Image credit: Jackson Merrill (Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
Best tools winners are voted on by league managers.
|Category||Midwest (HiA)||Northwest (HiA)||South Atlantic (HiA)|
|Best Batting Prospect||Jackson Merrill||Sterlin Thompson||Jackson Holliday|
|Fort Wayne (Padres)||Spokane (Rockies)||Aberdeen (Orioles)|
|Best Power Prospect||Nathan Martorella||Yanquiel Fernandez||Abimelec Ortiz|
|Fort Wayne (Padres)||Spokane (Rockies)||Hickory (Rangers)|
|Best Strike-Zone Judgment||Jakob Marsee||Harry Ford||Jackson Holliday|
|Fort Wayne (Padres)||Everett (Mariners)||Aberdeen (Orioles)|
|Best Baserunner||Victor Scott||Joe Stewart||Jacob Melton|
|Peoria (Cardinals)||Tri-City (Angels)||Asheville (Astros)|
|Fastest Baserunner||Victor Scott||Jonatan Clase||Luis Valdez|
|Peoria (Cardinals)||Everett (Mariners)||Aberdeen (Orioles)|
|Best Pitching Prospect||Jacob Misiorowski||Yu-Min Lin||Chase Hampton|
|Wisconsin (Brewers)||Hillsboro (D-backs)||Hudson Valley (Yankees)|
|Best Fastball||Zach Maxwell||Yilber Diaz||Bubba Chandler|
|Dayton (Reds)||Hillsboro (D-backs)||Greensboro (Pirates)|
|Best Breaking Pitch||Jackson Jobe||Yu-Min Lin||Orion Kerkering|
|West Michigan (Tigers)||Hillsboro (D-backs)||Jersey Shore (Phillies)|
|Best Changeup||Julian Aguiar||Carson Whisenhunt||Drew Thorpe|
|Dayton (Reds)||Eugene (Giants)||Hudson Valley (Yankees)|
|Best Control||Trent Baker||Yu-Min Lin||Drew Thorpe|
|Peoria (Cardinals)||Hillsboro (D-backs)||Hudson Valley (Yankees)|
|Best Reliever||Jake Pilarski||Angel Chivilli||Orion Kerkering|
|Great Lakes (Dodgers)||Spokane (Rockies)||Jersey Shore (Phillies)|
|Best Defensive C||Mat Nelson||Adrian Sugastey||Silas Ardoin|
|Dayton (Reds)||Eugene (Giants)||Aberdeen (Orioles)|
|Best Defensive 1B||Ruben Ibarra||Tyler Locklear||Rixon Wingrove|
|Dayton (Reds)||Everett (Mariners)||Jersey Shore (Phillies)|
|Best Defensive 2B||Jace Jung||Nic Kent||Tsung-Che Cheng|
|West Michigan (Tigers)||Spokane (Rockies)||Greensboro (Pirates)|
|Best Defensive 3B||Dayan Frias||Ben Ramirez||Junior Caminero|
|Lake County (Guardians)||Everett (Mariners)||Bowling Green (Rays)|
|Best Defensive SS||Edwin Arroyo||Aeverson Arteaga||Marcelo Mayer|
|Dayton (Reds)||Eugene (Giants)||Greenville (Red Sox)|
|Best Infield Arm||Yiddi Cappe||Arol Vera||Carson Williams|
|Beloit (Marlins)||Tri-City (Angels)||Bowling Green (Rays)|
|Best Defensive OF||Kevin Alcantara||Grant McCray||James Wood|
|South Bend (Cubs)||Eugene (Giants)||Wilmington (Nationals)|
|Best OF Arm||Emmanuel Rodriguez||Yanquiel Fernandez||Stanley Consuegra|
|Cedar Rapids (Twins)||Spokane (Rockies)||Brooklyn (Mets)|
|Most Exciting Player||Jackson Merrill||Yanquiel Fernandez||Jackson Holliday|
|Fort Wayne (Padres)||Spokane (Rockies)||Aberdeen (Orioles)|
|Best Manager Prospect||Daniel Nava||Brent Lavallee||Greg Brodzinski|
|Great Lakes (Dodgers)||Vancouver (Blue Jays)||Jersey Shore (Phillies)|
Holliday Takes Flight
Jackson Holliday began the season at Low-A Delmarva. He began the second half of the season at Double-A Bowie.
In the process, the 19-year-old Orioles shortstop became one of the major storylines of the 2023 minor league season.
Holliday won Best Tools categories in the High-A South Atlantic and Double-A Eastern leagues, including Best Batting Prospect and Most Exciting Player in both.
What makes Holliday stand out is his ability to hit for a high batting average and reach base at a high clip. His plate skills are plus-plus, and he shows innate bat-to-ball skills and the ability to hit a variety of pitches.
Holliday’s contact skills proved too much for pitchers in the lower minors. He hit .331/.466/.523 in 71 games at two Class A stops. He then handled Double-A pitchers with similar mastery.
The Orioles chose Holliday, the 2022 High School Player of the Year, with the first overall pick last year. His ability to adjust his barrel to take a variety of swings on the ball gives him the look of a contact-only hitter, but his power swing is capable of unleashing the occasional towering shot.
Holliday’s plate discipline is exceptional and likely the best of his many above-average to plus tools. He discerns balls and strikes as well as any player in the minors despite being a teenager.
His ability to get on base in a variety of ways and then steal bases earned him Most Exciting Player votes across multiple leagues.
Holliday stands as the top prospect in baseball and is a polished gem who may grow into more power as his body matures. He is a potential superstar in the making with bloodlines—father Matt was an MLB all-star; brother Ethan is one of the top draft prospects for 2025—to one of the game’s great baseball families.
Merrill Recovers From Slow Start To Shine
Jackson Merrill’s season got off to an inauspicious start in the Midwest League when he was sidelined by the flu and then again by a stomach bug shortly after. The 1-2 punch of illnesses sapped the Padres shortstop’s strength and energy so much that he struggled to get through games and even caused him to be pulled mid-game due to fatigue and nausea.
Once Merrill finally got healthy, the 20-year-old showed the extraordinary hitting talents that have come to define him. He hit .177 in April as he battled his illnesses and .309/.339/.475 the rest of the way at High-A Fort Wayne before being promoted to Double-A San Antonio.
Merrill hit lefties as well as righties, struck out just 12.3% of the time—the fifth-lowest rate in the MWL among batters who batted at least 300 times—and earned raves from coaches and evaluators alike for his mature demeanor and smooth, balanced lefthanded swing.
“He’s pretty damn good,” one American League pro scout said. “Very controlled, mellow presence. He has a smoothness to the game. He makes it look easy and hits the ball hard.”
Merrill’s bat alone makes him an excellent prospect, but that same smoothness and ease translates to his defense at shortstop. His steady glove, efficient movements and advanced instincts will give him every opportunity to remain at the position. If it all comes together, he has a chance to be the rare everyday shortstop who has a chance to compete for batting titles.
Small Changes Unlock Big Power For Ortiz
Abimelec Ortiz is one of a handful of nondrafted free agents who are already paying big dividends for the Rangers.
The physical, 6-foot first baseman signed out of Florida Southwestern State JC in 2021 and led the Dominican Summer League in home runs (11) and slugging percentage (.581) in his first professional season.
He equaled that home run total a year later with Low-A Down East, but he played in 53 additional games, making his power in the DSL look like a complex league mirage.
Between 2022 and 2023, however, things changed.
Most importantly, the 21-year-old Puerto Rico native was fitted for corrective lenses to improve his vision. He also cut down on his pre-pitch movement and exchanged a leg kick for a toe-tap. The results were striking.
Through Aug. 23 Ortiz was tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 23 home runs for Hickory—or one more than his total in the previous two seasons combined. That earned him the nod as Best Power Prospect in the SAL.
That total, plus the eight he hit in a return to Low-A to begin the year, gave him 30 homers, placing him four off the minor league lead and one off the lead among players without time in Triple-A, which began a week earlier than the other three full-season levels.
Scouts who saw Ortiz noted that the quality of his contact was much improved.
The lefthanded hitter is still vulnerable to elevated velocity, which contributed to his 29% strikeout rate, but a few changes have helped make him into one of Texas’ top power brokers.
Player Spotlight: Yanquiel Fernandez
Yanquiel Fernandez has some of the most exciting raw power in the minor leagues.
The 20-year-old Cuban showed out in the Northwest League this spring, hitting .319/.355/.605 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs in 58 games. That earned him a quick promotion to Double-A Hartford.
Few players hit the ball as hard as often as Fernandez, who showed a near 91 mph average exit velocity in the Northwest Leauge, with max readings to match.
That helped make him one of the rare players to win Most Exciting Player based mostly on his power production—and also arm strength.
Most Exciting Player category winners typically combine plus offensive attributes with speed and defensive value.
But the 6-foot, 198-pound Fernandez is a below-average runner and below-average defender in right field whose lefthanded bat will have to carry him to major league relevancy.
Fernandez likes to swing the bat and has a tendency to chase out of the zone. If he can become more selectively aggressive, he has the potential to become an above-average hitter with at least plus power.
That would make him one of the more exciting hitters in MLB.
Prospect Showdown: Zach Maxwell vs. Yilber Diaz
Two of the best fastballs in High-A belong to fireballing righthanders with very different body types in different roles. The Reds’ Zach Maxwell is a 6-foot-6, 275-pound behemoth who has worked as a reliever since he was at Georgia Tech. The D-backs’ Yilber Diaz is an undersized starter, so opponents get more looks at his fastball.
Each generates mid-to-high-90s velocity with above-average to plus ride. Maxwell’s fastball sits 96-97 mph with 19-20 inches of induced vertical break, generating whiffs at an elite rate. Diaz’s fastball doesn’t generate as much ride and it’s a few miles per hour slower but does have a flatter approach angle and more unique release characteristics than Maxwell’s.
70 FB 60
45 CB 45
55 SL 50
— CHG —
40 CTL 40
What They’re Saying: Yu-Min Lin, LHP, D-backs
“He was delayed in his buildup out of spring training but has come out and looked great. The command, arsenal—he’s got like eight pitches. As he gets stronger and continues to develop, he could be special. His fastball is 90-92 (mph). You’ll see a 93. Changeup is his best pitch. Can manipulate and do different things with it.”
—D-backs farm director Josh Barfield