2023 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Middle Infield Preview
Welcome to the second installment of our 2023 draft class position preview.
Last week we previewed what looks like a slightly down catching group, and today we head to baseball’s glamorposition: the middle infield. It’s often easiest to lump amateur shortstops and second basemen into the same grouping as—especially at the high school level—it’s often difficult to find pro-caliber prospects who play second base.
In most cases, the top middle infielder on any given amateur team is a shortstop, and it’s rare to see an everyday second baseman move further up the defensive spectrum at the pro level.
Scouts love shortstops and the relative strength or weakness of the position in any given draft class goes a long way in determining the overall talent level of a class of prospects. As one scouting director told us back in 2021, which was a strong high school shortstop class, the shortstop profile is simply an appealing one: “The supply of really good defenders at a premium position who can also provide huge offensive impact—it’s just exceptionally rare,” said the director at the time.
Being able to play one of the most difficult positions on the diamond provides inherent value, and the ability of shortstops to move down the defensive spectrum and still profile as strong or even elite defenders with regularity (see Orioles prospect Gunnar Henderson for more on this) only makes their path to a big league role more valuable. Pair high-end offensive skills and tools with that defensive profile and you’re looking at an ideal baseball prospect—like Alex Rodriguez.
Shortstops are responsible for five of the 10 largest free agent deals in baseball history and two of those were just inked this offseason. But you’re a Baseball America reader. You don’t need me to keep telling you why shortstops are so valuable.
What’s more interesting and more specific to the 2023 class is the surprising number of high-caliber college shortstops. Because of their value, the top shortstops are routinely drafted and signed out of high school, with the toolsiest and high upside players (like Bobby Witt Jr., CJ Abrams, Jackson Holliday, Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar and Henderson, to name a few recent notable prep shortstops) extremely unlikely to make it to a college campus.
The shortened five-round draft of 2020 meant fewer high school players were able to sign and college baseball was the benefactor of that talent migration. Three years later, we’re looking at what might be the best college shortstop class since the 2015 class that was headed by Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman (as well as Brendan Rodgers on the high school side).
Below is an overview of the 2023 middle infield class as it stands today, with information on current top-100 prospects, other middle infielders to know and a 20-80 grade on the talent of the position relative to an average draft year. We’ll revisit these position previews at the end of the draft cycle and see if our preseason grade holds up or needs adjustment.
Top drafted middle infielders of all time (by bWAR):
- Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners (1993, 1st round) — 117.6
- Mike Schmidt, SS, Phillies (1971, 2nd round) — 106.8
- Wade Boggs, SS, Red Sox (1976, 7th round) — 91.4
- George Brett, SS, Royals (1971, 2nd round) — 88.6
- Chipper Jones, SS, Braves (1990, 1st round) — 85.3
- Robin Yount, SS, Brewers (1973, 1st round) — 77.4
- Ozzie Smith, SS, Padres (1977, 4th round) — 76.9
- Paul Molitor, SS, Brewers (1977, 1st round) — 75.6
- Jim Thome, SS, Indians (1989, 13th round) — 73.1
- Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (1992, 1st round) — 71.3
- Bobby Grich, SS, Orioles (1967, 1st round) — 71.1
- Alan Trammell, SS, Tigers (1976, 2nd round) — 70.7
- Barry Larkin, SS, Reds (1985, 4th round) — 70.5
- Tim Raines, SS, Expos (1977, 5th round) — 69.4
- Buddy Bell, 2B, Indians (1969, 16th round) — 66.3
Top drafted middle infielders of the bonus pool era:
- Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (2012, 1st round) — 39.5
- Alex Bregman, SS, Astros (2015, 1st round) — 30.5
- Trea Turner, SS, Padres (2014, 1st round) — 29.7
- Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (2012, 1st round) — 25.3
- Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox (2013, 1st round) — 18.2
- Jeff McNeil, SS, Mets (2013, 12th round) — 16.9
- Chris Taylor, SS, Mariners (2012, 5th round) — 15.6
- Tommy Edman, SS, Cardinals (2016, 6th round) — 15.3
- Dansby Swanson, SS, D-backs (2015, 1st round) — 14.5
- Joey Wendle, 2B, Indians (2012, 6th round) — 13.7
Number of top 100-ranked middle infielders in each draft class (bonus pool era)
- 2012: 8
- 2013: 9
- 2014: 11
- 2015: 14
- 2016: 10
- 2017: 15
- 2018: 14
- 2019: 21
- 2020: 17
- 2021: 27
- 2022: 21
- 2023: 27
2023 Top 100 Middle Infielders:
3. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
Gonzalez has an exceptional combination of tools, performance and both individual and team accolades in his two years with Mississippi. He led the Rebels to a 2022 College World Series championship, has been Team USA’s starting shortstop in back-to-back years and has produced an overall line of .316/.424/.560 with 30 home runs and 25 doubles with Ole Miss. He’s arguably the best college shortstop prospect since the 2015 draft class that included both Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman.
6. Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon
Wilson’s uncanny feel for contact gives him an outlier skill. He was the top-ranked player in NCAA’s “toughest to strike out” metric in 2022, which simply takes the number of at-bats per strikeout. Wilson struck out just seven times in 246 at-bats and his overall strikeout rate was just 2.5% overall, with an equally impressive 8% miss rate, per Synergy.
12. Kevin McGonigle, SS, Monsignor Bonner HS, Drexel Hill, Pa.
Consistently talked about as the best pure hitter in the high school class, McGonigle has an exceptional track record of performance, with excellent pure bat-to-ball skills, an aggressive but advanced approach and steady defensive ability in the middle of the infield. He’s not the toolsiest, but he fits nicely in the polished, Cole Young/Anthony Volpe undersized shortstop phylum of player.
14. Maui Ahuna, SS, Tennessee
Ahuna was one of the most impactful hitters in college baseball in 2022 with Kansas, when he hit .396/.479/.634 with eight home runs, four triples and 16 home runs. In two combined seasons with Kansas he’s a .357/.447/.532 hitter and scouts view him as one of the most instinctual and advanced defensive shortstops in the college class as well. If he keeps hitting like this with Tennessee in the SEC… watch out.
15. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland
Shaw ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Cape Cod League after hitting .360/.432/.574 with five home runs and 10 doubles for Bourne. Shaw hit for more power as a sophomore at Maryland, while sliding into the team’s everyday shortstop role. With all-fields power, solid zone control and impressive top-end exit velocities, Shaw has a well-rounded profile if he can solidify his defensive reputation this spring.
24. Tommy Troy, 2B, Stanford
Troy isn’t super projectable at 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, but he has great bat speed and swings with intent from the righthanded batter’s box, with better exit velocities than you might think given his size and overall extra-base production in college. Troy can get a bit too aggressive at the plate at times, but he hammers fastballs and could slide to shortstop in 2023 after handling the position well for Cotuit in the Cape Cod League, where he ranked as the No. 2 prospect.
28. Roch Cholowsky, SS, Hamilton HS, Chandler, Ariz.
A standout multi-sport athlete, Cholowsky is also a three-star quarterback who could play both baseball and football in college. His father, Dan, played eight years in the minors and is a scout for the Reds, and Cholowsky himself is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the class—with a solid swing and contact ability as well.
29. Cole Carrigg, SS/OF, San Diego State
Carrigg could be classified at a number of positions, but for our purposes here he’s a middle infielder, after playing 25 games at shortstop with San Diego State in 2022. His defensive versatility is his calling card, but he’s shown solid average and on-base skills with a line drive swing, if only modest exit velocities and power, in the Mountain West Conference and in the Cape Cod League.
30. Marcus Brown, SS, Oklahoma State
Brown is a slick-fielding defender at shortstop. While he might lack impact, he was named the best defensive shortstop in the Cape Cod League and has hit well over. 300 in back-to-back seasons with Oklahoma State, with solid on-base skills as well.
31. Mitch Jebb, SS, Michigan State
Jebb has proven to be difficult to get out at the plate and a nuisance for pitchers and catchers once he gets on base. He hit .356/.448/.511 with Michigan State during the 2022 season, then continued to perform in the Cape Cod League with Hyannis, where he slashed .356/.429/.490. He stole 20 bags with Michigan State during the spring and stole 26 on the Cape. Across the spring and summer, Jebb managed an 87% contact rate and his plus speed and arm strength give him a chance to be a solid shortstop as well.
33. Colin Houck, SS, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.
Houck blew up over the summer thanks to his standout hitting ability, flashes of defensive brilliance on the left side of the infield and a solid raw tool set. There are some comparisons to be made here with Roch Cholowsky, as Houck is also a three-star quarterback for his Parkview High football team.
36. Colt Emerson, SS, Glenn HS, New Concord, Ohio
Emerson pushed himself up draft boards throughout the summer and fall because he simply kept performing at every event he attended. He was the third-best hitter on USA Baseball’s gold medal-winning team and he pairs plus contact ability with plus swing decisions, on top of being on the younger end of the spectrum for the prep class.
39. Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest HS, Dover, Fla.
Like Emerson, Nimmala is exceptionally young for the class, but he’s more of a tools-over-polish player at this point, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Nimmala has electric hands and bat speed, with plus power projections, but he’s got an approach that tends to get overly aggressive currently.
41. Antonio Anderson, SS, North Atlanta HS, Ga.
A physical switch-hitter with a long track record of hitting as an underclassman, Anderson understands the zone at an advanced level, with more power in-game as a lefthanded hitter but more raw power as a righty. He might move off of shortstop at the next level because of a lack of foot speed, but for now he’s a shortstop with on-base ability and power potential.
43. Dylan Cupp, SS, Cedartown (Ga.) HS
Cuppe entered the summer as one of the elite prep prospects in the class, but tumbled down boards a bit after failing to convince evaluators in his offensive chops. He has shown a solid line-drive swing in the past, but what’s keeping him in this range is the fact that he’s a tremendously reliable defender at shortstop—capable of making all the routine plays as well as many flashy and difficult ones. He was Team USA’s starting shortstop, which carries plenty of weight in the industry.
44. Walker Martin, SS, Eaton (Colo.) HS
Walker is quite old for the high school class, but he put himself on the map during the summer with a sweet, lefthanded swing, a projectable frame and impressive feel for the barrel with clean hitting mechanics and a fast bat. A good runner and solid defender as well, Martin has an extremely well-rounded profile for teams that aren’t concerned with his age.
50. Luke Keaschall, SS, Arizona State
Keaschall has a solid blend of contact, power and approach at the plate and after back-to-back solid seasons with San Francisco, he’ll spend the 2023 season with Arizona State, where he could play both middle infield positions and center field, if necessary.
54. Nick Goodwin, SS, Kansas State
Goodwin has solid power and has homered at least 10 times in back-to-back seasons with Kansas State, though in both of those seasons he’s been just a .267 hitter with a 21% strikeout rate and an overall 77% contact rate. He was a similar hitter during the summer with Harwich in the Cape Cod League, where he homered six times and doubled 10 times in 41 games, but struck out at a 23% rate.
55. Alex Mooney, SS, Duke
Mooney was the third-highest ranked player on the 2021 BA 500 to make it to campus and is now a draft-eligible sophomore. He entered his college career with massive expectations and had a respectable 2022 season, where he slashed .292/.393/.392 while serving as Duke’s everyday shortstop. Mooney has speed and excellent baserunning instincts, but needs to find more impact ability this spring.
59. Eric Bitonti, SS/3B, Aquinas HS, San Bernardino, Calif.
Bitonti doesn’t look like a shortstop, but he plays the position now despite a 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and actually moves around reasonably well. While it’s likely that he moves to a corner position at the next level, Bitonti has huge power and future 70-grade raw power potential with a swing geared for impact fly ball contact. He doesn’t turn 18 until November 2023.
64. Roman Martin, SS, Servite HS, Anaheim, Calif.
Martin’s overall feel for the game, pure hitting ability and defensive instincts put him on the national scouting scene as an underclassman. He’s more of a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter than one who projects for big home run totals, but as a savvy and smooth defender at shortstop, he doesn’t need to be a hulking slugger.
73. Trent Caraway, SS, JSerra Catholic HS, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Caraway is a strong and filled-out, offensive-oriented infielder who showed an intriguing combination of impact ability and contact. Sure, there are some moving parts in his swing but there are scouts who view him as one of the better hit/power combinations in the class and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear some scouts in the industry view him as a similar profile to 2022 Blue Jays second-rounder Tucker Toman.
85. AJ Ewing, SS, Springboro (Ohio) HS
Ewing is a small and thin shortstop but he produces shocking exit velocities and pull-side power considering his frame, which speaks to his standout bat speed and the intent that he swings with. On top of loud offensive tools, Ewing is an above-average runner and solid defender up the middle.
89. Christian Knapczyk, SS, Louisville
Knapczyk has some shades of Nick Madrigal with a diminutive, 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame and minimal power, but a precocious feel for contact and strong performance on both sides of the ball. He’s a career .326/.439/.433 hitter with Louisville and has played both a sure-handed second base and shortstop.
92. George Lombard Jr., SS, Gulliver Prep HS, Miami
Lombard is the son of George Lombard, a second-round pick in1994 who played six seasons in the big leagues as an outfielder and is now the bench coach for the Tigers. Perhaps that explains Lombard’s polish and fundamentally sound game and all-around skill set. He added strength and speed in 2022 and now has solid tools across the board.
94. Cooper Pratt, SS, Magnolia Heights HS, Senatobia, Miss.
Pratt’s exceptional fall performance opened eyes in the scouting industry and shoved him further up draft boards. He has cemented himself as having one of the best batting eyes in the prep class and rarely chases out of the zone with an exceptional in-zone contact rate to go with it. He also has a projectable, 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame you can dream on and good defensive actions.
95. Myles Naylor, SS, St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS, Mississauga, Ont.
Myles is the younger brother of Josh and Bo Naylor, who are both big leaguers with the Guardians. Myles is a bit of a hybrid of both his elder brothers, without the massive raw power of Josh or the pure hitting ability of Bo but a solid blend of both. That should give him enough offensive chops to profile at a corner position if he has to move in the future.
Other Notable Middle Infielders:
- Samuel Stafura, SS, Walter Panas HS, Cortland, N.Y. — Stafura impressed on both sides of the ball at the 2022 Area Code Games, where he made a few stellar plays in the middle infield and showed solid all-around ability.
- Adrian Santana, SS, Doral (Fla.) Academy — Santana is small but toolsy. He’s one of the fastest runners in the class, he gets praise as one of the better defensive shortstops as well, and he has a pretty swing from both sides of the plate.
- TJ Pompey, SS, Coppell (Tex.) HS — Pompey is athletic and has a highly projectable, 6-foot-4 frame with excellent actions and defensive potential at shortstop, with a plus arm as well, but needs to refine his offensive game.
- Braden Holcomb, SS, Foundation Academy, Winter Garden, Fla. — Holcomb is an exceptional physical infielder with a strong, well-developed 6-foot-4 frame with raw power and bat speed.
- Cal Fisher, SS, Deerfield (Wis.) HS — Fisher has a chance to impact both sides of the ball with sneaky power from the right side and slick defensive actions in the middle of the infield. He can manipulate the barrel well but could stand to improve his swing decisions.
- John Peck, SS, Pepperdine — Peck is a smaller infielder with a 6-foot, 160-pound frame, but he had a massive sophomore season with Pepperdine in 2022 and slashed .370/.426/.593 with 11 doubles and seven home runs.
- Ariel Antigua, SS/C, Trinity Christian Academy, Lake Worth, Fla. — Antigua has a short and stocky frame and solid power that he generates with it, as well as solid ability to maneuver his barrel around the zone. His defensive tools might be a bit short, but his instincts and internal clock are impressive.
- Cameron Kim, SS/3B, Norco (Calif.) HS — Kim had a sensational junior spring season with Norco High and showed a sweet righthanded swing during the 2022 showcase circuit, with consistent barrels in batting practice and in games.
- Parker Picot, SS/OF, Rochester Adams HS, Rochester Hills, Mich. — Picot is a bit of a toolshed, with standout athleticism, a projectable 6-foot-2 frame, plus speed and a multi-sport background as a standout high school quarterback.
- Dominic Pitelli, SS, Miami — Pitelli might have a light bat, and he’s only hit .236/.315/.367 over two seasons with Miami, but he’s an outstanding defensive shortstop who has great defensive actions, a quick first step, massive arm strength and is viewed as one of the better college defenders in the class.
2023 Class Middle Infield Grade: 70
The 2023 class boasts a tremendous quantity of top-100 middle infield talent that, at least in pure numbers, blows away most classes from the bonus pool era. On top of that, there’s impact talent at the top with Jacob Gonzalez and Jacob Wilson, as well as seven total first-round talents. The only thing keeping this class from an 80 grade is a generational talent leading the group or a more impactful top-end class of high school middle infielders.