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Minors  | General  | 11/29/2023

PG Down on the Farm: AL Central

David Rawnsley     
PG DOWN ON THE FARM
 
It’s the time of the year again (i.e. the off-season) for the annual PG Down on the Farm feature.  We identify a top prospect in each of the 30 Major League organizations with as much Perfect Game background as possible and delve into that PG history for some insight into his development as a prospect.  Some of them might be high profile, high draft pick, ex-PG All-American talents who fans have been long familiar with.  Others might be more obscure prospects who have significantly improved either in college or as professionals.

The idea isn’t to necessarily pick the best PG background prospect in each organization but the one who might be closest to the big leagues.  Sometimes that is the same player, other times not.



And there is plenty of variation among organizations in their quantity and quality of prospects, whether it be those with PG backgrounds or not.  There are multiple Baltimore Orioles prospects that would be easy choices to profile this year.  The annual struggle to identify a Houston Astros prospect is just that.  We’ve listed the last two year’s profile choices, along with a quick summary of how last year’s prospect performed in 2023.  We’re proud to note that both of last year’s ROY picks, the Diamondbacks Corbin Carroll and the Orioles Gunner Henderson, were profiled in 2022 and 2021 respectively.

The profiles will be organized by League/Division and run on the following schedule.

American League East  (November 27)
American League Central  (November 29)
American League West  (December 1)
National League East  (December 4)
National League Central  (December 6)
National League West  (December  8)


American League Central



Chicago White Sox  --  RHP Jonathan Cannon

High School:  Centennial HS, Roswell, Ga.
College:  Georgia
Travel Team:  Georgia Jackets
Final PG Class Ranking:  236
Drafted:  2022, 3rd round, Chicago White Sox
Highest 2023 Level:  AA
2024 Age:  23

Cannon participated in close to 30 Perfect Game tournaments and showcases during his high school days and while being a primary right-handed pitcher with an outstanding 6-foot-5, 195-pound build, he was regarded as a two-way prospect and made almost as many All-Tournament teams as a power hitting first baseman as a pitcher.

His ceiling was clearly best as a pitcher, though, and his best event was probably the 2018 WWBA 17U National Championships, where he struck out seven hitters in four perfect innings over two games for the Georgia Jackets.  Cannon was 91-93 mph during both those outings with a mid-80’s slider and change up. 

Cannon’s only PG showcase was the 2017 PG Underclass All-American Games at the University of San Diego.  Cannon received a PG 9.5 Grade at the event and this report: 

Long and loose athletic build, projects very well physically. Tall and fall delivery with a compact arm action in back, will get off balance and off line with his lower half at times, arm is quick coming through. Steady upper 80's fastball, topped out at 89 mph, more in there with adjustments and physical maturity. Has confidence in his change up and uses it aggressively, turns it over well for late fading action. Short breaking slider gets off barrels. Showed very athletic actions at first base and could easily be a standout right fielder on defense, arm strength really showed at first base with a longer arm stroke and more lower half use than on the mound. Right-handed hitter, long power-oriented swing with nice leverage at contact, was very aggressive in games attacking pitches and impacted the ball well. Very interesting athlete with some ceiling to him. Good student, verbal commitment to Georgia.

Cannon had some interest in the 2019 draft but had a firm commitment to Georgia.  He immediately got attention as a freshman in 2020, posting a 0.00 ERA in five early season outings, allowing only four hits and two walks in 11 innings, before the season was shut down due to the pandemic.  Cannon went on to start 25 games for Georgia over the 2021-22 seasons, posting almost identical numbers both years, near 4.00 ERA’s while posting outstanding command ratios (25 walks in 141 innings) but also striking out relatively few hitters for his talent level.

PG scouts got a number of looks on Cannon during the 2022 spring SEC season and reported the same thing almost every time; a fastball that sat at 94 mph and touched 96-97 mph, an improving upper 80’s cutter, a solid mid-80’s change up and a low 80’s slurve.  He consistently attacked hitters in the strike zone but often found barrels as well.

That package on a healthy college junior, who was now listed at 6-foot-6, 213-pounds, earned Cannon a third round draft pick (101st overall) from the White Sox and an over slot $925,000 signing bonus.  He split the 2023 season between High A and AA, going 6-6, 4.46 in 25 starts and 121 total innings, with ratios that would be familiar to anyone who saw his career at Georgia.

As the White Sox begin their anticipated tear down and rebuild, they have consistently targeted pitching prospects in return.  Cannon ranks as one of their top potential home grown arms moving forward.


2022 Featured PG Player:  SS Colson Montgomery

2023 Update:   Montgomery missed the first half of the season with a back injury but recovered well, hitting .287-8-37 with 56 walks in 64 games the second half, 37 of those at AA.  He remains easily the White Sox top prospect.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Matthew Thompson

 

Cleveland Guardians  --   RHP Tanner Burns

High School:  Decatur HS, Decatur, Ala.
College:  Auburn
Travel Team:  Georgia Jackets
Final PG Class Ranking:  33
Drafted:  2020, 1st round, Cleveland Guardians, 36th overall
Highest 2023 Level:  AA
2024 Age:  24

Burns is an unusual example of player development in that physically and in his raw stuff he has changed very little over the seven to eight years.  He came into his velocity early, first hitting 90 mph (actually 91) at the 2014 WWBA World Underclass Championship as a 15-year old.  When he threw at the 2016 PG National Showcase, he worked 92-95 mph with his fastball to go with an 83 mph slurve and an 81 mph change up.  At that National Showcase, Burns was listed at 6-foot, 205-pounds with a strong, well-developed build.

If you look up Burns base information today, you’d find him listed at 6-foot, 210-pounds and throwing basically a 92-95 mph fastball, three varied breaking balls and a change up.  It’s the same package on the mound as it was when Burns pitched in the PG All-American Classic in 2016.

Here’s his report from the 2016 National Showcase:

Very strong well-developed build, especially in the lower half. Simple turn and throw delivery, low effort mechanics, full loose arm action, high 3/4's arm slot, creates angle despite height. Fastball up to 95 mph, ball comes out of his hand easily, showed the ability to work both corners and keep the ball down in the zone with his fastball. Comes over his breaking ball as a curveball despite hard slider velocity, showed nasty bite when he was on top of it, has a feel for spinning the ball. Developing change up. Works quickly and fills up the strike zone and has an idea what he's doing for a young pitcher. Father is the head coach at Calhoun State JC. Reminds strongly of 2012 PG All-American Grant Holmes. Good student, verbal commitment to Auburn. Selected for the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Burns had a very strong commitment to Auburn and wasn’t drafted until the 37th round in 2017 by the Yankees.  He started 17 games for Auburn as a freshman and 15 as a sophomore, quickly establishing himself as an above average SEC starter and posting very impressive ratios especially as a sophomore, when he went 4-4, 2.82 with 101 strikeouts and only 23 walks in 79 innings.  His 2020 junior season was cut off after five starts (32 K’s in 22 innings) by the pandemic. 

Burns fit Cleveland’s college pitcher model perfectly as a strike thrower who had seemingly plateaued with his velocity and they picked in him with the 36th overall pick in the 2020 draft and signed him for a $1,600,000 bonus.

Burns has had almost identical seasons in AA in 2022 and 2023, posting mid-3.00 ERA’s with good strikeout numbers and a few too many walks while throwing 88 and 86 innings.  He shifted from the starting rotation to the bullpen mid-way through the 2023 campaign and it will be interesting to see how Burns velocity and quality of strikes responds to that change if it continues in 2024.  There is a near-term role on Cleveland’s young staff potentially for Burns if all goes well.
 

2022 Featured PG Player:  C Bo Naylor

2023 Update:  Naylor spent the first half of the season in AAA (.253-13-48) before being promoted and after a slow start, firmly established himself as the Guardian’s catcher of the future, hitting .237-11-32/.809 OPS and playing strong defense.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Daniel Espino



Detroit Tigers  --  3B Colt Keith

High School:  Biloxi HS, Biloxi, Miss.
Travel Team:  Midland Redskins
Final PG Class Ranking:  107
Drafted:  2020, 5th round, Detroit Tigers
Highest 2023 Level:  AAA
2024 Age:  22

It’s remarkable how similar in background Keith and Texas Rangers phenom Evan Carter are in background and potential.  And yet Carter has a World Series ring and a national name and Keith is familiar only to hardcore prospect fans and hopefully members of deep keeper fantasy leagues.

Suffice to say that if you’d read a Top 100 prospect list for all of baseball on September 1, 2023, Keith may have ranked higher, especially coming off a season where he hit .306-27-101/.932 OPS as a 21-year old between AA and AAA.

Keith dominated high school baseball in Biloxi, Mississippi from an early age, hitting .510-7-56 as a sophomore and .527-8-49 as a junior while averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning on the mound.  He played in some high-level Perfect Game events, including the 2018 Junior National, the 2018 PG Underclass All-American Games and twice in Jupiter but stood out more on the mound as an 89-92 mph thrower than as a left-handed hitter.  Keith played in few regional tournaments, did not attend the 2019 PG National Showcase and generally didn’t have much of a national scouting profile entering the pandemic shortened 2020 high school season.  Like Carter, he seemed a sure bet to go on to college, in Keith’s case surprisingly out of SEC country and to Arizona State.

The Tigers, like the Rangers, out-scouted everyone under the difficult 2020 conditions and took Keith with the first pick in the fifth and final round and signed him for a $500,000 bonus.

(Sidenote:  It’s very interesting to note that the fifth round of this unique 2020 draft has already produced five MLB players and is likely to see that figure easily double if not triple in the next few years.  In retrospect, teams took chances, especially in that final round, that they wouldn’t repeat today.  The Rangers 2020 draft was sheer genius.)

Keith has made solid contact since his first day as a professional and his power numbers have exploded as he’s added 15 pounds of muscle since signing (now listed 6-foot-2, 211-pounds), going from two home runs in 2021 to nine in an injury shortened 2022 season to the 27 in 2023.  He also notched 38 doubles and 3 triples in 2023.

One major question on Keith’s future is what position he will play when he reached Detroit.  With below average speed and a plus arm, he seems a natural fit for third base.  But the Tigers have consistently played him about 30% of the time at second base since signing and turned the tables once he reached AAA last mid-season, playing him about 70% of the time at second base.


2022 Featured PG Player:  RHP Ty Madden

2023 Update:   The Tigers took the patient approach with Madden, giving him 25 starts in AA (3-4, 3.43 in 118 innings).  Madden’s stuff was top notch (146 K’s) but refining his command (50 walks) will be his next development step.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Riley Greene

 

Kansas City Royals  --  IF Nick Loftin

High School:  Ray HS, Corpus Christi, Texas
Colleges:  Baylor
Travel Team:  Prospects National Team
Final PG Class Ranking:  500
Drafted:  2020, 1st round, Kansas City Royals, 32nd overall
Highest 2023 Level:  MLB
2024 Age:  25

One of the realities of playing baseball in South Texas, and especially in the Corpus Christi area, is that you are probably going to be playing in a vacuum for the time being.  There is outstanding high school baseball in the Corpus Christi area but scouts are loath to travel that far south and the nearest major city, San Antonio, is not a baseball town compared to its large Texas peers.  Top South Texas players are almost always under ranked and end up in college.

That was Loftin’s case in high school.  He went to an outstanding program in Corpus Christi Ray High School and competed in numerous, but mostly regional, Perfect Game tournaments playing for the Prospects National Team.  Like so many players, his listed size as a teenager wrong to the point of distraction; he was listed at most events at 6-foot-2, 160-pounds.  Loftin is now listed at 5-foot-11, 180-pounds.

Loftin was a prized recruit at Baylor and started from Day 1, quickly establishing himself as a sure-handed shortstop with a bit of juice in his bat to go along with some of the lowest strikeout rates in college baseball.  As a sophomore, Loftin hit .331-6-43/.911 OPS in 53 games with 20 doubles and only 17 strikeouts.  When the pandemic canceled most of the 2020 season, Loftin was well positioned in the draft and went 32nd overall to the Royals, signing for a $3M bonus.

The Royals played Loftin at his natural shortstop position during much of his debut season in 2021 but have moved him all around the field since, as Bobby Witt Jr. has the shortstop position locked down for years to come.  He’s actually now played more games at third base (94), second base (74) and center field (62) than shortstop as a professional and played eight games at first base in his MLB debut in 2023.

Loftin’s strong late season debut in 2023 (.323-0-10 in 19 games) along with his defensive versatility and skill (no errors after his call-up) give him a very good chance of earning a spot on the Royals opening day roster.

The similarity of Loftin’s career track so far seems like a duplicate of fellow Corpus Christi native Cliff Pennington (Corpus Christi Carroll HS/Texas A&M), who fashioned an 11-year MLB career out of a similar tools/skill set and the ability to play all over the field.

 
2022 Featured PG Player:  OF Drew Waters

2023 Update:   Waters hit .228-8-32 with 16 stolen bases in 98 games for the Royals, working mostly as the left-handed hitter in center field and right field platoons.

2021 Featured PG Player:  SS Bobby Witt Jr.

 

Minnesota Twins  --  SS Brooks Lee

High School:  San Luis Obispo HS, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
College:  Cal Poly
Travel Team:    BPA
Final PG Class Ranking:  26
Drafted:   2022, 1st round, Minnesota Twins, 8th overall
Highest 2023 Level: AAA
2024 Age:  23

Lee has been a well-known player since his early teen years, in part by being the consummate polished Southern California shortstop and in part due to his being the son of long-time Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee. 

The switch-hitting Lee was ranked 26th overall in the PG class rankings headed into the 2019 draft and reportedly turned down bonus offers over $2M in order to play for his father at Cal Poly.  As a sign of just how polished Lee’s bat was as an 18-year old, he played in the West Coast Collegiate League following his senior year and hit .343-2-30 in 37 games.

Lee missed almost all of his 2020 freshman year with back issues and the pandemic but rebounded to hit a combined .351-25-114/1.073 OPS, including 52 doubles and more walks than strikeouts between the 2021 and 2022 seasons.  Although scouts never considered Lee more than a potential average shortstop defensively, with some openly saying he was a future third baseman due to his range, virtually everyone was solid on his bat, especially as a switch-hitting left side infielder.  The Twins picked him with the eighth overall pick and signed him for $5,675,000.

The Twins wasted no time on the already developed Lee in his first full season in 2023, starting him in AA and moving him to AAA for the last seven weeks of the season.  He hit a combined .275-16-84/.808 OPS with 39 doubles with only 91 strikeouts in 567 plate appearances.  Lee also played almost exclusively at shortstop, with only a handful of games at third base.

With Lee near big league ready, the Twins have an interesting situation in that two of their franchise players, former first overall picks Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis, happen to play shortstop and third base respectively.  It’s a potential problem that all organizations would like to have.

 
2022 Featured PG Player:  RHP Simeon Woods Richardson

2023 Update:  Woods Richardson took a step back in 2023, especially with his command, as he spent almost the whole year in AAA, going 7-6, 4.91 and walking 61 hitters in 113 innings before making on late season relief appearance in Minnesota.

2021 Featured PG Player:  3B Spencer Steer