30 Young Minor League Hitters Looking To Build On 2021 Success, One From Each MLB Team
Hitting a baseball is hard. By comparison, analyzing hitting statistics is easy.
Analysts have a firm grasp on what drives run creation and offensive value in baseball. The value of each batting outcome can be estimated via linear weights. Today, linear weights is a concept expressed most commonly as weighted on-base average, with a player’s wOBA forming the foundation of his value.
After a series of adjustments for a player’s league and home park context, his wOBA can be expressed as runs created per game, which can in turn be translated to offensive winning percentage. The idea behind OW% is that it presents the theoretical winning percentage of a team comprising a lineup of nine of the same player. Average pitching and defensive support is assumed.
I like OW% because it is highly sensitive to a player’s specific run environment—perhaps over sensitive—with league and park effects factored prominently. Using a method I borrowed from the terrific book “Paths To Glory” by Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt, a player’s OW% can be projected to age 25 after making assumptions about his proximity to MLB and his age.
Players who are closer to MLB and/or farther from age 25 are viewed more favorably by OW25%. The underlying assumption is that youth affords players more time to develop skills and mature both physically and mentally.
In this piece, I identify one unheralded young minor league hitter—age 23 was the typical cutoff—from each organization who succeeded in 2021 and is looking to build on that success this season. Selections were made based on players’ projected offensive value via OW25% and then filtered by scouting information gathered by BA in 2021.
Most of the players highlighted here are not 40-man roster players and thus are guaranteed to be active in the minor leagues this spring, no matter what transpires on the labor front.
Note: OPS+ and ISO+ are index metrics calculated by adjusting a player’s on-base percentage, slugging percentage (OPS+) and isolated slugging percentage (ISO+) for league and home park context. Absolute accuracy or precision is not implied by any of these numbers.
Buddy Kennedy, 3B
Age 22 season: 128 OPS+, 124 ISO+, .530 OW25
406 PA: 69% Double-A Amarillo | 31% High-A Hillsboro
Kennedy reached Double-A in a breakout season in which he hit .290 with 22 home runs, 50 walks and 16 stolen bases in 96 games at two levels. His production translates well even after accounting for the extreme nature of Amarillo’s park, which boosted runs by 27% and home runs by 69% last season. Kennedy plays third base and second base and needs to rely on that versatility because his bat projects as fringe-average to average in an MLB context. The D-backs did not add Kennedy to the 40-man roster, so he is Rule 5 eligible.
Vaughn Grissom, SS/3B
Age 20 season: 150 OPS+, 107 ISO+, .665 OW25
380 PA: 86% Low-A Augusta | 14% High-A Rome
Grissom hit .319 with seven homers and 16 stolen bases in 87 games in a season spent primarily at Low-A. His bat-to-ball skill and strong discipline—45 walks, 54 strikeouts—give him a hit-over-power profile underscored by his slightly above-average ISO index. Grissom played shortstop, second base and third base last season and projects more as a multi-position player than a pure shortstop.
Kyle Stowers, OF
Age 23 season: 142 OPS+, 139 ISO+, .554 OW25
530 PA: 52% Double-A Bowie | 30% High-A Aberdeen | 18% Triple-A Norfolk
Coby Mayo and Colton Cowser have emerged as Baltimore’s darlings of dynasty circles, and while praise is warranted for that duo, it’s also true that the power exploits of Stowers merit attention. The 2019 second-rounder out of Stanford showed easy plus power last season, smashing 27 homers in 124 games, most of them in the upper minors. Stowers is a pure Three True Outcomes-style hitter—he also had 73 walks and 171 strikeouts—and the lefthanded-hitting corner outfielder is positioned to make his MLB debut in 2022.
BOSTON RED SOX
Stephen Scott, 1B/C
Age 24 season: 148 OPS+, 158 ISO+, .511 OW25
422 PA: 61% Low-A Salem | 39% High-A Greenville
Most of Boston’s standout position prospects are household names, so finding a candidate here was a challenge. Despite being an older player at Class A, Scott has enough positive traits to recommend him. He hit at Vanderbilt. He hit on the Cape. And he hit in 2021, his first full pro season. He compiled a .401 on-base percentage with 16 homers, 62 walks and 78 strikeouts in 100 games, most of them in a Salem park that dampened home runs by nearly 50%. Scott is a lefthanded hitter whose best path forward involves a large share of time behind the plate, where he made just 18 starts last year.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Romy Gonzalez, SS/2B
Age 24 season: 146 OPS+, 159 ISO+, .608 OW25
404 PA: 85% Double-A Birmingham | 15% Triple-A Charlotte
White Sox affiliates didn’t win often in 2021, but Gonzalez was a win for the organization's player development department. After hitting four homers in Low-A in 2019, he emerged from the lost 2020 season with more power. Last season Gonzalez hit .283 with 24 homers in 93 games, mostly in the pitcher-friendly Double-A South. That earned him a bump to Triple-A and then a September callup to Chicago. He played five positions in the big leagues and projects as a bat-first multi-position option.
Owen Caissie, OF
Age 18 season: 154 OPS+, 135 ISO+, .651 OW25
226 PA: 60% Arizona Complex League | 40% Low-A Myrtle Beach
Four of the Cubs’ Top 10 Prospects were acquired via trade, a group that includes Caissie, who was part of the five-player return for Yu Darvish after the 2020 season. While Caissie is not unknown to hardcore prospect watchers, he has the type of rare, all-fields power to go mainstream. His .248 isolated slugging ranked top 10 for teenagers in the domestic complex leagues last year, but his power output sputtered at Low-A. Part of the reason for that was his park in Myrtle Beach suppressed home runs by about 25% and is especially tough on lefthanded hitters like Caissie.
Carlos Jorge, SS/2B
Age 17 season: 194 OPS+, 238 ISO+, .694 OW25
188 PA: 100% Dominican Summer League
On the one hand, Jorge’s .413 BABIP in the DSL will be difficult to match against more advanced competition, and his league-leading 10 triples overstate his power. But on the other, he was the most productive 17-year-old hitter in the DSL, according to wRC+. Jorge uses a simple lefthanded swing to make frequent quality contact and has difference-making speed. He’s short but solidly built and appears to have a bright future as a surefire middle infielder.
Bryan Lavastida, C
Age 22 season: 137 OPS+, 105 ISO+, .552 OW25
338 PA: 59% High-A Lake County | 35% Double-A Akron | 6% Triple-A Columbus
Cleveland did not lack breakout prospects in 2021. Steven Kwan, Jhonkensy Noel and Brayan Rocchio all made meteoric rises in prospect recognition. Joining them on the Guardians’ 40-man roster in November was Lavastida, a 15th-round pick in 2018 who transitioned from infield to catcher while in junior college. He had a strong overall season in 2021, hitting .289 with nine home runs and 40 walks in 84 games, 54 of them behind the plate. He stands out for his pitch recognition and desire to improve as a catcher.
Adrian Pinto, 2B/SS
Age 18 season: 188 OPS+, 149 ISO+, .740 OW25
224 PA: 100% Dominican Summer League
While Elehuris Montero blasted 28 homers and reached Triple-A, it’s Pinto who gets the nod here for being the only minor league hitter to bat at least 200 times last season and walk twice as often (38) as he struck out (18). Pinto won MVP honors in the DSL after hitting .360 with a league-leading 41 stolen bases in 54 games. He’s a 5-foot-6 hitter with strong control of the strike zone and a hit-over-power profile who will be tested in the U.S. this season.
Colt Keith, 3B/2B
Age 19 season: 126 OPS+, 85 ISO+, .594 OW25
270 PA: 67% Low-A Lakeland | 28% High-A West Michigan | 5% Florida Complex League
The Tigers tabbed Keith in the fifth and final round of the truncated 2020 draft. He hit his way out of extended spring training last year to reach Low-A in June, and while his power numbers don’t pop at first glance, he hit .286 with 41 walks in 65 games as a teenager in pitcher-friendly leagues. Keith also found more power late in the season as his comfort level grew, compiling a .937 OPS in 25 August games. The young lefthanded hitter will look to add more oomph to accompany the foundational .396 on-base percentage he put up in 2021.
Joe Perez, 3B/1B
Age 21 season: 124 OPS+, 120 ISO+, .505 OW25
475 PA: 65% Double-A Corpus Christi | 23% High-A Asheville | 12% Low-A Fayetteville
While Jeremy Peña rose farther, don’t overlook the growth shown by Perez, who hadn’t done much professionally after being drafted in 2017 and losing seasons to Tommy John surgery, shoulder surgery and then the pandemic. He came on strong in 2021 by hitting .291 with 18 home runs and 34 doubles with 43 walks in 106 games. Perez quickly mastered Class A and spent most of the season at Double-A, where he scuffled early before putting up an .889 OPS over his final 40 games. He could develop into a productive corner bat in MLB, especially if he proves capable at third base and possibly left field.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Michael Massey, 2B
Age 23 season: 141 OPS+, 158 ISO+, .539 OW25
439 PA: 100% High-A Quad Cities
Seemingly the entire Royals farm system broke out in 2021, with Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino all rising to prominence. Massey and his double-play partner Nick Loftin operated under that cover as they helped propel Quad Cities to the High-A Central title and the best record for a non-Rays minor league affiliate in 2021. Massey hit .289 with 21 home runs and 27 doubles in 99 games last season and credits the Royals with helping him get healthy, use his lower half to drive the ball and simply game-plan each at-bat.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Kyren Paris, SS/2B
Age 19 season: 131 OPS+, 132 ISO+, .609 OW25
206 PA: 66% Low-A Inland Empire | 27% High-A Tri-City | 7% Arizona Complex League
Health may have been the only factor that kept Paris’ 2021 season under wraps. Limited because of a broken bone in his leg, he compiled a .388 on-base percentage, drew 30 walks and stole 22 bases in 47 games. Though Paris hit just four homers, his plus speed helped him leg out extra-base hits, and he could approach average power as he matures. His isolated slugging translates well because of the extreme nature of a Tri-City home park that diminished home runs by 44% and ISO by 35%. The key for Paris will be making more contact after fanning 31% of the time last season.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Eddys Leonard, SS/2B
Age 20 season: 149 OPS+, 156 ISO+, .610 OW25
492 PA: 63% Low-A Rancho Cucamonga | 37% High-A Great Lakes
Leonard’s prospect stock rose dramatically last season as the 20-year-old middle infielder aced two Class A levels, hitting .297 with 22 home runs, 29 doubles and 51 walks in 107 games. His bat speed and quality of contact stood out, giving him at least average batting and power potential. Leonard started multiple games at shortstop, second base, third base and center field last season and likely settles in as a multi-position player who starts regularly.
Ian Lewis, 2B
Age 18 season: 161 OPS+, 177 ISO+, .522 OW25
161 PA: 100% Florida Complex League
The Marlins signed Lewis as a shortstop out of the Bahamas. He played second base in the FCL during his pro debut in deference to Jose Salas and then 2021 first-rounder Kahlil Watson, and he probably profiles best at the keystone. Lewis has rare barrel accuracy and impact for a young hitter, and it would not surprise some scouts to see him develop into an above-average switch-hitting second baseman.
Felix Valerio, 2B/SS
Age 20 season: 132 OPS+, 113 ISO+, .520 OW25
511 PA: 74% Low-A Carolina | 26% High-A Wisconsin
The Brewers acquired Valerio prior to the 2019 season in the deal that sent Keon Broxton to the Mets. He’s a 5-foot-7 righthanded hitter with a discerning batting eye who hit .290 with 11 home runs and 37 doubles while walking 69 times against 71 strikeouts in 114 games last season. He is an average runner who stole 31 bases, though it’s important to keep in mind the 2021 rule changes at Class A were designed to spur more baserunning activity. Valerio played all over the infield but fits best at second base with his below-average arm.
Edouard Julien, 2B/3B
Age 22 season: 162 OPS+, 155 ISO+, .690 OW25
514 PA: 60% High-A Cedar Rapids | 40% Low-A Fort Myers
Drafted out of Auburn in the 18th round in 2019, Julien made a loud pro debut at two Class A levels in 2021, compiling a .397 on-base percentage with 18 homers, 28 doubles and a minor league-leading 110 walks. The Cedar Rapids park suppressed homers and isolated slugging by about 20%, so Julien’s power production is a big part of his foundation along with his walk rate. He may not stick on the middle infield and could develop more into a player capable at multiple corner positions.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Oswaldo Cabrera, 2B/3B
Age 22 season: 138 OPS+, 160 ISO+, .542 OW25
514 PA: 93% Double-A Somerset | 7% Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
The Yankees had no shortage of breakout players, from the sublime—Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza—to the smaller sample—Anthony Garcia and Everson Pereira—but just as notable was Cabrera’s breakthrough. He began hitting the ball harder and in the air more often, and as a result he nearly quadrupled his previous career high with 29 home runs. If he keeps hitting, he could be a multi-position player who focuses on second and third base.
NEW YORK METS
Khalil Lee, OF
Age 23 season: 148 OPS+, 125 ISO+, .658 OW25
388 PA: 100% Triple-A Syracuse
Lee led all qualified Triple-A hitters with a .451 on-base percentage and an 18.3% walk rate last season and also chipped in 14 homers and 71 walks. His days as an elite basestealer appear to be over, but Lee could contribute as a lefthanded-hitting extra outfielder, maybe more if he unlocks more power or proves himself in center field.
Zack Gelof, 3B
Age 21 season: 154 OPS+, 141 ISO+, .611 OW25
158 PA: 90% Low-A Stockton | 8% Triple-A Las Vegas | 2% Arizona Complex League
Gelof fell to the second round of the 2021 draft after a fair season at Virginia, but he stepped up his game in the College World Series and then made a big impression on the Athletics in a small sample. He hit .333 with seven homers and 20 walks in 36 games, even proving himself capable of handling the speed of Triple-A during an emergency promotion there. If Gelof recovers his arm strength, he could stick at third base. If not, he could settle at second base or hit enough to play outfield.
2022 MiLB First Half Offensive Breakout Performers
Geoff Pontes breaks down position players who've improved year over year using wOBA.
Alexeis Azuaje, SS/2B
Age 19 season: 250 OPS+, 293 ISO+, .739 OW25
56 PA: 100% Florida Complex League
Matt Vierling broke out at Double-A, and had he continued hitting at Triple-A, he would be the pick here. Bryson Stott is a fine prospect, but too mainstream to include here. That leaves Azuaje and his mere 56 plate appearances in Rookie ball as the choice here. Good thing he did a lot with that playing time. Azuaje hit .400 with five homers, six doubles and four steals in 19 Florida Complex League games, all while striking out just five times. Azuaje earns an “incomplete” for 2021 but is worth monitoring this season.
Some context about Azuaje's games played total: The Phillies’ complex was hit hard by Covid last summer, and the team played just 40 games, the fewest in the FCL and 17 fewer than the teams that played the most games.
Jack Suwinski, OF
Age 22 season: 142 OPS+, 156 ISO+, .646 OW25
449 PA: 59% Double-A San Antonio | 41% Double-A Altoona
Perhaps more than any other player, Suwinski’s power output in 2021 was masked by his home parks. He hit 19 homers and 17 doubles in 111 games, while compiling 70 walks and a .383 on-base percentage. That home run total may not seem impressive, but when placed in context looks more favorable. The Padres traded Suwinski to the Pirates in the Adam Frazier deal in late July, meaning he played his home games in San Antonio and Altoona, two of the toughest power parks at Double-A. Suwinski is unlikely to be a star, but his lefthanded power and patient approach give him a chance to start on an outfield corner versus righthanders.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Juan Yepez, 1B
Age 23 season: 149 OPS+, 175 ISO+, .623 OW25
431 PA: 82% Triple-A Memphis | 18% Double-A Springfield
The Cardinals placed many of their 2021 breakouts on display in the Arizona Fall League, where the St. Louis contingent included Yepez, Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan. Yepez had the loudest season of the trio, hitting .286 with 27 homers and 51 walks in 111 games, most of them at Triple-A. He makes a lot of contact for a young hitter with plus raw power but is limited by a first base/DH defensive profile.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Eguy Rosario, SS/2B
Age 21 season: 129 OPS+, 123 ISO+, .622 OW25
480 PA: 100% Double-A San Antonio
Rosario quietly had a breakout season at Double-A, hitting .281 with 12 homers, 31 doubles and 49 walks in 114 games. He stole 30 bases but was caught 14 times. Rosario’s home park in San Antonio saw the second-fewest home runs of any Double-A or Triple-A park, which may not have hampered him as much as other hitters because he tends to work gap to gap. He does many things well but lacks a carrying tool at this point to elevate him beyond a utility infielder, which is a realistic outcome following his strong work last season.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Diego Rincones, OF
Age 22 season: 142 OPS+, 139 ISO+, .658 OW25
320 PA: 67% Double-A Richmond | 33% High-A Eugene
In a Giants system full of emerging young talents, Rincones gets a bit lost in the shuffle. What he lacks in physical projection, he makes up for in frequent hard contact and raw production. Rincones hit .294 with 15 homers in 76 games in a season spent mostly at Double-A, where his home park in Richmond curbed home runs by nearly 25%. Rincones carried a hot bat into the Venezuelan League in the offseason, and continued offensive production will be his ticket to an MLB opportunity.
Alberto Rodriguez, OF
Age 20 season: 128 OPS+, 124 ISO+, .529 OW25
459 PA: 94% Low-A Modesto | 6% High-A Everett
Seattle added Rodriguez to the 40-man roster in November to shield him from the Rule 5 draft. While his surface numbers don’t necessarily pop, there are signs of growth potential. Rodriguez hit .289 with 10 homers and 31 doubles in 100 games, while drawing 53 walks and posting a .379 on-base percentage. Of note: he struck 37 extra-base hits over his final 70 games to go with a .925 OPS, all while playing half his games in a Modesto park that sapped home runs by 31%. Rodriguez is a lefthanded-hitting corner outfielder with a solid foundation to build on.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Jonathan Aranda, 1B/2B
Age 23 season: 164 OPS+, 129 ISO+, .689 OW25
411 PA: 78% Double-A Montgomery | 22% High-A Bowling Green
Double-A South is the lowest-scoring hitting environment in the affiliated minors, so Aranda’s .950 OPS for Montgomery last year was actually one of the top 10 marks for a qualified hitter going back to 2006. Scouts love Aranda’s hitting profile: He waits for his pitch and drives it, often finding the barrel for extra bases to the gaps. He’s not a graceful defender at any position, but his bat will play at second or third base—and perhaps even at first base or DH.
Thomas Saggese, 3B/2B
Age 19 season: 135 OPS+, 157 ISO+, .594 OW25
288 PA: 100% Low-A Down East
The Rangers drafted Saggese in the fifth and final round of the truncated 2020 draft after he had performed against top SoCal high school competition. Texas moved him to Low-A at the very end of May last season, and he hit .256 with 10 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 73 games. While Saggese’s numbers don’t jump off the page, there are a number of promising statistical traits to build on. He drew 42 walks and compiled a .372 on-base percentage while hitting for good power as a 19-year-old while playing half his games in Down East, one of the better pitcher’s parks in his league. Saggese also managed a .910 OPS in the final two months of the season and could be trending up.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Spencer Horwitz, 1B
Age 23 season: 151 OPS+, 120 ISO+, .610 OW25
485 PA: 97% High-A Vancouver | 3% Double-A New Hampshire
While it’s easy to be dismissive of a 23-year-old first baseman who was a 24th-round pick from mid-major Radford, there are enough positive indicators to recommend Horwitz. He walked 70 times against 68 strikeouts in 109 games last season, hitting .291 with 12 homers and 30 doubles. He continued working his way on base with a .460 OBP in 16 Arizona Fall League games. Horwitz began trending up later in the season as he made more effort to lift the ball, and he hit nine homers and slugged .746 in his final 31 games, including time at Double-A.
One thing to keep in mind about Horwitz and his Vancouver teammates: The team was relocated to Hillsboro, a park that diminishes home runs by 30-40%, all season because of pandemic restrictions in Canada.
Luis Garcia, 2B
Age 21 season: 163 OPS+, 189 ISO+, .810 OW25
159 PA: 100% Triple-A Rochester
Until adding Brady House in the 2021 draft and Keibert Ruiz at the trade deadline a few weeks later, the Nationals’ system was largely bereft of position talent. That’s why the choice here is Garcia, who is no longer prospect eligible but has been the youngest player in the National League for two years running. While Garcia has struggled to gain footing in MLB, he shined in Triple-A last season, hitting .303 with 13 homers in 37 games before heading up to Washington for good in late July. The young second baseman is a smart hitter who may lack for “wow” tools but has good feel to hit.