A Dozen Key Takeaways From This Year’s Top 10 Prospects Rankings

Image credit: Elijah Green (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Another year. Another round of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 organizations.

No other exercise provides such a clear snapshot of where each farm system in baseball stands. To take advantage of this perspective, we explored many angles of Top 10 Prospects composition, including player age, position, production, signing status, means of acquisition, original organization and more.

In this way we studied the present to discern the future. Here are 12 things we learned from this study.

1. The Nationals have the youngest group of Top 10 Prospects

Three organizations’ Top 10 Prospects had an average age younger than 20 years old, led by the Nationals. 

Washington’s top 10 features five players drafted out of high school in the past three drafts:  Elijah Green in 2022, James Wood, Brady House and TJ White in 2021; and Robert Hassell III in 2020. It also includes two members of the international class that signed in January 2022: Cristhian Vaquero and Jarlin Susana

The Nationals imported Wood, Hassell and Susana in the Juan Soto deal with the Padres.

The Rockies, led by Ezequiel Tovar, Zac Veen and Drew Romo; and the Padres, led by Jackson Merrill, Dylan Lesko and Samuel Zavala, also have Top 10s with an average age younger than 20. 

The Angels and Reds also lean young in their Top 10s, with an average age just north of 20 years old.

2. The Dodgers have the most productive group of Top 10 Prospects 

Based on a tally of players’ estimated wins above replacement in the minor leagues, Dodgers Top 10 Prospects produced 32 WAR, more than any other system.

This makes intuitive sense when you factor the Dodgers’ player development track record and simply the experience level of Los Angeles’ Top 10. With an average age of about 22.5 years old, the Dodgers had the second-oldest Top 10.

Now, these WAR totals should be regarded as estimates of player value. I calculated crude WAR values for position players’ batting contributions—with no fielding component—and pitchers’ contributions scaled to strikeout, walk and home run rates—better known as fielding-independent pitching or FIP. 

The Dodgers have at least six Top 100 Prospects, but Triple-A outfielder James Outman, the system’s No. 10 prospect, was actually the top performer in 2022 with 5.2 WAR. Other Dodgers WAR standouts by my method were Gavin Stone (4.2), Miguel Vargas (3.8), Michael Busch (3.8), Diego Cartaya (3.7) and Bobby Miller (2.8). 

The Orioles’ Top 10 finished second with 30.2 WAR, followed by the Rays (26.8), Yankees (26.2) and Reds (24.6). In Cincinnati’s case, a lot of that WAR was compiled in other organizations. More on that later.

3. The Red Sox and Braves stand out most in terms of skewing toward batters or pitchers in their Top 10s 

Headlined by Marcelo Mayer and Triston Casas, the Red Sox’ top seven prospects are position players, as are eight of Boston’s top 10. No other team has as much position talent concentrated up top.

That makes sense in light of the Red Sox drafting high school position players in the first round in four of the past five drafts, beginning with Casas in 2018 and extending to Nick Yorke in 2020, Mayer in 2021 and Mikey Romero in 2022.

Boston also imported Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida and saw Dominican outfielder Miguel Bleis develop into the top prospect in the Florida Complex League.

Three other organizations also have position players occupying eight of the top 10 spots: the Rockies, Brewers and Orioles.  

The distinction is much clearer on the pitching side. Nine of the top 10 Braves prospects are pitchers, with the only exception being No. 10 Braden Shewmake, a shortstop and 2019 first-round pick. 

The pitcher-heavy farm system model has worked for the Braves before, back when Atlanta built its 1990s dynasty and again when it built toward its current run of five straight NL East division winners with a pitching staff led by Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka and others.

The Braves’ current prospect pitching crop leans heavily on pitchers drafted in 2021 and 2022—high schoolers AJ Smith-Shawver, Owen Murphy, JR Ritchie and Cole Phillips plus collegians Dylan Dodd, Blake Burkhalter and Spencer Schwellenbach—meaning they have many development seasons in front of them.

4. The D-backs and Nationals have the most first-round picks among their Top 10

Both the D-backs and Nationals have five players in their Top 10s who were drafted in the first round, the most of any organization. For this exercise, the definition of “first-round pick” includes compensatory picks in between the first and second rounds, but not competitive balance picks.

Arizona’s first-round roll call includes Corbin Carroll, Blake Walston and Drey Jameson from 2019; Jordan Lawlar from 2021 and Druw Jones from 2022.

Washington’s first-rounders are Jackson Rutledge from the 2019 draft, Robert Hassell III and Cade Cavalli from 2020, Brady House from 2021 and Elijah Green from 2022.

5. The Mets have the most position value among Top 10 Prospects

Developing prospects at up-the-middle positions bestows additional value than bringing up prospects at corner spots. Not only are up-the-middle players better bets to handle the most demanding positions in MLB, but they’re also likely capable of moving to a less demanding position to help roster functionality.

On top of that, positions like shortstop, second base and center field tend to skew young in MLB, so finding help outside the organization is more of a challenge.

To estimate the extent of position value in each club’s Top 10 Prospects, I simply applied the conventional position adjustments used to calculate WAR, where catcher and shortstop receive the highest run boost and first base and DH receive the biggest penalty. 

In plain terms, a first baseman would need to produce 20 additional runs with his bat over the course of a season than a shortstop to cancel out the shortstop’s position advantage.   

The Mets’ Top 10 tallied the most value by virtue of the positions its prospects played. This is attributable to catchers Francisco Alvarez and Kevin Parada, shortstops J.T. Williams and Ronny Mauricio, center fielder Alex Ramirez and third basemen Brett Baty and Mark Vientos

Every member of that group, save for Williams, will finish the 2023 season in Double-A or higher, adding clarity to their ultimate MLB roles.  

6. The Orioles have the best batter-pitcher prospect duo in baseball

Baltimore finished the season with the top position prospect in baseball in shortstop Gunnar Henderson. The organization also has righthander Grayson Rodriguez, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

Adding together the BA Grades for Henderson and Rodriguez, after accounting for risk adjustment, yields a score of 125, which is higher than any other organization’s top batter-pitcher combo.

Two other duos scored 110 for adjusted BA Grade total: the D-backs’ Corbin Carroll and Brandon Pfaadt and the Dodgers’ Diego Cartaya and Bobby Miller.   

The Mets’ top prospect duo of catcher Francisco Alvarez and righthander Kodai Senga also checks in at 110, with the caveat being that Senga is a 30-year-old Japanese professional who is more or less fully formed.

7. The Reds have the most Top 10 Prospects acquired via trade

Reds No. 1 prospect Elly De La Cruz is homegrown, but seven of Cincinnati’s other Top 10 Prospects were acquired in trades, the most of any organization this year.

The Reds reshaped their farm system with a busy 2022 trade deadline. Cincinnati added Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo from the Mariners for Luis Castillo and also Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Spencer Steer from the Twins for Tyler Mahle

March 2022 trades with the same two organizations—the Mariners and Twins—yielded three additional Top 10 Prospects for Cincinnati. The Reds added Chase Petty from Minnesota for Sonny Gray and, one day later, Connor Phillips and Brandon Williamson from Seattle for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez.  

Other Top 10s with multiple trade imports
5: Cubs (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, Ben Brown, Hayden Wesneski, Caleb Kilian)
4: Athletics (Kyle Muller, Ken Waldichuk, Esteury Ruiz, Royber Salinas)
4: Rays (Shane Baz, Curtis Mead, Junior Caminero, Cole Wilcox)
3: Nationals (James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Jarlin Susana)
2: Pirates (Endy Rodriguez, Liover Peguero)

8. The Angels join the Nationals in relative lack of pro experience

Age is one way to express the experience level of a club’s Top 10 Prospects. Another is to estimate the number of years of Rule 5 draft exemption an organization’s prospects have remaining.

When players sign their initial pro contracts, they are exempt from Rule 5 draft selection for four or five seasons, depending on signing age. Therefore, a club whose Top 10 Prospects have many years of Rule 5 exemption remaining have a group of players with minimal pro experience and, theoretically, the most development time ahead.

The Nationals stand out in this regard, with just two players—Dominican outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa and 2019 first-rounder Jackson Rutledge—who signed prior to 2020. All told, Washington’s top 10 has an estimated 24 seasons of Rule 5 exemption remaining.

The Angels tied the Nationals in this regard with an estimated 24 seasons of Rule 5 exemption left on the books. Five of Los Angeles’ Top 10 Prospects were drafted out of college—Zach Neto, Chase Silseth, Ky Bush, Sam Bachman and Ben Joyce—but despite already being in their early 20s, they all signed in 2021 or 2022, meaning they have minimal pro experience.

The Angels’ improving international program was responsible for Edgar Quero, Denzer Guzman and Nelson Rada, all of whom signed in 2021 or 2022. 

Other clubs with the most estimated years of Rule 5 exemption remaining include the Braves (22), Mariners (21) and Rockies (19).

9. The White Sox have the most international free agents among their Top 10 Prospects

Hall of Famer Minnie Miñoso, baseball’s first Black Latino star, spent the prime of his career with the White Sox in the 1950s. Miñoso was Cuban, and the White Sox continue to feature a Cuban presence to this day. Jose Abreu, Jose Contreras, Luis Robert, Alexei Ramirez and Yoan Moncada are all 21st century examples.

The trend extends to Chicago’s farm system, where outfielder Oscar Colas, third baseman Bryan Ramos and righthander Norge Vera are Cubans who headline the organization’s six international free agents in the top 10, the most of any team.

The other three are righthander Cristian Mena and shortstop Jose Rodriguez from the Dominican Republic and shortstop Lenyn Sosa from Venezuela.

Other Top 10s with a large international contingent

5: Yankees (Oswald Peraza, Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira, Randy Vasquez, Estevan Florial)
4: Padres (Samuel Zavala, Victor Lizarraga, Eguy Rosario, Nerwilian Cedeño)
4: Rockies (Ezequiel Tovar, Adael Amador, Warming Bernabel, Jordy Vargas)3
4: Marlins (Eury Perez, Jose Salas, Yiddi Cappe, Sixto Sanchez)

10. Four clubs tied for the distinction of being the original signing organization for the most Top 10 Prospects

Four organizations tied for the honor of having originally signed the most Top 10 Prospects. The Braves, Mariners, Padres and Phillies all have 14.

The Braves count their own Top 10 Prospects, plus four others traded to other organizations: Kyle Muller and Royber Salinas to the Athletics in the deal for Sean Murphy, Justyn-Henry Malloy to the Tigers in the deal for Joe Jimenez, and Drew Waters to the Royals in the deal for the 35th pick in the 2022 draft, which turned into high school righthander JR Ritchie.

The Mariners originally signed nine of their current Top 10 Prospects, as well as Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo, the headliners in the Luis Castillo deal with the Reds; Connor Phillips and Brandon Williamson, part of the Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suarez deal with the Reds; and Adam Macko, part of the package sent to the Blue Jays for Teoscar Hernandez.

Five prospects traded by the Padres wound up on other organizations’ Top 10 Prospects lists. San Diego dealt James Wood, Robert Hassell III and Jarlin Susana to the Nationals as part of the package for Juan Soto, while also sending lefthander Robert Gasser to the Brewers as part of the Josh Hader deal. The Padres also dealt Cole Wilcox to the Rays after the 2020 season as a key part of the Blake Snell trade.

The Phillies are a bit of a sneaky entry. They traded Logan O’Hoppe to the Angels for Brandon Marsh and Ben Brown to the Cubs for David Robertson at the 2022 trade deadline. But their other original signees were traded away years ago.

Philadelphia dealt a 19-year-old Australian infielder named Curtis Mead to the Rays for Cristopher Sanchez after the 2019 season. Mead is now a Top 100 Prospect; Sanchez is a fringe big league reliever. The Phillies’ fourth original signee is Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the Marlins’ return when they traded JT Realmuto prior to the 2019 season. That one has worked out famously well for Philadelphia.

11. Mid-majors can hang with Power Five Conference schools in terms of the total of four-year college players ranked among Top 10 Prospects

The Dodgers, Astros and Tigers all have seven four-year college products ranked in their top 10s. This is the highest total among organizations. 

You can see a college focus in these club’s draft preferences the past three years. Los Angeles has drafted the likes of Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone, Dalton Rushing and Nick Nastrini out of the college ranks. Houston has selected Drew Gilbert, Jacob Melton and Spencer Arrighetti. Detroit has drafted Jace Jung, Ty Madden, Peyton Graham and Dillon Dingler

More than the raw total of four-year collegians in top 10s, I found the distribution of conferences to be interesting. Of the 120 such players who ranked in Top 10s, just 68—or 57%—hailed from Power Five Conferences, i.e. Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern and Pacific-12. 

Put another way: More than 40% of Top 10 Prospects drafted out of four-year colleges come from mid-major programs. Three even come from Division II programs.

I would have expected Power Five schools to dominate the tally, but that is not the case this year, which indicates that pro prospects come from everywhere.

12. Members of the Rangers’ Top 10 Prospects have the most notable bloodlines

Not only were 2021 first-round righthander Jack Leiter and 2022 first-round righthander Kumar Rocker college teammates at Vanderbilt, but both Rangers picks are also sons of famous fathers.

Leiter’s father Al ranked as the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect in 1988 and, after several fits and starts, developed into a frontline major league starter in his late 20s. The lefthander made two all-star teams, garnered Cy Young Award votes in two seasons and pitched for 19.

Rocker’s father Tracy is in the College Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle and played two seasons in the NFL. He is currently the Eagles’ defensive line coach.

Those aren’t the only two Rangers prospects with notable bloodlines. 

Shortstop Luisangel Acuña is the younger brother of Braves superstar Ronald Jr. Their brother Bryan, a shortstop, signed with the Twins in January, while their father Ronald Acuña spent eight seasons in the affiliated minor leagues.  

Third baseman Josh Jung is notable for being the older brother of the Tigers’ top 2022 pick Jace Jung. Both were drafted in the first round out of Texas Tech, three years apart. It’s a rare group of players who can say the same.

Other brothers to both be drafted in the first round include Dmitri and Delmon Young, BJ and Justin Upton and Jeff and Jered Weaver. Brothers JD, Tim and Stephen Drew are the only trio of brothers to all be drafted in the first round.

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