2023 MLB Draft Stock Watch: First Round To-Do Lists

Image credit: Ole Miss SS Jacob Gonzalez (Photo courtesy of Ole Miss)

*Edited to correct ranking order.

Welcome to the first Draft Stock Watch for the 2023 season! 

In this recurring feature, we’ll explore the draft class, note prospects who are rising up boards and falling throughout the year, explore players more in-depth and generally dig into various themes of the draft.

First up, our annual First Round To-Do List. In this exercise, we take a look at the top 30 prospects on our draft rankings and attempt to identify specific weaknesses or potential areas of growth that could either boost or solidify a player’s draft stock. 

Two notable risers from the 2022 exercise included Cam Collier and Kevin Parada. We wrote that Collier, who ranked No. 24 at the time, could improve his consistency as a defender at third base and perform well against junior college competition to move up boards. He did both, finished as the No. 7-ranked prospect in the class and signed the 10th-largest bonus in the first round with the Reds. We wrote that Parada, who ranked No. 14 at the time, could show more power and improve defensively across the board. While defensive reviews remained mixed, he exploded for 26 home runs, finished as the No. 6-ranked prospect and signed the ninth-largest bonus in the first round with the Mets.

Two notable fallers from the 2022 exercise were Robert Moore and Logan Tanner. Of Moore, who ranked No. 11 at the time, we cited improving arm strength and hitting for more average as areas to address. He went from a .283 average in 2021 to a .232 clip in 2022, fell to No. 97 on the draft board and eventually signed for $800,000 in the second supplemental round with the Brewers. We also wrote that Tanner, who ranked No. 17 at the time, could hit for more average, like Moore, on top of cutting down his swing-and-miss against sliders. He maintained a roughly 30% miss rate on sliders in 2022, hit for the same average (while losing power) and eventually fell to No. 68 on the draft board. The Reds signed him for just over $1 million in the second round.

It’s notable that the four players mentioned are all college prospects. Given the level of competition, college players typically have a longer lever to move their draft stock in the spring, both positively and negatively, depending on their performance.

That should make the 2023 draft class even more fascinating, as it’s a college-heavy group with 21 of the current top 30 prospects hailing from a four-year program. 

So, let’s dive into this year’s group and see what our current first-round talents need to do to either solidify or bolster their draft stock.

30. Marcus Brown, SS, Oklahoma State

Areas to improve: Add strength and impact, cut down chase vs. spin

Brown has stood out as one of the better defensive shortstops in a college class deep at the position. However, like many college infielders on this list, Brown could enhance his profile by adding more strength and impact in 2023. He hit just four home runs with Oklahoma State in 2022. A strong offensive year will be important for Brown regardless, since he struggled to hit in the Cape Cod League, but specifically improving his chase rates and miss rates vs. breaking balls is an area to watch for.

29. Cole Carrigg, SS/OF, San Diego State 

Areas to improve: Impact and power, establish defensive profile

Carrig has done a lot of different things on the baseball field, playing every position on the diamond outside of first base. That versatility is surely an asset regardless, but if he shows he can be a legitimate, above-average everyday player at a premium position like shortstop or center field that could help his case. He’s shown solid line drive contact ability and zone control, but could improve his modest exit velocities and add more in-game power. In 91 games with San Diego State, Carrigg has hit just five home runs.

28. Roch Cholowsky, SS, Hamilton HS, Chandler, Ariz.

Areas to improve: Show more offensive impact

Cholowsky is among the most athletic high school players in the class. He’s a standout quarterback on the football field on top of being one of the smoothest defensive shortstops you’ll find this year. Offensively, he has shown solid contact ability, but could add more power. In 29 games logged with Synergy in 2022, Cholowsky had just four extra-base hits (all doubles) and in 153 games logged with Perfect Game throughout his travel ball career, Cholowsky has just one home run. Showing more strength and impact ability this spring would give him a profile with few holes to speak of.

27. Tanner Witt, RHP, Texas

Areas to improve: Log innings, prove starting profile if possible

If Witt had stayed healthy and started the entire 2022 season with Texas, we could be talking about a potential top-15 pick. However, that wasn’t the case, as Witt pitched in just two games before dealing with elbow tenderness that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. If Witt’s recovery allows him to pitch again for Texas this spring, logging as many innings as possible and solidifying his starter profile are two key areas of improvement. At present, Witt has started only two games in college (plus three more in the Cape Cod League) and thrown just 68 total innings. If he’s not able to pitch much for the Longhorns, taking advantage of the later draft date and showing pre-injury stuff in bullpen sessions could still help him earn an over-slot deal, a la Alabama lefthander Connor Prielipp in 2022.

26. Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest

Areas to improve: All-fields approach, contact vs. secondaries, third base defense

Wilken has some of the best raw power in the class and has more than taken advantage of that power in games, with 40 home runs in two seasons with Wake Forest. He could boost his profile by becoming a better pure hitter in 2023, and that includes using the opposite field with more frequency and also cutting down on his swing-and-miss against secondaries. Wilken hammers fastballs to the tune of a 1.126 OPS but against breaking balls and secondaries he has a .791 OPS. He chases a decent bit on those pitch types, at a 26% rate, and misses at a 34% rate. Shoring up that aspect of his offensive game would help, as would improving his third base defense so scouts aren’t assuming they are immediately getting a pro first baseman.

25. Blake Mitchell, C/RHP, Sinton (Texas) HS

Areas to improve: Bat-to-ball skills, add polish on the mound

The top catcher in the high school class, Mitchell has an enviable mix of arm strength, raw power and physicality. He’s also shown a solid idea of the strike zone with good swing decisions at times, but could improve his pure contact ability and bat-to-ball skills. In a 244-pitch sample with Synergy in 2022, Mitchell missed at a 35% rate, which is high for a high school hitter, and needs to find the barrel with more frequency in order to tap into his above-average raw power. He’s a legitimate pitching prospect as well thanks to his arm strength, and has been up to 96 mph with a solid curveball and nascent changeup that shows potential as well. Whether Mitchell is more of a thrower currently, or has simply been tired from being a two-way player at a difficult position is a real question—but if he adds more polish to his ability on the mound it wouldn’t be surprising for many scouts to prefer his long-term upside there.

24. Tommy Troy, 2B, Stanford

Areas to improve: Power and speed, establish defensive profile

Troy has excelled since his high school days, where he was seen as a steady player in all phases, but not one toolsy enough to sign out of a strong commitment to Stanford. As many scouts expected, Troy has continued to perform and elevated his draft stock in college. He’s performed at a high level in the Cape Cod League for multiple seasons, and also hit well in the Northwoods League as an 18-year-old in 2020 and has an overall line of .297/.359/.532 with Stanford—with 17 home runs and 21 doubles. If Troy were to develop more in-game power or show off better speed, he could add a potential carrying tool to an otherwise well-rounded profile. Similarly, he’s bounced around a number of positions in the field and might have a chance in 2023 to establish himself as a true shortstop, which would only help.

23. Travis Sykora, RHP, Round Rock (Texas) HS

Areas to improve: Fastball command, slider shape

Sykora is the hardest throwing pitcher in the prep class, with a fastball that’s already touched 101 mph and is routinely in the upper 90s blowing high school hitters away. He’s been able to succeed with fringy fastball command because of his velocity, though improving that fastball command would help his fastball project better against more advanced hitters. Additionally, Sykora could improve the shape of his hard, mid-80s slider. It’s a short-breaking pitch without elite spin rates or movement, and at times blends together with his splitter. Scouts haven’t put plus grades on the pitch yet, so showing an improved breaking ball this spring would enhance his profile.

22. Cade Kuehler, RHP, Campbell

Areas to improve: Overall control

Kuehler split time between the bullpen and the rotation as a freshman in 2021, then during the 2022 season served as Campbell’s Saturday starter behind supplemental first-rounder Thomas Harrington. While Kuehler has a deep pitch mix of impressive offerings, he also has one of the highest walk rates among the top college pitchers in the class. He’s walked 60 batters in 128 total innings with Campbell, a 10.7% walk rate. Cutting that rate against Big South hitters would make his diverse pitch mix and overall profile more appealing.

21. Kyle Teel, C, Virginia

Areas to improve: Receiving skills, performance vs. velocity 

A catcher has been selected in the first round in each of the last five drafts, and Teel is the best bet to continue that streak in what seems like a down catching crop overall. To sustain or boost his draft stock, Teel needs to significantly refine his receiving skills. He was praised for his athleticism and defensive versatility as a high school prospect, and has the natural tools you want behind the plate, but needs to improve his framing, receiving, blocking and the overall consistency of his defensive game. Offensively, his swing has some moving parts, but one key area for improvement could be production against velocity, as he’s hit just .237/.395/.390 against pitches 92-plus mph with Virginia. 

20. Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina

Areas to improve: Home run prevention, fastball life

Sanders has been a reliable starter for South Carolina in his two seasons, and posted a 3.47 ERA over 142.2 total innings. He has been a bit home run prone in that time, though, with 23 homer runs allowed—good for a 1.5 HR/9 rate. For context, the league average rate for MLB starters was 1.16 per nine. Most of those home runs have come against his fastball, which is not surprising, and Sanders might be able to improve the quality of his heater to get better results. Overall, opposing batters have hit .280/.370/.512 against the pitch and his 16% miss rate is far and away the worst of his arsenal. His secondaries are quite effective, but improving the fastball can’t hurt.

19. Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida

Areas to improve: Violence in delivery, fastball command, post in SEC

Waldrep has some of the most exciting pure arm speed and natural arm talent in the class, but that comes with some violence, effort and a head whack in his delivery that lead to questions about his role at the next level. Waldrep was a full-time reliever in 2021 with Southern Mississippi but made a strong transition to the starting rotation in 2022. Now he’ll get a chance to prove his starting chops with Florida in the SEC, where if he continues to post high strikeout numbers and show he can start at the next level, he’ll move up boards. Reducing the violence in his delivery and improving his fastball command should help with that. Waldrep threw his fastball for a strike 62% of the time with Southern Mississippi. If he can push that closer to the upper 60s it might be a good sign and help his entire arsenal play up. 

18. Yohandy Morales, 3B, Miami

Areas to improve: Pitch recognition, overall strike zone management

Morales has never lacked for tools, and at the plate he has a combination of athleticism, power, bat speed and leverage that has allowed him to provide plenty of impact for Miami in two years. He’s popped 29 home runs and 30 doubles for the Hurricanes, but that has also come with a 21% strikeout rate and what appears to be some pitch recognition issues. Morales chases out of the zone at a 26% rate, and frequently displays poor swings against secondaries that are significantly out of the zone. This leads to a streaky offensive profile. He looked lost at the plate for Team USA during trials, but then was the team’s best hitter in The Netherlands, where he hit .400 with eight strikeouts and no walks. Improving his pitch recognition, chasing less often and improving his overall zone management skills in 2023 should allow him to add more consistency to his offensive game and take advantage of his impressive natural tools.

17. Thomas White, LHP, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.

Areas to improve: Command and consistency, repeat delivery

White is built exactly like you would want to see a high school pitching prospect. He’s got a powerful and still-projectable 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame, he is lefthanded and he throws with a remarkably smooth, fluid delivery with little to no effort as he fires mid-90s fastballs past befuddled high school hitters. However, he showed lapses in command at times during the 2022 showcase circuit and could do a better job repeating a delivery that is built from longer levers and features a lengthy arm action in the back. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a long arm action—Guardians prospect Daniel Espino employs one and is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but it can raise questions about repeatability, command and consistency of a breaking ball—which are all areas White could shore up this spring to reclaim the top prep arm status.

16. Aidan Miller, 3B, Mitchell HS, New Port Richey, Fla.

Areas to improve: Mash vs. strong Florida pitching, leave no doubt about third base profile 

Most high school hitters don’t get the opportunity to prove their hit tools during their high school seasons—the competition they face is simply not up to par in most cases. So, the best way to give scouts confidence in your hitting ability is to 1) mash over the showcase circuit and 2) play in hotbed areas for talent in the spring. Miller already checked off the first box and has a lengthy track record as a performer with Team USA’s national teams, but he’ll also benefit from playing high-quality Florida competition where his performance will simply mean more to the industry. Defensively, Miller could also increase the confidence in his profile by leaving no doubt about his ability to play third base at the next level, with improved actions and lateral mobility.

15. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland

Areas to improve: Production vs. secondaries, solidify shortstop profile

Shaw hit .332 as a freshman with Maryland during the 2021 season while playing second and third base, as well as left field, then sacrificed some of his average in 2022 for a sizable jump in power production, while moving to the team’s everyday shortstop job. After the season he excelled in the Cape Cod League where he was named MVP and ranked as the top prospect on the circuit. The top prospect in the Cape is always a high draft target, but Shaw could boost his profile if he solidifies his shortstop profile. Currently the industry doesn’t view him as a lock for the position, so changing that perspective in 2023 will move him up boards, as could improved production against secondaries. Shaw has posted a 1.148 OPS with 20 of his 29 home runs against fastballs, and posted just a .690 OPS against secondary pitches.

14. Maui Ahuna, SS, Tennessee

Areas to improve: Handle SEC pitching, add strength

Ahuna was one of the most productive hitters in college baseball during his two seasons with Kansas in the Big 12 in 2021 and 2022. Overall he hit .357/.447/.532 and came four points shy of a .400 season during 2022. Now he’ll have the increased challenge of an SEC schedule after transferring to Tennessee and if he can maintain or find similar production in the conference scouts will feel plenty confident in his hit tool. Ahuna isn’t the most physical player at just 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, and he’s only hit nine total home runs in his college career, so coming out in 2023 with additional strength and impact will only increase his upside potential.

13. Noble Meyer, RHP, Jesuit HS, Portland, Ore.

Areas to improve: Refine third pitch

Meyer trended up throughout the 2022 showcase circuit and left the year as the top high school pitching prospect in the class thanks to an overpowering fastball/slider combination that could give him a pair of 70-grade pitches. Meyer also showed a mid-80s changeup, but his feel for the pitch and the overall quality of the offering was behind his heater and breaking ball, so refining that pitch—or a separate third pitch—to bolster his arsenal could continue to push him up draft boards and get him into the top-10 mix that’s currently filled with hitters and college arms.

12. Kevin McGonigle, SS, Monsignor Bonner HS, Drexel Hill, Penn.

Areas to improve: Secondary tools, solidify shortstop profile

If you wanted to make the case that McGonigle was the best pure hitter in the class it wouldn’t be a challenging one to make. The 5-foot-11 shortstop has an uncanny feel for the barrel and produced consistently against high-quality arms during the 2022 showcase circuit. However, like other undersized prep middle infielders in recent years, McGonigle’s supplemental tools are a bit lighter and questions about impact potential could have him more in the mid- to late-first round range, similar to players like Cole Young (No. 21), Mikey Romero (No. 24), Carson Tucker (No. 23) and Anthony Volpe (No. 30). Volpe’s rise in pro ball stems from added strength that led to increased power grades, so doing something similar pre-draft could help McGonigle, as could bolstering his shortstop reputation by either increasing his arm strength, range or both. 

11. Brayden Taylor, 3B, Texas Christian

Areas to improve: Improved production vs. spin, show all fields power

Taylor has one of the sharpest batting eyes in the class and over two years with Texas Christian, has slashed .319/.450/.574 with a 19.1% walk rate and 15.8% strikeout rate. He has produced an OPS over 1.000 against fastballs and an OPS over .900 against offspeed pitches, but his OPS against spin is only .694 in a sample of 595 pitches, per Synergy. He makes solid contact against the pitch type and doesn’t chase at a high rate, so simply making better contact against sliders and curves could improve his overall offensive profile. Showing more opposite field home run power could do the same, as almost all of Taylor’s 25 home runs with TCU have gone to center or right field.

10. Paul Skenes, RHP/DH, Louisiana State

Areas to improve: Maintain production in SEC, handle velocity, cut down chase vs. secondaries

Skenes produced silly numbers on both sides of the ball with Air Force, but now takes on a new challenge against SEC competition with a Louisiana State team that enters the 2023 season with massive expectations. Simply continuing the performance he managed previously in baseball’s best conference will solidify his draft profile (similar to LSU slugger Jacob Berry in 2022), while improving his offensive game could elevate it. Scouts raved about the home runs Skenes hit in fall ball, but there’s plenty of swing-and-miss in his game and he’s going to be facing better pitching and more velocity in 2023. Skenes only saw 93 pitches at 92-plus mph with Air Force in two seasons and hit .238/.304/.286 against that pitch type. Additionally, he has swung and missed against secondaries at a 36% rate, while chasing those pitches out of the zone nearly 40% of the time. All of those questions lead most scouts to assume his pro future is on the mound, but if he makes big strides as a hitter perhaps he gets a chance to do both in pro ball. 

9. Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt

Areas to improve: Maintain 2022 power development, continue to produce as focal point in offense, add strength

Bradfield’s value is driven by his 80-grade speed and bat-to-ball skills, but he did show some modest improvement in power from his freshman year to sophomore year with Vanderbilt. After hitting just one home run in 2021, Bradfield hit eight home runs in 2022 and his slugging went from .414 to .498. That doesn’t mean more is guaranteed to come in 2023, however, as former Vanderbilt star Austin Martin showed: Martin similarly jumped from one home run to 10 home runs from his freshman to sophomore seasons and in pro ball a lack of impact has held him back and significantly impacted his prospect status. Even if Bradfield is never going to be a 20-homer player, adding strength to his ultra-lean, 6-foot-1, 160-pound frame would do a lot to ease concerns that some teams might have about how his game profiles in the current power-obsessed offensive MLB environment. Additionally, Bradfield will be even more crucial for Vanderbilt’s lineup in 2023 after the team lost Spencer Jones and Dominic Keegan to the draft. Continuing to perform as the focal point of the offense will help his cause as well.

8. Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest

Areas to improve: More fastball whiffs

Lowder has great feel for his slider and changeup, and both his usage of those pitches and his swing-and-miss rates highlight their quality. Lowder has thrown his changeup 29% of the time and his slider 21% of the time in his Wake Forest career, with 38% and 39% miss rates, respectively. He throws his fastball half the time, and has generated an 18% miss rate with the pitch. It’s normal for fastballs to have lower miss rates than secondary pitches, but Lowder could amplify his entire arsenal if he’s able to add more power or better life to his fastball. He improved his in-zone miss rate with the pitch from 2021 to 2022—particularly on elevated fastballs in the zone—and more of that progress could make Lowder even more appealing, especially given his impressive fastball control.

7. Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida

Areas to improve: Center field defense

Langford moved up boards this fall in part because of his improved running ability. He has one of the best offensive track records of the 2023 class and with Jud Fabian signing with the Orioles, Florida will be looking for a new center fielder. If Langford gets a chance at the position after being an everyday left fielder in 2022, he has a chance to significantly boost his overall profile. His bat should get him taken early regardless, but a right-right center fielder with his offensive production is significantly more exciting for teams than a right-right corner, and gives him a bigger margin for error in the pro game.

6. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon

Areas to improve: Show opposite field power, add speed 

Wilson is a lean and slight, righthanded hitter who doesn’t project to be a slugger at the next level, but he did go from four home runs to 12 from his freshman year to his sophomore year. Wilson has shown the ability to put a charge in balls when he gets extended and makes contact out in front of the plate, but all of his in-game power is to the pull side. If he manages to show more impact ability to the opposite field, while letting the ball travel on the outer third of the plate, scouts might start to wonder whether his elite contact ability is the type to give him more in-game power than his raw power would suggest. If that power doesn’t come, adding more speed to his game would give Wilson another dimension to his high-level defensive and contact-driven game. He’s attempted just one stolen base in his Grand Canyon career.

5. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick HS, Southport, N.C.

Areas to improve: Improve speed, establish CF profile

Jenkins currently profiles as a classic, tweener outfield profile similar to recent high school draftees Roman Anthony and Zac Veen, to name a few. Both Anthony and Veen played center field in high school but were expected to move to an outfield corner at the next level. That summarizes Jenkins as well, who has shown above-average speed underway but has the sort of physicality and strength that most scouts believe will fit better in a right field corner when he reaches physical maturity. If he can show improved run times and establish himself as a legitimate center fielder, at least initially in his pro career, that would make his standout lefthanded-hitting ability and power all the more appealing.

4. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Ind.) Community HS

Areas to improve: Show more in-game power

Clark projects for plus or better tools across the board outside of his game power. That’s the one area where scouts have some questions about him. He’s not lacking for strength, as a well-proportioned and muscular 18-year-old, but he’s mostly had a swing geared for hard line drives to the gaps throughout his travel ball and showcase career. Clark showed solid power as a junior with his Franklin Community high school team in 2022, and continuing to show gains in this area in 2023 will give teams confidence that he can hit for consistent power, in addition to his myriad other ways to impact the game.

3. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi

Areas to improve: Handle high heat; shortstop defense

Gonzalez is one of the best college shortstop prospects in years and he had a sensational freshman season for Mississippi in 2021, when he slashed .355/.443/.561 with 12 home runs, 16 doubles and more walks than strikeouts. He had his struggles at times during the 2022 season, and while a high walk rate gives him a high floor of production, scouts noted some holes in his swing, particularly with elevated fastballs. Gonzalez hasn’t swung and missed much against this pitch type and location, but his production could be improved if he’s able to get on plane more consistently against elevated fastballs and reduce his pop-up rate. Scouts are skeptical that Gonzalez is a shortstop in the long run, so if he can improve his reputation in the field and give himself a chance to profile as an everyday shortstop in pro ball his overall profile becomes exceptional.

2. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee

Areas to improve: Improve curveball usage, bite and feel

It’s extremely hard to find a point of weakness with Dollander, who seemingly does everything well. Still, if we’re nitpicking the top players in the class (and we are), he could perhaps get even better by using an upper-70s curveball more frequently. In 2022, Dollander used the pitch just 7% of the time overall, upping that percentage against lefthanded hitters, but he has yet to allow an extra-base hit with it and opposing batters have managed just a .118 OPS against it, which is the lowest mark of any of his pitches. Dollander gets just a 6% in-zone miss rate with his curveball, which is less than his other three pitches, which all managed a 24% or better mark in 2022. He also throws the pitch for a strike the least frequently of his arsenal, at just a 54% rate. So perhaps his current usage is best suited for the pitch, but if he can bring the quality of his curveball closer to his fastball/slider/changeup quality, it’s hard to see how college hitters will find any success against him. 

1. Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State

Areas to improve: Contact vs. sliders and changeups; elevate more often

The top hitting prospect in the draft class, Crews enters the 2023 season with quite the resume. In two full seasons with LSU, Crews has hit .356/.458/.677 with 40 home runs and 27 doubles, while consistently posting gaudy exit velocity marks. He has the sort of hitting track record and impact that should make him one of the first players selected, but he could solidify his 1-1 candidacy by making more contact against sliders and changeups and hitting more fly balls. Crews has excellent overall production against the four main pitch types, but he could cut down his swing-and-miss on both sliders (45% miss) and changeups (39% miss) to become a more well-rounded hitter and fully take advantage of his massive power. Additionally, Crews has hit the ball on the ground 48% of the time in his first two seasons, which is surprising considering his elite home run production. Imagine if he converted a few of those ground balls into fly balls and line drives.

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