BA Asks, Scouts Answer: Which Prospects Have Been The Most Impressive This Year?
For the first time since 2019, the minor leagues are in the middle of a season that started in April and will end in September. Tons of high-end talents have already graduated out of the world of prospects, and new names are starting to take their place.
The terrific trio of Adley Rutschman (Orioles), Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals) and Julio Rodriguez (Mariners), who led Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list entering the season, have graduated, as has Spencer Torkleson (Tigers). Other members of the preseason Top 10, including Shane Baz (Rays), CJ Abrams (Padres) will soon follow suit.
The prospect landscape is changing, so Baseball America decided to ask around to see which players have made the biggest impressions on evaluators this season. We asked more than 30 scouts, executives and coaches a simple question: Who is the most impressive pitcher and position player prospect you’ve seen all season long?
The results were both varied and intriguing. Some of the players were famous before the season and were obvious choices to climb into the upper echelon of the Top 100 list. Others were fairly anonymous but have opened so many eyes that they’ve become impossible to ignore.
Among hitters, there was a two-way tie at the top: D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll—who checked in at No. 5 on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100—and Rays infielder Curtis Mead, who has risen from No. 97 on the Preseason Top 100 to No. 28 at roughly the halfway point of the season.
Carroll’s credentials are obvious, and the only real impediments he’s faced in the last two seasons have been time and health. After a fantastic pro debut in 2019, he missed out on valuable game reps because of the lost 2020 season and then missed nearly all of the next season with a shoulder injury suffered after just seven games at High-A Hillsboro.
That the D-backs assigned Carroll to Double-A after just 18 games outside of Rookie ball was a clear indicator of the type of player they believed he’d become. He finished his tenure in the Texas League with a .313/.430/.643 slash line before earning a promotion to Triple-A on July 9. He also was honored with a spot on the National League’s roster for the Futures Game.
Simply put, Carroll is one of the brightest young stars in the sport.
“I would say the most impressive thing about him is the quality of plate appearance and ability to get to power,” one scout said. “Small guys always get labeled as having sneaky power, but it’s not sneaky. He shows it to you on line drives to the gap and he shows it to you on over-the-fence power. The ability to hit the ball hard and put himself into situations where he's able to do that, it's pretty impressive.”
Mead isn’t the same kind of prospect as Carroll, but he improved his stock a lot in 2021 after a season where he and his bat helped three Rays affiliates win championships before finishing his year with a star turn in the Arizona Fall League. He reinforced that reputation by bashing pitchers in the Southern League with a slash line of .305/.394/.548 before a midseason bump to Triple-A Durham.
The 21-year-old, whom the Rays acquired from Philadelphia in a small trade after the 2019 season, is not as complete of a prospect as Carroll because his defense is still a work in progress, especially when it comes to throwing across the diamond from third base.
Even so, there’s little doubt that he will hit enough to force his way to the big leagues no matter where he winds up on defense.
“It’s the barrel ability,” a second scout said. “Usually with the younger guys (what sticks out) is the adjustability. Mead shows that he’s got that knack that he can adjust. This guy understands how to adjust and how you’re trying to work him and how you’re trying to get him out—he’s just got a knack for the barrel.
“He’s a guy who uses the whole field as well. I think this guy is going to hit in the big leagues.”
Mead and Carroll were tied for the most votes among position players. Other players receiving multiple votes were Gunnar Henderson (Orioles), James Wood (Padres), Gabriel Moreno (Blue Jays), Michael Harris (Braves) and Robert Hassell III and CJ Abrams (Padres).
The final player who was named on the position side of multiple ballots was perhaps the biggest breakout star of the season, Milwaukee’s Jackson Chourio. The 18-year-old moved from extended spring training to Low-A Carolina on May 3 and immediately showed the tools that have vaulted him into the conversation of the very best prospects in the game.
Before leaving for Los Angeles to play in the Futures Game, Chourio was hitting .315/.365/.591 with 18 doubles and 12 home runs over 58 games. He stood out on defense, too, where he used double-plus speed to play a 60-grade center field.
“He’s a very natural baseball player,” a third scout said, “with instincts and feel to play along with a large tool set.”
The pitching side of the ballot was a two-horse race as well. As with the hitters, one winner is a very good prospect who has morphed into one of the sport’s elite by dominating the upper levels at a young age, while the other was way off the radar but pitched himself into the conversation by opening evaluators’ eyes nearly every time he takes the mound.
First up is the Southern League’s tallest order, the 6-foot-8 Marlins righthander who skipped Rookie ball entirely and instead spent the majority of his first season as a pro bullying universally more experienced hitters in the Florida State League.
He earned a late-season promotion to High-A Beloit for five starts, culminating in a battle of super prospects with Cleveland righty Daniel Espino. He opened 2022 as Miami’s top prospect and checked in at No. 48 on the preseason Top 100.
The Marlins then showed the world just how much confidence they had in Perez’s ability by assigning him to Double-A to begin the year, even though he’d be just 18 years old on Opening Day.
He’s rewarded their confidence and then some. Through his final turn before the Futures Game, Perez, who added strength over the offseason and now sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball, was a force with which to be reckoned. In 13 starts, he went 3-1, 3.05 with 87 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 62 innings. And although those numbers are sparkling enough, consider that they also include a rocky three-start stretch to begin the season.
Perez finished April with a five-inning, one-hit, 12-strikeout masterpiece. From that start forward, he was darn near untouchable: 3-0, 1.98 with 69 strikeouts and just 29 hits and nine walks in 50 innings.
“The body control for someone that age and that tall, it’s amazing, a fourth scout said. “The thing with him being so tall and being able to command the zone as well as he does at 19 years old and throw the strikes that he does, the consistent strikes, that’s the thing that’s amazing.”
Arizona Fall League Prospect Report — October 20, 2021
Spencer Torkelson and Marco Luciano mashed on Tuesday night.
Perez got five votes in the Best Pitcher category. The total tied him with Toronto lefthander and fellow Futures Gamer Ricky Tiedemann, whom the Blue Jays made their third-round pick in the 2021 draft out of Golden West (Calif.) JC.
The southpaw started making noise during the fall instructional league in his draft year when he showed a huge velocity bump, from the 88-94 he flashed in college to 94-98 in short stints on the back fields.
This year, he’s held that velocity while also flummoxing hitters at both Class A levels with a three-pitch mix amplified by his size and delivery. Before leaving for the Futures Game, Tiedemann had gone 5-3, 2.13 with 103 strikeouts in 67.2 innings
“When you see big, athletic lefties like that, they’re usually closers. To me, this guy has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter,” a fifth scout said. “It’s power and there’s angle, it’s a rare combination. He’s not skinny, either, he’s an athletic, strong kid, so you get next to him and it’s, ‘Holy cow, this guy’s a big leaguer.’ ”
Beyond their immense talent and love from the scouting community, one common bond binds the four leading vote-getters—Carroll, Mead, Perez and Tiedemann: They’re all slated to play in this weekend’s Futures Game. So if you want to see the sport’s next generation of stars, look no further than Dodger Stadium on Saturday.