Top Ten Minor League Prospects from Australia

This is not a strong list. A couple of the top players have an opportunity to be impact players and a couple players at the bottom of the list can become fringe players. In the middle there are some younger players full of hope and promise. It does appear to be an improved top ten from previous lists. The list is not much of a change from the top ten last year that can be viewed at the link below.

1. Lewis Thorpe LHP (Twins) - Tommy John surgery in April prevented him from playing the 2015 season. The Twins paid $500,000 to sign him. His fastball hits the mid-90s, pretty impressive for a kid coming out of Australia. The last lefty who threw mid-90s was Travis Blackley. Thorpe hopes to have a longer career than Blackley. Prior to last year, as a teenager he averaged 11.2 whiffs per nine innings. Command could be a problem with a walk every two innings in Low A in 2014. Lewis throws a change, slider and curve so he has the repertoire to make a starting rotation. After he completes a few rehab starts expect him to reach High A in 2016.

2. Zach Shepherd 3B (Tigers) - Not the best of years for Zach. Teams don’t want their third baseman slugging .339. In his defense he was playing in Low A as a teenager for most of the year. There was also a propensity to strikeout, with 117 whiffs in 114 games, resulting in a low .245 average. Zach was the Australian baseball youth player of the year in 2011, convincing the Tigers to shell out $325,000 to sign him. He started his career as a shortstop but moved to third base last year, so his defense at third is quality. His bat is going to have to show a little more pop if he wants to create a little more interest from major league scouts. Expect Zach to see time in the Florida State League next year, a league with several parks not favorable for hitters. His best bet for major league time may be as a utility player.

3. Jake Turnbull C (Reds) - The Reds paid Jake $400,000 to sign him to a contract in 2014. Dave Nilsson made catching a position of choice for many Australian youth. In his first year of minor league ball he drove in 17 runs as a 17 year old in the Arizona Rookie League with a .291 average. At that age most kids are still in high school looking for a major league team to find interest in them for the July draft. Defensively, his arm is average but he has the soft hands needed for catching. Expect him to start the 2016 season repeating the half season rookie leagues.

4. Daniel McGrath LHP (Red Sox) - Daniel signed for $400,000 in 2012. At 6′3′ the Red Sox hope to get a few more ticks on his fastball to get it up to 90. His breaking pitches tend to be slow to slowest with a change in the high 70s and a curve in the low 70s. That is enough to play mind games with low level minor league hitters but may not be as effective the higher he rises. Lefthanders were limited to a .171 average against him so there is the possibility he could become a lefthanded specialist if he does not make it as a starter. An injury in May forced him to miss two months of the season. In six starts prior to the injury his ERA was 1.98. He finished the season with an ERA of 3.84 in 17 starts. Next year he should see time in High A, a good progression for a 21 year old.

5. Sam Gibbons RHP (Twins) - Sam throws a fastball in the mid-90s but it sits mostly in the low 90s. He is the second of five Twins on this list and the second of three pitchers. Last year he started 15 games at Low A compiling an impressive 2.89 ERA. Command is what will give him success with a three to one strikeout to walk rate. Sam pitched for the Team Australia under 21 team when they played in the World Cup in Taiwan a couple years ago. He did not give up an earned run in his two starts against the opposition, though they hit him at a .323 clip. Low A hitters found him a little more difficult to hit with just a .246 overall average against him. Gibbons should find himself pitching in High A next year. He was on the Australian roster for the WBC qualifier but did not pitch, the second youngest player on that team.

6. Sam Kennelly - 1B/3B (Pirates) - Most of the Kennelly brothers came up through the minor leagues as catchers but never found the road to the major leagues. Sam is taking a different path. In 2014 it was as a middle infielder, but last year he spent most of his time at first base. He will need to hit for more power than his .346 slugging average for the Gulf Coast League Pirates if he wants to continue his path as a first baseman. The Pirates tried him at third but he committed four errors in seven games for a .827 fielding percentage. Sam may see another year in the Rookie level next year but with a good spring could find himself in a full season league.

7. Todd Von Steensel RHP (Twins) - Another Twins pitcher who made the WBC roster for Australia in the qualifying round but did not pitch. He’s bounced around a bit, pitching for the Phillies, Twins, Tigers and back to the Twins. He has even pitched a season in the Dutch professional league. Now back with the Twins he is pitching in the bullpen averaging 11 whiffs per nine innings and limiting the opposition to a .223 average as the Fort Myers Miracle closer in High A. This should at least give him an opportunity in AA next year with an opportunity to see the Twins bullpen by mid-year if he continues to have success in the minor leagues.

8. Aaron Whitefield OF (Twins) - Aaron has only been playing baseball for a year. Prior to that he was a top flight softball player on the Australian national team. The Twins signed him to a minor league contract in 2015 and visa issues left him with the opportunity to play just seven games once he arrived in the States. The Australian national baseball team thought enough of him to put him on the WBC qualifier roster, the youngest player on the team. He did not get an opportunity to play in any of the three games. At 6′3 he has a good frame to play baseball. In the ABL he played for the champion Brisbane Bandits hitting .314 with a .781 OPS. His 1/16 walk to whiff ratio is indicative of his inability to be patient with pitches, but at 19 years of age with one year of baseball experience that should improve with time. Expect him to start the season in rookie ball after time in extended spring training. As a softball player he played middle infield. The Twins have put him out in the outfield to begin his baseball career.

9 Warwick Saupold RHP (Tigers) - Another late arrival to the baseball scene, Warwick signed a contract with the Tigers in 2012 at 22 years of age. He played for the 2013 Australian World Baseball Classic team and also started a game in the WBC qualifier this year. In the ABL he is used as a closer by the Perth Heat. His fastball sits in the low 90s but can hit the mid-90s. His secondary pitches are a bit rudimentary which results in inconsistent results. At AA lefthanders hit him at a .288 clip. He pitched two and half years at AA Erie breaking the career franchise record for strikeouts. A three start six appearance performance in AAA resulted in 10,13 whiffs per nine innings and a .203 opposition average, but his ERA was still a lofty 4.43, the result of one poor outing. If he pitches well he could find himself in the back end of the Tigers bullpen for 2016.

10. James Beresford UTL (Twins) - At 27 Beresford is a bit old to be considered a prospect. We preferred to put catcher Robbie Perkins in this spot, but we couldn’t ignore his .307 average last year in AAA, .330 against lefthanders. Beresford played mostly second base last year, but he has played shortstop so he could be a utility option for the Twins next year. There is little power in his bat and he is not a stolen base threat, but he can be a solid player off the bench.

Top Ten Australian Prospects for 2015

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