The 2014 Midwest League season gets under way Thursday, which means it’s time to take a look at some of the notable players assigned to MWL rosters this week. In this first installment of my multi-post preview, I’ll write about the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Bowling Green Hot Rods, and the Burlington Bees.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels began the 2013 season with Byron Buxton, who quickly played himself into the top spot on many prospect lists. They start the 2014 season with RHP Kohl Stewart, one of the most notable prospects to be assigned to the Midwest League this year. The Minnesota Twins drafted Stewart fourth overall in last year’s draft; Baseball America projects the 19-year-old’s best-case scenario as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the majors, with the chance to have four above-average pitches (fastball, power slider, curveball, change-up).
Two other Kernels pitchers are ranked among Baseball America‘s top 30 Twins prospects — RHP Felix Jorge at No. 17 and LHP Randy Rosario at No. 26 — which means Cedar Rapids may have a starting rotation to watch this year.
The West Michigan Whitecaps are getting a lot of attention this offseason because of the fire that caused extensive damage to their ballpark, but soon they should be getting attention for their roster, too. Five members of the team are ranked by Baseball America among the top 30 prospects in the Detroit Tigers organization: RHP Jonathon Crawford (No. 5), LHP Kevin Ziomek (No. 10), INF Javier Betancourt (No. 14), RHP Jeff Thompson (No. 24) and RHP Zac Reininger (No. 25).
Three Whitecaps outfielders also are players to keep an eye on: Raph Rhymes, who was the NCAA batting champion in 2012; the fleet-footed Austin Schotts, who plays center field; and Ben Verlander, younger brother of Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
The Whitecaps aren’t the only Midwest League team featuring a major-leaguer’s younger brother. The Bowling Green Hot Rods have two of their own: RHP Aaron Griffin (younger brother of Oakland A’s RHP A.J. Griffin, who pitched for the 2011 Burlington Bees) and INF Kean Wong (younger brother of St. Louis Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong, who played for the 2011 Quad Cities River Bandits). Griffin posted a 2.02 ERA in 75.2 IP and Wong batted .328 in 46 games last year.
LHP Blake Snell returns to the Hot Rods after going 4-9 with a 4.27 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 99 IP for Bowling Green in 2013. Snell struggles with control at times, but also continues to show enough promise that Baseball America has him ranked 14th among Tampa Bay Rays prospects while projecting him to be “a solid No. 3 starter if he refines all of his pitches.”
Catcher Oscar Hernandez also returns to the Hot Rods after spending the last few days of the 2013 season with Bowling Green.
The Burlington Bees have three pitchers who rank among Baseball America’s top 30 Los Angeles Angels prospects: RHP Victor Alcantara (No. 15), RHP Mike Clevinger (No. 17) and RHP Joe Krehbiel (No. 23). Krehbiel went 6-5 with a 2.74 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 66 IP for the Bees last year.
Another Bees player worth watching is OF Mike Fish (No. 18), who hit a home run every 18 at-bats in rookie ball last year. (Stat courtesy of Baseball America)