Head of the Class: Class A Short Season

Giants' Labour, D-backs' Frias blossomed during the summer

Franklin Labour tallied a 1.030 OPS in 41 Northwest League games. (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)

By Michael Avallone / MiLB.com | September 25, 2019 10:30 AM

With another Minor League season in the books, members of the MiLB.com staff are looking back at some of the most notable performers from the 2019 campaign for each level. We looked at the Triple-A, Double-A, Class A Advanced, Class A and Rookie Advanced  levels. Here, we turn our attention to players in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn and Northwest leagues.

Most exciting hitter

Giants OF Franklin Labour, Salem-Keizer: San Francisco expected its 20th-ranked prospect to showcase power as he progressed further into his professional career. It's safe to say the organization didn't expect so much so soon, though. Although Labour spent a little more than half a season with the Volcanoes, the 21-year-old batted .307/.392/.639 with 25 extra-base hits and a Northwest League-best 14 home runs in 41 games. It should be noted he's been brought along slowly since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. Including his 31-game stint with Class A Augusta to end the season, the outfielder has appeared in only 107 games domestically. Labour spent his first two years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2016-2017 before coming to the United States.

Most exciting pitcher

D-backs RHP Luis Frias, Hillsboro: A third baseman when he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015, Frias was quickly converted to the mound on a full-time basis to take advantage of his live arm. The transition has been a smashing success. Arizona's No. 15 prospect pitched well in his professional debut in 2016, but missed all of 2017. Frias returned the next year and showcased his upper-90s fastball and strong 12-to-6 curveball in his first domestic campaign. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound right-hander posted a 2.80 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts) with 58 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings across two levels. Frias returned to Hillsboro in 2019 and established himself as the Northwest League's preeminent pitcher. The 21-year-old notched a 1.99 ERA and limited opposing batters to a .205 average in 10 starts over 49 2/3 innings for the Hops. Despite being promoted to the Midwest League on Aug. 1 -- a full month before the season ended -- Frias' 72 strikeouts held up as the highest total on the circuit.

Video: Luis Frias fans six against Aquasox in 4-3 win

Best team

Hillsboro Hops: Consistently one of the top teams in the Northwest League, Hillsboro parlayed the best overall record on the circuit to a third championship in 2019. One year after winning a franchise-record 51 games, the Hops finished 48-28 on the strength of a pitching staff that steamrolled through opposing lineups. Led by Frias and a host of talented youngsters, Hillsboro led the league in ERA (2.87), WHIP (1.18) and shutouts (11). That production was more than enough for an offense that finished in the middle of the pack in runs scored (373) and homers (39). Second-ranked D-backs prospect Kristian Robinson -- promoted to Class A Kane County on Aug. 3 -- and 2019 third-round pick Tristin English stood out offensively for Hillsboro, which reached the postseason for the sixth consecutive season en route to its first title since 2015.

Video: Hillsboro Hops win championship

New kid in town

Yankees 2B Josh Smith, Staten Island: Coming from a prestigious baseball program like Louisiana State leads to expectations. Playing for arguably the sport's marquee franchise brings more, but that didn't faze Smith. Taken 67th overall in this year's Draft, the 22-year-old didn't sign until July 12 and his professional debut came 13 days later when the No. 18 Yankees prospect reached base four times. The 2-for-2, two-walk performance was a precursor of things to come for the left-handed hitter. Smith racked up multi-hit efforts in seven of his first 14 games and finished 2019 with a .324/.450/.477 slash line and 25 walks in 33 games for the Baby Bombers.

Offseason MiLB include

Biggest performance

Orioles OF Johnny Rizer, Aberdeen: Rizer's tenure in the New York-Penn League lasted all of five weeks, but he filled up the box score on a nightly basis for Aberdeen. One game stood out among the others, when the 2019 seventh-round Draft pick completed the circuit's only cycle of the season against Staten Island on July 20. Rizer notched a career-high five hits, three RBIs and three runs scored during the IronBirds' 11-0 win. The performance came in the midst of a six-game hitting streak that concluded the 22-year-old's time on the circuit. Rizer batted .305/.374/.537 with 14 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs in 27 games before a strong final month in the South Atlantic League.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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