While the first-half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half usually features players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe the full-season A-ball teams. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that many saw coming; Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos lived up to expectation.
However, there were several players who put together some unexpectedly good stretches during the second half. Altogether, it was kind of difficult to pick out the nominees here.
This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP and five homers hitting cleanup. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter, along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit over .290 in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.
But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa. Drafted in the fifth round this year, he hit almost .300 and clubbed six home runs in August for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League to lead them to a second-half division title. He hit two more homers and drove in nine in the playoffs.
The unfortunate thing about Nelson is we don’t have a lot of eyes on him, which makes me miss John Arguello even more. I’m sure John would have loved watching this kid play. Velasquez won’t turn 19 until the day after Christmas and he progressed each month since signing his pro contract. I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.
Breakout Starting Pitcher
This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category and it basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.
But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire and that he did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 innings. We’ll see if he can keep that up next year at AA Tennessee.
Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half, but the second half winner is not one I saw coming. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero throws in the mid 90’s with a wicked breaking ball; Tyler Peyton of South Bend had a 1.29 ERA just in August; Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half with a sub-2.00 ERA.
But when it comes down to the biggest surprise or breakout, it’s obviously Dillon Maples ,who progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011, but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approaches 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level and was called up to Chicago with September roster expansions. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.
When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.
More than likely, the first-half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. We could see one of this year’s draft picks or international players who steal the show, perhaps literally in the case of Fernando Kelli who swiped 58 bases in 2017.
This year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players in a system that has recently had a vacuum of arms. You just never know who will get the chance.