realmuto would help in that regard because it's clear the new Marlins ownership group still has a lot of work to do to make it look like they're committed to building a contender near South Beach.

11. The Yankees still have depth. By comparison, the Yankees graduated the AL Rookie of the Year, acquired the reigning National League MVP and still have a top-10 system in the game. Top-100 prospects Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Estevan Florial, Justus Sheffield and Miguel Andujar are still around, and all but Florial have significant experience at Double-A or above. As things stand, New York has holes at second base and third, but Torres and Andujar could slide in there by the crack of summer if healthy. The Yankees were willing to take on Stanton's massive contract because they knew they could fill other holes internally.

12. The Brewers are fascinating for a number of reasons. No one expected the Brewers to be an 86-win team, never mind be in the NL Wild-Card hunt for most of the season, and yet that's exactly where they ended up. How they prepare to follow up is interesting, considering they probably know they overachieved last season. The good news is there is plenty more in the pipeline. Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips made their Major League debuts and showed the club should be thinking about carving out an outfield spot for each. (Brinson, in particular, looks like a star in the making while Phillips was a nice bounceback performer and the more likely of the two to crack the Opening Day roster.) Josh Hader graduated from Minor League starter to standout Major League reliever. Corbin Burnes was one of the Minors' standout starters as well, first-round pick Keston Hiura hit the ground running with a .371 average and a 1.033 OPS over 42 games and Monte Harrison started to truly show five-tool potential. But a promising group of Carolina Mudcats in Corey Ray, Isan Diaz, Lucas Erceg and others didn't quite live up to the hype, and a once-deep system has more question marks than it did at the start of 2017. If the Brewers are really going to compete with the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central, they'll need a lot more of these prospects to be hits in 2018 and beyond. Luckily there's a lot of talent involved.

13. The Reds' 1-2 punch could rival anyone's. Staying in the NL Central, the Reds have one of the best two-prospect combos in Nick Senzel and Hunter Greene. It helps that Cincinnati picked up both with the No. 2 overall picks in 2016 and 2017 respectively, but the organization still deserves credit for getting them into the same organization. Senzel may have looked like simply the safe pick in 2016, but he's grown into one of the Minors' best hit tools and only got better this summer after a bump up to Double-A Pensacola. The Queen City won't be too far behind, and it's not tough to picture him as the second-best bat in the Reds lineup behind Joey Votto the day he arrives. The Reds got a little more volatile in picking Greene this June, but there's no doubting the potential talent he adds to the system. The 18-year-old right-hander has given up the idea he could play shortstop and will stick to the mound, where he can touch triple digits and shows an above-average slider with good control. It may take a while, but there are the makings of an ace there. The Reds may not have the deepest system among rebuilding clubs, but you can bet any other farm -- contending, rebuilding or anywhere in between -- would love to have Senzel and Greene to build around.

14. Two of the best bats belong to the Blue Jays. Guerrero and Bichette were the first two players mentioned, but this column would do the 2017 season a disservice if the Toronto twosome didn't get their own section. Bichette put up the better numbers, having hit .362/.423/.565 with 14 homers and 22 steals in 110 games, but there's little doubt that Guerrero (.323/.425/.485, 13 homers, 62/76 K/BB ratio) shows even more potential with his bat. The Jays, coming off a 76-86 season, are at a crossroads in which they need to decide whether they will sell assets to improve the Major League product or start rebuilding by trading players such as Josh Donaldson. Under all circumstances though, it should be clear they'll be building or rebuilding around this pair of teenagers. Their offensive profiles are rare. Having two in the same system is so much rarer.

15. The A's continue to be intriguing. It may take a while for anyone to get to Oakland when listing the best systems in baseball, but given all that happened in 2017, it might belong in the most interesting category. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson graduated to much acclaim in the Majors, showing Oakland can bring up guys at the right time for their careers, and Franklin Barreto and A.J. Puk don't look like they'll be too far behind. The A's might have sold off their best starter in Sonny Gray to the Yankees, but the organization is quite high on Dustin Fowler and Jorge Mateo from that trade and it will be intriguing to see if James Kaprielian can meet his potential in a new system if/when he recovers from injuries. The club also picked up 2016 third-rounder Jesus Luzardo, whose stuff has looked closer to that of a first-round talent since he recovered from Tommy John surgery, from the Nationals in the deal for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. After the way Olson and Chapman performed in the Majors, it's worth wondering what the A's can do with the next guys up, and the players in those groups are talented enough to be worthy of the curiosity.

16. Welcome the Tigers to the Land of the Rebuild. Detroit certainly had a down system entering 2017, but it's trending upward as it certainly needs to do in the years to come. The Tigers' sale of Justin Verlander signaled Detroit is ready for a rebuild, and picking up top prospect Franklin Perez alongside Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers was a good place to start. Perez, along with first-rounders Matt Manning and Alex Faedo and Futures Game participant Beau Burrows, gives Detroit four Top-100 prospects -- all of whom are right-handed starting pitchers. That system will get more talented in 2018, thanks to the No. 1 overall pick, and it'll be interesting if they try to add even more by selling off 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. The Tigers have some catching up to do if they want to have even the best system in their own division, but they're off to a promising start after things fell off such a cliff at the Major League level in 2017.

17. Two-way players are the present. Future still in question. Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay, the No. 1 and 20 overall prospects in the game, generated their fair share of headlines in 2017 for their plans to both hit and pitch for the Angels and Rays. McKay, in particular, made starts off the mound and at first base for Class A Short Season Hudson Valley. This seemed almost impossible in any other year than 2017, but the community currently considers the two-way player workable. How long that lasts remains to be seen. The Rays could talk McKay into giving up one of his pursuits if it proves too hard as he climbs the ladder. Ohtani could decide sticking on the mound truly is best for his young Major League career as he faces tougher and tougher arms over here. But hey, at the very least, we'll get to remember 2017 as the year in which we thought a two-way baseball star was possible again. That's worth something.

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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