It's never too early for awards season, right?The Minor League full-season circuits are all roughly at the midpoints, with six All-Star Games already completed (five on Tuesday alone) and four more soon to come. That's about as good a time as any to check in on the MiLBY Award races
It's never too early for awards season, right?
The Minor League full-season circuits are all roughly at the midpoints, with six All-Star Games already completed (five on Tuesday alone) and four more soon to come. That's about as good a time as any to check in on the MiLBY Award races and see who is leading in the major categories.
Top Offensive Player: White Sox OF Luis Robert, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem/Double-A Birmingham -- Any number of directions to go here. The most eye-popping hitting numbers have come from the Triple-A levels, where offense has taken a jump with both the International and Pacific Coast Leagues using the Major League baseball this season. Indeed, the 10 highest OPSes in the Minors this season (minimum: 150 plate appearances) have come from Triple-A sluggers. So that makes Robert's performance stand out all the more. The top White Sox prospect leads the Minor League qualifiers with a 198 wRC+ on the strength of a .351/.403/.636 line over 61 games between the Carolina and Southern Leagues. Showing multiple offensive skills, he has hit 13 homers and stolen 19 bases over that span, making him one of 15 Minor Leaguers with double-digits in each category (seven of which are in Triple-A alone). Robert was signed for $26 million out of Cuba in May 2017 because of his five-tool potential, and after injuries held him back his first two seasons, he's starting to show that potential off in the middle levels. Even a move to Double-A couldn't slow down the 21-year-old, and it's not hard to picture him holding onto this spot in the second half.
Other considerations: Yordan Alvarez (HOU), Trey Harris (ATL), Kevin Cron (ARI), Jarred Kelenic (SEA)
Top Starting Pitcher: Padres LHP MacKenzie Gore, Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore -- Only one hurler with at least 50 innings pitched ranks among the top three among Minor Leaguers in ERA, WHIP, average-against and strikeout percentage. That's the Padres' top prospect, who has done all of that despite calling the California League home. Gore is tops with a .136 average-against, second with a 0.69 WHIP, third with a 1.21 ERA and third with a 38.7% K rate over 65 2/3 innings for Lake Elsinore. He's also 17th with a 2.27 FIP and 12th with a 2.48 xFIP among 491 qualifiers. All of this comes after blisters limited Gore to 60 2/3 innings last season. Healthy, he's been able to put his four above-average pitches and good control to work, and it's why he is in this spot and considered by MLB.com the No. 3 overall prospect in the game.
Other considerations: Casey Mize (DET), Zac Gallen (MIA), Brendan McKay (TB), Drew Rom (BAL)
Top Relief Pitcher: Blue Jays RHP Jackson Rees, Class A Lansing/Class A Advanced Dunedin -- Those first two selections are pretty well known. Rees could be quite the opposite. The 24-year-old right-hander went undrafted out of the University of Hawaii last year but signed with the Blue Jays on June 13, 2018. A little more than a year later, he's been the most dominant reliever in the Minors. Rees has allowed one earned run over 32 1/3 innings between two spots, good for a 0.28 ERA that is lowest among Minor Leaguers with at least 30 innings pitched. He has fanned 52 batters, and his 44.1% K rate is third among the 1,122 pitchers who fit those requirements. His 0.88 FIP is also lowest in the Minors, well ahead of Mariners reliever Sam Delaplane (1.38) in second. He's held opposing batters to a .153 average, and he also sports a 0.74 WHIP. College relievers dominating the lower levels isn't typically news. But this level of dominance isn't only noteworthy, it could be award-worthy if Rees keeps it up in the coming months.
Other considerations: Delaplane (SEA), Frank Rubio (SF), Blake Workman (ARI), Robert Broom (CLE)
Breakout Prospect: Cardinals OF Dylan Carlson, Double-A Springfield -- Carlson entered 2019 as the Cardinals' No. 8 prospect after he hit just .247/.345/.386 with nine homers in 99 games last season at Class A Advanced Palm Beach. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder has matured this season in all facets, especially in the power department. His 10 homers through 68 games are already one shy of his career high, and his .504 slugging percentage is exactly 100 points above his previous best, established in the Gulf Coat League in 2016. With a .285 average and .369 OBP, Carlson has shown steady growth in terms of his hit tool, and his 11 steals are better than expected from someone with, at best, average speed. The California native also continues to be an impressive fielder with a good arm, and Springfield has allowed him to get the bulk of his time in center field as a result. Carlson has become St. Louis' No. 2 prospect and also climbed to the No. 89 spot in MLB.com's overall rankings. He could stand to jump several more spots if he continues this growth, which isn't out of the question considering he still won't turn 21 until October.
Other considerations: Grayson Rodriguez (BAL), Jordan Balazovic (BAL), Cristian Pache (ATL), Anthony Kay (NYM)
Top Farm System: Tampa Bay Rays -- You might know that the Rays have eight Top-100 prospects, second only to the Padres, who have nine. You should also know that Tampa Bay boasts the No. 1 overall prospect in Wander Franco, and considering he's 18 and only at Class A, he should be there for quite a while. But this is a good time to remind everyone that the Farm System MiLBY isn't about prospect pools alone. It's also about system-wide performance over the course of the season. As 2019 would have it, the Rays are tops there again. Through Wednesday, all four Rays full-season affiliates had winning records with Double-A Montgomery already punching its playoff ticket and Triple-A Durham holding a five-game lead in its division. Their collective .586 winning percentage is the best among all 30 farm systems. In an ideal scenario, the Farm System MiLBY goes to the organization that combines winning and potential, and the Rays are straddling the two perfectly through the first half.
Other considerations: San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners
Top Team: Quad Cities River Bandits -- With all due respect to the pick in the Class A Head of the Class breakdown, the MiLBYs are an award series all their own, and it's worth something here that Class A Quad Cities may have been the most resilient group of Minor Leaguers in the season's first half. Due to extreme flooding in the area, the River Bandits played only one home series in April and then didn't return home to Modern Woodmen Ballpark until May 24. (Another June 4-6 series had to be relocated due to additional flooding.) In all, the River Bandits have played only 16 of their 67 games in their own stadium. And yet, the Astros' Class A affiliate finished the first half with a 43-23 record, the best in the Midwest League and a full six games ahead of Burlington and Cedar Rapids in the Western Division. The River Bandits' collective .657 winning percentage is fourth-highest in the Minors as well. The club wasn't heavy on prospects -- No. 6 Freudis Nova is the highest-ranked of the bunch, and he joined the club on May 25 -- but it was able to string together wins with the best of them, even without the consistency of a home.
Other considerations: Down East Wood Ducks, El Paso Chihuahuas, Delmarva Shorebirds, Visalia Rawhide
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.