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Farm Futures: Rookie League Risers

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.

First and foremost, the Top 200 prospect rankings were updated earlier this week, and the full rankings can be found here.

Mid-to-late July is the time of year where players start to emerge in Rookie leagues, as those leagues donít begin until June. With that in mind, I will be highlighting the Rookie league hitters who have improved their stock the most since the last update to the Top 200. Hitters who have hurt their stock (*cough* Gilbert Lara) will not be included in this piece, but I can answer specific questions about any and all prospects in the comments section or on Twitter @RealJRAnderson.

Kevin Maitan, SS, Braves
Rank: 62
Age: 16

Maitan was the top prospect to sign during this yearís July 2 International Signing Period, and the fact that he is ranked 62nd on the latest update of the Top 200 despite being just 16 years old illustrates his star potential. A switch-hitting shortstop who may eventually need to move to third base, Maitan is the same caliber of international prospect as Miguel Sano, Nomar Mazara and Yoan Moncada before him. In fact, Maitan is considered the best prospect to come out of Venezuela since Miguel Cabrera, and the fact that Maitan might eventually follow Cabrera down the defensive spectrum only strengthens those comparisons.

His 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame is sleek and athletic right now, but it stands to reason that he will eventually fill out and possibly outgrow the shortstop position. Either way, the fantasy intrigue is palpable. He was the top prospect in the class because of his bat, not his glove, as there were plenty of other shortstops with better defensive projections than Maitan to sign. His smooth and easy swing suggests at least 20-to-30 homer pop down the road, and he should be able to hit for a high average as well. Of course, itís way too early to say with confidence what type of fantasy contributor Maitan will be, as he has yet to play in a professional game. But with the minor leagues sorely lacking prospects with first-round fantasy upside, Maitanís high ceiling is quite enough to place him among the top-100 prospects for dynasty leagues. It will likely be a four or five year wait for him to reach the majors, but those patient enough to roster him for a half decade could be handsomely rewarded. He is expected to start in the Gulf Coast League in 2017, and he could move quickly from there.

Luis Almanzar (Padres), Lazaro Armenteros (Aís) and Victor Garcia (Cardinals) are the other signees from this yearís July 2 class who are currently ranked in the top 200, although they are in the 175-200 range. Like Maitan, they should head to a Rookie league next year. They all offer as much fantasy upside as any hitter selected in this yearís draft, but they also carry at least one or two years of extra lead time.

Mickey Moniak, OF, Gulf Coast League (Phillies)
Rank: 68
Age: 18
Stats: .300/.348/.400, one HR, one 3B, one 2B, 1-for-4 on SB attempts, 12:3 K:BB in 60 AB.

Moniak has performed exactly as one would have expected, given his advanced hit tool and the friendly assignment to the GCL. He may be one of those prospects who never truly excites and never really struggles as he moves up the organizational ladder, kind of in the Austin Meadows mold. Itís a bit surprising that he has as many homers as steals through 15 games, but that ratio should skew way more towards the stolen bases over the next few seasons.

Blake Rutherford, OF, Appalachian League (Yankees)
Rank: 80
Age: 19
Stats: .295/.373/.545, two HR, one 3B, three 2B, 11:5 K:BB in 44 AB.

Itís still odd that 17 teams passed on Rutherford in this yearís draft, presumably because at 19 he was old for a high school prospect, which traditionally raises red flags. Still, in eight Gulf Coast League games and five Appalachian League games Rutherford has completely lived up to the scouting reports on him coming into the draft. The stick will carry the profile, which makes him a very appealing fantasy asset as we donít care if he ends up in left field.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B/OF, Appalachian League (Blue Jays)
Rank: 86
Age: 17
Stats: .256/.346/.444, three HR, one 3B, six 2B, 5-for-6 on SB attempts, 14:11 K:BB in 90 AB.

Even as a longtime fan of Vlad Jr., I am surprised at how excellently he has performed through 22 games in the Appalachian League as a 17-year-old. He wonít turn 18 until halfway through spring training next year and he is already one of the most feared hitters in a league where he is more than 3.5 years younger than the average player. He has been playing third base for Bluefield, but considering he already weighs 200 pounds and isnít especially agile, it would be pretty shocking if he can stick at the hot corner long term. Itís likely that heíll end up at either left field, first base or DH once he reaches the majors, but the offensive production should be enough for him to be a valuable fantasy asset regardless of where he is eligible. He should continue to move quickly, given the strong approach, and he could cement himself as a top-50 prospect for dynasty leagues by yearís end.

Delvin Perez, SS, Gulf Coast League (Cardinals)
Rank: 101
Age: 17
Stats: .342/.391/.468, two 3B, six 2B, 8-for-9 on SB attempts, 15:5 K:BB in 79 AB.

Hopefully the 22 teams that passed on Perez feel pretty good about how the draft turned out, because the Cardinals are still doing backflips. Perez has not yet hit a professional home run, but he has a .400 wOBA and a 16.7 percent K-rate as a 17-year-old in the GCL. These are good things. A case could be made that Perez is already the Cardinalsí second-best dynasty league prospect behind Alex Reyes, and while I still prefer Harrison Bader and Luke Weaver over Perez, that may not be the case if Perez continues to rake over the final six weeks of the minor league season.

Leody Taveras, OF, Arizona League (Rangers)
Rank: 125
Age: 17
Stats: .319/.382/.442, one HR, four 3B, six 2B, 13-for-19 on SB attempts, 25:14 K:BB in 138 AB.

The ability to make contact really stands out when glancing at what Taveras has done over 11 games in the Dominican Summer League and 22 games in the Arizona League this season. The younger cousin of former big leaguer Willy Taveras, Leody has plus speed and projects to offer at least fringe-average power. Given his contact rates in Rookie ball he has the look of a future leadoff hitter in the big leagues, much like his cousin, who logged 460 games in the top spot in the lineup over his seven-year big league career. With the potential for five-category production and the realistic floor of a speedy, contact-heavy leadoff man, Taveras is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Arizona League.

Alex Kirilloff, OF, Appalachian League (Twins)
Rank: 132
Age: 18
Stats: .318/.314/.500, two HR, six 2B, 9:1 K:BB in 66 AB.

I buy the power, but I also buy the shaky approach, at least at this stage in his development. Still, even if he doesnít take another walk until 2018, the ability to make consistent contact and drive the ball over the fence will make Kirilloff an intriguing fantasy prospect relative to many of the other position players taken in this yearís fairly weak draft class. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to make consistent contact as he presumably moves to the Midwest League next year.

Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, Gulf Coast League (Phillies)
Rank: 142
Age: 17
Stats: .314/.400/.614, five HR, one 3B, four 2B, 18:5 K:BB in 70 AB.

As with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ortiz is playing a position (right field) that he has a very low chance of sticking at long term. Heís already listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and that might be a little generous. Fortunately, another thing Ortiz has in common with Guerrero is that his bat should be good enough to profile at the bottom of the defensive spectrum. Itís been just 18 games, but Ortizís five long balls ties him for the GCL lead, and he is tied with a 23-year-old non-prospect in the Piratesí system (Henrry Rosario). Ortiz didnít receive quite the acclaim that Guerrero and Taveras did during last yearís July 2 period, so he could still be available in deeper dynasty leagues. However, that wonít be the case for long if he keeps punishing GCL pitching at this clip.

Miguelangel Sierra, SS, Appalachian League (Astros)
Rank: 172
Age: 18
Stats: .293/.369/.693, eight HR, two 3B, two 2B, 3-for-4 on SB attempts, 28:6 K:BB in 75 AB.

Sierra was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 19 international prospect in the 2014 July 2 class, but he has leaped everyone else from that group with the exception of Anderson Espinoza, thanks to an unforeseen power onslaught in 19 GCL games this year. So far that power has come at the cost of contact, as he is striking out at a 32.6 percent clip. That said, a 5-foot-11, 18-year-old shortstop blasting eight home runs in 19 games in a league where he is, on average, 2.6 years younger than the competition warrants a good deal of attention. It seems like the Astros have a never-ending pipeline of up-the-middle talent, but Sierra holds the unique distinction of being unowned in most dynasty leagues right now. The helium surrounding him this offseason could be pretty intense, so the time to act is now.

Lucas Erceg, 3B, Pioneer League (Brewers)
Rank: 190
Age: 21
Stats: .400/.452/.552, two HR, one 3B, eight 2B, 8-for-9 on SB attempts, 16:8 K:BB in 105 AB.

The Brewers obviously liked Erceg, whom they selected with the 46th pick in this yearís draft, but had they known exactly what they had in him, he likely would have been assigned directly to Low-A Wisconsin. He finally received that promotion Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how the Brewers deploy Erceg and fellow Timber Rattlers third baseman Jake Gatewood now that they are on the same roster, but perhaps Gatewood gets moved to the outfield or first base as Erceg is the better prospect at this point. The hit tool and power were believed to be part of the package with Erceg on draft day, but it will be interesting to see how real the speed heís shown so far is as he moves up the ladder.

Adrian Rondon, SS, Appalachian League (Rays)
Rank: 194
Age: 18
Stats: .263/.326/.500, five HR, four 2B, 0-for-4 on SB attempts, 21:8 K:BB in 80 AB.

Rondon is an excellent example of why itís important to preach patience with 16 and 17-year-old prospects who take a little longer to live up to the hype than their owners would like. He was considered the top prospect in the 2014 July 2 class and proceeded to post a .491 OPS in 43 games in the Gulf Coast League last year. Now he is starting to flash the tools that led to the hype that followed him as a 16-year-old, tied for sixth in the Appalachian League in homers while ranking 15th in the league in OPS. His contact rate will be the thing to keep an eye on as he moves up the ladder, but if he can continue on this pace over the rest of the season, Rondon should shoot up prospect rankings over the winter.

Derian Cruz, SS, Gulf Coast League (Braves)
Rank: 195
Age: 17
Stats: .313/.337/.434, two HR, four 2B, 4-for-5 on SB attempts, 15:2 K:BB in 83 AB.

The fifth-ranked international prospect in last yearís July 2 class, according to Baseball America, Cruzís professional debut has exceeded all expectations. A plus-plus runner with an excellent ability to put bat to ball, Cruz is currently playing shortstop but a move to center field down the road would not be terribly surprising. What is a little surprising is that heís hitting for a bit of power as a 17-year-old in the GCL. Look for the hype train to really pick up with Cruz this offseason if he can continue to hold his own over the final six weeks of the minor league schedule.

Jahmai Jones, OF, Pioneer League (Angels):
Rank: 199
Age: 18
Stats: .328/.392/.469, one HR, two 3B, 11 2B, 10-for-13 on SB attempts, 18:10 K:BB in 128 AB.

Is that an Angels prospect? Why, yes it is, and further up the top 200 is another Angels prospect in 2016 first rounder Matt Thaiss (currently raking in the Midwest League). This is what progress looks like. Jones is a tool shed of a prospect -- the likes of which the Angels havenít had in their system since Mike Trout. As he continues to develop, more of those doubles should start leaving the yard, but itís also possible his steals totals will start to dip in the coming years as he is already listed at 6-foot, 215 pounds.

Dermis Garcia, 3B, Appalachian League (Yankees)
Rank: 200
Age: 18
Stats: .265/.386/.691, nine HR, two 2B, 31:12 K:BB in 68 AB.

Itís pretty easy to see whatís going on here. Garcia is completely selling out for power and, at least right now, itís working. Among Appalachian League hitters he is first in homers, second in OPS and third in strikeouts. Itís unlikely heíll be able to keep making this approach work as he moves up the ladder, but heís just 18 years old and thereís plenty of time for him to make adjustments. He has already moved off shortstop and at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he could move further down the defensive spectrum if he continues to fill out. That said, thereís double-plus raw power here, so itís time to consider adding the young slugger in deeper dynasty leagues.

UNRANKED HITTERS OF NOTE:

Bo Bichette, SS/2B, Gulf Coast League (Blue Jays)
Age: 18
Stats: .431/.450/.750, four HR, two 3B, seven 2B, 2-for-2 on SB attempts, 14:5 K:BB in 72 AB.

Jameson Fisher, OF, Pioneer League (Mariners):
Age: 22
Stats: .342/.435/.521, three HR, four 2B, 8-for-9 on SB attempts, 18:12 K:BB in 73 AB.

Khalil Lee, OF, Arizona League (Royals)
Age: 18
Stats: .343/.430/.582, two HR, two 3B, six 2B, 2-for-4 on SB attempts, 25:7 K:BB in 67 AB.

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS/3B, Arizona League (Padres)
Age: 17
Stats: .321/.345/.500, two HR, one 3B, seven 2B, 5-for-6 on SB attempts, 17:3 K:BB in 84 AB.

Travis Blankenhorn, 3B, Appalachian League (Twins)
Age: 19
Stats: .282/.341/.577, six HR, one 3B, three 2B, 3-for-3 on SB attempts, 18:6 K:BB in 78 AB.

Mitchell Hansen, OF, Pioneer League (Dodgers)
Age: 20
Stats: .345/.387/.558, seven HR, three 2B, 6-for-7 on SB attempts, 24:6 K:BB in 113 AB.

Jesus Sanchez, OF, Gulf Coast League (Rays)
Age: 18
Stats: .324/.338/.595, one HR, seven 3B, three 2B, 0-for-2 on SB attempts, 14:2 K:BB in 74 AB.