Breakout Prospects For 2018
It’s a question that Baseball America readers began asking just a few moments after they received the first-ever Top 10 Prospects ranking. They looked over and digested the list and then asked the logical question: Who’s next?
Baseball America readers want to know about prospects before everyone else. It explains the popularity of the Prospect Handbook and the BA500 predraft ranking—and it’s why we spend all year working on writing about tomorrow’s stars today.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the potential breakout prospects for 2018. None of these players will crack our upcoming Top 100 Prospects list, but we feel confident that some of these players will be on next year’s Top 100.
When we did this list a year ago, the breakout group included Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette, Rays outfielder Jesus Sanchez, Padres second baseman Luis Urias and Astros righthander Forrest Whitley, among others.
On The Cusp
The following prospects won’t appear in this year’s Top 100, but they didn’t miss the list by all that much. These are prospects who in most cases already have a reasonably high profile because of draft status or present production but need a little bit more to graduate into the Top 100.
Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Twins
Graterol has just 51 pro innings and has yet to pitch above the Rookie-level Appalachian League, but in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2017, he filled out and saw his stuff take off. He can reach 100 mph as a starter with a chance to have four average or better pitches. He’s years away, but Graterol has front-of-the-rotation potential. Brandon Marsh, OF, Angels
Marsh has played sporadically as a pro because of various injuries. But when he’s been on the field, the 20-year-old has often been the best player on the field. A second-round pick in 2016, Marsh hit .350/.396/.538 at Rookie-level Orem last season, notching 13 doubles, five triples, four home runs and 10 stolen bases in just 39 games. His also recorded five outfield assists and stood out in both center and right field. Opposing managers and evaluators use phrases like "gifted” and "legit” to describe him. The only thing holding Marsh back is injuries. He didn’t play after signing due to a stress fracture in his back, and a sprained thumb interrupted his play at Orem. Marsh has all the ability of a top prospect. With a full-season of health in 2018, he may ascend to that status.
Jhailyn Ortiz, 1B/OF, Phillies
Large-framed corner outfielders and first basemen face an understandable skepticism. They have nowhere else to go defensively (except for DH) and the hitting requirements at these bat-first positions are quite hefty. But Ortiz has a chance to answer many of the questions players of his ilk face. He’s had a massive frame since well before he signed, but he continually surprises with how nimble he is on his feet. That surprising athleticism could allow him to stay in right field for a while. And his bat is quite advanced for his age, as he showed with an excellent short-season New York-Penn League season where he outperformed Phillies’ first-round pick Adam Haseley despite being three years younger than his teammate. All Ortiz needs is similar production over a full pro season to crack a future Top 100 Prospects list.
JoJo Romero, LHP, Phillies
Athleticism is a hallmark of most of the Phillies’ high-end pitching prospects, and Romero has it in spades. On the mound, the lefthander shows six pitches, including a fastball in the 91-94 mph range, a two-seamer and a cutter, as well as a slider, curveball and changeup that he can manipulate to land for strikes or bury for strikeouts. He’s a quick learner who takes copious notes about himself and his competition, and in 2017 he fanned 128 hitters in 129 innings at two Class A stops.
Justin Williams, OF, Rays
As a 21-year-old in 2017, Williams batted .301/.364/.489 in 96 games in the Double-A Southern League. He makes frequent contact and showed a more patient hitting plan last year, and he hits the ball hard with above-average raw power. He has a promising combination of Double-A performance, barrel-to-ball skills and power to all fields, but to tap into that power, Williams is going to have to generate more loft in his swing. That’s not a simple adjustment to make, but the components are there for him to be an everyday right fielder.
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These prospects are ones who could be considered deeper sleepers. They are ones who weren’t really in consideration for this year’s Top 100 Prospects but could very well work into next year’s as the combine plenty of talent with plenty of risk.
Luis Medina, RHP, Yankees
The Yankees’ system is full of powerful, high-end arms, and Medina might have the highest ceiling of them all. At just 18 years old, he made his U.S. debut at Rookie-level Pulaski in 2017 and immediately wowed evaluators with his present pitch package, though he’ll have to improve his control. His fastball sits in the high 90s and regularly touched triple digits. He pairs it with a curveball that flashes hammer-like qualities and a changeup that already shows excellent fade and separation from his fastball. Likely slated for low Class A Charleston, Medina has an excellent chance to find himself in next year’s Top 100 Prospects.
Freudis Nova, SS, Astros
Nova has yet to play an official game in the U.S., but his arrival should be one of the more anticipated domestic debuts of 2018 because he’s a shortstop who has a chance to hit for average and power. He already has the ability to sting the ball thanks to above-average bat speed, and he’s a twitchy, speedy shortstop. He needs refinement both at the plate and defensively, but he’s an 18-year-old with the building blocks to be an impact shortstop.
Jeisson Rosario, OF, Padres
A premier athlete who can do a standing backflip and win almost any footrace, Rosario stands out for his athleticism alone. There is more to the 18-year-old Dominican outfielder, though. What really sets Rosario apart is his advanced baseball skills to go with that athleticism. He walked (33) almost as much as he struck out (36) in his debut season the Rookie-level Arizona League, showing patience not typically seen from someone so young and tooled out. When he did swing, it was impressive. He showed the ability to drive the ball the other way. Rosario has work to do, understandably for someone who played the entire season at 17 years old. He is still filling out and needs to add power, which he already made strides with in instructional league. If he continues to get stronger and swing a more authoritative bat, Rosario could very well rocket into next year’s Top 100 Prospects.
Lolo Sanchez, OF, Pirates
As an 18-year-old, Sanchez showed all the attributes of an advanced hitter in an impressive .284/.359/.417 season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He recognizes pitches and has demonstrated solid hand-eye coordination. He has excellent speed, can stay in center field and can hit. Sanchez doesn’t project to be a power hitter thanks to a slight frame, but he already has shown that he has some gap power thanks to plenty of bat speed.