Image credit: Mac Horvath (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Last month we discussed some of the top pitchers in the 2023 draft based on their outstanding data profiles. We discussed pitch movement, projection and athleticism.
This week, we’ll take a similar approach to the top positional prospects based on batted ball data, plate skills and most importantly, athleticism. The only mantra is “bet on the athlete” and by looking at athletic testing and explosiveness, we can begin to project bat speed, power and general explosiveness of these athletes. Discussed below is a group of top athletes selected after the first 50 picks in the MLB draft.
Mac Horvath, 3B, Orioles
North Carolina – Round 2, Pick 53
A native of Minnesota, Horvath transferred to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) for his senior high school season. He ranked as the No. 245 prospect in the 2020 draft, but went undrafted. Horvath spent three seasons at North Carolina, accumulating 47 home runs over 169 games with the Tar Heels.
Horvath was draft eligible as a sophomore but went undrafted and returned to North Carolina for his junior season, where he hit .305/.418/.711 and finished tied for second in the ACC in home runs with 24. Selected by Baltimore in the second round, Horvath joins a system known for refining power hitters.
Over his time at North Carolina Horvath grew from a skilled freshman with swing-and-miss issues against spin to a refined power hitter who had learned how to hit soft stuff. Against sliders, changeups and curveballs in 2023, Horvath hit .362/.430/.957 with 14 home runs.
In fact, Horvath’s numbers were worse versus fastballs than they were versus secondary pitches for the first time in his collegiate career—he hit .266/.394/.556 with nine home runs.
It’s not as if velocity was an issue for Horvath, either. Of the 24 pitches at a velocity of 95 mph or higher that Horvath saw in the spring of 2023, he put nine balls in play and four went for hits, including two doubles and a home run. He didn’t swing-and-miss at any pitches above 95 mph and he put nine of the 16 strikes he saw into play.
A strong athlete, Horvath is a plus runner with a plus throwing arm and has the ability to play multiple places in the infield outside of his primary position of third base. With a good combination of plate skills, power and athleticism, Horvath might be the next prospect to take flight under the Orioles tutelage.
Carson Roccaforte, OF, Royals
Louisiana Lafayette – Round 3 Pick 66
After a breakout 2022 season as a sophomore with Louisiana, Roccaforte earned first team all-Sun Belt honors. Unfortunately, he was unable to replicate his sophomore production in 2023 as he hit .318/.426/.538 over 65 games with the Ragin’ Cajuns. A loose athlete with plus speed and a bag of tools, Roccaforte is a well-balanced player with advanced plate skills and twitch.
Roccaforte improved both his chase rate and contact rate year over year, while his swinging strike rate dropped from 10% in 2022 to 7% in 2023. While he made approach gains, his swing flattened out a little, leading to more line drives and ground balls and less fly balls in play. This likely contributed to the drop in production, but it didn’t cause the drop as much as poor batted-ball luck did—Roccaforte’s batting average on balls in play was .458 in 2022 versus a .403 BABIP in 2023.
As far as skills go, Roccaforte pairs twitch, athleticism, advanced plate skills and average power projection. He has the ability to play all three outfield positions but will likely see most of his time in center field early in his career. He’s split neutral at the plate, hitting lefthanders and righthanders equally well. Roccaforte has a variety of above-average skills that makes him a well-rounded prospect with everyday regular upside.
Brock Vradenberg, 1B, Marlins
Michigan State – Round 3, Pick 78
Vradenburg is a behemoth, standing at 6-foot-7 as a lefthanded-hitting first baseman with natural raw power and above-average plate skills. In fact, Vradenburg’s lack of swing-and-miss for a player with levers his size is extremely unusual, placing him in the outlier range in terms of athletic testing and baseball skills. It’s rare to find a player with this much size and strength devoid of swing-and-miss concerns.
While Vradenberg’s power upside is exciting, he’ll need to learn to lift the ball with greater regularity in pro ball. His 57% groundball rate is a detriment to his profile, particularly for a player who’s 6-foot-7 with a first base-only profile. His bat-to-ball skills are average to slightly above-average with plus swing decisions. Vradenberg rarely expands the zone and is hardly tempted by spin or offspeed into chase swings.
He will swing-and-miss at sliders and changeups and struggled to a degree against those two pitch types this spring. Against sliders, Vradenberg shows a slight increase in whiff, with a 29% rate against the pitch and an increase in ground balls (60% GB rate against sliders). Against changeups Vradenberg legitimately struggles, as he hit .250/.300/.432 with five extra-base hits. Vradenberg produced his highest whiff, chase and groundball rates against offspeed pitches.
Despite the warts against secondaries, Vradenberg showed an ability to hit fastballs, with a .495/.564/.872 line against the pitch type. His whiff rate against fastballs was just 14% while his chase rate was only 13%. He hits less ground balls against fastballs. One question regarding these gaudy stats is his lack of experience facing premium velocity. He saw only a dozen or so pitches that were 95 mph or higher and did no damage against them. It’s perhaps a small sample, but something to watch with Vradenberg early.
Vradenberg is an interesting prospect with the size and natural strength to grow into plus and potentially plus-plus lefthanded power. It will simply be a matter of him adding loft to his swing path without detracting too much from his natural plate skills. With size, advanced plate skills and above-average athleticism for a player his size, Vradenberg is a player to follow.
Jack Hurley, OF, Diamondbacks
Virginia Tech – Round 3 Pick 80
Throughout the draft cycle, Hurley was rumored to go as high as the late first round. Ultimately, swing-and-miss concerns pushed the Virginia Tech outfielder to round three. Hurley hit 37 home runs over three seasons at Virginia Tech, hitting .320/.414/.714 in his pre-draft season. He saw an increase in his strikeout rate in 2023 and a decrease in his walk rate, despite his whiff and chase rates improving year over year.
Hurley is an aggressive hitter who is prone to expanding the zone at times. He shows average bat-to-ball skills with bat speed and above-average power. His swing is long and this leads to some swing-and-miss against spin in particular. A lefthanded hitter, Hurley hits lefthanders well and actually shows more power in left-on-left at-bats than he does against righthanders, though he shows more contact against righthanders and plenty of impact.
Hurley’s issues surface against spin, particularly curveballs, where he’s more likely to chase and swing-and-miss. Some of this is the product of a higher than average chase rate and some overzealous tendencies in the batter’s box. He’s improved throughout his collegiate career both as a contact hitter and from an approach standpoint while growing into more power. He does hit a higher rate of ground balls, which limits some of his power upside despite plus raw power based on his exit velocity data.
Hurley’s impact is notable as he posted a 92.8 mph average exit velocity this spring with Virginia Tech across 97 batted-ball events. His high-end exit velocities were excellent as well, with a 109 mph 90th percentile exit velocity and a 112 mph peak velocity. Hurley also has strong angles to the ball with a 21.6% barrel rate and a hard-hit angle of 15 degrees.
This combination of power and good bat angles allows Hurley to project as a power hitter long term; it’s just a matter of refining his approach. He’s a plus runner with the ability to play an above-average center field. Hurley has the skills to develop into an exciting player with impact on both sides of the ball.
Tavian Josenberger, OF, Orioles
Arkansas – Round 3, Pick 100
After two seasons at Kansas, Josenberger transferred to Arkansas for his draft-eligible junior season. After hitting .276/.357/.386 his sophomore season at Kansas, Josenberger broke out with the Razorbacks. He hit .287/.414/.490 with 10 home runs in 2023, more than three times his career home run total with the Jayhawks. A skilled player with athleticism and twitch, Josenberger’s game power growth is a welcome sign he’s rounding out his game.
A switch-hitting center fielder, Josenberger is an advanced contact hitter with plus running ability. He shows the ability to pull the ball consistently from both sides of the plate and has bat speed and strength to hit for more power as he ages. Josenberger is a strong fastball hitter who showed no difficulties handling velocity this spring as he hit .333/.500/.810 with three home runs against pitches 95-plus mph. This ability projects well for Josenberger’s future as he had little issue handling premium velocity in the SEC.
Against other pitch types Josenberger doesn’t perform nearly as well, hitting .214/.267/.321 against sliders and .160/.276/.200 against changeups. While he does a good job staying within his approach against changeups and sliders, he does show some in-zone whiff against them as well.
Despite being a switch hitter, he does show some weakness against lefthanded pitching, as his splits heavily favor his lefthanded swing. Josenberger hit .241/.295/.407 against lefthanded pitching this spring versus .297/.445/.531 against righties. This is certainly a concern for Josenberger, who more often than not will be sat against lefthanders if this doesn’t improve in pro ball.
Despite the split issues, Josenberger is an impressive athlete who has seen tremendous power growth year over year. His bat speed, twitch, plus running ability and plate skills will likely translate to a strong side platoon outfielder with the ability to play all three positions in the outfield.
Andrew Pinckney, OF, Nationals
Alabama – Round 4, Pick 102
Pinckney started for Falmouth of the Cape Cod League over the summer of 2022 as a draft-eligible sophomore, but went undrafted and returned to Alabama for the 2023 season. Pinckney is a physical specimen at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds with a muscular build. While Pinckney has plenty of physical tools, his plate skills are questionable and will be the focus of his development as a professional.
The calling card of Pinckney’s profile is still his advanced power. His underlying exit velocity data is strong with an 89.6 mph average exit velocity and a 107 mph 90th percentile exit velocity across a sample of 128 batted-ball events. He hits the ball hard consistently (48.4% hard-hit rate) and at good angles (14.9 degree launch angle on BBE 95+), which in turn produced a high barrel rate of 20%.
Pinckney is an excellent fastball hitter who can handle velocity. He hit .375/.490/.733 against fastballs this spring with 11 home runs. Against pitches 95-plus mph Pinckney hit .412/.474/.588 with a home run across an 83-pitch sample. His combination of bat speed, strength and size allow him to hit velocity consistently. The only wart is his inability to elevate against premium velocity as he hit nine of his 11 balls in play on the ground.
While Pinckney is a good fastball hitter, he struggles against spin, particularly sliders. Against a sample of 304 sliders faced in 2023, Pinckney whiffed 54 times for a rate of 44%. His chase rate was reasonable at 29%, showing a tendency to whiff in-zone against sliders and a bad habit of chasing the pitch down and away.
While Pinckney posted elevated swing-and-miss rates against curveballs and changeups, he performed well against the pitch types, hitting a combined .362/.434/.532. While Pinckney does have some aggressive tendencies at times, none of his per pitch chase rates are out of whack.
A strong athlete who can handle center field with above-average running ability and a strong arm, Pinckney can fit in any of the three outfield positions and play average to above-average defense. He’s a strong and tooled-up player with plus impact and major swing-and-miss concerns.
Carson Rucker, 3B, Tigers
Goodpasture Christian School, Madison, Tenn. – Round 4, Pick 107
A physically impressive athlete with good strength and room to add projection, Rucker has a unique balance of athleticism and size, giving him a power and speed combination with considerable upside. His rawness at the plate is a question mark but so far the early returns as a professional have been positive. Rucker stands 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and could grow into plus power in time.
The righthanded-hitting Rucker has bat speed and strength at the plate, using a simple righthanded swing with a moderate leg kick. He looks to attack out in front and do damage to his pull side. He made adjustments to his hands and posture during the showcase summer in 2022, and showed a more refined swing late in the circuit.
He has some questions regarding his hit tool but never showed elevated swing-and-miss or chase tendencies. If he can further refine his plate skills as a professional and tap into his raw power, Rucker has the ability to develop into a good combination of hit and power with athleticism and strength. His running ability is above-average and he’s an average defender at third base with a strong throwing arm.
Spencer Nivens, OF, Royals
Missouri State – Round 5, Pick 142
The son of one of the greatest hitters in the history of the Missouri program, Nivens spent three seasons at Missouri State, redshirting in 2021 before breaking out in 2022 and earning All-Missouri Valley Conference second team honors. In 2023 Nivens took another step forward, hitting .341/.437/.650 with 14 home runs for the Bears and winning MVC player of the year honors. He’s a loose athlete with the ability to play all three outfield positions.
A well-balanced hitter with a variety of good attributes at the plate, Nivens has a balanced set of plate skills with above-average contact and chase rates and no issues hitting either righthanded or lefthanded pitching. He does see a slight decrease in power against lefties but makes up for it with a high rate of contact and a good approach.
Nivens’ best numbers on a per pitch basis were against fastballs, as he hit .357/.444/.739 with 10 home runs against the pitch this spring. His numbers against changeups weren’t far behind as he hit .318/.400/.658 with three home runs. While he doesn’t struggle against spin, he doesn’t do much damage against sliders and curveballs. Overall, he doesn’t show anything less than average contact and approach against all pitch types and does serious damage against fastballs.
An above-average runner with average skills in the outfield but a below-average throwing arm, Nivens can play all three outfield positions but might have the best fit in left field long term. He does flash plus speed from time to time and is a generally twitchy athlete. He has average power, backed by his 87.5 average exit velocity, 102.5 90th percentile exit velocity and 108.4 mph max exit velocity across 96 batted-ball events this spring.
While Nivens hasn’t faced the best competition, he’s tooled-up and has an exciting balance of plate skills, twitch and average power. He gets the most out of his raw power with strong angles on contact and has shown the ability to continually lift the ball. Nivens is a well-rounded player with a great foundation of hitting skills.
Homer Bush Jr, OF, Padres
Grand Canyon – Round 4, Pick 128
The son of former major leaguer Homer Bush, Bush Jr. is a loose athlete with a long, wiry frame and projection remaining in his build. Bush doesn’t possess much power at present but his game is predicated on contact, speed and defense. He’s a bigger player with a narrow frame and room to add good weight as he matures. He hit .370/.478/.500 with Grand Canyon this spring, leading the Antelopes in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases and on-base percentage. He showed the ability to hit with a wood bat the previous summer as well, hitting .284/.365/.304 with 10 stolen bases over 35 games with Yarmouth-Dennis of the Cape Cod League.
Bush is a contact and speed hitter with little power in his game. His contact skills are plus despite moderate chase tendencies. Regardless of pitch type his plus contact skills hold true, as all of his contact rates were in the mid 80s this spring across fastballs, sliders and curveballs. He did show some chase tendencies against changeups and more swing-and-miss than he did against fastballs or breaking pitches.
A righthanded hitter, Bush hits lefthanded pitching extremely well, hitting .393/.477/.536 over 65 plate appearances this spring. His numbers against righties are equally strong, hitting .367/.477/.494 with an 85% contact rate in same-side matchups. Bush projects as a speedy slash-and-dash hitter who possesses some untapped power potential, though it will take substantial adjustments at the plate. If he stays the course he’ll be a speedy center fielder with strong contact and baserunning abilities that will play in a fourth outfielder role.
TJ Walton, OF, Phillies
IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. – Round 4, Pick 168
An impressive athlete at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds with power projection and huge bat speed, Walton is an explosive player with plus raw power and above-average running ability. Walton is a physically mature athlete with plus power upside. He looks to do damage and lives out in front, as he shows the ability to pull the ball hard in the air already.
He showed strong plate skills at IMG this spring, jumping onto the draft radar due to his unexpected polish. His physical tools are obvious, as he’ll likely learn to hit for power as he ages, but he’s comfortable peppering line drives around the diamond. He moves well out of the box with quick initial strides and should have some power and speed upside before he matures. He has a standout combination of size, athleticism and skills and seems to just be beginning to scratch the surface of his exciting potential.