Image credit: Forrest Whitley, Arizona Fall League All-Star Game (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Everybody who follows prospects knows about five tools scouts look for in a hitter: Hitting, power, speed, defense and throwing arm. The sixth tool, however, is health. Without it, none of the other five tools can shine.
Plenty of talented prospects miss significant time with injuries each year, though, costing themselves valuable development time. While we obviously wish every player a healthy season, here are 10 of the players whose prospect stock we believe would benefit the most from a year free of injuries.
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
After an incredible 2018 season and similarly impressive Arizona Fall League, Whitley entered the season as the game’s top pitching prospect. He had five pitches that projected as plus or better and seemed poised to make his big league debut at some point during the regular season. In 2019, however, nearly nothing went according to plan.
Whitley was hit hard and often in 2019, and was eventually sent back to the Astros’ minor league complex in West Palm Beach, Fla. to rehab what was diagnosed as right shoulder fatigue. He made it back late in the year and returned for another successful turn in the AFL, which helped rebuild his eroded prospect stock.
He’s still just 22 years old, and a fully healthy 2020 season would put him right back on track toward a future at the top of the Houston rotation.
Jordan Groshans, SS, Blue Jays
Groshans’ 2018 was remarkable. The Blue Jays selected him with the 12th overall pick and then watched as he dominated in 37 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He also showed impressive power against quality, high-velocity fastballs during the Appalachian League playoffs with Bluefield.
He opened 2019 with an exceptional 23 games at low Class A Lansing before a foot injury knocked him out for the rest of the year. When healthy, he’s an athletic player with the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power somewhere in the infield. A potential move to third base could be brought on by Groshans’ future physical development as well as the presence of budding star Bo Bichette at shortstop.
No matter where he plays, Groshans has the potential to be another enviable addition to the Blue Jays’ increasingly formidable homegrown core.
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians
When healthy, McKenzie has been excellent. He surrendered just 68 hits in 90.2 innings at Double-A Akron in 2018 and for his career strikes out nearly 11 hitters per nine innings. Problem is, those 90.2 innings at Akron are all he’s pitched in the last two seasons.
McKenzie missed the first half of the 2018 season with forearm soreness and then was sidelined for all of 2019 with an upper-back injury. Even with the limited innings, McKenzie ranks behind only righthander Daniel Espino among the organization’s pitching depth chart.
Evaluators have long worried that McKenzie would have trouble holding up for a starter’s workload because of a skinny frame. Even so, his stuff has never been in doubt. He shows a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination when healthy and backs up those two pitches with a changeup that flashes above-average. The 2020 season will be huge toward determining McKenzie’s future.
Joey Bart, C, Giants
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Bart burst onto the scene with a tremendous showing at short-season Salem-Keizer (14 doubles, 13 home runs in 45 games) then jumped to high Class A to begin his first full season as a pro.
His season was stunted, however, by a pair of hand fractures—one during the regular season in the California League and another in the Arizona Fall League, where he was assigned with the goal of making up for the at-bats he’d lost while rehabbing from the first injury.
When healthy, Bart ranks behind only the Orioles’ Adley Rutschman among the game’s top catching prospects. He offers a blend of skills on both offense and defense, and could very well become Buster Posey’s successor in San Francisco. First, though, he’s got to stay healthy.
Bart finished the regular year with a torrid stint at Double-A Richmond, and could get his first taste of the big leagues with similar performance at the upper levels in 2020.
Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers
To nobody’s surprise, the Tigers selected Mize with the first overall selection in 2018. After a heavy workload at Auburn, the Tigers limited Mize to just less than 15 innings in his first stint as a pro. The reins came off in 2019, however, and it’s hard to overstate his early dominance.
Mize allowed just 11 hits over his first 30.2 innings (six starts) at high Class A Lakeland before moving to Double-A Erie, where he announced his presence with authority. The righthander opened his time at the upper levels with a nine-inning no-hitter on just 98 pitches (70 strikes).
Moreover, that historic start concluded a three-outing stretch in which he’d allowed just two hits and two walks over 24 innings while punching out 17 hitters. That dominance continued for the next month, until his right shoulder started barking during a start against Reading.
He missed about a month rehabbing but was not the same upon his return to Double-A. The Tigers made the decision late in the season to shut him down and start fresh in 2020. Detroit’s system is stacked with high-end arms (Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal all look like future rotation pieces) but Mize sits atop the group.
A return to health in 2020 would bring a sigh of relief from the organization and the fan base.
Jay Groome, LHP, Red Sox
The Red Sox were thrilled in 2016 when Groome, a New Jersey prep product who was considered one of the best pitching prospects in the class, fell into their laps with the 12th overall pick. He’s pitched just 66 innings since then, however, and missed the entire 2018 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Groome got back on the mound in 2019, albeit for just four innings. Still, scouts who saw him in the New York-Penn League reported the same combination of plus fastball and curveball that made him so coveted as an amateur as well as a potentially above-average changeup.
The lefthander has missed plenty of developmental time but is still just 21 years old. A strong 2020 could remind everyone why he still belongs in the conversation of the highest-ceiling lefties in the game.
Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds
The Reds popped Greene with the second overall pick in 2017 on the strength of his high-end athleticism and ceiling that made him a two-way prospect as an amateur. Though he’s got just 72.2 innings to his name—he sprained his ulnar collateral ligament in 2018 and then had a setback that led to Tommy John surgery before the 2019 season—his career has had its share of highlights.
Greene pitched and hit in his first stop in pro ball with Rookie-level Billings in 2017 then made a tantalizing appearance at the Futures Game a year later. He hit triple-digits with every one of his fastballs at the game’s annual midsummer prospect showcase, reinforcing his potential to a public that had been confused by his early struggles with low Class A Dayton.
Despite the injury, Greene still leads the Reds’ Top 30 prospect list and boasts one of the highest ceilings in the game. The Reds will be cautious with Greene’s continued rehab, but he should get back on the mound at some point in 2020.
Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays
Honeywell was on the cusp of the majors after the 2017 season and was probably only a few outings at Triple-A away from his first callup. His elbow popped in an early spring training bullpen session in 2018, however, and he missed the season.
His return was further delayed in 2019 when he broke a bone in his elbow in an extended spring training outing before he could get back to an affiliate. The repaired ligament was unharmed but the surgery to repair the bone cost him the rest of the season.
When healthy, Honeywell has shown one of the game’s most electric arsenals. He will take a third crack in 2020 at getting back on the mound and on track to his ceiling as part of the rotation in Tampa Bay.
Kyle Isbel, OF, Royals
Entering the season, Kansas City’s highest-profile hitting prospects were grouped together on the high Class A Wilmington roster. That cluster included outfielder Seuly Matias, first baseman Nick Pratto and catcher M.J. Melendez. Isbel was the sleeper whom Royals officials were quick to make sure to highlight at the end of every discussion regarding their system.
Isbel started the season hot but eventually had his season derailed by hamstring and hamate injuries. He resurfaced in the Arizona Fall League, where he showed his combination of power, speed and a hint of power. He finished the six-week stint with a .315/.429/.438 slash line with a home run and six stolen bases.
Isbel should get his first crack at Double-A in 2020 and could vault himself into more mainstream prospect conversations with a healthy year.
Brennen Davis, OF, Cubs
Infielder Nico Hoerner (whom we also hope has a healthy new year) and fireballing lefty Brailyn Marquez shared the billing as the Cubs’ top two success stories in 2019. With a little bit of a larger sample size, Davis might have forced his name onto the marquee as well.
Davis was drafted as a toolsy but raw outfielder who’d also starred as a basketball player in high school. The Cubs drafted him with the idea that his tools might begin turning into skills if he were to fully focus on baseball, then they watched as he put up a strong enough spring to warrant a quicker than anticipated move to low Class A South Bend.
Davis’ season was limited to just 50 games, however, after being hit by a pair of pitches on his right ring finger. He impressed in his time in the Midwest League (.305/.381/.525) and could draw even more attention to himself with a return to health in 2020.