Toolshed: Reasons for AL fans to give thanks

O's Rutschman, Halos' Adell bring bounty to junior-circuit farms

Jo Adell played at three Minor League levels, the Arizona Fall League and the Premier12 tournament in 2019. (Brent Asay/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | November 22, 2019 10:00 AM

Enough with the white or dark meat, canned or homemade cranberry sauce. This Thanksgiving, try to gather around the family table and agree on something for once. As ever, start with baseball. With American Thanksgiving coming up next Thursday, the next two Toolsheds will offer reasons for fans of all 30 Major League Baseball farm systems to be thankful. This edition covers the American League.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: Adley Rutschman is an Oriole -- This could be a mantra in Charm City. (Along with "Lamar Jackson is a Raven.") But it's a comforting thought with Baltimore finishing its third straight season in the division cellar. The 47-win season in 2018 -- the franchise's fewest victories in a season since moving from St. Louis in 1954 -- resulted in the Orioles getting the top pick last June and using it on one of the most promising catching prospects in recent history. Already ranked sixth overall by MLB.com, the switch-hitting Rutschman has plus grades all around, including the hit, power, glove and arm tools. Baltimore couldn't miss on its chance to go first overall, but having a talent like Rutschman available is good fortune. He is already the anchor of an improving system, and could be the anchor of the Orioles' next contending club.

Boston Red Sox: The story of Noah Song -- No one doubted Song's ability coming out of the Naval Academy this June. The 6-foot-4 right-hander can throw in the mid-90s and sports an above-average curveball and slider. But his military commitment meant it was possible he couldn't be a full-time pitcher for at least two years. The Sox made a fourth-round bet on Song, either to keep his arm in the system for a far-off payoff or in the hopes his situation could change. There could be good news on that front. According to the Associated Press, Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo earlier this month that would allow athletes to defer their service. The Boston Globe adds that Song requested a waiver on his service and the response will be determined by the new Department of Defense policy. That still remains up in the air, but Song may get to pitch much earlier than previously expected. Now ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the system, Song's prospect status would soar if his ETA moved up, potentially giving the Sox a top arm when the system is relatively down.

New York Yankees: Jasson Dominguez in pinstripes -- There are a number of different reasons Yankee fans should be grateful. The 40-man roster is a good place to start, with New York figuring out a way to protect Deivi Garcia, Estevan Florial, Luis Gil, Nick Nelson, Luis Medina and Miguel Yajure from the Rule 5 Draft. But the most exciting thing about the Yanks system these days might concern a player who has yet to play a Minor League game. The Yankees signed Dominguez for $5.1 million last July, and the reports on the outfielder from the Dominican Republic are glowing. Already ranked as the No. 66 overall prospect, Dominguez, who turns 17 in February, earns plus grades for his power, run and arm tools and is considered an above-average hitter and fielder as well. That's bona fide five-tool potential.

Tampa Bay Rays: The system is as strong as ever -- This was covered when MiLB.com named its Farm System of the Year on Tuesday, but let's reiterate. Tampa Bay affiliates had the best collective winning percentage in the Minors at .581. The top five teams in the system (Triple-A Durham, Double-A Montgomery, Class A Advanced Charlotte, Class A Bowling Green, Class A Short Season Hudson Valley) made their respective league playoffs. The Rays claim six Top-100 prospects, tied with the Padres and Marlins for the most in baseball. One of those six is top overall prospect Wander Franco, who is just 18 years old. Taken as a group, it's a bountiful feast.

Toronto Blue Jays: Nate Pearson's 101 2/3 innings -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have graduated. What's left for the Jays system? Just one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Pearson's triple-digit heater was already the stuff of legend, but after adding a plus slider and a good curve, he's the No. 10 prospect in the game. The most promising part is that he's also healthy. Pearson missed significant time in 2018 with a fractured forearm, and the Jays were careful to limit him in 2019 as a result, often following up longer outings with abbreviated two-inning stints. The plan worked. Pearson finished the season healthy and tossed seven frames in his Triple-A debut on Aug. 20. The Florida junior college product will be the primary focus of the hype machine north of the border this spring.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: Major League-ready talent -- The South Siders made a big move Thursday by signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal. That indicates they're ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2020. Chicago also boasts several top Minor League talents ready to play. No. 3 overall prospect Luis Robert finished his MiLBY-winning season at Triple-A Charlotte, where he hit 16 homers and produced a .974 OPS in 47 games. Nick Madrigal -- the fourth overall pick in 2018 -- also wrapped up his first full season at the Minors' top level while showing elite contact skills. And right-hander Michael Kopech looms large after missing all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery. If the White Sox do contend, it likely will require all three to play large roles.

Cleveland Indians: Nolan Jones' OBP -- The Tribe infield is bound to be a talking point of the offseason with Francisco Lindor rumored to be on the trading block. While Cleveland's system does have notable shortstops in Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio, it's Jones, a third baseman, who is the club's top prospect. The 21-year-old climbed to Double-A in his third full season, in part because of the rate at which he reaches base. Jones posted a .435 OBP in 77 games with Class A Advanced Lynchburg -- the highest among all Class A Advanced batters with at least 300 plate appearances -- and a respectable .370 OBP in 49 games with Akron. The left-handed slugger has been criticized for being too patient, but his knowledge of the strike zone and willingness to take free passes is unrivaled -- his 96 total walks in 2019 were the most in the Minors. With the potential for above-average power, Jones should arrive in Cleveland before long.

Detroit Tigers: All that pitching and the looming top picks -- Tigers fans probably got more enjoyment out of 2019 starts by Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal than they did watching the Major League club -- and for good reason. The trio -- all of whom were at Double-A Erie by season's end -- gives Detroit three Top-100 pitchers with considerable promise. All three could reach the Motor City in 2020, signaling the final stage of the Tigers' rebuild. Detroit fans also can appreciate that even more prime talent is coming next June. After finishing with the worst record in the Majors in 2019, the Tigers own the top overall pick in both the Rule 5 and First-Year Player Drafts.

Kansas City Royals: Some real gems -- At this point last year, the Royals system featured more questions than answers. How would the pitching-heavy Draft class of 2018 handle a full season? Who could Kansas City get with the second overall pick in June? The answers have been positive. Brady Singer might not become an ace, but he's a Top-100 talent with impressive control and two plus pitches in his fastball and slider. Daniel Lynch (No. 69) is already a Top-100 prospect while Jackson Kowar isn't far behind. Kris Bubic, meanwhile, led the Minor Leagues with 185 strikeouts in 149 1/3 innings, and that No. 2 pick turned into Bobby Witt Jr. -- the national high-school player of the year -- with good power, good speed and a good chance to stick at short. The arrow is pointing up.

Minnesota Twins: Royce Lewis' AFL MVP award -- A weak start for the No. 9 overall prospect turned into an outstanding finish. Lewis hit just .236/.290/.371 in 127 games between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola, and while he showed other promising skills, his bat was too inconsistent after a positive first full season in 2018. His Arizona Fall League performance was a different story. Lewis finished third in the AFL with a .353 average and a .975 OPS over 22 games for Salt River en route to winning MVP honors. Not only did he perform well offensively, he also worked at fielding new positions: third base, second base and center field. The Twins still say publicly they think Lewis will remain a shortstop, but the added versatility won't hurt his stock.

AL West

Houston Astros: Forrest Whitley ending strong -- This was meant to be the Year of Whitley in the Astros' system. Alas, the 22-year-old right-hander struggled mightily at Triple-A Round Rock, posting a 12.21 ERA and a 2.05 WHIP while walking 15 in 24 1/3 innings, and later dealt with shoulder injuries. He was assigned to the Arizona Fall League for a second straight autumn, and the results were positive. While working in the low- to mid-90s with his heater, Whitley finished with a 2.88 ERA and league-leading 32 K's in 25 innings for Peoria. Following the graduation of Kyle Tucker, Whitley is the Astros' lone Top-100 prospect.

Los Angeles Angels: Jo Adell's looming superstar status -- The superlatives around baseball's No. 5 overall prospect are plentiful. He can hit for average. His raw power is impressive and his speed might be better. He has the range and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. Sound familiar? No, we won't compare Adell to future teammate and AL MVP Mike Trout. But the idea of pairing the current superstar with another homegrown outfielder with five-tool talent should make any Halos fans salivate.

Oakland Athletics: The three-way battery --  What else can you call it when the top three prospects in a system are two left-handed pitchers and a catcher? All three of them have made important contributions down the stretch for the playoff-bound Major League club in 2019. Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy will head to Spring Training expecting to win big league jobs after overcoming injury woes last season. Luzardo and Puk will be looking to do so in different roles -- both were used as relievers in August/September but have the arsenals to start. Murphy moved into the starting catching role late in the season and will work to lock it up in Spring Training. The A's successes have always been built around homegrown talent, and this latest batch offers even more hope.

Offseason MiLB include

Seattle Mariners: The ceiling is the roof -- Because T-Mobile Park has a retractable roof, get it? The Mariners farm system enjoyed its most exciting season in recent memory in 2019, and Seattle's future looks a whole lot better as a result. The trade with the Mets that brought Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn into the fold already looks tremendous. Ranked No. 56 entering the season, Kelenic climbed to No. 13 by showing five-tool potential while climbing three levels at age 19. No. 70 overall prospect Dunn already has made four Major League starts. Top-100 prospects Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert and Evan White cemented their places in the M's long-term plans as well. Rodriguez made the jump to the United States look easy, and the 18-year-old outfielder's at-bats, featuring above-average power, fascinated Seattle fans this summer. The future looks bright in Seattle, even when the roof is closed.

Texas Rangers: Josh Jung stayed in Texas -- The Texas Tech third baseman was highly touted after producing a 1.129 OPS, belting 12 homers and posting a 32/39 K/BB ratio as a sophomore in 2018. What did he do as a follow-up? He posted a 1.111 OPS, 14 homers and a 39/52 K/BB ratio as a junior. The Rangers selected Jung with the eighth overall pick in June, and Texas now boasts the San Antonio native as its top prospect. Jung continued to show promise early in pro ball, batting .287/.363/.389 at Class A Hickory and is considered MLB.com's No. 5 third-base prospect.

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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