Toolshed: A look beyond 2018's first round

Duran, Edwards, Thomas among later selections adapting quickly

Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran leads the Minor Leagues with 73 hits over 45 games for Class A Advanced Salem. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 29, 2019 1:00 PM

Toolshed remains in Draft review mode.

Last week this space revisited the first 30 picks of 2018 and looked at how they've fared over their first 12 months in the pros. This week we go deeper, so to speak. Below are several selections taken after the first round last year who are already making names for themselves across the Minor Leagues:

Astros RHP Austin Hansen, Class A Quad Cities: College players opening their first full seasons at Class A should be treated with a more critical eye, given their experience level over their high-school peers, but the former Oklahoma Sooner is doing everything asked of him early in the Midwest League. Hansen hasn't allowed an earned run in his last six appearances (27 2/3 innings) and sports a 1.01 ERA over 35 2/3 frames, sixth-lowest among Minor League pitchers with at least 30 innings this season. He's also posted a 1.01 WHIP and struck out 32.2 percent of his batters faced. Hansen earns extra points because he's doing this after pitching in relief in college and making the move to the rotation in the pros, thanks to adding a curveball and changeup to his arsenal over his first offseason. Those new offerings will be challenged as he climbs, but this is a fun start. 

Video: Hansen's fifth K for Quad Cities

Braves OF Trey Harris, Class A Rome: The top-10 Minor League wRC+ list is littered with recognizable names -- Luis Robert, Sam Huff, Jarren Duran (more on him later), Luis Urias, Kevin Cron, Yordan Alvarez, Seth Beer. In third, however, is Harris at 196. The 23-year-old fell all the way to the 32nd round as a senior sign out of Missouri but is doing what needs to be done to stand out with a .366/.438/.607 line and 24 extra-base hits in 51 games. He'll see tougher and more age-appropriate pitching before long.

Brewers LHP Aaron Ashby, Class A Wisconsin: Ashby was a strikeout fiend at Crowder (Missouri) Junior College, fanning 156 in 74 2/3 innings in his second season last spring before getting picked by the Brewers in the fourth round. He's had no issues carrying that to the Midwest League so far. Ashby has fanned 60 batters in 47 innings while sporting a 3.64 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. His 31.3 percent K rate is ninth-best among Class A pitchers. The 21-year-old southpaw's best pitch is his plus-plus curveball, but he's got the low-to-mid-90s velocity as well.

D-backs OF Alek Thomas, Class A Kane County: Look at Thomas' numbers in the Midwest League, and he doesn't seem like someone who was playing high-school ball just a year ago. Thomas, who slipped to Arizona in the second round, ranks ninth in the Midwest League with an .872 OPS while sporting a .301/.387/.485 line. Including his breakout 2018 season, the left-handed-hitting slugger has opened with a .320 average through his first 100 games in pro ball. He also possesses plus speed while playing all three outfield spots this season. The building blocks are certainly there for an exciting hit tool as Thomas matures.

Dodgers RHP Josiah Gray, Class A Great Lakes/Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga: The Reds took Gray with the 72nd overall pick out of Division II Le Moyne College, and many saw him as extremely raw on the mound considering he spent most of his days playing shortstop at school. He moved to the Dodgers in the offseason in the megadeal involving Yasiel Puig, and he's shown what makes him exciting as a full-time pitcher, namely a plus fastball and above-average slider. Gray moved up to the California League after posting a 1.93 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings at Great Lakes, and while the results aren't there quite yet through three Rancho Cucamonga starts, he's still getting swings and misses with 14 K's against three walks in 11 2/3 innings. 

Giants RHP Sean Hjelle/RHP Jake Wong, Class A Augusta/Class A Advanced San Jose: San Francisco took the 6-foot-11 Hjelle and Wong in the second and third rounds, respectively, and already have moved them up together. Hjelle has the more standout stuff with four solid pitches and good control (especially for someone his size at 6-foot-11) and the results to match (2.51 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings). But Wong is no one to sleep on with a mid-90s fastball and above-average curve that have helped him post a 2.49 ERA with 44 K's in 50 2/3 innings. They're the No. 6 and 7 prospects in the San Francisco system now, and the club has hopes of pairing the two together for a long time beyond just this summer.

Video: Augusta's Wong finishes six hitless innings

Indians RHP Nick Sandlin, Double-A Akron: Every Draft has the high-rising reliever who shows quality stuff in short spurts to reach the Majors quickly, and Sandlin could be that guy. Despite pitching as a starter in his final spring at Southern Mississippi, the second-rounder moved to the bullpen in the Cleveland system and pitched at four different levels last season. Appropriately, he opened 2019 with Akron and has posted a 0.57 ERA with 26 strikeouts and a .164 average-against in 13 appearances for the RubberDucks. He can throw in the mid-90s with tons of movement and keeps hitters off with unusual arm angles. A move to Cleveland isn't out of the question before September roster expansion.

Orioles RHP Blaine Knight, Class A Delmarva/Class A Advanced Frederick: Few pitchers have been better at keeping hitters off the basepaths this season than Baltimore's third-round pick out of Arkansas. Knight's 0.73 WHIP between the South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues ranks fourth among qualified Minor Leaguers, behind only Casey Mize's 0.57, Zac Gallen's 0.65 and MacKenzie Gore's 0.72. Knight boasts a four-pitch mix, highlighted by above-average offerings in his fastball and slider, and that should help him stick in the rotation going forward. He'll have to chances to answer questions about durability, stemming from his 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame, as he works deeper into his first full season.

Orioles LHP Drew Rom, Class A Delmarva: Teams are getting more and more cautious with high-school pitchers in their first full seasons, even ones they've plucked from the first round. But the Orioles felt comfortable moving fourth-rounder Rom right to Delmarva to open 2019, and they've been rewarded as the 19-year-old has a 1.45 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over his first 37 1/3 innings. He's fanned 32.7 percent of the batters he's faced, the same K rate as Padres first-rounder Ryan Weathers. His best pitch right now is his slider, but the hope is he can add velocity over time. This is still a good start for a recent high schooler with an average fastball.

Padres SS/2B Xavier Edwards, Class A Fort Wayne: The switch-hitting infielder was the last player in the Draft room to hear his name called when the Padres swooped in with the 38th overall pick, and he's taken off since. Edwards ranks second among all Minor Leaguers with a .377 average through 43 games at Fort Wayne, and he's walked more times (19) than he's struck out (16) through 190 plate appearances. That said, he's known most for his plus-plus speed and has shown that off with 14 stolen bases already. Edwards' approach and build don't develop much power -- only eight of his 63 hits have gone for extra bases -- but he certainly has the tools to work at the top of any lineup.

Video: TinCaps' Edwards doubles to right-center

Padres SS/2B Owen Miller, Double-A Amarillo: Sticking with Padres middle infielders, San Diego took Miller in the third round coming out of Illinois State and has been aggressive with him since, moving him to the Texas League to begin his first full season. The 22-year-old has responded by hitting .308/.366/.441 with five homers in 47 games. Miller has always been a hit-tool-first player -- he batted .384 as a junior -- and that's carried nicely to the pros so far. Defensive and power questions keep his profile from truly standing out, but the fact that he's the No. 24 prospect in a loaded Padres system says plenty.

2019 MiLB include

Rays LHP Shane McClanahan, Class A Bowling Green: McClanahan barely qualifies for this list. He was the 31st overall pick when the Rays took him as the first selection in the compensation round. But he qualifies, and the list would feel incomplete without noting that the 22-year-old lefty has struck out 61 batters in 42 innings in the Midwest League. He's also walked 28 in that span, so his collegiate control woes aren't completely behind him, but it's promising to see a 65-grade fastball and above-average slider generate so many whiffs this quickly. He'll need to corral that control going higher up if he is to stick as a starter.

Red Sox OF Jarren Duran, Class A Advanced Salem: Duran lasted until the seventh round coming out of Long Beach State, and he's already looking like the steal of the 2018 Draft. The lefty hitter leads the Minors with a .403 average over 204 plate appearances, and it isn't close. That comes after he hit .357 in 67 games between Class A Short Season Lowell and Class A Greenville last season. Duran was never quite this hitter in college, but he's always shown plus-plus speed, and that's been a big help early on in the Carolina League. His .504 BABIP isn't sustainable, but Duran can still grab a few extra hits with his wheels. While Duran continues to flirt with .400, he's entering must-follow territory for prospectphiles.

Video: Salem's Duran rips double

Royals LHP Daniel Lynch/RHP Jackson Kowar, Class A Advanced Wilmington: The Royals had the largest bonus pool in last year's Draft and used it primarily to bulk up the club's Minor League pitching depth with each of the first five picks going to college pitchers. First-rounder Brady Singer was the standout in the Wilmington rotation, and he's on the way to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Lynch and Kowar might not be far behind. Lynch has a 3.00 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 54 innings for the Blue Rocks while Kowar has a 3.31 mark with 48 K's in 49 frames. The former has the better stuff with three above-average pitches in his fastball, slider and changeup, but the latter has two plus offerings in his heater and change. 

Royals LHP Kris Bubic/LHP Austin Cox/RHP Jonathan Bowlan, Class A Lexington: The thing about taking a lot of college starting pitchers is that they can only fit in so many Minor League rotations. So while Singer, Lynch and Kowar have been doing well in the Carolina League, Bubic, Bowlan and Cox -- the 40th, 58th and 152nd overall picks -- had to open one level lower. But they've answered the bell nicely. Bubic has made the most of his time there with a Sally League-best 75 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings to go with a 2.08 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. But Cox (3.09 ERA, 59 K's in 55 1/3 innings) and Bowlan (3.48 ERA, 55 K's in 51 2/3 frames) have been no slouches. In Kansas City's dream world, the club will have to figure out how to get all these arms the challenges they need while seeing them succeed in the rotation. They're off to a good start in that regard.

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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