As the minor league season reaches the end of its third month, Mark Wilkens and Ben Davey take a look at the top performers of June, which saw two teams clinch a playoff birth after winning the first half and the return of the Complex League. After two years disrupted by the pandemic, minor league ball is finally back to a more normal schedule, and the system got plenty of strong performances from key prospects. This list is not meant as a revision to our top prospects, but rather as a point-in-time snapshot of the top performers so far.

Taylor Kohlwey had a June to remember for El Paso. (Photo: Jorge Salgado)

El Paso Chihuahuas (Pacific Coast League)

With the season half over the Chihuahuas found themselves at 41-34 in second place in the Pacific Coast League, trailing first place Oklahoma City by six games. The story behind the success has been the offense.  El Paso leads the league in most offensive categories including batting average (.291), on-base percentage (.375), slugging percentage (.496), OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) (.871), Runs (540), and doubles (182).  They are second with 118 home runs.  On the mound, El Paso ranks in the bottom half of the league in most categories.  Most importantly they have a 5.63 team ERA and a 1.58 WHIP.

Esteury Ruiz had a very big month. (Photo: Jorge Salgado)

The team was led by the organization’s player of the month, Taylor Kohlwey. The former 21st-round pick hit .408/.463/.704 with five home runs and 23 RBI in 17 games. Kohlwey both walked and struck out seven times. … Right behind him is center fielder Esteury Ruiz, who hit safely in 16 of his 20 games after getting promoted. Despite ending the month in a bit of a slump, Ruiz hit .341/.465/.549 with 20 runs, five doubles, and four home runs. His 16 stolen bases already put him in the top 10 in the PCL, and reclaimed his baseball lead with 53 stolen bases.  Outfielder Brent Rooker just kept producing, hitting .263/.375/.538 with 14 extra base hits while significantly cutting his strikeout rate down to 23%.  … Eguy Rosario, who hit three homers in the season’s first two months, hit eight in June to lead the club. He finished the month hitting .288/.368/.625, good for the highest full-month OPS in his career. … Catcher Luis Campusano hit for a high average all month (.320) but struggled until the last week to find his power stroke.  After only three extra base hits in the first 15 games, Campy had three over his final four. … Before being promoted to San Diego in the wake of Manny Machado’s injury, C.J. Abrams was hitting .371/.400/.565 in 13 games in El Paso.  He stole five bases, homered twice, and struck out in fewer than 10% of his at bats. … After arriving in El Paso mid-month from the Mexican League, first baseman Kyle Martin didn’t skip a beat.  He went .300/.378/.675 on the month with four home runs and more than an RBI per game.

Pedro Avila has brought some stability to the El Paso staff. (Photo: Jorge Salgado)

The pitching was a rollercoaster all month. Lefty Jose Castillo continued his return from missing the better part of three years, allowing two runs over 11.1 innings (1.59 ERA) with 17 strikeouts.  Given his injury history the Padres are being very careful with pitching him for multiple innings or on back-to-back days, but he’s making progress and the results are still stellar.  … Dinelson Lamet is still not back to his 2020 levels, but the right-hander has been close to unhittable in limited work. Lamet didn’t allowed an earned run over 6.2 innings surrendering three singles, while striking out nine, though he walked five batters. … The only consistent starter has been Pedro Avila, who also has missed multiple years with injuries, went 3-0 in June with a 3.60 ERA.  He had 26 strikeouts in 25 innings, and held opponents to a .191 batting average. Impressive for any starter, but more so when factoring how good of a hitters park El Paso is. … The only other starter with an ERA under five was Luke Westphal.  The 33 year-old reminded us why won-loss records aren’t especially insightful. Despite leading the way with a 2.18 ERA and collecting 24 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, the left-hander did not secure a win over the month. (Ben Davey)

Chihuahuas Player of the Month: OF Taylor Kohlwey

Chihuahuas Pitcher of the Month: RHP Pedro Avila

San Antonio Missions (Texas League)   

The Missions went 14-11 in June, overcoming some massive COVID-related roster situations to remain afloat and clinch a postseason berth. The South Division First-Half Champions showed resiliency, especially in the face of sending their biggest star of the season to El Paso as the situation unfolded.  

Few stepped up in June quite as much as Domingo Leyba. A free agent signing who was assigned to San Antonio from El Paso on April 30, Leyba saw regular playing time in May with so-so results. But in June, with the lineup in disarray, Leyba did his best work, slashing .283/.385/.467. He earned Texas League Player of the Week honors for the week of June 13-19, in which he went 11-for-24 with two home runs and three doubles in that week’s series against Amarillo. … Although it doesn’t match his red-hot May, Connor Hollis delivered a second consecutive month as one of the most consistent contributors to the San Antonio offense, slashing .302/.388/.395 with a double, home run, and a pair of triples while driving in five runs and scoring 15. Acquired on April 2 after being released by Tampa Bay, Hollis has helped stabilize the Missions lineup in 2022, batting .304 with six home runs and 34 RBIs. … Tirso Ornelas broke out of his slump at the perfect time, shaking off a cold May with a .347/.380/.480 June line in 75 at-bats. The increase in power included seven doubles and a home run to go along with six runs batted in, as the Padres prospect assumed a key role in the lineup at the exact time he needed to. … While it came in only 39 at-bats, Korry Howell had a phenomenal month, smashing a pair of home runs and slashing .308/.386/.538 as his breakout has continued into the summer. Acquired in the Victor Caratini trade, Howell is now batting .253 with six home runs and an .876 OPS in 146 at-bats in 2022. … Also having a solid month despite a smaller sample size was Jorge Ona, who delivered a .316/.350/.474 slash line with a pair of home runs in only 38 June at-bats.   

Reggie Lawson re-asserted himself in June. (Photo: Vashaun Newman)

On the mound, Reggie Lawson appears comfortable again after working his way back from injury, and it’s a sight to behold. Lawson won four of his five June starts, posting a 1.37 ERA, striking out 27 and walking 11 in 26.1 innings. … Matt Waldron took advantage of his one June start for the Missions, allowing an unearned run in four innings. It was a sendoff for Waldron, who was promoted to El Paso for his next start, leaving San Antonio with a 2-1 record, 2.84 ERA, and 38 strikeouts to 10 walks in 44.1 innings. … Joining Waldron in El Paso is Tom Cosgrove, who turned in 8.1 scoreless innings in six appearances for the Missions in June, earning two wins, striking out 16, and walking six. Cosgrove, a 12th round pick in 2017, gets his first crack at Triple-A with his promotion. … Michel Baez continues to work into form after being assigned to the Missions following his rehab assignment. The Cuban righty went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings across seven appearances, striking out 14 and walking one batter. (Mark Wilkens)

Missions Player of the Month: Tirso Ornelas 

Missions Pitcher of the Month: Reggie Lawson 

Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest League)   

The TinCaps finished the first half of the season with a 27-39 record, good for fifth place in the East division. With a -26 run differential, it’s continued to be a less than ideal season for Fort Wayne. 

Robert Gasser had a 2.67 ERA in June. (Photo: Jeff Nycz)

Although a stint on the COVID IL held Robert Hassell III to 71 at-bats in the month, the center fielder returned to form nicely, slashing .296/.346/.521, driving in 14 runs, slugging a pair of home runs, and stealing four bases. It was a welcome improvement for Hassell, whose .576 OPS in May was a far cry from his sky-high 1.116 in April. … June was something of a bounceback for Agustin Ruiz, who slashed .200/.353/.382 in 55 at-bats, more in line with his season-long totals after an icy May. … Corey Rosier added a .258/.355/.394 slash line, hitting a home run and driving in seven runs. 

Robert Gasser’s 2-2 record belies a phenomenal month for the southpaw, who posted a 2.67 ERA in five starts, striking out 36 and walking five batters in 30.1 innings. The 71st overall pick of last summer’s draft, Gasser is 4-8 with a 3.82 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 75.1 innings for the season. … Gabe Morales picked up a pair of wins out of the bullpen, going 2-0 in seven scoreless appearances, striking out 21 and walking 17 in 16 innings. … Like Gasser, Seth Mayberry had a tough luck record at 0-1, but in five appearances he managed a 1.86 ERA, striking out 14 and walking five in 9.2 innings. (Mark Wilkens)

TinCaps Player of the Month: Robert Hassell III 

TinCaps Pitcher of the Month: Robert Gasser 

Lake Elsinore Storm (California League)

The Storm were able to clinch the first half division crown with a 40-26 record.  They guaranteed themselves a playoff spot, but for good measure started the second half in first place with a 6-3 record.

James Wood has quickly asserted himself as one of the top prospects in the game. (Photo: Jerry Espinoza).

The offense had rebounded and hit well throughout the month, but there was no bigger addition than getting top prospect outfielder James Wood back off the IL.  In his 13 games after returning Wood hit .340/.429/.547 with seven extra base hits and five stolen bases.  The breakout star for July was undoubtedly infielder/outfielder Carlos Luis.  The 22 year-old Dominican hit .360/.423/.535 over 22 games.  He finished the month with a 15 game hit streak.  … The offense also relied heavily on Max Ferguson until his promotion to Fort Wayne. The speedster led the team with 23 runs while hitting .283/.371/.478 with 17 steals. While he was already leading the league in both walks and stolen bases, Ferguson started hitting for more power. After seven extra base hits in April and May, he had 10 in June including four triples. … Cole Cummings also was a major contributor before moving up to Fort Wayne. While he hit .258/.432/.424 in June he seemed to be starting every late inning rally the team had.  He finished his month going 6-for-11 in Fort Wayne. … The home run leader for the month was Albert  Fabian with six.  The 20 year-old hit .316/.422/.632 before ending the month on the IL. … With Ferguson promoted the new stolen base leader for the Storm is outfielder Justin Farmer with 25. The undrafted free agent stole nine bags in June, and despite hitting only .230, had nine extra base hits and 22 walks for a .391 OBP and .460 SLG. … After missing a month on the injured list, Venezuelan infielder Nerwilian Cedeno had the best month of his career hitting .296/.371/.435 with 10 extra base hits and seven stolen bases.

Garrett Hawkins delivers in Lake Elsinore. (Photo: Dylan Otto/Insta: @dylanotto13)

As the offense and the weather heated up, the pitching staff cooled down.  A team that had seen its starters dominate suddenly found it hard to get five innings from them. Canadian righty Garrett Hawkins led the team with 29 strikeouts, but allowed 14 earned runs in 20.1 innings.  … One the Padres’ top pitching prospects, 18-year-old Victor Lizarraga, pitched exactly five innings and allowed two runs in each of his three starts finishing with 17 K in 15 innings with a 3.60 ERA. … Lefty Jesus Gonzalez led the team with three wins in his four starts.  He pitched to a 4.70 ERA over 23 innings with 18 strikeouts.  … Righty Bodi Rascon had a 4.5 ERA across his four starts (16 innings). … The Storm don’t have a defacto closer but, right-hander Ben Miller leads the club with four saves, collecting both his save chances in June with a 3.38 ERA over 13.1 innings. … Keegan Collett was the closer prior to June.  While the right-hander wasn’t given a save opportunity in June he struck out 22 in only 14.2 innings (4.30 ERA). (Ben Davey)

Storm Player of the Month: INF Carlos Luis

Storm Pitcher of the Month: RHP Garrett Hawkins

MadFriars Player of the Month: Taylor Kohlwey

While there were a number of prospects who had strong performances in June, Kohlwey was the most consistent throughout the entire month.  He reached base safely in all but one game.  He ended with nine multi-hit games and 23 RBI.

MadFriars Pitcher of the Month: Reggie Lawson

Welcome back Reggie Lawson.  The former top prospect who is coming back from two Tommy John surgeries has regained his form and then some.  After finishing April with a 14 ERA he lowered it to 8.54 in May.  In June, the switch was flipped and over five starts (26.1 innings), Lawson went 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA.  He struck out 27 with a .151 batting average against.

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