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The MLB Pipeline crew likes to start each new year by projecting prospects poised to break out in the upcoming season. Among the candidates from each organization whom we highlighted last January, Michael Harris II stood out the most.
After getting off to a strong start in Double-A, Harris made the jump to Atlanta in late May and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award while placing 13th in MVP balloting. In the past 40 years, the only rookies age 21 or younger to top Harris’ 5.3 WAR (Baseball-Reference style) are Mike Trout (10.5 in 2012) and Julio Rodr?guez (6.0 in 2022).
Harris was far from the only breakout performer whom we identified. Outfielders Pete Crow-Armstrong (Cubs), Evan Carter (Rangers) and Alex Ramirez (Mets) as well as catcher Austin Wells (Yankees) jumped onto our Top 100 Prospects list. Drey Jameson, Cal Mitchell, Andre Pallante and Michael Toglia all made their big league debuts.
Four more players were involved in significant trades. The Reds acquired right-handers Chase Petty (from the Twins in the Sonny Gray deal in March) and Levi Stoudt (from the Mariners as part of the Luis Castillo blockbuster in July), as well as shortstop Victor Acosta from the Padres for Brandon Drury in August. The Orioles landed Seth Johnson from the Rays in the three-team trade that sent Trey Mancini to the Astros in August.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Brandon Barriera, LHP (No. 3)Toronto developed the blueprint for taking a talented left-hander to the next level last year with Ricky Tiedemann, and could follow a similar path with Barriera, its first-round pick last July. The pieces are there for the 18-year-old lefty to make the jump — starting with a fastball that can already touch 96 mph as well as an above-average slider and a promising changeup. If the Jays can unlock a little more velo with Barriera (who seemed motivated by only going 22nd overall in the Draft) as they did with Tiedemann in his first full season, they could have yet another Top 100 southpaw on their hands by midseason.
Orioles: Darell Hernaiz, SS (No. 16)The Orioles’ first three picks from the 2019 Draft — Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers — have already reached the big leagues. Hernaiz, the fifth-rounder from that class, could be poised to join them soon with his ability to play three positions. Just 21 for most of 2023, Hernaiz started tapping into his offensive potential across two levels of A ball in 2022, capped off by a brief stint at Double-A at the end of the year.
Rays: Junior Caminero, 3B/SS (No. 17)You could make the case that Caminero has already broken out. The 19-year-old infielder was acquired from the Guardians for Tobias Myers in what looked like a minor November 2021 deal. He proceeded to hit .314/.384/.498 in 62 games between the Florida Complex and South Atlantic Leagues in his first taste of stateside ball. With Tampa Bay about to unleash Caminero on a full Minor League season for the first time, the right-handed slugger, who shows great pullside power already and a better K rate than many his age, could become the next big name in the Rays system by season’s end.
Red Sox: Miguel Bleis, OF (No. 5)Boston’s best international prospect since Rafael Devers, Bleis signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2021. A center fielder with the potential for solid or better tools across the board, he’s ready for a big full-season debut after batting .301/.353/.542 with 23 extra-base hits and 18 steals in 40 games in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League.
Yankees: Everson Pereira, OF (No. 5)Signed for $1.5 million out of Venezuela as one of the best all-around talents in the 2017 international class, Pereira didn’t play 100 games in a season until 2022 because of injuries and the pandemic. Coming off a .277/.350/.469 season with 15 homers and 21 steals between High-A and Double-A, he’s still just 21, offers a solid power/speed combo and has the tools to play anywhere in the outfield.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Chase DeLauter, OF (No. 7)No college player in the 2022 Draft had a better combination of tools, plate discipline and production than DeLauter, who became the first first-round pick from James Madison when the Guardians drafted him 16th overall. A .402/.520/.715 hitter in three shortened college seasons before breaking his left foot sliding into second base in April, he’ll make his pro debut in 2023.
Royals: Carter Jensen, C (No. 13)Pitchers Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna were bigger names as Royals prep picks in the 2021 Draft, but don’t sleep on third-rounder Jensen heading into his second full season. Kansas City officials rave about the 19-year-old’s chances of becoming a well-rounded backstop, especially when it comes to his power and arm tools. Jensen hit 11 homers at Single-A Columbia in 2022, but if he could tap more into his pop and double that in year two while continuing to develop defensively, his path to being a Royals catcher of the future becomes all the clearer.
Tigers: Cristian Santana, SS (No. 12)A well-above-average performer in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, Santana looked like a potential breakout candidate last year, but only hit .215/.379/.366 in 80 games with Single-A Lakeland. That said, he did make a fair amount of contact and managed more than his fair share of walks in jumping two levels. The next key will be adding impact to his bat, and that could come as he matures in his age-19 season. Adding even average power to a potential 55-grade hit tool would go a long way toward giving Santana’s profile the boost many thought would come early in his career.
White Sox: Bryan Ramos, 3B (No. 5)One of many Cuban prospects in Chicago’s system, Ramos signed for $300,000 in 2018 and batted .266/.338/.455 with 22 homers last year while reaching Double-A at age 20. He makes a lot of hard contact and could have 20-plus homer power, though he may be more of an outfielder than an infielder.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Werner Blakely, 3B (No. 15)The Angels have loved Blakely’s upside ever since giving him an overslot bonus to sign in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft out of the Detroit area high school ranks. He needs reps, having played in just 99 games after injuries limited him to 55 in his full-season debut in 2022. Los Angeles thought enough of him to send him from A ball to the Arizona Fall League and thinks he has Top 100 potential if he can stay healthy.
Astros: Colin Barber, OF (No. 5)Barber’s combination of solid power potential and speed led to an overslot $1 million bonus as a fourth-rounder in 2019, but the California high school product has played just 110 games in four pro seasons because of injuries and the pandemic. He did bat .298/.408/.450 with seven homers in 66 High-A contests last year and could take off if he finally stays healthy.
Athletics: Brett Harris, 3B (No. 19)It’s looking like Harris is going to be much better than an interesting senior sign. The 2021 seventh-rounder jumped on the map with a first full season spent mostly at Double-A. His bat is much better than anyone anticipated and he could put up some big numbers in Triple-A while impacting the big league lineup at some point this season.
Mariners: Michael Arroyo, SS (No. 11)Signed for $1.375 million last January, Arroyo made a very strong first impression with a .941 OPS in the Dominican Summer League. Folks are pretty excited to see what he can do during his U.S. debut. Don’t be surprised if he performs his way to full-season ball in 2023 and starts coming up in Top 100 conversations.
Rangers: Luisangel Acu?a, SS/2B (No. 7)Ronald Acu?a Jr.’s younger brother also has a wide array of tools, including solid raw power and speed as well as quality glovework at shortstop. Signed for $425,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, he batted .277/.369/.426 with 11 homers and 40 steals in 91 games between High-A and Double-A, then continued to impress in the Arizona Fall League.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP (No. 6)Smith-Shawver played baseball with Bobby Witt Jr. in high school, but also split his focus as a legitimate D1 quarterback recruit. He’s only been focusing on baseball only for a short time, but still managed to strike out 13.5 per nine in Single-A ball last year. Look for him to make a huge leap forward as he learns to command his arsenal more consistently.
Marlins: Jose Salas, INF (No. 5)Salas signed for $2.8 million out of Venezuela in 2019, and younger brother Ethan could command more than that this January as the top-rated prospect in the 2023 international class. A switch-hitter with 20-20 upside and the instincts and arm to remain at shortstop, Salas batted .250/.339/.383 with 33 extra-base hits and 33 steals between Single-A and High-A at age 19.
Mets: Jett Williams, SS (No. 5)New York made noise by grabbing MLB Pipeline’s sixth-ranked Draft prospect Kevin Parada at No. 11 last July. Three picks later, they also nabbed Williams (the No. 21 Draft prospect), and while he may have had a lower profile than his new Mets counterpart, some evaluators believe Williams might end up being the better player. The 19-year-old shortstop already shows a good feel to hit and has the plus speed desired in a sport putting added emphasis on the basepaths. He’ll have a chance to make everyone take notice likely starting at Single-A St. Lucie this spring.
Nationals: T.J. White, OF (No. 21)We thought White — a fifth-round pick out of a South Carolina high school — had tons of power to dream on. We also thought a high strikeout rate could get in the way of him putting the bat on the ball enough to be a solid hitter out of the gate. Instead, he kept the punchouts fairly in check and finished with a .258/.353/.432 line, 11 homers and 118 wRC+ at Single-A Fredericksburg. Another year of physical maturation and experience may help those numbers go up even more in his second full season and thrust him even more into a loaded outfield prospect group alongside Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green and James Wood.
Phillies: Gabriel Rincones Jr., OF (No. 9)The Phillies’ third-rounder out of Florida Atlantic, Rincones didn’t get the chance to make his pro debut last summer because of a minor injury. He posted a 1.110 OPS in his one year at FAU after transferring from the junior college ranks and he has the chance to hit for average and power while moving to the upper levels quickly.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Daniel Guilarte, SS (No. 16)A left shoulder injury kept Guilarte from playing in 2021 after he signed for $1 million out of Venezuela that January. The Brewers still decided to move him stateside last summer, and he responded by hitting .306 with a .774 OPS in 36 games in the Arizona Complex League. Guilarte was already known for his all-around athleticism with good speed and defensive ability at the six, and similar offensive results (with maybe a little more power) would cause a surge in his profile. Milwaukee proved with Jackson Chourio and Sal Frelick last year that it knows when to get aggressive with talented prospects, and Guilarte could be next.
Cardinals: Joshua Baez, OF (No. 11)There’s little doubting the 2021 second-rounder’s talent. His plus power helped him post a max exit velocity of 111.6 mph at Single-A Palm Beach last season. For specific Cardinals context, Nolan Arenado maxed out at 111.4 mph in 2022. However, Baez was limited to only 79 FSL plate appearances due to a left wrist injury that required surgery. A healthier 2023 will go a long way toward establishing the 19-year-old outfielder as a Top 10 Cardinals prospect, and that goes double if he can use that playing time to work on making more contact and finding ways to use that prodigious power.
Cubs: Cade Horton, RHP (No. 4)The best college pitcher in the 2022 Draft, Horton missed all of 2021 following Tommy John surgery but came on late in the spring to push Oklahoma to a second-place finish at the College World Series. He reached 98 mph with his fastball and 90 mph with his wipeout slider at the CWS, and he could move quickly after making his pro debut this year.
Pirates: Shalin Polanco, OF (No. 25)You never know if/when a very young international prospect is going to start figuring things out. The Pirates gave Polanco $2.35 million to sign in January 2021 and he showed some glimpses of progress during his U.S. debut last year. His tools are very real, he improved all summer long and he could really take off with a move to full-season Bradenton this season.
Reds: Bryce Hubbart, LHP (No. 17)The Florida State standout went in the third round of the 2022 Draft after greatly improving his strike-throwing in the weekend rotation. That gives him a much better chance to start, with his four-pitch mix and athleticism on the mound pointing to the kind of college arm who could move quickly.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Yu-Min Lin, LHP (No. 15)Signed for $525,000 out of Chinese Tapei in December 2021, Lin surged out of the gate with a 2.72 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings in the ACL and California Leagues in his first stateside season. That limited playing time is one of the few things holding him back from being a bigger name right now. The 5-foot-11 southpaw is a kitchen-sink hurler who can come at hitters with multiple pitches, including a plus changeup that has already taken off in the pros. Still only 19, Lin will get a chance to build out his resume with more innings in 2023, and if he can continue to manipulate the ball in ways that frustrate hitters, he’ll make a prominent spot for himself in Arizona’s future pitching plans.
Dodgers: Dalton Rushing, C (No. 9)Los Angeles’ top choice (second round) in the 2022 Draft, Rushing has power, patience and solid arm strength. The Louisville product made a spectacular pro debut, hitting .389/.517/.699 with eight homers in 33 contests between three levels, mostly in Single-A.
Giants: Aeverson Arteaga, SS (No. 5)Known more for his glove than his bat when signing for $1 million out of Venezuela in 2019, Arteaga has shown 20-20 potential early in his pro career while providing quality defense at shortstop. After leading the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League in RBIs (43) while ranking second in extra-base hits (22) and total bases (99) and third in homers (nine) in 2021, he batted .270/.345/.431 with 14 homers and 11 steals as a 19-year-old in Single-A.
Padres: Samuel Zavala, OF (No. 4)A $1.2 million signing out of Venezuela in January 2021, Zavala has proven he can hit everywhere he’s played, including both complex leagues and Single-A Lake Elsinore. He produced a .254/.355/.508 line and 15 extra-base hits in his 33 games with the Storm in his age-17 season last year, showing off the smooth left-handed swing that made him a name in the first place. That early promising combo of hit tool and power will get a bigger showcase this summer, and Zavala could move quickly once again, whether he returns to Lake Elsinore or takes another jump to High-A Fort Wayne.
Rockies: Jaden Hill, RHP (No. 10)The Rockies took Hill in the second round of the 2021 Draft despite the fact he had undgone Tommy John surgery that spring. They raved about him during rehab and he missed bats in his limited debut last year. Look for his premium stuff when the gloves to come off a little bit more in 2023. He has the chance to showcase three plus pitches that could overwhelm Minor League hitters.