There are a few rules for the 2016 Yahoo Sports All-Minor League Team.
First: You need to perform. This isn’t a repository for players living on reputation or potential. It’s a reward for the best 2016s.
Next: Age matters. Nobody cares about geezers crushing in Triple-A or guys five years older than the rest of the league tearing up A ball.
Finally: This is exclusively a list for full-season prospects, with the exception of one White Sox player, who was pretty much their only deserving one.
Oh, and that’s another thing: There is a bit of participation-trophyitis going on here. No fan wants to feel like his or her organization’s farm system is so bereft it can’t place a single player on the team. So while it was a struggle, even the Los Angeles Angels are represented here.
While conversations with 20 scouts, executives and analysts with strong knowledge of the minor leagues reinforced the obvious – yes, the Angels’ system really is that bad, and the Diamondbacks’ and Orioles’ aren’t far behind – they also revealed some lesser-known players and breakout stars. They rewarded the Astros, who lead the team with eight players, along with the Yankees (seven), the Indians, Dodgers and Padres (six) and the Red Sox, Braves and Pirates (five).
This doesn’t make their farm systems the best. Milwaukee and Colorado are considered among the industry’s finest, and each has four. No, this is simply a head nod to 108 of the best players among the 5,000 or so who play minor league ball every year, a recognition of the top 2 percent. And also the top two, period, one Player of the Year and one Pitcher of the Year, one with superstar written all over him and the other who’s rather unlikely to make a Top 100 list this offseason. It’s best to start there and work our way position by position, with the best player at each honored and the rest worthy of a mention.
Player of the Year: Alex Bregman, SS (AAA/AA, Houston) – When draft day arrived in 2015, the Houston Astros hoped against hope that Bregman, a shortstop from LSU, would drop to the No. 2 pick and allow them to forget about the mess of a year earlier when fears over elbow troubles kept them from signing the top overall pick in the draft, Brady Aiken. Ultimately, his Tommy John surgery vindicated their concerns, and when Arizona nabbed Dansby Swanson with the first pick, Bregman fell into the Astros’ lap. All he’s done since is hit, and between Double-A and Triple-A this year Bregman put up a .306/.406/.580 slash line. After a 2-for-38 start in the big leagues, Bregman hit .310/.353/.582 and flashed the tools of a star. He won’t play shortstop in the big leagues – that’s Carlos Correa’s territory – but whether he ends up at third base or left field, Bregman is an All-Star waiting to happen and should hold down a spot in the middle of the Astros’ lineup for at least the next six seasons.
Pitcher of the Year: Brock Stewart (AAA/AA/A+, Los Angeles Dodgers) – An infielder at Illinois State, Stewart impressed scouts with his arm as a junior and has done nothing to dissuade them from that intuition since. In 21 minor league starts over three levels, Stewart struck out 129 and walked 19 in 121 innings of 1.79 ERA ball. Opponents managed to hit just .200 off Stewart. The dominance hasn’t quite translated in his six big league starts, and Stewart projects more as a back-end big league starter, but with a 93-mph fastball, a hard slider and a changeup, the 24-year-old right-hander has plenty to lock down a spot in a Dodgers rotation that soon will be populated with arms from the pitching plethora of perhaps baseball’s deepest system.
C: Francisco Mejia (A+/A, Cleveland) – The switch-hitting 20-year-old was the centerpiece of the Jonathan Lucroy deal that never was – and it may be the best deal the Indians didn’t make. He hit .342/.382/.514 in a breakout season that included a 50-game hitting streak, and with Mejia likely to start at Double-A next season, he could be just one Yan Gomes cold streak away from joining an Indians team that will happily welcome him into a lineup that proved better than expected this season.
Honorable mention: Austin Hedges (AAA, San Diego), Yermin Mercedes (A+/A, Baltimore), Tom Murphy (AAA, Colorado), Chance Sisco (AAA/AA, Baltimore), Garrett Stubbs (AA/A+, Houston)
1B: Rhys Hoskins (AA, Philadelphia) – One half of the Reading Fightin’ Phils wrecking crew, the 23-year-old Hoskins took advantage of the bandbox that is FirstEnergy Stadium to whack 25 of his 38 home runs. He’s not exactly a top prospect – at least four, and perhaps all seven, of the honorable mentions are considered better future major leaguers than him – and his 14 errors this year at first base scream DH in a league without one. Hoskins’ power is undeniable, though, and with Tommy Joseph all that stands between him and the big leagues, Hoskins’ opportunity may come sooner than later.
Honorable mention: Josh Bell (AAA, Pittsburgh), Cody Bellinger (AAA/AA, Los Angeles Dodgers), Casey Gillaspie (AAA/AA, Tampa Bay), A.J. Reed (AAA, Houston), Dominic Smith (AA, New York Mets), Rowdy Tellez (AA, Toronto), Dan Vogelbach (AAA, Seattle/Chicago Cubs)
2B: Yoan Moncada (AA/A+, Boston) – Even if Moncada wasn’t ready for the big leagues – and even if he won’t play second base there, with Dustin Pedroia locked into the job – Moncada’s .294/.407/.511 season with 15 home runs and 45 stolen bases made the Red Sox rightfully giddy. Whether he’s worth the $63 million Boston paid for his rights remains to be seen, but Moncada is strong, he’s fast, he’s got a good eye and he’s versatile enough to shift to third base without issue. He’s almost certainly going to be the top prospect in baseball heading into next season, and a Red Sox lineup with him and fellow headlining prospect Andrew Benintendi to go along with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Hanley Ramirez and Pedroia positions Boston to be an annual World Series contender.
Honorable mention: Eliezer Alvarez (A, St. Louis), Carlos Asuaje (AAA, San Diego), Willie Calhoun (AA, Los Angeles Dodgers), Travis Demeritte (A+, Atlanta/Texas), Ian Happ (AA/A+, Chicago Cubs), Max Schrock, (A+/A, Oakland/Washington), Luis Urias (AAA/A+, San Diego)
SS: Alex Bregman
Honorable mention: Willy Adames (AA, Tampa Bay), Ozzie Albies (AAA/AA, Atlanta), Franklin Barreto (AAA/AA, Oakland), Gavin Cecchini (AAA, New York Mets), Yu-Cheng Chang (A+, Cleveland), Isan Diaz (A, Milwaukee), Mauricio Dubon (AA/A+, Boston), Kevin Newman (AA/A+, Pittsburgh), Brendan Rogers (A, Colorado), Amed Rosario (AA/A+, New York Mets)
3B: Ryon Healy (AAA/AA, Oakland) – Considering the overwhelming bounty at third base in the major leagues – Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Kyle Seager, Matt Carpenter, Evan Longoria, Anthony Rendon, Justin Turner, Jake Lamb, Todd Frazier and more – it’s a bit surprising the minor leagues are so thin. Healy is threatening to join that list of big leaguers with a September star turn that has seen him hit .391/.435/.656, besting an awfully nice minor league season in which he slashed .326/.382/.558. Maybe he’s a third baseman long-term. Perhaps he ends up at first. Either way, the bat looks like it’s going to play, and the A’s could use some good sticks as they rebuild.
Honorable mention: Jeimer Candelario (AAA, Chicago), Matt Chapman (AAA/AA, Oakland), Rafael Devers (A+, Boston), Yandy Diaz (AAA/AA, Cleveland), Hunter Dozier (AAA/AA, Kansas City), Joey Gallo (AAA, Texas)
OF: Dylan Cozens (AA, Philadelphia)
OF: Eloy Jimenez (A, Chicago Cubs)
OF: Brandon Nimmo (AAA, New York Mets)
Cozens is the other half of the Reading Bash Brothers, and his 40 homers led the minor leagues. He was a classic Phillies draft pick: monster tools, incredible upside, immense bust potential. After four years of tantalizing with his abilities, Cozens this year used his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame to hit .276/.350/.591 and even added 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts. He’s a freakish athlete, good enough to play center field 10 games this season, but probably a right fielder in the long haul. At 22 years old, he’s not far away, either. As with Hoskins, the Phillies only hope he’s more Ryan Howard than Darin Ruf, who in 2012 hit 38 home runs in Reading only to, well, end up as Darin Ruf.
Jimenez, 19, is the youngest player on the team and may well wind up a top-10 prospect at this point next season. He, too, is a leviathan: 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds that sold the Cubs on spending $2.8 million to sign him the same year they did Gleyber Torres, the main prospect who went to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal. Jimenez hit .329/.369/.532 in his first full season this year, and while his strikeout rate isn’t alarming, an uptick in walks would bode well. The Cubs aren’t going to fret too much. Jimenez is the sort of prospect they can sit back and let grow as their major league depth allows them.
Five years after they drafted him with the 13th overall pick out of Wyoming, Nimmo did the sorts of things the Mets hoped he might as he grew into greater competition. Yes, his .352/.423/.541 line this year was juiced by his home park (Las Vegas) and environment (Pacific Coast League), but Nimmo’s abilities offer at least a glimmer of hope that he’ll be ready for big league at-bats sometime soon. At 23, Nimmo has time to develop, and whether his future is in center field or one of the corners, the Mets’ old outfield should open up a spot within the next year or two that gives him the opportunity to seize playing time.
Honorable mention: Greg Allen (AA/A+, Cleveland), Harrison Bader (AAA/AA, St. Louis), Andrew Benintendi (AA/A+, Boston), David Dahl (AAA/AA, Colorado), Mitch Haniger (AAA/AA, Arizona), Michael Hermosillo (A+/A, Los Angeles Angels), Manuel Margot (AAA, San Diego), Austin Meadows (AAA/AA, Pittsburgh), Tyler O’Neill (AA, Seattle), Ramon Laureano (AA/A+, Houston), Roman Quinn (AA, Philadelphia), Hunter Renfroe (AAA, San Diego), Victor Robles (A+/A, Washington), Christin Stewart (AA/A+, Detroit), Myles Straw (A+/A, Houston), Raimel Tapia (AAA/AA, Colorado)
SP: Brock Stewart
SP: Yohander Mendez (AAA/AA/A+, Texas)
SP: Tyler Glasnow (AAA, Pittsburgh)
SP: Stephen Gonsalves (AA/A+, Minnesota)
SP: Dietrich Enns (AAA/AA, New York Yankees)
Mendez was part of the Rangers’ famous international class of 2011, which already has delivered two key everyday players (Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara) and soon should add another to their rotation. After slow-playing his development for the last four seasons, the Rangers ramped up the 21-year-old left-hander’s track this season and watched him jump from High-A to the big leagues. Along the way, Mendez held opposing hitters to a .184 batting average, struck out more than a batter an inning and established himself as among the best left-handed starters in the minor leagues. The big weapon is his changeup, a monster offering that will look awfully nice alongside Cole Hamels’ on Texas’ staff.
Glasnow, 23, is a regular in these parts, making his third consecutive team with a mixture of the usual: lots of strikeouts and next to no hits. Opponents batted .176 against him, and he struck out 144 in 116 2/3 innings of 1.93 ERA baseball. In his minor league career, Glasnow has punched out 645 in 500 innings. His Achilles remains walks, and that – well, that and service time – is the only thing that can keep him from winning a spot in the Pirates’ rotation coming out of spring training next year. As long as the 23-year-old Glasnow’s arm is healthy, he is too good for Triple-A and ready to prove himself good enough for the big leagues.
The 6-foot-5 Gonsalves is one of a bounty of live arms in the minor leagues for the Twins, who may need pitching even more than they do a GM to run their team. After slipping to the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Gonsalves has done nothing but succeed, with a 2.13 career minor league ERA. This year did nothing to diminish that, as he improved his ERA at High-A by nearly a half-point after jumping to Double-A and putting up a 1.82 ERA with 89 strikeouts and just one home run allowed in 74 1/3 innings. Along with Jose Berrios, Tyler Jay, Kohl Stewart and Fernando Romero, Gonsalves will help anchor one of the best starting-pitching collections in the minor leagues.
Enns is more Stewart than the middle three, all of whom are considered top-notch prospects. At 25 years old, Enns is a bit of a grandpa in the minor leagues. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he doesn’t exactly embody the scouting ideal of a pitcher. He’s left-handed, though, and that makes up for a lot of faults. He’ll crack the big leagues at some point next year, so long as he doesn’t crater from his 135 innings of 1.73 ERA ball this season. More than anything, he’s one of the close-to-the-majors Yankees starters who can be thrown out as cannon fodder as New York rebuilds on the fly and tries to figure out who’s a keeper and who isn’t.
Honorable mention: Domingo Acevedo (A+/A, New York Yankees), Chance Adams (AA/A+, New York Yankees), Kolby Allard (A/A-, Atlanta), Anthony Banda (AAA/AA, Arizona), Tyler Beede (AA, San Francisco), Jose Berrios (AAA, Minnesota), Phil Bickford (A+/A, Milwaukee/San Francisco), Luis Castillo (AA/A+, Miami), Trevor Clifton (A, Chicago Cubs), Jose DeLeon (AAA, Los Angeles Dodgers), Chase De Jong (AAA/AA, Los Angeles Dodgers), Erick Fedde (AA/A+ Washington), Amir Garrett (AAA/AA, Cincinnati), Lucas Giolito (AAA/AA, Washington), Luiz Gohara (A/A-, Seattle), Chad Green (AAA, New York Yankees), Josh Hader (AAA/AA, Milwaukee), Alec Hansen (A/Rookie, Chicago White Sox), Brent Honeywell (AA/A+, Tampa Bay), Mitch Keller (A+/A, Pittsburgh), Michael Kopech (A+, Boston), Dinelson Lamet (AAA/AA/A+, San Diego), Reynaldo Lopez (AAA/AA, Washington), Zack Littell (A+/A, Seattle), Francis Martes (AA, Houston), Triston McKenzie (A/A-, Cleveland), Jordan Montgomery (AAA/AA, New York Yankees), Joe Palumbo (A, Texas), David Paulino (AAA/AA, Houston), Angel Perdomo (A, Toronto), Dillon Peters (AA/A+, Miami), Sean Reid-Foley (A+/A, Toronto), Fernando Romero (A+/A, Minnesota), Josh Sborz (AA/A+, Los Angeles Dodgers), Justus Sheffield (AA/A+, New York Yankees), Mike Soroka (A, Atlanta), Luke Weaver (AAA/AA, St. Louis), Patrick Weigel (AA/A+, Atlanta), Brandon Woodruff (AA/A+, Milwaukee)
RP: Joe Jimenez (AAA/AA/A+, Detroit) – Jimenez is a big-bodied, ultra-hard-throwing right-hander out of the “Haven’t We Seen This Before?” department. Calling him Bruce Rondon 2.0 isn’t entirely fair, but it’s understandable considering their shared dominance. First Jimenez pitched 17 scoreless games in High-A. Then he moved to Double-A, where he was marginally more hittable but still dominant. By the end of the season, he was carving up Triple-A hitters just the same, finishing with 78 strikeouts against 17 walks in 53 2/3 innings. His ERA was 1.51. He was 30 for 31 in save chances. Next time you see him will probably be in a Tigers uniform.
Honorable mention: Shawn Armstrong (AAA, Cleveland), J.T. Chargois (AAA/AA, Minnesota), Jonathan Holder (AAA/AA/A+, New York Yankees), James Hoyt (AAA, Houston)
More MLB coverage on Yahoo Sports: