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Under-the-radar prospects for 2019 staff predicts big seasons for lesser-known players
Tony Dibrell held hitters to a .228 average in 131 innings in 2018 in his first year of full-season ball. (Zach Bland)
April 1, 2019

There are a host of great players who don't get the same attention as top-ranked prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Royce Lewis. Here the staff picks one relatively unheralded player from each system poised to excel in 2019.

There are a host of great players who don't get the same attention as top-ranked prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Royce LewisHere the staff picks one relatively unheralded player from each system poised to excel in 2019.

National League East

 Atlanta Braves, AJ Graffanino, SS
The Braves may have unearthed an infield gem in the 20th round of the 2018 Draft in CJ Alexander (the Primer pick for Breakout Prospect), and they could have another 12 rounds earlier in Graffanino. The 21-year-old, left-handed-hitting shortstop dropped some after missing time as a Washington junior with a hamstring injury, but handled himself well with a .301 average and .711 OPS in a 37-game stay at Class A Rome. His defense remains his calling card, though, with both his range and arm considered above average. In a system lacking star shortstops, that could be where he stands out. Some added value with the bat now that he's healthy will only help him climb the ladder in his first full season.

 Miami Marlins, Bryson Brigman, IF
A third-round pick out of the University of San Diego in 2016, Brigman was acquired from Seattle for Cameron Maybin late last season. After scuffling in the Midwest League in 2017, the 23-year-old altered his swing -- concentrating on getting the ball in the air more -- with fine results last year. He doesn't have much power, but he makes contact, gets on base and is a strong fielder up the middle. A self-described "grinder" as a standout hockey player in his teenage years, Brigman may lack overwhelming tools, but he'll put in the work to make himself a valuable contributor. 

 New York Mets, Tony Dibrell, RHP
He's not mentioned in the same breath as former first rounders Anthony Kay or David Peterson, but Dibrell arguably had the best season of the trio in 2018. Featuring a fastball that he can pump up to 96 mph and that regularly sits in the low 90s, the Mets' 2017 fourth-round Draft pick hit on all cylinders in his first full professional season. The 23-year-old limited opponents to a .228 average and fanned 147 batters over 131 innings with Class A Columbia in 2019. He'll have to scale back on his 3.7 walks per nine innings from a year ago, but an organization that prides itself of pitching may have unearthed another.

 Philadelphia Phillies, Kyle Dohy, LHP
A 2017 16th-round pick out of Citrus Community College in California, Doby posted an flashy 14.7 strikeouts per nine innings at three different levels in his first full season last year. The 22-year-old began at Class A Lakewood, where in 33 innings he fanned just under 48 percent of the batters he faced. A promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater lasted just 11 frames until he got bumped up again to Double-A Reading. Dohy struggled in the Eastern League -- the left-hander posted a 5.56 ERA in 22 2/3 innings -- but improvements in battling fatigue and commanding his pitch arsenal should give him a better chance there this season. Often flashing plus stuff with his fastball, slider and changeup, Dohy has a chance to push to the top of the farm in the near future.

 Washington Nationals, Joan Adon, RHP
It takes something to stand out as a Minor League reliever, particularly so at the lower levels. However, the Nationals' No. 22 prospect caught some attention last season when he struck out 29 batters in 19 2/3 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, and the organization's excitement has only grown this spring. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and the Nats believe his above-average slider will only improve with more consistency. The 20-year-old right-hander still has control issues (walking 22 batters in 30 2/3 innings last season), but all the other pieces are in place for him to board the express line toward DC beginning this summer. 
NL Central 

 Chicago Cubs, Michael Rucker, RHP
The 24-year-old Brigham Young alum posted a 3.73 ERA over 26 starts in the Double-A Tennessee rotation last season. He's been completely turned loose after being used in the bullpen in the early part of his professional career to limit his workload out of college. He started his career somewhat behind the curve after sitting out a transfer year going from Gonzaga to BYU, but he's aggressive in the zone and has been praised for attacking hitters. The 2016 11th-rounder allowed two runs or fewer in 17 starts, including four scoreless appearances. He's capable of maintaining a mid-90s fastball and supplements that with a loose slider.

 Cincinnati Reds, Mariel Bautista, OF
Bautista, the club's 19th-ranked prospect, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2014 and has yet to make his full-season debut. He hit at least .320 each of the past three seasons, including .330 in 209 at-bats in the Rookie Advanced Pioneer League last year. His strikeout rate in 2018 dropped nearly three percentage points to 12.4 percent, while his walk rate rose from 3.2 to 6.9 percent. He put on muscle -- part of what boosted his ISO to .211 -- and stole 16 bases on 19 attempts. That combination of speed and strength makes him a viable option in center field. It's time for Bautista to prove that at Class A and beyond.

 Milwaukee Brewers, Je'Von Ward, LF
With plate discipline beyond his years, Je'Von Ward impressed in his non-complex debut in 2018 with a .307/.391/.403 slash line, 13 stolen bases and 32 walks in 64 games at Rookie Advanced Helena. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound outfielder belted only two home runs, but also hit the ball on the ground almost 70 percent of the time. Once he starts to get more lift in his swing, his growth potential and ability to hit the ball hard portend the potential for power. At 19 years old, there's plenty of time for Ward to develop into a player who can hit for both average and power, get on base at a high clip and pose a threat to run once he reaches base.

 Pittsburgh Pirates: Tahnaj Thomas, RHP
The 19-year-old converted infielder from the Bahamas is the very definition of a "project." At 6-feet-4 and 190 pounds, Thomas already hits the mid-90s with his fastball and still has room to grow. Being new to pitching, he struggles with command, but has already proven hard to hit -- he held Rookie-level Arizona League hitters to a .188 average last season in the Cleveland system. Thomas has a long way to go to become just the second Bahamian pitcher to reach the Majors -- puts his big league ETA at 2022 -- but he has the raw potential and athleticism necessary to complete the journey.

 St. Louis Cardinals, Johan Oviedo, RHP
The No. 21 Cardinals prospect's first full-season campaign was also his best. While calling it a breakout year might be a stretch, Oviedo flashed a consistent low- to mid-90s fastball that enabled him to punch out 118 batters in 121 2/3 innings. The right-hander was a horse atop Class A Peoria's rotation, winning 10 games while posting a 4.22 ERA in 25 appearances, including 23 starts. Perhaps even more impressive was his improvement as the year went on. Oviedo shaved his ERA from 5.82 in the first half to 3.06 in the second. He'll likely make the jump to Class A Advanced Palm Beach in 2019 with high hopes resting on his shoulders.

NL West

 Arizona Diamondbacks, Emilio Vargas, RHP
Although he was overshadowed to an extent by the likes of Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener, the 22-year-old showed himself to be an arm to watch in the D-backs system. Vargas was largely dominant with Class A Advanced Visalia, posting a 2.50 ERA and striking out 140 over 108 innings before earning a promotion to Double-A Jackson. Though his numbers were not as eye-popping there, Arizona's No. 16 prospect limited Southern League batters to a .225 average in six starts. It all added up to a 9-8 record, a 2.88 ERA and 170 punchouts in 143 2/3 innings. The trio of Vargas, Duplantier and Widener has the D-backs excited and rightfully so.

 Colorado Rockies, Rico Garcia, RHP
Garcia might not be totally under the radar anymore after a breakout season last year, but if he's able to replicate that success in 2019, he certainly won't be ignored. The righty went a combined 13-9 with a 2.96 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) between Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Hartford last season and was named an Organization All-Star. While arms like Peter Lambert or Ryan Rolison might be closer to the big leagues or higher Draft picks, Garcia could reach The Show this year and serve as depth if he impresses when he reaches Triple-A Albuquerque.

 Los Angeles Dodgers, Edwin Uceta, RHP
A late bloomer in some respects -- the Dodgers did not sign him until he was 18 for $10,000 -- Uceta took a big step forward in 2018. For Class A Great Lakes, the right-hander made 20 starts with a 3.20 ERA over 99 2/3 innings. He posted a 1.18 WHIP and fanned 103 batters. Los Angeles promoted the 21-year-old in August to Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, where Uceta's struggles from 2017 arose again. The Dominican Republic native allowed 16 earned runs over 20 2/3 frames to close out the regular season. Regardless of results, Uceta has stepped up in big moments. He helped Rookie Advanced Ogden win the Pioneer League championship in 2017 and pitched 5 2/3 scoreless frames for Rancho Cucamonga during the playoffs en route to their California League crown last season. His best pitch is a 55-grade changeup with late tumble, and the Dodgers' 21st-ranked prospect has a fastball that can tick up into the mid-90s.

 San Diego Padres, Buddy Reed, OF
It's quite easy to find talent in the depths of the Padres farm system and Buddy Reed is no exception. Drafted in 2016 as San Diego's second-round pick (48th overall), Reed's 70-grade speed and 65-grade fielding caps his ceiling as an elite defender, and he's already notched an appearance at the Futures Game under his belt. Reed had a breakout season in 2018 in Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore with a slash line of .324/.371/.549, but struggled making contact in Double-A after a promotion. Provided he can make the offensive adjustments in 2019, Reed could move through the Padres system very quickly.

 San Francisco Giants, Camilo Doval, RHP
After signing with the Giants in 2015, Doval spent two seasons at the complex level before making his full-season debut with Class A Augusta last summer. There he went on to be the best reliever in the system, converting 11 saves in 15 attempts with 78 strikeouts in 53 innings. While the numbers put a little spotlight on Doval, it's his fastball that can really turn heads. The 21-year-old's heater grades well-above-average and can reach triple digits often. With an arm slot deceptive to righties, Doval also utilizes a slider. The Dominican Republic native will be challenged this season in the hitter-friendly California League, but if he can keep deceiving batters, he'll be among the Giants' top bullpen options come 2020.

American League East

 Baltimore Orioles, Rylan Bannon, INF
Yusniel Díaz may be the primary prize in the Manny Machado trade from last season, but Bannon was a periphery piece that got the deal done. The Dodgers selected the 22-year-old in the eighth round of the 2017 Draft out of Xavier, and he went on to enjoy a solid campaign with Rookie Advanced Ogden that year (.336/.425/.591 with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 40 games). Last season, the infielder turned it up another notch and hit .296/.402/.559 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga before being dealt in July. Nonetheless, his performance over 89 games with the Quakes earned him California League MVP honors. He did struggle after the trade, batting .204 with two homers in 32 games for Double-A Bowie. Other than that final stretch, though, Bannon has proven he can hit. Perhaps Baltimore's No. 23 prospect will keep doing so during his second stint in the Eastern League.

 Boston Red Sox, Brett Netzer, 2B
Netzer isn't a likely candidate to become a Major League star, but the unranked 2017 third-rounder could sneak up on a lot of fans by turning into a valuable big league contributor. His bat (contact) and speed are his best tools, but his profile has suffered as he's been punched out 159 times in his first 172 Minor League games. Despite the scary strikeout rate, Netzer was tied for first in the Class A Advanced Carolina League with 31 doubles and was third with 130 hits in his first full season last year. He also managed a .270/.325/.360 slash line while whiffing in nearly a quarter of his at-bats. Should he develop a better grasp of the strike zone in the pro game, he'll be too dangerous to ignore.

 New York Yankees, Tanner Myatt, RHP
At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds the first thing that stands out about Myatt is his towering size. The next thing probably would be his blistering fastball, which attacks hitters in the mid- to high-90s with late life. The 29th-ranked Yankees prospect was selected in the 11th round of last year's Draft out of Florence-Darlington Tech in South Carolina, where he helped lead the team to its first Junior College World Series in 2017 as a freshman. The 20-year-old opened his first professional season in the Gulf Coast League, where he appeared in nine games (five starts) and struck out 20 while holding opponents to a .211 average over 16 1/3 innings. Myatt finished the year making one start for Class A Short Season Staten Island, allowing a hit and a pair of walks while fanning two over two scoreless frames. The right-hander showed improved command of his secondary pitches -- curveball and changeup -- this spring and also flashed triple digits on the radar gun. Yankees director of Minor League operations Hadi Raad raved of Myatt's upside and said "whenever scouts see him, they ask me how we got him so late."

Tampa Bay Rays, Resly Linares, LHP
Linares comes in at just No. 20 among the Rays prospects, as he's a bit buried within the club's litany of talented pitching prospects. But if he has another season as strong as last year's, that could change fast. Linares compiled a 3.20 ERA over 84 1/3 innings in 17 starts in a full season at Class A Bowling Green. He increased his strikeout rate to 10.4 K/9 and walked fewer opponents as well. Linares operates with a strong breaking ball that cuts late, mixed in with a solid fastball and changeup. His control is decent, and should only continue to get better. The biggest thing Linares needs to work on is adding to his thin frame, as he's currently listed at a narrow 6-foot-2, 170 pounds. If he can do that, he should be able to grow into a capable starter at the next level, and do so quickly.

 Toronto Blue Jays, Chavez Young, OF
The Blue Jays' No. 23 prospect might be lost in the shuffle of a front-loaded organization like Toronto's, but don't forget his mighty impressive 2018 with Class A Lansing. The 21-year-old switch-hitting outfielder tied for the organization lead with 44 stolen bases while producing a .285/.363/.445 slash line with eight homers, nine triples and 33 doubles. That offensive performance aside, his arm is his loudest tool right now, as he showed by collecting 15 assists combined between center and right field. On his scouting report, Young might not scream out as an exciting five-tool player just yet, but the building blocks are certainly there. Considering how far he's come from his place as a 39th-round pick in 2016, Young should continue to be one to watch as he alters his trajectory north of the border.
AL Central

 Chicago White Sox: Tyler Johnson, RHP
The 28th-ranked White Sox prospect made an impressive professional debut in 2017 and followed that up by setting career highs in every category in 2018. The 23-year-old right-hander posted a 9-0 record, 1.40 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and fanned 89 while walking 16 over 58 innings in 41 games between Class A Kannapolis and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem last season. He held opponents to a .172 average, allowed more than one earned run in a game only twice and recorded 14 of 15 save opportunities. The 2017 fifth-rounder most likely will open the season with Double-A Birmingham. Johnson features a mid-90s fastball that he commands well, a low-80s slider with good movement and a changeup that scouts say still needs refinement. During the offseason, White Sox director of player development Chris Getz referred to Johnson as "one of the best relievers in our entire system."

 Cleveland Indians, Ernie Clement, SS
In just his first full season, Clement climbed the Indians system, earning two promotions and ending the year with Double-A Akron. The 2017 fourth-round pick out of the University of Virginia batted .289/.358/.375 with 72 runs scored and even notched a five-hit contest for Class A Advanced Lynchburg. What's more, Clement isn't one to strike out -- whiffing 47 times in 147 career games for a 7.1 strikeout rate. The 23-year-old also has plus speed, which he showcased last summer with 18 steals in 28 attempts. While the Indians have their hands full with shortstop prospects, Clement could be one of the quickest ones to the Majors.

 Detroit Tigers, Josh Lester, 1B
The 24-year-old hit well for average throughout his Minor League career, then really turned on the power last season with Double-A Erie. Lester saw only a 12-point dip from his 2017 average (.271) but increased his homer total by eight to finish with a career-high 21 roundtrippers. His 120 hits ranked second in the system to No. 18 prospect Dawel Lugo's 137. He did experience a spike in strikeouts last season, finishing with 118, but his .800 OPS was the highest of his career. The Columbus, Georgia, native earned some fame in the 2006 Little League World Series when he caught the final out in the championship game against Japan.

 Kansas City Royals, Blake Perkins, OF
Perkins was traded to the Royals last summer as part of the deal that sent closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals at the deadline. The 2015 second-round pick doesn't hit the ball exceptionally well for contact or power, but when he does get on base, he showcases what makes him such an intriguing prospect -- his blistering speed. Perkins stole 60 bases over the past two seasons, something that likely stood out to Kansas City brass when weighing potential returns for Herrera. That speed translates maybe even better to the outfield, where he's graded to be a rangy 65 center fielder. He'll need to improve at the plate if he wants to break past other center-field prospects above him in the Royals' system like Khalil Lee or Michael Gigliotti, but if he does, he'll be in position to become a dynamic playmaker at the next level.

 Minnesota Twins, Griffin Jax, RHP
Although he ranks at No. 23, Jax had some uncertainty about what he would be able to contribute after missing some time to fulfill his commitment to the Air Force Academy. The 24-year-old returned to the Florida State League ahead of schedule and posted a 3-4 record with a 3.70 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 15 appearances spanning 87 2/3 innings. Jax is a little older and a little more advanced than most other prospects at his level, so he should be able to move up somewhat quickly. The 2016 third-rounder isn't a hard thrower, but commands good secondary pitches -- a slider and a changeup. He made up for some lost time in the Arizona Fall League and compiled a 3.86 ERA with 14 strikeouts over 21 innings.

AL West

 Houston Astros: Luis Santana, 2B
Astros fans have yet to see Santana suit up for Houston -- the 19-year-old infielder was traded in January from the Mets in a five-player deal that sent J.D. Davis to Queens. Santana hit .329 in 140 games across three seasons with the Mets, although they all came at the Rookie level. He batted .348 last year with Kingsport in the Appalachian League, going 71-for-204 with 13 doubles and four homers. Santana starts the year ranked as the Astros' No. 21 prospect, but could move up quickly if he has a hot start with Class A Quad Cities.

 Los Angeles Angels, Livan Soto, SS
When the Braves were penalized for international signing violations in 2017 and the players in question became free agents, everyone was talking about was Kevin Maitan. However, Soto was part of that group, and the Angels signed the 18-year-old -- along with Maitan -- and the former opened a lot of eyes at Rookie Advanced Orem last season. Soto hit .291/.385/.349 with 10 doubles, 31 runs and 11 RBIs in 44 games. What impressed scouts most was his advanced approach at the plate and strike-zone recognition as he walked 24 times. The No. 19 Angels prospect split time in the field between second base (18 games) and shortstop (28 games), displaying slick hands and a strong throwing arm. At 6 feet, 160 pounds, Soto may never develop into a power threat, but his ability to become an above-average hitter and middle infielder could put him on the fast track through Anaheim's system.

 Oakland Athletics, Luis Barrera, OF
It seems like an eternity ago in baseball terms that the A's signed Barrera. Inked on July 3, 2012, Barrera finally might be showing Oakland what it hoped it was getting seven years ago. The outfielder batted a combined .297/.361/.426 last year and reached Double-A for the first time. He posted career highs in games played (124), hits (132), RBIs (64) and stolen bases (23), among others. Barrera's bat is coming along, but his defensive skill set is his most impressive. The 23-year-old boasts a 65-grade run tool and above-average arm and field tools (both 55) as well.

 Seattle Mariners, Jake Fraley, OF
Fraley only has played in 151 total games since the Rays drafted him out of LSU in 2016, but last season's 66 showings were impressive. The outfielder batted .347/.415/.547 and finished the year on a 14-game hitting streak. Though his sample size is limited, the 23-year-old showed enough to the Mariners that they brought him over as part of the deal that sent Mike Zunino to the Rays over the offseason. If Fraley can stay healthy, he provides some pop in a steady bat as well as strong range and defensive tools that should help him start climbing the Minor League ladder as a center fielder.

 Texas Rangers, Diosbel Arias, INF 
The Rangers signed Arias in 2017 and he and played eight games that year in the Dominican Summer League, going 13-for-31 with eight RBIs. The 22-year-old spent his first season in the States with Class A Short Season Spokane, appearing in 61 Northwest League contests. The Cuba native led the circuit in average (.366) and on-base percentage (.451) and finished with a .942 OPS, three home runs and 44 RBIs. Arias drew 33 walks and fanned 39 times over 224 at-bats for the Indians. The infielder played mostly third base, but started 11 games at shortstop and second apiece, and was named an Organizational All-Star after the season. Although he does not have much experience in the Minors, Arias is a candidate to move quickly to the upper levels of the Minors because of his age and advanced skill set, especially at the dish.