2023 MLB Playoffs: These 7 Prospects Could Make An Impact

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Image credit: (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

This was a great year for rookies, but it also has proven to be an excellent year for late-season callups. While you surely know about Corbin Carroll, Gunnar Henderson and Bobby Miller, here are some more-recent rookie callups who could make an impact this postseason.

Orion Kerkering, RP, Phillies

Baseball America ticketed Kerkering as a potential quick mover when the Phillies moved him to a relief role this season, but the 22-year-old righthander moved even faster than expected by pitching across five levels in 2023. He moved quickly on the strength of a sweeping slider that averaged 86 mph in three big league appearances. His slider was voted the best breaking pitch in the Florida State, South Atlantic and Eastern leagues in 2023. He also mixes in an upper-90s heater with sink. Kerkering was Philadelphia’s 2023 Minor League Player of the Year and could be an intriguing option in short bursts this October. 

What To Look For: Kerkering has just three MLB innings under his belt, but he could be the 2023 version of what Francisco Rodriguez was to the 2002 Angels: a fireballing rookie whose lack of experience was less important than his top-shelf stuff. His fastball/breaking ball combo is truly top-notch.

Junior Caminero, 3B, Rays

Caminero, 20, enjoyed a truly epic breakout season in the minors, hitting 31 homers across two levels before earning a September callup to the majors directly from Double-A Montgomery. He ranks among the best prospects in all of baseball. Whether the Rays trust Caminero defensively remains to be seen, but his prolific power—Caminero hit his first big league homer on the final day of the regular season— and patience could make him a threat in pinch-hitting situations. 

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What To Look For: Caminero is incredibly young and lacks Triple-A experience. But he does have some of the best power and bat speed on the Rays roster, in addition to defensive versatility. He has already played second base, third base and shortstop in his seven MLB games.

Evan Carter, OF, Rangers

Carter made his big league debut in early September and has mostly raked, hitting .306/.413/.645 with five homers in 75 plate appearances. The power is a bit of a surprise—Carter’s power potential was a question mark for many evaluators even while ranking as the Rangers’ No. 1 prospect. But Carter has also flashed his high-end contact skills and speed while settling into a regular role in left field.

What To Look For: Carter has already shown that he’s an everyday player for the Rangers. He’s started and played the full game in 82% of his MLB appearances. As a rookie who grinds out at-bats, can run and has surprising pop, Carter a key part of the Rangers’ postseason roster.

Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles

Kjerstad made his big league debut in mid September and promptly homered in his third career plate appearance. High-quality playoff pitchers may exploit his aggressiveness—Kjerstad carries a 30% strikeout rate in a limited big league sample—but a predilection for good swing decisions and finding the barrel make him an intriguing potential bench option. 

What To Look For: Kjerstad is most likely to be in a bench role when the Orioles need an extra-base hit.

Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays

Mead had an injury-dampened first half, but after he hit .358/.459/.519 for Triple-A Durham in July, the Rays called him up as a needed reinforcement. With Wander Franco’s legal troubles and Brandon Lowe’s injury, Mead has become one of the Rays’ multiple options at second and third base. He’s not being overmatched, but so far his ability to consistently generate hard contact that was apparent throughout his minor league career hasn’t been seen as consistently in the majors.

What To Look For: The Rays love to play matchups, but with Yandy Diaz healthy again, Mead may slide to more of a complementary role, depending on how comfortable the Rays are at playing fellow rookie Junior Caminero.

Jordan Lawlar, SS, D-backs

Lawlar, 21, ranks among the 10 best prospects in baseball. He shook off a nasty slump early in 2023 to post a .278/.378/.496 line across 490 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A and earn D-backs Minor League Player of the Year honors. He has just four hits—all singles—in 31 big league at-bats, so the bat may not be ready for a leading role on baseball’s biggest stage. His speed, though, very well could. Lawlar stole 36 bases in the minors and is in the 99th percentile sprint speed among big leaguers. 

What To Look For: Lawlar has struggled at the plate in his brief MLB stint, which makes it more likely that he’ll slide into a late-innings pinch-runner/defensive replacement role, but he’s better than his MLB stats so far have shown.

Davis Schneider, 2B/3B, Blue Jays

If you’re looking for someone to capture playoff lightning in a bottle, Schneider is a great bet. He never previously ranked among Toronto’s top 30 prospects, but was one of the feel-good stories of the minors in 2023. He rocketed onto the prospect radar by performing well in the upper minors and carried that momentum into his big league debut, homering off Red Sox lefthander James Paxton in his first career at-bat. Schneider’s bat cooled off considerably in September after hitting .297 with eight homers through his first 30 big league games, but he’s a versatile option defensively for Toronto.

What To Look For:  Schneider was ice cold over the second half of September—he hit .057/.153/.114 in his final 10 games—but he did go 2-for-4 in the Blue Jays’ season finale. The fact that a player drafted in the 28th round in 2017 is on a playoff roster is a success in itself.

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