Ten first-half climbers: South Atlantic 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. Rosell Herrera, SS (Asheville Tourists) — 2009 international signing, Rockies No. 11 prospect

What he did: .356/.431/.574, 13 HR, 20 2B, 50 RBIs, 17 steals in 23 tries in 70 games. Hard to ask for much more than that. Herrera is second in the Sally League in average and fourth in OPS, making him yet another top shortstop prospect to emerge in the lower rungs of the Minors. It’s been a huge breakout for the 20-year-old switch hitter after he mustered just a .543 OPS in 63 games for the Tourists following a callup last season.

Where he might rank now: Herrera, along with Eddie Butler (1.66 ERA in 54 1/3 frames for Asheville) — who would have also featured in this space if he hadn’t earned a promotion and spent about half his season so far in the California League — have an argument for jumping into the Rockies’ top five.

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2. Rafael De Paula, SP (Charleston RiverDogs) — 2010 international signing, Yankees No. 19 prospect

What he did: 6-2, 2.94 ERA, 96 K/23 BB in 64 1/3 innings. De Paula is kind of a late bloomer in professional baseball terms — his first stint in the Dominican Summer League came last year, when he was 21. But he’s obviously progressing quickly, having racked up the second-most strikeouts in all the Minor Leagues this year. The 22-year-old made his debut in the Florida State League on Sunday, where he struck out six in five scoreless innings for Tampa.

Where he might rank now: Given some of the attrition at the top of the Yankees’ top 20, it’s possible he’s due for a jump all the way into the back of the top 10, provided his FSL stint resembles his domination of the Sally League.

Rafael De Paula

3. Stetson Allie, 1B (West Virginia Power) — 2010 Draft, 2nd round, Pirates unranked

What he did: .324/.414/.607, 17 HR, 16 2B, 61 RBIs in 66 games. Once upon a time, Allie actually was a top-10 Pirates prospect — as a pitcher. It’s pretty well-known by now how, with pitching just not working out, he refashioned himself as an offensive player last year. Though Pittsburgh was likely disappointed at how the 22-year-old was turning out for a time, it’s safe to say they have to be happy with how things are looking now.

Where he might rank now: Allie, too, was recently shipped up to the FSL, and whether he ranks somewhere in the mid-teens of the Pirates top 20, even higher, or goes unranked entirely will depend on how he finishes out the year with Bradenton. Like DePaula, he’s a 22-year-old who just made it to Class A Advanced, which is not usually the timetable of a top prospect.

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4. Tyler Glasnow, SP (West Virginia) — 2011 Draft, 5th round, Pirates No. 17

What he did: 4-1, 2.60 ERA, 95 K/37 BB in 62 1/3 innings. The 6-foot-7 right-hander has built on a nice debut last year (1.88 ERA in 38 1/3 innings mostly in the GCL)  and improved his stock probably as much as anyone. Glasnow hasn’t even turned 20 yet (that will come on Aug. 23), yet has racked up enough punchouts to tie for eighth-most in the Minors.

Where he might rank now: It’s hard to imagine him not at least climbing up toward one of the 8-10 spots.

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5. Micah Johnson, 2B (Kannapolis Intimidators) — 2012 Draft, 9th round, White Sox unranked

What he did: .335/.416/.524, 6 HR, 9 3B, 16 2B, 38 RBIs, 55 steals in 71 tries in 70 games. The 22-year-old has done a bit of everything this year. In addition to leading the SAL in triples and stolen bases (by a healthy margin), Johnson sits sixth in OPS. He showed he could get on base and use his speed with Great Falls last year, hitting .273/.375/.391 in 69 games with 19 steals in 25 tries, but the uptick in power is a nice surprise if he can carry it with him to the higher levels.

Where he might rank: Tough to say. Without being too aggressive, let’s say somewhere between 10-20 of an improving but still thin White Sox system.

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6. C.J. Edwards, SP (Hickory Crawdads) — 2011 Draft, 48th round, Rangers No. 17

What he did: 6-2, 2.05 ERA, 86 K/27 BB in 66 innings. Edwards is kind of like Chris Bostick in the Midwest League. Both took the leap out of high school into pro ball after being taken past the 40th round in the Draft (both in 2011, incidentally) and both have turned into very nice prospects for their organizations. At 21, Edwards ranks fourth in the SAL in ERA and is tied for fourth in WHIP.

Where he might rank now: It seems like almost all of Texas’ prospects are enjoying nice years, so it’s hard to find much wiggle room for Edwards. Still, he could see a bump to around 13 or 14.

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7. Tom Murphy, C (Asheville) — 2012 Draft, 3rd round, Rockies No. 20

What he did: .314/.398/.638, 13 HR, 17 2B, 51 RBIs in 50 games. Arguably no batter has done as well as Murphy in the Sally League this season. The 22-year-old, who was the 105th pick in last year’s Draft, hit .288/.349/.462 in his debut in the Northwest League last year and improved on that considerably in the first few months of 2013.

Where he might rank now: In the same way that Herrera may have vaulted himself into top-5 consideration, Murphy could get a nod right around 10, though perhaps more likely 11 or 12.

MiLB: JUN 07 South Atlantic League - Asheville Tourists at Charleston RiverDogs

8. Gabriel Ynoa, SP (Savannah Sand Gnats) — 2009 international signing, Mets unranked

What he did: 8-2, 2.77, 63 K/9 BB in 74 2/3 innings. Ynoa, who just turned 20 at the end of May, is one of the younger players in the league and ranks second in WHIP, mostly thanks to limiting his free passes issued to just nine. His walks per nine innings stands at just 1.08 and he’s managed to maintain a pretty decent strikeout rate on top of it.

Where he might rank now: Ynoa isn’t known for having the same kind of pure stuff that might get other prospects more highly rated, but he could probably fit in nicely in the 15-20 range.

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9. Mookie Betts, 2B (Greenvile Drive) — 2011 Draft, 5th round, Red Sox unranked

What he did: .296/.420/.496, 8 HR, 20 2B, 14 steals in 15 tries in 63 games. Betts may have flashed one of the most advanced approaches of any Minor Leaguer in the first half of this season. The 20-year-old had 17 more walks (49) than strikeouts (32). He also showed some pop, as evidenced by 29 extra-base hits and a nearly .500 slugging percentage (after not hitting any homers in 71 games for Lowell last year) and stole a few bags incredibly efficiently. Basically, he’s one of those guys that appears to do everything well.

Where he might rank: The Sox have a pretty loaded system, so don’t expect a meteoric rise, but if he keeps it up he could sneak in around the 16-18 range.

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10. Orlando Castro, SP (West Virginia) — 2009 international signing, Pirates unranked

What he did: 7-4, 1.93 ERA, 63 K/6 BB in 74 2/3 innings. They’ve got a few good seasons going on over there in West Virginia, huh? It’s not quite Dylan Unsworth eye-popping, but just six walks in nearly 75 innings and a sub-2 ERA was still enough to put the 21-year-old Dominican Republic native on the map and earn him a promotion to Bradenton.

Where he might rank now: It’s not out of the realm of possibility he’ll assume the very No. 17 spot Glasnow appears to be graduating from. Someone around there seems likely, at least.

West Virginia Power pitcher Orlando Castro (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

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