MLB: Top 400 Prospects Update

MLB: Top 400 Prospects Update

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

The final update to the top 400 prospect rankings before the minor-league seasons starts is in the books as of Monday evening. Here is a rough schedule of when I will be doing in-season updates this year:

Late May — The worst update possible is the April/early-May update, as we see so many false positives/negatives in those first 4-5 weeks. I'll get plenty wrong on a late-May update, but it at least gives me a big enough sample that I can feel OK working with it.

Late July — As you should alredy know, I don't focus on amateur prospects year-round, so I will be largely focused on draft prep for most of June and the first couple weeks of July (the draft is July 17-19). After the big offseason update every winter, this is the second-biggest update of the year. Not only am I adding 50-plus draftees to the rankings, but we've got almost a four-month sample for the full-season prospects and we've seen some rookie-level action at this point as well.

Late August — This will factor in some performances from the draftees as well as a larger sample of full-season and rookie-level performances. 

Early October — The regular season will be in the books, so we'll know which prospects officially graduated for this final update of 2022. I won't update the rankings again until early 2023, which is the big one.

SPRING MOVERS

CJ Abrams, Oneil Cruz and Corbin Carroll did everything in their power to

The final update to the top 400 prospect rankings before the minor-league seasons starts is in the books as of Monday evening. Here is a rough schedule of when I will be doing in-season updates this year:

Late May — The worst update possible is the April/early-May update, as we see so many false positives/negatives in those first 4-5 weeks. I'll get plenty wrong on a late-May update, but it at least gives me a big enough sample that I can feel OK working with it.

Late July — As you should alredy know, I don't focus on amateur prospects year-round, so I will be largely focused on draft prep for most of June and the first couple weeks of July (the draft is July 17-19). After the big offseason update every winter, this is the second-biggest update of the year. Not only am I adding 50-plus draftees to the rankings, but we've got almost a four-month sample for the full-season prospects and we've seen some rookie-level action at this point as well.

Late August — This will factor in some performances from the draftees as well as a larger sample of full-season and rookie-level performances. 

Early October — The regular season will be in the books, so we'll know which prospects officially graduated for this final update of 2022. I won't update the rankings again until early 2023, which is the big one.

SPRING MOVERS

CJ Abrams, Oneil Cruz and Corbin Carroll did everything in their power to push up the rankings this spring. For the record, I don't expect Abrams to hit the ground running against big-league pitching, but if I place myself in A.J. Preller's flip flops, I understand why he's going to battle with his most talented players, rather than let Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers get gifted playing time if they aren't earning it. There's a chance Abrams hits .250 and plays enough to steal 20-plus bases, and obviously if that happens, those who drafted him will be ecstatic, but I could also see him struggling so much that he gets sent to Triple-A in a month.

We know the deal with Cruz, he'll likely be up around the start of May. I've become more optimistic about his hit tool the more I see him do damage against low balls, because if pitchers can't reliably attack him low, all that's left is to try to attack him hard and inside. Even so, he's no sure thing to produce this year either. Both Abrams and Cruz have the potential to be league winners or the potential to be post-hype sleepers in the mold of Jo Adell and Jarred Kelenic next year.

Carroll has generated a lot of buzz this spring, suggesting he's not only fully recovered from his shoulder injury, but he is looking better than ever. The Diamondbacks sent him to Double-A, which is an aggressive assignment given his experience. He may be big-league ready this season, but I'd expect Arizona to wait until the beginning of next season to start his clock. He could be the No. 1 overall fantasy prospect this offseason.

Miguel Vargas, MJ Melendez, Bryson Stott and Jeremy Pena are four of the most notable risers on this update. Vargas looked great in big-league camp, but his rise is more of a product of me becoming more and more confident in what tools he's bringing to the table. Compare Vargas to Josh Jung, for instance. The hit and power tools project exactly the same, with both guys projecting as plus hitters with plus power and the hit tools could be even better than plus if they max out. Vargas, who is younger than Jung, will be one step away from the majors at Triple-A, while Jung (shoulder surgery) may not play at all this year. The Dodgers always have a bevy of quality options at every position, but Vargas is talented enough to kick the door down this summer. 

Melendez had a great spring, but like Vargas, his ascent was more a product of me becoming more comfortable and confident in my projection for his hit and power tools. The power should go without saying, but I feel like people don't talk enough about how much thunder is in his bat. As for the hit tool, he only needs to hit around .260 to have a chance to be the No. 1 fantasy catcher, and I've become more confident in him having a 50-grade or better hit tool. Not only does he beat most catching prospects when you add up the hit and power tools, but he could be the first catching prospect with no MLB experience to debut this season, given Adley Rutschman's triceps injury. On top of that, he'll be working at third base and in left field, so this could be a Daulton Varsho situation, where we're getting a catcher-eligible player who is playing every day. Unlike Varsho, I expect Melendez to always catch enough to retain that eligibility.

I've always been lower on Stott than most because I saw a Jake Cronenworth type of fantasy ceiling, but I think I've been underselling the hit tool, and if you're a 60- or 70-grade hitter, it's tough to put a cap on the power. Moreover, he may already be one of the Phillies' top five or six hitters — he's certainly better than Alec Bohm at all facets of the game.

Given all of the missed time and limited samples at certain stops, Pena's fantasy stat line is the toughest for me to project. I could see him hitting anywhere from .230 to .280 as a rookie (I know, not very helpful), but he's proven that he is good enough at enough things to play every day for one of the best teams in baseball. Even if he doesn't break out this year, he should have a good career, and he's going to be a power/speed threat until further notice.

Reid Detmers and Nick Lodolo passed Grayson Rodriguez on this update, and Matt Brash almost did. Maybe if I'm in a deep rebuild, I'd take Rodriguez over all these guys, but if I'm a contender or there's a stipulation in the league about needing active MLB players in your lineup, give me the guys who have a high ceiling and a spot in the big-league rotation. Any of these guys (hell, all of them) could be hurt in a month, seriously hurt. 

Detmers and Lodolo don't seem like projects to me. I expect them to both be reliable options in mixed leagues this season, with the upside to be taken in the 80-150 range in redraft leagues next year. 

Brash is perhaps less refined, but he has the highest strikeout upside for 2022 of these four arms. He also has the best team context of the four. There's no tier separating these four, so if you have the choice, roll with the guy you like watching pitch the most.

Kahlil Watson is now narrowly the top FYPD prospect in his class. He picked up where he left off last season this spring, and it's just hard to ignore how loud his tools are compared to his classmates.

Elly De La Cruz is worth the risk at No. 36. The risk is substantial, but so is the upside. These aren't perfect comps by any stretch, but on Chris Welsh's most recent podcast, I said that if De La Cruz maxes out, he could be Ronald Acuna, and if he fails he could be Estevan Florial. Odds are, he'll be something in between.

Eury Perez is in many ways the pitching version of De La Cruz. The sky is the limit — he could not only be the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball, but he could be the No. 1 fantasy starter in his prime. Of course, pitching prospects will break your heart, and they do so with unwavering ferocity, so just don't get so attached that if something bad happens you can't recover.

Italian Breakfast (Vinnie Pasquantino) is closer to big-league ready than I thought. That is to say, he is probably big-league ready right now. The problem is that Nick Pratto and Carlos Santana won't just be cast aside, and MJ Melendez takes priority over Pasquantino as well. Even so, he may force the Royals' hand this summer.

Andy Pages and Orelvis Martinez keep proving me wrong. For the past year, I've put these two in the same bucket — gifted young power hitters who had swing-and-miss and pull-heavy tendencies that would relegate them to strong three-category production if it all worked out. Teams teach guys to launch the ball in the air, and these two arguably hit too many flyballs. It's nice to mix in some linedrives too. However, I think I've been focusing too much on what I wish they did differently and not enough on how good they are at their strength: putting the barrel on the ball. After all, if you're going to pull the ball, you might as well pull it in the air.

Josh Winder looks healthy. He ended last year on the shelf with a shoulder injury and his production tailed off prior to him being shut down, so I wanted to see him healthy this spring before ranking him where his talent warranted. He was pumping 96 mph fastballs with a swing-and-miss breaking ball and an excellent changeup. Winder is opening at Triple-A, but he should spend the majority of the year in the big-league rotation if he stays healthy.

Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams were the talk of the backfields in Arizona. Everything I said about Perez applies to Espino, and if one of those two stays healthy all year, they will likely enter next year as the top pitching prospect in the game. For some, that means Perez and Espino should be ranked higher than I have them, I just want to be clear that where I have them is a huge compliment coming from me when we're talking about pitching prospects who are unlikely to debut this season. Even though he's older, Williams could factor into that No. 1 pitching prospect discussion as well, and if you scored him in your FYPD, you should be feeling extremely good right now.

Geraldo Perdomo and Kyle Isbel might be ready to help your teams win in 2022. Isbel had a good enough spring and has a clear enough path to playing time that he has been getting drafted in NFBC Main Event leagues, and I could see Perdomo being a popular FAAB add early this year in leagues where he went undrafted. They have similar fantasy profiles: hit-over-power with enough speed to steal 15-20 bases and a chance to hit leadoff, especially on their rebuilding clubs. They are also good defenders, which really matters when we're talking about these types of players — we want Tommy Edman and Myles Straw types in dynasty, not Mallex Smith or Raimel Tapia.

In The Highlander Dynasty Invitational, I kept passing on Everson Pereira even though he was my top-ranked prospect. I eventually took him in the 26th round, so I'm not out on him, but I'm just not confident in what he will become. He obviously hits the ball hard enough to be an everyday corner outfielder, but I'm not sure how much quality contact he will make against upper-level pitching, and I'm not projecting much speed.

Cody Morris is on the 60-day injured list with a shoulder strain. He's talented enough that I kept him in the top 100, but I'm guessing he will either be in the top 75 or outside the top 125 on the late July update, depending on how his recovery goes.

MacKenzie Gore and Clarke Schmidt are back on the upswing. The big things with Gore are consistency and confidence. Looking good for a few innings in spring training is not the same thing as successfully turning a big-league lineup over multiple times when the games count. However, he was an utter disappointment last year, looking like a future reliever against complex hitters, so this is a major step in the right direction.

With Schmidt, who projects to make the Yankees out of camp, it comes down to durability. He is 26 and still hasn't thrown 100 innings in a season as a pro. If he can handle a starter's workload, I'm confident in mid-rotation starter production long term.

Diego Castillo kicked the door down this spring, and while Gabriel Arias is opening at Triple-A, I don't think he'll be there long. Unlike Perdomo and Isbel, these two probably won't help much with speed, but they could play every day and contribute in 3-4 categories.

Cristian Santana and Junior Caminero join Victor Acosta as priority complex follows this summer. The elite high school draftees and Cristian Hernandez will lead the way, along with Wilman Diaz and Carlos Colmenarez but these are the top three others to track. Santana and Caminero are power+hit savants, and Acosta has five-category juice.

Reiver Sanmartin and Tucker Davidson might help you win this year. At a certain point in the rankings, a pitching prospect is only as good as what he can do for you in the present. I still like rostering guys like Ricky Vanasco, Freddy Tarnok, Jonathan Bowlan and Gavin Stone because they aren't that far away and have promising characteristics, but Sanmartin and Davidson are a couple southpaws who could make 20 starts in the majors. They may flame out, but most prospects ranked outside the top 100 won't amount to anything of value.

I ranked two relievers on this update, in Jhoan Duran and Colby White. I've had some hits on that front (Emmanuel Clase), some misses (Bryan Abreu, Sam Delaplane, James Karinchak, Joe Jimenez) and a big TBD (Andres Munoz). Hitting on one Clase-caliber reliever can be huge, however, so I don't think we should completely ignore this market. Duran has some similarities to Clase, and while I had no interest in him as a starter, I'm pretty excited about him now that the Twins seem willing to develop him as a reliever. He could get saves as early as this year. White is in a trickier situation in Tampa Bay, but from a stuff and results standpoint, he's as good as any reliever in the minors.

I don't believe in Kevin Smith, Joey Bart, Cristian Pache, Adam Oller, A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies or Zach Logue, but they will have the opportunity to prove me wrong. Puk and Jefferies are massive durability risks as starters. Smith, Bart and Pache are massive batting average risks, but Smith and Pache have power, speed and playing time, while Bart is a catcher who could hit 20-plus homers. Oller is intriguing if you're in a league where simply being a big-league starter makes a player rosterable. Logue is similar in that regard, although he may not even start the year in the rotation.

For those in leagues so deep that nobody I've touched on is available, Carson Spiers is a quality sleeper whom the Reds' player development program may have turned into a future big-league starter. He has very promising modern pitches from a shape and movement standpoint.

Michael Stefanic is a fascinating prospect, if he even qualifies as a prospect in the traditional sense. He is a 26-year-old who is not on the Angels' 40-man roster due to a poor defensive reputation. However, his bat might just be good enough that they find a spot for him.

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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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