Toolshed: 2019 Triple-A ballot picks

Selecting who should start All-Star Game in El Paso on July 10

Padres No. 3 prospect Luis Urias ranks fourth in the PCL with a .681 slugging percentage through 47 games. (Bobby Stevens/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | June 12, 2019 1:40 PM

It's good to be an informed voter.

The Triple-A All-Star Game ballot, presented by the Grilling All-Stars, is open until Friday, June 21, so there's still plenty of time for fans to have their say on who should head to El Paso and represent the International and Pacific Coast Leagues on July 10. Thankfully, several candidates are doing their best to separate themselves from a pack of worthy candidates. To help voters navigate this year's talented field, below are Toolshed's selections at each position:

First base

International: Mike Ford, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- The IL is not lacking for options here with Bobby Bradley (17 homers, .921 OPS) and Brian O'Grady (1.002 OPS) also available. But Ford leads the circuit in slugging (.687), OPS (1.135) and wRC+ (180) while hitting .340 with a .448 OBP and 15 homers for the RailRiders. He's been the IL's most efficient hitter, and even though he has about 50 fewer plate appearances than his counterparts, due to a stint in the Majors, those numbers are worthy of an All-Star starting spot. 

Pacific Coast: Kevin Cron, Reno -- Yes, Cron is currently in the Majors with the D-backs, so now is a good time to mention that Toolshed doesn't take current roster status into account when voting. If a player has been the best at his position through the first half, then he deserves to be mentioned as a starter. If he can't play in the game because of injury or Major League service, sort that out later. Like Ford, Cron leads his Triple-A league in slugging (.800), OPS (1.237) and wRC+ (188) and was a major Bauman Home Run Award contender with 21 homers in 44 games before his latest promotion on June 1. It'd be a mistake to fill out a ballot without Cron on it.

Video: Reno's Cron lifts 21st homer

Second base

International: Cavan Biggio, Buffalo -- Here's an example of why it can pay to wait to submit a ballot. Josh VanMeter was well on his way to punching his ticket to El Paso, but hasn't been adding to his numbers since he's been up with the Reds for much of the last month. Biggio has also been up in the Majors of late, but he gets the vote here because he still has enough at-bats to qualify in the slash-line categories. As such, he's the IL leader with a .448 OBP -- aided by his 34 walks against 28 strikeouts -- while also hitting .312 with six homers, five steals and .963 OPS. Again, Biggio would have to turn down the invite, but he's earned the right to get the chance.

Pacific Coast: Keston Hiura, San Antonio -- It's not a particularly deep group, at least when it comes to leaderboard standouts. That might have been different, however, had MLB.com's No. 12 overall prospect not been in the Majors long enough to miss qualifying in the slash-line categories. Hiura is still hitting .331/.402/.668 with 13 homers in his 43 games in the PCL, and those are All-Star numbers. Now that he's back with San Antonio, he could get enough at-bats to qualify by the end of voting on June 21, making this pick look even better.

Video: Hiura smacks opposite-field homer for Missions

Shortstop

International: Jake Cronenworth, Durham -- A three-time All-Star at other levels, Cronenworth leads the IL in hits (76) and ranks second in average (.350) over 56 games. He also sports a nearly even 32/29 K/BB ratio and has chipped in nine steals. Like his fellow shortstop below, he has also already set a career high in the homers department with six.

Pacific Coast: Luis Urias, El Paso -- The Padres' No. 3 prospect was already known for his elite hit tool, and he's shown that off by batting .346 with a .436 OBP through 47 games. But the 5-foot-9 infielder has also improved his greatest weakness -- his power -- by swatting 14 homers -- already a career high and the most by ballot-eligible PCL shortstops this season. In an ideal world, Urias would be showing off this well-rounded offensive package next to Fernando Tatis Jr. as the San Diego second baseman. Instead, he ought to be a PCL All-Star shortstop. (As an aside, the most appropriate middle-infield pairing for the PCL would be Urias at second base and Jorge Mateo at short, considering the latter leads the league with 93 hits and 11 triples and is also hitting .338 with 14 steals. But both players are in this category, and the decision was to lean toward Urias.)

Video: Chihuahuas' Urias rips homer

Third base

International: Kean Wong, Durham -- Free Kean Wong. The 24-year-old has played 271 career games at Triple-A and has been a mid-season and post-season All-Star and All-Star Game and National Championship MVP at the Minors' highest level, and yet, this might be his best season with Durham yet. Wong leads the IL with a .351 average and sports a .415 OBP and .510 slugging percentage through 50 games. He's listed as a third baseman but has made only 18 of his 46 defensive starts at the hot corner with additional time coming at second, short and all three outfield spots. If this type of production in a utility role can't get him a look at Tampa Bay, it should at least get him a starting spot in El Paso.

Pacific Coast: Jacob Wilson, Fresno -- At 1.023, the 28-year-old is the only ballot-eligible third baseman here with an OPS in the quadruple digits, making this a bit of a no-brainer. He has a .313/.408/.615 line with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 54 games.


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Catcher

International: Eric Haase, Columbus -- Among the backstops on the ballot this year, only one has more than 12 home runs. That's Haase with 17. (In fact, 17 of his 20 extra-base hits have gone over the fence.) The Indians' No. 29 prospect ranks fourth in the IL with a .613 slugging percentage and sixth with a .963 OPS through 44 games. He's also thrown out 37.5 percent of attempted basestealers. This would be his second trip to the Triple-A All-Star Game after also heading there in 2018.

Pacific Coast: Austin Nola, Tacoma -- Signed by the Mariners in January after spending four seasons in New Orleans for the Marlins, Nola deserves a chance to head to his first Triple-A All-Star Game. The 29-year-old backstop is hitting .333/.426/.536 with seven homers and four stolen bases in 52 games. Yes, he's played a lot of first base this season (21 starts), but in the games he has been behind the plate, Nola has thrown out six of 14 attempted basestealers. Not bad for a former shortstop who moved to catcher in 2017.

Video: Clippers' Haase homers in four straight game

Designated hitter

International: Ryan McBroom, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- Adam Duvall and Michael Brosseau probably deserve spots on the IL team somewhere, but they get beat out by McBroom -- one of the IL's most productive hitters in 2019. The 27-year-old first baseman ranks second in the IL with a 1.012 OPS and is tied for fourth with a 150 wRC+. Overall, he's produced a .323/.392/.621 line with 13 homers in 53 games.

Pacific Coast: Brian Mundell, Albuquerque -- There are only seven players under this column for the PCL, so it may seem like slim pickings. But Mundell is having the type of season worthy of a trip to El Paso, even if he hasn't been the traditional slugging-first DH. The 25-year-old ranks third in the PCL with a .361 average and has a .978 OPS, despite hitting only five homers in 46 games. His 145 wRC+ ranks ninth in the circuit, beating out fellow DH contender Corban Joseph in 16th at 137.

Video: Isotopes' Mundell ropes double

Outfield

International: DJ Stewart, Norfolk; Travis Demeritte, Gwinnett; Nick Longhi, Louisville -- Stewart used an incredibly hot month of May -- .456/.512/.882 -- to vault himself into the Baltimore outfield, and it should do him wonders for All-Star votes. Demeritte has gone from a strikeout-heavy second baseman earlier in his career to a solid-hitting outfielder in his first Triple-A season. The 24-year-old has a .284/.370/.574 line with 13 homers in 56 games; his 25 percent K rate is the lowest of his career. The third selection could come down to personal preference, but the nod here goes to Longhi, who is the only other IL outfielder who ranks among the top 15 in wRC+ at 132.

Pacific Coast: Yordan Alvarez, Round Rock; Yadiel Hernandez, Fresno; Yonathan Daza, Albuquerque -- Yes, he's in the Majors now and showing off the same power with Houston that he did with Round Rock, but Alvarez should be the easiest selection on here. The Astros' No. 3 prospect leads the Minors with 23 homers and hit .343/.443/.742 in 56 games in the PCL, ranking in the top eight in all three slash-line categories. Hernandez ranks second in the PCL with a .365 average and third with a 1.130 OPS while hitting 16 homers in 57 games. Daza is the league leader with a .373 average and tied for second with 20 doubles. He gets the nod over Mike Gerber (.330/.395/.620) because of his speed advantage with nine steals.

Video: All of Yordan Alvarez's Homers

Starting pitchers

International: Mitch Keller, Indianapolis; Chris Flexen, Syracuse -- How do we know that offense is up across Triple-A? If all the eye-popping numbers above didn't build the case, how about this -- Keller leads the IL with a 3.10 ERA. The last time an IL ERA leader finished above 3.00 was 2005 (Scott Baker, 3.01). Beyond that, Keller is also tops with 74 strikeouts over 58 innings, making him an easy pick even if he's back up with Pittsburgh. Flexen leads IL qualifiers with a 31.5 percent K rate (70 strikeout in 52 2/3 innings) and also ranks third with a 3.59 ERA. Pour one out for Charlotte right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, who is second in the league with a 3.34 ERA and leads with a 1.18 WHIP but was left off the ballot.

Pacific Coast: Zac Gallen, New Orleans; Hector Noesi, New Orleans -- Make it a clean sweep for the Baby Cakes. Gallen has been the pitching version of Alvarez in the PCL, leading the circuit with a 1.57 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 104 strikeouts, 33.4 percent K rate, 6.5 K/BB ratio and 86 innings pitched. Mark him down, and don't look back. Noesi deserves the second slot behind his teammate because he's right there next to him in most categories, ranking second with a 2.64 ERA, second with a 1.02 WHIP and third with 76 strikeouts over 71 2/3 frames. It might be a little unfair that both play their home games at more pitcher-friendly confines in New Orleans, but that environment has little to do with their strikeout numbers, which are both superior to most of their peers.

Video: Indians' Keller's 13th K

Relief pitchers

International: Austin Davis, Lehigh Valley; Andrew Kittredge, Durham -- Making 20 innings pitched the cutoff, Davis (0.77) is the only IL pitcher with an ERA below 1.00 at this point in the season. The 26-year-old left-hander also struck out 26 batters in 23 1/3 innings, causing him to be recalled to the Phillies on June 3. Kittredge has been an almost everyday performer for Durham. His 27 appearances are tied for the most in the IL, yet he still posted a 1.93 ERA and 0.80 WHIP over 37 1/3 innings. His 38.7 percent strikeout rate ranks third among the 155 IL pitchers with at least 20 frames in 2019.

Pacific Coast: Jay Jackson, San Antonio; Jairo Diaz, Albuquerque -- The 31-year-old Jackson has done everything a reliever needs to do to thrive in the PCL -- strike out a ton, limit walks and keep the ball in the yard. The Missions right-hander has struck out 33 and walked only four over 22 1/3 innings while not giving up a single homer. He owns a 1.21 ERA and 0.67 WHIP to go with five saves in five opportunities. Diaz has the lowest ERA among PCL pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched at 0.45, and he paired that with six saves in six chances, a 0.90 WHIP, 22 K's and six walks in his 20 frames. 

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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