Toolshed: Minors' most interesting rosters

Salem, Indianapolis, Lehigh Valley highlight clubs to watch in 2016

Tyler Glasnow should lead the Minors' most interesting prospect-laden rotation in Indianapolis. (Bill Gentry/Indianapolis Indians)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | April 8, 2016 10:30 AM

We've broken down each of the 30 farm systems, both in article and podcast form. We've broken down each league by the numbers. Now it's time to shine the spotlight on teams with the more interesting roster constructions, speaking strictly from a prospect perspective, in the opening days of the Minor League season:

Most interesting lineup

Salem Red Sox

When a lineup has three of MLB.com's top 25 overall prospects, there is little doubt that it's going to be the one to watch. That's what Class A Advanced Salem has in second baseman Yoan Moncada (No. 6 overall), third baseman Rafael Devers (No. 16) and center fielder Andrew Benintendi (No. 24).

Beyond just their obvious talents, what makes this trio all the more intriguing are the ways in which they can be complementary in the Salem lineup. Moncada is the fastest of the bunch, as evidenced by his 49 steals last season, and is capable of a high OBP to fit perfectly at the top of a Sox lineup. Devers and Benintendi have more pop, although both are more than capable of hitting for average as well, and slot into the more traditional power spots in a lineup. In Greenville's opener Thursday, Moncada hit leadoff with Benintendi slotting third and Devers fifth. (If you're wondering why Benintendi and Devers were split, it's because Salem took handedness into account and put the right-handed-hitting Nick Longhi between the two left-handed sluggers.)

There are interesting prospects beyond just that trio, though. No. 12 Red Sox prospect Mauricio Dubon will play shortstop and brings slightly above-average hit and speed tools to the No. 2 spot in the Salem order. Longhi is no slouch either as Boston's No. 17 prospect. If those two can become threats, that will make it harder and harder for Carolina League pitchers to pitch around Moncada, Benintendi and Devers. Even if Dubon and Longhi don't blossom, a lineup manned by three electric prospects has the chance to stand out.

Others of note:

  • Round Rock Express: Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara together are worthy of your attention. Toss in former No. 1 overall Texas prospect Jurickson Profar, and you have a lineup that resembles Salem's. It's a small shame Lewis Brinson was held back at Double-A Frisco.
  • Fresno Grizzlies: Any lineup with reigning MiLBY Offensive Player of the Year winner A.J. Reed will be worth watching. Colin Moran, Tony Kemp and Jon Kemmer make for some pretty good icing.
  • Reading Fightin Phils: The Phillies' Double-A affiliate should be set at the top of the order with J.P. Crawford and Roman Quinn returning to the level. Jorge Alfaro, who needs to show he can stay healthy, and Rhys Hoskins should provide the thump.

Most interesting rotation

Indianapolis Indians

The Pirates placed eighth in MiLB.com's ranking of farm systems by pitching back in February, and it just so happens that most of the arms that pushed them to that spot will be at the Triple-A level to start the season. To wit, this is Indianapolis' opening rotation: No. 24 prospect Trevor Williams, No. 1 prospect Tyler Glasnow, No. 17 prospect Steven Brault and No. 4 prospect Jameson Taillon.

It's Glasnow and Taillon that your eyes are perhaps drawn to, and for good reason. Glasnow has worked his way from being a fifth-round pick in 2011 to the No. 9 overall prospect in baseball entering this season, on the strength of his plus-plus fastball and plus curve. The 6-foot-8 right-hander posted a 2.20 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 22 walks over 41 innings with Indianapolis last season and looks primed to help the big club at some point this summer.

Taillon is where this rotation goes from really good to incredibly interesting. The 24-year-old right-hander didn't pitch in a game in the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery in 2014 and a hernia he suffered in 2015. Before the injuries, Taillon showed three above-average pitches and looked like a lock to slot behind Gerrit Cole in the Pittsburgh rotation for a long time. Now, he needs to prove he can stay healthy. That combination of stuff and injury question marks adds layers of intrigue here.

And the Indianapolis rotation doesn't just stop with the names above. No. 16 prospect Chad Kuhl, who posted a 2.48 ERA in 152 2/3 innings at Double-A last season, isn't listed on the Tribe's Opening Day roster but is expected to join the club soon. No. 12 prospect Nick Kingham will likely head there later in the summer once he's fully recovered from his own Tommy John surgery a year ago. A good rotation is one that makes every start worth watching. The Indians should have one this summer.

Others of note:

  • Oklahoma City Dodgers: Julio Urias alone would slot OKC here, and the presence of Jharel Cotton and the improved Zach Lee only helps to bolster its position. What's more, Jose De Leon might have been held back at extended spring training to limit his innings, but MLB.com's No. 23 overall prospect will add plenty of firepower when he joins the crew later this spring.
  • Reno Aces: The D-backs' Triple-A affiliate has a decent chance to live up to its nickname with Arizona's top two prospects in Braden Shipley and Archie Bradley both headed to The Biggest Little City in the World. No. 10 prospect Tyler Wagner will make his system debut with the club as well after coming over from the Brewers, for whom he posted a 2.25 ERA over 152 1/3 innings at Double-A last season.
  • Rome Braves: Rome features the Class A returns of former top-100 prospects Touki Toussaint and Max Fried, who are overcoming ineffectiveness and Tommy John surgery, respectively, as well as the full-season debut of 2015 first-rounder Mike Soroka. No. 88 overall prospect Kolby Allard will bring even more intrigue when he arrives as well. The club is holding him back until May for precautionary reasons after he experienced back issues last year.

Most interesting overall roster

Lehigh Valley IronPigs

Much has been made about the Phillies' rebuild this offseason, and it'll be on full display this season at the highest level of the Minors. That display will lead to several questions that need to be answered.

Nos. 2 and 3 prospects Jake Thompson and Nick Williams will make their Triple-A debuts with Lehigh Valley amidst their first full seasons in the system. While they should be two of the less volatile prospects in the organization, they are entering 2016 with heightened expectations. No. 4 prospect Mark Appel knows a thing or two about heightened expectations as the first overall pick in the 2013 Draft. Despite impressive scouting reports on his stuff, the 24-year-old right-hander struggled immensely during his time in the Astros system and is facing a crossroads with a chance at redemption after coming over in the Ken Giles deal this offseason.

On the more positive side, No. 9 prospect Andrew Knapp broke out offensively with a .360/.419/.631 line and 11 homers in a 55-game stint at Double-A Reading in the second half of last season. Not only will the 24-year-old switch-hitter be out to prove that those numbers weren't mirages, but he'll also be challenged to handle the pitching staff in a backstop tandem with veteran J.P. Arencibia.

Finally, there's the potential thrill of adding both Crawford and Quinn rather early in the season. Both have already played more than 55 games at Double-A in their careers and might not need to show more than health and their usual promising tools at Reading before they get the jump.

If the Phillies' rebuild is going to look promising, Lehigh Valley is going to have to live up to its own potential.

Others of note:

  • Corpus Christi Hooks: The Astros had the best farm system of 2015, and their Double-A club might help them repeat that feat. Houston aggressively sent top prospect and 2015 No. 2 overall pick Alex Bregman to the Texas League, and he'll be joined there by No. 9 prospect Derek Fisher and No. 12 J.D. Davis among others. The pitching will have the chance to be just as good with 2015 rising star Francis Martes, No. 7 prospect David Paulino and No. 8 prospect Joe Musgrove working out of the rotation.
  • Gwinnett Braves: The G-Braves will be in a similar situation to their IronPigs cohorts, in terms of carrying water for their organization's rebuild, albeit with perhaps a little less talent. Aaron Blair and Tyrell Jenkins should anchor the rotation from a prospect perspective, while speedster Mallex Smith and third baseman Rio Ruiz bring intrigue to the lineup. Top pitching prospect Sean Newcomb can really put this over the top if he moves up quickly from Double-A Mississippi.
  • Hartford Yard Goats: This goes beyond the name. The Rockies have the game's deepest collection of position player prospects, and the Minors' newest Double-A club sports a fair amount in David Dahl, Ryan McMahon and Raimel Tapia. Hartford should have a couple of interesting arms as well in 2014 first-rounder Kyle Freeland and 2015 breakout star Antonio Senzatela. You'll be talking about the names on the back of the Yard Goats jerseys more than the ones on the front before long.

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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