The top left-handed pitching prospect in the game, MacKenzie Gore checked off a few items from his to-do list in 2019: he crossed the 100-inning threshold for the first time; reached Double-A; and, thus, was able to refer to himself as a “Sod Poodle.” It’s the little things. Gore has elicited Clayton Kershaw comparisons due to his delivery and his trademark curveball. It’s probably unwise to expect anyone to match Kershaw’s career, but Gore does have the chance to become a front-of-the-rotation starter thanks to his athleticism and a deep arsenal that could end up featuring four above-average pitches. Presumably Gore will begin the season in Double-A. It’s reasonable to expect him to debut at some point in 2020. It’s also reasonable to expect him to team with Chris Paddack as one of the most fun tandems in baseball.
Mitch Keller just qualified for this list, as he nearly topped the 50-inning threshold. What he did during his big-league stay was … well, confounding. He posted strong underlying peripherals — his strikeout-to-walk ratio was outstanding — but he also permitted a lot of hits. Keller’s fastball is supposed to be his best pitch due to its combination of mid-90s velocity and rise (the only qualified right-handed starters with greater relative vertical movement on their heaters are Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole ). Yet his command, along with some potentially suboptimal sequencing, led to a .461 batting average against the pitch, as well as a lower fastball swing-and-miss rate than those posted by Jakob Junis and Adam Plutko, among others. A less surprising, if no more promising development saw Keller record minimal whiffs on his changeup — the laggard in his arsenal. If there is a bright side, it’s that he did establish a third pitch to go with his fastball and curve: an upper-80s slider that missed bats at a higher rate than either of his other pitches. If and how he can leverage those three offerings against left-handed batters will go a long way in determining if he’s able to become more than a No. 3 starter. Some of you may have read those preceding paragraphs and made a mental note that Keller is clearly going to be an Astro someday based on his strengths and weaknesses. For the sake of Pirates fans, here’s hoping he finds success before then — and/or brings back a bounty.
1. Wander Franco, SS, Rays
The best prospect in baseball, Wander Franco has all the makings of a franchise talent. Franco, who won’t turn 19 until March, is a switch-hitting shortstop who split the season between Single- and High-A. He hit .327/.398/.487 with nine home runs and 21 more walks than strikeouts. The only statistical negative to point out is that he required 32 attempts to swipe 18 bases. Otherwise, there’s not much to nitpick here. In addition to the production, Franco checks all the boxes for projection. He has all the innate characteristics required to be an impact-level player, ranging from his strength to his speed to his throwing ability and so on. One rival talent evaluator joked during the summer that Franco probably could’ve held his own against big-league pitching. It wasn’t meant as a serious evaluation, per se, but it speaks to Franco’s polish and talent level all the same. Even if he has to move off shortstop, he might end up as one of the best players in baseball.
Forrest Whitley had one of the most disappointing seasons in the minors. He entered the year in the running as the best pitching prospect in baseball — and one who seemed destined to make his big-league debut before summer faded to fall — and ended it with a 7.99 ERA in 59 innings over various levels. When Whitley is right, he looks like a front-of-the-rotation starter thanks to his size and arsenal. He didn’t look right throughout the year, however, and he battled his mechanics to the tune of walking nearly seven per nine innings. That is, as the kids say, not great. Progress isn’t always linear, and indeed sometimes it’s beneficial for the player to experience some adversity — the on-the-field, struggling type, that is — before they reach the Show. Whitley pitched better in the Arizona Fall League, so keep an eye on whether he can get back on track in 2020. If not, he’s going to slide down the list quickly.
3. Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
Dustin May also debuted this season for the Dodgers. In 14 appearances he threw 34 innings, fanned 32 batters and walked five and accumulated a 115 ERA+. May has a quirky aesthetic thanks to a high leg kick, but it’s been fair to project him as a mid-rotation starter thanks to his athleticism and a high-grade fastball-curveball combination. May has added a cutter in recent seasons, and that pitch has become his main secondary offering as he’s seemingly lost the feel for the curve (he used it only 10 percent of the time during his big-league stay). It’s at least possible that the cutter is directly responsible for it — you’ll often hear pitchers warn about throwing too many, since it leads to them getting around the ball rather than behind it — but we can’t say for sure. If May can get the curve back, he’d have three above average or better pitches at his disposal. That, combined with his control, could position him as a No. 2 starter.
4. Mackenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
Sorry Pirates fans, but it must be noted that Shane Baz was yet another piece of the Chris Archer return, alongside outfielder Austin Meadows and fellow starter Tyler Glasnow. Baz, who turned 20 in June, spent the season in A-ball and showed why he’s the most intriguing right-handed prospect in the system. He struck out 87 batters in 81 innings thanks to a broad arsenal that includes multiple above-average offerings, beginning with his fastball and extending to various breaking balls. His changeup still lags, which explains why left-handers were able to succeed against him to the tune of, um … a .665 OPS. Baz’s delivery does inspire concern about his command, and he set a new career-best by walking just over four batters per nine. There’s a chance he ends up in the bullpen or in a hybrid role as a result of the aforementioned platoon and command concerns. But there’s a lot to like here and a high ceiling if he’s able to smooth out those wrinkles.
5. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
The Braves picked Kyle Wright fifth overall in 2017 out of Vanderbilt based in part because he seemed like a quick riser. He had the delivery, the athleticism, the body, the arsenal, the track record against tough competition, and so on. Two full seasons later, Wright is still trying to gain traction in the majors. In 11 appearances, he’s yielded six home runs and nearly as many walks (19) as strikeouts (23). As the children might say, major yikes. To Wright’s credit, he pitched well in Triple-A and seemed unbothered by the altered ball. Besides, his big-league exposure is a small sample — albeit an unkind small sample. Given all the perceived pros in Wright’s game, he still has a chance to develop into a mid-rotation starter or a tick better. If he continues to struggle for much longer, however, don’t be surprised if he starts slipping down these lists and the depth chart.
The Phillies’ second-round pick in 2018, Spencer Howard may have reached the majors this season were it not for shoulder trouble that cost him two months of the summer. Howard ended up getting to Double-A for his final six starts. In those outings, he averaged five innings per pop while permitting 20 hits, eight earned runs, and nine walks. He struck out 38 batters and limited the opposition to a .180/.254/.288 line against. In other words, he’s going to reach the majors sometime in 2020 — potentially sometime early on, if his health allows. Howard has the chance to be an above-average big-league starter thanks to a well-rounded arsenal that includes a high-quality fastball and slider, as well as a changeup and curve. He’s yet to top 130 innings, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Phillies manage his workload.
7. Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers
Much of the top of the Cubs system is filled with players who are risk-reward types — or who have boom-bust profiles. Nico Hoerner, who has already experienced life in the majors, is an exception in a sense, and what he lacks in ceiling he makes up for in immediate availability. There is perhaps more potential downside than realized, however. Hoerner, Chicago’s first-round pick in 2018 by way of Stanford, more than held his own in Double-A this season despite dealing with injury and relative inexperience. Even when he was called up to the majors late in the year — the rare “break glass in case of emergency” promotion after Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Dixon Machado all went on the shelf — he hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games. Those marks may not be far off from his norm. Hoerner’s hit tool is his best offensive attribute and there’s a chance it plays as plus. There’s also a chance — due to an aggressive approach and gap power — that it underperforms, or that he posts an empty average, in which case his bat might be too light to start everyday. For now, that’s to be seen. To Hoerner’s credit, he receives high marks for his intelligent and instincts, and that bodes well for him making the necessary adjustments as required. Provided Baez remains in town as the shortstop, Hoerner ought to be just fine defensively at second base, giving the Cubs one of the savviest double-play combinations in the game.
8. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners
The Braves’ other top outfield prospect, Drew Waters split the year between Double- and Triple-A, hitting .309/.360/.459 with 56 extra-base hits and 16 steals. He did most of his damage before his promotion, as he hit just .271/.336/.374 in 26 games in Gwinnett. Waters is a quality athlete who would be viewed as Atlanta’s center fielder of the future were it not for Pache. He has the arm to play right if need be. At the plate, he’s a nominal switch-hitter who struggles against left-handed pitching. That’s okay, given most pitchers throw right-handed. Waters doesn’t walk quite as much as one would like, and ideally he would tap into his raw power more often. Provided he can keep his strikeouts in check, then he has a chance to become an intriguing two-way contributor — perhaps as soon as during the 2020 season.
9. Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
Originally the 14th pick in the 2018 draft, Logan Gilbert had himself a busy first full professional season by throwing 135 innings across three levels, including Double-A. He accumulated a 2.13 ERA and five strikeouts per walk, all the while yielding just seven home runs. Impressive. Gilbert is more than a stat-sheet stuffer, too. He’s tall and looks the part of a workhorse. His fastball is his best offering, but he has three other offerings that fluctuate around average. Factor in his control, and he profiles as a potential mid-rotation starter — if not more. Should Gilbert live up to that promise, expect to hear a lot about how he hails from Stetson University — the same Florida college that produced Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom and Lenny DiNardo. (OK, OK — sorry Lenny, we tried.)
10. Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers
Do note that 50 is, itself, an arbitrary figure — and that his is more art than science. Any number of players could have cracked the bottom of the list without it being a big deal, and if you prefer the prospect ranked No. 32 to the prospect ranked No. 35, that’s fine with us.
11. Matt Manning, RHP, Tigers
Although Brandon Marsh may lack Adell’s upside, he’s a high-quality prospect himself — one who could well reach the majors in the 2020 season, perhaps alongside Adell. Marsh missed most of June due to injury, but still appeared in 96 Double-A games this season. He hit .300/.383/.428 and delivered seven home runs and 18 steals (on 23 tries). You probably get the gist from those numbers that he can contribute across the board. He can also run, field, and throw, and he might learn to better leverage his raw power in the coming years, too. At minimum, Marsh should develop into a most-days starter in either corner.
12. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, A’s
Matt Manning’s father, Rich, played two seasons in the NBA during the ’90s. Predictably, the younger Manning is tall (listed at 6-foot-6) and athletic. He even had enough game on the court to receive a scholarship offer to play college ball. Manning instead chose baseball, but he still concerns himself with the arc he puts on the ball — at least as it pertains to his signature pitch, a curveball often described as a “hammer.” In addition to the curve, he has an above-average fastball and a developing changeup. Manning has done well to fill out his frame and improve upon his delivery, with this season seeing him post new single-season bests in innings pitched (133) and walk rate (2.6 per nine innings). As with Mize, Manning is likely to debut for Detroit sometime next spring. Mize’s injury history suggests Manning might be the safer of the two on a year-to-year basis.
13. Brendan McKay, LHP, Rays
The No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft, Nick Madrigal is unlike most any other player in baseball. He’s small and unlikely to offer much power, yet he’s a good defensive second baseman with absurd bat-to-ball skills who “runs like a [mother’s intimate friend],” in the words of one source. Madrigal has walked 30 more times than he’s struck out in his career, which is impressive considering he’s fanned all of 21 times — or in less than three percent of his trips to the plate. For reference, no qualified hitter in the majors has struck out less than nine percent of the time this year. In fact, just 13 batters have checked in since the last round of expansion with more than 300 plate appearances and a K rate below five percent. The last person to do it was Jeff Keppinger, back in 2008. (The lowest since 2010 is 5.8 percent, by Juan Pierre in 2011.) Madrigal has, perhaps predictably, moved quickly through the system. He reached Triple-A for a 29-game stretch this season, hitting .331/.398/.424 and positioning himself to debut in the majors early next year. Interestingly, he pulled the ball far more often than he had previously as a professional, when he’d been primarily an opposite-field hitter. He’ll need to do both heading forward — and his ability to do so could help him win a batting title some day. A profile this unusual is either going to sink or swim. Here’s hoping Madrigal swims — Lord knows baseball can always benefit from something (or someone) a little different.
14. Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves
Teenage third baseman Nolan Gorman reached High-A in his first full professional season, and his performance there highlighted some of the concerns about his game. Gorman has well-above-average power and the chance to stick at third base for at least the start of his big-league career. The catch is that he’s likely to strike out — a lot. To wit, he fanned in nearly a third of his plate appearances following his promotion to High-A. He also saw his walk rate and ISO dip (though he remained an above-average hitter overall). You probably don’t need to be told why Gorman’s profile is risky, so let’s just be clear about something: He’s still a high-quality prospect due to his age, his loud tool, and his makeup. There’s absolutely downside here, too — either that Gorman doesn’t make enough contact to maximize his pop, or that his defense at the hot corner forces him elsewhere — but there’s middle-of-the-order upside that shouldn’t be discarded just because of his variability.
15. Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
There are soft apocalypses, and then there’s whatever happened to the Rockies in 2019, including top prospect Brendan Rodgers . Rodgers, who looked like a safe bet to contribute to the Rockies this season, received his chance over the summer. He appeared in 25 games after a May debut and hit just .224/.272/.250. He struck out nearly seven times as often as he walked, and notched all of two extra-base hits in 76 at-bats. He then underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in July. Woof. For as bad as things went for Rodgers, it’s still a small sample. Mike Trout hit .220/.281/.390 with more than three times as many punchouts as free passes in his first 135 trips to the plate. Rodgers isn’t going to become Trout, and to be certain he needs to make adjustments to his game — particularly with his approach, as he was far too vulnerable against bendy stuff. But, if you were mostly on board with what he appeared to be entering the year — that is, in so many words, a free-swinging second baseman with pop — then you should give him a longer look. After all, underperforming expectations seemed to be the theme of the year in Colorado.
16. Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays
Each of the top three prospects in the Oakland system made their big-league debut in 2019. Obviously that includes lefty Jesus Luzardo, who the Athletics originally acquired as part of the Sean Doolittle trade. ( Blake Treinen and Ryan Madson were also involved.) Luzardo, 22 since September, remains an availability question mark. Injuries limited him to 17 appearances in 2019, the second-most of his career. That Luzardo is the shorter side — he’s listed at 6-foot, 209 pounds — isn’t likely to convince anyone he can hold up to the rigors of a normal starter’s workload. Yet Luzardo has three above-average average pitches — a mid-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup — as well as feel for the craft and for throwing quality strikes. Those are the kinds of innate characteristics that tend to be present in above-average starters. As such, a healthy Luzardo should break camp in the A’s rotation. He’s likely to remain there until his body or his paycheck demand otherwise.
17. Brendan Rodgers, 2B, Rockies
Andrew Vaughn the player is straightforward. He’s a relentless worker who turned himself into arguably the best hitter in college baseball — seriously, he hit .374/.539/.704 with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts. There’s a fair chance he’ll be batting in the top four of a big-league lineup in 12 to 16 months’ time, after which he should be a well-rounded, above-average hitter. Vaughn the idea is less straightforward. He’s an ex-collegiate first baseman who bats righty, stands under six feet, and was drafted No. 3 overall. The track record of similar players isn’t very good, to the extent that there was some thought about trying him at third base. The White Sox don’t seem too interested in that idea, having played him exclusively at the cold corner. It’s probably for the best, since Vaughn’s best position is (and always will be) in the batter’s box. Vaughn hit .278/.348/.449 in his first 245 professional plate appearances. He might begin the year at Double-A with an outside shot at debuting as Jose Abreu‘s heir late in the season.
18. Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals
The Rangers acquired Nick Solak in July from the Rays, who had shopped him around due to his perceived defensive limitations. One source familiar with the Rays’ internal evaluation said the club felt he was a “double-negative” defender at the keystone — meaning well-below average. A scout from another team agreed with that assessment, but Solak is regarded as a hard worker and it’s possible he improves enough to be playable there for a time. Regardless of Solak’s defense, he can hit and he can run. He has a simple swing and a discerning approach at the dish, a combination that should allow him to pitch in across the board. (He is going to strike out a fair amount just by virtue of working deep counts so often.) Solak didn’t run much in the majors, but he stole 21 bases as recently as 2018 and posted a sprint speed in the 85th percentile. Heading forward, he’s a candidate for at least 10-plus thefts. Solak’s landing spot on the diamond will dictate his overall value, but there’s ample reason to believe he could be the Rangers’ everyday second baseman in 2020 — and that he’s at the onset of what’s likely to be a lengthy big-league career.
19. Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates
We’ve spent the past month-plus ranking the top-five prospects for every MLB team. Now that that process is finished, we’ve opted to rank the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. You’ll find the players listed below in order of their perceived impact with other factors — like their perceived riskiness — baked in. You’ll also find our report on each player below their name.
20. Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins
Let’s get to the rankings:
21. Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
When Casey Mize was picked first overall in the 2018 draft, he dethroned former big-league closer Gregg Olson (No. 4 in 1988) as the highest player ever selected from Auburn. Mize shares a few commonalities with Olson — an alma mater, of course, and the possession of a high-grade out pitch. Olson had one of the best curveballs in recent memory, while Mize has a trapdoor split-change that has more GIF potential than a waterskiing squirrel. Mize’s arsenal runs deeper than his splitter. He has three other offerings — a fastball, a slider, and a cutter — that grade as at least above-average. Those pitches often play up due to his polish. He has above-average command and has walked fewer than five percent of the batters he’s faced so far as a professional. The main concern with Mize is the universal one for pitchers: health. Unfortunately, this isn’t theory (“he’s a pitcher and pitchers get hurt”) so much as a reality: Mize missed time this season due to shoulder inflammation, and has had other arm woes in the past, including a forearm strain that interfered with his sophomore season at Auburn. Bodies are fickle vessels prone to upheaval when tasked with crossing the waters of a big-league season, but past research suggests past injuries are the best predictor of future injuries — meaning, in so many words, Mize might be more prone to injury than the standard pitcher. A hearty and hale Mize is likely to debut in the majors next spring. He ought to develop into a No. 2 starter in short order, and his health will dictate if he’s ever known as an ace.
22. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals
Deivi Garcia is one of the most controversial prospects in the minors despite having an arsenal full of average or better offerings and having already debuted in Triple-A before turning 21. The main knocks on Garcia are his size and his command. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, 163 pounds which would put him in a small group if he can stick in the rotation. Since the last round of expansion, only three pitchers shorter than 70 inches and lighter than 180 pounds have made at least 30 starts: Marcus Stroman, Mike Leake, and Jesus Sanchez . Garcia may in time join that group, though he did issue too many free passes for comfort throughout the season, walking 4.4 per nine across three levels. He’s known for being a good athlete, which should bode well for him throwing more strikes. But, at the same time, his delivery does feature some tics — throwing across his body; recoil on the follow through — that can rob pitchers of command. Whichever way Garcia’s command goes, he remains extremely young. There’s no real reason to rush him to the majors, but the Yankees might find it hard to ignore his potential impact over the course of the 2020 season. As such, the Yankees may make a call on whether he’s best suited as a starter, reliever, or some kind of hybrid before the year is out.
23. A.J. Puk, LHP, A’s
Dylan Carlson, the 33rd pick in the 2016 draft, positioned himself for a 2020 callup thanks to a strong season that saw him hit .281/.364/.518 with 21 homers and 18 steals in Double-A. Carlson is a well-rounded switch hitter who was better as a lefty in 2019. (He was better as a righty in 2018, so it doesn’t appear to be part of a bigger trend.) He cut into his ground ball rate this season, presumably in pursuit of better leveraging his raw strength. It worked, as he posted the highest ISO of his professional career despite playing in the upper-minors. As it stands, Carlson projects to hit for average and power while also drawing a lot of walks. There’s perhaps a chance he sacrifices more of his hit tool for additional power (or vice versa), but that’s to be seen. Add up the entire package, and it’s easy to envision him being a productive everyday member of a good lineup. Defensively, Carlson has an above-average arm and should be fine in right. He’s already listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds so there’s a chance he someday outgrows the position. For now, he’s the Cardinals prospect likeliest to start important games for them in 2020.
24. Nolan Gorman, 3B, Cardinals
Brendan McKay, the No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft, just did qualify for this list. He was an inning short of the limit — and, frankly, there was some consideration given to ruling him ineligible since he did make a few appearances as a DH. Indeed, McKay is two-way player who should probably be restricted to the mound. That’s where scouts prefer him, and his bat is far enough behind that it’s going to be hard to develop him as a hitter without missing out on the value he can provide as a pitcher. McKay has a three-pitch arsenal: a low-to-mid-90s fastball that generated an absurd amount of in-zone swinging strikes in the minors, a cutter, and a curveball. Each pitch generated at least 20 percent whiffs during his big-league stint, though the opposition (mostly right-handers) slugged .515 against his heater and batted .292 on the curve. The Rays had McKay consistently work on five days’ rest rather than four, and it’s to be seen if they change that heading into 2020. He receives high marks for his low heartbeat — read: calm demeanor — and the expectation is he’ll become a No. 2 or 3 starter with time.
25. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, White Sox
Nick Lodolo rewarded the Reds for making him the first pitcher selected in June’s draft (No. 7 overall) by throwing 18 innings of walk-free baseball in his introduction to the pro ranks. OK, so the Reds hope Lodolo’s actual gift to them turns out to be more substantive than that — and there’s a solid chance it will be, and soon. Lodolo is built like David Price and has the chance to move quickly through the system thanks to his control and a solid three-pitch mix that includes a swing-and-miss slider. Should Lodolo live up to his mid-rotation upside, he would become just the third pitcher from Texas Christian University to compile more than five career Wins Above Replacement, joining Jake Arrieta and Andrew Cashner . (Lodolo might have to settle for fourth if Diamondbacks lefty Alex Young continues to deliver on his own promise.)
26. Nick Madrigal, SS, White Sox
Signed out of the Bahamas on July 2, 2017 for more than .5 million, Kristian Robinson has the makings of a high-quality player. Robinson is listed at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds with a frame that suggests he should be able to add more muscle over the coming years. In turn, he’s likely to wield well-above-average power potential — a scary thought for the A-ball pitchers who permitted him to hit .282/.368/.514 with 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases this season (to be fair, most of that damage came before a late-season promotion to Single-A). As the steals indicate, speed is at present a part of Robinson’s game, and he’s primarily played center field thus far as a professional. It’s probable, if not likely, that he’ll end up in a corner as he packs on additional weight — presumably at the cost of his speed. Robinson won’t turn 20 until after the election, meaning there’s ample time for something to go awry — for example, maybe he proves too prone to swinging and missing to maximize his offensive output. There’s also ample time for him to develop into a star.
27. Spencer Howard, RHP, Phillies
Few pitchers, let alone prospects, have as much arm strength as Nate Pearson, who hit 103 mph during last year’s Arizona Fall League All-Star Game. Pearson was in the Fall League because he had missed most of the regular season due to a fractured forearm. He rebounded just fine in 2019, tossing 101 ⅔ innings across three levels. His final three starts occurred in Triple-A, where he struck out 15 batters in 18 frames. It’s fair to think, then, that Pearson will make his big-league debut in 2020 — potentially early on, too. Pearson obviously possesses a power arsenal, complete with a high-grade fastball and an above-average slider that he can deliver harder than some pitchers’ heaters. The rest of his arsenal is closer to average, but the bigger concern here has to do with his workload. Even including his collegiate days, he’s yet to throw as many as 105 innings in a season. Pearson becoming a front-of-the-rotation monster is within the realm of possibilities. But tempering expectations, at least in the short term, could prove to be a prudent decision.
28. JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins
When Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday was picked fourth overall by the Marlins in June’s draft, he became the third Commodore hitter to ever go in the top five, joining Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (No. 1, 2015) and former Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez (No. 2, 2008). Based on Bleday’s pedigree and collegiate performance — he hit .350/.464/.717 with 26 home runs and one more walk than strikeout — it would’ve been justifiable to expect him to walk all over Florida State League pitchers. He didn’t, instead posting a .690 OPS in 38 games. Scouts aren’t ready to forget about Bleday — rather, they maintain hope that he develops into a middle-of-the-order hitter who marries a smart approach with above-average left-handed thump — but there is some reason for concern here as it pertains to his unorthodox swing. Typically scouts like quietness at the dish; Bleday’s swing features a lot of movement, a lot of reverb. He also tends to collapse his back side, leading at least one talent evaluator to question how he’ll fare against better pitchers who can spam him away with soft stuff. It’s to be seen if that anxiety is merited. For now, Bleday remains the safest quantity here.
29. Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves
The Athletics haven’t drafted and developed a catcher of note (who remained behind the plate, anyway) since Kurt Suzuki . Sean Murphy stands to change that. Murphy’s calling card is his defense. He combines a strong arm with solid receiving abilities and quality staff-handling, giving him a high floor. He isn’t a zero at the plate, either. Rather, Murphy has always drawn walks — and he has above-average power potential. It’s to be determined if Murphy leans into his power — perhaps at the expense of his contact skills. But he has a chance to be a two-way contributor at a position without many.
30. Shane Baz, RHP, Rays
If you enjoyed the Eloy Jimenez service-time debates then go ahead and purchase a mass quantity of popcorn because the same arguments will resurface in spring about Luis Robert. Robert spent 47 games in Triple-A, hitting .297/.341/.634 with 16 home runs and seven stolen bases. Across three levels, he combined to homer 32 times and steal 36 bags. Keep in mind: he only turned 22 in August. The White Sox elected against promoting him in September, meaning his debut might be delayed into next summer if Chicago intends to game his arbitration clock. Robert has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order hitter who can hang in center field during the early stages of his career. The one concern here is his approach, as he walked in about five percent of his plate appearances this season — that versus a strikeout rate closer to 24 percent. Obviously it’s possible more time in the minors could help Robert improve upon his strikeout-to-walk ratio. But there’s a case to be made that — given his success against minor-league pitchers — further development will require a step up in competition. Come spring the White Sox will vote on what they believe — or what they prioritize, anyway.
31. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
Julio Rodriguez won’t turn 19 until the end of the year, but he’s already established himself as one of the better outfield prospects in the minors. Rodriguez is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and looks the part. Although he was more than three years younger than the average bear in both leagues he played in during the 2019 season, he still hit .326/.390/.540 with 12 home runs. Should Rodriguez develop as expected, he’s likely to bat in the middle of an order someday while providing both average and big-time pop. Defensively, Rodriguez isn’t quite as impressive. He has a strong arm and should end up in right field, but let’s be real: few are going to care about that so long as he hits like he can.
32. Drew Waters, OF, Braves
The gem of the Robinson Cano trade, Jarred Kelenic asserted himself as the top prospect in Seattle’s system with an impressive age-19 season that saw him hit .291/.364/.540 with 23 homers and 20 steals across three levels — including 21 Double-A contests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kelenic is expected to be an above-average hitter at the big-league level. Kelenic is more than just a stick though. He can run, and for the time being he’s likely to remain in center thanks to his footspeed and his big-time arm. There’s a chance he has to move to a corner (likely right) down the road, but there’s star potential if he can stick up the middle. Kelenic won’t be able to legally drink until July. By then, he could be knocking on the big-league door. Whether Seattle chooses to answer it before the 2021 season rolls around is to be seen.
33. Heliot Ramos, OF, Giants
Most people reading this are probably familiar with Bobby Witt Jr.’s essential background details — e.g. him being selected No. 2 in June’s draft; his father being a longtime big-league pitcher; and so on. We’ll forego the redundancy in favor of saving precious seconds and bandwidth. Witt’s biggest fans point to his broad base of tools. He can throw, he can run, and he’s expected to stick at shortstop. What’s supposed to separate Witt from the typical six-holer is the well-above-average raw power he generates from his 6-foot-1 frame and simple swing. Dating back to the last round of expansion, there have been only eight shortstops with multiple 20-20 seasons — Witt may eventually add his name to the list. Witt’s biggest detractors have a few key talking points of their own. Foremost, they point to the swing-and-miss present in his game. As a result, Witt’s hit tool may play below-average at the big-league level, potentially hampering his ability to maximize his strength. There’s also the matter of his age — Witt will turn 20 on Flag Day, which is on the older side for a prep draftee. Disagreements about Witt’s ceiling aside, it should be acknowledged that his secondary skills alleviate some pressure from his bat. He may or may not develop into a star-level performer, but he should reach the majors in some capacity — with a fair chance of being at least a regular.
34. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
By now, everyone is probably familiar with Gavin Lux, who appeared in 23 games with the Dodgers down the stretch. For the exceptions in the crowd, Lux spent most of the season terrorizing minor-league pitching. He hit .347/.421/.607 with 26 home runs across Double- and Triple-A. He did that while playing the entire season as a 21-year-old who primarily played shortstop. In other words, Lux is a well-rounded player — one who can hit for average and power, walk, and so on. The main question with him at this point is where he’ll play on the big-league team. The Dodgers used him exclusively at second base during his big-league cameo, and it’s probably fair to slot him in there for as long as Corey Seager is hearty and hale.
35. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Marlins
When Alec Bohm was drafted third overall in 2018, he tied Braden Looper for the distinction of being the third-highest selected player from Wichita State University. (Joe Carter and Darren Dreifort each went second in their draft years.) Believe it or not, the most successful Shocker has been Casey Blake, who accumulated 25 Wins Above Replacement for his career. Blake played in parts of 13 big-league seasons, seeing most of his action at third base with some corner outfield and first base mixed in. It’s unclear if Bohm will follow in Blake’s cleatprints, but it’s at minimum it’s possible he ends up moving off third base over the next couple years. The Phillies tasked him with playing 24 games at first base during the minor-league season, and they’ve continued to crosstrain him there as part of his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Wherever Bohm ends up, this season seemed like a step in the right direction at the plate. In the past he prioritized contact to the point where he didn’t seem to make the most of his large frame (he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and more than 220 pounds). For reference, he went without a homer in his first 158 professional plate appearances. He showed far more power in 2019, homering 21 times and posting a .213 ISO. That’s a promising sign — and one accompanied by a favorable shift in batted-ball tendencies. If Bohm keeps it up, he could be batting in the middle of the Phillies’ order — and playing some position — as soon as late next season.
36. Brandon Marsh, OF, Angels
The third pick in the 2016 draft, Ian Anderson should make his big-league debut in 2020. Anderson has the makings of a mid-rotation starter or better. He has the size, the delivery, the arsenal — all three pitches have above-average potential. What he doesn’t have is the command. Anderson has walked four batters per nine throughout his minor-league career, including 4.3 per nine in 2019. Put another way, his 11.3 percent walk rate would have tied Dakota Hudson for the highest among in the majors among qualified starters. Obviously Anderson has more bat-missing ability than Hudson, perhaps making his situation more comparable to the Robbie Rays and Luis Castillos of the league. But it’s asking a lot from any pitcher to require a top-15 strikeout rate to overcome their wildness. Anderson won’t turn 22 until May, so he has time to improve his command. Perhaps he’ll be the next to pull a Michael Kopech?
37. Nolan Jones, 3B, Cleveland
The headliner in the J.T. Realmuto trade, Sixto Sanchez is one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball. He can hit 100 mph; he flashes above-average secondaries; and he possesses above-average command and control. So, why’s he second? Foremost, Sanchez is on the smaller side. He’s officially listed at 6-foot, yet is believed to be even shorter. Historically, teams have not afforded pitchers of that stature a long look in the rotation. The Marlins could prove to be the exception — they’ve permitted 6-foot, 180-pound Jordan Yamamoto the opportunity to start — but there’s always something to be said about hedging bets. (Sanchez, for his part, did throw a career-high 114 innings this season.) There’s also the fact that Sanchez, for all his stuff and polish, doesn’t miss as many bats as expected — not even with his fastball. More goes into being a successful pitcher than whiff rates, and it’s possible he’ll become one of the masters of the freezeball — the way David Price, who as a youngster missed bats at a lower rate than Jamie Moyer, was in his heyday. Until he proves as much against big-league hitters, it’s fair to have some reservations. Sanchez will open the year in Triple-A. He ought to debut come summertime at the latest.
38. Bobby Witt, SS, Royals
For years, Heliot Ramos has flirted with the top spot on prospect lists. Now, he’s earned it here following a season in which he hit .306/.385/.500 with 13 homers in High-A at 19. Ramos, who turned 20 in September, didn’t fare quite as well in 25 Double-A games, striking out in 31 percent of his plate appearances. He gets a pass because he was roughly five years younger than the average batter in the league, per Baseball-Reference’s calculations. (Plus it was 25 games during his first look at the level.) There are some downsides to Ramos’s game — the previously referenced swing-and-miss and the likelihood he ends up in a corner rather than sticking up-the-middle — but generally, this kind of offensive potency at such a young age against older competition bodes well for the future.
39. Taylor Trammell, OF, Padres
Arizona’s third pick in 2018, Alek Thomas made quick work of A-ball, hitting .312/.393/.479 with eight home runs in 91 games. He didn’t perform quite as well in 23 games at High-A, but it’s also 23 games and he was more than three-plus years younger than the average bear. Thomas, who won’t turn 20 until late April, is an above-average runner who may well stick in center field. (If he has to move to a corner, it’d likely be left due to his substandard arm.) It’s unclear if he’ll provide more than gap power on a consistent basis, but he could develop into a leadoff-hitter type who contributes both a high average and walk rate. The risk here is that Thomas’s hit tool plays down if pitchers don’t fear his pop. He isn’t bereft of strength, so it isn’t a major concern at this point, but punishing mistakes is part of what separates the Brett Gardners of this player family from the Sam Fulds.
40. Kristian Robinson, OF, Diamondbacks
One of the biggest surprises at the trade deadline saw the Padres acquire Taylor Trammell as part of a three-team trade with Cleveland and the Reds . The Padres shipped out outfielder Franmil Reyes, left-handed starter Logan Allen, and infielder Victor Nova in exchange for Trammell, who has a chance to become the most valuable part of a deal that included big-league stars Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig . Alas, Trammell’s iffy season at Double-A didn’t get better after changing teams. His average, walk rate, and strikeout rate all went in the wrong direction, and while he hit for more power, it seems a fair amount of that had to do a friendlier hitting environment. If there was one positive after the trade, it’s that the Padres seem intent on letting him play center — he has jets, but he’s been projected to land in left due to a substandard throwing arm. One source compared Trammell’s likely upside to longtime Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner . For that comparison to come to fruition, Trammell may need to abandon hope of tapping into his raw power and instead focus on maximizing his contact and on-base skills. Should he make progress with whatever route he picks, he could debut early in 2020.
41. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
The only player in the Nationals’ top five to reach the majors in 2019, Carter Kieboom had a forgettable 11-game stint early in the spring during which he nearly recorded twice more strikeouts (16) than times on base (nine). Woof. The good news for Kieboom is multifaceted. It was just 11 games, after all, and he fared well in Triple-A, where he hit .303/.409/.493 with 16 home runs and a healthier strikeout rate. Tools-wise, Kieboom still profiles as a potential regular thanks to his bat and strong throwing arm, both of which grade as at least above-average, if not better. Even with the strong arm, Kieboom is not likely to remain at shortstop for much longer — Washington had him play a lot of second base in the minors this season, and that seems like his likeliest landing spot. Presuming Kieboom fares better heading forward, he could check in as a two-way contributor at the keystone as soon as next season.
42. Alec Bohm, 3B, Phillies
The No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, Royce Lewis just couldn’t seem to get going, no matter what. Lewis hit .238/.289/.376 with more than three times as many strikeouts as walks during a repeat assignment in High-A. (To be fair, it was the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.) He was pushed to Double-A in late July, and he responded by … hitting even worse: .231/.291/.358 with a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio of three on the nose. Lewis did play better in the Arizona Fall League, which, hey, take the victories you can. The hope here is that Lewis can figure out what ailed his swing and get back to his old offensive standing over the course of the 2020 season — a standing that made it OK that he might not remain at shortstop for the long haul, but might instead land in center field. If not… well, he’ll turn 21 in June. Given his pedigree, he’s worth permitting the mulligan.
43. Alek Thomas, OF, Diamondbacks
There’s a case to be made that Jo Adell is the best non-teenage prospect in baseball. That case begins with the fact that Adell is a fantastic athlete. Here, watch him do some plyometrics then check back. Done? Good. Adell can hit the ectoplasm out of the baseball just as well as he can ghost around the basepaths or in the outfield. He might finish his development with four tools that project as plus or better — that isn’t a common profile. Talking about only the pluses with top prospects can get boring, but there are few minuses to nitpick with Adell. The main one is that he’s prone to swinging and missing. He struck out in roughly a third of his plate appearances in Triple-A over a 27-game stretch. But it’s worth noting that he fanned a lot during his initial exposure to Double-A, only to return this year and hit .308/.390/.553 in 182 plate appearances — with, it should be known, a greatly reduced K rate. If you want a second negative about Adell it’s that he’s yet to appear in 100 games in a season. (He finished with 99 in 2018.) A third? Uh … he might never be on your favorite team. Otherwise, Adell is a very good prospect. You’re going to like watching him play baseball. You should get the chance to do sometime in 2020.
44. Logan Gilbert, RHP, Mariners
At his best, Cristian Pache looks like a future star: a demon center fielder with more power potential than his 21 career home runs suggest. At his less-than-best, he still looks like a valuable player — just one who may not add as much as hoped offensively. Pache was having a breakout season before a late promotion to Triple-A, where some of his gains — at least so far as lifting the ball and hitting for more power — disappeared. He continued to walk more than usual, which is a welcomed sign for someone known as a free-swinger, but he remained as pull-heavy as ever. Indeed, Pache pulled around 57 percent of his batted balls in 2019, according to FanGraphs. Only three qualified big-league hitters finished over 50 percent, and none higher than Max Kepler at 53.4 percent. Whatever works works, but that kind of dependency on pulling the baseball could speak to a deficiency within his game. Despite Pache’s well-above-average speed, he hasn’t yet morphed into a stolen-base threat — not a good one, anyway. An 8-for-19 season (you read that correctly) leaves him with a 60 percent career success rate. That just isn’t going to fly in the majors. This isn’t meant to be dismissive of Pache’s ability to grow, either. He won’t turn 21 until November, and it’s possible he taps into some of that power and learns the nuances of basestealing. It’s just a reminder that even very good prospects like Pache — who should develop into an above-average regular — sometimes have flaws that need to be noted.
45. Nick Lodolo, LHP, Reds
Alex Kirilloff will play all of the 2020 season as a 22-year-old. It’s possible that by the end of the year, he’ll also identify as a big-league outfielder. Kirilloff was the 15th pick in 2016 draft. He had his development delayed after undergoing Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2017. A big 2018 landed him in Double-A to begin the 2019 season, and that’s where he spent the entire year, hitting .283/.343/.413 in 94 games while doubling as one of the younger hitters in the Southern League. Kirilloff has an unorthodox swing, as he’s prone to stepping in the bucket — or striding away from the plate. This is often frowned upon, since it theoretically makes it tougher to hit outside pitches, but some batters — e.g. Khris Davis — have made it work. Kirilloff might be the next thanks to his feel for hitting and the natural loft in his swing. Provided Kirilloff keeps hitting, the development worth watching here is where the Twins stick him defensively. They’ve had him crosstrain between first base and the corner outfield, and it’s possible that he could ping pong back and forth as needed, giving him a little additional value.
46. Luis Patino, RHP, Padres
Dan Duquette’s final first-round selection in Baltimore, Grayson Rodriguez, is shaping up to be a quality parting gift. Rodriguez, who won’t turn 20 until mid-November, spent the season in the South Atlantic League, striking out 129 batters and yielding just four home runs in 94 frames. He already looks like a big-league starter (he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds), and his arsenal could offer both impact and depth upon maturation. His fastball can touch into the upper-90s and he has a knockout slider that serves as his main out pitch. Rodriguez will continue to work on shaping the rest of his repertoire, including a slow changeup that clocks in 13 to 14 mph below than his heater, per Trackman data. (The largest gap in the majors this season is 12.8 mph and belongs to Matt Boyd, per data from FanGraphs — and Boyd seldom uses his changeup.) Every young starter could “wind up in the bullpen,” much in the way that every protagonist in a Haruki Murakami novel could end up in an alternate dimension — it happens often enough that the caveat should be implicit. All the same, Rodriguez checks enough boxes to think he has a better chance than not of spending his years in a rotation — or, uh, another realm.
47. Nick Solak, INF, Rangers
The most well known name on the list due to his inclusion in the Chris Sale trade, Michael Kopech made four big-league appearances in 2018. He struck out 15 batters in those 14 innings before succumbing to Tommy John surgery that ended his season and wiped out his 2019, too. Kopech ranks here based on the expectation that he’ll make a full recovery from the elbow operation. That means he returns with an elite fastball, two high-quality secondaries and the improved command he showed during the second half of 2018. Perhaps Kopech doesn’t have all that, at least not right away — command is said to be the aspect that comes back last — but for now his upside remains ace-like.
48. Sean Murphy, C, A’s
If any player on this list is going to help Cleveland in 2020, it’s going to be Nolan Jones, the 21-year-old third baseman who split the season between High- and Double-A — and fared well at both levels. Jones is a large fella (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, and north of 180 pounds) who may end up having to move off the position in due time as he continues to grow into his frame. Even so, his bat ought to allow him to be an asset for years to come. Jones has posted prolific walk rates throughout the minors, including over 20 percent during his time in High-A. Even in Double-A, he was still taking a free pass in around 15 percent of his plate appearances. Oftentimes, there’s concern that players who walk that much are allowing hittable pitches to pass. But Jones has consistently hit for average and posted a .213 ISO in 49 Double-A games, suggesting he just has a disciplined approach at the dish. Because of Jones’s size and his willingness to work counts, he’s probably always going to strike out a fair amount. There’s some risk of those contact woes getting out of hand. But until that happens it’s okay to envision him being part of Cleveland’s lineup late in 2020.
49. Nico Hoerner, SS, Cubs
Aaahh!!! A short right-handed pitching prospect. Luis Patino is listed at 6-foot, 192 pounds, which makes it tempting to bet that his future is in the bullpen. Yet he’ll pitch next season as a 20-year-old, and his combination of stuff (he has a lively above-average fastball and a suitable out pitch in his slider) and polish suggests he deserves the chance to continue starting until his body and/or his results say otherwise. There are a few areas where Patino shows his age, beginning with his lagging changeup and extending to his workload. He’s yet to throw as many as 100 innings in a season — understandable given his youth, but also a fairly arbitrary standard that he would’ve topped had the Padres not shut him down in August after he developed a blister. The other aspect he needs to continue to work on is his command, and it’s at least possible that he’ll need to ditch the crossfire element in his delivery in favor of being on a more true line to the plate. Yes, many pitching prospects need to work on their changeup, command, and their workloads. But most of them haven’t experienced success in High-A as a 19-year-old. Patino still has a wide of range of potential outcomes — with further development, he’s a front-of-the-rotation starter; without, maybe he’s just a high-leverage reliever — and that’s okay. For the time being, it’s enough to label him one of the game’s most interesting and exciting pitching prospects.
50. Deivi Garcia, RHP, Yankees
The sixth pick in the 2016 draft, southpaw A.J. Puk took a touch longer than expected to crack the major-league roster. Puk was viewed as the rotation’s potential savior entering the 2018 season, yet missed the year due to Tommy John surgery. The A’s took it slow and low with him in his return this season, limiting him to 28 games and 36 innings between the minors and majors, including 10 such appearances as part of the club’s late-season bullpen. During that big-league cameo, Puk relied heavily on his two best pitches: an upper-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider. Both of those offerings are plus or better. The rest of his arsenal — he throws a 90-mph changeup and a curveball — didn’t receive as much praise, and he struggles with command the way more tall pitchers do (he’s 6-foot-7). There’s a chance Puk becomes a No. 2 starter behind his fastball-slider. There’s also a chance he’s more of an inconsistent mid-rotation type, or even a shutdown reliever. The A’s figure to give him every opportunity to become one of the first two, beginning early in 2020.