Image credit: Colt Keith (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
At the beginning of the minor league season, Baseball America spoke to scouts in Arizona and Florida to help identify prospects who had stuck out on the backfields during spring training.
Now, with only the Triple-A championship game remaining, we’ll look back at some of the prospects we listed then who fulfilled their potential during the regular year.
Josue De Paula, OF, Dodgers
De Paula closed the 2022 season with buzz that bubbled from the DSL to the fall instructional league and continued through spring training. The Dodgers showed their faith in the talented teenager by skipping him over the Arizona Complex League and instead assigning him to Low-A at the conclusion of extended spring training. De Paula responded with an excellent season, slashing .284/.396/.372 with 15 doubles and a pair of home runs in the California League. He added three more hits—two doubles and a home run—in Rancho Cucamonga’s run to the championship series.
Thayron Liranzo, C, Dodgers
Liranzo showed massive power during spring training and then kept on slugging during the regular year. He swatted 24 home runs in just 94 games with Low-A Rancho Cucamonga—18 from the left side and six from the right side—which led the league. His average and 90th percentile exit velocities of 91.7 and 106.1 mph stuck out as well. He added another double and another home run in Rancho’s postseason run.
Austin Charles, SS, Royals
Like De Paula, Charles was part of a group of prospects this year who were skipped—or mostly skipped—over the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League. Charles lasted two games in the league before heading to Low-A Columbia. The 19-year-old Charles wasn’t consistent in his first test of full-season ball, but finished the year with 18 doubles, three home runs and a dozen stolen bases. There’s plenty of polish to be applied, but he showed flashes of his immense upside while skipping a level.
Colt Keith, 3B, Tigers
Keith’s breakout started in 2022, when he was one of the stars of the Arizona Fall League. There, the Tigers prospect hit .344/.463/.541 with three home runs and as many walks (16) as strikeouts. In 2023, he blitzed the upper levels of the minor leagues, hitting a combined .306/.380/.552 with 38 doubles, 27 home runs with solid plate discipline and exit velocity numbers. There are questions about where he winds up defensively, but his bat should help him find a spot in the lineup. He also tied Rays prospect Junior Caminero for the most appearances on BA’s weekly Prospect Hot Sheet.
Lazaro Montes, OF, Mariners
As an amateur, Montes showed huge power. In 2022, he used that power to club 10 home runs in the DSL. After moving stateside, he continued to put big charges into baseballs in both the Arizona Complex and California Leagues. By season’s end, the massive 18-year-old had hit 13 home runs in 70 games between both levels. His 90th percentile exit velocity registered an eye-popping 106.3 mph, one of the best by any player in the minors 18 years old or younger.
David Festa, RHP, Twins
In the spring, scouts raved about Festa’s combination of a mid-90s fastball and two powerful offspeed pitches in his slider and changeup. In the regular season, the story was the same. That pitch mix helped him rack up 119 strikeouts in 92.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He needs to sharpen his control and command, but his outstanding stuff gives him plenty of upside.
Tsung-Che Cheng, SS, Pirates
Cheng was a sleeper prospect entering the year, ranking No. 24 among Pittsburgh’s Top 30. After a stellar campaign split between High-A Greenboro and Double-A Altoona, his profile has elevated. The twitchy infielder shows bat-to-ball skills with sneaky power and excellent speed. He was one of 11 minors with 10 or more triples in 2023, and he finished just two off of the MiLB lead in that category.
Five Prospects Used In Deadline Trades
— OF Drew Gilbert went from the Astros to the Mets in the deal that sent Justin Verlander back to Houston.
— RHP Jordan Leasure went from the Dodgers to the White Sox in a trade that brought Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly to Los Angeles.
— SS Kahlil Watson went from Miami to Cleveland in a deal that brought Josh Bell to the Marlins.
— C Edgar Quero joined the White Sox’ farm system in a trade that brought Lucas Giolito in for a short-lived stint in Los Angeles.
— OF Estar Suero moved from the Padres to the Pirates as part of the package that brought Ji-Man Choi and Rich Hill to San Diego.