By Todd Johnson
The first half of the minor-league baseball season in 2018 should be very interesting. There are a lot of great storylines to follow. There should be prospects making comebacks, prospects breaking out, and prospects solidifying their place and value in the organization. Then again, who knows what could happen. That’s really the case every year. There are always surprises and that’s one reason why I like covering the minor leagues.
For this year’s Preseason First Half All-Star Team, it is a mixture of prospects up and down the system. With only four affiliates playing until the middle of June, it limits who can be on it. So, there will be no Nelson Velasquez, Luis Vazquez, Fernando Kelli, or Jeremiah Estrada.
Myrtle Beach (10) and Tennessee (7) have the most prospects on the team, Iowa (5) and South Bend (5) have the fewest all stars on this year’s team.
This year, my breakout prospects of the first half will be at South Bend. I really like Austin Filiere. He has a great eye at the plate and can hit some dingers. He did spend most of the spring playing first base after playing third-base most of his college career and at Eugene.
I think this is the year that reliever Tyler Peyton turns it on. The former Iowa starter improved every month last year at South Bend. By the end of the season, he was throwing darts all August (1.29 ERA). My runner-up was one of my favorite players to talk to last year in Chad Hockin, who should be at Myrtle Beach.
My break out starting pitcher is going to be Erich Uelmen. He didn’t see a lot of time last year at Eugene after being drafted. In fact he didn’t make one start, he only pitched 17.2 IP in relief. This year, he will be given the opportunity to start and I think we are going to like what we see as he has pretty good control and command and somewhat sidearm slot.
In addition, I have three guys I am picking to be come back players of the year. One of my all-time favorite Cubs prospects is catcher Will Remillard. He returned late last summer from two Tommy John surgeries and was outstanding at Eugene. Reliever Jake Stinnett will be back this year to try his hand at the bullpen full-time. I think this is where his calling is going to be.
As for a starting pitching coming back, Oscar de la Cruz looked great in spring training. Hopefully he can get back and get over 100 innings in this year to strengthen up his arm. It was a close contest between de la Cruz and Trevor Clifton, who I think is going to return to form this year as well.
So without further adieu, roll film.