2017's Under-the-Radar Prospects

MiLB.com staff predicts big campaigns for lesser-known players

The Blue Jays' Cavan Biggio posted a .720 OPS across two Minor League levels in his first pro season. (Shari Sommerfeld/MiLB.com)

By MiLB.com Staff | April 4, 2017 10:00 AM ET

There are a host of great players in the Minors who don't get the same attention as top-ranked prospects such as Gleyber Torres and Lucas Giolito. Here, the MiLB.com staff highlights ballplayers ready to have breakout seasons in 2017.

AL East

 Baltimore Orioles: Cedric Mullins

In his full-season debut last year, Mullins flashed some serious tools. The 2015 13th-round pick ended up all over the South Atlantic League leaderboard with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 homers, 37 stolen bases and a .273 average in 124 games with Class A Delmarva. He struck out 101 times and reached base at a .321 clip, so there are some wrinkles to iron out in Mullins' game; however, the 22-year-old outfielder will have plenty of time to grow and could turn out to be a late-round gem from what's looking to be a solid Draft class for the Orioles.

 Boston Red Sox: Stephen Nogosek

The Red Sox took Nogosek in the sixth round of last year's Draft after a dominant junior season at the University of Oregon. The organization thought enough of the 22-year-old right-hander to push him to Class A Short Season Lowell and Class A Greenville in his first pro season -- the same tact they took in 2015 with Andrew Benintendi. Utilizing three above-average offerings in his fastball, cutter and slider, Nogosek missed plenty of bats and showed solid control with 31 strikeouts and 10 walks over 27 1/3 innings between the two stops. What's more, he showed an ability to throw multiple innings with nine of his 20 appearances lasting longer than a single frame. Entering the year as Boston's No. 24 prospect, Nogosek will be challenged with tougher assignments, but he has the stuff and advanced pitchability [not to mention role as a reliever] to climb quickly and become a bigger name by season's end.

 New York Yankees: Taylor Widener

The 22-year-old from South Carolina is being moved from the bullpen into the rotation in his first full season since the Yankees took him in the 12th round of last year's Draft. He went 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA in 13 outings, including two starts, and struck out 59 batters over 38 1/3 innings, dominating at Class A Short Season Staten Island and Class A Charleston. He could return to the South Atlantic League with a chance to move up quickly based on the success of his transition. He made 17 appearances and nine starts for the University of South Carolina in 2016, so he's familiar with both roles.

 Tampa Bay Rays: Jaime Schultz

In a system that has its share of top-flight pitchers, few have the strikeout capabilities of Schultz. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound righty led the International League with 163 punchouts over 130 2/3 frames for Triple-A Durham last year, raising his career strikeout rate to 11.3 per nine innings. The bat-waving continued in Spring Training, where he totaled 22 whiffs in 14 2/3 innings. With a full season at Triple-A under his belt, Schultz looks like a strong candidate to end up in Tampa Bay, even if it's ultimately in the bullpen.

Video: Durham's Schultz fans his 12th

 Toronto Blue Jays: Cavan Biggio

The 2016 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame and son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio couldn't crack MLB.com's preseason Top 30 list, but the Jays are excited about his baseball pedigree. Gil Kim, Toronto's director of player development, said, "He has a different level of comfortability in a clubhouse and being on a baseball field." Biggio turned in a .273 average with 15 extra-base hits in 62 games in his first professional season. "He plays the game hard," Kim said. "His baseball instincts and savvy are going to allow him to continue to progress."

AL Central

 Chicago White Sox: Aaron Bummer

After being selected in the 19th round of the 2014 Draft, Bummer lost the 2015 season to Tommy John surgery. The University of Nebraska product returned to the mound last season and flashed better stuff than before the operation, touching 99 mph with a 70-grade fastball and complementing it with an above-average slider. In 11 relief appearances between Rookie-level Great Falls and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, the southpaw pitched 13 innings and put up a 2.77 ERA with 12 strikeouts. Bummer was invited to big league camp this spring and, if he proves he can endure a full season's workload, could make a quick ascent to the Chicago bullpen.

 Cleveland Indians: Shawn Armstrong

The bullpen played a key role in helping the Indians win the American League pennant. In Armstrong, they may have another high-leverage arm to add to the group. The 26-year-old righty gave up two runs over 10 Cactus League innings this spring after posting 72 strikeouts and a 1.84 ERA over 49 innings last season with Triple-A Columbus. Armed with a fastball that sits in the upper 90's and a devastating low-90's slider, he has a chance to contribute in late-inning spots for Cleveland this year.

 Detroit Tigers: Will Maddox

Maddox's career was off to a promising start in 2015 when he hit .395 in his first 13 games with Class A West Michigan. But his first full season came to an abrupt end when he injured his leg legging out a double on April 17. Maddox bounced back better than ever last season, ranking second in the Midwest League with a .339 average while stealing 28 bases for the Whitecaps. Although his next stop will be with Class A Advanced Lakeland in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Maddox should have no problem continuing to get on base.

 Kansas City Royals: Corey Toups

While college teammate Ryan O'Hearn may have the higher prospect status, Sam Houston State product Toups has been just as productive in his brief career. The infielder was Northwest Arkansas' Player of the Year in 2016 after batting .275/.358/.450 in 86 games in his first taste of Double-A. In three Minor League seasons, Toups is a .289/.380/.453 hitter and discovered some power last year, belting 10 homers in the Texas League.

 Video: Toups plates winning run for Naturals

 Minnesota Twins: Aaron Whitefield

The 20-year-old Whitefield batted .298 and ranked second in the Twins system with 32 steals last season, and he did it in only 58 games. The speedy outfielder -- a former softball player in Australia who only began playing baseball a few years ago -- likely will see time at Class A Cedar Rapids and could prove to be a pesky leadoff hitter. Last summer in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he had 17 RBIs and 19 walks to go with a pair of homers. He played for Brisbane in the Australian Baseball League this winter and hit .338 with four homers, 15 RBIs and 20 steals in 39 games. 

AL West

 Houston Astros: Dexture McCall

McCall made some noise in his first full season with the Astros. The 23-year-old led his team in batting (.286), on-base percentage (.352) and RBIs (58), and showed some pop with nine homers, three triples and 21 doubles. The 23-year-old already has flashed his ability to handle the bat, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see McCall put up some crooked numbers playing in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League.

 Los Angeles Angels: Kevin Grendell

Grendell's first few seasons were anything but smooth, but things are looking up for the southpaw since signing with the Angels prior to last season. Still only 23, Grendell put together a career year in 2016 while pitching exclusively in relief across three Minor League levels. The former Orioles prospect reached Double-A and posted a 2.64 ERA with 92 strikeouts over 61 1/3 innings, good for a strikeout rate of 13.5 per nine innings. Although control remains an issue, Grendell surrendered only 36 hits and held opponents to a .171 average. That strong year earned him an invitation to Major League camp this spring.

 Oakland Athletics: Chris Iriart

Iriart's power showed up big time last season as he clubbed 22 homers in 97 games between Class A Beloit and Class A Advanced Stockton. This was a big step forward for the 22-year-old first baseman, who totaled five dingers in 69 games in short-season ball the previous year. If Iriart can hit consistently, he should be quick to move up the ladder for the Athletics.

 Seattle Mariners: Thyago Vieira

A 2010 international signing who didn't make it to the U.S. until three years later, Vieira transitioned from a starting role to the bullpen after walking 34 batters over 68 innings with Class A Short Season Everett in 2013. He matched that walk total in 51 2/3 innings over the next two years, however, and his development looked to be stalled. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-hander, who works consistently in the high 90s with an 80-grade fastball, recovered in the California League a year ago by striking out 53 and walking 18 over 44 innings with Class A Advanced Bakersfield. The Mariners' No. 12 prospect was added to the 40-man roster and with improved command could rejoin forces with former Class A teammate Edwin Diaz, another converted starter whose fastball reaches triple digits.

 Texas Rangers: Scott Heineman

Heineman, the brother of Astros catching prospect Tyler Heineman, should have earned more notice with his remarkable first full year of pro ball in 2016. A 2015 11th-rounder, he hit .303 with 17 homers, eight triples, 39 doubles and 30 stolen bases for Class A Advanced High Desert. No single tool is loud enough to make the University of Oregon product an obvious superstar, but he's a well-rounded outfielder who could develop into an everyday player and fan favorite in the big leagues. He's also a gamer: After playing 134 games in his first season, he logged 20 more against some of the Minors' best prospects in the Arizona Fall League.

NL East

 Atlanta Braves: Cristian Pache

Among Braves prospects, fans know Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies and all of the pitchers and even Kevin Maitan and Ronald Acuna at the lower levels. Pache's name is the next one they'll probably want to know. Playing the entire season as a 17-year-old in 2016, the native of the Dominican Republic hit .309 while striking out in only 10.2 percent of his plate appearances in 57 games between the GCL and Rookie-level Danville -- all while playing above-average defense. He's likely ready for Class A Rome. The one tool not currently at his disposal is power, but he has plenty of speed to take extra bases. Pache didn't homer in 2016 but had more triples (seven) than doubles (four). If he can carry his short-season performance over a longer sample, expect Pache's stock to rise considerably, even in a packed system like the Braves'.

 Miami Marlins: Cody Poteet

Since being selected in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft out of UCLA, Poteet has inched closer and closer to the Marlins spotlight. The right-hander ranked third in the system with 106 strikeouts while issuing 44 walks over 117 1/3 innings. In 28 starts over two pro seasons, Poteet sports a 2.84 ERA in 130 frames with Class A Short Season Batavia and Class A Greensboro. Scouts like the San Diego native's balanced arsenal, which features a strong fastball-slider combo. Poteet is primed for a big season as he makes the leap to Class A Advanced Jupiter in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

 New York Mets: Tomas Nido

Nido's ascent from eighth-round Draft pick to the upper levels of the Minors will continue in 2017 with a start at Double-A Binghamton. But the soon-to-be 23-year-old catcher's path to the big leagues might be a lot easier than even he thought. With Travis d'Arnaud's continuing struggle to stay healthy and Kevin Plawecki's bat yet to produce in Queens, Nido's star shines brighter. The backstop batted a career-high .320/.357/.459 with 32 extra-base hits and 46 RBIs in 90 games last season with Class A Advanced St. Lucie. His eye-opening performance wasn't limited to his time at the plate but also behind it, where he threw out a personal-best 42 percent of would-be base stealers.

 Philadelphia Phillies: Jhailyn Ortiz

While the attention was rightly paid to the home run chase between Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins at Double-A Reading, Ortiz provided some thunder several levels below. His eight homers for the GCL Phillies ranked third in the circuit and accounted for 26.7 percent of the team's long ball total, all while playing the entire season at 17 years old. Ortiz has the typical issues associated with younger boppers -- a strikeout rate on the high side that leads to lower averages -- but the power, aided by his size at 6-foot-3, is as promising as is his arm in right field. If Ortiz can continue to pummel more experienced pitching while fine-tuning his approach, he'll start to look like an even better investment at $4 million out of the Dominican Republic.

 Washington Nationals: Joan Baez

No, this is not a conceit to get one of the Minors' best names onto this list. The Nationals' 24th-ranked prospect has the stuff to make fans pay attention in a 70-grade fastball and 60-grade curve. You can build a strong prospect foundation on two plus pitches like that alone. Where Baez has faltered has been in making his changeup a legitimately useful pitch and finding his control, as was the case last season when he averaged 4.6 walks per nine innings. However, that was an improvement from a 5.0 BB/9 rate across three levels in 2015, and those numbers improved as the season progressed. If the improvement continues and Baez can turn the changeup into even an average offering, the 22-year-old right-hander has a solid chance of climbing the rankings.

NL Central

 Chicago Cubs: Ryan Williams

A 2014 10th-round pick, Williams was poised for a breakout season in 2016 but was shut down in May with shoulder soreness after going 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA in nine Pacific Coast League starts. The East Carolina product was ready to go at Spring Training and produced a couple of two-inning scoreless appearances in the Cactus League before running into trouble. Nonetheless, the time in big league camp should only help him deliver the campaign he would have liked to turn in last year. The 25-year-old righty heads back to Iowa with something to prove.

 Cincinnati Reds: Tony Santillan

At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds with a 70-grade fastball, Santillan is an imposing figure on the mound. The 19-year-old right-hander throws consistently in the mid- to high-90's with the ability to touch 100 mph and wields a plus slider. After fanning 46 batters over 39 innings with Rookie-level Billings in the Pioneer League, he upped his strikeout rate at Class A Dayton -- whiffing 38 in 30 1/3 innings -- but struggled with his control. The Reds' No. 15 prospect walked 24 with the Dragons after issuing 16 free passes with the Mustangs and saw his ERA rise from 3.92 to 6.82. If Santillan can harness his command and improve his stamina -- he's pitched into the seventh inning once as a pro -- his pure stuff could skyrocket the 2015 second-round pick up the prospect rankings.

 Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Cordell

As a 24-year-old who was taken in the 11th round of the 2013 Draft and didn't reach Double-A until 2015, Cordell lacks name recognition [which his No. 16 ranking within the organization reflects]. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound outfielder struggled in his first taste of the upper Minors with Double-A Frisco at the end of the 2015 season, posting a .217/.263/.335 slash line with five homers in 56 games, but he adjusted nicely last year and totaled 19 homers, 70 RBIs and 12 steals to go with an .803 OPS for the RoughRiders before getting shipped to Milwaukee as the player to be named in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. Cordell has four potential above-average tools and will start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he'll look to impress his new organization in hopes of getting a shot at the big league level.

 Pittsburgh Pirates: Jose Osuna

Osuna may be higher on the radar after hitting .440 and crushing five homers in Grapefruit League play. The 24-year-old Venezuelan had seemingly stalled in the Florida State League in 2015 but has climbed to Triple-A while emerging as one of the more consistent hitters in the Pirates system. With an ability to play both outfield and first base, and Pittsburgh's bench thinned by the losses of Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez [not to mention the uncertain status of Jung Ho Kang], Osuna looks like a candidate for an extended look with the big club.

Tweet from @Pirates: Another pair of RBIs from @JoseOsuna36? Yep. ����������: https://t.co/QytZU37uFE#PiratesST pic.twitter.com/IhsLY97TzE

 St. Louis Cardinals: Eliezer Alvarez

After signing Alvarez at 17, the Cardinals took their time with his development for a couple of seasons. But once he got comfortable, he took off. The second baseman hasn't hit below .300 since 2013 and excelled with his first full-season team last summer, batting .323 with 36 steals for Class A Peoria. The Cardinals added the left-handed hitter to their 40-man roster in the offseason and brought him to big league camp for a few weeks as they got their first real glimpse of their second baseman of the future.

NL West

 Arizona Diamondbacks: Frank Duncan

In just his third pro season since the Pirates selected him in the 13th round of the 2014 Draft out of the University of Kansas, Duncan raced to Triple-A. The 6-foot-4 right-hander quietly dominated in a star-studded rotation that included the likes of Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault and Jameson Taillon. Duncan went 9-6 with a 2.33 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 29 walks over 112 innings in 20 International League starts and should keep the momentum going as he transitions to the Pacific Coast League following a trade for infielder Phil Gosselin on Feb. 10.

 Colorado Rockies: Harrison Musgrave

Away from the spotlight that shined on big names like Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman and Riley Pint in recent seasons, Musgrave has thrived in the Rockies system. The 2013 Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year, Musgrave struggled to a 5.44 ERA at Rookie-level Grand Junction in his debut season. Colorado's solution? The lefty jumped Class A Asheville, posted a 10-1 record and 2.88 ERA with Class A Advanced Modesto and made it to Double-A in his second season. Last year, the West Virginia University product boasted a 1.79 ERA in six Double-A starts to earn the call to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he made 19 more. Musgrave is a dark horse candidate to get a look in the Colorado rotation this year.

 Los Angeles Dodgers: DJ Peters

A 6-foot-6 outfielder with impressive speed, Peters has the tools to be a thrilling player. Although he enters the season at No. 21 among Dodgers prospects, the 2016 fourth-rounder played up to his promise in his first crack at pro ball. With Rookie-level Ogden, he batted .351/.437/.615 with 13 homers, 24 doubles and five steals in 66 games. His ability to move and an arm that rates a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale means Peters should also be able to turn heads in right field. Watch for him to make a splash with Class A Great Lakes; even if LA keeps the California native in extended spring training during the first weeks of the Midwest League season, his bat is too good for him to remain in complex ball.

 San Diego Padres: Mason Thompson

Like many pitching prospects, Thompson is a bit of a wild card after undergoing Tommy John surgery as a high school junior. Taken by the Padres in the third round of last year's Draft, the righty dazzled in a brief pro debut, striking out 12 over 12 innings and holding opponents to a .186 average. The 6-foot-7 hurler can touch the mid 90's with his fastball and throws a curve that could develop into a plus pitch. After making five starts in the Rookie-level Arizona League last year, the 19-year-old should get a test one step up the ladder at Class A Short Season Tri-City.

 San Francisco Giants: Reyes Moronta

Last year, Moronta tied for 25th in the California League with 93 strikeouts. Not so special, unless you consider that he threw 26 fewer innings (59) than any other pitcher on the list, and he was one of three players to record more than 90 punchouts and work fewer than 100 innings. He also held foes to a .195 average while converting 14 of 18 save chances, posting a 2.59 ERA and yielding seven homers in the hitter-friendly circuit.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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