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10 Standout Debuts From Hitters In The 2023 MLB Draft Class


Image credit: Nolan Schanuel (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Below are reports on 10 draftees from the 2023 class who had standout professional debuts. 

While all the players have small samples of performance to look over, we now have more detailed, process-oriented stats that can perhaps tell us more useful things about what a player is or isn’t doing well.

This data being more accessible at the amateur level is perhaps a reason that teams can be so comfortable pushing their draftees quicker than ever before. It stands to reason that holds true with the professional data as well. 

Nolan Schanuel, 1B, Angels
Age: 21
Highest Level: MLB

It would be a nonstarter for any list attempting to acknowledge successful pro debuts by starting with anyone but Schanuel. The former Florida Atlantic first baseman likely knew he was on a fast path to the majors when he was signed for slot value with the 11th overall pick in the draft, but could anyone have known it would be historic?

Schanuel has real question marks in his offensive profile, but let’s take a moment to think about how impressive what he’s doing actually is. After coming out of mid-major competition in Conference USA, where the average velocity he saw this spring was just 89 mph, he’s not only been an average big league hitter, but a slightly above-average one while heading straight into the leadoff spot—with just 22 minor league games under his belt.

Schanuel’s precocious ability to control the zone and make contact has driven his offensive value, and he is in an elite group of just 11 hitters in 2023 with at least 100 plate appearances and an on-base percentage of .400 or better:

Shohei Ohtani1840.4122023280.654
Aaron Judge1750.4052023310.617
Davis Schneider1730.4002023240.595
Yordan Alvarez1730.4092023260.591
Ronald Acuña Jr.1680.4142023250.595
Mookie Betts1660.4102023300.585
Freddie Freeman1610.4102023330.565
Juan Soto1580.4092023240.520
Yandy Díaz1550.4082023310.515
Bryce Harper1460.4022023300.502
Nolan Schanuel1080.4072023210.343

Yes, Schanuel will need to hit for significantly more power to amass similar overall value to the many all-stars and franchise players on this list (his slugging percentage is .231 points lower than the group’s average) and his and Davis Schneider’s sample of games is smaller, but to even imagine him being in a table like this would have been unthinkable just three months ago.

Wyatt Langford, OF, Rangers
Age: 21 
Highest Level: AAA

In a normal year, Langford would have a case as the most impressive pro debut of his draft class. With Schanuel doing big league things, he’ll have to settle for runner up. Considering his overall offensive profile and big league proximity, however, I’m guessing Rangers brass will be more than happy with that. 

Langford is tops or near tops in most offensive categories when it comes to overall production and power among 2023 draftees with 50 or more plate appearances. His 1.157 OPS is good for third, his 10 home runs are tied for first along with Cubs 18th rounder Brian Kalmer (more on him later), his 58 hits are tied for first with Nationals 2nd rounder Yohandy Morales, and he also leads with 17 doubles and 109 total bases—Cubs first rounder Matt Shaw is a distant second in this final category with 97 total bases.

For anyone who watched the College World Series, Langford’s power is unsurprising, but it’s promising to see him progress from rookie ball all the way to Triple-A while performing at each level. Overall he hit .360/.460/.677 with 36 walks and 34 strikeouts, while posting an OPS greater than 1.000 at each level.

It’s not just the counting stats where Langford excels. His metrics under the hood are excellent and paint the picture of a well-rounded and impactful hitter. Among 2023 draftees with at least 50 plate appearances, there were just 16 hitters who managed a miss rate of 20% or less, an in-zone whiff rate of 15% or less and a chase rate of 15% or less. Of the players to meet those thresholds, Langford was the only hitter with a 90 mph average exit velocity or better and he also paced the field with a 106.8 mph 90th percentile mark. 

Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Orioles
Age: 21
Highest Level: High-A

Power is fun, but so is speed, right? Not everyone can be Ronald Acuña Jr. or Bobby Witt Jr. and do both at a high level in the big leagues. Enter Enrique Bradfield Jr.

One of the most polarizing profiles in the 2023 draft class, Bradfield has 80s on the scouting card for his speed and fielding in center field, but there were real questions about his offensive chops and lack of power. So far, so good for the Orioles, who have been one of the better hitting development organizations in baseball in recent years. 

In unsurprising news, Bradfield Jr. led all 2023 draftees in stolen bases and swiped 25 bags while being caught just twice. He pushed through three levels and reached High-A Aberdeen at the end of the season, and overall hit .291/.473/.329, which is an unsurprising line for a player of his tools who showed impressive contact and zone control throughout college in the SEC.

That contact ability and zone control has thus far gone unchallenged in his 25 games of pro ball. His 9% overall miss rate was second among 2023 draftees with at least 50 plate appearances (behind Pirates second rounder Mitch Jebb), he was first with a 4% in-zone miss rate and he was also first with an 8.8% chase rate. Part of that could simply be the fact that Bradfield Jr. is advanced enough to spit on the many balls that are thrown in the lower levels of the minors, and his 29% overall swing rate was not only first among 2023 draftees in this sample, but quite a bit lower than the lowest rate that qualified big leaguers post over a full season. Juan Soto is the leader in passivity in 2023, and his 35.8% swing rate is quite a bit higher than Bradfield Jr.’s in this admittedly small sample.

Bradfield Jr. will have questions moving forward in regards to impact, and potentially with his low launch angle—he hit two-thirds of his batted balls on the ground in his pro debut—but I wondered before the draft whether his outlier toolset would allow him to buck normal launch angle trends and allow a speed-oriented game to play, thanks in part to a no-doubt center field profile lowering the offensive barrier for entry. 

Bryce Eldridge, 1B/RHP, Giants
Age: 18
Highest Level: Low-A

Eldridge was the top-ranked two-way player in the 2023 draft class—after Paul Skenes put down the bat during his season with Louisiana State—and the Giants selected him as a two-way player with the 16th overall pick. Eldridge only hit in his debut, and while pitching seems to be on the table for the 2024 season, he might have shown that he’s a top-100 caliber prospect without trying for a Shohei Ohtani impersonation.

Eldridge played in the Arizona Complex League and Low-A California League, where in 31 games between the two levels he hit .294/.400/.505 with six home runs, five doubles, a 15.4% walk rate and a 26.2% strikeout rate.

While the numbers are solid, it’s the exit velocity data that jumps out for the 6-foot-7 lefthanded slugger. His ability to hit the ball hard consistently puts him in the company of players three years his senior, who have had more time to develop physically. Among 2023 draftees with at least 50 plate appearances, Eldridge is tied for fourth along with Dodgers fifth round first baseman Joe Vetrano with a 92.4 mph average exit velocity. The players ahead include No. 2 overall pick Dylan Crews (93.3), Mariners 19th rounder Charlie Pagliarini (92.6) and White Sox 7th rounder George Wolkow (92.5).

In terms of 90th-percentile exit velocity—which might be a more predictive stat—Eldridge ranked fifth at 107.1 mph and was behind a group of 21+ year old collegians including Marlins 4th rounder Kemp Alderman (109.2), Royals 7th rounder Trevor Werner (107.7), Cardinals 13th rounder William Sullivan (107.6) and Astros 4th rounder Cam Fisher (107.5).

Eldridge does swing and miss a bit. We cited that tendency in his draft report prior to pro ball and he missed at a 30% clip in his pro debut. Given his long levers, that could remain an aspect of his game, but his tremendous raw power and savvy batting eye (he chased out of the zone just 18.8% of the time) should allow him to be an impactful hitter even with a few strikeouts. A Matt Olson comp could be aggressive considering he just led the majors in home runs, but I don’t think it’s entirely crazy. 

Colt Emerson, SS, Mariners
Age: 17
Highest Level: Low-A

Most statistical leaders among 2023 draftee debuts are, unsurprisingly, older college players. The jump to pro ball isn’t quite so high when you’re coming out of college and you’re age appropriate or older than your competition. That’s why Emerson’s pro debut is so impressive.

He was already one of the youngest players in the 2023 draft class and was 17 years old on draft day. His 2023 debut season counts as his “age-17” pro season despite the fact that he turned 18 on July 20. Emerson was 2.8 years younger than the average hitter in the Arizona Complex League and 4.1 years younger than the average hitter in the California League. Between both levels he hit .374/.496/.550 with two home runs, 10 doubles, eight stolen bases, a 14.9% walk rate and a 17.9% strikeout rate. 

Among all draftees with at least 50 plate appearances Emerson was the leader in on-base percentage, and his .496 mark topped college luminaries like Red Sox first baseman Kyle Teel (.482), Rays third rounder Tre’ Morgan (.482), Rangers first rounder Wyatt Langford (.480) and Orioles first rounder Enrique Bradfield (.473). 

Emerson’s keen batting eye was a standout trait on his scouting report prior to the draft, so perhaps his impressive walk rate and on-base skills shouldn’t be too surprising, but his overall production and impact was louder than expected. He was third among 50+ plate appearance hitters with a .402 xwOBA (behind Langford and Twins sixth rounder Jay Harry) and his 104.9-mph 90th-percentile exit velocity was among the best marks of any prep hitter.

If he can retain that sort of impact with his sound contact and vision, he’s looking like one of the more well-rounded profiles of the class—his defensive profile is among the top three on this list, alongside Bradfield Jr. and Dillon Head, and he’s the only player with a decent chance to stick at shortstop of the group. 

Trevor Werner, 3B, Royals
Age: 22
Highest Level: Low-A

Unlike Emerson, Werner comes into pro ball with age as a mark against him rather than for him. A four-year collegian who came out of Texas A&M, Werner was more productive in two stints with Brewster in the Cape Cod League than he ever was in the SEC. He followed that up with a strong debut between rookie ball and Low-A, where he was old for the level but slashed .352/.450/.703 with nine home runs and 12 doubles. Maybe he prefers to swing wood?

While it’s easier to critique a player who’s old for the level when it comes to the counting stats, there’s a decent amount to like under the hood as well. 

His overall contact was solid, with a 24.5% miss rate, he missed in-zone at an 18% clip and he also stayed within the zone reasonably well with a 24% chase rate. Among players who missed less than 25% of the time, missed in-zone less than 20% of the time and chased less than 25% of the time, Werner led all hitters in 90th percentile exit velocity. 

There’s reason to be skeptical of Werner’s contact ability as he advances to more age-appropriate levels—his career strikeout rate was 26.1% in college and he has had issues against secondaries—but this is a solid debut for a seventh rounder who signed for $350,000 and ranked towards the very end of the BA 500 at No. 473 overall.

Mike Boeve, 2B/3B, Brewers
Age: 21
Highest Level: High-A

Boeve was regarded for his advanced hit tool coming out of the draft, and he performed well in both rookie ball and High-A in his pro debut. Between both levels in 28 games, he hit .324/.400/.529 with five home runs—which was just three shy of his career high in college, which also came in double the games played.

Despite a 20% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate, Boeve graded out extremely well in terms of his miss rate, in-zone contact rate and chase rates. It would not be surprising to see him maintain or even cut his strikeout rate in a year (his collegiate strikeout rate across three seasons was just 9.6%) 

Dillon Head, OF, Padres
Age: 18
Highest Level: Low-A

The Padres targeted a number of premium defensive profiles early in the 2023 draft, but unsurprisingly as the 25th overall pick in the draft, Head can swing it a little bit as well. We gave him a 55-grade hit tool projection and a 40-grade power projection in our pre-draft scouting report and he performed well between rookie ball and Low-A, but his overall line might be deceiving. 

Head slashed .267/.363/.400 in 27 games, with one home run, three triples, five doubles, a 12.1% walk rate and a 15.3% strikeout rate. Head graded out well in terms of his miss (17.7%) and chase (21.6%) rates and he was superb making contact within the strike zone (7.6% in-zone miss). He also managed surprisingly loud top-end exit velocity numbers. 

At the same time, he hit the ball on the ground well over 50% of the time across both levels and put up a 29.4% infield fly ball rate that should regress over a full season’s worth of at-bats. Head will need to layer on a bit of strength to get to his power more consistently, and he might need to optimize his batted ball angles, but there’s a solid foundation of hitting skills here to go along with double-plus speed and a chance for plus defense in center field. 

Brian Kalmer, 1B, Cubs
Age: 22
Highest Level: Low-A

Like Trevor Werner, Kalmer just played his age-22 season in his pro debut and so perhaps we should be skeptical of his numbers considering the fact that he only played in rookie ball and Low-A. Still, Kalmer is the only player on this list who wasn’t taken on one of the first two days of the draft, and as an 18th rounder who signed for just $50,000, he’s worth mentioning. 

If you read the capsule above on Wyatt Langford, you’ll know that Kalmer tied the No. 4 overall pick for the most home runs of any draftee with 10. In 25 games he slashed .357/.426/.667 with a 10.1% walk rate and a 10.1% strikeout rate. 

Kalmer showed a tendency to get aggressive in his swing decisions in college, and he also was viewed as having below-average pure contact ability, though he looked fine in both those areas in a limited pro debut against younger competition. Where he seems to excel is by hitting the ball to all fields and creating elite angles off the bat to maximize his power production. With Low-A Myrtle Beach (where 32 of his 35 games were played), Kalmer hit balls equally to all fields while hitting fly balls at a 47.3% rate. 

That allowed him to post a HR/FB rate of 22.7% which was the 7th best mark of hitters in the Carolina League with 100 or more plate appearances—all while hitting in a park that’s extremely tough on home runs. Kalmer’s top end exit velocity numbers aren’t anything to write home about for someone his age, but perhaps he’s the sort of hitter who can maximize the raw power he has.

Aidan Miller, SS, Phillies
Age: 19
Highest Level: Low-A

Perhaps there were other players to fill this final spot who had louder numbers, but for a player who didn’t play much at all this spring Miller’s pro debut was encouraging. After developing a reputation as one of the best overall hit/power bats in the high school class, Miller dealt with a hamate injury that perhaps allowed him to slide from the middle of the first round to the back of it—that could also be blamed on the incredibly strong and deep crop of 2023 college hitters.

Miller annihilated the competition in rookie ball, where he hit .414/.528/.483 in 10 games before cooling off a bit with Low-A Clearwater where he hit .216/.341/.297 across 10 games. Altogether he slashed .303/.425/.379 with one triple, three doubles, a 15% walk rate and an 18.8% strikeout rate. 

While Miller didn’t homer in his pro debut, I’m not at all concerned about his lack of power or sub-1.00 ISO marks at both levels. He has double-plus bat speed, advanced physicality and above-average or plus raw power that I expect to start showing up in games shortly.

His contact and batting eye was perhaps most impressive with his debut. He was one of just six 2023 draftees with at least 50 plate appearances who checked all of the following boxes: a miss rate less than 20%, an in-zone whiff rate less than 15% and a chase rate less than 15%. The group also includes Bradfield Jr., Tigers supplemental 1st rounder Kevin McGonigle, Orioles 3rd rounder Tavian Josenberger, Royals 5th rounder Spencer Nivens and Tigers 6th rounder Bennett Lee.

Of that group, Miller has far and away the most realistic power upside and he’s also currently playing shortstop. Scouts expect him to move off the position and perhaps settle in at third base, where he has the plus arm and internal clock to be a solid defender there, but he’s a hitter with the physical tools and skills that I would be optimistic about heading into his first full pro season. 

If he had played his entire spring season, I think he’d be getting a lot more attention right now. Perhaps his pro debut is the first step in that direction. 

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