[Author’s Note: This is not a list of who I think the defacto best prospects are, but rather players who are worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of the season.]
Young players in today’s game are the equivalent of Gold, consistently gaining value as the rest of the market continues to be out of whack. Getting six cost-controlled years of team control is a huge advantage for a team, and as such most teams are always working to develop their own young talent. Today, we’ll take a look at two interesting prospects to get a better glimpse of the future of the CBL. Others may be profiled in the future.
1B Griffin Keller, Vancouver Canadians Organization (AAA level)
Originally drafted in the first round by the Syracuse Orange, Keller was traded to the Vancouver Canadians one day before his 19th birthday and just three days prior to the 2017 trading deadline. Keller was a significant piece of a package that landed Sonny Gray for Syracuse.
“I thought I’d be with Syracuse at least for awhile,” Keller says. “I understand why they traded me, but I was an 18-year-old kid. It was the last thing on my mind.”
The youngster was sent to Winter Ball in Hawaii following the season, and he impressed all of the scouts in attendance with his bat. Keller was one of the youngest players in the league that Winter, but he still managed to hit .349/.383/.541 in 50 games. Scouts were a bit frightened by his 66 strikeouts compared to just 8 walks, but as a young power hitter who’d put up a very impressive stat line, nobody was too worried.
Since then, Keller has continued to rake. After hitting over .500 in his first 5 games in single A, Vancouver decided to promote Keller to AA as a 19-year-old. In 500 at bats over 133 games, Keller hit .303/.366/.475 as one of the league’s youngest regulars.
Keller took a slight step back last season, hitting .275/.329/.420 while repeating AA, but Vancouver decided to promote him to AAA for a 29 game cup of coffee anyway. He struggled, but as a 20-year-old in AAA, that wasn’t all that surprising. Keller hit just .250/.289/.306 in just over 100 at bats.
This season, Keller again began the year in AAA, but struggled to find his stroke. In 17 games he hit just .232/.293/.319, and was demoted to AA. That looks like a wise decision.
Despite repeating AA for what is basically a third season, Keller’s still just 21 years old and impressing scouts on a near daily basis. Keller is hitting .307/.370/.506 in 261 at bats at the AA level this season, adding 13 home runs.
While Vancouver is admittedly very high on their current first baseman Matt Davidson, Keller’s CBL debut shouldn’t be too far away. Davidson had a great first month of the season, but has struggled since. After hitting .338/.427/.691 in April, he hit .231/.274/.481 in May and then struggled even more in June, hitting just .212/.259/.356. Davidson will likely surpass his career high in home runs, which is 18, as he’s already hit 17. But he’s unlikely to return to his April form at any point, meaning if Keller can put together a few good AAA months the next time he gets a chance, he could be the Canadians first baseman sooner than anyone thinks. Early in the 2021 season looks like a good bet for his debut. He’s worth keeping an eye on.
CF Johnny Bush, Colorado Gold Sox Organization, (A Level)
Born in Hackleburg, Alabama, Johnny Bush moved to Minneapolis with his mother when his parents divorced as an 11-year-old. Almost immediately, Bush was a baseball star, leading a Minneapolis traveling team called Washburn to several state championships growing up.
Bush tore his ACL playing football as a high school freshman, so he didn’t play baseball at all that season. Even as a sophomore, his rehab hadn’t gone according to plan and he missed parts of his sophomore season, too.
“It was tough, being hurt for close to 18 months,” Bush tells me. “The knee got infected a few months after the surgery, so I had to undergo another one, and I just kept having set backs. I didn’t think I’d play again to be honest.”
Finally, with just under 20 games left in the season, Bush was cleared to return to the field. Despite not playing baseball for almost two years, Bush proved why he was one of the country’s best players. In 17 games as a 15-year-old sophomore, he hit .437/.506/.972, hitting 11 home runs while striking out just 9 times.
Johnny and his mother moved to San Francisco, however, following his sophomore year. His mom had gotten a new job.
Bush was one of the top high school players in the country, so his San Francisco team accepted him immediately. The young man hit .352/.408/.750 in 46 games, but more importantly his knee seemed fully healed.
Bush finished third in the country for the league’s best hitter both as a sophomore and a junior. His goal as a senior was clear: be the country’s best player.
Bush’s senior season he hit .350/.431/.680, and he also added 12 steals, showing he could potentially grow into a true five tool player. He was named the Golden Bat award winner, which meant a great deal to him.
“I felt I had the best season as a junior. I was mad I wasn’t the most outstanding player that year,” Bush told reporters prior to the draft the year. “To win it this season gives me some closure. It’s a great honor.”
On draft night, Bush again had to wait behind two other players. One was starting pitching phenom Mike Piper. The other player has been lost to OOTP and Statslab history, as I can’t find the #2 pick from the 2018 draft. If anyone knows, please comment.
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers made all of Bush’s dreams come true, drafting him third overall and signing him for a below-slot deal of $1.7 million.
“Some teams said they didn’t have a first round grade on him,” Bush’s agent tells me. “So we signed a below-slot deal with the Scrappers to make sure he’d be the third choice in the draft. It was the safest decision for him and his family.”
The Scrappers changed GMs about a year after signing Bush, and two months later Bush was sent packing. The Scrappers had agreed to send Bush, catcher Dan Ward and pitcher Angel Suero to Colorado in exchange for starting pitchers Jackson Gillis and Bryce Dydra. Bush is going to have to become one of the best players in the history of baseball to make up for the Gold Sox loss of Gillis and Dydra. A Clarridge-Gillis-Dydra top 3 could have led the Gold Sox to the playoffs in the near future.
For his part, Bush has done everything he could. He’s hit .295/.341/.544 in 80 games in rookie ball, and .300/.369/.495 in 78 games in A ball. He projects as an average defender in center field or a plus defender at the corners, so if he can continue to hit well he will be a very good regular in the CBL within a year or two. Whether or not he can outperform Jackson Gillis over the next few years will be worth watching, but for Bush, he’s not going to worry about it. He just wants to become a key contributor for a Colorado team that hasn’t come close to a winning season since their expansion. The team’s first GM really sucked.