10 Prospects Who Could See Big Returns By Hitting More Balls In The Air


Image credit: Max Clark (Photo/Tom DiPace)

In 2023, Justin Crawford did a lot of things right. In a season split between the Class A levels, he hit .332/.392/.467. Crawford stole 47 bases in 55 tries. He struck out just 17.7% of the time. He earned a spot in the Futures Game, was named the Florida State League’s most valuable player and was honored on BA’s postseason Low-A all-star team. 

Despite all that, Crawford had one big area where he needed to improve: Launch angle. The 2022 first-rounder hit the ball on the ground around 70% of the time between both stops, including a rate of 68.5% at Low-A and then 74.5% after a promotion to High-A. 

Beating the ball into the ground kept Crawford from hitting much in the way of power, and he had just three home runs over 87 games despite hitting the ball plenty hard. His average and 90th percentile exit velocities from 2023 were 87.6 and 103.1 mph, both above-average for a player his age. 

Crawford’s 2024 season has started on a similar note. He’s hitting .308/.365/.404 with High-A Jersey Shore and already has two home runs, but he’s hitting the ball on the ground 63% of the time. Players with Crawford’s level of speed can benefit from hard grounders and lower line drives, but his current rate is too far in that direction. 

Let’s take a look at the data for this season and see if we can find players like Crawford who are producing well but could take an even bigger jump if they got the ball in the air more often. 

Jaison Chourio, OF, Guardians

Age: 18. Average launch angle: 8.3°. Zone Miss Rate: 11.4%. 90th Percentile EV: 102.7 mph. 

Chourio, the younger brother of Brewers outfielder Jackson Chourio, recently joined Baseball America’s Top 100 on the strength of strong performances and scouting reviews over the last two seasons in the Arizona Complex League and at Low-A Lynchburg. This season, he’s part of a cavalcade of intriguing Cleveland prospects which also includes infielder Angel Genao, Rafael Ramirez Jr. and Ralphy Velazquez. The switch-hitting Chourio hits the ball hard, almost never misses pitches in the zone, has more walks (25) than strikeouts (18) and has the footspeed to make himself a threat on the bases and in center field. He has just three home runs in 75 career games, however, but could see that figure increase if he can put more of that hard contact in the air. 

Jacob Melton, OF, Astros

Age: 23. Average Launch Angle: 10°. Zone Miss Rate: 13.3%. 90th Percentile EV: 108.5 mph. 

Melton was Houston’s second-round pick from 2022 out of Oregon State, and has been a strong offensive performer for most of his career. He was especially potent in offensive oasis Asheville in 2023, where he swatted 11 home runs in 42 games before earning a bump to Double-A Corpus Christi at the end of August. He caught fire in his first turn at the upper levels with five home runs in 13 games to close the year. In the early going in 2024, Melton has seen his launch angle drop and his groundball rate rise. He’s also hitting the ball harder than ever—his current 90th percentile EV is more than 2 mph hotter than the mark he finished with in 2023—and has done an excellent job making contact on pitches in the zone. If he can get a few more balls in the air, Melton’s summer could be mighty hot. 

Dyan Jorge, SS, Rockies

Age: 21. Average Launch Angle: -0.1°. Zone Miss Rate: 11.8%. 90th Percentile EV: 98.1 mph.

Jorge has long been one of Colorado’s better prospects. The 21-year-old Cuban opened the year as one of the youngest players in the High-A Northwest League and so far has been one of the better players on the circuit. Jorge doesn’t hit the ball as hard as the other players mentioned in this article, but ability to put the bat on the ball is encouraging and he’s gotten plenty of solid results in the early portion of the season. He has nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (21) and is among the league leaders in RBIs (16) and stolen bases (9) but— understandably given his meager EVs—has produced little in the way of impact. To further improve his offensive profile, he’ll need to get the ball in the air more often and put some more thump behind his contact. 

Gabriel Gonzalez, OF, Twins

Age: 20. Average Launch Angle: 7.7°. Zone Miss Rate: 7.4%. 90th Percentile EV: 102.7 mph. 

Gonzalez came to the Twins from Seattle in the deal that sent infielder Jorge Polanco to Seattle. The 20-year-old went on the injured list on May 8 but had been impressive before landing on the shelf. Though he controls the zone well and hits the ball hard, Gonzalez has hit just one home run and was sporting an OPS of just .771 through his first 20 games with High-A Cedar Rapids. The Midwest League in April is typically a pitcher-friendly atmosphere, but Gonzalez could see much louder returns by getting the ball in the air more often. His groundball rate this season stands at 53.3%, which is far from ideal. If he can alleviate that issue, his power has a chance to shine. 

Max Clark, OF, Tigers

Age: 19. Average Launch Angle: 5.6°. Zone Miss Rate: 11.8%. 90th Percentile EV: 101.7 mph. 

Clark was one of the most celebrated players as an amateur and was taken by Detroit with the third overall pick in the 2023 draft. A great deal of Clark’s allure revolved around his potential to be a five-tool player. His hit tool graded as a future plus, with possibly average power as well. In his first full season as a pro, Clark is making plenty of contact but has not gotten the most out of his impact. His propensity for hard contact has been muted by a groundball rate of higher than 55% through his first 28 games. His contact, speed and standout defense should allow him to be a player with a leadoff man’s skill set—meaning he doesn’t have to be a true slugger—but getting the ball in the air more often would help him vault even further up the prospect rankings. 

Angel Genao, SS, Guardians

Age: 19. Average Launch Angle: 7.4°. Zone Miss Rate: 14.6%. 90th Percentile EV: 102 mph. 

In 2022, Genao ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Arizona Complex League. A year later, he struggled at Low-A Lynchburg while recovering from offseason knee surgery. In 2024, he opened scouts’ eyes in minor league spring training and has gotten off to a whizbang start in a return to the Carolina League. He’s already shown a big-time power rebound, with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 1.5 mph more than he showed during the 2023 season. He’s also raised his launch angle 2 full degrees year over year, from 5.4° last season to 7.4° through the first month of this season. The improvements to his ball flight have come with a little bit less contact but more power, including as many home runs (4) as he hit in 72 games at Lynchburg a season ago. Continuing that trend could mean even bigger gains on his prospect stock.

James Triantos, 2B, Cubs

Age: 21. Average Launch Angle: 11.3°. Zone Miss Rate: 11.8%. 90th Percentile EV: 102.6 mph. 

Triantos has long been one of the Cubs’ more intriguing young hitters. He put together a standout performance in the 2023 Arizona Fall League, where he hit .417/.495/.679 over 22 games with Mesa. The fall campaign was the loudest outburst in a career that has seen him make plenty of contact—his career strikeout rate is just 13.8%—with only modest impact. His 90th percentile EVs in each of the last two seasons are nearly identical, and his zone miss rate is still quite good despite getting his first extended test at the upper levels of the minor leagues. He’s also raised his average launch angle 1.5°, which has led to significantly improved results. He already has three home runs this season, just one shy of his total from a year ago and nearly halfway to his career high-water mark, established back in 2022 with Low-A Myrtle Beach. 

Luisangel Acuña, SS, Mets

Age: 22. Average Launch Angle: 2.9°. Zone Miss Rate: 11.7%. 90th Percentile EV: 103.5 mph. 

Acuña was one of the prospects the Mets received from the Rangers in the deal that brought Max Scherzer to Texas. He’s long been an intriguing player for the flashes of brilliance he shows and could get to more frequently with a reined-in approach, as well as his ability to play somewhere in the middle of the diamond. Acuña’s counting stats don’t stand out this season, but there is reason for optimism. He hits the ball quite hard, rarely misses pitches in the zone, has a rough strikeout rate of around 20% and is still just 22 years old. If he can chase a bit less often and get more balls in there, he still has plenty of time to blossom into the kind of player the Mets hoped for when they acquired him last summer. 

Mike Boeve, 2B, Brewers

Age: 22. Average Launch Angle: 8.7°. Zone Miss Rate: 6.9%. 90th Percentile EV: 102.7 mph. 

Boeve has had the hottest start of any hitter in the minor leagues. The Nebraska-Omaha alum bashed his way out of High-A Wisconsin in just 13 games—hitting .553/.642/.632 has a way of doing that—and has stayed red hot after transitioning to Double-A. Considering those numbers, it’s hard to say Boeve could be better but it’s not a stretch to say he could be more impactful. Of his 49 hits this season, 36 are singles and only one is a home run. He doesn’t miss pitches in the strike zone, he crushes fastballs and is solid against offspeed as well. His groundball rate of roughly 41% is the best of any player on this list, so he might only have a little bit more to tap into, but doing so would be an outstanding addition to his tool kit. 

Hendry Mendez, OF, Phillies

Age: 20. Average Launch Angle: -2.9°. Zone Miss Rate: 12%. 90th Percentile EV: 104.7 mph. 

Mendez was the second player the Phillies received from Milwaukee—in addition to infielder Robert Moore—when they spun Oliver Dunn to the Brewers last winter. Mendez was part of the stacked 2022 team at Low-A Carolina that also featured Jackson Chourio, Jeferson Quero, Carlos F. Rodriguez and two starts from Jacob Misiorowski toward the end of the season. Mendez is currently on the 7-day injured list and has played just 17 games, but has shown some encouraging trends in an admittedly small sample. Contact has long been a hallmark for Mendez, who has struck out less than 15% of the time in his 228 professional games. Unfortunately, most of that contact has come on the ground. His career groundout-to-flyout rate is roughly 2.4-to-1, and more than two-thirds of his contact this season has been into the ground as well. He’s still young, so there’s plenty of time to figure out how to change his ball flight, but doing so is imperative. 

Aidan Miller, SS, Phillies

Age: 19. Average Launch Angle: 10°. Zone Miss Rate: 11.5%. 90th Percentile EV: 106.2 mph. 

Miller is in the midst of an absolutely gangbusters start to his first full season as a pro. The Phillies’ first-round pick from 2023 leads the Florida State League with a .578 slugging percentage and has four home runs in his first 20 games, which marks quite the about-face from a season ago, when he went homerless until the FSL playoffs. Miller’s early outburst is remarkable enough considering the FSL traditionally tilts toward pitchers, but it’s also noteworthy considering how often he’s put the ball on the ground. Through May 12, Miller’s groundball rate sat at an even 50%, and his groundout-to-airout ratio was 1.7-to-1. The Florida product was known as an amateur for his raw power, and his early exit velocity data suggest that his juice will translate to pro ball. If he gets the ball in the air more often, the Phillies might have a monster on their hands. 

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