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Minors  | General  | 11/30/2022

PG Down on the Farm: AL Central

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Noah "Bo" Naylor (Perfect Game)
The minor leagues have gone through huge changes over the past few years, from the canceled 2020 season to the complete realignment of leagues and teams as Major League Baseball essentially took over operations.  More on-the-ground changes will continue to happen as minor league players will become unionized for the first time and as Major League Baseball continues to use the minor leagues as a testing ground for potential rule changes.

The bones of player development remain the same, though, and following the top prospects as they progress from their days in high school and being evaluated at Perfect Game showcases and tournaments to the minor leagues and on to being Big League standouts remains unchanged.  Over the next two weeks, we’ll be looking at one top prospect per organization, while updating the prospect we highlighted in the same series last year.  This year’s schedule is as follows:

American League East: November 28
American League Central: November 30
American League West: December 2
National League East: December 5
National League Central: December 7
National League West: December 9

American League Central

Chicago White Sox  --  SS Colson Montgomery

High School:  Southridge HS, Holland, Ind.
Travel Team:  Team Indiana
Final PG Class Ranking:  39
Drafted:  2021, Chicago White Sox, 1st Round (22nd overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  21

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Montgomery was a true three-sport standout in high school and was named the Indiana 3A Male Athlete of the Year as a senior.  He played quarterback on the football team, averaged 24.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game as an All-State basketball player and led Southridge High School to the state championship in baseball, hitting .333-7-23 with 24 stolen bases.  His overall athletic profile isn’t dissimilar from that of Scott Rolen, who finished runner-up in the 1993 Indiana Mr. Basketball voting while at Jasper (Ind.) High School.

Due to all his other sports commitments, Montgomery’s PG resume is pretty short.  He hit .462 at the 2018 WWBA 16U National Championships while playing for Ironmen Prep and hit .375 with a home run at the 2020 WWBA World Championships with Team Indiana.  He also participated in the 2020 PG National Showcase, where he received the following report.

Long and athletic build, very projectable physically. Left-handed hitter, hits from a tall stance, drifts his lower half into contact from a high lift trigger, fluid swing with some bat speed and leverage, pull to mid field approach, has strength in his hands at contact and can create some jump, very projectable with the bat with lots of untapped power there. 6.91 runner, has quick actions at the ball, moves well for his size and is athletic and balanced on challenging plays, gets rid of the ball quickly from multiple arm slots, chance to stay in the middle of the field as he gets stronger. Verbal commitment to Indiana.

While Montgomery’s overall athleticism was a big plus going into the 2021 draft, his age (19.4 at draft time) was often brought up as a negative.  The White Sox took him a bit above his projected slot at 22nd overall and signed him away from his Indiana scholarship for a $3,030,000 bonus.

Although he has added 15 pounds of muscle since signing, the White Sox still look at Montgomery as a long-term shortstop and he’s played there exclusively since signing.  After not homering in 26 games in 2021 after signing, Montgomery hit 11 home runs in 96 games in 2022 (.274-11-47, 54 walks) while moving through both A levels and finishing the season in AA.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Matthew Thompson

2022 Update:  The White Sox struggled both at the Big League level and the minor league level in 2022 and Thompson is looking for a big bounce back in 2023 as well.  He made 25 starts between High A and AA, throwing 109 innings and going 4-7 with a 4.84 ERA.

Cleveland Guardians  --  C Noah "Bo" Naylor

High School:  St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS, Mississauga, ON, Canada             
Travel Team:  Ontario Blue Jays
Final PG Class Ranking:  22
Drafted:  2018, Cleveland, 1st round (29th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  MLB
2023 Age:  23

Bo Naylor is the middle brother of what might be called the first family of Canadian baseball over the last decade.  Josh Naylor was a PG All-American in 2014 and a first round pick of the Padres in 2015 and had his breakout season with the Guardians in 2022, hitting .256-20-79.  Younger brother Myles Naylor is the 99th ranked player in the 2023 class and holds a Texas Tech scholarship.

The Naylor Brothers are ironically all very different athletes with different strengths.  Bo is easily the best natural athlete, with outstanding athletic twitch and quickness that really stands out defensively behind the plate.  Catchers usually don’t run 6.62 with a 1.49 10-yard split, which is what Naylor did at the 2017 PG National Showcase, but then Naylor looked just as comfortable playing the middle infield as he did catching as a teenager.

Naylor’s left-handed bat was just as impressive as his athleticism and defensive potential.  He had a power approach from an open stance but distinguished himself against high level pitching with his barrel control and ability to drive the ball hard to left-center field.  Put all those factors together and Naylor had a chance to be a rare first round high school catcher out of high school and the first-ever Canadian catcher to be picked that high.

That happened when Cleveland chose Naylor 29th overall in the 2018 draft and signed him away from a Texas A&M scholarship with a $2,578,138 bonus.

Naylor’s minor league career has had some bumps, as often happens with young catchers in their development.  The Guardians made an aggressive jump following the canceled 2020 minor league season, moving him from Low A in 2019 directly to AA in 2021 as a 21-year-old and saw Naylor hit .188-10-44.  Everything clicked for Naylor in 2022, just as it did his older brother, and he hit .263-21-68 with 82 walks and a .889 OPS between AA and AAA and became a rare catcher in the 20-20 club, stealing 20 out of 24 bases. 

Naylor made his Big League debut on October 1, with his brother on the bench that day, but in his second game Josh batted in the four hole and Bo hit fifth. 

Interestingly, Naylor is one of only two catchers on the Guardians 40-man roster, a situation that is sure to change over the next few months.  Still, he is clearly Cleveland’s catcher of the future and maybe near future.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Daniel Espino

2022 Update:  If Espino could stay healthy, he’d either be a MLB veteran or the top prospect in the minor leagues.  He’s only thrown 110 innings the past two seasons but has struck out 187 hitters.  Is 2023 the year?

Detroit Tigers  --  RHP Ty Madden

High School:  Cypress Branch HS, Cypress, Texas
College:  Texas
Travel Team:  Banditos
Final PG Class Ranking:  58 
Drafted:  2021, Detroit, 1st round (32nd overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  23

Madden, along with future second rounders Matthew Thompson (now with the White Sox) and JJ Goss (Rays), was part of one of the most talented pitching staffs ever while at Cypress Ranch High School in 2018.  Madden, the senior, went 9-2, with a 1.32 ERA in 74 innings, while juniors Goss and Thompson finished a combined 15-3 on a team that went 32-9 overall.  To top it off, 2021 Orioles first round pick (fifth overall) Colton Cowser was the team’s center fielder.  It makes one wonder how they lost nine games, even with the very high level of competition in Houston-area baseball.

The slender and projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pound Madden was equally dominating at top PG tournaments, striking out 12 hitters in 5 2/3 no-hit innings combined at the 2017 WWBA World Championship and 2017 WWBA 17U National Championship.  He pitched at the 2017 PG National Showcase and worked in the 90-93 mph range with a sharp low-80s breaking ball and narrowly missed being named a PG All-American.

A high-level student with a strong commitment to college, Madden was originally committed to Rice but changed that to attend Texas.  He was the Longhorns' Friday starter as a junior, going 7-5, with a 2.40 ERA with 137 strikeouts in 113 innings but wore down over the course of the season and saw his stock steadily drop moving into the draft.  Originally thought of as a potential top-10 pick, Madden slid all the way to the Tigers with the 32nd pick, signing for a $2.5M bonus.

Madden was outstanding in his first professional season in 2022 and appears to be on the fast track to Detroit, especially considering that organization’s lack of starting pitching depth.  He breezed through High A and AA, going a combined 8-6, with a 3.01 ERA in 122 innings and pitching his best in AA at the end of the season.  Madden has a full four-pitch arsenal led by a well commanded fastball with both sink and ride in the mid-90s.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Riley Greene

2022 Update:  Greene missed the first two months of the season with a leg fracture and eventually joined a sinking Tigers team in June.  He hit .253-5-42 the rest of the season, mostly out of the leadoff spot, while playing an above-average center field defensively.

Kansas City Royals  -- OF  Drew Waters

High School:  Etowah HS, Woodstock, Ga.
Travel Team:  643 DP Cougars
Final PG Class Ranking:  11
Drafted/Signing Bonus:  2017, Atlanta, 2nd round
Highest 2022 Level:  MLB
2023 Age:  24
Waters was a dominant player on the travel circuit with the 643 DP Cougars, picking up three tournament MVP trophies while playing on five WWBA tournament championship teams.  A true switch-hitter, Waters combined power and speed at the plate with top level defense in center field, while also occasionally hopping on the mound to throw 90 mph fastballs.  He stood out at the 2016 PG National Showcase on both sides of the ball and was an easy selection for the All-American Classic.

An outstanding senior season at Atlanta-area Etowah High School that saw him hit .516-15-40 with 29 walks solidified Waters' status as one of the top high school outfielders in the 2017 class and he finished his PG career as the 11th ranked player in the class.  The Braves, as they have often done over the years, didn’t stray far from home and picked Waters in the second round (41st overall) and signed him to a $1.5 bonus.  Waters was planning on attending Georgia, where is brother played baseball and his sister played soccer.

Waters got off to a fast start in the Braves' system, hitting .293-9-39 with 39 doubles and 23 steals as a 19-year-old in A ball in 2018 and quickly establishing himself as part of the Braves “Outfield of the Future” with Ronald Acuna and Christian Pache.  But scouts had always been a bit wary of Waters' swing, which features a complicated hand timer and the Braves soured on him after the strikeouts began to mount in AA and AAA (308 between the 2019 and 2021 seasons) without as much hard contact.  They eventually traded Waters along with two other minor leaguers to the Royals for the 35th pick in the 2022 draft that eventually ended up being Washington prep right-hander Ian Ritchie Jr.

Waters immediately went on a tear after the trade, hitting .295-7-17 while stealing 13 out of 13 bases and was called up to Kansas City in mid-August.  His power streak continued, as he hit .240-5-18 in his big league debut, although he did strike out 40 times in 109 plate appearances. 

The Royals played Waters at all three outfield positions, but baring any major trades between now and spring training, he looks most likely to start the 2023 season in right field in Kansas City.  Interestingly, there seems to be some confusion about whether Waters maintains his 2023 rookie status.  MLB.com says he remains rookie eligible, while Baseball Reference says he’s used up his rookie status.

2021 Featured PG Player:  SS Bobby Witt Jr.

2022 Update: Witt played in 150 games as a rookie in 2022 and finished fourth in the AL ROY balloting.  He hit .254-20-80 with 30 steals to fully highlight his potential as a future leader of the KC franchise.

Minnesota Twins  --  RHP Simeon Woods Richardson

High School:  Kempner HS, Houston, Texas
Travel Team:    Marucci Elite
Final PG Class Ranking:  49
Drafted:   2018, New York Mets, 2nd round
Highest 2022 Level:  MLB
2023 Age:  22

Woods Richardson was a very athletic two-way prospect in high school in the Houston area, the type of athlete who would have excelled in basketball or football or any other sport he chose. Woods Richardson did excel at other major Perfect Game events, including the 2017 WWBA 17U National Championships, where he hit .700 and was 91-93 mph off the mound, and the 2017 WWBA World Championships, where he was named All-Tournament both as a pitcher and a player.

Woods Richardson was very young for his class and was only 17 years, 8 months old on his 2018 draft day, so it was no surprise when he took a step forward his senior year, working into the mid-90s regularly and showing an advanced ability to throw strikes.  The Mets selected him in the second round with the 48th overall pick and signed him out from a Texas scholarship with a $1.85M bonus.

Woods Richardson’s path as a professional has been anything but linear thus far.  He was traded twice before his 21st birthday, first from the Mets to the Blue Jays as part of the Marcus Stroman deal, then again from Toronto to Minnesota in the Jose Berrios trade.  He also managed to pick up a silver medal for the USA Baseball team at the 2020 Olympics as one of the few prospects to play for that team.

Maybe because he was in a stable environment for the first time in 2022, Wood Richardson blossomed between AA and AAA, going 5-3, with a 2.77 ERA in 22 starts, allowing only 77 hits in 107 innings while striking out 115 hitters.  He made his Big League debut five days after his 22nd birthday, going five innings and allowing only two earned runs while picking up the loss.

The Twins have a multitude of veteran starting pitcher candidates on their present roster, even before potentially delving into the free agent market, so Woods Richardson will likely have another year in the minors to further develop.

2021 Featured PG Player:  3B Spencer Steer

2022 Update:  Steer duplicated his breakout 2021 season at the AA/AAA level, hitting .274-23-75/.879 OPS.  He was traded to the Reds at the trade deadline and earned a September call-up, hitting .211-2-8 in 28 games while playing all over the infield defensively.