The 2017 MiLB season is winding down, but it’s never too late to look ahead to 2018. Here is a dozen guys to keep a close eye on next season
Juan Soto, OF, WAS
Soto was on pace for a massive breakout year, hitting .360/.427/.523 with 8 XBH and a 10/8 BB/K in 23 games before an ankle injury. During rehabbing, his wrist also became an issue and needed surgery to remove his hamate in late July. Then last Monday, a tweaked hamstring effectively ended his season. After a season loaded with injuries, Soto didn’t shoot up prospect lists like he’s capable of, but his breakout is right around the corner. With a full season of at-bats in 2018, projecting a Soto as a top 10 prospect going into 2019 isn’t be out of the question.
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK
Luzardo saw his draft stock drop in last year’s draft after having Tommy John surgery in March 2016, despite being one of the top high school lefties in the class. Luzardo spent all of last year and the start of 2017 recovering, and with his first pitch back in live action in late June, he clocked 98 mph with his fastball and sat 94-96 rest of the outing (but he typically sits in the 92-94 range). His curveball and slider can both flash good, while the changeup can flash plus. Luzardo’s stuff is all the way back after Tommy John and he could be in for a huge year in 2018. Should he one day reach the Majors, Luzardo would be MLB’s first Peruvian player.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, BAL
A former 1st rounder in 2013, the Orioles farmhand had Tommy John Surgery in July 2016, as is tradition with all good Baltimore prospects. But before the surgery, Harvey was widely considered a top 50 prospect in baseball. Now fully healthy, Harvey’s fastball is back into the 93-96 mph range, and his stuff, including a plus curveball and developing changeup, is supposedly still there. Harvey will now have entire offseason for strength and conditioning, and could start next season in AA. To this point, Harvey’s development track is actually very similar to fellow Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy, who also had TJS and is now in the midst of a 3+ WAR pitching season for the Orioles.
Chris Paddack, RHP, SD
Paddack was drafted by the Marlins in the 8th round of the 2015 draft and then was acquired by SD from MIA in Fernando Rodney deal. Paddack only pitched 2 games in SD before needing Tommy John Surgery, but up until that point, he was making a mockery of Low-A ball with a 0.85 ERA and 71 strikeouts in just 42.1 IP between SD and MIA. He was able to mow down hitters thanks to a low-90s fastball and a plus-plus changeup. He also has a curveball that will need to improve to reach his ceiling, but according to Baseball America, the curve had progressed in 2016, “by finding consistent release point, giving it increased depth.” Paddack has also experimented with a slider in the past. He began throwing bullpen sessions in late July and remains on track to be ready for the start of next season. If Paddack comes back strong, watch out.
Nick Allen, SS, OAK
Taken by Oakland in the 3rd round in 2017, Allen may have been my favorite pick of the entire draft. To say that he is amazing at shortstop is an understatement. He makes it look extremely easy all the time, and defensively there is no hindering tool; he’s got speed, range, hands, and an arm. What he does need to improve on, however, is his hitting. Allen hit .254/.322/.326 in 35 games in Rookie ball after being drafted, which isn’t too shabby, but could be better. Allen will never hit for any power, standing at 5’9”, but with his defensive profile, he doesn’t need to. Allen needs to continue to work on hitting and begin to put the ball into play more. If he can do that, and maintain his defensive mastery, he’s a future starting shortstop in the Majors.
Seuly Matias, OF, KC
After a scorching hot 28 games where he hit .306/.358/.541, Matias had a rough time with his final 29 games, dropping his line on the year to .243/.297/.423 in Rookie ball. Matias is filled out for 19 years old, and built like young a football player. He profiles as your prototypical right fielder with big power and a plus-plus cannon for an arm. He has currently has massive strikeout issues, likely due to a notable problem with pitch recognition, but it can be worked on. I asked Ben Badler from Baseball America what a Seuly Matias ceiling looks like, and Ben told me he could be a “right fielder with a power-driven skill set who hits 25-30 home runs if everything clicks.”
Resly Lineras, LHP, TB
Lineras had quite the season, sporting a 2.35 ERA with 60 K in 61.1 IP at SS Hudson Valley, including a 1.50 ERA in his last 7 starts. He added a tick to his fastball this season and is now around 90 MPH with movement. But with remaining physical projection very apparent (listed at 6’2” 170lbs), it could tick up even higher as he bulks. Lineras has a curveball that shows above average that he has a very good feel for, and a changeup to round out his arsenal. The now 19-year-old should start the year in Low-A in 2018, hopefully with more mass and more velocity on his fastball.
Bobby Dalbec, 3B, BOS
After hitting .386/.427/.674 in short season ball after being drafted in 2016, Dalbec has had quite the disappointing 2017. Between Low-A and a few rehab games at the Rookie level, he has hit just .248/.347/.424 in 2017 while carrying a 37% strikeout rate. A wrist injury sidelined Dalec for some of the season, and there is speculation that the wrist is still bothering him as he plays. In this regard, 2018 will be a very telling year. However, another reason for the intrigue leads us back to his college days at Arizona, where he was a two way player and had a decently successful pitching career, starting Game 1 of the College World Series in 2016. If the wrist injury is not the source of Dalbec’s down year and he continues to struggle next season, the Red Sox could elect to try Dalbec on the mound again.
Luis Almanzar, SS, SD
Almanzar didn’t turn any heads in short season ball, hitting just .230/.299/.299 in 67 games, but at the age of a high school junior, asking him to do anything remarkable would be unfair. All in all, Almanzar is still the same talented hitter that made him the #2 international free agent signing last season. He has great bat speed, a relatively quiet swing, strong wrists, and he could be in for a very impressive year hitting if he settles into a level. Some speculate a move off shortstop could be in his future, but for now, his arm is enough to keep him there. Almanzar will be just 18 years old in 2018.
Mason Thompson, RHP, SD
Thompson is very interesting player to keep an eye on, mostly because of his pedigree. In 2014, he was considered the top Texas pitching prospect in the nation, ahead of now top prospect Forrest Whitley, before blowing out his elbow. Two years later, he was drafted by the Padres in the 3rd round for an over slot bonus of $1.75M, over double the slot value. He stayed back in extended spring training to work on strengthening, but still ended up on the DL with a shoulder issue by late July after just 7 starts, ending his 2017. Thompson’s injury history is beginning to get a bit lengthy, but he comes equipped with an easy 92-93 MPH fastball, a plus curveball, and a changeup that has shown flashes. If Thompson can spend all (or most) of 2018 off the shelf, he could be in for a big year.
Austin Sodders, LHP, DET
The Tigers 7th round pick from 2016 put together a nice season, sporting a 1.81 ERA and 122:30 K:BB in 139 IP between A/A+. Sodders’ fastball comes in at 87-91 mph, but there is good movement on it, deception in his delivery, and a command profile that has been able to carry him this season. As Fangraphs noted back in June, Sodders began throwing more a curveball this year, as a result of a lackluster slider that almost morphed into a cutter as it came out of his hand, and he’s had great results with it. Sodders should begin next season at Double-A, where he’ll be test for the first time in his pro career.
Arquimedes Gamboa, SS, PHI
Gamboa was signed out of Venezuela as the #8 international free agent in 2014. Gamboa is a very talented fielder with good hands, plus speed, great range and a strong arm. His aptitude of the position relegated another possible Lakewood shortstop, Daniel Brito, to second base full time (where, admittedly, is probably where Brito profiles better). But up until this season, Gamboa was never thought of as a hitter. As this season went on, Baseball Prospectus has noted his “improved selectivity, which let him unleash gap power.” Gamboa finished the season with a .320/.375/.525 line in his last 32 games, and if he can continue to make progress with the bat in 2018, he has a shot to be a major leaguer down the road.