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Farm Futures: AL Central Top 10s

James Anderson

James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.

This marks the fifth installment of this yearís top-10 prospect rankings in each organization, continuing with the teams in the AL Central. These rankings will be updated throughout the season on when players switch organizations, lose their rookie eligibility, or when a playerís development dictates a change in where they are ranked within their teamís system.

Please feel free to start a dialogue in the comments section below, or @RealJRAndersonon Twitter.

Rank, Name, Position, Age On 4/1/16, Projected Level For Start Of 2016


1. Tim Anderson, SS, 22, Triple-A
2. Carson Fulmer, RHP, 22, Double-A
3. Spencer Adams, RHP, 19, High-A
4. Adam Engel, OF, 24, Double-A
5. Corey Zangari, 1B, 18, Low-A
6. Jordan Guerrero, LHP, 21, Double-A
7. Tyler Danish, RHP, 21, Triple-A
8. Jacob May, OF, 24, Triple-A
9. Trey Michalczewski, 3B, 21, Double-A
10. Jordan Stephens, RHP, 23, Low-A


The White Sox havenít had an above average farm system in years, and after graduating Carlos Rodon and shipping off Frankie Montas, Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson this offseason, they are once again left with a pretty underwhelming collection of farmhands. Anderson is the crown jewel, a potential first division shortstop whose speed on the bases and contact-heavy approach gives him more potential in fantasy than real life. Fulmer was the teamís first pick in last yearís draft, and he could reach the big leagues this season, although his upside and eventual role are debatable. Adams is very advanced for a 19-year-old, and one could easily flip him and Fulmer on this list. Fulmer gets the edge because his pedigree should allow for a better return in a dynasty league trade and he should beat Adams to the majors. After the top three, it hard to say with any confidence that anyone else on this list will be a big league regular. Engelís speed and Zangariís power make each player intriguing, but they are not top-200 caliber prospects just yet. Guerrero and Danish could be SP3/4 types, or they could end up in a bullpen. May, Michalczewski and Stephens are even riskier bets than the four players ahead of them, and none of those three should be rostered in leagues where fewer than 300 prospects are owned.

Most Upside/Best Bet For 2016: Tim Anderson - Anderson stood out to me this offseason in very much the same way that Nomar Mazara stood out this time last year as a guy who should be considered a dynasty league building block, but may not quite have that reputation yet. He should be a solid defender at shortstop, but his glove wonít give him the bump up real life prospect lists that players like Orlando Arcia and J.P. Crawford receive. He will also get dinged on real life lists because he still struggles to take walks. However, Anderson is a better dynasty league prospect than Arcia or Crawford, as the batting average should be similar, yet Anderson will offer more steals plus homers than Arcia or Crawford. With the White Sox signing Jimmy Rollins to a minor league deal, Anderson may not be up until the second half of 2016, but that will still be sooner than anyone else of note in the system. He should be on watch lists in most formats, and is worth a late-round flier in AL-only leagues.


1. Bobby Bradley, 1B, 19, High-A
2. Bradley Zimmer, OF, 23, Double-A
3. Clint Frazier, OF, 21, Double-A
4. Justus Sheffield, LHP, 19, High-A
5. Brady Aiken, LHP, 20, Rookie ball
6. Triston McKenzie, RHP, 18, Low-A
7. Rob Kaminsky, LHP, 21, Double-A
8. Mark Mathias, 2B, 21, Low-A
9. Francisco Mejia, C, 20, High-A
10. Gabriel Mejia, OF, 20, Low-A


The top three in the Indians system is awfully impressive, particularly from a fantasy standpoint. Bradley is a potential 35-homer first baseman, and while defensive shifts should limit his batting average to around .260 or maybe .270, his on-base and power skills will keep him in the cleanup spot, and a player who offers that kind of power and counting stats can be a second round pick in certain years. In Zimmer and Frazier, the Indians have a couple of five-category outfielders who will start the year in the upper levels of the minors, which is something few organizations, if any, can say. Aiken and McKenzie are the high-risk/high-upside arms in the system, and both are a long way from the majors. Sheffield is a pretty safe mid-rotation option whose upside is debatable. Kaminsky is more of an SP4, but as a lefty who is a year away from the big leagues, heís still worth keeping an eye on. Mathias is a standard second base prospect whose hit tool carries his profile, while his power and speed leave something to be desired. Both Mejias (no relation) are long shots to be impact fantasy options, but they have the upside, thanks to oneís catcher eligibility and athleticism and the otherís 80-grade speed, to crack the bottom of this list. This is a very deep system, but outside of the top three, every prospect either lacks the upside or the safety to be considered a top-100 prospect in dynasty leagues.

Most Upside: Brady Aiken - The real answer is, take your pick. Bradley, Zimmer, Frazier and McKenzie all have the upside to be top-50 picks in fantasy if they reach their ceiling. As a lefty with the potential for two 70-grade pitches in his fastball and curveball, plus a potential 60-grade changeup, Aiken has the potential to be a true ace, and itís a testament to the risk involved with his profile that he is not a top-100 prospect or dynasty leagues. Of course, some overzealous owners may treat him like one in dynasty league drafts this spring, so if owning him is a goal, it would be wise to be a little aggressive. He has the potential to finish the year as a top-25 prospect for dynasty leagues, or fall out of the top-200. Everything is in play.

Best Bet For 2016: Bradley Zimmer - None of the Indiansí prospects have a great chance of being valuable in the first half of 2016, but keep an eye on Zimmer in case he receives a callup around the All-Star break. The Indians are in desperate need of outfield help next to Michael Brantley, so while Zimmer may not be quite ready to be a major contributor this season, he may be the best internal option if the Indians are competing in July. While he could be up this year, look for Zimmerís development to be a lot like Gregory Polanco, where the callup receives some hype, but he struggles, particularly with batting average, early on. The long-term upside is 15-20 home runs and 20-30 steals with an average around .275, which is a borderline OF1 if everything clicks.


1. Michael Fulmer, RHP, 23, Triple-A
2. Christin Stewart, OF, 22, High-A
3. Beau Burrows, RHP, 19, Low-A
4. Mike Gerber, OF, 23, High-A
5. Kevin Ziomek, LHP, 24, Double-A
6. Wynton Bernard, OF, 25, Triple-A
7. Derek Hill, OF, 20, High-A
8. Jairo Labourt, LHP, 22, Double-A
9. Zach Shepherd, 3B, 20, High-A
10. Steven Moya, OF/DH, 24, Triple-A


Like the White Sox, the Tigers typically have a low-end farm system, and this yearís crop certainly fits the bill. Fulmer and Stewart are the only players worth rostering in leagues where fewer than 200 prospects are owned. I love Burrows as a fairly safe prep pitcher, but his upside is debateable, and heís at least three years away. Gerber was a 15th round selection in the 2014 draft, yet he has out-produced the Tigersí first rounder from that draft, Hill, especially when factoring Hillís inability to stay on the field due to lower-body injuries. If Gerber can continue to post across-the-board numbers when he gets to the upper levels he will be worth a look, but a 23-year-old succeeding at Low-A is hardly cause for excitement. Ziomek and Labourt are polar opposites, as the former is all polish and the latter could head to the bullpen long term due to major control issues, but they will both slot into the Double-A rotation this year with the hope of establishing themselves as future mid-rotation options. Bernard is a fascinating prospect, as he washed out of the Padres system, but re-established his value as a speedy outfielder thanks to a second chance with the Tigers. He could be poised to occupy the short side of an outfield platoon in the near future, and there is a chance that his speed and the Tigersí lack of depth could allow him to garner a big enough role for his stolen-base potential to warrant a roster spot in AL-only leagues. Shepherd hails from Australia, and while he is still a little raw, his upside in the power and hit tools makes him as interesting as anyone in the lower levels of this system. Moya making the list is more of a statement about the rest of the system than it is about Moya, as his deficiencies seem to be significant enough to make his plus power a non-factor. The Yoenis Cespedes and David Price trades were enough to keep this system from being a bottom-three system in the game, but itís still easily in the bottom 10.

Most Upside: Christin Stewart - There are several college bats from last yearís draft that could move quickly and potentially debut in the big leagues this year, and Stewart is as good a pick as any to have a Michael Conforto-esque run through his teamís system and get to the big leagues in enough time to contribute over the final two months. His profile is all about offense, as he will end up in left field, so that will ding him on real life prospect rankings, but that will also allow him to move quickly. He and Conforto share more than just their left field futures. They both have 30-homer pop paired with surprisingly strong contact skills that should allow for high batting averages. He may be a little under the radar in dynasty league drafts after going with the 34th overall pick last year, but Stewart is a better bet in dynasty leagues than almost any of the pitchers selected in that draft class.

Best Bet For 2016: Michael Fulmer - His minor league numbers were pretty ridiculous last year, but donít get too excited. He has a 65-70 grade fastball and a 55-60 grade slider that served as a hammer against Double-A hitters, but without a strong third pitch he probably maxes out as an SP3. There are even those who think heís a better fit at the back of a bullpen long term. Fulmer will start the year at Triple-A, and given the issues at the back of the Tigersí rotation, he could get a shot sometime this summer. That said, if Daniel Norris does not get you excited, then Fulmer shouldnít either. This is the kind of arm that should be on watch lists in AL-only leagues and might only warrant a wait-and-see approach when he makes his debut in standard leagues. If they debuted on the same date Stewart would be the pick here over Fulmer, but Fulmer is a much safer bet to make it to The Show in 2016.


1. Raul Mondesi, SS, 20, Double-A
2. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, 24, Triple-A
3. Miguel Almonte, RHP, 22, Triple-A
4. Bubba Starling, OF, 23, Double-A
5. Ryan O'Hearn, 1B, 22, High-A
6. Ashe Russell, RHP, 19, Low-A
7. Foster Griffin, LHP, 20, High-A
8. Jorge Bonifacio, OF, 22, Triple-A
9. Nolan Watson, RHP, 19, Low-A
10. Matthew Strahm, LHP, 24, Double-A


This system took a major hit last year. The Johnny Cueto trade and the stalled development of hitters like Bonifacio and Hunter Dozier have sent this system from the middle of the pack to the bottom five in baseball. In fact, itís an underwhelming first half from Mondesi and another injury to Zimmer away from challenging for the second-worst system in the game at the All-Star break. Starling was one of the few hitters in the system to take a step forward, yet he may ultimately just be a fourth outfielder. Mondesi will continue to be ranked as a top-100 prospect for dynasty leagues as long as he displays competency in his overly-aggressive assignments, as he should have no problem sticking at shortstop and still has the upside to post 12-15 homers and 25 steals in a season. That said, if his name value can net owners a top-50 prospect, thatís something to jump on. OíHearn is a high-risk first base prospect who is not particularly young and does not have a strong hit tool, but the power is real. The bottom four pitchers could be ranked in any order, along with some other pitchers who didnít make the cut, but none of them are advanced enough to garner attention in most dynasty formats. Bonifacio wouldnít make many teamís top 10s, but unlike Dozier, he has at least continued to show his 55-60 grade power in games against upper-level pitching, despite a shaky hit tool.

Most Upside/Best Bet For 2016: Kyle Zimmer - Unlike the Fulmers and Mejias mentioned earlier in this article, Zimmer is actually related to the other Zimmer mentioned here (heís the older brother of Bradley). When heís healthy, Zimmer pitches like an SP 2 or SP3. The qualification about his health is extremely necessary, however, as he has topped 100 innings just once since being drafted in 2012. Having the most upside in this system isnít really a badge of honor, but it would not be surprising if Zimmer was getting treated like a low-end SP2 in drafts two or three years down the road. As for 2016 production, it was a close call between Zimmer and Almonte, as theyíll both probably be ready by late May. But Zimmer has a much better shot of being effective right away as a starter, even if he ends up having his innings capped around 120 on the season.


1. Byron Buxton, OF, 22, MLB
2. Jose Berrios, RHP, 21, Triple-A
3. Max Kepler, OF, 23, Triple-A
4. Nick Gordon, SS, 20, High-A
5. Byung-ho Park, 1B, 29, MLB
6. Jorge Polanco, SS, 22, Triple-A
7. Kohl Stewart, RHP, 21, Double-A
8. Tyler Jay, LHP, 21, High-A
9. Lewis Thorpe, LHP, 20, High-A
10. Adam Walker, OF, 24, Triple-A


The evolution of the Twins system has been fascinating to follow over the past two seasons. Two years ago they had perhaps the best and deepest system in the game, and while several players have graduated or taken steps back or switched organizations since then, Buxton remains the top prospect in the system and, in my eyes, the game. Granted, he was just one at-bat away from losing his prospect eligibility, but itís still pretty remarkable that two years later little has changed about his outlook. Berrios is a top-15 overall prospect and the top right-handed pitching prospect for production in 2016. I donít think the Twins had money on their mind when they kept him down last year, but they were still wrong in thinking they had five similar or better options in the big league rotation, and that may have cost them a postseason birth. Berrios could crack the rotation out of camp, but even if he doesnít, Tommy Milone and/or Ricky Nolasco wonít stand in his way for long. Kepler is one of the teamís five or six best hitters at present, so itís a shame that he doesnít have a clear avenue to playing time this year. That said, one injury, or one prolonged stretch of underperformance from one of Park, Buxton, Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario or Miguel Sano (on defense) could lead to an everyday role for Kepler. I like Nick Gordon quite a bit as a buy-low option if his owner is no longer valuing him as a top-100 prospect. He wonít hit for much power, but everything is there for him to be hitting leadoff while Buxton hits in the two hole a few years down the road. Projecting a KBO hitter to translate his game power to the big leagues when said player will only qualify at first base and UTIL is a proposition Iím not crazy about, and given where Park is getting drafted, I wonít come close to having any shares. Polanco is flawed defensively, but if Eduardo Escobar isnít getting it done, Polanco could get a shot sometime this summer. However, his lack of impact power or speed should relegate him to the bottom of the lineup and therefore limit him to being just a middle-infield option in deeper leagues. Perhaps no high-pedigree pitching prospect has a more concerning K-rate than Stewart, and until that ticks up, he should not be valued as a top-200 prospect. Jay might be a reliever long term, although he would be among the best lefty relievers in the game if that happens. Thorpe could have been five spots higher on this list if Tommy John hadnít ended his 2015 season in April, but if he can perform well in his return, he could finish the season as a top-100 prospect. Not many players in the minors can match Walkerís power, but maybe even fewer can match his contact issues. Heís built like Cam Newton, but itís highly unlikely he can put everything together and become a big league regular. Wander Javier, Stephen Gonsalves, or a couple of potential closers (Nick Burdi and Alex Meyer) could have slotted into one of the final two spots, but nobody likes relief prospects, and Javier is forever away while Gonsalves has more of a back-end starter profile.

Most Upside/Best Bet For 2016: Byron Buxton - Everyone seems to be worried about Buxtonís hit tool, but considering he opened 2015 as a 21-year-old with just three plate appearances above High-A, and finished the year in the big leagues, those concerns donít hold water. It seems like we have to go over this every year, but not all top prospects who end up having great careers see success in their first taste of the big leagues. Corey Seager had success while Buxton did not, but they were at completely different stages in their development. Buxton could hit 10 homers with 30 steals and a .255 average while playing plus-plus defense in center field as a 22-year-old if he spends all of 2016 in the majors and nobody would bat an eye. I believe in the power long term, and I think it starts to manifest itself a lot sooner than many may expect, perhaps as soon as 2017. I respect anyone who would take Seager over Buxton long term, but Buxtonís upside as a generational five-category monster tips the scales in his favor for me. Buxton doesnít have the potential to be the player Mike Trout is now, but he has the potential to be the 'speed over power' version of Trout that we saw in 2012 and 2013, and that is arguably an even more valuable player in roto leagues. Berrios, Kepler and Park are all honorable mentions for 2016 value in this system, but Berrios is the only one who is realistically close.