MLB: Top 400 Prospects

MLB: Top 400 Prospects

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

Hopefully you've noticed that the Top 400 prospect rankings were updated Saturday. I had planned on releasing them Feb. 1, but I heard from many of you that your keepers were locking Jan. 31, so I pushed up the release date a few days. For those who have a First-Year Player Draft coming up, I recommend checking out the FYPD Rankings and the FYPD Blueprint if you haven't already. 

This is the most time I've spent on one update since I first started ranking prospects nine years ago. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as the lockout and the fact that we shuttered the magazine meant I wasn't working against such a tight timeline. I do my best work on these rankings in the offseason when nothing about these players is changing -- their values are frozen in time in the months of December, January and February. This allows me to spend countless hours analyzing statistics, watching video, reading reports and communicating with sources. When things slow down in the offseason, it's much easier to take a step back and get a clearer perspective of where players belong. I've written outlooks (found on each player's page in the top right corner) on most of the top 100 prospects and every prospect with a top 500 NFBC ADP, and I'll be adding roughly 100 more outlooks over the next 4-6 weeks. The longer the lockout lasts, the more outlooks I will write.

In this article I will attempt to

Hopefully you've noticed that the Top 400 prospect rankings were updated Saturday. I had planned on releasing them Feb. 1, but I heard from many of you that your keepers were locking Jan. 31, so I pushed up the release date a few days. For those who have a First-Year Player Draft coming up, I recommend checking out the FYPD Rankings and the FYPD Blueprint if you haven't already. 

This is the most time I've spent on one update since I first started ranking prospects nine years ago. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as the lockout and the fact that we shuttered the magazine meant I wasn't working against such a tight timeline. I do my best work on these rankings in the offseason when nothing about these players is changing -- their values are frozen in time in the months of December, January and February. This allows me to spend countless hours analyzing statistics, watching video, reading reports and communicating with sources. When things slow down in the offseason, it's much easier to take a step back and get a clearer perspective of where players belong. I've written outlooks (found on each player's page in the top right corner) on most of the top 100 prospects and every prospect with a top 500 NFBC ADP, and I'll be adding roughly 100 more outlooks over the next 4-6 weeks. The longer the lockout lasts, the more outlooks I will write.

In this article I will attempt to touch on the players I find most interesting, but inevitably I won't be able to cover everyone, so please reach out in the comments or on Twitter with any further questions.

TIERS

When I'm working on my big updates, I find it helpful to denote tiers within my spreadsheet. The idea behind a tier is that the order within a tier is fully up for debate, but there is not a case for a player in a lower tier being ahead of any of the players in a higher tier.

Tier 1: Julio Rodriguez (1) through Riley Greene (3)

I feel very confident in the order of my top three prospects. The knock on Rodriguez is that he will be the last of these three to reach the majors, but I still believe he will be up this season, even though that's not a lock. Bobby Witt (2) and Greene will definitely be up this year, barring injury. The reason Greene climbed from No. 4 to No. 3 on this update is because I've grown more confident in him being a double-digit stolen-base guy. While he is not a burner, he likes to run, he is good at stealing bases, and the Tigers will let him run, at least early in his career.

Tier 2: Adley Rutschman (4) through Oneil Cruz (13)

Shane Baz (11) is the only pitcher in one of the top two tiers. He is basically the perfect pitching prospect from a skill and proximity standpoint. No. 11 overall is the highest I could see myself ranking a pitching prospect who has made three starts in the majors.

Cruz was a big riser on this update. My confidence in his success hasn't increased much, but my projected ceiling for him if everything clicks is higher than it was. His proximity also factored into his climb. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he struggled so much against big-league pitching that he spent more time at Triple-A than in the majors this year, but it also wouldn't surprise me if he provided enough value to finish as a top-100 player in redraft leagues. As I've said on several podcasts this offseason, his last 38 plate appearances (at Triple-A and the majors) have greatly shifted the way he is valued by everyone. Those plate appearances matter, but the pitching at Triple-A was so bad and the sample is so small that we should be careful not to overvalue his performance to close the year.

Tier 3: Brayan Rocchio (14) through Cade Cavalli (33)

One comparison I find fascinating is Rocchio vs. Noelvi Marte (16). If you asked 10 prospect aficionados which guy they prefer, all 10 might say Marte. I'll concede that Marte has more raw power and will probably always have more raw power. I also think Marte will log higher walk rates in is prime. However, I think Rocchio projects for a better batting average, similar stolen-base totals and will beat Marte to the majors by at least a year. Rocchio chased more than Marte, but he had better in-zone metrics, and he was facing much better pitching as one of the youngest players at Double-A.

Nick Yorke (17) and Coby Mayo (27) have been big risers over the past year, and I think we can talk about them together, because to date, they have been perfect prospects from a statistical standpoint. Yorke ranks ahead, as he is on a faster track to the majors, but if anyone was looking for flaws in either player, they'll have to wait until the 2022 season to find one. 

For the redraft crowd, if you're looking for this year's Trevor Rogers, you probably won't find him. However, Aaron Ashby (19) and Reid Detmers (24) are my top two candidates, as unproven pitching prospects with excellent stuff and a chance to make 20-plus MLB starts.

"These rankings are for fantasy baseball." That's my response to people who are up in arms about Grayson Rodriguez ranking 22nd. I'm not ranking players based on their tools and talent alone, I'm also factoring in the likelihood that those talents manifest into fantasy production. Being ranked just outside the top 20 is the highest honor I can give a pitching prospect who has never pitched above Double-A.

I've heard that I'm much higher on Michael Harris (26) than other sites. He checks any box I'd want a potential five-category outfielder to check at this stage of his development. He has much more power potential than you'd guess by his output as a young-for-the level 20-year-old playing half his games in the pitcher-friendly park in Rome. He obviously has the speed to steal 20 bases and his hit tool was as good as advertised.

Marco Luciano (29) is so tough to rank right now. I'm pretty confident that his realistic ceiling is something like a .265 average with 35-40 home runs and single-digit steals. His floor is much lower than that, and he's at least two years away from the majors. If I were on the clock in a startup draft and it was between Luciano and Dustin Harris (30), I might take Harris, but the market will never force me to make that call. 

Tier 4: Henry Davis (34) through Francisco Alvarez (55)

One of the most common questions I get is, which player outside the top 20 or top 30 could finish the year inside the top 10. Cristian Hernandez (37), Kahlil Watson (38) and Jordan Lawlar (44) are the best candidates this year. They're all fairly unproven, so I couldn't bring myself to rank them any higher than this, but they have the type of tools to really shoot up rankings.

Royce Lewis (43) and Pedro Leon (46) are very similar to me, in that this year at Triple-A will be massive for them. They each have really high power/speed ceilings and questionable hit tools. They also have contextual issues that need to be factored in -- Leon had a lot of rust to knock off last year and was affected by an injury late in the year while Lewis will have a lot of rust to knock of this year but is also lacking in upper-level success other than his fabulous 2019 MVP showing in the Arizona Fall League. If they have poor stat lines after six weeks, many will write them off, but if they have excellent stat lines after six weeks, they'll be popular stash candidates in redraft leagues.

Tyler Freeman (52) has long been "my guy". Unfortunately, life isn't fair, and a serious shoulder injury prevented him from changing the outside narrative on him last year. While he was sidelined, org. mate Brayan Rocchio, who is 20 months younger than Freeman, was breaking out in Freeman's place at Double-A. I still think Freeman has one of the best hit tools in the minors, but he hasn't proven he can be a 15-20 homer guy, and it's debatable whether he can be a 15-plus steals guy. I still love Freeman's talent, but things are getting pretty crowded in Cleveland's long-term plans at middle infield.

Francisco Alvarez (55) has been a controversial rank. There's no denying how impressive his rapid climb through the minors has been to date, but I have serious concerns about his body and ability to hit for a high average, especially if he stays at catcher. This is where I'd rank a catcher who is roughly two years away from the majors and projects to hit around .250 with 25 home runs in his peak years.

Tier 5: Luis Gil (56) through Juan Yepez (130)

I teased this big update on Twitter a couple weeks ago by saying Elly De La Cruz (63) would rank ahead of Jasson Dominguez (85) and Harry Ford (69) would rank ahead of Hedbert Perez (93). That wasn't meant to be a hype tweet as much as it was meant to manage expectations. I've been too high on Dominguez and Perez and too low on De La Cruz and Ford, and I didn't want people to be caught off guard by where they ranked on this update. 

Simply put, De La Cruz has the ceiling we all hoped Dominguez would have when he signed. Dominguez was once reported to be a 70-grade runner, and he is now a 50-grade runner, according to Baseball America. De La Cruz is a 70-grade runner. De La Cruz is also four inches taller than Dominguez while still weighing less. That's important for young, toolsy hitting prospects. I am not confident in either De La Cruz or Dominguez developing even average hit tools, but I am confident that if they both develop average hit tools, De La Cruz will bring a tantalizing power/speed combo, while Dominguez will be more of a 25-30 homer guy who chips in a handful of steals.

As for Ford and Perez, it's a very similar rationale. Ford is at least a full grade faster than Perez. Ford will also bring much more defensive value to the table, regardless of where he ends up, while Perez seems destined for left field, which will put more pressure on his bat. As with De La Cruz and Dominguez, I'm not confident in Ford or Perez, but I am confident that Ford has the higher ceiling due to his speed -- he also had a better approach than Perez at the same age in complex ball. 

You will notice that most teenage hitters with some level of obvious risk got bumped down on this update, Dominguez and Perez among them. I think that's the right way to go about things. Look at this collection of hitting talent that I expect to debut before 2024:

These aren't elite prospects and they don't all have super high ceilings, but they all have the upside to be top-150 picks in fantasy, so when we factor in the proximity, they warrant consideration over 18- and 19-year-olds who have already shown a weakness. 

I ranked Daniel Espino (70), Eury Perez (71), Taj Bradley (72) and Kyle Harrison (73) back-to-back-to-back-to-back because they are the four best pitching prospects who don't have a realistic chance of debuting this season. That's essentially the one knock on all four. They have ace upside, but odds are one of the four will get Tommy John surgery before reaching the majors and another one will have a season plagued by nagging arm injuries. On the flip side, I'd expect at least one of them to rank as a top-30 prospect a year from now, and if we look back in seven years, one of those four will probably be a top-10 pitcher in fantasy.

One of the best articles I've read this offseason was by Geoff Pontes at Baseball America, in which he broke down some of the best pitches in the minors. Geoff is privy to the critical pitch data that is not available to the public, and it helped crystalize my evaluations on guys like Brandon Williamson (76), Cole Winn (77) and Ryne Nelson (119), all of whom could debut this year. Williamson and Winn have particularly high ceilings and chances for initial success, as they have deep repertoires with multiple plus pitches and obvious paths into the rotation.

Steven Kwan (79), Kyle Isbel (82) and Jeremy Pena (83) are unexciting if you're looking for the next big thing, but they are quite useful if you play in a competitive dynasty league and value 2022 production. Plate appearances is the key here. Isbel could be a 15-20 steal guy this year, which makes him a nice late-round option in roto leagues.

I'm late to the party on Kevin Alcantara (84). I've got to give props to my friend Chris Welsh, who is based out in Arizona and was singing Alcantara's praises all summer. I was hesitant to buy in because he was a little old for the complex league and still struck out a decent amount, but it's hard not to fall in love with him on video. Similarly to De La Cruz, Alcantara has better power/speed tools than Dominguez at this stage in the game, even though Dominguez is almost a year younger and was facing tougher competition. As with all the teenagers in this range of the rankings, I'm not confident in Alcantara reaching his ceiling, but his ceiling is obviously high and his recent performance can't be ignored.

Reginald Preciado (86) was a big faller. Like with Dominguez and Perez, this was largely due to me having him over-ranked in the first place, but also a byproduct of proximity being weighed more heavily on this update. I still think Preciado has a very high ceiling with his hit tool and power potential, but for instance, teammate James Triantos (67) has the same ceiling and was more productive with a better approach at the same age in the complex league.

Brett Baty (89) was a riser but at the same time I think he's pretty overrated right now by the market due to buzz he generated in the AFL -- even there he hit just one home run with a 30.4 K%. Max exit velocity is also overrated, on a related note. Exit velocity matters, but so does launch angle, and Baty has only logged atrocious groundball rates above rookie ball.

I found myself lumping Nick Pratto (106), Orelvis Martinez (107) and Andy Pages (108) together, as they are power-over-hit prospects whose hit tools I'm bearish on but whose raw power is undeniable. Pratto's hit tool currently projects to be the worst of the three, which is why he's down here with Martinez and Pages, who are further away from the majors. Pratto had a contact rate below 65% last season, so while I expect the Royals to give him an audition at some point this year, I expect him to hit around the Mendoza Line, so I strongly recommend trading him in dynasty leagues before the season starts.

Caleb Kilian (112) really stood out on the tape I watched. I noticed his success midway through last season, but the reports I read made it seem like he was a command/control guy. It turns out he has big stuff and command. I could very easily see this being a case where people lament the fact he wasn't a highly-ranked prospect after he exceeds the general public's expectations early in his big-league career.

Beyond 130, the tiers stretch far and get blurry. It really kind of comes down to what type of prospect you're looking for at that point.

OTHERS OF NOTE

Sixto Sanchez (131) has had quite the fall from grace. You could have still cashed him out for a top-100 prospect in most leagues a couple weeks ago, but even those who were standing by him amid these significant injury/makeup issues seem to be pumping the brakes.

Eddys Leonard (133) should be able to hit enough to make up for his poor defense, but that poor defense and the crowded Dodgers depth chart should delay his ascent.

Jorbit Vivas (135) might have a plus hit tool in the making, and he'll need to in order to avoid being a utility player.

I'm a huge Gavin Stone (138) fan, and I'm guessing he is unrostered in a lot of leagues this offseason. He has a solid four-pitch mix, excels at generating weak contact and gets whiffs on his fourseamer.

Garrett Mitchell (155) is guy you can absolutely cash out right now to someone in your league who doesn't use my rankings. He needs to make a lot of adjustments in order to have success against Double-A pitching, and age (23) is not on his side.

Ricky Vanasco (158) is a big breakout/bounce-back candidate after returning from Tommy John surgery strong in fall instructs.

Ian Lewis (160) is another Marlins' middle-infield prospect with swagger and power/speed potential. He could be a quick riser into the top 100.

Josh Winder (163) will climb 30-40 spots as soon as he shows he's back to full strength after dealing with shoulder issues at the end of last season. He could make double-digit starts in the majors this year.

Pedro Pineda (172) comes with significant strikeout concerns, but the sample was very small and he showed that his power/speed upside is just as significant.

Jonathan Bowlan (190) won't return from Tommy John surgery until the second half, but he could have finished last season as a top-10 pitching prospect if he never got hurt.

Masyn Winn (201) would rank a bit higher if it didn't sound like the Cardinals are going to have him pitch at least on a part-time basis this season.

Angel Martinez (202) really faded down the stretch, and it's fair to wonder what his impact potential is.

Isaiah Greene (203) is already 20 and didn't show enough last year in complex ball to retain a high ranking. He could shoot up the list, but it's telling that Cleveland didn't test him against Low-A pitching last year.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
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