Ten first-half climbers: Midwest League

By Jonathan Raymond

We’re about halfway through the Minor League season, so we’re going to start identifying 10 prospects from each full-season league who significantly improved their stock through the first half of the Minor League season. By the very nature of already being highly ranked within their organizations, it’s hard for top-10 prospects to do much more climbing, so we’ll stick to prospects that were either ranked outside their team’s top 10 — as rated before the season by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo — or who went unranked entirely.

1. Jesse Winker, LF (Dayton Dragons) — 2012 Draft, 1st round, 49th overall, Reds No. 11 prospect

What he did: .291/.395/.493, 9 HR, 4 3B, 10 2B, 42 RBIs in 60 games. Okay, so Winker just barely qualifies, as he was Cincinnati’s 11th-ranked prospect before the season began, but still. The 19-year-old has shown advanced bat control, with 36 walks to 44 strikeouts, while delivering nice power and even a little bit of speed.

Where he might rank now: It wouldn’t seem out of the question that Winker could fit in at the back of the Reds’ top five.winker

2. Dylan Unsworth, SP (Clinton LumberKings) — 2009 international signing, Mariners unranked

What he did: 4-1, 2.47 ERA, 44 K /2 BB in 62 innings — Yes, that’s correct, two walks in 62 innings. For those wondering, that works out to 0.29 walks per nine innings. The 20-year-old South African also ranks just outside the top five in the MWL in ERA at sixth.

Where he might rank now: He’s at least got an argument for slotting in somewhere between 15-20 after the start he’s had this year and a nice performance in the Northwest League last year.unsworth

3. Devon Travis, 2B (West Michigan Whitecaps) — 2012 Draft, 13th round, Tigers unranked

What he did: .350/.423/.488, 6 HR, 14 2B, 37 RBIs, 10 steals in 13 tries in 69 games — I wouldn’t say he’s come out nowhere to lead the MWL in batting average, but I’ll at least say he’s come out of somewhere obscure. A product of Florida State, the 22-year-old had a decent debut last year for Connecticut (.280/.352/.441 in 25 games) before coming out firing on all cylinders this year.

Where he might rank now: It’s probably presumptuous to say he’d crack the top 20 just yet, but with a full season like this and perhaps a promotion, he’d have a fighting chance.travis

4. Jeff Ames, SP (Bowling Green Hot Rods) — 2011 Draft, 1st round, 42nd overall, Rays No. 13

What he did: 6-1, 2.47 ERA, 42 K /10 BB in 58 1/3 innings — The 22-year-old actually sits tied with Unsworth for sixth in the league in ERA. His first half in the MWL is a nice consolidation on the gains he made last year when he posted a 1.96 ERA in 64 1/3 innings for Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League, striking out 70 and walking 20.

Where he might rank now: I’d reckon he’s at least a safe bet to crack the back half of the Rays top-10 if he continues this way.ames

5. Chris Bostick, 2B (Beloit Snappers) — 2011 Draft, 44th round, A’s unranked

What he did: .283/.366/.483, 9 HR, 4 3B, 11 2B, 47 RBIs, 13 steals in 15 tries in  65 games — Bostick chased his dream and went for baseball in 2011 out of high school in Rochester, N.Y. (Aquinas Institute), even though he was taken in the 44th round, and it’s beginning to look like a solid choice. The 20-year-old hit a modest .251/.325/.369 in 70 games for Vermont last season before turning into one of the breakout stars of the Oakland system this year.

Where he might rank now: He’s probably got a good shot to wind up somewhere between 12-15 of the Oakland top 20.bostick

6. Adam Walker, RF (Cedar Rapids Kernels) — 2012 Draft, 3rd round, Twins No. 18

What he did: .273/.321/.502, 10 HR, 5 3B, 16 2B, 54 RBIs, 6 steals in 6 tries in  63 games — Walker, a 21-year-old out of Jacksonville University, has some big strikeout numbers (62 in 245 at-bats) and he doesn’t walk a whole lot yet, but it’s hard not to like that power. He even showed off a little speed with five triples and a perfect six-for-six on steal attempts.

Where he might rank now: It all depends on how he continues to develop this season and how he does upon a promotion — if he gets one — but he could possibly rise as high as 11 or 12.walker

7. Joe Ross, SP (Fort Wayne TinCaps) — 2011 Draft, 1st round, 25th overall, Padres No. 12

What he did: 3-2, 2.71 ERA, 51 K/19 BB in 66 1/3 innings — Tyson Ross’ little brother was very good for Eugene in the Northwest League last year before he scuffled in a brief audition with the TinCaps. He’s been much better this year, however, with the 20-year-old flashing nice control while still maintaining a healthy strikeout rate.

Where he might rank now: A full season of this might be enough to nudge him up to 8 or 9.ross

8. Andrew Toles, CF (Bowling Green) — 2012 Draft, 3rd round, Rays unranked

What he did: .323/.350/.464, 1 HR, 9 3B, 16 2B, 41 steals in 46 tries in 61 games — The 21-year-old, like, Walker, doesn’t have the most advanced plate discipline yet, with eight walks to 57 strikeouts in 263 at-bats. But Toles, a Tennessee product, has surprising pop for a smaller center fielder (he had seven home runs and a .482 slugging percentage in 51 games for Princeton last year) and obvious speed.

Where he ranks now: Perhaps just inside the top 20, or more likely just outside looking in.toles

9. Vincent Velasquez, SP (Quad Cities River Bandits) — 2010 Draft, 2nd round, Astros No. 14

What he did: 4-3, 4.29 ERA, 69 K/22 BB in 63 innings — Velasquez is looking like a Tommy John survivor with the first half of his year. He came back in late 2012 and tossed a very nice  45 2/3 innings for Tri-City (3.35 ERA, 51 strikeouts, 17 walks) and has fared well in already building up the heaviest workload of his short career so far this season.

Where he ranks now: Getting through the full season healthy and maintaining his strikeout-an-inning rate should help him jump at least a couple spots in an Astros top 20 that’s bulging with talent.velasquez

10. Tyler Wagner, SP (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers) — 2012 Draft, 4th round, Brewers unranked

What he did: 6-5, 3.32 ERA, 59 K/24 BB in 65 innings — The 22-year-old has had a nice year for Wisconsin so far after he suffered through some bumps with Helena last year (7.77 ERA in 48 2/3 innings). The Utah product ranks in the top-15 of the MWL in strikeouts and WHIP (1.18).

Where he ranks now: He’s probably a little more likely in the 20-30 range still for now, but if he continues to improve as the season continues, you never know.


where is Peter OBrien on this list? had incredible first half

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