The 2018 Yahoo Sports All-Minor League Team, led by Player of the Year Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. appears to be a can’t-miss prospect. (AP)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. appears to be a can’t-miss prospect. (AP)

Presenting the 2018 Yahoo Sports All-Minor League Team, led by the best pure hitting prospect in years and a pitcher who at this time last year was recovering from Tommy John surgery. The rest of the team and those who merited honorable mention did so through performance this season – with an emphasis on those who played particularly well for their age at their level.

Some don’t strictly follow that criteria. There are older players who may not be prospects. And prospects who received constant praise from scouts but may not have the best numbers. Even two rookie-ball players, whose performances and reports were so good they deserved inclusion despite their limited samples.

Neither the Player nor Pitcher of the Year had full-season samples, either. That didn’t matter. They were so good when they did play, their coronations were plenty warranted.

Player of the Year: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B (AAA/AA, Toronto) – Seeing as he should’ve been in the major leagues months ago, Vladito’s presence is bittersweet. He gets to keep great company. In the four previous incarnations of this team, the Players of the Year included Kris Bryant, Alex Bregman and Ronald Acuña. (A.J. Reed was the other. Four of five ain’t bad.) Still, when 19-year-olds are getting called up and doing things not seen in a century (hello, Juan Soto) and when other preternatural talents are leading teams to the postseason (we see you, Ronald), the notion that Guerrero isn’t wrecking major league pitching stings. Because against the poor pitchers at AA he hit .402/.449/.671, and then he went to AAA and smashed .336/.414/.564 against them, and combined, his .381/.437/.636 season is completely ridiculous, even more ridiculous because he’s still a teenager, and most ridiculous because just about anyone else hitting like that would’ve been summoned to the big leagues. Mark your calendars: April 12. That is the 16th day of the 2019 season, which would guarantee the Blue Jays a seventh year of service time for Guerrero. Maybe they summon him for that home series against Tampa Bay. Perhaps they wait until a homestand starting April 23, when the service-time manipulation wouldn’t look quite as bad. Either way, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is coming, and when he arrives, with a powerful bat that launched 20 home runs in 357 at-bats, with incredible bat-to-ball skills that led to only 38 strikeouts, he is going to be the kind of marvel that makes the Player of the Year list look even better.

Pitcher of the Year: Chris Paddack (AA/A+, San Diego) – What’s scariest about Paddack, say the evaluators who saw him this season, is that he’s not a fully finished product yet. He’s still working on a curveball, and if ever he can figure out how to polish it to even an average pitch, some believe he has top-of-the-rotation potential. Because Paddack’s fastball is above-average, his changeup might be the best in the minor leagues and his command and control are nonpareil. The latter two manifest themselves in Paddack’s most impressive numbers: 120 strikeouts vs. eight walks. Those were Paddack’s totals in 90 innings this season, his first back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent shortly after arriving to the Padres from the Miami Marlins when their ill-fated, owner-initiated attempt to win in 2016 led Miami to overoveroveroveroveroveroveroverpay for Fernando Rodney. All told, Paddack finished the season with a 2.10 ERA, allowed only four home runs in those 90 innings and dominated the Texas League even more than he did in his impressive handling of the Cal League. Paddack will turn 23 this winter, and he could find himself in the Padres’ rotation as soon as next summer.

C: Ronaldo Hernandez (A, Tampa Bay) – Considering the amount of talent among the honorable mentions, there’s a wave of catching talent coming to fill the vacuum that exists today. Hernandez is a favorite of scouts, with his power bat driving 21 home runs in the Midwest League, a place not exactly known for its conduciveness to deep balls. At 20, he’s still young enough to be molded after shifting to catcher from third base, but the physical tools are abundant enough that there’s hope he can be a quicker-developing Willson Contreras. Hernandez, who was signed out of Colombia for $225,000, is the first of many future Rays on this list.

Honorable mention:
Miguel Amaya (A, Chicago Cubs)
Joey Bart (Rookie, San Francisco)
Danny Jansen (AAA, Toronto)
Francisco Mejia (AAA, Cleveland/San Diego)
MJ Melendez (A, Kansas City)
Sean Murphy (AAA/AA, Oakland)
Daulton Varsho (A+, Arizona)

1B: Peter Alonso (AAA/AA, New York Mets) – The evaluators chose this one, which was a toss-up: Alonso or Tampa Bay’s Nate Lowe. The consensus was Alonso, whose 36 home runs led the minor leagues and whose patience at the plate manifested itself in an on-base percentage near .400. Yes, he is something of a butcher at first – Lowe isn’t exactly J.T. Snow there, either – and, sure, Las Vegas, where he spent half the season, sometimes feels like baseball on the moon. When Alonso lands in Queens sometime next season, though, he’ll still bring a bandwagon rightfully overflowing with Mets fans.

Honorable mention:
Ibandel Isabel (A+, Los Angeles Dodgers/Cincinnati)
Austin Listi (AA/A+, Philadelphia)
Nate Lowe (AAA/AA/A+, Tampa Bay)
Ryan Noda (A, Toronto)
Roberto Ramos (AA/A+, Colorado)
Dan Vogelbach (AAA, Seattle)
Evan White (AAA/A+, Seattle)
Tyler White (AAA, Houston)

2B: Vidal Brujan (A+/A, Tampa Bay) – Second base, interestingly enough, was perhaps the most difficult position to settle on. It was the descriptions of evaluators that sold Brujan as the right choice. “Dynamic,” one said. Another: “Electric.” And another: “I just love watching him play.” The 20-year-old switch hitter slashed .320/.403/.459, stolen 55 bases (third in the minors) and walked nearly as many times as he struck out (63 to 68). Following his promotion to the Florida State League, the most pitching friendly of all minor leagues, Brujan leveraged his skinny, 5-foot-9 frame into a .347/.434/.582 line with four home runs in fewer than 100 at-bats. In Brujan’s case, the Rays’ slow development process has worked wonders – and turned a $15,000 bonus kid into a potential leadoff star.

Honorable mention:
Cavan Biggio (AA, Toronto)
Garrett Hampson (AAA/AA, Colorado)
Keston Hiura (AA/A+, Milwaukee)
Kevin Kramer (AAA, Pirates)
Brandon Lowe (AAA/AA, Tampa Bay)
Jeff McNeil (AAA, New York Mets)
Nick Solak (AA, Tampa Bay)
Luis Urias (AAA, San Diego)

Fernando Tatis’ season was ended by surgery for a broken thumb, but his talent is undeniable. (AP)
Fernando Tatis’ season was ended by surgery for a broken thumb, but his talent is undeniable. (AP)

SS: Fernando Tatis Jr. (AA/A, San Diego) – It’s true that Tatis hasn’t played since mid-July, with surgery on a broken thumb sidelining him for the remainder of the season. It’s true, too, that plenty of other candidates – namely the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux – are worthy. And yet it would be wrong to forget that Tatis played the entire season at AA as a 19-year-old and finished with a .286/.355/.507 line – and that includes a miserable April, after which he hit .327/.400/.572. This will probably be Tatis’ last year, as he’ll join Paddack and others in San Diego. An early guess on next year’s first-team shortstop: 17-year-old Wander Franco, a switch-hitting, home run-smashing, bat-to-ball genius who plays for – yup – the Rays.

Honorable mention:
Bo Bichette (AA, Toronto)
Jazz Chisholm (A+/A, Arizona)
Oneil Cruz (A, Pittsburgh)
Wander Franco (Rookie, Tampa Bay)
Carter Kieboom (AA/A+, Washington)
Royce Lewis (A+/A, Minnesota)
Gavin Lux (A+, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Isaac Paredes (AA/A+, Detroit)
Luis Rengifo (AAA/AA/A+, Los Angeles Angels)
Kevin Smith (A+/A, Toronto)

3B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Honorable mention:
Bobby Dalbec (AA/A+, Boston)
J.D. Davis (AAA, Houston)
Ke’Bryan Hayes (AA, Pittsburgh)
Connor Joe (AAA/AA, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Nolan Jones (A+/A, Cleveland)
Austin Riley (AAA/AA, Atlanta)
Taylor Ward (AAA/AA, Los Angeles Angels)
Colton Welker (A+, Colorado)

OF: Eloy Jimenez (AAA, Chicago White Sox) – That this is the third consecutive year Jimenez has made the first team says two things: 1) He’s really, really good and 2) The White Sox are totally Vlading him. Jimenez is too valuable for a promotion. That extra year of service, which the White Sox will get by keeping him down until mid-April, is simply worth too much for them to waste it on a month of an awful season. So all he does is hit – .337/.384/.577 total, with an OPS more than 70 points higher at AAA than at AA – and get ready to find himself in the No. 3 hole of the White Sox’s lineup for years to come.

OF: Alex Kirilloff (A+/A, Minnesota) – Paddack isn’t the only one coming back from Tommy John. An torn elbow ligament derailed Kirilloff’s 2017 season after he looked like a steal with the 15th pick of the 2016 draft. He destroyed the Midwest League for the first half of the season, then hit .362 in the Florida State League in the second half. Next up is AA, and as a 21-year-old with a beautiful left-handed swing and propensity not to strike out, a trip to the big leagues may not be far behind. The only thing potentially holding Kirilloff back: the presence of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler at the major league level.

OF: Kyle Tucker (AAA, Houston) – After a just-miss Honorable Mention last season, Tucker ascended to the first team on the strength of a .332/.400/.590 line at AAA. Even though Tucker’s big league tryout was a bust, the sheen hasn’t worn off his prospect status. He still hit 24 home runs and stolen 20 bases at Triple-A as a 21-year-old. He still controls the strike zone very well. He still fits awfully well on a team primed to lose a few bats to free agency this winter.

Honorable mention:
Jo Adell (AA/A+/A, Los Angeles Angels)
Yordan Alvarez (AAA/AA, Houston)
Austin Dean (AAA/AA, Miami)
Yusniel Diaz (AA, Los Angeles Dodgers/Baltimore)
Moises Gomez (A, Tampa Bay)
Luis Gonzalez (A+/A, Chicago White Sox)
Khalil Lee (AA/A+, Kansas City)
Tyler O’Neill (AAA, St. Louis)
Christian Pache (AA/A+, Atlanta)
Corey Ray (AA, Brewers)
Michael Reed (AAA/AA, Atlanta)
Austin Slater (AAA, San Francisco)
Christin Stewart (AAA, Detroit)
Myles Straw (AAA/AA, Houston)
Bubba Thompson (A, Texas)
Alex Verdugo (AAA, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Chavez Young (A, Toronto)

SP: Chris Paddack (AA/A+, San Diego)

SP: Dylan Cease (AA/A+, Chicago White Sox) – While he was every bit as dominant as Paddack and threw nearly 35 more innings, Cease doesn’t have nearly the command or control of Paddack. And that’s OK. Maybe a handful of people do, and while they’re dotting corners, Cease will unfurl a 100-mph fastball or power curve that does untoward things to players’ swings. Between him and Jimenez, the return from the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade could be franchise-changing. Seeing Cease get promoted and put up a 1.72 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings at AA only reinforced the excitement the White Sox hope to capture soon.

Jesus Luzardo was acquired by the A’s last season as part of the Sean Doolittle-Ryan Madson trade. (AP)
Jesus Luzardo was acquired by the A’s last season as part of the Sean Doolittle-Ryan Madson trade. (AP)

SP: Jesus Luzardo (AAA/AA/A+, Oakland) – Three starts was all it took for Oakland to realize the 20-year-old was too good for Class A. Then he spent the majority of the season dominating AA. Four starts at AAA at the end of the year went poorly, but it’s easy to forget Luzardo is in his second season coming off a post-high school Tommy John. With an above-average fastball, curveball and changeup, Luzardo has every last physical tool to be a good major league pitcher for a long time. Getting him as part of the Sean Doolittle-Ryan Madson trade was pure thievery.

SP: Ian Anderson (AA/A+, Atlanta) – Considered an overdraft when the Braves took him with the third pick of the 2016 draft, Anderson for three seasons has overwhelmed hitters in the low minors. That he did it in four Double-A starts at the end of the year has the Braves rightfully giddy, because Anderson is almost the right-handed version of Luzardo: three above-average pitches and a grand desire to punch people out. He won’t join Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Bryse Wilson as 20-year-olds to pitch for the big-league team this season, and that’s quite all right. The Braves can take their time with Anderson and his two home runs allowed in 119 1/3 innings.

SP: Touki Touissant (AAA/AA, Atlanta) With apologies to Tony Gonsolin (a big scout favorite), Tyler Phillips (more of a high-K, low-walk stat guy), Taylor Widener (a nice in-between) and Josh James (who should be known as King James, because his strikeout rate rules), Toussaint took the last spot in the rotation. And he more than earned it, taking obvious physical talent and manifesting it with a dazzling array of power pitches that he’s beginning to throw for strikes. The walks went down, the strikeouts went up, the home-run rate halved and suddenly the 22-year-old Toussaint found himself pitching in the middle of a pennant race.

Honorable mention:
Cory Abbott (A+/A, Chicago Cubs)
A.J. Alexy (AA, Texas)
Kolby Allard (AAA, Atlanta)
Logan Allen (AA, San Diego)
Brandon Bielak (AA/A+, Houston)
Zack Brown (AA, Milwaukee)
Parker Dunshee (AA/A+, Oakland)
Matt Hall (AAA/AA, Detroit)
Ryan Hartman (AA, Houston)
Darwinzon Hernandez (AA/A+, Boston)
Josh James (AAA/AA, Houston)
Mike King (AAA/AA/A+, New York Yankees)
Michael Kopech (AAA, Chicago White Sox)
Dean Kremer (AA/A+, Los Angeles Dodgers/Baltimore)
Matt Manning (AA/A+/A, Detroit)
Dustin May (AA/A+, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Brendan McKay (A+/A, Tampa Bay)
Nick Neidert (AA, Miami)
David Parkinson (A+/A, Philadelphia)
Luis Patiño (A, San Diego)
Daniel Poncedeleon (AAA, St. Louis)
Denyi Reyes (A+/A, Boston)
Tony Santillan (AA/A+, Cincinnati)
Justus Sheffield (AAA/AA, New York Yankees)
Trey Supak (AA/A+, Milwaukee)
Erik Swanson (AAA/AA/A-, New York Yankees)
Taylor Widener (AA, Arizona)
Jordan Yamamoto (AA/A+, Miami)

RP: Colin Poche (AAA/AA, Arizona/Tampa Bay) – The most unassuming dominant pitcher in baseball, Poche is 24, throws left-handed, doesn’t throw particularly hard and still struck out 110 in 66 innings with a 0.82 ERA. Tampa Bay acquired him (along with the aforementioned Nick Solak) as part of the Steven Souza Jr. deal, and while Arizona also received the just-mentioned Taylor Widener, Poche is an undeniably interesting major league prospect. Can his stuff – his dominance – translate to the major league level? Or is there such a thing as a 4A relief pitcher? Either way, seeing the Rays use Poche as a multi-inning reliever at AAA – maybe a future opener? – is well-worth tracking, because he’s not long for the minors.

Honorable mention:
Demarcus Evans (A, Texas)
Tyler Johnson (AA/A, Chicago White Sox)
Travis Radke (AAA/AA/A+/A, San Diego)
Andrew Vasquez (AAA/AA/A+, Minnesota)
Austen Williams (AAA/AA, Washington)

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