Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World players celebrate after defeating USA during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
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As the World Series is underway to close out the MLB season, it’s good to look back at the play for the season. Who were the best in the minor leagues in 2016?
This is the in-depth effort of Benjamin Chase as he pours over thousands and thousands of innings of MiLB.tv coverage, reviewing as many minor leaguers that he can get his eyes on. Today’s post will feature the best hitting performances in 2016 in the minor leagues.
Ben scoured the minors, reviewing the stats, taking into consideration the league context and park context as well, not just raw numbers. Some preference will be given to guys who performed at advanced minor leagues if the numbers are close in general.
For hitters, a player needed to have 300 plate appearances total in the minor leagues to be considered for this list. Performance at the major league level was not taken into consideration at all. By no means is this intended as a comprehensive list of all excellent performers at each position, but just a list of the guys that I considered for the top spot.
Before we head into the list, a disclaimer – this is not a list of the best prospects, so if a guy who is a top 10 rated player on national lists didn’t have the stats that someone else did, he won’t be here. Numbers are the only thing that matter to getting on the list. The only time outside factors mattered was in selecting the final representative at each position, when factors like ballpark, league, age, and other factors were considered.
We’ll kick things off with the guys toting the tools of ignorance and the choice at catcher!
The Nationals originally signed Mercedes out of the Dominican Republic, and he spent three seasons with their Dominican Summer League team, hitting .296/.373/.383 with 2 home runs over 421 plate appearances. By the third season, he had been moved off of catcher by the Nationals, before they released him after the 2013 season.
Mercedes spent the 2014 season with multiple independent leagues, and he found his power stroke, hitting 17 home runs over 250 plate appearances with a 1.119 OPS. He was playing primarily third base, but also catcher and even pitched due to his strong arm.
The Orioles signed Mercedes and he debuted with their low-A club in the South Atlantic League in late May of 2015, hitting .272/.302/.456 over 255 plate appearances.
Mercedes returned to Delmarva to start 2016, earning a promotion to the Orioles’ high-A team in the Carolina League. He hit .345/.404/.570 over 500 plate appearances with 31 doubles and 20 home runs.
Mercedes made an adjustment to his swing that has allowed him to add loft and really drive the ball well. Mercedes has an incredibly strong arm, but his other skills behind the plate are lacking, as indicated by his 24 passed balls in 2016. The Orioles may look to move him off the position, but for 2016, he gets this spot.
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World pitcher Adalberto Mejia (right) celebrates with catcher Francisco Mejia (left) after defeating USA during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres, AAA, .326/.353/.597/.951, 21 HR, 334 PA Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians, A/A+, .342/.382/.514/.896, 50-game hitting streak Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies, AAA, .327/.361/.647/1.008, 19 home runs, 322 PA
Sep 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; From left to right Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and top prospects pitcher Ben Lively and outfielder Dylan Cozens and first baseman Rhys Hoskins prior to a game against the Chicago White Sox at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Hoskins was originally the 5th round selection of the Phillies in the 2014 draft and the big (6’4, 225 pounds) right-handed first baseman has done nothing but hit since coming into the system.
This year, he and teammate Dylan Cozens exploited the very friendly confines of the Reading ballpark, considered one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the minor leagues.
Even taking his favorable ballpark into consideration, Hoskins’ season was tremendous. In nearly any other season 38 home runs would easily lead the minor leagues, but instead he finished second to his teammate.
Hoskins isn’t just a product of his hitting environment, as he owns a .288/.372/.516 line throughout his minor league career, not terribly far off of what he did this season. In 2015, he hit 36 doubles and 17 home runs, so the power was not a mirage of the Reading park by any means.
Hoskins also brings excellent pitch recognition for a guy with his slugging ability, keeping his strikeout rate around 20% (21.2% in 2016) and his walk rate over 10% (12.1% in 2016).
With Ryan Howard gone, the future of the organization at first base is open. Tommy Joseph hit for power with the big league club, but his .257 batting average and .308 on base won’t ensure him any future at the position. Hoskins could make a legit push for the 2017 opening day role, but will most likely get his feet wet in AAA until he forces his way onto the major league roster.
Feb 29, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Dan Vogelbach poses for a portrait during photo day at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, AA/AAA, .271/.365/.507/.872, 26 HR, 20 years old Dylan Moore, Texas Rangers/Atlanta Braves, A/A+, .269/.379/.441/.820, 14 HR, 42 SB Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays, AA, .297/.387/.530/.917, 23 HR Dan Vogelbach, Chicago Cubs/Seattle Mariners, AAA, .292/.417/.505/.923, 23 HR
Oct 19, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Surprise Saguaros third baseman Yoan Moncada of the Boston Red Sox during an Arizona Fall League game against the Scottsdale Scorpions at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Stats: .294/.407/.511/.918, 50 extra base hits, 45 stolen bases, 72/124 BB/K, 491 plate appearances
The sculpted Cuban was signed by the Red Sox in spring of 2015, and he immediately asserted his incredible athleticism, hitting 8 home runs and stealing 49 bases (with only 3 caught stealing!) over 363 plate appearances in the South Atlantic League.
Moncada showed up to spring training looking like he’d spent the offseason working with a power-lifting coach and added good weight without sacrificing athleticism.
His 2016 was really a story of two levels. He started with high-A Salem of the Carolina League, and in 284 plate appearances, he stole 36 bases, flashing incredible speed and athleticism playing second base.
He then moved up to AA Portland in the Eastern League, and the Red Sox worked with him on the fly to do two things – first, to move to third base, and second, to add loft to this swing.
The latter of those objectives proved more successful than the former in the end as Moncada was able to hit 11 home runs in just 207 plate appearances in AA. His transition to third was rocky, and continued in his brief 8-game major league audition.
Moncada may not have his future at second base, but he certainly exhibited enough on the season to be very excited about his future in Boston. Moncada is the rare player who has the ability to hit for average, power, and show speed.
Red Sox fans may have felt a little worry watching Moncada’s struggles defensively at third in the majors, and Moncada did cut his Arizona Fall League time short due to a hamstring injury. Fans should not worry, however, as Moncada has elite athleticism and certainly all the defensive tools you would want from a third baseman.
Mar 12, 2016; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Ozzie Albies (87) loses his helmet whole running to third base during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves, AA/AAA, .292/.358/.420/.778, 49 XBH, 30 SB, 19 years old Arismendy Alcantara, Chicago Cubs/Oakland Athletics, A+/AAA, .278/.325/.467/.792, 11 triples, 32 steals Eliezer Alvarez, St. Louis Cardinals, A, .323/.404/.476/.879, 36 doubles, 36 steals Luis Arraez, Minnesota Twins, A, .347/.386/.444/.830, 21 doubles Willie Calhoun, Los Angeles Dodgers, AA, .254/.318/.469/.788, 27 home runs Travis Demeritte, Texas Rangers/Atlanta Braves, A+, .266/.361/.554/.915, 28 homers, 17 steals Max Schrock, Washington Nationals/Oakland Athletics, A/A+/AA, .331/.373/.449, 32 doubles, 22 steals Luis Urias, San Diego Padres, A+/AAA, .333/.404/.446/.850, 26 doubles
Mar 13, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier (60) throws the ball to first base during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
When the Royals selected Dozier 8th overall in the 2013 draft, many thought that the selection was to save money, and they viewed Dozier as a lesser prospect. Dozier turned heads by immediately hitting, slashing .308/.397/.495 in 317 plate appearances between the Pioneer League and South Atlantic League in his draft season.
His progress was a little more stagnant the next two seasons as he hit .251/.350/.369 in 2015 between high-A and AA and followed that up by hitting .213/.281/.349 in AA in 2015.
Many had begun to write off Dozier coming into 2016 as he had fallen off any prospect lists after making the top 100 for Baseball Prospectus the previous two years. He started the season back in the Texas League, his third year with the team.
Dozier had a notable adjustment to his swing coming into the 2016 season as he aimed to take his prolific line-drive swing to generating more loft. The result was immediate, as Dozier had a .642 slugging percentage with Northwest Arkansas before his promotion to AAA Omaha.
Dozier’s performance certainly didn’t slow down much by moving up to AAA. He was able to launch plenty of doubles while still hitting 15 home runs.
Dozier has always displayed a very good arm at third base and solid hands. His biggest knock at third has always been average instincts at the position, but his arm has made up for that.
The Royals did try Dozier out in the outfield while he was up for a September cup of coffee, which could be a position that he is able to cover in 2017 with Mike Moustakas returning to health for the 2017 season at third base for the Royals.
Oct 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Mets second baseman T.J. Rivera (54) in action during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jeimer Candelario, Chicago Cubs, AA/AAA, .283/.376/.464/.840, 39 doubles Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics, AA/AAA, .237/.328/.519/.847, 36 HR Miguel Gomez, San Francisco Giants, A/A+, .330/.353/.519/.882, 17 HR Manny Olloque, Kansas City, Rookie, .330/.378/.489/.867, 8 HR, 7 SB Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves, Rome, .271/.324/.479/.803, 59 XBH Edwin Rios, Los Angeles Dodgers, A/A+/AA, .301/.341/.567/.908, 27 HR T.J. Rivera, New York Mets, AAA, .353/.393/.516/.909, 31 doubles
Sep 7, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Alex Brregman (2) reacts to bugs flying over the infield in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Selected 2nd overall in the 2015 draft out of LSU, Bregman was expected all along to be a guy who could move fast, but what shape that would take was still up for question coming into 2016. After hitting for gap power and solid speed with good defense between A/high-A, which probably looked like a multi-year process to the majors for Bregman.
Then he came out and was basically nothing like that in 2016. He started with AA Corpus Christi in the Texas League, and he played tremendous defense both at short and third while pounding the ball with 14 home runs over 62 games.
He was promoted to AAA Fresno, but that was only a short stop as he put up an even better OPS in AAA than he did in AA, earning a promotion to Houston after just 18 games and 83 plate appearances, hitting 6 home runs.
While it doesn’t factor into the decision here, it’s also notable that after starting slow at the big league level, Bregman finished with a flurry. He finished the season with a .791 OPS at the big league level, hitting another 8 home runs, giving him 28 on the season, along with 35 doubles between major and minor leagues.
Bregman was played primarily at third base in the major leagues, and while he honestly is possibly a better defender at short than Carlos Correa, Correa is the superstar and won’t be moved off the position until he’s hurting the team by being there, which won’t be for quite some time.
It will be interesting to see where the Astros do use Bregman going forward as he did play some outfield this year with the Astros signing Cuban star Yunieski Gourriel this summer, who has been a third baseman for most of his career.
Bregman ends up leading a very loaded shortstop roster, so much so that his fellow top 2015 selection Dansby Swanson didn’t even merit consideration statistically!
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World infielder Amed Rosario fields a ground ball during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Isan Diaz, Milwaukee Brewers, A, .264/.358/.469/.827, 20 HR, 11 SB Osvaldo Duarte, Houston Astros, A/A+, .265/.310/.434/.744, 44 XBH, 19 SB Mauricio Dubon, Boston Red Sox, A+/AA, .323/.379/.461/.840, 46 XBH, 30 SB Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies, A, .281/.342/.480/.821, 31 2B, 19 HR Amed Rosario, New York Mets, A+/AA, .324/.374/.459/.833, 13 3B, 19 SB
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World player Eloy Jimenez hits a three-run home run in the 9th inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
This list is not about the best “prospect”, instead it focuses purely on the stats. However, there is not a player who added as much helium to his prospect status in 2016 than Eloy Jimenez.
Signed as one of the big money players the Cubs got in their 2013 international spending spree, many believed Jimenez would fill out to eventually be a significant power hitter along with providing solid bat control to give a good average as well.
That “eventually” came quickly as Jimenez played his first full season in 2016 at 19 years old in low-A, and he absolutely dominated the league. He had a .901 OPS.
The stats alone were incredibly impressive, but very possibly the biggest highlight of the season for Jimenez was the Futures Game as part of All-Star weekend in San Diego.
Jimenez got the start for the World team in right field, and he finished the game having gone 2-3 with a home run and 4 RBI. He also made an incredible leaping catch where he tracked a ball to the right field corner and then went up and over the bullpen fence to make the catch in foul territory.
He’s an incredibly electric player that still has some maturity to learn in working a count, sometimes getting a little caught up in the moment and attacking pitches rather than forcing a pitcher to pitch to him. That will certainly come, though, and for not, his skills are going to allow him to max out his statistical profile as he climbs the ladder toward the major leagues.
Oct 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Glendale Desert Dogs outfielder Jason Martin (left) and Ramon Laureano of the Houston Astros during an Arizona Fall League game against the Scottsdale Scorpions at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
If there’s anyone surprised with the success Laureano is having at the Arizona Fall League, they simply didn’t pay attention this season. With a pretty incredible crop of center fielders to consider, Laureano still stood out among the crowd.
Laureano showed impressive power and speed on the season, hitting some mammoth home runs, not just squeaking balls over the fence. He was also more than just a product of his league environment, not just being a guy who totaled numbers in the Cal League.
Laureano is a guy who many scouts rave about. He took an unconventional path to pro ball, being born in the Dominican Republic but actually being drafted after playing college baseball.
He showed excellent plate discipline on the season, though he did strike out at a 23.5% rate, not a bad rate for a guy who’s a power guy, but for a guy who likely will be at the top of the order, that’s a fairly high rate.
Laureano has excellent defensive skills, able to handle all three outfield positions defensively with a very solid arm as well. He has very solid instincts in center, so there’s really no reason to move him off the position until he loses a step or shows he can’t handle it.
After his performance in the AFL on a much bigger stage, Laureano will be getting much more notice going into 2017 for sure.
Aug 23, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi (40) runs against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Allen, Cleveland Indians, A+/AA, .295/.416/.413, 45 SB Luis Alexander Basabe, Boston Red Sox, A/A+, .264/.328/.452/.780, 47 XBH, 25 SB Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox, A+/AA, .312/.378/.532/.910, 52 XBH, 16 SB David Dahl, Colorado Rockies, AA/AAA, .314/.394/.569/.963, 49 XBH, 17 SB Derek Fisher, Houston Astros, AA/AAA, .255/.367/.448/.815, 21 HR, 28 SB Dustin Fowler, New York Yankees, AA, .281/.311/.458/.770, 57 XBH, 25 SB Zach Granite, Minnesota Twins, AA, .295/.347/.382/.729, 56 SB Mitch Haniger, Arizona Diamondbacks, AA/AAA, .321/.419/.581/.999, 25 HR, 12 SB Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres, AAA, .304/.351/.426/.777, 12 3B, 30 SB Austin Meadows, Pittsburgh Pirates, A-/AA/AAA, .266/.333/.536/.869, 11 3B, 12 HR Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles, A, .273/.321/.464/.785, 61 XBH, 30 SB Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets, AAA, .352/.423/.541/.964, 44 XBH D.J. Peters, Los Angeles Dodgers, Rookie, .351/.437/.615/1.052, 40 XBH Victor Robles, Washington Nationals, A/A+, .280/.376/.423/.798, 9 HR, 37 SB Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies, AA/AAA, .328/.361/.458/.819, 43 XBH, 23 SB Andrew Toles, Los Angeles Dodgers, A+/AA/AAA, .331/.374/.511/.884, 39 XBH, 23 SB Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros, A/A+, .285/.360/.438/.798, 9 HR, 32 SB Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland Indians, AA/AAA, .250/.365/.425/.790, 15 HR, 38 SB
The Phillies’ 2nd round selection in 2012 out of high school in Arizona came into the minor leagues with tags of being a very raw player as far as his baseball tools were concerned, but with high athleticism. That showed in his first four years of pro ball, hitting 34 home runs and stealing 62 bases but also striking out 345 times in 361 games at lower levels.
Moving up to the very hitter-friendly home park in Reading in 2016, many expected Cozens to have solid numbers, but none could have expected the season that he had.
Cozens has received multiple awards as the offensive player of the year after being one of the first players with 40 home runs in the minor leagues in many years while still also stealing 21 bases and hitting 38 doubles.
Of course, some of that raw baseball tool sank through as well as Cozens struck out 186 times on the season in just 134 games. His arm produced 12 assists in the outfield, but he also had 5 errors in the outfield, showing some issues with raw reads in the outfield.
Cozens is 22 and will turn 23 in late May, so he’s still young enough to polish these raw tools into a very viable offensive player. At 6’6 and 240 pounds, Cozens does strike an imposing figure in the left-handed batter’s box and his impressive defensive range and speed at that size is rare to find.
Cozens will be moving up to AAA most likely and be on the doorstep of the major leagues for 2017. If he can find a way to keep his strikeouts under control, he could be a guy that has a major impact on the Phillies offense for a long time.
Sep 28, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres right fielder Hunter Renfroe (71) hits a two run home run during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports