Minors | General | 12/3/2019

PG in the Pros: AL Central

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Royce Lewis (Perfect Game)

As part of Perfect Game's recurring PG in the Pros series David Rawnsley will take a look at some of the top prospects in minor league baseball and their impact on the sport prior to their professional careers. This will be done in a six-part series, one feature for each division in Major League Baseball while identifying one of the top prospects for each team. Links are provided below to past installments of the PG in the Pros series for other reports on prospects, both past and present.

PG in the Pros: AL West

Chicago White Sox

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Erik Johnson, Courtney Hawkins, Tyler Danish
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15
– Chris Beck, Micah Johnson, Jacob May
PG in the Pros, 2015-16
– Tim Anderson
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Carson Fulmer
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Zack Collins
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Dylan Cease

Nick Madrigal, 2B

Madrigal attended Elk Grove High School in the Sacramento, California area and rarely traveled outside the West Coast to play except for USA Baseball events and teams, which he was a fixture at for his entire high school and college career.

His prospect status with scouts in high school was very similar to Dustin Pedroia’s at the same age 14 years earlier. It was obvious to evaluators that Madrigal was often the best pure baseball player on the field but his 5-foot-7, 155-pound stature kept him from being considered a true draft prospect out of high school. Madrigal starred on the 2014 USA Baseball 18u National Team alongside teammates including Trent Grisham, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Daz Cameron, hitting .462-0-7 and finishing second on the team with 18 runs scored. But he was only a 17th round selection (Cleveland) and moved on to play at Oregon State.

Madrigal continued to do pretty much the same thing at Oregon State as their starting shortstop for three years as he’d done in high school: hit for a high average, show plus speed on the bases, never strike out and play flawless and sometimes spectacular defense. He was named a first team All-American as a sophomore, hitting .380-4-40 with 20 doubles and 16 stolen bases and leading Oregon State to a 56-6 record and a College World Series berth.

Scouts still had the same worries headed into Madrigal’s junior year concerning his size and lack of power, but just as was easily predictable out of high school, his overwhelming skills and performance in his strength areas made him an easy first round candidate to start the spring. That junior year got off to a slow start as Madrigal missed a month of the early season after breaking his left hand in a slide into home plate but he rebounded to hit .367-3-34 in 42 games with a typical 16 walks versus only seven strikeouts and this time lead Oregon State to a College World Series championship.

Before the Beavers conquered Omaha there was the matter of the 2018 draft. Madrigal was the fourth overall pick to the White Sox and signed after the CWS for a bonus of just in excess of $6.4 million.

Cleveland Indians

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Francisco Lindor
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Clint Frazier, Tyler Naquin, Mitch Brown
PG in the Pros, 2015-16– Bobby Bradley
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Triston McKenzie
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Conner Capel
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Nolan Jones

Tyler Freeman, SS

Like many Southern California middle infield prospects, Freeman never stood out for his raw baseball tools but rather for his ability to play the game and perform. Not to say that the 6-foot, 170-pound Freeman’s tools were average, as he ran a 6.77 60-yard dash at the 2016 PG National Showcase and showed a strong arm at shortstop, but watching him in drills and batting practice at a showcase didn’t make one think about a day one draft prospect out of high school.

What did make Freeman a day one draft was watching him perform in games, both as a four-year starter for Etiwanda High School and for the powerhouse CBA Marucci program, for whom Freeman often shifted over to second base while fellow top prospect Nick Allen played shortstop.

At Etiwanda, Freeman hit .405-8-70 with 109 runs scored in 107 games, including .526-4-36 as a senior while leading Etiwanda to a 27-3 record. If anything, he was even better during the summer and fall for CBA Marucci. Freeman played in eight WWBA tournaments in 2015-2016 and was named to the All-Tournament team at all eight events, including being named the MVP at 2015 PG/Evoshield National Underclass Championship.

Something that really stood out after watching Freeman play repeatedly was his ability to handle the best pitchers and different types of pitches. A righthanded hitter, Freeman always stayed within his comfort zone, never needing to adjust his approach to catch up to someone throwing low-90s or trying to work him with a heavy off-speed diet early in counts. A typical Freeman hit was a line drive to right-center field that often had the bat speed behind it to scoot up the gap enough for a double.

The same thing was evident on defense, where Freeman wasn’t the type to make the spectacular play – as his CBA teammate Allen did regularly – but rather to make the routine play routinely and the difficult play just as routinely. Freeman’s play was rock steady game in and game out. And he never left a baseball field without a dirty uniform and a smile on his face.

Although he was a Perfect Game All-American, Freeman didn’t fit the normal profile of an early draft out of high school and even the PG staff talked at times about what a great college player he was destined to become at TCU. But the combination of his dominant senior season and the fact that he was a young senior, turning 18 years old just prior to the draft, still made him a high draft prospect for high school focused teams. The Cleveland Indians were one of them, picking Freeman in the second round with the 71st overall pick and signing him for a $816,500 bonus.

Detroit Tigers

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Nick Castellanos, Jake Thompson, James McCann
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Buck Farmer, Kevin Ziomek, Joe Jimenez
PG in the Pros, 2015-16
– Derek Hill
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Beau Burrows
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Daz Cameron
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Matt Manning

Casey Mize, RHP

Like many of the top pitchers of this generation – Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale to name three – Mize matured relatively late as a power arm and was not considered a draft prospect out of high school. A resident of Springdale, Alabama, Mize pitched at nine WWBA events during 2013 and 2014 with Team Georgia Baseball Academy with a then-listed size of 6-foot-3, 175-pounds. He worked in the 85-88 mph range coming out of his sophomore season and 88-91 in the 2014 summer and fall events, topping out at 92 mph at the 2014 WWBA 17u National Championship. Mize had a four-pitch mix of fastball, curveball, slider and changeup even back in high school.

Mize was not drafted out of Springdale High School in the 2015 draft and was ranked 351st in the final Perfect Game 2015 class rankings. He moved on to Auburn and pitched well in a swing role for the Tigers as a freshman, going 2-5 with a 3.52 ERA and notably striking out 59 in 69 innings while only walking 18 hitters.

Mize’s last two seasons at Auburn were often completely dominant, however. Now throwing consistently in the mid-90s with a power mid-80s split-finger change and a cutter/slider that both graded out as plus pitches, Mize struck out 265 hitters in 198 innings in the 2017-18 seasons while only walking 25 hitters. The idea of a power pitcher posting a near 11-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over a two-year period while pitching Friday nights in the SEC almost defied the ability to understand that level of dominance and command at the same time. It was a small quibbling point for scouts looking for something to criticize about Mize that he still managed to go “only” 10-6, 3.30 and allow 10 home runs as a junior despite his raw stuff and dominance.

That and other small points weren’t material when it came to the 2018 draft, however, as Mize was an almost foregone conclusion to be the first overall pick. That happened when the Detroit Tigers took him off the board first, later signing him to a $7.5 million bonus.

Kansas City Royals

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Sean Manea, Bubba Starling
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Hunter Dozier, Kyle Zimmer
PG in the Pros, 2015-16 – Chase Vallot
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Jake Junis
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Foster Griffin
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – MJ Melendez

Brady Singer, RHP

Singer pitched in his first Perfect Game event early in his freshman year, taking the mound at the 2011 WWBA Underclass World Championship for Chet Lemon’s Juice, topping out at 76 mph with a mid-60s curveball. He maintained an almost perfect velocity progression through the rest of his high school career, working in the low-80s in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, then up to 88 mph the following summer and finally in the 88-92 range the summer before his senior year.

A still very projectable 6-foot-5, 180-pound athlete at that point, Singer received an invitation to the 2014 PG National Showcase and his report from that event, where he received a PG 10 grade, was a good snapshot of where he stood at that point in his development.

Long and slender prototypical projectable pitcher's build, lots of room to get stronger. Long loose arm, balanced high hand delivery, low to mid three-quarters arm slot, fairly up-tempo delivery, tends to land on a stiff front side. Fastball topped at 91 mph, maintained velocity well, lots of arm-side running action, works fastball down in the zone well with life, ground ball pitcher. Sweeping low-70s curveball, tends to get around the pitch, flashes good spin and depth at times. Developing changeup, tends to slow arm on release. Has a feel for the strike zone, may evolve into a sinker/slider pitcher with the development of the slider.

Singer took the next step in his progression during his senior season, working into the mid-90s at times with the same type of hard running action and command while showing improvement on his breaking ball. The Toronto Blue Jays selected him in the second round with the 56th overall pick but Singer decided to pass on the Blue Jays offer and attended Florida.

Like many freshmen, even with a second-round pedigree, Singer worked primarily out of the bullpen in his first year, posting a 2-2, 4.95 record in 43 innings. He blossomed as a starter over the next two years, going a combined 21-8 in 36 starts while striking out 243 hitters in 239 innings versus only 54 walks.

There was plenty of early season talk about Singer being a potential top 10 pick in the 2018 draft but scouts had consistent concerns about Singer’s lower than normal arm slot and his still inconsistent slider and many felt that his ceiling was more as a back-of-the-rotation sinker/slider innings eater than a mid- to top-of-the-rotation starter. Still, it was a bit surprising when Singer slid all the way to the 18th slot and the Kansas City Royals before coming off the board. Post-draft analysis generally credited the Royals with getting a steal at that point in the first round.

Singer quickly signed for $4.5 million.

Minnesota Twins

Before They Were Pros, 2013-14 – Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Jose Berrios
Before They Were Pros, 2014-15 – Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves
PG in the Pros, 2015-16
– Kax Kepler
PG in the Pros, 2016-17 – Nick Gordon
PG in the Pros, 2017-18 – Travis Blankenhorn
PG in the Pros, 2018-19 – Alex Kirilloff

Royce Lewis, SS/OF

Lewis stayed pretty close to his Aliso Viejo, California home during his high school career, rarely traveling outside the state except to play in major national level events. He played mostly second base while at JSerra High School in deference to Chase Strumpf, who was a year older and would later become a second round pick out of UCLA in 2019, ironically as a second baseman. Lewis only moved to shortstop for JSerra as a senior, although he played the position at major showcases and during the summer. Lewis also frequently played the outfield at these showcases, including at the 2016 Perfect Game National Showcase.

Lewis was named the 13th overall best prospect at that PG National, garnering him a place in the PG All-American Classic. His report from that event reads:

Long and slender athletic build, high waist, has good present strength with room for more. Graceful athlete who does everything smoothly. 6.64 runner, has made significant improvement defensively in the infield, arm action has taken two steps forward, shows quickness to the ball in the infield and good balance, gets rid of the ball quickly, very good charging the ball with his hand quickness and release. Shows natural outfield actions with nice arm strength and good balance/footwork. Righthanded hitter, high leg lift trigger, gets his foot down in time and has good timing, short and quick swing, showed big power to the middle of the field and the right-center field gap, good lower half use in his swing, has barrel skills and squares the ball up. Very projectable athlete, most impressed by the defensive improvement.

One of the major questions that followed Lewis through high school was his future defensive position, with all three of the middle-of-the-field positions in the discussion due to Lewis’s superior athleticism. After watching him at the National Showcase, and at many other events that summer, the Perfect Game staff was strongly convinced that although Lewis would be an excellent center fielder. Even then, he still had a strong chance of sticking at shortstop where his offensive potential would be even more valuable.

Two things that were never in question about Lewis were his athleticism and his makeup/work ethic. In addition to playing the game with a smooth and seemingly effortless athleticism, Lewis showed maturity and polish well beyond his years both on and off the field.

After his MVP performance at the PG All-American Classic, Lewis saw his stock rise quickly during his senior spring, especially with scouts having the opportunity to see him play shortstop regularly for the first time. Another Southern California high school standout, Hunter Greene, was widely considered the top prospect in a balanced group at the top of the draft, with North Carolina high school southpaw a MacKenzie Gore a close second. Perfect Game had Lewis ranked third in the class going into the draft as well.

But teams are extremely hesitant to pick high school pitchers first overall, especially a 17-year old righthander like Greene, and Lewis was right there close behind for the Minnesota Twins to pick with the top selection. Lewis had signed with nearby UC Irvine but quickly signed with the Twins for a $6,725,000 bonus.

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