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2022 Triple-A Minor League Prospects With The Best Scouting Tools



Best tools winners are voted on by league managers.

CategoryInternational Pacific Coast 
Best Batting ProspectGunnar HendersonMiguel Vargas
Norfolk (Orioles)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best Power ProspectVinnie PasquantinoStone Garrett
Omaha (Royals)Reno (D-backs)
Best Strike-Zone JudgmentGabriel MorenoDavid Hensley
Buffalo (Blue Jays)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best BaserunnerSamad TaylorBubba Thompson
Buffalo (Blue Jays)Round Rock (Rangers)
Fastest BaserunnerSamad TaylorBubba Thompson
Buffalo (Blue Jays)Round Rock (Rangers)
Best Pitching ProspectBrayan BelloHunter Brown
Worcester (Red Sox)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best FastballGraham AshcraftHunter Brown
Louisville (Reds)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best Breaking PitchMike BurrowsHunter Brown
Indianapolis (Pirates)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best ChangeupBrayan BelloRyan Pepiot
Worcester (Red Sox)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best ControlEaston McGeeCollin Wiles
Durham (Rays)Las Vegas (Athletics)
Best RelieverGreg WeissertEnoli Paredes
Scranton/WB (Yankees)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best Defensive CGabriel MorenoKorey Lee
Buffalo (Blue Jays)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best Defensive 1BTriston CasasRyan Noda
Worcester (Red Sox)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best Defensive 2BOswaldo CabreraEguy Rosario
Scranton/WB (Yankees)El Paso (Padres)
Best Defensive 3BGunnar HendersonMiguel Vargas
Norfolk (Orioles)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best Defensive SSGabriel Arias Nick Allen
Columbus (Guardians)Las Vegas (Athletics)
Best Infield ArmOneil CruzElehuris Montero
Indianapolis (Pirates)Albuquerque (Rockies)
Best Defensive OFEstevan FlorialAlek Thomas
Scranton/WB (Yankees)Reno (D-backs)
Best OF ArmKyle StowersPedro Leon
Norfolk (Orioles)Sugar Land (Astros)
Most Exciting PlayerGunnar HendersonBubba Thompson
Norfolk (Orioles)Round Rock (Rangers)
Best Manager ProspectMatt TuiasosopoGil Velazquez
Gwinnett (Braves)Reno (D-backs)

HENDERSON IS THE REAL DEAL

The ability to control the strike zone goes beyond just identifying balls from strikes. It’s also the ability to identify the right pitches to hit, and few prospects do that as well as Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson. This season, the 21-year-old has hit for contact and power across Double-A and Triple-A, while exhibiting an outstanding overall approach.

Henderson’s ability to avoid chase swings is notable. He swings at pitches outside the zone just 18% of the time. To put this in perspective, no qualified MLB hitter owns a chase rate lower than 20%. Henderson’s discerning eye translates to high walk rates and a higher probability that the pitches he’s swinging at are hittable strikes. The results make this apparent, because Henderson has consistently gotten to his power.

Not only has Henderson produced high extra-base hit totals in 2022, but his exit velocity data places him among the best power hitters in the game. This season, just 24 MLB hitters have a max exit velocity of 115 mph or higher. Henderson’s max exit velocity this season is 115.8 mph, which would rank among the 20 hardest-hit balls in MLB this season. This isn’t an isolated incident for Henderson: He has recorded more than 90 batted balls at 100 mph or harder.

—Geoff Pontes

BROWN EMBODIES THE MODERN PITCHER 

Few pitching characteristics define the modern era of baseball quite like fastball velocity. Pitchers continue to throw harder at all levels each year, and MLB organizations have put increased emphasis on training it in the minor leagues.

Astros 23-year-old righthander  Hunter Brown is among the hardest throwers in the minors. He mixes four pitches, with his fastball and slider standing out for their elite velocity.

Brown’s four-seam fastball sits 96 mph and has touched 100. He generates average spin on his fastball, but his velocity allows the average ride on his fastball to play up, making it difficult for hitters to time. Of starters who have thrown 800 or more fastballs in the minors this season, Brown is the only one to average 96 mph or better.

Brown’s slider is equally unique. He’s the only minor league pitcher to average 90 mph or higher on his slider with a sample of at least 300 pitches. His slider moves like a cutter and drives a higher rate of chase swings. He also throws a low-80s curveball and a firm changeup.

With two pitches that boast 99th percentile velocity, Brown embodies the modern pitcher and is one of the best pitching prospects in the upper levels.

—Geoff Pontes 

NEW APPROACH HELPS THOMPSON'S TOOLS SHINE 

Bubba Thompson has long had premium athleticism. What the Rangers outfielder didn’t do was make contact or get on base.

Thompson entered this season a career .259 hitter with a 27% strikeout rate in the minors. He compounded that with a low walk rate, a product of his overly aggressive approach and penchant for expanding the strike zone. The Rangers opted not to add him to their 40-man roster after last season, leaving him exposed for selection in the major league Rule 5 draft, which was eventually canceled due to the lockout.

Just when it looked like the club had given up on its 2017 first-round pick, Thompson rebounded with his best season. The 24-year-old center fielder hit .304/.355/.474 with 13 home runs and 49 stolen bases in 80 games for Triple-A Round Rock and earned his first big league callup in August.

Pacific Coast League managers voted Thompson the PCL’s Fastest Baserunner, Best Baserunner and Most Exciting Player in Best Tools balloting, a remarkable turnaround for a player left unprotected just 10 months ago.

“The main thing is staying on the field,” said Thompson, who missed most of 2019 due to injuries and lost the 2020 season because of the pandemic. “Staying healthy and getting reps and getting experience on the field and using my athleticism anywhere I can.”

While it must be noted Thompson’s breakout came in the hitter-friendly PCL, his home stadium, Dell Diamond, is a neutral park where the number of runs scored and batting average on balls in play are below the PCL average.

The greatest maturation came in his approach over the course of the year. In his first 40 games with Round Rock, Thompson had 54 strikeouts and just three walks. In his final 40 games, he had 41 strikeouts and 19 walks.

“He was just overly aggressive,” Round Rock manager Matt Hagen said. “Some days he would chase fastballs up. Other days he expand in, away, down. We just tried to really get him to focus on one lane at a time and eliminate the other lanes. Keeping his focus in that lane seemed to really narrow his vision.

“And then 40 games or so into the season we saw an uptick in his walks and a downtick in his chase out of the zone. A guy that can run like that and is that athletic, every walk was a double or triple for him.”

Indeed, getting on base at the highest clip of his career allowed Thompson’s athleticism to finally play. He stole his 49 bases in only 52 attempts.

It was more than just Thompson’s baserunning that made him exciting. At Round Rock Thompson had 16 bunt singles to go with his 13 home runs, showcasing his ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. Add in a hard-nosed, all-out style of play in center field that led to numerous highlight-reel catches, and there were few players who could match Thompson’s all-around ability in the PCL this year.

As a result, he’s now in the major leagues starting in the Rangers outfield, a far cry from where he was last winter when the Rangers left him off their 40-man roster entirely.

“It’s a blessing man,” Thompson said. “A lot of hard work and it meant a lot. It's pretty cool to be up here with some of the best.”

—Kyle Glaser

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT—Oneil Cruz

Unicorn.

That was a recurring descriptor for 23-year-old Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz and his unique set of skills heading into the 2022 season.

Few players are capable of hitting the ball harder than Cruz, running faster than Cruz or throwing a ball across the infield faster than Cruz.

At 6-foot-7, he is the only player in MLB history that tall to appear in even five games at shortstop.

Like we said: unicorn.

In a brief two-game callup to Pittsburgh at the end of 2021, Cruz launched a home run at 118 mph off the bat, an exit velocity in the top 1% of all MLB hitters. 

This season, Cruz’s max exit velocity in MLB ranked in the 99th percentile, and his Statcast sprint speed ranked seventh. As much raw power and speed as Cruz possesses, it’s actually his throwing arm that captures observers’ attention.

Cruz won the Best Infield Arm category in the International League this year while also placing second in the National League—despite not being called up to the Pirates until June 20 and having about 25 big league games under his belt at the time Best Tools ballots were submitted.

Cruz has faced a steep learning curve against MLB pitchers, but his rare ability should win out over time.

PROSPECT SHOWDOWN—Hunter Brown VS. Ryan Pepiot

Astros righthander Hunter Brown and Dodgers righthander Ryan Pepiot have showed premium stuff throughout the minors, but they lacked the control and consistency to dominate. The result was excellent outings interspersed with disastrous ones and long-held questions about if either would live up to their full potential.

The 2022 season marked a change in the right direction for both.

Brown improved at maintaining his delivery and saw an uptick in his command as a result, leading to a career-best 2.49 ERA through 21 appearances for Sugar Land. Pacific Coast League managers unanimously voted him the league’s best pitching prospect and also voted him as having the best fastball and best breaking pitch.

Pepiot reined in his fastball command, improved his slider and went 8-0, 2.27 through 15 appearances for Oklahoma City. He won best changeup and earned his first big league callup. Both are now top 10-15 pitching prospects in the game. 

A pitch-by-pitch evaluation of Brown versus Pepiot with scouting grades on the 20-80 scale.

Hunter Brown, RHP, AstrosPitchRyan Pepiot, RHP, Dodgers
70Fastball60
60CurveballN/A
60Slider55
40Changeup70
40Control45

FLASHBACK

Trea Turner, SS
2016, International League

Category wins: Best Batting Prospect, Best Baserunner, Fastest Baserunner, Most Exciting Player

In his final minor league tune-up, Turner hit .302/.370/.471 in 83 games for Syracuse of the Nationals system, stealing 25 bases in 27 tries. He kept hitting in MLB that season and placed second in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Ryan Pepiot Photo By Abbie Parr Getty Images

2022 Triple-A All-Stars

Baseball America selects a Triple-A all-star team of International and Pacific Coast league players.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers

“He does everything you could ask for as a hitter. He has outstanding feel for the barrel, outstanding zone control, there’s power. He’s going to be an above-average everyday player just for his bat alone.

“Power, hittability, approach, how he conducted himself in an at-bat, I was a big fan. Ability to adjust to secondaries, handles the fastball well, it’s all there.” 

—Anonymous pro scout

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