The final Minor League Barometer of the season will serve as a partial recap of the year that was, as well as a look forward towards 2017. The article will focus on those players who have helped their cause the most this year, along with those that have seen their stock take a significant downturn. As always, this list is not meant to be comprehensive and complete, but merely a snapshot at some of the more relevant stories of the 2016 campaign. Likewise, the analysis will concern players that have not yet made it to the big leagues.
Honorable mentions go to Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot of the San Diego Padres, Mitch Keller of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rowdy Tellez of the Toronto Blue Jays, Brent Honeywell of the Tampa Bay Rays, Stephen Gonsalves of the Minnesota Twins, Tyler Beede of the San Francisco Giants and Phil Bickford of the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, there's never enough room to give everyone the props they deserve.
Without further ado, here are the biggest movers and shakers of 2016.
Dylan Cozens, OF, PHI - Even with a poor last 10 days at Double-A, Cozens has still had a titanic season. It is true that his home park in Reading is very hitter-friendly, but that should not take away from the fact that he has slugged 38 home runs and knocked in 120 runs in 128 games at this level. The 22-year-old has the minor league lead in dingers. Cozens also stole 21 bases and was caught just one time. He still must prove he can hit for average at the higher levels, and his strikeout issues remain a concern. However, it would be difficult to find a player with a more productive, eye-opening performance this season in the minors.
Michael Kopech, P, BOS - Injuries and a suspension for marijuana put a damper on Kopech's future prospects as early as the beginning of this season, but he has rebounded to utterly dominate the competition at High-A. In his last five starts, a span of 29 innings, Kopech has an outrageous 49:9 K:BB. In 10 starts at High-A in 2016, Kopech's ERA is 1.23, and opposing batters are hitting a paltry .144 against him. The massive strikeout potential shown by Kopech has vaulted him up the rankings. With the trade of Anderson Espinoza to the San Diego Padres, Kopech is the unquestioned top pitching prospects for the Red Sox, and may have as much upside as any pitcher currently in the minors.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, CHC - Jimenez made a huge statement during the Futures Game in July. The teenager made a leaping grab over the wall in foul territory, then followed that up by hitting a mammoth home run to secure the win for the World squad. Jimenez is having a terrific season at Low-A South Bend as well. The 19-year-old is batting .331/.371/.526 with 14 home runs, 81 RBI and eight steals through 111 games. The scariest part is that Jimenez could only be just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.
Francisco Mejia, C, CLE - Mejia set a minor league record in 2016, hitting safely in a staggering 50-straight games between Low-A and High-A. Unsurprisingly, the 20-year-old has shown an extremely advanced approach at the dish. Overall, Mejia is hitting .338 between the two levels with 11 home runs and 79 RBI. A switch-hitting backstop who has the chops to stick behind the dish, Mejia appears to have tapped into his enormous potential. He will enter 2017 as arguably the top catching prospect in baseball.
Isan Diaz, SS, MIL - Diaz has had torrid months followed by a couple of dismal stretches in 2016. However, his overall numbers are stellar for a 20-year-old middle infielder at Low-A getting his first crack at full-season ball. Diaz is slashing .271/.366/.483 with 20 home runs, 74 RBI and 11 stolen bases. His power has been particularly noteworthy, as that sort of pop is not usually found in a player with his frame. As Diaz can also swipe a bag or two, he possesses that intriguing combination of power and speed. He has also shown the ability to draw a walk, though his strikeouts remain high. Diaz has significant upside and could be a fantasy contributor across the board.
Tyler O'Neill, OF, SEA - When will O'Neill get the respect he deserves? For the second-straight season, he will hit over 20 home runs and drive in over 85 runs. In fact, he has 100 RBI in 126 games for Double-A Jackson in 2016. O'Neill has also made great strides in his approach at the dish. He has more than doubled his walk total from a season ago, while also raising his batting average more than 30 points. O'Neill is currently slashing 294/.375/.515. Add in double-digit steals for the second-straight season, and an argument could be made that O'Neill is the top prospect for the M's. He could make his MLB debut as early as next season.
Erick Fedde, P, WAS - Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez have gotten the publicity in 2016, but Fedde has had a triumphant return in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Between High-A and Double-A, Fedde has a 3.12 ERA and 123:29 K:BB in 121 innings. The control has been exceptional, while the strikeout stuff remains electric. Fedde fanned 12 batters in his last outing Wednesday, and it was the fourth time in his last seven starts that he struck out at least eight batters. Fedde throws a fastball/changeup/slider mix, with the slider emerging as a wipeout pitch of late. The 23-year-old righty has as much as upside as any pitcher in the minors.
Sean Reid-Foley, P, TOR - Reid-Foley is currently on the Disabled List with an undisclosed injury, and the hopes are that it is noting serious. Reid-Foley mastered High-A in his second attempt prior to getting hurt. He posted a 2.67 ERA and 71:16 K:BB in 57.1 innings. Opposing batters hit a putrid .172 against the 6-foot-3 righty. The 21-year-old had a breakout season on the mound, and should continue to rise quickly through the Toronto system, assuming his injury is only minor.
Ryan McMahon, 3B, COL - McMahon was a top-100 prospect across the board entering the season, but has struggled to hit for average at Double-A this year. His .300 average from a season ago certainly may have been buoyed by playing in the California League, but McMahon did hit .282 with 18 home runs and 102 RBI as a 19-year-old at Low-A in 2014. Still, McMahon is batting just .242 through 128 games at Double-A in 2016, while also hitting just 12 home runs over that span. In fact, McMahon has never hit more than 20 home runs in a season. Perhaps most concerning, he has fanned over 140 times for the third-straight season. Playing home games in Colorado may help his power numbers, but the lack of plate discipline is not something that the thin air will cure. McMahon will need to refine his swing heading into 2017 in order to right the ship.
Sean Newcomb, P, ATL - I'm just not as high on Newcomb as others due to his penchant for wildness. Sure, he has excellent strikeout numbers. Newcomb fanned more than a batter per inning for the second-straight season. However, he also walked 70 batters for the second consecutive year, and as a result saw his ERA rise to 4.06 on the season for Double-A Mississippi. The additional free passes will only serve to haunt him even more as he ascends to the big leagues. His lack of command plus mediocre changeup could make him a prime candidate to end up in the bullpen. Newcomb can certainly prove me wrong, but the excessive walks are a dangerous red flag that looks to be more than just an aberration.
Javier Guerra, SS, SD - The Padres certainly have to be happy with the performance of Manuel Margot, one of four prospects acquired from the Red Sox in the offseason for Craig Kimbrel. Guerra was considered the other major chip in the deal, but he has floundered at High-A in 2016. The 20-year-old slashed an ugly .202/.264/.325 with nine home runs, 41 RBI and four steals in 105 games in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League. Those numbers are a far cry from the 15 home runs and .279 batting average posted as a 19-year-old at Low-A just one year prior. To add injury to insult, Guerra has been on the Disabled List for nearly a month, and his season is almost certainly finished. Guerra is still young enough to turn things around, but it is safe to say that his 2016 campaign has been horrific.
Tyler Stephenson, C, CIN - Consistent readers of the Barometer know that I can be hard on catching prospects. Objectively speaking, though, Stephenson has had a rough first full year in the minors. A first round pick in 2015, Stephenson was bothered by wrist issues for the entire 2016 season, and may end up requiring surgery to fix the problem. In fact, Stephenson had three separate stints on the DL due to the wrist ailment. A fourth trip to the shelf came because of a concussion. Stephenson didn't exactly scald the ball when he was on the field, either. Stephenson batted just .216/.278/.342 with three home runs, 16 RBI and 45 strikeouts in 39 games for Low-A Dayton. A catching prospect drafted out of high school has perhaps the biggest learning curve of any player entering the minors, but it is safe to say that 2016 has not gone as planned for Stephenson.