The ZiPS Breakouts in Saturday’s Futures Game

© Lauren Roberts/Salisbury Daily Times via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In my opinion, the least interesting part of All-Star Week is the All-Star Game itself. The Home Run Derby has surpassed it in terms of energy, and the Celebrity Softball Game, which mashes together celebrities and former big leaguers, has more enjoyable silliness. The Futures Game is the week’s most normal actual game of baseball, and even if its players are less accomplished than the ones in the Midsummer Classic, it’s fun to get a glimpse of the future. You should pay attention to everyone in the game (full scouting reports and tool grades for the entire roster can be found on The Board), but as the ZiPS guy, I wanted to highlight eight players who have had huge breakouts in terms of their projections. Three of the eight made this year’s preseason ZiPS Top 100; next year, all of them figure to rank in the top 50.

Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles

ZiPS Projection – Gunnar Henderson
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .246 .332 .416 512 71 126 24 3 19 75 65 155 11 102 5 2.7
2024 .253 .343 .443 499 73 126 26 3 21 79 68 145 11 112 5 3.3
2025 .253 .347 .452 502 76 127 26 4 22 83 72 151 11 116 6 3.6
2026 .251 .350 .458 502 78 126 27 4 23 85 76 156 10 118 6 3.8
2027 .248 .349 .460 500 77 124 26 4 24 84 77 158 11 118 6 3.8

I’ve talked about Gunnar Henderson recently, but I’d be remiss if, in a piece talking about breakouts, I didn’t address the biggest one in ZiPS in 2022. Henderson fared quite well on the ZiPS Top 100 entering the season, but he’s gone on to absolutely terrorize the upper minors this season, propelling him higher in the rankings. Suppose I were to stuff Henderson’s projection into the preseason top 100. In that case, he’d now rank as the fourth-best prospect in baseball, with Bobby Witt Jr. just a hair ahead of him. Henderson’s improvements this year have been broad, from plate discipline to power, and at 21, he’s still on the young side for Double- and Triple-A. There’s still some uncertainty about his future home in the field, but the Orioles are wisely keeping their options over and aren’t pegging him or Jordan Westburg to definite positions yet.

Corbin Carroll, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks

ZiPS Projection – Corbin Carroll
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .257 .345 .430 474 81 122 19 6 17 84 54 154 20 105 -3 2.3
2024 .263 .356 .459 460 83 121 21 6 19 89 57 146 19 115 -3 2.8
2025 .261 .360 .470 460 86 120 21 6 21 92 62 153 19 119 -4 3.1
2026 .260 .363 .478 458 87 119 22 6 22 94 65 155 18 122 -4 3.3
2027 .259 .365 .478 456 88 118 22 6 22 94 67 156 17 123 -4 3.3

Corbin Carroll already ranked highly in ZiPS coming into the 2022 season, placing 22nd on the top 100, the second-best center field prospect in the projections. But the potential range of outcomes was absolutely massive because as terrific as his performance had been, there just wasn’t that much of it: Drafted in 2019, the lost COVID season in ’20 and a shoulder injury in ’21 meant that he only had played in 49 professional games. We finally got a healthy dose of Carroll this season, and he proceeded to torch the Double-A Texas League to a .313/.430/.643 line before a recent promotion to Triple-A Reno. The computer thinks he’d be a contributor right now, translating his 2022 into a .249/.338/.446 big league line. With increased certainty from more games, he’s basically already lapped the one center fielder who outranked him this winter, Andy Pages of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Carroll’s top ZiPS comps are now Adam Jones, Shane Mack, Ellis Burks, and Torii Hunter.

Eury Pérez, SP, Miami Marlins

ZiPS Projection – Eury Pérez
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 6 6 0 4.15 23 23 141.0 135 65 19 46 137 102 2.0
2024 6 6 0 4.13 24 24 146.0 136 67 19 47 143 102 2.1
2025 6 5 0 4.04 23 23 142.7 131 64 19 45 142 105 2.2
2026 6 5 0 4.04 22 22 131.3 120 59 17 41 131 105 2.0
2027 6 5 0 4.02 21 21 127.7 116 57 17 40 130 105 2.0

ZiPS is naturally suspicious of pitchers in the low minors because no matter how good they are, the attrition rate is astronomically high. There’s a reason that Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus coined the acronym TINSTAAPP (There is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect) a couple of decades (!) ago. While it shouldn’t be taken literally, it’s good to exercise a bit of caution when it comes to young pitchers, even the phenoms. Having said that, Eury Pérez appears to have already mastered Double-A ball despite being just 18 years old on Opening Day this year. Pérez is incredibly polished for a teenage flamethrower, and rarely walks batters. He’s even quite efficient for a young pitcher of this type; he’s already had a six-inning, 10-strikeout performance that only required 72 pitches. The Marlins eased him into the rotation at the start of the season, and since then, he has a 1.98 ERA and 69 strikeouts against nine walks in 50 innings. That his projections aren’t mind-blowing simply reflects the inherent risk of a teenage pitcher; his upside is unlimited.

Taj Bradley, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

ZiPS Projection – Taj Bradley
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 6 5 0 4.11 25 25 140.0 134 64 17 50 128 99 1.8
2024 6 5 0 4.04 25 25 144.7 135 65 17 50 132 101 2.0
2025 6 5 0 4.01 25 25 141.3 129 63 17 48 132 102 2.0
2026 6 5 0 4.03 23 23 129.7 119 58 16 44 121 102 1.8
2027 6 5 0 4.00 22 22 126.0 114 56 15 43 120 102 1.8

Taj Bradley only missed the ZiPS Top 100 because of the suspicious gaze the systems casts toward pitching prospects before they hit Double-A. While you should absolutely be aware of Eric Longenhagen’s warning that he needs to broaden his repertoire, Bradley has continued to dominate against a significantly better class of hitters than he faced last year. ZiPS does not think Bradley has the upside of Pérez, but getting Ben Sheets as your top statistical comp isn’t exactly a bad thing. With the Rays, Bradley is undoubtedly in a great organization to max out his chances of being a major league starter in the not-too-distant future.

Elly De La Cruz, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

ZiPS Projection – Elly De La Cruz
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .218 .266 .432 486 70 106 18 4 26 77 31 210 21 77 1 0.4
2024 .228 .279 .471 465 72 106 18 4 29 83 32 197 18 90 1 1.3
2025 .241 .293 .514 469 78 113 19 5 33 92 34 190 19 104 2 2.2
2026 .240 .295 .522 467 79 112 20 5 34 94 36 191 20 106 2 2.4
2027 .239 .297 .520 465 79 111 19 5 34 94 38 192 19 106 2 2.4

Eric described Elly De La Cruz as a “prospect who could really bust or go supernova.” If 2022 is any indication, De La Cruz may have enough mass to be well over the Chandrasekhar limit. Coming into the season, ZiPS was on the bust side of the argument, projecting him to max out at less than 1 WAR, though with some use given his positional flexibility and 20-home run power. ZiPS now sees him peaking in the 35-homer range in Cincinnati, a well-configured home park for his skill set. He’s not going to be a particularly scientific hitter, but he’s just good enough at third base to minimize the damage of some unappealing on-base numbers. As you might guess, his comp list is a varied crew, with Edwin Encarnación and Jose Valentin on the good side and a bunch of guys you probably haven’t heard of on the negative.

Ceddanne Rafaela, CF, Boston Red Sox

ZiPS Projection – Ceddanne Rafaela
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .262 .294 .431 562 78 147 37 5 16 91 20 137 17 89 8 1.9
2024 .267 .303 .453 532 77 142 38 5 17 92 21 128 16 97 7 2.3
2025 .266 .304 .462 537 79 143 39 6 18 96 23 133 17 100 7 2.5
2026 .266 .305 .463 538 79 143 40 6 18 96 24 135 16 100 7 2.5
2027 .264 .304 .464 535 80 141 40 5 19 96 25 137 15 100 6 2.4

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s return to Beantown hasn’t exactly been a roaring success. While he’s providing more offense for the Red Sox than he did with the Brewers, that’s as vicious an example of damning with faint praise as you’re likely to find. If Boston can’t get the old JBJ back, well, it’s time to look for a new one. Thanks to a heckuva breakout with the bat across two levels this year, Ceddanne Rafaela hits all the JBJ highlights: top-notch glove in center, surprising power, and good, though not exceptional, speed. ZiPS isn’t a fan of Rafaela’s defense in the infield, seeing it more as a flexibility cherry on top of the profile rather than a viable set of alternative positions, but it ranks him as the best defensive center fielder in the minors in 2022.

Hunter Brown, SP, Houston Astros

ZiPS Projection – Hunter Brown
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 10 8 0 4.04 30 29 140.3 122 63 19 61 154 107 2.3
2024 11 8 0 3.96 31 29 145.3 123 64 19 62 161 109 2.5
2025 10 8 0 3.88 30 29 141.7 118 61 18 59 160 112 2.6
2026 9 7 0 3.89 27 26 129.7 108 56 17 54 146 112 2.4
2027 9 7 0 3.86 27 25 126.0 104 54 17 52 145 112 2.4

ZiPS would have liked it if Hunter Brown had shed another walk or so from his rate per nine innings, an issue that chased him even through college. But even if he’s still walking a few more batters than is ideal, it’s hard to argue with his results in an incredibly difficult environment for a pitcher. The Pacific Coast League has long had a reputation as one of the most brutal places for hurlers to ply their trade, especially before half of the lower-scoring American Association was realigned into the PCL after the 1997 season. This year, the league average ERA in the PCL is a spicy 5.52 ERA and among starters with 30 innings, only Ryan Pepiot has a lower ERA than Brown. The walks may not have disappeared, but neither have the strikeouts, and Brown’s arguably already facing conditions as rough as the majors. He isn’t young (he’ll turn 24 next month), but Brown is one of the safest bets among Futures Game pitchers and has a relatively complete repertoire of pitches.

Pete Crow-Armstrong, CF, Chicago Cubs

ZiPS Projection – Pete Crow-Armstrong
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .254 .303 .409 492 91 125 15 8 15 71 31 133 15 88 2 1.7
2024 .255 .307 .429 471 90 120 15 8 17 73 32 131 14 94 2 2.0
2025 .252 .308 .433 476 92 120 16 8 18 76 35 137 14 95 1 2.1
2026 .252 .310 .436 472 93 119 16 7 19 77 36 137 13 96 1 2.1
2027 .251 .311 .443 470 93 118 16 7 20 79 37 139 12 98 1 2.2

If Pete Crow-Armstrong hits it big, I hope the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang lets him appropriate the Fight Milk logo. A former Mets first-round pick who was regarded highly enough to fetch Javier Báez and a Trevor Williams throw-in on his own, ZiPS had little to say about him earlier this year given PCA’s brief professional history. After hitting .321/.389/.546 at two levels to go along with 19 stolen bases and credible defense in center field, ZiPS has a lot more to talk about now. There’s still a ways to go until he’s in the majors, but his top comp list has all sorts of fun names, including Carlos Gómez, Ray Lankford, Rondell White, and Marquis Grissom, among others. Crow-Armstrong’s plate discipline has suffered a bit since being promoted, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it, considering that he’s still slugging above .500; players hitting well are incentivized to be aggressive.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

33 Comments
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grandbranyanmember
4 months ago

Was hoping for a Jackson Chourio appearance. ZiPS concerned with the K/BB profile?

hittfamily
4 months ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

30% K rate in A ball ain’t great, no matter what the age is. But there’s a lot to like about Chourio.

jgawelmember
4 months ago
Reply to  hittfamily

It’s also coming with power and he’s nearly three years younger than average for the league.

hittfamily
4 months ago
Reply to  jgawel

Again:
30% K rate in A ball ain’t great, no matter what the age is. But there’s a lot to like about Chourio.

18 year olds *expected* to be 2 win players don’t have 30% K rates in the minors’ lowest level. ZIPS isn’t what is possible. It’s what is expected. The kid hits for good power. He’s got 12 HR already in just over half a season. Gallo had 38 as a 19 year old in the same level. If you are going to K like Gallo, you better launch like Gallo.

Left of Centerfield
4 months ago
Reply to  hittfamily

While his K-rate does look concerning, it’s actually roughly league average. He’s running a 28,4% K-rate whereas the league as a whole has a 26.1% K-rate.

sadtrombonemember
4 months ago
Reply to  hittfamily

You can realistically argue higher K rate to the fact that he’s the youngest guy at his level, and way younger than most of them. But you can realistically argue the reverse too. I think there’s a chance we might be seeing a rare TTO center fielder, or we might be seeing a guy who has some major problems with the hit tool. He’s a really good prospect, probably FV50 level, but he is not without risk.

sadtrombonemember
4 months ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

You have to hit like Juan Soto did to be a breakout star in a ball. The k rate is concerning but mostly it’s because it’s hard to say much about anyone at that stage.

OddBall Herrera
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Nonetheless it’s true that there aren’t many stars who ran 30% k rates in A ball, at any age

This may be an unfair comp, but:

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/keon-broxton/9253/stats?position=OF

sadtrombonemember
4 months ago

To be fair, we’re kind of in uncharted territory here. The entire list of 18 year olds in A-ball is a pretty small group. The only ones who did and are performing on the same level or better since 2006 were Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr, and Carlos Correa. But he’s doing it such a risky way they’re also terrible comps for him. Guys who are performing this well and this young in A-ball also don’t strike out this much.

And for reference, he’s striking out 2 percentage points more than Marcelo Mayer, one percentage point more than Jasson Dominguez. That’s all in A-ball, and he’s a year younger than all of them and showing more power. Which doesn’t mean that he’s a better prospect than them necessarily but just from the stat line there’s not any more obvious risk with Chourio (I’d think they’re all looking like 50s right now).

tz
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

When Trout was 18 and killing it in A-ball, he had a teammate the same age who also put up strong overall numbers at the plate – the guy who was taken just one slot before him in the first round of the amateur draft the year before. The one red flag for that guy, Randal Grichuk, was his 24% K rate.

Not saying Chourio can’t turn that part of his game around (part of being just 18), but like you said it’s pretty much uncharted territory.

sadtrombonemember
4 months ago
Reply to  tz

Yeah, Grichuk isn’t hitting for as much power as Chourio is now. I now have a more complete list. Chourio’s wRC+ is 160 right now; here is the list of guys who had that 145 or higher at age 18 in A-ball since 2006 (I figure that’s a decent range).
Mike Trout
Jon Singleton
Ronald Torreyes
Bryce Harper
Carlos Correa
Domingo Leyba
Vlad Jr
Fernando Tatis Jr
Julio Rodriguez
Giancarlo Stanton
Freddie Freeman
Wander Franco

Leyba and Torreyes had a very different skill set–no strikeouts, lots of singles. Aside from them, the only bust was Singleton. But most of them also had pretty low strikeout rates. Harper’s was on the higher end, at 20%. Tatis Jr was too, at about 24%. Stanton was over 28% but he also had 80 grade power (and showed it by blasting 39 homers that year in A-ball). Chourio certainly doesn’t have that, nor does he superficially have any of the tools of a guy like Harper or Tatis Jr.

So there really isn’t any precedent here. Normally when players this young strike out this much in A-ball they top out at being in the 120-130 wRC+ range. Willy Adames and Gary Sanchez were like that; Domingo Santana was a bit lower. It’s absolutely nuts that Chourio is striking out this much and still dominating as much as he is at such a young age.

Uncle Spikemember
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’ve been trying to dig into the numbers a little more to see what the true story is with Chourio. Of the players above, he has the second highest BABIP (.418) just a shade behind Trout’s 420. Perhaps he’s been a bit lucky but he does have the third highest LD% suggesting the high BABIP may be legit. As far as the K-rate goes, he’s in the middle of the pack with a 16.6% swinging strike rate. My first thought was that he’s being to passive but the 7% BB rate suggest that’s not necessarily the case. Eric hasn’t given him a pitch recognition grade yet but I’m guessing that’s the crux of the issue and he’s taking called strikes too often. If I had to guess though, I would say the BABIPs a little inflated but so is the k-rate number so perhaps those balance out and he’s about as good as he appears.

sadtrombonemember
4 months ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens next. If the K-rate stays stable, maybe he takes a slower and steadier route to the majors at one level a year. If it improves, we could see him in AA by the end of next year and it will be interesting to see how he handles better pitching. It seems rather implausible that he could do anything like this at higher levels, but then again, it’s already pretty implausible.

Perkinsmember
4 months ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

Just want to say I really enjoyed the exchange you guys had, and agree that the babip is almost certainly inflated.

Wegandi727
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

If thats nuts you should see Carson Williams line at 19 K’ing 33% of the time.