ZiPS Top 100 Prospects

Since 2014, I’ve cranked out the career numbers for every significant prospect, regardless of whether they’ve reached the level of the minors that would normally justify an official projection. After a one-year hiatus, those projections, more commonly known as the ZiPS Top 100 Prospects list, return for their FanGraphs debut. If you’re unaware of what ZiPS projections are and the purpose they serve, please consult this article and this article while I reconsider my public relations strategy.

These projections are not a replacement for scouting. Projection systems are very clever, and a smart analyst can figure out a lot of ways to approach some of the thornier data questions that emerge over 15 years of prognostication (as for me, I’ve muddled by). But they can’t capture everything and the farther down the minor league ladder you go, the worse the data gets and the shorter the players’ histories become. That’s why I usually need a compelling reason to create a yearly projection for a hitter with no High-A experience or a pitcher who has yet to make a Double-A appearance. ZiPS can use college data, but I prefer to avoid it. And ZiPS does not use high school data, as that would be preposterous. Without college stats or a major international league, ZiPS literally has nothing to go on for a player without minor league experience. So if you’re wondering why Jasson Dominguez is missing from the list, it’s not that he’s a lousy prospect, it’s just that ZiPS doesn’t have anything useful to say about him yet.

One of the biggest differences between ZiPS and most other prospect lists is that, given the uncertainty surrounding any prospect’s future performance, ZiPS projections tend to give higher career WAR forecasts to lower-risk, lower-ceiling players in the high minors. So ZiPS has historically given higher grades to prospects like Steven Matz, Kolten Wong, and Marcus Semien, though it turned out his ceiling was quite high, than any other prospect lists did. Some of the successes — players who ranked higher on the ZiPS list than any other I found — include Ozzie Albies (No. 49, pre-2015), Mookie Betts (No. 26, pre-2014), Trea Turner (No. 11, pre-2016), and Joc Pederson (No. 2, pre-2015). Naturally, there have been some dismal busts too, just like any prospect list, the worst possibly being the year ZiPS had Arismendy Alcantara ranked 13th. Whoops.

The full list is in a sortable table below for your perusal, followed by analysis on a few prospects of note. As is my custom, I mainly want to highlight the points of departure from a prospect list, in this case that of our Top 100 list, carefully curated by my colleague Eric Longenhagen. Overall, there are 74 players who appear on both lists, which is right around the average from the days this piece appeared at ESPN, when I compared it to Keith Law’s Top 100.

ZiPS 2020 Top 100 Prospects
ZiPS Rank Name Team Age Position Eric’s Rank
1 Wander Franco TB 19 SS 1
2 Gavin Lux LAD 22 SS 2
3 Jo Adell LAA 21 RF 4
4 Luis Robert CHA 22 CF 7
5 Carter Kieboom WAS 22 SS 21
6 Nolan Jones CLE 22 3B 54
7 Dylan Carlson STL 21 CF 39
8 Brendan McKay TB 24 P 17
9 Jesus Luzardo OAK 22 P 6
10 Adley Rutschman BAL 22 C 5
11 Ke’Bryan Hayes PIT 23 3B 30
12 Keibert Ruiz LAD 21 C 88
13 Dustin May LAD 22 P 14
14 Miguel Amaya CHN 21 C 65
15 Jeter Downs BOS 21 SS 47
16 Nick Madrigal CHA 23 2B 41
17 Matt Manning DET 22 P 12
18 George Valera CLE 19 CF 84
19 Alec Bohm PHI 23 3B 56
20 MacKenzie Gore SD 21 P 3
ZiPS Rank Name Team Age Position Eric’s Rank
21 Nolan Gorman STL 20 3B 38
22 Nate Pearson TOR 23 P 8
23 Cristian Pache ATL 21 CF 20
24 Jordan Balazovic MIN 21 P 74
25 Mitch Keller PIT 24 P 34
26 Simeon Woods Richardson TOR 19 P 76
27 Bryse Wilson ATL 22 P 100
28 Jarred Kelenic SEA 20 CF 11
29 Sixto Sanchez MIA 21 P 48
30 CJ Abrams SD 19 SS 22
31 Marco Luciano SF 18 SS 24
32 Joey Bart SF 23 C 10
33 Jazz Chisholm MIA 22 SS 33
34 Michael Kopech CHA 24 P 19
35 Casey Mize DET 23 P 16
36 Luis Patiño SD 20 P 18
37 Brendan Rodgers COL 23 2B 31
38 Brennen Davis CHN 20 CF 50
39 Josiah Gray LAD 22 P 67
40 Isaac Paredes DET 21 3B 120
ZiPS Rank Name Team Age Position Eric’s Rank
41 Daniel Lynch KC 23 P 72
42 Luis Campusano SD 21 C 40
43 Grayson Rodriguez BAL 20 P 29
44 A.J. Puk OAK 25 P 25
45 Ian Anderson ATL 22 P 44
46 Daulton Varsho ARI 23 C 59
47 Jordan Groshans TOR 20 SS 80
48 Tarik Skubal DET 23 P 53
49 Tony Gonsolin LAD 26 P 83
50 Gabriel Arias SD 20 SS Unranked
51 Brent Honeywell Jr. TB 25 P 71
52 Andrés Giménez NYN 21 SS 103
53 Nico Hoerner CHN 23 SS 46
54 Vidal Brujan TB 22 2B 27
55 Sherten Apostel TEX 21 3B Unranked
56 Kyle Wright ATL 24 P 95
57 Sean Murphy OAK 25 C 62
58 Cory Abbott CHN 24 P Unranked
59 Ezequiel Duran NYA 21 2B 85
60 Brusdar Graterol LAD 21 P 113
ZiPS Rank Name Team Age Position Eric’s Rank
61 Brady Singer KC 23 P Unranked
62 Jose Urquidy HOU 25 P 101
63 Owen Miller SD 23 SS Unranked
64 Deivi Garcia NYA 21 P 42
65 Jon Duplantier ARI 25 P Unranked
66 Triston Casas BOS 20 1B 57
67 Josh Lowe TB 22 CF 60
68 Jeff Bain ARI 24 P Unranked
69 Justus Sheffield SEA 24 P Unranked
70 Patrick Sandoval LAA 23 P Unranked
71 Nick Solak TEX 25 2B 109
72 Bryan Abreu HOU 23 P Unranked
73 Alec Bettinger MIL 24 P Unranked
74 Tucker Davidson ATL 24 P Unranked
75 Braden Shewmake ATL 22 SS Unranked
76 Ryan Jeffers MIN 23 C Unranked
77 Royce Lewis MIN 21 SS 13
78 Tyler Freeman CLE 21 SS 93
79 Daulton Jefferies OAK 24 P Unranked
80 Mauricio Dubón SF 25 2B Unranked
ZiPS Rank Name Team Age Position Eric’s Rank
81 Spencer Howard PHI 23 P 26
82 Julio Rodriguez SEA 19 RF 9
83 Logan Gilbert SEA 23 P 45
84 Forrest Whitley HOU 22 P 15
85 Xavier Edwards TB 20 2B 75
86 Trevor Rogers MIA 22 P Unranked
87 Braxton Garrett MIA 22 P Unranked
88 Austin Hays BAL 24 CF Unranked
89 Brett Conine HOU 23 P Unranked
90 Hudson Potts SD 21 3B Unranked
91 Orelvis Martinez TOR 18 SS 89
92 Emmanuel Clase CLE 22 P Unranked
93 Lewis Thorpe MIN 24 P Unranked
94 Joey Wentz DET 22 P Unranked
95 Matthew Liberatore STL 20 P 94
96 Taylor Walls TB 23 SS Unranked
97 Tyler Stephenson CIN 23 C 73
98 Andrew Vaughn CHA 22 1B 37
99 Luis Garcia WAS 20 SS 87
100 Jonathan India CIN 23 3B Unranked

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Kansas City Royals

Bobby Witt Jr. is the first player on the list not to finish in the ZiPS top 100, partially due to the issues that arise when you unleash a projection system on a player with extremely limited professional experience and no college history. What’s surprising is how close Witt came, showing a lot of gap power for a young shortstop over a very limited span of time. If he shows anything at all in 2020 — which seems likely — he’ll shoot up this list very quickly. ZiPS projects a .780 OPS for Witt if he played in High-A this season, and if I instruct ZiPS to take that performance as having actually happened already, he would be the No. 35 prospect instead. With the uncertainty, he just misses the list.

Gabriel Arias, SS, San Diego Padres

It’s hard to say by how much Gabriel Arias missed the FanGraphs 100 because he wasn’t on the radar at all for ZiPS coming into 2019. ZiPS had his 2018 minor league translation at .181/.236/.257, which didn’t turning any algorithmic heads. But he hit .302/.339/.470 for High-A Lake Elsinore in 2019, an impressive line for a 19-year-old; the California League is a hitter’s league, but that still translates to .227/.259/.366. ZiPS isn’t saying he’s ready in 2020, but Arias is the highest-ranking ZiPS 100 to not make Eric’s Top 100, and at No. 50, is the lowest ranked player to ever achieve the title of Mr. Sorta Relevant.

Nolan Jones, 3B, Cleveland Indians

It’s ZiPS No. 6 vs. FanGraphs No. 54, in large part due to the proclivity I reference above of my projections tending to place a premium on guys who are fairly close to the majors and look to have a real shot at being contributors there. That Jones’ power hasn’t yet manifested itself in the stats doesn’t concern ZiPS, unless Cleveland moves him across the diamond to first base. Jones was relatively young for Double-A and didn’t lose his very disciplined approach at the plate. ZiPS sees him peaking as a .260/.340/.470 player in his prime. The platoon splits are worrying, but a lot of players (Ryan Klesko for example) grow out of that in time.

Jones isn’t the only Nolan that ZiPS likes; the system ranks Cardinals third base prospect Nolan Gorman ahead of his spot on Eric’s list, 21st vs. 38th.

Julio Rodriguez, RF, Seattle Mariners

Julio Rodriguez is the only player in Eric’s top 10 who is not in the top 50 in ZiPS. He still makes the list, but since the projections have summarily dismissed any idea of him playing center field and have him as a below-average right fielder, ZiPS isn’t as sold on Rodriguez as it is on the other A-ball standouts on this list, even with a perfectly reasonable .236/.285/.378 translation. If his season had been entirely in the High-A California League, Rodriguez’s rank here would have jumped to No. 35, just like Witt’s. Rodriguez is very young so it wouldn’t shock me if this projection ends up looking way too pessimistic five years from now.

Bryse Wilson, SP, Atlanta Braves

You could make the argument that Bryse Wilson has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle and isn’t as flashy as some of the other guys in Atlanta’s seemingly endless parade of pitching prospects. But he fared very well in Triple-A and based on his batted ball profile, ZiPS thinks he was only “lucky” by two homers in 2019, bumping his International League total to 14 homers allowed in 121 innings. That wouldn’t normally sound impressive, but this was the New International League, where teams hit 202 homers per 162 games played and the average pitcher had a 4.90 ERA. Wilson’s not flashy, but ZiPS sees him as safe. Even pitching that is merely safe can cost teams a lot of money!

Luis Robert, CF, Chicago White Sox

There’s no major disagreement about Luis Robert between silicon and flesh-and-blood, but there’s one tidbit I didn’t talk about in the White Sox’s team post, one that could make Robert underrated, even at No. 4: defense. ZiPS projected Robert as a rather prosaic +4 defensive center fielder in 2019, but this is due in large part to the fact that ZiPS is designed to take its defensive estimates with a large grain of salt. In the 2019 numbers, which are generated from calculating catch probability for every ball based on Gameday location and velocity description, Robert’s defense broke out, to the tune of +20.9 runs across multiple outfield positions, second in the minor leagues only to Michael Siani. He was only +3 in 2018, and it’s reasonable to be suspicious of one-year minor league defensive numbers, but the potential of level of production being real is what could drive Robert to a shockingly good rookie season (and career).

Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers

We all know There is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect, but you could actually say that of catchers as well. Catchers have weird developmental curves, blossoming and collapsing out of nowhere, and it’s a tough position for a young player to play. Keibert Ruiz’s offense was rather lackluster on its face, but a 20-year-old catcher playing in the high minors and not going splat is an impressive feat on its own. Ruiz may never develop and could turn into Mark Johnson: The Next Generation, but given his youth and plate discipline, the projections are confident. Those reasons are also why ZiPS ranked Cubs catcher Miguel Amaya 14th.

Brusdar Graterol, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jeter Downs, SS, Boston Red Sox

I think these are the right teams; it’s hard to tell in all the chaos that was the Mookie Betts trade. ZiPS likes both the key prospects more than the FanGraphs 100 does. Downs checks in at the No. 15 spot (vs. No. 47), with ZiPS more impressed with his offense (a .223/.288/.415 translation at just age 20) than his defense (-9.4 in 2019, with a -6.0 projection). A guy named Jeter with a potent bat who looks to struggle defensively at short…reminds me of someone.

There’s a lot of uncertainty about Graterol’s future role but even with the system projecting the right-hander first as a reliever before transitioning into a 120-inning flex role (which the Dodgers are creative enough to do), it’s enough to get him the No. 60 spot. If he proves to be more durable than people suspect, that ranking could be underselling him. Graterol gained around 100 pounds from ages 16 to 21, which is impressive to me as I barely put on 50, though I started as the larger teenage son.

George Valera, CF, Cleveland Indians

It’s unusual for ZiPS to like a short-season A-ball hitter quite this much, but a .210 ISO against recent college graduates at age 18 is impressive extra-base wattage for a player on the hard side of the defensive spectrum. In addition, the New York-Penn League is a notoriously difficult place to hit homers, with only four players putting up double-digit home run totals last season. George Valera hit eight in less than two-thirds of a full season. The error bars are massive and I’d personally put Julio Rodriguez above Valera, but I don’t put my thumb on the scale. The Indians could certainly use an outfielder, so from a practical standpoint, if Valera excels, he could advance through the system pretty quickly.

Sherten Apostel, 3B, Texas Rangers

ZiPS likes the power potential from the big third baseman, seeing him as more likely-than-not to be a legitimate 30 home run hitter in his prime. How good that ends up making Apostel depends on what his other stats look like — his batting average projects to stay fairly low — and what position he plays. ZiPS saw him as a -2 third baseman in 2019, which isn’t good enough for me to say he deserves to stay there, but at least he’s not a disaster at the hot corner. As a 45+ FV on the last 2019 update to The Board, it doesn’t appear that Apostel was that far from making the FanGraphs 100, but even 101 would be well below his 55th place ZiPS rank.

Forrest Whitley, SP, Houston Astros

You might have done a double take when you saw Forest Whitley all the way down at No. 84, but considering how much of his prospect ranking is stuff rather than actual performance, I’m actually mildly surprised he made the ZiPS 100 at all. Scouts rightly drool over Whitley’s deep and varied repertoire, but ZiPS sees him as an occasionally brilliant pitcher with limited playing time and an injury-marred 2019 that came with severe walk issues. Whitley’s a terrific prospect, but as with Mark Appel some years ago, keep his performance record in the back of your mind to dampen your excitement just a skosh.

Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirate

It’s not the difference between ZiPS (No. 11) and Eric’s ranking (No. 30) that make Hayes so fun to talk about here but rather the fact that he’s one of only two prospects remaining from my 2016 list whose fate is still largely up in the air. (Brent Honeywell is the other and that’s mainly because he’s lost so much time to injury.) ZiPS essentially projects Hayes as it always has: a middling offensive third baseman with a huge, huge glove. He’s moved up the ranks as he’s gotten closer to the majors, but there’s almost no change in how ZiPS forecasts his future. Hayes probably won’t hit enough to be Matt Chapman-lite since Chapman has exploded offensively, but No Sugar Added, Caffeine Free Matt Chapman ain’t bad either.

Braden Shewmake, SS, Atlanta Braves
Daulton Jefferies, SP, Oakland Athletics
Braxton Garrett, SP, Miami Marlins
Joey Wentz, SP, Detroit Tigers
Taylor Walls, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

Eric and ZiPS agreed on 74 players, but these players weren’t that far from giving us five more; they all made Eric’s list of players he expects to make the Top 100 next year, suggesting the disagreement may be less qualitative and more temporal.

Wentz made it to No. 44 on the pre-2018 ZiPS list, but injuries derailed his 2018 campaign, and his strikeout rate plummeted, enough that it would have either knocked him down to the bottom of the pre-2019 list or off of it altogether. 2019 saw Wentz mostly get back on track, especially in his late-season Double-A stint after being traded for Shane Greene. All things being equal, I would have preferred the Braves hang onto Wentz, but given Atlanta’s bullpen and their status as contenders, all things were not equal.

We haven’t seen a healthy Daulton Jefferies yet, so even if he was rather old for a Double-A debut in 2019, he only had eight games of prior professional experience. To pitch so well, so quickly — a 10:1 strikeout-walk ratio for Double-A Midland — intrigued ZiPS, even though the injury risk remains high. Jefferies isn’t going to blow batters away at the plate, but the A’s tend to do really well with pitchers like this, which ZiPS doesn’t consider as a factor in the projections. Braxton Garrett is another prospect who was waylaid by injury, requiring Tommy John after he was pulled in his fourth professional start for elbow discomfort. Garrett’s comeback in 2019 was successful and he struck out 10 batters a game for High-A Jupiter, so he’s already come farther back than another former Marlin first-rounder, Tyler Kolek, was ever able to.

In my writeup for the Tampa Bay Rays, I talked about the organization’s ability to produce two-win players seemingly out of thin air. They appear to be doing so yet again with Taylor Walls, a fast shortstop (ZiPS put him at the 69th percentile of historical middle infielders within a year of his age) with decent plate discipline. ZiPS has him as a plus at shortstop in the minors each of the last two seasons (+7.2 runs, +9.7 runs), and for a player who isn’t considered to be much of a power hitter, there’s a big difference between a guy who can hit eight to 12 homers a year in his prime, as ZiPS forecasts Walls to do, and the Jason Tyner homer-every-full-solar-eclipse variety.

We hoped you liked reading ZiPS Top 100 Prospects by Dan Szymborski!

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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.

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kylerkelton
Member

Appreciate the work Dan, I always look forward to reading any ZiPS related stuff! I’m just curious about Drew Waters. Kind of surprised he didn’t make the list considering his age and level. Just wondering how close he was. Thanks!

DustyColorado
Member
DustyColorado

Wander Javier didn’t make the list either and he’s a far superior prospect to Drew Waters. The glaring omission of generational prospect WJ, and I guess Drew Waters too, proves without a shadow of a doubt that Dan’s fancy algorithm computer is broken.

goyo70
Member
goyo70

Just out of curiosity- if you meant generational talent Wander Franco, he’s still ranked #1. If you actually meant Twins FV 40+ SS W.Javier, then I think you have your adjectives jumbled.

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt

I can’t decide if I want Wander Javier to make the majors in hopes this schtick dies or if that would just perpetuate it.

The Ancient Mariner
Member
The Ancient Mariner

I’m not usually one for wishing anyone ill, but I’m getting to the point I’d almost like to see him hit .140/.200/.212 over a full season just to shut this dude up.

Mule
Member
Mule

I have a strong suspicion that may only fuel the fire.

King Donko of Punchstania
Member
Member
King Donko of Punchstania

@goyo70 Spend enough time on the FG prospects pages and you will get to know DustyColorado

jdr
Member
jdr

Something about prospect discussions seems to really bring out the wackos. It’s similar to boards about collectibles (baseball cards, coins, etc.), that bring out the nutcase true believers. There was a board a million years ago – I can’t remember which one now – when one dude wouldn’t stfu about about Derek Holland and how much better he was than every other pitching prospect in the minors, to the point beyond being truly obnoxious.

Cave Dameron
Member
Cave Dameron

That’s because prospects aren’t actually people, they’re just objects to collect.