BA Roundtable: Who Is The No. 1 Prospect In Baseball?

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

Who is the best prospect in baseball? 

Coming into the season, it was Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson, with D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll close behind him at No. 2. Both prospects entered the year with major league experience and needing fewer than 30 at-bats to graduate, which both of them did in April. 

Now that we’re almost two months into the season, there’s a robust conversation to be had about who should be the No. 1 prospect in baseball right now. There isn’t a clear consensus choice for the top spot among Baseball America writers, with a mix of players in contention and varying levels of conviction in how strongly we feel about who should be No. 1. 

As we work to update our Top 100 list next month, we had a roundtable conversation to walk through each of our thought processes on who we consider the best prospect in baseball.

Ben Badler: There are some years when we either have an obvious No. 1 prospect in baseball or an obvious elite group of two or three players in consideration for the top spot. It’s typically position players who have dominated the upper levels with impact tools and often at a premium position, with a mix of high upside, relatively lower risk and close proximity to the big leagues. We had that coming into the season with Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson and D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll, but with those two now graduated, there isn’t that surefire No. 1 prospect who checks all those boxes. 

Elly De La Cruz has a case—nobody in baseball has a better mix of physicality, athleticism and tools—but his strikeout rate and overall approach still carry more risk than you would like for a No. 1 prospect in baseball. I love Jackson Chourio too, and he has raced through the minors to reach Double-A as a 19-year-old, but he certainly isn’t dominating there. They are both excellent prospects, but the best prospect in baseball right now is Jackson Holliday. For a 19-year-old who was playing high school baseball this time last year, he already looks too advanced for High-A. He has the tools to stick at shortstop. He has an excellent swing and a great eye for the strike zone. He’s showing flashes of power now, with the bat speed and strength projection for more power to come. Holliday is one of the best pure hitters in the minors and his on-base skills are superlative. Chourio has elite athleticism, can play center field, is a level ahead of Holliday and has a chance to be a 30-plus home run hitter, but Holliday can play shortstop and has an even higher OBP upside because he’s such a disciplined hitter.

JJ Cooper: At this moment, I’ll argue for Elly De La Cruz, but let me stress that there are multiple players with clear and compelling arguments right now. I see the argument for Jackson Holliday and I see the argument for Jackson Chourio

But at this moment, I am most enamored with the argument for De La Cruz, because I think we may be seeing signs that he’s improving at the one remaining glaring flaw in his game.

As talented as Chourio and Holliday are, when it comes to everything other than hitting ability, De La Cruz easily bests them. He has 80 speed, an 80 arm and 80 power. It seems odd to suggest that De La Cruz can be equal or better than Holliday as a defender at shortstop, but that also seems plausible. De La Cruz’s ability to play the position with the body of a 6-foot-6 NBA wing is hard to fathom.

I remain a little worried about De La Cruz’s hit tool. But he’s a 21-year-old switch hitter who has yet to find a level of baseball advanced enough to fully challenge him. It’s hard to find comparable players who have blazed his path. And there are encouraging signs that he’s starting to make strides in his selectivity. After a brutal start at Triple-A, his strikeout rate has dipped and his walk rate has climbed.

I do think Chourio and Holliday are safer bets at No. 1, but De La Cruz could be the best player in the game if he puts it all together. So he’s my choice for No. 1 … today.

Check back with me tomorrow.

Matt Eddy: Brewers outfielder Jackson Chourio hasn’t gotten off to the start we envisioned when we ranked him as the No. 3 overall prospect in baseball heading into the season. But perspective in this case is warranted. Chourio is the only teenage regular at Double-A or Triple-A and is the same age as high school players drafted in 2022, most of whom are currently at Low-A if not extended spring training. In other words, some turbulence should be expected for such a young player adjusting to Double-A, especially for one who also has to adjust to the pre-tacked (read: high-spin) baseball being used in the Southern League this season. Chourio still possesses carrying tools all over his scouting card, and despite unattractive strikeout and walk rates, he’s actually making a lot of contact on pitches in the zone. Once his batted-ball luck evens out—and he cleans up his chase rate a bit—look for the 19-year-old Chourio to remind everyone why he is a special talent as a potential five-tool center fielder.

Kyle Glaser: This is a very tough call and there are valid arguments for a lot of different players. Jackson Chourio, Elly De La Cruz and Jackson Holliday have all shown a level of ability worthy of being the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and I don’t think we should forget about Jordan Walker in this conversation, either. Ultimately, what makes you a star in MLB first and foremost is the bat, and I think Holliday is the best pure hitter of the group. His swing, pitch recognition, strike-zone discipline and patient all-fields approach are beyond his years, and he continues to get stronger every year to drive the ball. He hits righties and lefties, handles fastballs and breaking balls, can pull a ball down the line or drive it the opposite way over the left-center field fence and has shown the ability to make rapid adjustments to handle better stuff. He has all the traits of a special hitter, and he’s a good athlete whose tools continue to get better with age and physical maturity.

Like all young players, there will be adjustments Holliday has to make, especially once he makes the jump from High-A to Double-A—the biggest jump in the minors. But based on everything he’s shown so far, he appears to be a special hitter, and that gives him a good chance to be the best major leaguer out of the current crop of prospects. 

To be clear, none of this should be seen as a criticism of De La Cruz, Chourio or any of the other supremely talented players in the minors right now. It’s just a testament to Holliday and how special of a young hitter he appears to be. 

Josh Norris: I’ve struggled with this one for a couple of days now, but I keep coming back to Elly De La Cruz and his immense potential for impact on both sides of the ball. He’s an elite runner, thrower and should produce in-game power that is at least a 70 if not a true 80. He will certainly face positional questions, although he is deeply passionate about his desire to stick at shortstop. If he can do that—he’s played more games at shortstop than at third base this season—he has the ceiling of the face of the Reds’ franchise and one of the game’s preeminent superstars. He can change a game with his bat, legs and arm—lest we forget he is just one season removed from a near 30-40 season as one of the youngest players in Double-A. There are certainly going to be questions that come with his hit tool and his amount of swing-and-miss—it should be noted here that as of May 25 De La Cruz is a career .296 hitter in the minor leagues—but the preponderance of elite tools and skills that populate the rest of his scouting card should make up for him not being the purest hitter in the minor leagues. 

Geoff Pontes: It feels like we’re in the midst of a true 1A, 1B and 1C situation at the top of the prospect rankings. Elly De La Cruz, Jackson Chourio and Jackson Holliday all have viable claims to the throne. So far in 2023, Holliday has emerged as the hottest prospect in the game. He combines elite plate skills and projectable power with the ability to stick in the dirt. His contact rate is plus, his in-zone contact is plus and he rarely chases outside the zone. He’s a plus runner with at least average defense at shortstop. While his power is developing, his underlying exit velocity data is strong. Despite having the least amount of experience among the three top candidates, Holliday presents the safest profile in the top spot as a polished infielder with room to grow into more impact and physical projection. It’s a peculiar case where the two players in the upper minors actually present more risk. That said, I’ve tossed and turned and flipped and flopped between Holliday and De La Cruz in recent weeks. De La Cruz provides a level of impact, twitch and upside that’s simply too difficult to ignore. Few players hit the ball as hard as De La Cruz; even fewer players possess the power and speed combination that he does. A quick-twitch athlete, De La Cruz is the most physical of the three candidates and is the strongest defender of the group. The questions are his bat-to-ball skills and swing decisions. There have been improvements in those areas early this spring, but is that enough to overcome the perceived safety of Holliday? In my opinion, yes. De La Cruz provides potential upside that neither Holliday nor Chourio can match. He’s a potential 30/30 candidate with plus defense on the left side of the infield. De La Cruz has “best player in baseball” upside that I feel Holliday and Chourio might lack. 

Carlos Collazo: For me it’s Jackson Holliday. My question for any doubters would simply be: what is the hole in Holliday’s game that prevents him from being the No. 1 prospect in baseball? The only case against him in my mind is the fact that he hasn’t yet played in the upper minors, and as Ben noted in his rationale, this is a 19-year-old who was playing high school baseball last spring. It’s hardly his fault that he hasn’t yet been promoted. His career minor league numbers are fantastic: .367/.512/.608 with seven home runs, 15 stolen bases, a 23.1% walk rate and a 15.8% strikeout rate. His pitch recognition and plate discipline already seem elite and he pairs plus or better tools, a premium position, a lefthanded bat and tantalizing physical projection to the mix as well. Holliday has not yet reached his physical maturity and yet he’s still hitting the ball harder on average than Jackson Chourio, Elly De La Cruz and James Wood—all of whom are older and quite a bit more physical. He’s got the positional advantage on all three of those players, and has a chance to provide plus defense at shortstop with plus speed as well. So, he hasn’t played at Double-A yet. That doesn’t bother me at all, particularly at a time where the top-100 talent seems down and when there’s no clear-cut upper-level hitter in front of him who offers a better combination of pure upside and polish.

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