2023 High-A Minor League Prospects With The Best Scouting Tools


Image credit: Jackson Merrill (Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Best tools winners are voted on by league managers.

CategoryMidwest (HiA)Northwest (HiA)South Atlantic (HiA)
Best Batting ProspectJackson MerrillSterlin ThompsonJackson Holliday
Fort Wayne (Padres)Spokane (Rockies)Aberdeen (Orioles)
Best Power ProspectNathan MartorellaYanquiel FernandezAbimelec Ortiz
Fort Wayne (Padres)Spokane (Rockies)Hickory (Rangers)
Best Strike-Zone JudgmentJakob MarseeHarry FordJackson Holliday
Fort Wayne (Padres)Everett (Mariners)Aberdeen (Orioles)
Best BaserunnerVictor ScottJoe StewartJacob Melton
Peoria (Cardinals)Tri-City (Angels)Asheville (Astros)
Fastest BaserunnerVictor ScottJonatan ClaseLuis Valdez
Peoria (Cardinals)Everett (Mariners)Aberdeen (Orioles)
Best Pitching ProspectJacob MisiorowskiYu-Min LinChase Hampton
Wisconsin (Brewers)Hillsboro (D-backs)Hudson Valley (Yankees)
Best FastballZach MaxwellYilber DiazBubba Chandler
Dayton (Reds)Hillsboro (D-backs)Greensboro (Pirates)
Best Breaking PitchJackson JobeYu-Min LinOrion Kerkering
West Michigan (Tigers)Hillsboro (D-backs)Jersey Shore (Phillies)
Best ChangeupJulian AguiarCarson WhisenhuntDrew Thorpe
Dayton (Reds)Eugene (Giants)Hudson Valley (Yankees)
Best ControlTrent BakerYu-Min LinDrew Thorpe
Peoria (Cardinals)Hillsboro (D-backs)Hudson Valley (Yankees)
Best RelieverJake PilarskiAngel ChivilliOrion Kerkering
Great Lakes (Dodgers)Spokane (Rockies)Jersey Shore (Phillies)
Best Defensive CMat NelsonAdrian SugasteySilas Ardoin
Dayton (Reds)Eugene (Giants)Aberdeen (Orioles)
Best Defensive 1BRuben IbarraTyler LocklearRixon Wingrove
Dayton (Reds)Everett (Mariners)Jersey Shore (Phillies)
Best Defensive 2BJace JungNic KentTsung-Che Cheng
West Michigan (Tigers)Spokane (Rockies)Greensboro (Pirates)
Best Defensive 3BDayan FriasBen RamirezJunior Caminero
Lake County (Guardians)Everett (Mariners)Bowling Green (Rays)
Best Defensive SSEdwin ArroyoAeverson ArteagaMarcelo Mayer
Dayton (Reds)Eugene (Giants)Greenville (Red Sox)
Best Infield ArmYiddi CappeArol VeraCarson Williams
Beloit (Marlins)Tri-City (Angels)Bowling Green (Rays)
Best Defensive OFKevin AlcantaraGrant McCrayJames Wood
South Bend (Cubs)Eugene (Giants)Wilmington (Nationals)
Best OF ArmEmmanuel RodriguezYanquiel FernandezStanley Consuegra
Cedar Rapids (Twins)Spokane (Rockies)Brooklyn (Mets)
Most Exciting PlayerJackson MerrillYanquiel FernandezJackson Holliday
Fort Wayne (Padres)Spokane (Rockies)Aberdeen (Orioles)
Best Manager ProspectDaniel NavaBrent LavalleeGreg 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.

—Geoff Pontes

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.

—Kyle Glaser

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.

—Josh Norris

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.

—Matt Eddy

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.

Maxwell   Diaz

    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

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