All-Minor League Team: Astros, Dodgers, Cubs have plenty of stars of tomorrow

Jeff Passan
·MLB columnist

Putting together the 2015 All-Minor League Team proved a bit trickier than last season’s incarnation thanks to what felt like an every-other-day promotion of top prospects to the major leagues. Still, even as baseball’s Year of the Rookie injected a surge of talent into the sport, plenty remains in the farm systems across the game.

The Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies lead the team with seven representatives from across their minor league affiliates, with the Los Angeles Dodgers placing six. Following with five: Tampa Bay, Oakland, Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs.

This team isn’t necessarily representative of which teams have the best farm systems in baseball. It is based mostly on production, though age and level are also taken into account. Some, like Player of the Year A.J. Reed and Pitcher of the Year Blake Snell, are highly regarded prospects. Others hope 2015 serves as a springboard toward an even bigger 2016.

More than a dozen scouts, executives and analysts with strong knowledge of the minor leagues, from Triple-A to rookie ball, helped pick the players below, who spent a majority of their seasons in the minor leagues. That disqualified those like Kyle Schwarber, who should appear on enough Rookie of the Year ballots to make up for it.

A.J. Reed takes a cut for Kentucky in 2014. (AP)
A.J. Reed takes a cut for Kentucky in 2014. (AP)

Player of the Year: A.J. Reed, 1B (AA/A+, Houston) – No hitter destroyed the minor leagues this season like Reed, a 22-year-old left-hander stolen by the Astros in the second round of the 2014 draft. Teams passed on Reed because the hitting threshold for first basemen is so high. He more than exceeded it at hitter’s paradise Lancaster in the first half and proved himself far from a Cal League mirage upon his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he continued to thrive. By the end of the season, Reed hit a minor league-high 34 home runs and slashed .340/.432/.612. Scouts marvel at his ability to hit breaking pitches, something the Astros have long adored about Reed, and the prospect of adding him to a lineup with Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer for the next half-decade rightfully frightens the rest of the American League.

Pitcher of the Year: Blake Snell, SP (AAA/AA/A+, Tampa Bay) – The Rays develop pitching prospects at a notoriously slow rate, and Snell is no different. He spent two years in rookie ball and two more in Class A before the Rays unleashed him this year. And all the 22-year-old left-hander did was start the season with 49 consecutive scoreless innings. Over the next three months, Snell did little to quell the excitement over his breakout performance. He struck out 163 in 134 innings, allowed just 84 hits and overcame 53 walks to post a 1.41 ERA. Snell wound up in AAA, where he posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any of his three stops, and his next outpost will be Tampa Bay, where he can add to perhaps the deepest cache of starting pitchers in baseball.

C: Willson Contreras (AA, Chicago Cubs) – Something of a disappointment entering the season, the 23-year-old Contreras’ bat finally caught up to long-held expectations and gave the Cubs another young asset. Whether they hold onto him or use him as trade bait isn’t yet decided, though teams are clamoring for a right-handed-hitting catcher who slashed .333/.413/.478 at Double-A, struck out just 62 times and played more-than-passable defense. The Cubs will add him to their 40-man roster this offseason, and if he stays he’ll move to Triple-A while the team figures out whether Kyle Schwarber can catch full time and what to do with Miguel Montero. As far as problems go, it’s a pretty good one.
Honorable mention: Austin Barnes (AAA, Los Angeles Dodgers), Andrew Knapp (AA/A+, Philadelphia), Jacob Nottingham (A+/A, Oakland/Houston), Gary Sanchez (AAA/AA, New York Yankees), Chance Sisco (AA/A+, Baltimore).

1B: A.J. Reed
Honorable mention: Jake Bauers (AA/A+, Tampa Bay), Cody Bellinger (A+, Los Angeles Dodgers), Josh Bell (AAA/AA, Pittsburgh), Bobby Bradley (A, Cleveland), Balbino Fuenmayor (AAA/AA, Kansas City), Trey Mancini (AA/A+, Baltimore), Jesus Montero (AAA, Seattle), Dominic Smith (A+, New York Mets), Tyler White (AAA/AA, Houston).

2B: Yoan Moncada (A, Boston) – Over the first 25 games of his minor league career, the 20-year-old hit .200 and looked lost. Only because Boston paid $63 million to sign him in the spring was there any concern; Moncada hadn’t played organized baseball in well over a year after defecting from Cuba, and the rust was caked on strong. Since then, he has looked like one of the best prospects in baseball – soon enough, perhaps, the best. In 56 games since, Moncada has hit .310/.415/.500 with 45 stolen bases in 48 attempts. Said one scout: “He’s the closest thing to [Mike] Trout I’ve seen.” Where the switch-hitting Moncada plays remains a question – he committed 23 errors at second, including three in a playoff game over the weekend – but wherever it is, scouts agree: He’s going to be great.
Honorable mention: Brandon Drury (AAA/AA, Arizona), Micah Johnson (AAA, Chicago White Sox), Tony Kemp (AAA/AA, Houston), Forrest Wall (A, Colorado).

Corey Seager is already up with the Dodgers. (AP)
Corey Seager is already up with the Dodgers. (AP)

SS: Corey Seager (AAA/AA, Los Angeles Dodgers) – Whether he ends up at shortstop or third base, Seager is exactly what the Dodgers need: an impact bat at a discount price. His production allows them to spend money on free agents or trade for high-cost players without much recourse, and for him to sit atop an enormous list of potential impact shortstops still left in the minor leagues even with the promotions of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Addison Russell speaks to Seager’s talent. The Dodgers will attest: After hitting .293/.344/.487 across two minor league levels, he’s raking during their current five-game winning streak and should find himself in the middle of a playoff run while he acclimates to the big leagues.
Honorable mention: Ozzie Albies (A, Atlanta), Tim Anderson (AA, Chicago White Sox), Orlando Arcia (AA, Milwaukee), Christian Arroyo (A+, San Francisco), Javier Baez (AAA, Chicago Cubs), Franklin Barreto (A+, Oakland), Gavin Cecchini (AA, New York Mets), J.P. Crawford (AA/A+, Philadelphia), Isan Diaz (Rookie, Arizona), Javier Guerra (A, Boston), Jorge Mateo (A+/A, New York Yankees), Chad Pinder (AA, Oakland), Trevor Story (AAA/AA, Colorado), Gleyber Torres (A, Chicago Cubs), Trea Turner (AAA/AA, Washington).

3B: Richie Shaffer (AAA/AA, Tampa Bay) – While Shaffer probably ends up in a corner-outfield spot or perhaps first base, his right-handed power is something the Rays could desperately use. After two underwhelming seasons, Shaffer showed signs of pop last year and this season turned into a monster after a promotion to Triple-A, slugging .582 there and earning time with the Rays. Considering what he did after his first big league home run, Shaffer might’ve merited inclusion on this team even if he hadn’t hit .267/.357/.539. The combination made the 24-year-old a shoo-in.
Honorable mention: Matt Chapman (A+, Oakland), Rafael Devers (A, Boston),Joey Gallo (AAA/AA, Texas), J.D. Davis (A+, Houston), Ryan McMahon (A+, Colorado), Colin Moran (AA, Houston), Austin Riley (Rookie, Atlanta).

OF: Lewis Brinson (AAA/AA/A+, Texas)
OF: Brett Phillips (AA/A+, Milwaukee)
OF: Max Kepler (AA, Minnesota)
Of all the great talents who have inhabited Rangers minor league outfields the last few seasons, Brinson has been perhaps the least hyped. Nomar Mazara is a star, and most agree he’s the best outfielder in the minor leagues. Nick Williams could win a batting title, and he was a centerpiece of the deal that sent Cole Hamels to Texas. Brinson hung in the background before letting his manifold tools loose and jumping two levels to the cusp of the big leagues. He’s crushing the ball at Triple-A Round Rock, pushing his season line to .332/.403/.601, good for anyone, particularly so for a centerfielder who doesn’t turn 22 until next May.

Phillips, 21, is another product of the Jeff Luhnow draft machine, taken by Houston in the sixth round of 2012 out of high school in Florida. He emerged last season with a tantalizing power-speed combination in center field, and he continued this year as the main piece going to the Brewers in the Carlos Gomez trade. Scouts are divided on Phillips; some believe he’s a star and others a corner outfielder who might not hit enough. None quibble with the production this season: .309/.374/.527 with 34 doubles, 14 triples and 16 home runs. Presuming Domingo Santana, the other big bat who joined Phillips in the deal, can’t stay in center field, the job looks wide open for Phillips to win sometime next season.

Kepler is among the most fascinating players in baseball, a 22-year-old who grew up in Germany as the son of two professional ballet dancers, spurned a soccer career and blossomed this season into an intriguing prospect: a 6-foot-4 center fielder with four tools developed and a fifth ready to. Kepler hit .322/.416/.531 at Double-A, and, said one scout: “The power is about to come. He made huge strides from April to August.” That Kepler led the Southern League in OPS by more than 50 points and still is getting better only adds to the Twins’ young hitting riches with Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton
Honorable mention: Anthony Alford (A+/A, Toronto), Derek Fisher (A+/A, Houston), Clint Frazier (A+, Cleveland), Stone Garrett (A-, Miami), Travis Jankowski (AAA/AA, San Diego), Nomar Mazara (AAA/AA, Texas), Billy McKinney (AA/A+, Chicago Cubs), Austin Meadows (AA/A+, Pittsburgh), Gabriel Mejia (A-/Rookie, Cleveland), Peter O’Brien (AAA, Arizona), Jordan Patterson (AA/A+, Colorado), Harold Ramirez (A+, Pittsburgh), Victor Robles (A-/Rookie, Washington), Domingo Santana (AAA, Milwaukee), Mallex Smith (AAA/AA, Atlanta), Raimel Tapia (A+, Colorado), Max White (A/A-, Colorado), Jesse Winker (AA, Cincinnati), Nick Williams (AA, Philadelphia), Bradley Zimmer (AA/A+, Cleveland).

SP: Blake Snell
SP: Tyler Glasnow (AAA/AA, Pittsburgh)
SP: Alex Reyes (AA/A+, St. Louis)
SP: Jose Berrios (AAA/AA, Minnesota)
SP: Luke Weaver (A+, St. Louis)
Glasnow was last year’s Pitcher of the Year and did nothing to give away the award this year aside from not being Snell. One of the great draft steals of the last decade – the Pirates took Glasnow, 22, in the fifth round in 2011 – he posted a 2.39 ERA and struck out 136 in 109 1/3 innings. Glasnow’s numbers in four minor league seasons: 383 1/3 innings, 228 hits, 501 strikeouts, 2.07 ERA. He should join the Pirates’ rotation by midseason next year, and if he can throw strikes, the 6-foot-8 right-hander could be one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Tyler Glasnow could be up with the Pirates next season. (AP)
Tyler Glasnow could be up with the Pirates next season. (AP)

Over 101 1/3 innings this year, Reyes struck out 151 batters, an absurd rate that says far more about him than the pedestrian 5-7 record he put up. Every scout asked brought up Reyes’ name, his 100-mph fastball having seared itself in their minds much as it did hitters’. The Cardinals being the Cardinals, they can take their time with the 21-year-old right-hander and let him develop at Double-A and Triple-A for another season. The only thing that can change that timetable is his stuff, and it has a tendency to make people do unfamiliar things.

Berrios is a short right-hander, maybe 6-foot tall, and that sort of thing scares scouts. And yet a number said Berrios was the best pitcher they saw this season, and unlike those before him on the list, the Twins had no problem letting him stretch out. Berrios, 21, threw 166 1/3 innings this season, struck out 175 and walked 38. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and the command of his slider and changeup are unmatched in the minor leagues. Next season, the Twins finally will get the power arm they’ve been missing since the days of Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano.

Weaver is one of the elder statesmen of the team at 22 and at the lowest level. Scouts thought the Cardinals overdrafted him with the 27th pick in the first round last season, and in his first full season Weaver tossed 105 1/3 innings of 1.62 ERA ball. His stuff doesn’t overwhelm like the others, and yet one scout saw him run his fastball up to 96 and sit around 92-93. The changeup is the money pitch, and if Weaver can turn his curveball into more than a show-me effort, the Cardinals will have another major league-quality starter. Perhaps you’ve heard that one before.
Honorable mention: Aaron Blair (AAA/AA, Arizona), Matt Boyd (AAA/AA, Detroit), Jose De Leon (AA/A+, Los Angeles Dodgers), Jacob Faria (AA/A+, Tampa Bay), Jack Flaherty (A, St. Louis), Michael Fulmer (AA/A+, Detroit/New York Mets), Amir Garrett (A+, Cincinnati), Lucas Giolito (AA/A+, Washington), Austin Gomber (A, St. Louis), Stephen Gonsalves (A+/A, Minnesota), Grant Holmes (A, Los Angeles Dodgers), Brent Honeywell (AA/A+, Tampa Bay), Brian Johnson (AAA, Boston), Erik Johnson (AAA, Chicago White Sox), Jorge Lopez (AA, Milwaukee), Steven Matz (AAA/AA, New York Mets), Frank Montas (AA, Chicago White Sox), Joe Musgrove (AA/A+/A, Houston), Sean Newcomb (AA/A+/A, Los Angeles Angels), Adam Plutko (AA/A+, Cleveland), Antonio Senzatela (A+, Colorado), Justus Sheffield (A, Cleveland), Cy Sneed (A+/A, Milwaukee), Julio Urias (AAA/AA, Los Angeles Dodgers).

RP: Mychal Givens (AA, Baltimore)
He’s been so good in his 19 innings for the big league club – 1.42 ERA, 22 strikeouts, two walks – that it almost feels like a cop-out to place Givens on this team. Except in his 35 appearances, he threw 57 1/3 innings, struck out 79 and flummoxed minor league hitters with his sidewinding delivery in a similar way to how he’s confounding big leaguers now. Givens, 25, spent the first three seasons of his career as a shortstop. The last three as a pitcher got him where he is now, and his right arm should keep him there for a long time.
Honorable mention: Shawn Armstrong (AAA, Cleveland), Silvino Bracho (AA, Arizona), Oliver Drake (AAA, Baltimore), Carl Edwards Jr. (AAA/AA, Chicago Cubs), Cody Ege (AAA/AA/A+, Miami), Paul Fry (AA/A+, Seattle), Joe Jimenez (A, Detroit), Brendan McCurry (AA/A+, Oakland), Akeel Morris (AA/A+, New York Mets).

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