There may be no Minor League Baseball right now. That's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.In the coming weeks, Toolshed will craft the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age groups. This opening edition focuses on teenagers, i.e., those who will be playing at age 17, 18
There may be no Minor League Baseball right now. That's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.
In the coming weeks, Toolshed will craft the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age groups. This opening edition focuses on teenagers, i.e., those who will be playing at age 17, 18 or 19 in 2020. Eligibility as such will be determined by a player's age on June 30, roughly the midpoint of a regular season -- the same date used by Baseball-Reference in its age calculations. Player ages are included in parentheses after their names. Also to keep this as clean as possible, a player will only be placed at his primary position, with an exception for the designated hitter spot. As fun as it would be to move around shortstops or put third basemen across the diamond at first in order to get their bats in the lineup, such moves wouldn't fit the spirit of the exercise.
With all of those ground rules set, here is the most prospect-laden roster of teenagers headed into 2020:
Catcher -- Francisco Alvarez (18), Mets: Even though he signed for $2.7 million out of Venezuela in July 2018, Alvarez might not have even been on most Mets fans' radars headed into last season. That changed quickly. The right-handed-hitting backstop is now MLB.com's No. 63 overall prospect and sits behind only Adley Rutschman, Joey Bart, Sean Murphy and Luis Campusano at his position. Alvarez quickly showed the potential to be a plus hitter by producing a .312/.407/.510 line over 42 games between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast and Rookie Advanced Appalachian Leagues in a quick move stateside, and his defense -- particularly his arm -- also should be an asset behind the plate, even if that aspect of his game is a little more raw. Alvarez's all-around game doesn't leave much room for debate at this position.
First baseman -- Joe Naranjo (19), Indians: The first-base spot is considerably harder to fill, for perhaps obvious reasons. As alluded to in the intro, first-base prospects are often players who have moved over from other positions. First base brings the lowest defensive value, so if a prospect's bat is good enough, organizations will try to get the most value out of it at other positions before making the move over. Still, someone has to play the spot, and that isn't to say there isn't first-base talent at the younger ends of the spectrum. Naranjo was the first high-school first baseman taken off the Draft board last June when Cleveland picked him 101st overall out of a Southern California high school. The 6-foot slugger draws the biggest raves for his hit tool from the left side, and that's expected to be his best skill as he ascends toward Northeast Ohio. There are questions about his power, however, and those would limit his value at such an offensively demanding position. Still, Naranjo's glovework at the cold corner is solid enough to keep his profile strong. Expect an improvement on his .266/.345/.333 line in last year's Rookie-level Arizona League now that he'll no longer be coming off a long high-school season and will have had a full offseason (and then some) to train for the rigors of the Minors.
Second baseman -- Aaron Bracho (19), Indians: Back-to-back prospects here speak strongly to the depth of the youth in the Cleveland system. Bracho heads into 2020 as the No. 7 Indians prospect because of his broad set of skills. His bat has above-average potential, and he showed that quickly by sporting a .296/.416/.593 slash line with 18 extra-base hits in 30 games in the Arizona League last summer. Additionally, he walked more times (23) than he struck out (21) in that span, which is always a promising sign. On top of all that, he is a switch-hitter who performed well from both sides. The rest of his skills currently grade out as average, but watch the power as the Venezuela native grows into his 5-foot-11 frame. Four average tools and one above-average one already make Bracho MLB.com's No. 7 second-base prospect, and he certainly could climb higher with more Minor League experience.
Third baseman -- Luis Toribio (19), Giants: Nolan Gorman turns 20 on May 10, just missing out on the deadline for this spot and thus allowing the honor to fall to San Francisco's No. 7 prospect. Batting from the left side, Toribio stood out most for an approach that earned an AZL-best 45 walks -- no one else had more than 34 -- over 51 games at the complex level. That helped him amass a .297/.436/.459 line, and he added 19 extra-base hits on top. (It's worth noting Toribio also struck out 54 times or 23.1 percent of the time.) The Dominican Republic native's biggest asset right now is his plus arm, and that points to a future sticking at the hot corner, even if his other defensive attributes could use work. Some additional power could work wonders as well, but for now, the Giants (and this lineup) will take the promise of a third baseman already capable of posting OBPs of .400-plus in the hopes the rest of his game can catch up upon reaching the full-season levels.
Shortstop -- Wander Franco (19), Rays: The easiest pick of the group. The easiest pick of any group. Franco only turned 19 on the first of this month, meaning he was still going to be a teenager after a fantastic season in which he became baseball's consensus top prospect. We mention "consensus" because it's quite clear why Franco can claim such a title. He's a switch-hitter with incredible bat speed from both sides and an approach that helped him walk way more times (56) than he struck out (35) despite playing at two full-season levels for the first time. What's more, the power is certainly coming with many predicting it will be a plus tool by the end of his development. Add in above-average speed and a plus arm to the elite offensive skills, and all the ingredients are there to make Franco a potential superstar. There are other impressive teenage shortstops who will get their space below, but for now, no one comes close to the Rays wunderkind.
Julio Rodriguez (19), Mariners: All right, enough of budding power. Now it's time for the real hard-hitting stuff. No one doubts the pop potential of the No. 18 overall prospect. Rodriguez slugged .540 and collected 42 extra-base hits over 84 games in 2019, all while being pushed aggressively stateside to Class A West Virginia and Class A Advanced Modesto. He even saw time in the Arizona Fall League before his 19th birthday in December. But Rodriguez isn't just power. His hit tool is already above-average with a career .322 average in the Minors, and defensively, he shows a plus arm from right and center field. Rodriguez features prominently in Seattle's long-term plans, and he fits comfortably in the middle of this lineup.
Riley Greene (19), Tigers: The Tigers grabbed Greene with the fifth overall pick last June, and it hasn't taken long for him to impress the entire organization from the top down. The left-handed slugger climbed three levels in his first season in 2019, hitting .271/.347/.403 with 16 extra-base hits and five steals, and showed up ready to perform in Grapefruit League cameos this spring by homering twice and walking six times over 18 plate appearances. His hit, power and arm tools all have the capabilities to be at least above-average, and he has a shot to stick in center field long-term. Even if does have to move to a corner, the offensive attributes are tantalizing enough to make Greene the No. 31 overall prospect in baseball heading into what should have been his first full season. If what he showed in brief glimpses this spring was real, he could be much higher once the season is over.
Kristian Robinson (19), D-backs: More right-handed pop from the teens. The Bahamas native has quickly become the top prospect in an ever-improving Arizona system because his power is the loudest of his four above-average tools (run, fielding and arm being the others). Robinson, who won't turn 20 until next December, went deep 14 times in only 69 games last season and slugged .514 between Class A Short Season Hillsboro and Class A Kane County -- all while playing all three outfield spots. At 6-foot-3, there's likely even more power coming as he matures. That's a scary proposition for future Robinson opponents and a promising one for the purposes of this lineup.
Designated hitter -- CJ Abrams, Padres: Designated hitters are historically big boppers, but sometimes, you just have to go with the next best hitter. Simple enough, Abrams' skill set is too good to pass up featuring here somehow. The No. 25 overall prospect has true 80-grade speed that allowed him to swipe 15 bags in 34 games during his debut season. But he was more than just a speedster. Abrams batted .401/.442/.662 with 23 extra-base hits in 32 contests in the Arizona League alone en route to winning the complex circuit's MVP award. Those numbers speak to Abrams' plus potential from the left side of the plate, and his speed is enough to overcome just average power. There's an argument to be made that Abrams, who also possesses an above-average arm, might be a better defensive prospect at short than Franco, but for our purposes, we'll give the defensive spot to the better overall prospect and still find a way to feature Abrams.
Right-handed pitcher -- Simeon Woods Richardson (19), Blue Jays: The 6-foot-3 right-hander was taken in the second round of the 2018 Draft but won't turn 20 until Sept. 27, making him eligible for this spot. Woods Richardson was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Mets in the Marcus Stroman deal last July. He enters his second full season as the No. 98 overall prospect, thanks to a plus fastball, two above-average breaking balls and impressive control for someone with his size and experience. Even his changeup is enough of a weapon to keep hitters consistently off balance. The entire arsenal allowed him to strike out 126 over 106 2/3 innings last season, and after finishing 2019 at Dunedin, he's the only other one on this list besides Franco to have reached Class A Advanced already. Between stuff and early experience, it's a more impressive resume than you'll traditionally find for a teenage pitcher.
Left-handed pitcher -- Blake Walston (19), D-backs: The 2019 Draft was notable for a dearth of prep pitching, but even knowing that, it's notable that Walston (the 26th overall pick out of North Carolina) was the only high-school southpaw taken in the first round. The 6-foot-5 left-hander enters 2020 as the sixth-ranked prospect in the Arizona system and has drawn impressive reviews for his fastball, curveball and control. He showed that off briefly last summer by fanning 17 and walking only two over 11 innings.
Preferred batting order
DH Abrams (L)
SS Franco (S)
RF Rodriguez (R)
LF Robinson (R)
CF Greene (L)
3B Toribio (L)
C Alvarez (R)
1B Naranjo (L)
2B Bracho (S)
As will become a running theme with these lineups, the shortstop position was particularly loaded, even if no one was going to top Franco. Marco Luciano would have been the second 18-year-old on the list next to Alvarez, and fellow Top-100 prospect Ronny Mauricio had a claim ahead of his 19th birthday on April 4. As for the next generation, Orelvis Martinez and Noelvi Marte could be here a year from now after their age-18 seasons.
Since this encompasses all teenagers, it was tough to cut top Yankees prospect Jasson Dominguez at just 17 years old. The young outfielder has true five-tool potential and already ranks as the No. 54 overall prospect. The only thing he lacks is experience. Once he shows his across-the-board flash on Minor League fields, he could surge past the field in quick order.
Speaking of experience, Woods Richardson might have a leg up on his fellow right-handed pitchers having thrown a full season, but don't sleep on 2019 picks such as Daniel Espino, Matthew Allan, Brennan Malone and JJ Goss ahead of their age-19 campaigns. What's more, Nationals No. 6 prospect Eddy Yean should be one to follow with three above-average offerings.
Finally, Alvarez may have broken out enough to claim the catcher spot, but Diego Cartaya has the offensive and defensive makings of being the next big prospect in a typically loaded Dodgers system.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.