Not a lot of these players will ever see the major leagues but they are the top prospects from Australia based on my assessments. In all honesty I don’t know a lot about Aussie players because I have not seen many of them play. My assessments are geared basically on the numbers they put up in the minor leagues and what little is written about them. Most of these players made the World Baseball Classic team so there was some information gleamed from those games. Only Warwick Saupold from the list put together last year got a sniff in the major leagues.
1. Aaron Whitefield OF (Twins) - To think he was just a softball player a couple years ago. He has only been playing baseball since 2015 when the Twins signed him to a contract. Now he has gone from playing on the Australian national softball team to the Australian World Baseball Classic team. He only played in one game and got one at bat, yielding to Aussie veterans Trent Oeltjen, Mitch Denning and David Kandilas. Last year he played in rookie ball where he hit .298 with only a .736 OPS. As he plays the game more the bat should improve once he improves his ability to make contact. Last year he struck out 47 times in 51 games. He shows excellent speed with 31 stolen bases in 40 attempts. He could start in Low A in 2017.
2. Lewis Thorpe LHP (Twins) - He ranked atop this list last year. Tommy John surgery has prevented him from playing in 2015 and 2016. The Twins paid out a $500,000 bonus to him in 2012. Aussies are usually not hard throwers but Lewis can hit the radar in the mid-90s prior to the surgery. He also has a plus change to complement the fastball. The Twins will be patient with him. Expect him to work on his delivery in extended spring training and to limit his innings he will probably start in the rookie leagues. In 2014 he started 16 games and struck out 10 hitters per nine innings while limiting the opposition to a .232 average. There was some upside there before the injury.
3. Warwick Saupold RHP (Tigers) - We first saw him pitch in Taiwan at the Asian Series. His fastball hit the mid-90s, but the opposition hit it pretty good so it is probably a little too straight to the plate. He was a late sign by the Tigers in 2012 as a 22 year old. He played for the 2013 and 2017 Aussie WBC teams. The Aussies gave him a start and he threw four shutout innings against Cuba. In the Australian Baseball League he is used as a closer. When the Tigers brought him up they used him in six games of relief, though the opposition feasted on him for a .395 average. He still was able to strike out a batter per inning. In AAA he was more effective, used as both a starter and reliever, compiling an impressive 2.30 ERA. He will begin the 2017 season in AAA and at 27 years of age his prospect days are pretty well done.
4. and 5. Lachlan Wells and Alex Wells LHP (Twins and Orioles) - The two pitchers are twins in the literal sense of the word. Lachlan is the only Twin from a baseball perspective. He is the more established pitcher climbing up to High A. In 12 starts he stitched together a 1.77 ERA limiting the opposition to a .218 average. Lachlan is not overpowering and his 5′8″ height may limit his major league opportunities. Alex may offer more of an upside. He stands 6′2″ but still lacks overpowering stuff. Alex signed a year after Lachlan and pitched at rookie level Aberdeen last year. Expect Lachlan to be promoted to the Florida State League while Alex will see time in a full season league, starting at Low A. Both pitchers made the roster for the WBC team but only Lachlan appeared in a game, getting two relief appearances and getting smoked for four runs in only 2.2 innings.
6.Robbie Perkins C (Rockies) - Robbie is the first player who did not appear on the list last year. He ripped through the ABL in the winter, hitting .353 with three homeruns with a 1.023 OPS. Last year he was limited to just 15 games in the California League hitting .238. In the WBC he got one opportunity, striking out in his lone at bat. At 20 years old there appears to be a lot of upside in Perkins, so we will put him on this list and wait to see how his career develops.
7. Todd Von Steensel RHP (Twins) - At 26 Todd is getting up there to be considered a prospect. He did get five relief appearances in AA and pitched well crafting a 2.25 ERA. His efforts at High A were not as successful (4.12 ERA). Command was a big issue with 27 walks in 54 innings. In 2015 he was used as a closer with 13 saves but in 2016 those saves did not come so easy. In the WBC Todd appeared in one game and did not allow a run in his one inning of work. This will be the big year for him. He should start the season in AA which is a knock on the door away from the major leagues if he shows some success.
8. Jon Kennedy LHP (Braves) - Jon is a big 6′5″ lefthander. At 21 years old the Braves can show some patience with him. His fastball sits in the low 90s, velocity good enough for a lefthander with his height. Trying to find success is a big challenge. With the Braves he has been used exclusively out of the bullpen in his first year of professional baseball, putting together a 4.40 ERA. He returned back to Australia to play in the ABL and had his best year there, starting six games with a 4.01 ERA. For his height he does show good command of his pitches, walking just 1.2 hitters per nine innings. The 2017 season is the year he should establish his identity. Kennedy did get one appearance in the WBC but failed to retire any of the three hitters he faced.
9. Zach Shepherd 3B (Tigers) - Zach was number two on this list last year but the big concern was his lack of power. He only hit five homeruns with a .339 slugging. This year his power numbers went up (15 homers and .350 slugging) at the sacrifice of his batting average, dropping 60 points to .186. He also struck out an alarming 159 times. We were tempted to take him off this list but there are not a lot of candidates to replace him.
10. Samuel Holland RHP (Angels) - He had one of the better years of the Australian players, pitching 29 games in relief and fashioning a 0.83 ERA, with some of that time spent in the hitter friendly California League. The opposition combined to hit only .151 against him. At 23 years of age he should be ready for AA. Holland was on the designated pool pitcher list, but did not get in a game after Australia was eliminated after the first round.