Image credit: Gunnar Henderson (Photo By Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Over the last few seasons, more data and information has become available for minor league hitters. In just a few years, we’ve gone from a few minor league feeds and a handful of social media accounts providing video to several high quality feeds and more baseball video on social media than one could possibly watch in a lifetime.
Beyond the ability to watch the best prospects in baseball, we have more data and statistics in the public space than ever. The ability to identify the best prospects is a more refined process than it’s ever been.
With access to Hawk-Eye data in some minor league parks and non-public data finding its way into the public space, we’re able to measure particular skills at a level that no one would have imagined 10 years ago.
Over the years, my own process has evolved from a heavily standard stats-driven and in-person scouting approach to video- and analytics-driven during the pandemic to a blend of analytics, in-person scouting and video.
Throughout this journey, I’ve started to appreciate particular skill sets. These biases are noticeably prevalent when discussing hitters. I like position players with a well-balanced skill set, a blend of impact, good swing decisions, average bat-to-ball skills and the ability to be able to turn that into production.
Below I have listed a group of hitters that have caught my eye this season because of metrics and in-person observation. This installment focuses heavily on hitters with Top 100 Prospects pedigree. A future installment will discuss standouts further down the organizational ranks.
Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles
At this point, Henderson is as well-known a prospect as there is in the minor leagues. Over the last few seasons he’s shown an elite combination of swing decisions (18% chase rate in 2022), impact (90th percentile exit velocity of 107 mph) and contact (71.8% contact rate in 2022). With a well-rounded skill set at the plate, Henderson checks all the boxes with athleticism and defensive value. He’s possibly days or weeks away from a callup to Baltimore. He could provide fireworks immediately.
Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
After being slowed by injuries and the pandemic, Carroll has shown a strong combination of skills in 2022, his first pro season of more than 186 plate appearances. He combines contact (75% contact rate), impact (90th percentile exit velocity of106 mph) and swing decisions (18% chase rate) as well as anyone in the minor leagues. With speed on the bases and strong center field defense, Carroll is a true all-around player who’s knocking on the door to MLB.
James Wood, OF, Nationals
The best player the Nationals received from the Padres in the Juan Soto deal is a matter of some debate. CJ Abrams and Robert Hassell III are both highly-touted players ranked within the top 50 prospects in the game. But Wood has shown top-of-the-scale impact (109 mph 90th percentile exit velocity) with above-average swing decisions (22% chase rate) and contact (76% contact rate). His ability to hit a variety of pitches well and maintain the strike zone while hitting for double-plus power is a rare combination. Wood continues to establish himself among the best prospects in the game.
Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers
Triple-A Round Rock
Injuries are the sole reason that Jung still qualifies as a prospect. Had he entered the season healthy, he’d likely be well past his rookie limits by now. Jung has displayed some of the most major league-ready player skills of any minor league hitter the past three seasons. In just a few weeks of action, Jung has shown impact (106 mph 90th Percentile exit velocity) and contact (76% contact rate). He should be up with the Rangers later this year or early next season.
Tyler Soderstrom, C, Athletics
A hit tool-driven catcher is how Soderstrom was initially billed coming out of the draft. Since that time, he has grown into the impact many projected with 22 home runs this season and a 105 mph 90th percentile exit velocity. While Soderstrom chases above the minor league average, he’s able to sustain it with remarkable ability to hit pitches hard at optimal angles with one of the highest barrel rates in the minors.
Colson Montgomery, SS, White Sox
Now in Double-A, Montgomery has had arguably the best 2022 of any high school shortstop drafted in the first round in 2021. He’s hit .293/.405/.446 across three levels while showing plus bat-to-ball skills (79% contact rate) and swing decisions (23% chase rate). He’s shown above-average impact (103 mph 90th percentile exit velocity), though he’s still learning to add loft to generate hard airborne contact at a higher rate.
Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles
The beginning of the 2022 season was unkind to Cowser. He struggled over the opening two months, hitting .243/.389/.375 with an uncharacteristic 31.6% strikeout rate. Cowser then turned it on in June to earn a promotion to Double-A Bowie later that month. In Bowie, Cowser really turned it on, slugging eight home runs over his first 28 games. His strikeout rate has dropped to 24% since June 1, with a 15.3% walk rate. Cowser’s combination of elite swing decisions, blossoming impact and defensive value could see him turn into another young MLB regular for the Orioles.
Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays
While the Rays deserve credit for their excellent scouting at all levels of professional and amateur baseball, Mead’s development has exceeded even the wildest of expectations thus far. Few hitters boast the combination of bat-to-ball skills, swing decisions and impact that Mead does. In fact, all of his rates are above-average to plus. He has one of the best combinations of plus power and contact in the minor leagues. This will allow Mead’s bat to play at the position he ultimately settles.
Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Rays
A second-round pick out of Washington State in 2021, Manzardo shows an extremely well-balanced set of skills at the plate. He displays plus bat-to-ball skills (80% contact rate and 86% in-zone contact rate), elite swing decisions (20% chase rate) and above-average impact (103.5 mph 90th percentile exit velocity). While Manzardo doesn’t produce eye-popping exit velocities, he does produce 95-plus mph contact at an above-average rate and pairs it with optimal launch angles. In fact, 23.6% of Manzardo’s batted balls this season have been above 95-plus mph with a launch angle between 10-30 degrees. His barrel control and strike-zone discipline allow him to get the most out of his raw ability.
Bo Naylor, C, Guardians
The 2018 first-rounder has put his rough 2021 season in the rear view with a breakout 2022. Naylor has a strong foundation of well-rounded plate skills, with plus bat-to-ball skills (79% contact rate), elite swing decisions (16% chase rate) and impact (103 mph 90th percentile exit velocity). Naylor has had a good statistical season but still may be underperforming his true talent based on his quality of contact, barrel accuracy and plate discipline. Naylor does not need to be added to the Guardians’ 40-man roster until November, meaning we may not see him in the Cleveland until next spring.
Evan Carter, OF, Rangers
To many, Carter was a surprise selection in the second round of the 2020 draft. Since then he’s proven the Rangers wise with well-rounded play on both sides of the ball. Carter’s profile at the plate is driven by his combination of plus bat-to-ball skills (78% contact rate, 86% in-zone contact) and a discerning eye at the plate (17% chase rate). His impact has taken a step forward in 2022 with 39 extra-base hits and an above-average 90th percentile exit velocity of 103 mph. With a center field profile and above-average to plus speed, Carter should be an everyday center fielder with above-average offensive production.
Spencer Steer, 2B, Reds
Traded by the Twins to the Reds at the deadline in the Tyler Mahle deal, Steer has been one of the better performers in the upper minors this season. Steer always had a strong combination of contact, swing decisions and impact, but he took another step forward in 2022. Steer’s 77% contact rate, 21% chase rate and 84% zone contact rate all rank as above-average to plus. It’s this combination of contact, plate discipline and a lack of zone whiff that provide Steer with one of the better hit tools in the minors, despite some poor batted-ball luck early in the season. He has above-average power that shows up pull side, with all but three of his home runs this season landing in left field. This should play perfectly at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark when he gets the call.
Miguel Bleis, OF, Red Sox
Florida Complex League
The 18-year-old Bleis was one of the most exciting talents in the Rookie-level complex leagues this summer, and the buzz surrounding him should only grow this offseason. He is a speedy center fielder and strong athlete with a combination of above-average contact (74% contact rate, 86% zone contact rate), average swing decisions (27% chase rate) and impact (104 mph 90th percentile exit velocity). His well-rounded skill set and ability to make consistent hard barrel contact is rare. A full 20% of Bleis’ balls in play have been hit 95-plus mph and at a launch angle of 10-30 degrees. He is a candidate to burst onto Top 100 Prospects lists next spring.
Samuel Zavala, OF, Padres
Arizona Complex League
Zavala spent just 10 games in the ACL this summer before the Padres promoted him to Low-A Lake Elsinore. In his first 18 games in the California League, Zavala impressed by hitting .254/.390/.492 with three home runs and 14 walks to 20 strikeouts. He has a combination of average bat-to-ball skills (72% contact rate), above-average swing decisions (24% chase rate) and plus power (104.5 mph 90th percentile exit velocity). Despite being just 18 years old, Zavala is showing an advanced approach at the plate and more than enough bat-to-ball skills to unlock his plus raw power in games against older competition.
Yainer Diaz, C, Astros
Triple-A Sugar Land
On the surface, Diaz has been a highly productive performer over the last two seasons. He has hit .300 or above with a slugging percentage above .500 for consecutive seasons. Diaz pairs above-average bat-to-ball skills (74% contact rate) and plus raw power (106 mph 90th percentile exit velocity), which allows him to work within an aggressive chase-happy approach. He’s more than likely to stick behind the plate, though he still needs more seasoning. He’s seen time at first base and the outfield corners this season.
Coby Mayo, 3B, Orioles
After a tough May, the 2020 fourth-rounder saw his overall line take a hit. He missed most of July with back spasms, returning to the Bowie lineup a few weeks ago and has struggled since. Underneath his .236/.313/.450 line, Mayo’s contact rate of 76%, chase rate of 27% and zone contact rate are all average or better. Impact is present in Mayo’s barrel as well, with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 104 mph. While his individual skills have been fine, his production has flat lined. Some of this is due to Mayo struggling to make his hardest contact at his most optimal angles—his rate of balls in play at 95-plus mph and at launch angles between 10-30 degrees is squarely average.
Colt Keith, 3B, Tigers
High-A West Michigan
We saw the 2020 fifth-rounder for just the first two months of the season before he went down with a right shoulder injury. Over those two months, Keith showed a dramatic jump in impact, adding 5 mph to his 90th percentile exit velocity without sacrificing his average contact skills or above-average approach. When healthy, Keith was flashing some of the most promising plate skills with the ability to develop into a potential middle-of-the-order slugger.
Jordan Westburg, SS, Orioles
The Orioles seem to target athletic players with strong swing decisions and above-average raw power, with Colton Cowser, Gunnar Henderson and Westburg all examples. Westburg has almost quietly put together two strong minor league seasons with consistently average bat-to-ball skills, excellent swing decisions and above-average power. Westburg across a variety of key metrics rates as average to above-average, a testament to his well-rounded skill set. With athleticism and the ability to handle either shortstop or third base, he has a variety of skills that should translate to everyday playing time in MLB shortly.
Dalton Rushing, C, Dodgers
Low-A Rancho Cucamonga
While Rushing’s pro sample size is small and he’s so far beat up on lower-level competition, his collegiate track record and standout summer in the Cape Cod League a year ago bode well. The Dodgers drafted him with their top pick—40th overall—out of Louisville in July. Blessed with elite bat speed, Rushing has so far seen it translate to eye-popping production with Rancho Cucamonga. It’s easy to spot his above-average bat-to-ball skills, discerning eye and plus power. In just 17 professional games, Rushing has already put 21 balls in play at 95-plus mph, including a max exit velocity of 109 mph on a home run he hit on Aug. 14. He’s a bat-first catcher with excellent offensive skills and improving defense behind the plate.
Moises Ballesteros, C, Cubs
Low-A Myrtle Beach
One of the youngest players in the Carolina League this season at just 18 years old, Ballesteros has held his own after a standout Arizona Complex League performance earlier this summer. He brings a balanced set of plate skills with average bat-to-ball skills (74% contact rate), average swing decisions (26% chase rate) and exit velocity data including a 104 mph 90th percentile exit velocity. Teenage catchers are a difficult group to project, but Ballesteros currently is showing an advanced combination of contact, approach and power for an 18-year-old.