Perfect Skill Combinations Among 2023 Top 100 Prospects
Last week, Baseball America released its initial Top 100 Prospects list. The results are what we believe are the 100 prospects who are most likely to have high-impact big league careers.
They are all incredibly talented, but none are without their own warts. Even the guys at the very top have holes in their games, though they might not get exposed until they reach the big leagues for an extended period.
Players further down the list have more apparent flaws. Several catchers on the list, for example, might have to move off the position. Ditto for shortstops. There are pitchers with one or two knockout offerings but their third pitch lags behind.
For a little bit of fun, we’ve decided to try to create a few “perfect” prospects by meshing together two players whose skills and weaknesses form logical complements.
Here’s what we came up with:
Jonathan Aranda, 2B, Rays (96) + Carson Williams, SS, Rays (52)
Aranda has earned a rep as one of the purest hitters in the minor leagues and is tabbed by scouts as having a potentially plus hit tool. What he doesn’t have, however, is a defensive home. He got time at first base, second base and third base as well as left field and DH. He didn’t stand out at any spot and is likely to move around quite a bit in the big leagues if his bat lives up to its expectations.
Williams, on the other hand, drew raves for his defense at shortstop. He grades as a potentially plus fielder with a double-plus throwing arm. That combination makes him a slam-dunk to stick at the position. At the plate, Williams showed plenty of power, but it came with a good deal of swing-and-miss. His 168 strikeouts were the second-most in the Carolina League.
If you could give Aranda some of Williams’ defensive stability in exchange for a lower strikeout total, the resulting prospect would be a much more complete player.
Pepiot reached the big leagues in 2022 and has long been known to have one of the better changeups in the minor leagues, with some evaluators going as far as to grade it as a potential double-plus weapon in previous years. Pepiot’s warts were twofold—a lack of a quality breaking ball and command and control that could stand to be improved.
The former improved somewhat in 2022, although it came at the expense of a little bit of quality on his changeup. The latter was exposed badly in his major league stint and resulted in a demotion to Triple-A.
With those two flaws in mind, we’ll mesh him with Braves righthander AJ Smith-Shawver, who stands as the system’s top prospect after Atlanta moved lefty Kyle Muller to Oakland as part of the Sean Murphy deal. Smith-Shawver has the best fastball and slider in the Braves’ system, but his changeup only projects as a fringe-average pitch. Smith-Shawver’s control isn’t exactly standout, either, but it rates a tick ahead of Pepiot’s at this point.
Combining both pitchers’ best traits amplifies their individual arsenals and gives both better chances to stick as starters.
Cartaya is a potential offensive beast. He’s got a chance to be an average hitter with double-plus power that led to a .502 slugging percentage across both Class A levels in 2022. His promise at the plate and premium defensive position made him our choice for the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect entering the 2023 season.
There are plenty of questions as to whether he remains behind the plate in the long run. He’s gotten bigger as he’s gotten older and overall is less mobile than in past years. He’s also dealt with injuries to his back and hamstring in the past couple of seasons.
Cartaya’s complement might be Brewers backstop Jeferson Quero, who is an outstanding defender with a railgun for an arm. Quero, part of Milwaukee’s cadre of lower-level talent, allowed just five passed balls in 66 games between two Class A stops in 2022 and threw out roughly 31% of attempted basestealers.
On the flip side, Quero isn’t the most physical player in the world and grades out with below-average power in the big leagues. He hit more home runs once he moved to High-A, but his swing and size both suggest someone who’ll hit more doubles than longballs.
If you combined Quero’s defensive gifts with Cartaya’s offensive prowess, you could have a truly special player on both sides of the ball.
Walker and Carter are two of the best prospects in the game, but neither is perfect.
Walker is blocked at third base by Nolan Arenado, but his body might have taken him to another position even if there were a clear path. He’s a huge man with corresponding power and massive arm strength. The Cardinals tested Walker in center field in the Arizona Fall League, but scouts believe his frame would fit better in a corner, where his arm strength and power would easily profile.
Carter is the polar opposite. He’s an inch shorter than Walker but is lighter and a more lithe defender in center field, where he’s a sure bet. Both players are 20 years old, but Walker’s body is filled out. Carter’s future, on the other hand, hinges on how his body changes as he gets older.
Carter already has outstanding plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills. If he added even half of Walker’s muscle mass, he could easily vault into the game’s elite. That change would also lead Walker toward a body that could help him join the sport’s growing club of massive-framed center fielders.
Volpe and Winn are two of the best shortstop prospects in the game. The former broke out in 2021, when he opened eyes from the first day of spring training until the final day of the season. The latter’s eye-opening season came in 2022, when his bat looked much-improved thanks to mechanical changes that allowed him to make more contact and hit for more power than he’d shown in his debut season.
Volpe overcame a rough opening month in the Eastern League to eventually bash his way to Triple-A as a 21-year-old. Still, questions linger about whether shortstop is his long-term home. Mostly, those who doubt him believe his arm might fit better at second base.
Winn has no such issues. The former two-way standout uncorked a 100 mph throw from shortstop at the Futures Game and has a true 80-grade arm that might be the best in the sport, including among big leaguers.
A combination of Volpe’s offensive prowess and Winn’s defensive skills might form a prospect good enough to contend for the top overall spot in the minors.