Five Players Who Could Be The No. 1 Prospect In 2023
Baseball America’s initial Top 100 Prospects list for 2022 dropped on Wednesday. The list was fronted by the terrific triumvirate of Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez and Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.
The simple fact that Witt, who was an easy choice for BA’s Minor League Player of the Year, comes in at No. 3 speaks to how powerful the top group is entering the season.
Another common thread at the top of the list is proximity. It can be easily argued that seven of the players ranked among the Top 10 have a reasonable shot of graduating from prospect eligibility in the coming season.
Two other players—Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno and Padres shortstop C.J. Abrams—could cross the prospect threshold as well, but they have a little more work to do because of the time they missed with injuries in 2021.
So, if all of the Top 10 prospects graduate, the obvious question is: Who’s going to be the game’s top prospect at this time next year? We have a few guesses.
1. Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
This isn’t exactly going out on a limb. Volpe ranks No. 10 right now, so if the nine players above him graduate from prospect consideration, then it’s reasonable to think he could slide right into that No. 1 spot. Of course, he’ll have to perform now that he’s ready to test himself at the upper levels.
Volpe’s 2021 season was exemplary in every facet. He controlled his at-bats with the pedigree of a much more veteran player, hit for both average and power, and showed enough chops to stick on the infield. If he comes close to repeating his performance from a year ago, Volpe could reign as the Yankees’ first No. 1 overall prospect since lefthander Brien Taylor topped the list in 1992.
2. Jordan Walker, 3B, Cardinals
Walker’s first season as a pro was tremendous. The Cardinals’ first-rounder hit the stuffing out of baseballs at both Class A stops on the way to one of the minor leagues’ most jaw-dropping campaigns. His average exit velocity of 91 mph tied him with a host of other Top 100 prospects in the race for second place behind Oneil Cruz, and his 14 home runs tied him with Boston’s Nick Yorke for seventh in home runs among teenagers in 2021.
There are questions about whether Walker can stick at third base in the long run, but his bat has the chance to be special enough to vault him into consideration for the game’s top prospect.
3. Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds
Entering the 2021 season, the switch-hitting De La Cruz was unknown to most people outside the Reds organization. After dominating in the Arizona Complex League and tantalizing in the Low-A West, he’s zoomed all the way to No. 77 on this year’s Top 100. He got that acclaim thanks to a standout tool set which includes potentially plus power and 70 grades for his speed and throwing arm. His average exit velocity of 91 mph tied him with, among others, Julio Rodriguez, Riley Greene, Jordan Walker, Brennen Davis and Spencer Torkelson.
De La Cruz’s frame and explosive tools have led evaluators to dream very big on what he could become if he continues to develop over the next few seasons. The risks surrounding a player with such little experience and such long levers are real—some scouts have drawn a line between De La Cruz and Pirates top prospect Oneil Cruz—but the payoff could be outstanding if he can continue performing like he did in 2021.
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4. Corbin Carroll, OF, D-Backs
Before the season, 2021 was primed to be Carroll’s coming out party. Instead, he played seven games before suffering a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. Carroll has long been regarded as a potentially plus hitter with the athleticism and speed to stick in center field.
Part of his to-do list entering the season involved showing a touch more power. He showed up looking noticeably stronger, and the result was two home runs in his first 23 at-bats. Those two homers doubled his career output. If he can return in 2022 (when he’ll be just 21 years old) and show the kind of power he hinted at a year ago, Carroll will no doubt be part of the conversation for the No. 1 spot in 2023.
5. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox
Baseball America ranked Mayer as the No. 2 prospect heading into the 2021 draft. He fell to the No. 4 slot, where the Red Sox gladly scooped him up and added him to the top of an impressive system that also includes fellow Top 100 prospects Triston Casas and Nick Yorke.
Mayer is gifted both offensively and defensively and has plenty of projection remaining. He showed enough in his pro debut to take the top spot among the Florida Complex League’s Top 10 prospects and rank No. 15 in the initial 2022 Top 100 Prospects list. His hit tool, defense and throwing arm each project as plus or better, and his 55-grade power is only a hair behind.