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


Image credit: Elly De La Cruz (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Best tools winners are voted on by league managers.

CategoryInternational (AAA)Pacific Coast (AAA)
Best Batting ProspectElly De La CruzMichael Busch
Louisville (Reds)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best Power ProspectElly De La CruzJo Adell
Louisville (Reds)Salt Lake (Angels)
Best Strike-Zone JudgmentWilyer AbreuMichael Stefanic
Worcester (Red Sox)Salt Lake (Angels)
Best BaserunnerCam EdenMatthew Batten
Buffalo (Blue Jays)El Paso (Padres)
Fastest BaserunnerElly De La CruzBubba Thompson
Louisville (Reds)Round Rock (Rangers)
Best Pitching ProspectGavin WilliamsKyle Harrison
Columbus (Guardians)Sacramento (Giants)
Best FastballGavin WilliamsKyle Harrison
Columbus (Guardians)Sacramento (Giants)
Best Breaking PitchWill WarrenJ.P. France
Scranton/WB (Yankees)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best ChangeupGrayson RodriguezGavin Stone
Norfolk (Orioles)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best ControlMitch SpenceCody Bradford
Scranton/WB (Yankees)Round Rock (Rangers)
Best RelieverGerson MorenoMatt Festa
Rochester (Nationals)Tacoma (Mariners)
Best Defensive CChuckie RobinsonKorey Lee
Louisville (Reds)Sugar Land (Astros)
Best Defensive 1BSpencer HorwitzMichael Toglia
Buffalo (Blue Jays)Albuquerque (Rockies)
Best Defensive 2BNick SogardMichael Stefanic
Worcester (Red Sox)Salt Lake (Angels)
Best Defensive 3BJordan WestburgAaron Schunk
Norfolk (Orioles)Albuquerque (Rockies)
Best Defensive SSOswald PerazaBlaze Alexander
Scranton/WB (Yankees)Reno (D-backs)
Best Infield ArmElly De La CruzCasey Schmitt
Louisville (Reds)Sacramento (Giants)
Best Defensive OFCeddanne RafaelaDrew Avans
Worcester (Red Sox)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Best OF ArmWilyer AbreuNolan Jones
Worcester (Red Sox)Albuquerque (Rockies)
Most Exciting PlayerElly De La CruzLuis Matos
Louisville (Reds)Sacramento (Giants)
Best Manager ProspectChad TracyTravis Barbary
Worcester (Red Sox)Oklahoma City (Dodgers)

De La Cruz Electrifies IL

International League fans got an extended look at Elly De La Cruz before the 21-year-old Reds shortstop ever stepped foot on a major league field.

They saw why De La Cruz was going to become one of the most exciting players the minute he arrived in MLB.

De La Cruz showed off his speed by turning in the fastest home-to-third time (10.97 seconds) of any Triple-A player. He also swiped 11 bags to go with three triples in just 38 games for Louisville.

It was a big hint of how he would quickly turn in the three fastest home-to-third times on triples in the majors after receiving his callup on June 6.

At Triple-A he hit .298/.398/.633 with 12 home runs, while reining in his strikeout rate to 23% in his final 23 games, compared with 33% in his first 15.

De La Cruz’s power also was apparent. As of mid August, the hardest-hit ball in Triple-A or the majors was his 118.8 mph scorcher of a double on May 9 against Columbus. He also has the hardest-hit home run in Triple-A, a 450-foot blast that traveled at 117.7 mph.

And his arm was just as obvious. De La Cruz had a pair of 99 mph throws on infield assists—one as a shortstop and one as a third baseman—that remain the hardest throws tracked by Statcast on an infield out this season.

De La Cruz has shown 80-grade speed and arm strength—his raw power also has a case for 80—since he arrived in the majors. Triple-A fans can say they got to see it all first.

—JJ Cooper

Williams’ Power Arsenal Leads The Way

In the opening months of the International League season, the Columbus rotation provided a window to some of the top rookie pitchers 2023 would have to offer.

By the end of April, the Clippers had already received starts from righthanders Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee and lefthander Logan T. Allen.

Bibee and Allen made their MLB debuts in April. Williams followed in June after making nine starts for Columbus.

All three pitched so effectively for Cleveland that club was able to weather the trade of Aaron Civale and injuries to Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill. Guardians starters had a 3.98 ERA that ranked seventh-best in MLB.

The 24-year-old Williams, Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2021, entered the season as the top prospect of the bunch and has an impressive arsenal built on firepower and a variety of pitch shapes.

His four-seam fastball sits 94-97 mph with heavy bore and generates average ride and above-average run, making it a truly gnarly bat-missing weapon. It generated an above-average whiff rate almost immediately.

In an IL season that boasted some strong Best Fastball candidates, Williams stood above the rest. It’s not just shape and velocity, but his ability to hold his stuff and locate with consistency.

Aside from his fastball, Williams can turn to two breaking pitches—a mid-70s curveball and a tighter, mid-80s slider—as well as a changeup.

An imposing 6-foot-6, Williams gets down the mound with power and force while mixing a variety of pitch shapes at different velocities. He has the body, pitch mix and power of a potential front-of-the-rotation starter and as a rookie  had begun to show signs of future dominance.

—Geoff Pontes

Harrison Has The Stuff, Now He Needs Cohesion

“Divisive” might be the perfect word to encapsulate the prospect status of Giants lefthander Kyle Harrison.

For those appreciative of big stuff and swing-and-miss abilities, Harrison rates highly.

For those who favor efficiency and command, the 22-year-old might seem overrated.

Harrison spent most of the season with Sacramento, reaching MLB for his debut on Aug. 22, when he went 3.2 innings against the Phillies. He made good progress for a 2020 third-rounder out of high school.

While in the Pacific Coast League, Harrison struck out nearly 35.6% of batters, the highest rate in the league at 50 innings. But his command was an issue.

Harrison walked 16.3% of batters—the third-worst mark in the PCL—and reached five innings only once in 20 starts. He topped 80 pitches three times.

Harrison’s fastball isn’t elite in terms of velocity. It sits 93-96 mph, which is now slightly above-average for a major league starter. Instead, his combination of a low, deceptive release from a low arm slot and fastball movement makes it a truly special bat-missing pitch.

Harrison pairs his sneaky fastball with a newly revamped slider. He ditched his sweeper for a mid-80s cut-slider. He also will show a changeup that will flash above-average.

Harrison has all the ingredients to be a frontline pitcher but none of the cohesive glue, which may come with time and experience.

Harrison is one of the most electric lefthanders in the minors. He is one of the most erratic as well. His raw stuff and unique deceptive traits are undeniable.

And also divisive.

—Geoff Pontes

Player Spotlight: Grayson Rodriguez

A lot can change in the course of a season.

Grayson Rodriguez entered 2023 ranked as the No. 6 prospect in baseball and a presumptive member of the Orioles’ Opening Day rotation.

But the 23-year-old righthander pitched his way out of Baltimore’s immediate plans by running up a 7.04 ERA in 15.1 spring training innings.

Rodriguez opened with Triple-A Norfolk, but his time there didn’t last long.

Called up on April 5, Rodriguez produced mostly rocky results but remained in Baltimore’s rotation through May. He posted a 7.35 ERA in 45.1 innings, undone by a 1.74 WHIP and 13 home runs allowed in 10 starts.

That earned him a ticket to Triple-A. He righted the ship and returned to Baltimore in mid July.

In his first seven starts back in MLB, Rodriguez was much sharper. He had a 3.24 ERA in 41.2 innings to go with a 1.08 WHIP and just two home runs allowed.

What changed?

Rodriguez dropped his cutter usage from 12% in his first stint to 1% in his second. Most of those cutters turned into 95-97 mph four-seam fastballs and changeups, his two strongest pitches.

Rodriguez’s changeup was one of the best in MLB via Statcast run value, and before that it was the finest in the International League, according to Best Tools voting.

—Matt Eddy

Prospect Showdown: Jordan Westburg vs. Casey Schmitt

Athletic, versatile infielder? Check.

Drafted out of college in the five-round 2020 draft? Check.

Made MLB debut this season after a productive run through Triple-A? Check.

Jordan Westburg and Casey Schmitt share many commonalities and should be fixtures for competitive Orioles and Giants teams in the years to come. They contribute value in different ways.

Westburg has shown stronger on-base and power skills in the minor leagues and was off to a stronger start in MLB. He was getting an extended look at third base in Baltimore.

Schmitt is the stronger defensive player with more questions about offensive impact. He served as a two-way player in college and has one of the strongest infield arms in MLB at shortstop or third base.

Westburg   Schmitt

    50    HIT    55

    55    POWER    50

    55    RUN    50

    55    FIELD    65

    50    ARM    70

What They’re Saying: Luis Matos, OF, Giants

“I was on him when he first came stateside (in the 2019 Arizona League). He looks good. He just looks like he’s slowing everything down in the box.

“He’s still very aggressive, which will likely get exploited (at higher levels). He can really run and really play center field. He’s a classic up-the-middle guy.

    —Anonymous pro scout

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