Image credit: Junior Caminero (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Youth and context, what a wonderful phrase. And much like Hakuna Matata, it ain’t no passing craze.
Every year, before Opening Day in the minor leagues, Baseball America runs down the youngest players in each league. Why? Because success against more veteran peers is a fairly solid indicator of good things to come once a player reaches the big leagues.
In 2022, the youngest players in the Eastern, Southern and Texas leagues were Francisco Alvarez, Eury Perez and Jordan Walker. A year later, all three members of that trio have made their marks in the big leagues.
A level lower, Evan Carter was the youngest player in the High-A South Atlantic League, Luis Matos was the second-youngest player in the Northwest League and Elly De La Cruz was the 10th-youngest in the Midwest League. On our updated Top 100, all three rank among the top 30, and De La Cruz has brought his electric blend of skills to Cincinnati.
In all, 21 of the players who ranked among the top 10 youngest players in their league on Opening Day 2022 find themselves among the most recent iteration of BA’s Top 100.
Some have gone on to even bigger things: The Double-A trio of Walker, Perez and Alvarez has already graduated, as have Michael Harris II and Corbin Carroll, who ranked, respectively, as the fourth-youngest player in the Southern League and the eighth-youngest player in the Texas League. Harris won the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year award, and Carroll is a strong contender to do the same in 2023.
So, how are the players who dotted those lists doing this season? Let’s take a look.
Triple-A International League
Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn opened the year as the youngest player in the IL and has shown flashes of his talent. Beyond the railgun hanging from his right shoulder, Winn has made plenty of contact and shown enough speed to swipe 15 bags. Winn’s season hasn’t been standout by any means, but he still ranks among the top 50 prospects in the sport.
Triple-A Pacific Coast League
After finishing 2022 at the level, A’s backstop Tyler Soderstrom returned to Triple-A Las Vegas (he also earned his first big league callup after the all-star break), where he hit 20 home runs in 69 games. There are plenty of questions surrounding his plate discipline and defensive home, but he has the tools to mash in the big leagues.
Lefty Kyle Harrison checked in at No. 2 and has shown the same blend of knockout stuff—albeit with issues commanding and controlling the strike zone—as he did in previous seasons. Throwing a higher volume of quality strikes will be the key to reaching his high ceiling.
Double-A Eastern League
Yankees prospect Jasson Dominguez closed his 2022 season with a dynamite performance in the Eastern League playoffs. He returned to the level in 2023 and has been somewhat of an enigma. He’s one of just three players in the minor leagues with 10-plus homers, 20-plus stolen bases and a walk rate better than 15%. Despite those marks, he’s hitting just .205/.345/.346 through 76 games.
The 10th-youngest player in the league on Opening Day was Orioles prospect Coby Mayo, who bashed his way to 17 home runs and a 1.026 OPS and earned a promotion to Triple-A after the minor league all-star break.
Double-A Southern League
Chourio was the breakout prospect of 2022, vaulting to the No. 1 spot on the Top 100 at points during the season. After a late-season cameo with Biloxi, he returned to the SL in 2023 as its youngest player. He hasn’t torn the cover off the ball—though his numbers, like everyone else’s in the SL—must be taken with a grain of salt because of the pre-tacked ball in use during the first half of the season. Chourio returned to the Futures Game in 2023, and there’s still little doubt among evaluators that his future has the potential to be very bright.
Double-A Texas League
Deyvison De Los Santos was the lone teenager in the Texas League on Opening Day, and has had a rough season. The hulking infielder’s power has not translated to the upper levels, which is especially concerning considering Amarillo’s home park is one of the most hitter-friendly in the sport.
The players just behind De Los Santos have fared better. Evan Carter, who closed 2022 by helping lead Frisco to the TL championship, has continued to establish himself as one of the game’s better all-around prospects. Carter’s teammates Luisangel Acuña and Thomas Saggese have also had excellent years with the RoughRiders.
High-A Midwest League
The youngest player in the MWL to begin the year was Fort Wayne righthander Victor Lizarraga, who began 2022 as the youngest player in the Low-A California League. The teenager’s season has been middling. He’s striking out just under seven hitters per nine innings, but is also walking fewer than three per nine as well.
Jackson Merrill is the best player further down the MWL list, and he’s continued to prove himself as one of the better hitters not just in the San Diego system, but in the game as a whole. That’s especially true after the MWL emerged from its early frigid phase.
High-A Northwest League
Quite frankly, the best players in the NWL are not on this list. Rockies righthander Victor Juarez entered the year as the youngest in the league and has struggled to keep the ball off of hitters’ bats. He’s allowing 11 hits per nine innings and has racked up a 5.40 ERA in 13 starts. His strikeout and walk numbers are fine, but he needs to find a way to limit the hits. The only player on the list with a place in the Top 100 is Mariners catcher Harry Ford, who has shown strong plate discipline but not much in the way of impact in the first half.
High-A South Atlantic League
The standout of this group is Rays infielder Junior Caminero, who was the second-youngest player in the SAL on Opening Day. He has made a star turn by annihilating the competition at both High-A and Double-A and putting together an impressive batting practice display in the Futures Game. He’s joined by Rays system-mater Carson Williams, who was the fourth-youngest player in the SAL and has continued to show an intriguing blend of impact shortstop defense and power in the batter’s box.
Low-A California League
The youngest player in this league was also the youngest player in the full-season minors on Opening Day. That’d be Angels outfielder Nelson Rada, who jumped over extended spring training and the Arizona Complex League in favor of his first full-season assignment. The results have been pretty promising for a player who, were he American, would be on the summer showcase circuit right now. Rada has controlled the zone, made plenty of contact and been a terror on the basepaths with 37 stolen bags in 42 tries.
Fellow teenager Samuel Zavala (Padres) has had an intriguing season as well. He opened the year as the third-youngest player in the Cal League—but second-youngest on his own team—and, like Rada, has racked up plenty of walks and had success stealing bases. He’s also shown a bit of impact, with 13 doubles and eight home runs. The longball total is second-best among qualified hitters 18 or younger.
Mariners prospect Gabriel Gonzalez has also stood out with the bat, and all three of his triple-slash numbers (.348/.403/.530) are among the Cal League’s top 10.
The hidden gem of this group might be Dodgers righty Payton Martin, an athletic former infielder who has opened eyes this year with Rancho Cucamonga. He’s racked up 48 strikeouts in 39.1 innings on the strength of an upper-90s fastball that is complemented by a nasty and potentially above-average changeup.
Low-A Carolina League
The gems here are the prospects who were the third- and eighth-youngest players in the league on Opening Day. The former is Samuel Basallo, a massive human with huge power at the plate and a double-plus throwing arm behind it. His 11 home runs are the most for any hitter 18 years old or younger all season long. Basallo’s loud year also earned him a spot on the Top 100.
Anthony, too, has had a bit of a rocket ship of a season. Boston’s supplemental second-round pick from 2022 put up vanilla surface numbers with Low-A Salem, but all of the underlying characteristics pointed to a better player than was showing up in the box scores. Once he moved to High-A Greenville, that player emerged. The Florida high school product swatted seven home runs in his first 16 games in the SAL and moved into the top half of the Top 100 prospects. If he gets the ball in the air more often, he could see an even bigger jump.
Low-A Florida State League
Much like the High-A Northwest League, the FSL’s group of youngest players on Opening Day hasn’t been particularly impressive. The Reds’ Leonardo Balcazar was having an excellent beginning to the season before a torn anterior cruciate ligament landed him on the injured list.
In his stead, outfielder Hector Rodriguez has stepped up to carry the Tortuga torch. Rodriguez, who opened as the 10th-youngest player in the FSL and was acquired from the Mets in 2022, leads the FSL in slugging percentage (.569) and his 14 home runs are tied with Yankees prospect Jared Serna for the most in the league.