! -- END HEAD -->
Earlier today, Meg Rowley introduced this year’s positional power rankings. As a quick refresher, all 30 teams are ranked based on the projected WAR from our Depth Charts. Our staff then endeavors to provide you with some illuminating commentary to put those rankings in context. We begin this year’s series at catcher.
As usual, we begin our annual positional power rankings examining the position that’s the most clouded in mystery, the one where our best baseball praxis still leaves us with the most unanswered questions. Catchers remain unique in their significant and meaningful interaction with pitchers and the art of pitching. We’ve come a long way in evaluating much of the job of catching, with pitch framing statistics the most recent and one of the most valuable developments (at least until the inevitable day when balls and strikes have their locations called by a brigade of cameras and computers), but there are still things we can’t yet quantify. Still, that skills might be hard to capture with numbers doesn’t necessarily mean they’re nonexistent, just that they’re difficult to measure. Even if baseball didn’t collect a single statistic, teams would still need to consider how and why and whether player X helps them win games more than player Y, while fans would still argue over who is better than who. Our framework for evaluating catchers may be imperfect, but there’s still a lot we can say about those who don the tools of ignorance, and we get a little better at it every year. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve reached the point in the offseason when it’s time for one of my favorite/most hated preseason traditions: my attempt to predict breakouts and busts. Since those are beyond what a projection system suggests are naturally going to be low-probability outcomes, there’s a high probability of me looking pretty silly — something writers generally try to avoid. Let’s start by looking back at how smart I was last year…or how foolish:
Thank goodness I had a weaker year than average overall, as I included a few of my favorite players in the mix! Being right for breakouts is a lot of fun, but being right on the busts is a bit depressing, a definite sign that I’ve mellowed as I enter middle age. Trout’s contact rate didn’t bounce back, and his BABIP crashed by well over 100 points, but his newfound grounder proclivity disappeared, and the power boost more than compensated for an OBP nearly 50 points below his career average. Riley’s BABIP also predictably fell, but he hit the ball harder and became a more well-rounded hitter, crushing most pitches instead of predominantly fastballs. Most of the rest came in at the middle-third of the ZiPS projections, which is a victory for the computer rather than me — all that is except for Schwindel, who didn’t just regress toward the mean; he lapped it.
Now, let’s turn to this year’s picks, as I throw myself upon the tender mercies of fortune. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve reached the point in the offseason when it’s time for one of my favorite/most hated preseason traditions: my attempt to predict breakouts and busts. Since any breakouts or busts beyond what a projection system suggests are naturally going to be low-probability outcomes, there’s a high probability of me looking pretty silly — something writers try to avoid. Let’s start by looking back at how smart I was last year…or how foolish:
First, the bad news. Kelenic and Adell were both just awful, and I would definitely call 2022 a giant miss for both players as they enter their post-prospect period. I suspect there’s more hope to still be had for Kelenic than Adell, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself prescient about either. Kepler’s breakout didn’t happen at all, and his power all but disappeared. Anderson I’ll call an incomplete because of injury, and while Higashioka did match his entire previous career in WAR, that was largely due to defense, which I can hardly claim credit for predicting. Hiura did hit far better than he had recently, but he also didn’t exactly get a ton of playing time with the Brewers, who appeared to have lost interest in him. There were a few triumphs, however: Kwan and Lux both had excellent seasons, especially the former. Read the rest of this entry »
Today is the day that Bryce Harper reports to spring training. While it’s certainly fun to anticipate Harper’s return from reconstructive elbow surgery, his grand entrance into the heart of the Phillies lineup will have to wait a few months. He has been “dry swinging” as part of his rehab, taking swings without hitting a baseball, and his return to the active roster isn’t expected until sometime around the All-Star break. Defense will wait even longer, with Harper not expected to really be ready to play the field until the end of the regular season. That will mean many simultaneous servings of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos in the outfield, something the FDA would surely stridently oppose if asked for an opinion.
The Phillies did some good things this offseason. By far the team’s biggest move was signing former Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner to a monster deal totaling $300 million over 11 years. I was a fan of the signing because it recognized that despite finishing 2022 just two wins short of a World Series title, the Phillies were also a third-place team that finished 14 games behind its divisional competition. With no expectation of a collapse from the Braves or the Mets, it was important to aggressively improve the roster where possible. Signing Turner allows incumbent shortstop Bryson Stott to slide into Jean Segura’s vacated role at second base, upgrading both positions.
But I haven’t been a fan of how the Phillies have managed the Harper situation from a roster standpoint. This is a team that should have been motivated to upgrade its outfield even in the alternate universe where Harper never requires Tommy John surgery. As currently constituted, the team’s outfield depth, which is basically Jake Cave and Josh Harrison, would have a great deal of trouble even replacing Brandon Marsh, let alone the 2021 MVP. Dalton Guthrie and Símon Muzziotti are unlikely to be answers either; not a single projection system housed here at the site has either of them with even a 90 wRC+ in 2023. That the team did nothing to address this issue after knowing that Harper would be unavailable for a significant chunk of the season is either perplexing or maddening, depending on whether you root for the Phils.
The team has yet to commit to a DH plan, at least publicly, and it appears likely that players will rotate through the position to keep them fresh. But rotating isn’t the same thing as replacing since that same motley crew of backups will play other positions when they aren’t DHing. None of the reserves/minor leaguers named above or Edmundo Sosa is likely to be even replacement level at designated hitter. The closest thing the Phillies have to a viable offensive option is Darick Hall, who showed power in his brief 2023 stint, but also poor plate discipline and a meager contact rate. ZiPS is easily the most optimistic of the FanGraphs projection systems here and even it only pegs Hall for a .225/.299/.434 line and a 103 wRC+, rather below average for a starting DH. Nor does it seem like the Phillies are content (at least not yet) to just plug him into the position for three months, which may be the least damaging in-house solution.
In terms of projected wins, the Phillies are right in that band where adding a win is the most valuable. Win number 110 or 60 has basically no effect on a team’s playoff fate, but wins number 86 and 87 certainly do. A four-win player (Harper’s projection) losing half a season is two wins. Two wins is about what acquiring an MVP candidate at the trade deadline will get you, something teams give up significant value to do. So how big a deal is Philadelphia’s curiously lax approach? Let’s start with the ZiPS projection, which currently assume 75 games for Harper. Here are the updated projected standings with that assumption:
That’s similar to the projection I ran a few weeks ago — not much has changed — and leaves the Phillies as essentially a coin flip to make the playoffs, with a real chance to upset and win the division, though they’d need a number of dice to roll their way. Now, here are the same projections, but with a few different totals for the number of games Harper is able to play at DH. The first column is the default 75-game projection from above:
In the worst case scenario, where something goes wrong with Harper’s rehab and he misses the season, ZiPS estimates that the Phillies would lose 10.3 percentage points of playoff probability. To put that in context, when I did a similar exercise last year with everyone in the National League as of late June, only Corbin Burnes had more of an effect on his team’s playoff chances. Indeed, of the million simulations of the 2022 season I ran, 40% of the ones that saw the Phillies pull a Rocky II and make the second time the charm would have disappeared into the aether if Harper had failed to return.
At the time of Harper’s surgery, the Phillies had myriad options, even if you ignore the unrealistic ones (like signing Aaron Judge or tricking someone into picking up Castellanos’ contract) or the fun, ambitious ones (like signing Brandon Nimmo out from under the Mets’ noses and playing him in right, then shifting him to center when Harper returned). Brandon Drury at DH projects as a superior option to any of the Phillies reserves and would have been a better flex option than Harrison. Wil Myers signed a one-year deal with the Reds for relative peanuts. Trey Mancini’s two-year, $16 million deal was costlier (macadamia nuts?), but he’s both a better hitter and would provide an emergency option if Rhys Hoskins leaves after 2023. Even the most pessimistic projection for J.D. Martinez (Steamer’s in this case) forecasts him for a 111 wRC+, and he signed with the Dodgers for one year and $10 million. Jurickson Profar remains a free agent; he could pick up DH reps against lefties and provide supersub value elsewhere the rest of the time. Given Harper’s likely eventual return, the Phillies might not have been the front-runners for all of those players, but better options were seemingly available.
The Phillies aren’t likely to make the playoffs winning just 85 games. Indeed, the scenarios in which they make the playoffs are generally those where they exceed their projections. Digging through a million sims, 87 wins only got a team the third Wild Card spot half the time, with the over/under to grab the NL East the highest in baseball at 98.4 wins.
If the team was to change course at this point, it would likely need to involve a trade. Now, I certainly wouldn’t send Andrew Painter or Mick Abel out of town for a bat, but is there anyone else in the system who is really untouchable in exchange for some high-leverage wins? ZiPS had the organization with two prospects between no. 101 and no. 200 on its Top 100 (Griff McGarry at no. 106) and Hao-Yu Lee at no. 158), and I can’t imagine hanging onto them if the right trade opportunity became available.
In the quest to finish last year’s unfinished business, the Phillies lost one of the league’s most valuable players and chose not to really replace him. Phils fans better hope that Harper is as good at healing at he is at crushing fastballs a mile. If not, the team’s lax approach may prove fatal to its playoff hopes.
Injuries to pitchers are nothing new, given that pitchers are baseball’s version of a priceless vase balanced precariously on the edge of a table with a cat sitting next to it. But two bits of Tuesday news hit two contending teams hard, as the Rays and Padres both lost their arguable aces, Tyler Glasnow and Joe Musgrove, respectively, to injuries that could affect the regular season.
Glasnow’s injury is the more significant of the two: an oblique injury suffered while throwing a bullpen session on Monday. An MRI on Tuesday revealed a Grade 2 strain that will result in him missing an estimated six to eight weeks of the season. That practically guarantees that Glasnow will be sidelined for at least a month of the 2023 season, another setback for a pitcher who has known more than his fair share. Since being acquired by the Rays with Austin Meadows in return for Chris Archer, he has a 3.08 ERA and a 3.18 FIP for the Rays but only 268 innings over four-and-a-half years; he’s never thrown 100 innings in a single season in Tampa Bay. Glasnow is also still relatively fresh off his most recent injury, an August 2021 Tommy John surgery that cost him the end of that campaign and most of last year; as a result, the Rays have rightfully been extremely careful with him. I don’t expect them to rush him back given his history — the last thing you want is Glasnow changing his delivery due to lingering abdominal pain and risk a new arm injury — so I think that it’s unlikely we see much of him until June. Read the rest of this entry »
To put it charitably, it’s been a rough 18 months for fans of the Reds. Finding themselves surprisingly in the wild card race in July 2021, the team’s front office bravely ran away at the trade deadline, choosing only to improve the bullpen depth slightly. The downhill slope has only grown steeper since then, as the organization chose to go into full fire sale mode, trading practically every player with a significant contract who drew interest from another team. The exodus of talent had immediate results in Cincy: the team lost 100 games for the first time since 1982, when Reds GM Dick Wagner conducted his own fire sale on the dried-up husk of the Big Red Machine.
For anyone who may have thought that Cincinnati’s suddenly hard-line approach to spending was a temporary rebuilding strategy, ownership has done its best to disabuse fans off the notion. Bob Castellini was reportedly one of the owners who didn’t want to raise the luxury tax threshold at all, and he’s spoken repeatedly about the team’s finances. Club president Phil Castellini, during a lunch with a Reds booster group, gave a confusing presentation about how awful it was to own a baseball team, complete with a bizarre presentation that either made myriad mistakes or simply made up playoff projections from this very site. Most prognostications have the Reds challenging the Pirates for fourth place in the NL Central in 2023.
Against this backdrop, not all is doom and gloom. Despite the disappearance of talent at the major league level, there are a lot of interesting players in the minors. The farm system improved to eighth in the league in our late 2022 rankings, and five prospects made our recently released Top 100 Prospects list. The 2023 ZiPS projections for the Reds are bleak, but it’s more optimistic about the state of the farm system, ranking seven Cincinnati prospects in its Top 100. Overall, 11 players made the Top 200 in the ZiPS prospect list, including a ludicrous numbers of shortstops (five).
There’s not a whole lot of pitching on this list, but the good news is that the Reds already have some promising arms on their roster. ZiPS thinks that the three front-end starters — Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, and Nick Lodolo — will all make positive contributions in 2023, and odds are they’ll be even better come ’25 or ’26. Before and after a shoulder strain that cost most of his August, Greene was dominant in his 35 1/3 second-half innings, with a 1.02 ERA, 1.70 FIP, 13 strikeouts per game, and a walk rate cut in half from before the All-Star break. The last may be the most important; it doesn’t take a whole lot of innings to establish an improved (or worsened) walk rate. Lodolo, meanwhile, barely needed a half-season to put up 2 WAR, and Ashcraft and his high-90s fastball ought to have some strikeout upside.
If we construct a roster based on who is under contract or team control, you can cobble together most of a pretty interesting 2025 roster. Now, not all of these players will actually be on the roster in two years; the idea is to get the baseline for a team with the players the Reds currently have.
C Tyler Stephenson
1B Christian Encarnacion-Strand
2B Jonathan India
3B Noelvi Marte
SS Elly de la Cruz
LF Spencer Steer
CF Matt McLain
RF Allan Cerda
DH Jake Fraley
C Mat Nelson
IF Edwin Arroyo
OF Michael Siani
OF Stuart Fairchild
SP Hunter Greene
SP Nick Lodolo
SP Graham Ashcraft
SP Andrew Abbott
SP Connor Phillips
RP Alexis Díaz
RP Tejay Antone
RP Justin Dunn
RP Reiver Sanmartin
RP Ian Gibaut
RP Connor Overton
RP Joel Kuhnel
RP Ricky Karcher
You can no doubt quibble with any of these choices, because this is highly speculative. Maybe the shortstops sort themselves out in a different way, assuming that some aren’t directly traded for outfield help. Perhaps the Reds stick with Nick Senzel through his free-agent season, but I personally feel that he’s a prime suspect to be non-tendered after 2023. There are myriad choices that can be made differently, but generally speaking, if you can only make the 2025 Reds using in-organization players, the basic framework is likely to be something in this ballpark.
I did this with the Pirates last week (and the rest of the league), and I only got the Bucs to 76 wins in 2025. But the Reds have a sunnier baseline; with all teams under the same constraints, they “start” 2025 with a baseline projection of 85 wins. That’s not to say that will be the projection, only where the team stands in talent in 2025 compared to the rest of the league. And an 84-win team in the NL Central is a contender, unless someone decides to go all-in, Padres-style, in the next couple years.
This is where Cincinnati hits an important decision point. If a team like this looks to be a contender in 2025, would there actually be investment in the roster in free agency to get it over the top? The lack of this was the crucial element that doomed the good 2010s Pirates teams. Will the Castellinis, if they’re still the owners, stick to their financial guns when there’s a real chance at playoff contention? It doesn’t really make sense to spend a lot on the Reds as they’re currently constructed, but what happens when there’s a compelling reason to? I don’t know the answer to that question, though I’m cautiously pessimistic.
There’s a lot to not like about the Reds right now. But there’s a lot to like about their future, if ownership is willing to allow that future to fully bear fruit.
The speculation about Padres third baseman Manny Machado exercising his opt-out clause after the 2023 season came to a stunning conclusion over the weekend, as club and superstar agreed to an 11-year, $350 million contract. The new deal rips up the final six years of the contract that Machado signed before the 2019 season.
If nothing else, tally one team that is apparently not concerned with the short-term hiccups in baseball’s revenues due to the Bally/Diamond bankruptcy; the Padres are one of the teams with a regional sports network (RSN) that is affected. If revenues are up in the air, they have made sure that third base certainly is not, following an extension that will also keep Yu Darvish in town for all or most of the rest of his career. The Padres aren’t trying to be the Rays, the scrappy underdogs that hunt very large game with a sharpened stick; they’re trying to go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers at their own game. This is less David versus Goliath and more M. Bison versus palette-swapped M. Bison in “Street Fighter II.”
My colleague Jay Jaffe covered a lot of the particulars about the Manny situation in San Diego last week, so I’m going to skip the exposition. I think Jay and I both underestimated just how motivated the Padres were to ensure Machado stayed in mustard-and-brown for a long time. We had a ZiPS projection in that piece, but now that we know where he will play and for how long, I ran a new projection.
Let’s just say that ZiPS isn’t overly enthusiastic about the contract, valuing Machado’s future services at $181 million over 11 years. He is a superstar, but there’s a big difference between signing a player before their age-26 season and their age-30 season. Just to illustrate, here’s the projection a second time, but with Machado the age he was when he signed his initial deal with the Friars.
That’s a valuation over $400 million, a notable difference! The sad truth is that even for superstars, the 30s are more often than not a tale of significant decline. Just to illustrate, here are all non-active position players worth between 41–51 WAR through age 29 (Machado is at 46.6) and how they fared in their 30s.
ZiPS actually has Machado aging slightly better than the average player in this group, with an additional three WAR over about 1,000 more plate appearances. The three active players at the end of their careers that I chopped off wouldn’t make this any sunnier a list; none of Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, or Andrew McCutchen have aged particularly well.
Some of the decreased projection is due to the fact that Machado is no longer a defensive star at third base as he was earlier in his career. Defense doesn’t decline as rapidly as people think at the non-speed positions, and the fact that Nolan Arenado’s glove has stayed quite steady gives him kind of a fallback position if his bat declines. Machado no longer has that luxury.
Despite my grumpiness as an analyst who inevitably has to play devil’s advocate, let me emphasize that I’m certainly not shedding any tears for the pocketbooks of team ownership. While speculating what the Padres’ analytics gang has for Machado over the next 11 years would be a wild-ass guess, I know enough to know that ZiPS does not generally give projections that are grossly different from ones that teams run internally. The team’s ownership group, led by Peter Seidler, was no doubt given all the information the team had internally of this type and is also aware of the revenue situation, his personal net worth, and the fact that the big jump in baseball’s luxury tax threshold from 2021 to ’22 is much, much smaller in subsequent seasons of the CBA. They take this risk with the eyes wide open.
Even as a risk, it’s hard to dislike this signing as a fan of baseball. It’s refreshing to see owners who want to keep their teams together, who prioritize putting the best team on the field right now, and who directly challenge another of baseball’s elite franchises. Baseball’s system of playoffs and revenue sharing incentivizes just sneaking into the postseason every year, and if I worked for a team, I’d recommend the same cynical view that is prevalent among franchises. So it’s nice to see a team with a little more ambition, one willing to be happy with the increases in team value rather than also requiring a healthy profit every season to boot.
There remains a big unanswered question in the form of Juan Soto. Keeping him may cost $40 million a year, and I now have to wonder just how far San Diego’s willingness to spend will stretch. Are the Padres really willing to already be at $200 million for 2025–27 with two starting pitchers under contract? The farm system has nowhere near the depth that it had a few years ago, after all; ZiPS had no Padres prospects in its Top 100. While our prospect team placed two, the farm system ranked 26th at the end of last year, and though the new rankings aren’t out yet, I can’t imagine they’ve moved up a ton. But we’ll worry about Soto later.
By signing Machado, the Padres have signaled that they’re here to win now, and that the current aggressive spending isn’t just the apogee between the fire sales that have peppered San Diego’s franchise history. They’re going after the Dodgers on their own turf, and that’s pretty cool. Now the win now team just has to do the hard part and actually win now.
For the eighth time, we’ve reached the point in the offseason where I run down the ZiPS Top 100 prospects. For those wandering in who may hear “ZiPS” and think of the University of Akron or possibly the popular Cincinnati burger spot, ZiPS is a computer projection system that crunches a lot of data about players and attempts to peer through the fog that obscures the future. More can be read about the system here or in MLB.com’s executive summary.
ZiPS is a useful tool, but the projections, whether for prospects or for baseball as a whole, are not intended to replace scouting. The purpose of ZiPS is to get the best answers possible from the data available, not necessarily to be the one-ring-to-prove-them-all-unified-field-theory-giant-Katamari-Damacy-ball of prognostication. ZiPS doesn’t see some things that scouts do. But by being able to process large amounts of data and instantly put those numbers into context and make adjustments, ZiPS also sees some things that scouts can’t. Computers and humans have different strengths, after all.
How well does it work? ZiPS, like human scouts, has its own share of gigantic misses (hello, Arismendy Alcántara), but it also has a number of notches in its virtual belt. ZiPS regularly ranked lots of future stars, such as Mookie Betts, Austin Riley, and Pete Alonso, significantly higher than consensus. Last week, a reader looked at Top 100 lists from 2018 onward and ZiPS did just as well as others, including naming the most players with 5 WAR so far (29).
Naturally, there is a lot of agreement between ZiPS and other lists when it comes to top prospects. Elite prospects tend to please both the scouts and the silicon, and 68 of this year’s ZiPS Top 100 overlap with the official FanGraphs Top 100. The ZiPS list should be used in addition to other lists, not in a mutually exclusive fashion.
I’ve adjusted the methodology of the rankings slightly, going with the interquartile mean for career WAR rather than the 50th percentile projection. That’s because, with the benefit of hindsight, it consistently slightly outperforms the 50th percentile rankings (though none of the actual rankings will be retconned for the ZiPS Cinematic Universe). ZiPS will still have a tendency to like high-floor, low-ceiling players more than scouts do. This is understandable given the nature of projections; scouts are optimistic by nature, traveling to Hagerstown or Kannapolis to see something special, not just to find a useful fourth outfielder or innings-eating fourth starter.
So, let’s get to the Top 100. The position listed reflects where the player has played the most recently; ZiPS is making no attempt to gauge where a team will choose to deploy a player, so take that into consideration:
To make it easier for fans to know whether they should be delighted or furious with me and Mr. Szymborski’s monster, I’ve also prepared a useful summary chart for each team:
For the second straight year, the Cleveland Guardians do extremely well here. The Baltimore Orioles ranking highly should be no surprise, even with Adley Rutschman graduating. The Cincinnati Reds better rank highly after dumping most of their team, and I’ve already talked about ZiPS secretly being paid off by the Diamondbacks. It’s jarring to see the Braves and Padres so low after how dominant they’ve been in the rankings previously, but a lot of that is the price of success; Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, and Vaughn Grissom would all be ultra-elite this year, but they’re all in the majors, a result the Braves no doubt prefer. As for the Padres, they’ve made a lot of trades in recent years, which will naturally reduce the level of talent in a farm system. The only other team shut out of the Top 100, the Detroit Tigers, can take some solace in the fact that they’re tied for third overall when you extend to 200 prospects.
Since a chart of 100 players is unwieldy, let’s break it down by position, and talk about a few of the highlights. Me saying “ZiPS says X” for 100 individual prospects would be rather boring, so please, put your questions in the comments if there are things you’re curious about! And for detailed breakdowns of the players as a whole, be sure to check out The Board. We’ll start with first base:
First base prospect lists just aren’t what they used to be. Teams are generally (rightfully) resistant to moving their prospects to first unless they have to. Generally speaking, there are two tiers of first base prospects here. The top four all rank in the ZiPS Top 200, then there’s a big drop-off from Matt Mervis at 189 to Niko Kavadas at 282. Triston Casas tends to be the consensus top first base prospect, but ZiPS likes Kyle Manzardo even more; he has one fewer year of pro experience, but the minor league translations are more impressive and because he’s younger, ZiPS sees more chance of a tantalizing breakout. ZiPS wasn’t overly enthused by Tyler Soderstrom’s performance, but is much happier when you take his age into consideration. ZiPS prefers Mervis to fellow Cub Trey Mancini, but Mervis finishes fourth here by virtue of being older than Manzardo, Casas, and Soderstrom, and the computer just not seeing as much upside as it does with those three.
No, ZiPS did not give additional points to Jorbit Vivas for having such a fun name. The second base list has some of the same characteristics as first base, simply because a lot of the “true” best second base prospects are currently playing shortstop. Vivas ranks 78th in the Top 100, while Adael Amador, a shortstop who ranks six places ahead of him, doesn’t even crack the top 15 at his position! Connor Norby, along with Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz, is why I’m sort of annoyed with the Orioles for making one of their few free agent signings second baseman Adam Frazier. Even by 2022 minor league offensive standards, a second baseman with a .960 OPS is someone you shouldn’t sleep on, and as a former second-rounder, it’s not like Norby doesn’t have a pedigree. Justin Foscue has been a ZiPS favorite for a while, with the computer seeing him a bit like Nick Solak if Solak had met expectations. There’s still a question about Edouard Julien’s ultimate position, but he has a fascinating offensive profile. The projections know to not go too nuts over walk-heavy minor leaguers, but Julien isn’t a passive, power-less bat; he hit .300 with 17 homers at Double-A in 2023. There’s a pretty wide range of possible outcomes when it comes to Julien, but with a little luck, his long-term projections would involve a higher batting average than the rather unimpressive mean projections he currently has.
Here’s where you can see some serious prospectage from top to bottom. I hope Orioles fans can forgive me for Gunnar Henderson ranking behind Corbin Carroll, but he’s still the best shortstop prospect among a very impressive group. And if he moves to second or third base, he’s the best prospect at those positions as well! Henderson had one of the biggest breakout seasons for a shortstop in prospect history in 2022, and it’s with good reason that he’s quickly moved into ultra-elite territory.
The most controversial projection here may be that of Orelvis Martinez, who ranks above some seriously high-quality shortstop prospects. Most of that is a dispute over position; there’s a real question whether he can stick at short or will move to third base. ZiPS uses a Total Zone-esque method for looking at minor league defense, for which I have the location/angle hit of every defensive play in the minors. This method nailed players like Luis Robert Jr. as minor leaguers, and right now, it thinks Martinez is below average but not alarmingly so. If he turns out to be Hanley Ramirez-esque at shortstop, he drops very quickly in the rankings given the competition here.
The Cincinnati Reds have accumulated a comical number of shortstop prospects. Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, and (surprisingly) Matt McLain all make the top 15. Edwin Arroyo missed, but he ranks 58th overall, and yet another shortstop, 2021 third-rounder Jose Torres, finishes in the Top 200. Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, both higher-floor/lower-ceiling guys in ZiPS’ view, ought to feel a bit of urgency because someone here is inevitably going to join the fight for third base!
Jordan Walker doesn’t get the shiniest mean projection — ZiPS projects 1.8 WAR from him in 2025 — but his upside is quite explosive. If we look at the 75th-percentile projections for 2025 instead of the 50th, that 1.8 WAR jumps to 3.7 WAR. Simply put, ZiPS think there’s a decent chance that Walker puts up some obscene home run totals, even if that’s not necessarily the over/under line. ZiPS is a fan of Curtis Mead causing a position battle at third for the Rays, which I imagine will result in someone ending up in an outfield corner. I hope the presence of Coby Mayo discourages the O’s from prematurely moving Henderson to third like they did with Manny Machado when they gave priority to J.J. Hardy. Last year’s surprise third base inclusion, Bryan Ramos, maintains his rank, and ZiPS doesn’t know that the Dodgers will probably have Miguel Vargas play other positions more often than third in 2023.
ZiPS is going to be Super Annoyed if Francisco Álvarez spends a good deal of the season at Triple-A Syracuse, to a degree that humanity is fortunate I’m nowhere near smart enough to program Skynet. I like Omar Narváez, but Álvarez has a good chance to be something truly special, and there comes a point where the Mets are just wasting his time in the minors. Endy Rodriguez has leapfrogged way ahead of Henry Davis among Pirates catching prospects thanks to his 2022, and while it doesn’t have an effect here, I like that the Bucs are still occasionally using him at second base and in the outfield, which could make him some kind of Beast Mode Austin Barnes.
Bo Naylor’s power blew up in 2022, so it ought to be no surprise to see him rank so highly, and the Angels now have two catchers here, with Logan O’Hoppe likely being a semi-starter as a minimum in 2023. Harry Ford is one of the names on the list that really interests me. As an aside, I’m going to keep saying Harry Ford whenever possible because my dumb brain still calls him Henry Ford about half the time. ZiPS is a bit concerned about his defense; 14 passed balls and eight errors for Harry Ford is a lot in 54 games, and while Harry Ford’s not hopeless at controlling baserunners, it’s also not really a plus. But Harry Ford’s bat, which went from high school to full-season ball very quickly with few consequences, may end up playing anywhere. Harry Ford.
ZiPS sees Corbin Carroll as the class of the 2023 prospect contingent, a franchise player who the Diamondbacks should try to sign to a long-term deal as quickly as possible. (They appear to be doing this.) Jackson Chourio ranking second in the outfield group isn’t a shocker, and ZiPS loves his combination of power and speed. The first big surprise is Alexander Canario. ZiPS thinks his defense is better than the consensus in center field, and based on some of the advanced hit data from the minors, the system thinks he got totally hosed in the BABIP department. Add in impressive power upside and you have a pick that might look genius or absolutely crazy in three years. Remember, all of the projection misses remain Carson Cistulli’s fault.
The most notable projection here may be how low Nats outfielder James Wood ranks. In this case, ZiPS is designed to be skeptical about players with little minor league time — and completely agnostic about high schoolers yet to debut — and it’s actually fairly impressive that he ranks this highly. If all goes well, Wood has an easy path to the ZiPS overall top 10 in 2024. That is, if he doesn’t blow through the minors quickly; the Nats were certainly willing to give Juan Soto a chance very, very quickly, and if he continues to hit like this, it’ll be hard to not use Wood similarly. Colton Cowser slipped a lot after a rather weak Triple-A debut; without it, he’d rank 87th overall rather than tumbling to 105. One other big slipper is George Valera, who ZiPS still sees as a prospect despite dipping to no. 71 after placing fifth overall last year. The scouts seem to have gauged him better than the computer, at least in 2022.
Surprisingly, there’s quite a lot of agreement between the ZiPS list and the FanGraphs list at the top of the pitching ranks. Eight of the top nine prospects in ZiPS are basically the top pitching prospects on Eric and Tess’ list. I’d have liked to see Grayson Rodriguez stay at the top, but you can’t deny that 2022 added some additional uncertainty to the mix. A lot of the disagreement on the remaining pitcher, Daniel Espino, may simply come down to the fact that ZiPS isn’t aware that his shoulder problems have continued, which is something that should always frighten you about pitching prospects! Ricky Tiedemann may be the most impressive big jumper here, as it’s hard for a pitcher to rank this highly based on so few professional innings; that simply reflects his dominance in those innings.
Blake Walston is the first big surprise here, a low ceiling prospect who didn’t have an impressive season on the surface in 2022. But on a play-by-play level, ZiPS thinks his high BABIP and too-high HR/9 (.341, 1.35) weren’t actually earned from his pitching, and given how offense exploded in the minors, ZiPS is much sunnier about his recent campaign. ZiPS continues to like Matthew Liberatore, and he’s joined by two teammates, Gordon Graceffo and Tink Hence. Hence’s rank is more impressive than it looks for a reason similar to Tiedemann’s: he only has 16 starts above rookie ball! But what a 16 starts they were. Fourteen strikeouts per game with a low walk rate and just a single homer? Sign me up. More of this, and Hence will rank like Rodriguez or Eury Pérez in ZiPS (I checked). Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson join ZiPS’ Arizona Bias Factory to give the team four of the league’s top 30 pitching prospects by ZiPS. Mason Montgomery is one of the ZiPS low-ceiling/high-floor specials; pitching in the Trop against the backdrop of a pitcher-friendly big league offensive environment, ZiPS sees Montgomery’s control as just good enough to give him a shot at crafty lefty territory.
Kodai Senga’s relatively low rank reflects the fact that he’s already 30 and has fewer years remaining than other pitchers who work out rather than indicating any skepticism about his abilities.
Comments? Questions? Complaints? The comment section is open!
[Note: Masataka Yoshida was originally not flagged as a rookie and left off the list due to the slight incompetence of the author -DS]