Helium Review: How Did Potential Breakout MLB Prospects Fare?


Image credit: Trey Cabbage (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The 2023 minor league season is nearly in the books, meaning this year’s Hot Sheets — Baseball America’s weekly ranking of the 20 hottest prospects in the minors — are in the rear-view mirror. Earlier, we took a look at at which prospects landed on Hot Sheet most often—the Tigers’ Colt Keith and the Rays’ Junior Caminero tied with six appearances apiece.

Now, we’ll go back and review our Helium selections for the season. The Helium space is reserved each week for a prospect who was somewhat unheralded but has begun making noise and could be on the way to bigger things.

This year’s highlights included a Red Sox outfielder who’s blossomed into one of the game’s best prospects, an athletic lefty in the Yankees’ lower levels, an Astros infielder who hits the dickens out of the ball and a Cubs shortstop who could be on a rocket ship to stardom.

We’ve included slightly abridged versions of each player’s original helium capsule (along with the initials of the writer who nominated the player and wrote the blurb) followed by an update on how the player’s season finished.

Helium Selections

Didier Fuentes, RHP, Braves
What We Said: Fuentes works mostly with two pitches: A fastball in the low 90s that peaked around 95 and a slurvier breaking ball in the 70s that he’s working to throw harder. The Braves’ decision to move Fuentes directly to Low-A is less about his stuff than it is about the maturity he’s shown since he turned pro. They believe he can handle a jump to a level where he will pitch under the lights and in front of bigger crowds than can be found at the complex. (JN)

How It Went: Despite subpar numbers, Fuentes intrigued evaluators with a loose, projectable frame and stuff that could take jumps in the coming years. Fuentes made just 10 appearances (seven starts) with Low-A before being transferred to the Florida Complex League, where he didn’t make an appearance. He worked mostly with four- and two-seam fastballs that averaged around 93 mph as well as a slider in the low 80s. He mixed in the occasional curveball and changeup at times, too. He was shut down at midseason with a minor injury. 

Trey Cabbage, 1B/OF, Angels
What We Said: Few players in the minors hit the ball harder than Cabbage. And so far, he’s been making plenty of contact as well. Cabbage is a career .254 hitter, and his .327/.434/.664 slash line last year in an injury-shortened season at Double-A Rocket City was the first time he’d ever topped .270 in a season. But Cabbage’s power is real and he has the makings of being the better side of a righty-lefty platoon as a lefthanded hitter who feasts on righthanded pitchers. There’s reason to pay attention to Cabbage as a late-bloomer. (JC)

How It Went: Cabbage ended up making his MLB debut in 2023 with 22 games in multiple stints in Los Angeles. He struggled in the major leagues, but posted a 30-30 season at Triple-A Salt Lake as he hit .306/.379/.596 for the Bees. 

Nate Furman, 2B, Guardians
What We Said: The 2022 fourth-round pick out of UNC Charlotte has a strong combination of contact, approach and speed, and in the early part of his professional career, has shown an extremely advanced hit tool. Furman almost never chases and rarely misses in-zone and his power is well below-average, but developments in the way of contact quality over the coming years could yield excellent results. (GP) 

How It Went: While the quality of Furman’s bat-to-ball skills and approach maintained throughout the season, he hit just .227/.340/.267 over 68 games with High-A Lake County. On a positive note, Furman had the second-lowest swinging-strike rate (3.2%) of all minor league players with 400 or more plate appearances. His 89% contact rate, 94% in-zone contact rate and 15% chase rate put Furman in rare territory as far as plate skills, but his 83 mph average exit velocity illustrates his serious lack of impact. 

David Sandlin, RHP, Royals
What We Said: A 2022 11th-round pick out of Oklahoma, Sandlin has impressed early and often for Columbia this spring. He mixes four-pitches led by his mid-90s fastball, mid-80s slider with some sweep, a two-plane curveball and a split changeup. Sandlin’s premium stuff and average command has proven to be too much for Low-A hitters. The 2022 draftee is a name to watch this summer. (GP)  

How It Went: Sandlin earned a promotion to High-A Quad-Cities in late June, but made just two starts for the River Bandits before hitting the injury list for the remainder of the season with an undisclosed ailment. Sandlin showed command of excellent stuff over his first 12 starts with Columbia, but his first two starts in High-A didn’t look nearly as rosy. Depending on the severity of Sandlin’s injury the righthander will enter 2024 looking to make it through the season healthy. 

Roman Anthony, OF, Red Sox
What We Said: Anthony’s numbers this season might not jump off the page, but scouts who have seen him believe the ingredients are there for a potentially special player. He has a gorgeous swing from the left side, an outstanding knowledge of the strike zone and raw power that belies his meager slugging output this year at Low-A Salem. That raw juice also shows up in his 90th percentile exit velocity, which hovers around 108 mph. For that power to really begin manifesting itself on the stat sheet, he’ll need to get the ball in the air much more often. Nonetheless, the 18-year-old Anthony has shown a lot of positive markers in his first full season as a pro.  (JN)

How It Went: Anthony was one of the season’s best success stories. Those ingredients he was showing at Low-A coalesced as the year wore on, and he became a supernova once he was promoted to High-A Greenville. He reached Double-A late in the year and finished the year with 27 doubles, 14 homers and an .869 OPS across all three levels. After opening the year as an intriguing prospect, he’ll head into 2024 not only as one of Boston’s top prospects, but also as one of the top overall talents in the minors. 

Chandler Simpson, OF, Rays
What We Said: Simpson actually led Division I in batting average (in 2022), but there were concerns about how his slap-hitting approach would play in pro ball. So far, he’s found the liberalized basestealing rules of pro ball to be quite enticing. He’s swiped 23 bags in 28 games, while holding his own with a .274/.349/.336 slash line. The Rays quickly moved Simpson off the dirt, where his well below-average arm didn’t profile, but he has the speed to be an asset defensively in center or left field. (JC)

How It Went: Simpson tied for the minor league lead with 94 stolen bases in 109 attempts. He hit .293/.373/.345 between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. He had more walks (54) than strikeouts (44) in an excellent pro debut.

Luis Lara, OF, Brewers
What We Said: You may have heard of the last Brewers teenage outfield prospect to be assigned to Low-A Carolina in the second month of the season. That would be our No. 1 overall prospect Jackson Chourio. While Lara lacks the impact of Chourio, he has an advanced hit tool and speed on the bases. His ability to make loads of contact and control the strike zone against older competitors is an excellent sign of Lara’s polished and high-end hit tool. The Venezuelan outfielder should rise up lists throughout the season as he continues to display advanced plate skills. (GP) 

How It Went: Lara impressed with his plate skills as one of the youngest players to spend a full season above the complex level. He hit .285/.379/.354 over 70 games with Low-A Carolina before a solid 17-game showing with High-A Wisconsin to cap off his season. The undersized switch-hitter produced well above-average contact and chase numbers. Whether Lara grows into fringe-average power remains to be seen but he shows the ability to find the barrel with the ability to avoid strikeouts and get on base. 

Zach Dezenzo, INF, Astros
What We Said: After tearing up High-A Dezenzo, he was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi last weekend. While Asheville certainly inflates hitters’ statistical output under the hood, Dezenzo’s numbers have been strong with good exit velocity numbers, approach and solid contact. A 12th-round pick last July, Dezenzo has proven to be a savvy selection by the Astros, as he’s shown some of the highest upside at the plate among Astros positional prospects. There’s some question around his future defensive home, but the bat is real. (GP) 

How It Went: Dezenzo hit .257/.339/.486 over 63 games following the promotion to Double-A. The infielder impressed analysts with some of the highest exit velocity numbers in the minor leagues. While there’s some swing and miss in Dezenzo’s game, he might have enough bat-to-ball skills and approach to consistently get into his plus-plus raw power. He’s a limited defender with power and plate skills, so the pressure is on Dezenzo’s bat to carry the profile. 

Chase Hampton, RHP, Yankees
What We Said: In 2021, the Yankees took Will Warren in the draft, kept him out of game action until the next year, choosing instead to work with him at instructional league and during the offseason. The following season, he rose up the ranks of the Yankees’ best arms. This year, that role is being played by Hampton, whom New York took out of Texas Tech in the sixth round in 2022. Now that he’s been unleashed, Hampton has blown away the competition and evaluators alike and is in the conversation for the best pitching prospect in the system. He attacks hitters with a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and backs it with a mix of cutter, slider and curveball that gives him weapons to both righties and lefties. (JN)

How It Went: In an organization full of talented, high-performing pitchers, Hampton has a claim as the system’s top pitching prospect. In High-A, his blend of potentially above-average offerings and physicality helped him out-stuff the competition. Once he reached Double-A, he learned he needed to add a little more finesse to his game and show better command of his mix. Once he does that, he might raise his ceiling even further. 

Thayron Liranzo, C, Dodgers
What We Said: Liranzo was part of the Dodgers’ backfield bounty that wowed evaluators this spring. Now that the lights have come on, he’s upped his game. The 19-year-old backstop has become a better defender and has plus arm strength behind the dish, too. The longballs Liranzo hits are no cheapies, either. His average exit velocity hovers around 92 mph and his 90th percentile exit velocity is in the same range as prospects like Kyle Manzardo (Rays), Marcelo Mayer (Red Sox) and fellow up-arrow catching prospect Samuel Basallo (Orioles). (JN)

How It Went: Liranzo was one of the best offensive backstops in the minor leagues. His 24 home runs were second-most among all minor league catchers, two behind Brewers prospect Wes Clarke, who played in 24 more games. The 20-year-old hits the ball quite hard (his average exit velocity was 91.3 mph) and he was one the youngest players in the minors to hit more than 20 homers in fewer than 100 games. 

Welbyn Francisca, SS, Guardians
What We Said: In the most recent international period, Cleveland gave its highest bonus to Francisca, a shortstop from Venezuela. The 17-year-old doesn’t cut an imposing figure … but he can hit. He shows good rhythm and barrel accuracy from both sides of the plate. Francisca has made enough defensive progress that he might stick at shortstop, but even if he has to move to second base he seems poised to add to Cleveland’s wellspring of talented middle infielders. (JN)

How It Went: Francisca was one of the best prospects in the Dominican Summer League. Scouts who saw him came away impressed by his feel to hit, barrel awareness and surprising strength for a player who doesn’t appear overly physical. Even if he doesn’t stick at shortstop, he’s shown the early signs of a player who could wind up as an offensive-minded second baseman. 

Jefferson Rojas, SS, Cubs
What We Said: When Rojas signed with Chicago in 2022, he had the look of a hit-first infielder with excellent power potential depending on how his frame filled out. This spring, he had scouts buzzing during extended spring training, and the team itself showed its belief in Rojas by bumping him to Low-A after just one game in the Arizona Complex League. Now at Myrtle Beach, Rojas has caught fire. He’s 11-for-34 to start his tenure in Low-A, including four doubles and a home run. He also had a run of four straight two-hit games. It’s early, but the arrow is pointing up on Rojas. (JN) 

How It Went: After essentially skipping the ACL, Rojas showed plenty of potential while playing up a level. He showed power and plate skills, including seven home runs and a strikeout rate of just less than 20%. He was one of two prospects who played the bulk of the season at 18 years old and got 250 ABs, while hitting seven more home runs. The other player? Orioles prospect Samuel Basallo, who has vaulted into the game’s elite minor league talents. 

Abimelec Ortiz, 1B, Rangers
What We Said: Ortiz is a first base-only lefthanded masher with moderate plate skills and excellent exit velocity data. The 21-year-old has 15 home runs between two levels and has an average exit velocity of 90 mph this season. There’s plus power with moderate plate skills, but Ortiz will have to hit due to his lack of positional value. (GP)

How It Went: Ortiz made some minor swing changes this past offseason and also got surgery to correct his vision. Both of those changes helped unlock big-time power that led to 33 home runs across both levels of Class A. Like any other hitter, he still has some holes to close, but the progress he made over the course of the season put him squarely in the middle of Texas’ prospect hierarchy. 

Zack Showalter, RHP, Cardinals
What We Said:
Showalter, who broke onto the Orioles Top 30 Prospects list in June, has continued to raise his prospect stock over the last month. He earned a promotion to Low-A Delmarva in late June after three dominant appearances in the Florida Complex League. Showalter’s fastball is an easy plus pitch, sitting 93-94 mph and touching 95-96 with a flat vertical approach angle. Entering last Saturday’s start, Showalter had a 50% whiff rate against his fastball. While his secondaries are behind his fastball quality, he’s shown a sweepy low-80s slider, a curveball and a changeup. He’s another potential jewel in the treasure chest that is the Orioles farm system. (GP) 

How It Went: Showalter made six starts for Low-A Delmarva before he was traded to the Cardinals as a part of the Jack Flaherty trade. Showalter made just one appearance for the Low-A Palm Beach before he was placed on the injury list with an undisclosed injury. Showalter flashed strong stuff and potential during his truncated 2023 season. 

Mason Albright, LHP, Angels
What We Said: The Angels gave Albright a $1,247,500 signing bonus after drafting him in the 12th round in 2021, the largest bonus ever given to a player selected outside of the top 10 rounds. It looked like a poor investment when Albright got blasted for an 8.67 ERA in his full-season debut last year, but after tightening up his arm path to add deception and improve his control, Albright has bounced back to re-establish himself as a prospect in 2023. (KG)

How It Went: Albright was traded to the Rockies in the deal that sent C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk to the Angels. He went 12-4, 3.28 in 109.2 innings between Low-A Inland Empire, Low-A Fresno and High-A Spokane.

Luis De Leon, LHP, Orioles
What We Said: De Leon signed with Baltimore in 2021 as an 18-year-old and did not debut until 2022. The lefthander spent his first pro season in the DSL and this season has moved from the Florida Complex League to Low-A Delmarva. He works primarily with a heavy mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s changeup with excellent fade and will mix in an occasional slider. He’s a groundball machine, too. In his three outings with Delmarva, he’s gotten 20 grounders and just two flyouts. (JN)

How It Went: De Leon ranked as one of the best prospects in the Florida Complex and has put himself on the map in an excellent Baltimore system. The lefthander has a whippy arm and an excellent fastball-changeup combination that he used to punch out 67 hitters in 53.2 innings between the FCL and Low-A. Moreover, his grounder-friendly tendencies continued throughout the year, with a 2.6 groundout-to-airout ratio across both stops. 

Henry Lalane, LHP, Yankees
What We Said: Lalane was signed by New York in 2021 and spent 2022 in the Dominican Summer League before moving stateside this year. Now in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League, the lefthander has impressed evaluators with a mix of stuff, athleticism and body control that suggests a very high ceiling. He’s only thrown 3.2 innings so far in the FCL, but he’s yet to allow a hit and has brought his fastball into the mid 90s. The fastball is backed up by a potentially above-average slider and a changeup that could be at least plus. He commands his mix well, and the combination of size, athleticism, command and stuff could lead to very big things. 

How It Went: Lalane was the best pitching prospect in the Florida Complex League and is in the conversation as the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ system. Evaluators were uniform in their praise of Lalane as a prospect with an extremely high upside thanks to his combination of stuff, athleticism and body control. He was one of the many breakout stars on a Yankees FCL team stuffed with high-end talent. 

Drew Lugbauer, 1B, Braves
What We Said: Lugbauer is in his seventh minor league season, and he’s in his third consecutive season at Double-A Mississippi, so why are we talking about him? He’s worth discussing because Lugbauer is the gold standard of a minor league slugger who grips it and rips it. Lugbauer has shelved catching, and is purely a first baseman/left fielder with limited defensive utility. But he hits the ball consistently as hard as anyone in the minors when he’s not air conditioning the lower deck with his 34.7% strikeout rate. There’s no guarantee he’ll ever reach the majors, but as a prospective MiLB free agent this offseason, he’s worth keeping an eye on. (JC)

How It Went: After spending most of three seasons at Double-A Greenville, Lugbauer was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett in mid-August. His power remained, but he struck out 44 times in 98 plate appearances in Triple-A (44%). He remains an intriguing swing-and-miss slugging minor league veteran.

Matthew Etzel, OF, Orioles
What We Said: An impressive athlete who fell to the Orioles in the 10th round in 2023, Etzel sticks out for his Duck Dynasty fashion sense but also his loud tools. Promoted to Low-A Delmarva last week, Etzel showcased his power and speed combination, hitting a pair of home runs and swiping six bases. He’s capable of playing all three outfield positions with plus speed. If he can refine his approach and bat-to-ball skills Etzel could develop into another in a long line of promising Orioles positional prospects. If there’s any organization that’s had success in refining the hit tools of tooled-up athletes, it’s the Orioles. (GP) 

How It Went: After a strong 21 game showing with Low-A Delmarva where Etzel hit .314/.444/.486, the outfielder was promoted to High-A Aberdeen to finish his season. Etzel’s combination of loud tools and potential for above-average on-base skills make him a truly intriguing prospect. He should return to High-A Aberdeen to begin the season where he has a chance to hit his way to the upper-minors by the late spring. 

Eduardo Quintero, OF, Dodgers
What We Said: Despite having one of the smallest bonus pools to work with this year, the Dodgers’ international signing class is off to a strong start. One of the arrow-up players from that group is 17-year-old Eduardo Quintero, who signed for $287,500. As an amateur, Quintero showed a sound righthanded swing and a knack for barreling balls with high frequency against live pitching. He’s also an excellent athlete who trained as a catcher before signing and has a plus arm, but he’s also a plus runner with the speed for center field. The Dodgers have been developing Quintero as a center fielder in the Dominican Summer League, where his performance has been terrific. (BB)

How It Went: The Dodgers’ DSL club was loaded from top to bottom, and Quintero was among its top talents. The converted catcher showed extremely well in center field for his level of experience, and outside scouts were heartened by his combination of athleticism and bat control. He’s a potentially above-average hitter with fringy average power and double-plus speed at the moment. 

Jhancarlos Lara, RHP, Braves
What We Said: Lara is an up-arrow arm in Atlanta’s system who has a wide variety of outcomes. He’s a physical righthander with a big-time fastball whose velocity can sit in the mid 90s for the duration of outings. His slider will flash above-average and his changeup is a clear third pitch in its nascent stages. If that pitch comes along, he has a chance to become a rotation piece. Doing so will also require that he develops a bit more feel to pitch. Even if neither of those things comes true, Lara could be a weapon in the back end of a bullpen. (JN)

How It Went: Lara’s combination of physicality and stuff made him a force on the Low-A Augusta pitching staff. He struck out 96 hitters in 72 Low-A innings before moving to High-A Rome for the last few innings of his season. He’s got to add more finesse to become a rotation prospect, but he’s got the pitch mix to be a late-inning bullpen arm. 

Darren Bowen, RHP, Mariners
What We Said: A 13th-round pick in 2022 out of North Carolina-Pembroke, Bowen has emerged as a breakout pitcher in the Mariners system this year with Low-A Modesto. Bowen features a lively 93-96 mph fastball and a sweepy, mid-80s slider as his primary pitches. He also mixes in a 79-80 mph curveball and a firm, upper-80s changeup. He still has to get better at repeating his delivery in order to improve his control, but he’s a good athlete with a loud stuff and is showing early signs of being another Mariners’ pitching development success story. (KG)

How It Went: Bowen is one of the Mariners’ young arms to watch. He made just two more starts after that standout Aug. 30 appearances, but he was a durable and relatively reliable starter who took his turn for 15 starts in a row to end the season.

Trevor Werner, 3B, Royals
What We Said: While his production speaks for itself, Werner’s underlying data has his name buzzing. Werner boasts some of the best impact data, with a 108 mph 90th-percentile exit velocity, a .505 xwOBAcon, and a barrel rate above 25%. In addition to the plus-plus impact, Werner has shown above-average plate skills with a contact rate in the high-70s and a chase rate under 25%. This combination of impact and skills has seen similarly unheralded college players like Zach Dezenzo rocket to valued prospect status. (GP) 

How It Went: A potential steal in the seventh round, Werner was one of the best hitters in Low-A post draft and could move quickly in 2024. Werner will likely be assigned tp High-A Quad Cities, where his strong underlying data in his debut will be put to the test by better pitching. 

Gian Zapata, OF, D-backs
What We Said: Zapata signed with Arizona in the most recent international class on the strength of solid present tools and a long, lanky frame that came with a great deal of remaining projectability. In his first pro experience, he’s opened eyes. The 17-year-old hit .254/.364/.522 in the DSL with eight doubles and nine home runs. He has a chance to stick in center field, but if he doesn’t, scouts still see the offensive gifts—including potentially plus power—to profile in a corner. (JN)

How It Went: Zapata was one of the more interesting prospects this past year in the DSL, where he showed a balanced skill set on both sides of the ball. He’ll get his first stateside test in 2024, but he established himself as an up-arrow prospect in his first pro season. 

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