Toolshed: Prospects pushing for playoffs

Late-season additions could tip scales as division races heat up

Top Twins prospect Royce Lewis is hitting .318 with 42 extra-base hits and 71 RBIs in 99 games across two levels. (Tom Hagerty/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | August 10, 2018 10:25 AM

Most fans know the impact that players like Manny Machado, Chris Archer and Kevin Gausman -- all dealt before last month's Trade Deadline -- could have on the Major League postseason picture. The hope in all three cases (and many others) is that these additions will provide that extra push to get teams over the line in their division and/or Wild Card races.

But while the playoff picture across Minor League circuits may not receive nearly the same level of attention, some of the game's top prospects can still fill similar roles as their MLB counterparts this time of year. This week's Toolshed presents one prospect from each of the 10 full-season leagues who's joined the circuit in the last month and should provide his new team with a big boost before the regular season closes on Labor Day.

International: Nathaniel Lowe, 1B, Durham -- The Bulls hold a 3 1/2-game lead over Norfolk in the South Division as they attempt to defend last year's Triple-A National Championship crown, and they picked up a pretty big ringer Wednesday in the form of the Rays' No. 12 prospect. Lowe has been one of the Minors' best hitters this year, ranking in the top five among full-season Minor Leaguers in all three slash-line categories (.352/.442/.601) and leading the same group in average and OPS (1.043). He's shown good power with 23 homers in 102 games between Class A Advanced Charlotte, Double-A Montgomery and Durham (yes, he went deep in his second Triple-A game). Lowe, who started for the U.S. in the Futures Game, has taken over for the graduated Jake Bauers as the best first-base prospect in the Tampa Bay system, and it might not take long into 2019 before the 6-foot-4 left-handed slugger joins Bauers in St. Petersburg. But first, he'll provide plenty of thump in the middle of Durham's offense.

Video: Durham's Lowe hits first Triple-A home run

Pacific Coast: Will Smith, C, Oklahoma City -- There's a tight race happening in the PCL American Northern Division, where Oklahoma City has a one-game advantage over Colorado Springs. The Dodgers' No. 3 prospect left Double-A Tulsa -- where he split time behind the plate with No. 2 prospect Keibert Ruiz -- for OKC on Aug. 1 and is now on a roster with two much more veteran backstops in Kyle Farmer and Rocky Gale. Luckily, Smith also spent plenty of time at third base during his Texas League tenure, and he's already gotten a start at the hot corner with his new club. Offensively, the 23-year-old right-handed slugger is in the midst of a power breakout with a career-high 19 homers in 77 games this season, eight more than he hit last year in the California League. He should provide much-needed pop and versatility for OKC as he also tries to prove to the Dodgers that he could be ready for a full-time Major League role in 2019.

Eastern: Forrest Wall, CF, New Hampshire -- The Fisher Cats have had one of the most talented rosters in Double-A, and perhaps all of the Minors, since Opening Day and have a three-game lead in the Eastern Division to show for it. They may have lost top overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -- and there's no replacing him -- but they did pick up a good amount of speed with Wall, the No. 26 Blue Jays prospect. The 22-year-old has seen his stock slip in recent years as injuries caused him to stall at Class A Advanced, but with 29 steals already this season, Wall should help New Hampshire replace the speed it lost when No. 22 prospect Jonathan Davis shuffled up to Buffalo. 

Video: New Hampshire's Wall makes ex-team pay

Southern: Jesus Sanchez, OF, Montgomery -- The Biscuits have started to pull away from Birmingham in the North Division with a 4 1/2-game lead and have only gotten stronger with the addition of MLB.com's No. 31 overall prospect. Sanchez has the ability to be above-average across the board with all five of his tools, and that's something he showed in some measure with Class A Advanced Charlotte, where he hit .301/.331/.462 with 10 homers and six steals in 90 games before receiving a promotion last Friday. The 20-year-old right fielder could face plenty of challenges in his first jump to Double-A, but the middle of every lineup could use a player with Sanchez's ceiling.

Video: Biscuits' Sanchez first Southern League homer

Texas: Taylor Hearn, LHP, Frisco -- On last week's podcast, the native of Royse City, Texas, talked about growing up going to Frisco RoughRiders games. Now, he gets a chance to put on their jersey and help the Double-A club battle Corpus Christi in a tight South Division second-half race (the two teams are currently in a first-place tie). The 23-year-old southpaw was in the midst of a breakout season at Double-A Altoona when he got moved from the Pirates to the Rangers before the deadline for reliever Keone Kela. Including his debut with RoughRiders, Hearn has a 3.05 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with 115 strikeouts in 109 1/3 Double-A innings this season, and he's got the stuff to back up the numbers with a plus-plus heater, an above-average changeup and an improving breaking ball. Being a starting pitcher, his opportunities to make an impact will be limited to every fifth day, of course, but with the South Division race being as close as it is, Frisco will need every quality outing Hearn can deliver down the stretch.

Video: #171: New No. 7 Texas Rangers prospect Taylor Hearn

California: Jasrado Chisholm, SS, Visalia -- The D-backs' No. 2 prospect moved up to Class A Advanced on July 19, and there hasn't been much of a transition period. The 20-year-old shortstop has homered four times in 17 games with the Rawhide and has produced a .314/.368/.557 line. While this is the hitter-friendly Cal League, it's worth noting that Chisholm ranks 10th in the circuit in total bases since debuting, despite being the relatively new guy in town. A native of the Bahamas, he's helped his stock big time with his offensive growth after missing much of 2017 with a torn meniscus, and he has the tools to make it work defensively at shortstop. Visalia will definitely rely on him if it's going to overtake Stockton in the North Division -- a division in which all four clubs have losing records in the second half.

Video: Rawhide's Chisholm drills second homer of year

Carolina: Nick Madrigal, 2B, Winston-Salem -- How's this for a late-season ringer? The Dash added the No. 4 overall pick, perhaps the best pure hitter in this year's Draft class, on Aug. 2 -- just in time for the White Sox affiliate to try and hold off Buies Creek and add a second-half Southern Division title to the first-half crown it already won. The Oregon State product has lived up to his scouting report with a .303 average in 22 pro games, despite missing some time with a lingering hamstring injury from his college days, and it wasn't until his 73rd career plate appearance that he finally struck out. The Dash have batted Madrigal in the top three spots of the order since his arrival, and he's certainly got the bat to keep the carousel moving from the top of a lower-level lineup. Madrigal led Oregon State to a College World Series title earlier this summer. Could a Carolina League championship be next?

Florida State: Royce Lewis, SS, Fort Myers -- The Twins' top prospect joined the organization's Class A Advanced affiliate on July 14, so he just barely fits the parameters for this column. When he debuted that day, the Miracle were 10-12 to open the FSL's second half. Since Lewis stepped into the lineup, the club has gone 18-7 and now sits just 1 1/2 games behind Charlotte in the South Division second-half standings. While that type of turnaround can't be solely credited to Lewis, he's surely played his part, hitting .327/.416/.500 with 10 extra-base hits and six steals in 24 games. As he's done at every level at which he's played as a pro, the 19-year-old has shown an advanced bat for his age to go with plus-plus speed. He still might be an average defender at short, but his offensive impact has been huge. It'll be interesting to see if FSL pitchers can start adjusting to him down the stretch; otherwise, Lewis, along with No. 30 overall prospect Alex Kirilloff, could very well push Fort Myers straight into the postseason.

Midwest: Nolan Gorman, 3B, Peoria -- In 2017, Lewis rode a hot stretch with a Rookie-level affiliate to climb straight to a Midwest League playoff-bound club in Cedar Rapids. Now, fellow first-rounder Nolan Gorman could very well be on a similar path in his Draft year, albeit one he's forging with considerably more power. This year's 19th overall pick hit 11 home runs and had 21 extra-base hits total while producing a .345/.440/.662 slash line in 37 games with Rookie-level Johnson City before moving to Class A earlier this week. The 18-year-old left-handed slugger will face considerably better pitching during his initial MWL stop -- something he already learned in his debut Wednesday when he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts -- but he still has the strength to run into more than a few balls at his new level. The Chiefs will need his pop as they try to close a one-game difference between them and first-place Cedar Rapids in the Western Division.

South Atlantic: Hans Crouse, RHP, Hickory -- Each start for the No. 5 Rangers prospect was already bordering on a must-follow because of the potential attached to his high-90s fastball and plus slider. Add a new level with postseason ramifications on the line? Yeah, they may have officially crossed that line. Crouse, a second-round pick in 2017, made quick work of the Northwest League, posting a 2.37 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 11 walks in 38 innings for Class A Short Season Spokane before his promotion Thursday. He'll likely get a handful of starts over the final three-plus weeks with the Crawdads, and despite the jump, they'll need him to be as sharp as possible. Hickory has to make up a 2 1/2-game deficit to Lakewood in the Northern Division to claim the second-half crown.

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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