An End-of-Season Top 100 Prospect List Update

© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve made an end-of-season update to the top 100 prospects list, which you can now see on The Board. With the season is over, these rankings are frozen in the “2022 Updated” section of The Board, and aside from me pulling off some stray rookie graduates from this season, there will be no more changes until prospect lists start rolling out this offseason. As always, an arbitrary endpoint to the “top 100” list doesn’t make sense — the tier of players who are about as good as the 100th best prospect in baseball extends beyond that — so this is an ordinal ranking of the top 109 prospects in baseball at this time. This group will likely expand to close to 120 players throughout our offseason evaluations.

What might change now that the minor league season is over? We still have five weeks of Arizona Fall League, the tail end of instructs, and all of winter ball in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Plus, whatever info and scout/industry opinions are on their way to my ears and brain are on a bit of a lag, which is especially relevant for the prospects who were in the DSL this year and at instructs in Florida.

This update was made with a focus on upper-level players, ones who are on the precipice of the big leagues and could conceivably play a role in 2023. I used a light touch on the Top 100 guys who are in the Fall League (you can see which prospects are playing there over on the Seasonal tab of The Board) since I’ll be evaluating that group in person over the next several weeks, and that includes players who had good seasons (like Jordan Lawlar) and guys who had rough ones (like Luis Matos). The Fall League is stacked, and I hope to see you out there.

Again, the top 100 is here in case you want to reference it as I talk you through the changes. Let’s start up top, where there’s been some reshuffling of the names that have occupied the first few spots. The most notable change is to Marlins righty Eury Pérez. Pérez has been my top-ranked pitching prospect since mid-year, but I’ve now bumped his FV grade so that he exists in a tier of his own. His size, stuff, polish, and on-mound athleticism are all exceptional, and this combination of factors puts him in his own stratosphere. I considered making him the top overall prospect for this reason before scouts who I’ve been chatting with on the backfields during instructs talked me down from having a pitcher in the top spot. If I had to compare him to someone, it would be CC Sabathia, who had similarly incredible touch-and-feel at his size, similarly huge pedal down the mound, and a similar arm stroke. Of course, Eury is right handed, spindlier than CC was, and doesn’t yet have a changeup as incredible as Sabathia’s became. It’s not a flush comp to the whole profile (the similarities are confined to size, athleticism and mechanics), I’m just trying to convey that Pérez is different than basically every other pitching prospect on the planet.

On the position player side, Jackson Chourio and Elly De La Cruz enter the 60 FV tier despite both having underlying swing-and-miss concerns. De La Cruz is going to be on the 40-man roster starting next year and is very close to the big leagues, and I’m more confident now than I was a year ago that he’s going to stay at shortstop. He has room to strike out a bunch and still be a star shortstop because of how much playable power there’s going to be.

Even while Chourio was performing from a surface-level stat standpoint, he had among the worst in-zone contact rates in minor league baseball for a time. In the 62 games he played at Low-A, only nine were played in ballparks with park factors under 115 according to Matt Eddy’s research on minor league park factors. Milwaukee’s Low-A ballpark has a home park factor of 115 and a home run park factor of 124 (!), and aside from the nine games I mentioned, Chourio played all of his road games in parks that were at least as offense-friendly as his home park. He slashed .324/.373/.600 in Low-A despite being in the bottom 10% of minor league in-zone contact rate during that span.

The thing about Chourio to remember, though, is that he’s just 18 years old and has quickly grown into elite bat speed. His in-zone contact rate improved throughout the season even as he was promoted, and he ended the year with a 76% in-zone contact mark. Analysts I’ve spoken to about this are split as to whether or not they are concerned about Chourio’s bat-to-ball skills. I do think there’s some risk here, but this is a player with a shot at being a 70 FV, so even as I’m baking risk into FV grades, he needs to be in that 60 FV tier.

Andrew Painter also moves into the 60 FV tier. He climbed all the way from Low-A to Double-A this season and by the end, he was showing advanced breaking ball usage (mixing slider and curveball shapes both in the zone for strikes and out of it for whiffs) and was working with an average-ish changeup, which was non-existent early in the year.

There have been some other changes to pitching up and down the list. D-backs pitcher Brandon Pfaadt moves into the 55 FV tier. He’s one of the few upper-level pitching prospects in baseball who can miss bats consistently with three of his offerings. Rays righty Taj Bradley moves into this tier, as well. A mistake I made with Spencer Strider was not considering that his fastball quality would help elevate how his slider plays. I won’t make this mistake with Bradley, whose slider has a 40% whiff rate this season even though it’s barely average visually. His fastball has all kinds of “round up” seasoning that forces hitters to try to cheat on it to catch up to it and lots of them end up pulling off of his slider, which Bradley commands consistently to his glove side.

The Fall Leaguer who I felt compelled to move already is Padres shortstop Jackson Merrill. Merrill’s feel to hit foundation has now been elevated with power as his body has started to mature, and he has the contact/power combination to be a star middle infielder. We’re talking about a teenage shortstop with a 90% in-zone contact rate and a 44% hard-hit rate on the season. Even at a fair distance from the big leagues, he’s a top-20 type of prospect at this stage.

If you revisit the list again, know that the group that runs from Rockies outfield prospect Zac Veen through Yankees prospect Jasson Domínguez is the one most likely to move into the 55 FV tier during the offseason as those players’ ceilings are re-evaluated; many of them are playing in Fall League. You could argue that this high-ceiling group extends down to Tigers pitching prospect Jackson Jobe. The hitters right in front of Jobe – Cubs shortstop Cristian Hernandez, Red Sox outfielder Miguel Bleis, and Rays infielder Junior Caminero – are the ones most likely to do next year what Chourio did this year. Hernandez and Bleis both have bat-to-ball question marks (Hernandez due to swing path, Bleis due to approach), but both have elite bat speed and huge physical projection. Caminero is less visually explosive from a tools standpoint, but his exit velos (and the consistency with which he’s hitting the ball hard) are remarkable for a player his age.

One offseason philosophical question to answer is how banning the shift should impact the way we think about evaluating these infielders. This applies mostly to shift-aided or shift-enabled prospects like Michael Busch, Jonathan Aranda, Spencer Steer, Miguel Vargas, Jordan Westburg, and other fringe or below-average infield defenders who have good bats. I haven’t really moved any of that group because I’m not yet sure how to answer that question, though I think it will be especially punishing for the players who will have to move off second base due to a lack of range.

Conversely, the players who have slam dunk middle infield defensive ability probably deserve a boost. I feel confident enough that this is true to have moved Orioles shortstop Joseph Ortiz, Brewers shortstop Brice Turang, and Royals shortstop Maikel Garcia into the 50 FV tier because they’re all at least competent at shortstop (Garcia is easily a plus defender) and have enough contact/on-base ability to play an everyday role. For those who care about this list for the purposes of their own fantasy team, you probably still just want to care about the bat-first or bat-only players.

Lastly, let me address Miguel Vargas specifically, since questions about him tend to find their way into my chats and inbox: I like him, I just don’t think he’s a star, and he’s on that 45/50 FV line for me. Third base is an extremely hard position to profile at right now because our current crop of hot corner occupants is so good, especially at the top of the position. Most of the argument for Vargas being a top 25 prospect is made on paper, but some of that is distorted by the offensive environment of the parks/leagues he’s played in as a prospect, including the PCL this year. He’s been a young-for-the-level hitter as a minor leaguer, but he’s not especially projectable or visually explosive from an eyeball scouting standpoint, so I’m less inclined to make age-based skill projection here. When you drill down into his underlying data, his overall statistical resume is close to average at third base (his bat-to-ball skills are plus, the power component more vanilla), but his defense pulls his overall profile down. If you project him in left field, he’s comfortably shy of what is typical of an average regular out there in most facets of offense.

Again, I like him and consider him an imminent, integral role player, but I don’t think he’s a top 10 hitter at 3B/LF/1B or anything like that. I realize I’m on an island in this regard, at least in the public space, and that’s fine. I just want readers to know that I’ve been constantly re-evaluating this guy, as well as my method for doing so, and think this is where he falls on the continuum.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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David Gerthmember
3 months ago

Thanks for the insight on Vargas Eric. It’s been an interesting evaluation the past few years for me, I really loved him early but his flaws became harder to ignore as he moved up the minor leagues. It’s going to be fascinating to watch his career play out.

Do you forsee an update to the 2023 draft board anytime soon?

tz
3 months ago
Reply to  David Gerth

The chances of Vargas getting stuck in an Edgar Martinez-type limbo in AAA or a bench role behind a less-deserving guy look pretty high imo. Alas, the chances of him becoming a poor man’s Edgar are not.

sadtrombonemember
3 months ago
Reply to  David Gerth

I forget now but I think that Kiley had Max Clark on top of his draft board. Dylan Crews, Jacob Gonzalez, Wyatt Langford, and Chase Dollander are the other guys on top of most lists I’ve seen. Enrique Bradford Jr, Travis Honeycutt, Jacob Wilson, and Kevin McGonigle seem to make up a chunk of the next tier down.

SenorGato
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Enrique Bradfield* Jr….most dynamic player in college baseball. Please fall to Cubs!

Smiling Politely
3 months ago
Reply to  David Gerth

I got see his ABs with the big club, and it definitely looked like he was overmatched at times, like a guy who was used to knowing where the ball would be and hitting the snot out of it only to find that the ball was very much not there. I don’t think that’s a knock on his ceiling (whatever it is), but I don’t think he’s a Seager-esque “hey, let’s make sure he starts some playoff games even if we don’t know his name” kind of prospect