Here are the 10 minor league players I feel are most likely to break out this year. These are the guys who are most likely to become the “next wave” after the current crop of marquee prospects. I didn’t include any of the top 10 guys because they have all broken out already. Wilkerman Garcia, Thairo Estrada, Brody Koerner, and Hoy Jun Park are not included on this list because they were all selected by me as breakout candidates last year. Although I feel they are all still guys who are likely to have breakout seasons, it would be disingenuous to select them again this year. Suffice it to say that they can and might be a huge part of the “next wave” as well.
- Esteval Florial – 6-foot-1, 185-pounds, LHB, 19-years-old – Florial had his first season stateside in 2016, and it went pretty well. He managed to hit eight homeruns and steal 10 bases. All of this was while playing under the lights for the first time in his career. Overall, he had a .227/.312/.371/.683 line, hardly a breakout. This season he will likely start in Charleston, where I believe the breakout is coming. He’s a five-tool player and that will be on full display in 2017. I’d honestly be surprised if he doesn’t start showing up on top 100 prospect lists by the end of this season.
- Nick Nelson – RHP, 6-foot-1, 195-pounds, 21-years-old – Mid-90’s fastball, plus curveball, and now armed with a changeup that has plus potential, Nelson is a guy to watch out for this year. His control is something to watch, but if he gets that under wraps he will be yet another major weapon in the lower minors. I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts his name on the map this year.
- Rony Garcia – RHP, 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, 19-years-old – Garcia is an under-the-radar international signing who is already looking like a future star. His fastball is 92-94, hitting 96. He has a curveball with 11 to 5 break, and a changeup in development. Having all of this at just 19 and at his size, the sky seems to be the limit for this kid. Throw in the fact that he has good control of all of his offerings, and you have a high-end starter in the making. He was in the GCL this year, where he thrived. He’ll either start in Staten Island or Charleston this season. Either way, look for him to get national attention in short order.
- Trey Amburgey – OF, 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, RHB, 22-years-old – Last year should have been his breakout year, but a hamstring injury hamstrung that idea. Now fully healthy, he should be ready to strut his stuff. He’s got base-stealing speed, a good arm, elite exit velocity, and has good contact and patience. Defensively he will be an asset in left field. I count five tools on him, and that makes him a potential star. Hopefully he stays healthy and can hone some of those tools in High-A and Double-A this year.
- Taylor Widener – RHP, 6-foot-0, 195-pounds, 22-years-old – Very Chance Adams-y, if you catch my drift. A shorter guy with mid to upper-90’s heat, he also has solid secondary offerings including a curveball and changeup. Adams broke out this past year, and I expect Widener to break out this year. He already dominated last season in his first year as a pro. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Double-A by the end of the year and in a similar trajectory and ceiling as Chance Adams.
- Oswaldo Cabrera – SS, 5-foot-10, 145-pounds, SH, 17-years-old – Came over last year and dominated the short season leagues. He reminds me of Thairo Estrada, as a small guy who has surprising pop, quick wrists, and can play shortstop admirably. Because of his size he may never garner national attention. Whenever he hits the long season leagues, be it this year or next, I expect his numbers to be really impressive. In that sense he will “break out” when he hits Low-A.
- Freicer Perez – RHP, 6-foot-8, 190-pounds, 20-years-old – What a find this kid was. Cheap signing who sits mid 90’s, hits 100 mph, and has an above average curveball and changeup. He has better control than he showed last year, and he’s a monstrosity. He’s like Dellin Betances, but with better control at the same age. He’ll be in Charleston this year and I expect him to burst onto the scene much like Domingo Acevedo did last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on some top 100 lists if all goes well. I would be surprised, however, if he is not on the national radar by the end of the year.
- Leonardo Molina – OF, 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, RHB, 19-years-old – He struggled in Low-A to start last season, which was his first time playing under the lights. That’s always a big adjustment, especially when skipping two levels. When he was placed at a more age appropriate level in Pulaski, he thrived. This year, I expect he’ll get a second crack at Low-A Charleston, and this time he’ll break out. He has real power and the hit tool is there. With a big statistical year he could creep into the back end of a few top 100 lists.
- Dermis Garcia – 3B, 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, RHB, 19-years-old – He’s proven already that he’s one of the most dangerous bats in the farm system. He hit 13 homeruns in 57 games last year. Over a full season that would be over 30 homeruns. He did all of this in his first time playing under the lights in Pulaski. He struggled with his average, but I expect that aspect of his game to improve in 2017. He may start in Charleston this year. If he does, don’t be surprised to hear his name as one of the top prospects in the minors by the end of the year. He has that kind of talent.
- Nelson Gomez – 3B, 6-foot-1, 220-pounds, RHB, 19-years-old – He’s another third baseman from the international market, and he too has extraordinary power for his age. He had nine homeruns in 54 games in the GCL last season. He’ll need to hit for better average this year, but he’s a strong bet to do that in either Staten Island or Charleston. If he shows the same kind of power as 2016 and is able to raise his average, you are going to be hearing a lot about him. He’s about ready to break out and I’m hoping this will be the season he does that.
Next up: Sleeper prospects; deep REM breakout candidates