Top 40 Prospects Of 40 Years Of Baseball America
Prospect analysis is at the core of what Baseball America does, and BA has analyzed many great prospects in its 40 years.
To put those great prospects in perspective, we asked the three most qualified individuals we know to rank their top 40 prospects of 40 years of Baseball America.
Founding editor Allan Simpson invented the way we consume prospect coverage—and the draft—when he launched Baseball America in 1981.
Former executive editor Jim Callis helped to elevate BA in the 1990s and invented the Prospect Handbook in 2001.
Former editor-in-chief John Manuel demonstrated such an expansive knowledge of prospects, the draft and the major leagues that the Twins hired him as a scout in 2018.
In the ranking below, Peak refers to each player’s highest position on a Top 100 Prospects ranking, an exercise that began in 1990. For players from the 1980s, we used Simpson’s retroactive rankings that he published in 2002 as reasonable facsimiles of each player’s contemporary prospect esteem.
1. Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners
A-Rod made good on the Cal Ripken Jr. comps—and then some. He hit .295, belted 696 homers, drove in 2,086 runs, stole 329 bases and won two Gold Gloves in a 22-year career.
Peak: No. 1 in 1995
2. Bo Jackson, OF, Royals
One of the greatest athletes of all-time, Jackson was both an all-star for the Royals and an all-pro NFL running back. A 1991 hip injury on the gridiron cut him down in his prime.
Peak: No. 1 in 1987
3. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
Few amateur baseball players have attracted more fanfare than Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. He has an MVP award, a $330 million contract and is halfway into a Hall of Fame career.
Peak: No. 1 in 2011 & 2012
4. Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Mariners
With bloodlines, charisma and five-tool talent, “The Kid” was baseball’s brightest star in the 1990s. Junior belted 630 homers and won 10 Gold Gloves in center field. He earned all but three votes for the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Peak: No. 1 in 1989
5. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
Strasburg had all the ingredients to be an ace—stuff, size, command, track record—and went No. 1 overall in 2009. When he has been healthy, as he was in 2019, he has utterly dominated.
Peak: No. 1 in 2010
6. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
As a direct contemporary of Bryce Harper, Trout never got his full due as a prospect. The three-time MVP drew Mickey Mantle comps as a teenager and managed to live up to them.
Peak: No. 2 in 2011
7. Brien Taylor, LHP, Yankees
Taylor failed to reach the majors because he injured his shoulder in an offseason fight. But the No. 1 overall pick in 1991 threw 98 mph with a hammer curve and could have been an ace.
Peak: No. 1 in 1992
8. Mark Prior, RHP, Cubs
An all-time great pitching prospect coming out of Southern California, Prior went No. 2 overall in 2001 and zoomed to Chicago. He dominated upon arrival before injuries prematurely ended his career.
Peak: No. 2 in 2002
9. Andruw Jones, OF, Braves
The first star from Curacao, Jones burst on the scene as a 19-year-old in the 1996 World Series. The two-time No. 1 prospect combined power (434 homers) and all-world center field defense with 10 Gold Gloves, the third-most ever for an outfielder.
Peak: No. 1 in 1996 & 1997
10. Dwight Gooden, RHP, Mets
He struck out 300 Carolina League batters as an 18-year-old in 1983 and quickly attained superstardom in New York. Injuries and drugs dimmed Gooden’s star, but he still won nearly 200 games.
Peak: No. 1 in 1984
11. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rays
One wonders what the 1999 top pick might have accomplished had he not been suspended for three seasons in his early 20s. Hamilton still belted 200 homers and won an MVP award.
Peak: No. 1 2001
12. Joe Mauer, C, Twins
The St. Paul prep standout fulfilled his destiny as the Twins’ hometown hero. Mauer won three AL batting titles and the 2009 MVP award. He leads all catchers in WAR since 2000.
Peak: No. 1 in 2004 & 2005
13. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP, Red Sox
Dice-K arrived with much fanfare at age 26 after starring in Japan, the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. He rarely met the hype in the U.S. but paved the way for future Nippon Professional Baseball aces.
Peak: No. 1 in 2007
14. Chipper Jones, SS, Braves
The Braves wanted Todd Van Poppel with the top pick in 1990 but “settled” for Jones. All Chipper did was mash 468 homers, third most by a switch-hitter, and waltz into Cooperstown.
Peak: No. 1 in 1993
15. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
Vladito had bloodlines and performance—he hit .402 with power at Double-A as a 19-year-old!— that were hard to ignore. This could be the year he busts out in Toronto.
Peak: No. 1 in 2019
16. Justin Upton, OF, D-backs
The 2005 No. 1 overall pick mashed his way to a regular role as a 19-year-old for playoff-bound Arizona. While never a superstar, Upton has topped 300 homers and made four all-star teams.
Peak: No. 2 in 2006
17. Todd Van Poppel, RHP, Athletics
Peak: No. 1 in 1991
The Texas teen bumped 95 mph and might have been the first—and only—prep righty to go 1-1 had he and Atlanta agreed on a bonus. Van Poppel ran up a 5.58 ERA in the big leagues.
18. J.D. Drew, OF, Cardinals
Perhaps the greatest power-speed player in college history, Drew was an understated star who served as a lightning rod because of a contentious draft holdout and low-key personality.
Peak: No. 1 in 1999
19. Gary Sheffield, SS, Brewers
Sheff’s bat waggle and intensity made him one of the most feared hitters in the game. He played for eight teams in a nomadic career but topped 500 homers and approached 2,700 hits.
Peak: No. 1 in 1988
20. David Price, LHP, Rays
Price’s combination of stuff, athleticism and handedness made him an easy call to go 1-1 in 2007. He zoomed to the majors and has been a workhorse with several ace-caliber seasons.
Peak: No. 2 in 2009
21. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
The prodigious college slugger was recognized as 2013 College Player of the Year, 2014 Minor League POY and 2015 Rookie of the Year. He won the 2016 NL MVP award for good measure.
Peak: No. 1 in 2015
22. Mark Teixeira, 3B, Rangers
An ankle injury torpedoed his platform year at Georgia Tech, but “Tex” was still a hot draft and prospect commodity who slugged 409 home runs and won five Gold Gloves at first base.
Peak: No. 1 in 2003
23. Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins
Beckett might have been the first prep righty to go 1-1 had Josh Hamilton not been in the 1999 draft. He had a nice 14-year career but truly shined on the big stage with 3.07 postseason ERA.
Peak: No. 1 in 2002
24. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
The 2012 High School Player of the Year tantalized scouts with five-tool promise. Struggles to hit and stay healthy have held Buxton back, but he has power, speed and a Gold Glove in center field.
Peak: No. 1 in 2014
25. Ben McDonald, RHP, Orioles
The Louisiana State and Team USA ace was an easy choice for Baltimore at No. 1 overall in 1989. Signing him was more difficult. McDonald reached Baltimore quickly and settled in as a workhorse.
Peak: No. 2 in 1990
26. Roger Clemens, RHP, Red Sox
A turbulent draft year saw Clemens slip to 19th overall in the 1983 draft. But he proceeded to “rocket” to Boston in 1984 and eventually win 354 games and a record seven Cy Youngs.
Peak: No. 5 in 1984
27. John Olerud, 1B, Blue Jays
A historic two-way collegian, Olerud fell to the third round in 1989 amid health concerns but signed for a then-record $575,000 bonus. He compiled a 129 OPS+ to go with three Gold Gloves.
Peak: No. 3 in 1990
28. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
Drafted fifth overall in 2007, Wieters’ full-season debut in 2008 included a .355 average, 27 homers and 82 walks, setting a bar he was never able to clear in a quality 12-year career.
Peak: No. 1 in 2009
29. Ruben Rivera, OF, Yankees
Sandwiched between A-Rod and Chipper on the 1995 Top 100 Prospects, Rivera never hit enough to make it in MLB—forget the Mickey Mantle comps—but later starred in the Mexican League.
Peak: No. 2 in 1995
30. Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, Angels
Celebrated in Japan for both his hitting and pitching exploits, Ohtani came to the U.S. at a comparatively young 23. His bat was ready, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the mound
Peak: No. 2 in 2018
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31. Gregg Jefferies, SS, Mets
The Minor League Player of the Year in both 1986 and ’87 was supposed to be the next Mets superstar. While that didn’t happen, Jefferies hit .289 with 126 homers in a 14-year career.
Peak: No. 3 in 1988
32. Cliff Floyd, 1B, Expos
As a 6-foot-5, lefthanded-hitting first baseman with huge power, Floyd elicited Willie McCovey comparisons. While he didn’t reach those heights, he did smack 233 homers in 17 seasons.
Peak: No. 1 in 1994
33. Wander Franco, SS, Rays
The phenom might have made his big league debut as a 19-year-old last year if not for the pandemic. The career .336 hitter in the minors will look to make that happen this season.
Peak: No. 1 in 2020 & 2021
34. Rick Ankiel, LHP, Cardinals
The rare pitcher to rank as No. 1 overall prospect, Ankiel dominated as a 2000 rookie before coming down with “The Thing” that postseason. He reinvented himself as a power-hitting outfielder.
Peak: No. 1 in 2000
35. Jose Canseco, OF, Athletics
Forty prospects. Forty years. It’s only fitting that baseball’s first 40-40 player is included. Canseco’s immense power, bat speed and sheer physicality stood out as a prospect and helped him blast 462 big league homers.
Peak: No. 1 in 1986
36. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
The All-American Oregon State catcher has a chance to lead another black-and-orange club into an era of prosperity. Baltimore’s No. 1 overall pick in 2019 looks to take flight in 2021.
Peak: No. 2 in 2021
37. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners
In the past 40 years, only Dwight Gooden threw more big league innings as a 19-year-old than King Felix, who won two ERA titles, a Cy Young Award and more games than any Venezuelan.
Peak: No. 2 in 2005
38. Kerry Wood, RHP, Cubs
Wood’s 20-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter in 1998 is perhaps the most dominant start ever. His mid-90s fastball and trademark curveball were unimpeachable, but he struggled to stay healthy.
Peak: No. 3 in 1997
39. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Expos
One of the most notorious bad-ball hitters ever, Guerrero was a true five-tool talent who sailed into the Hall of Fame on his second ballot after smashing 449 homers and collecting 2,590 hits.
Peak: No. 2 in 1997
40. Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves
Acuña busted out in 2017, hitting .325 with 21 homers and 44 steals to win Minor League Player of the Year. One year later, he helped propel Atlanta to an NL East division title as a 20-year-old.
Peak: No. 1 in 2018
THE NEXT 10
(In alphabetical order)
Steve Avery, LHP, Braves
The first No. 1 prospect on BA’s first Top 100 Prospects ranking, Avery was an absolute phenom who spent most of his age-20 season in Atlanta. An early-career injury set him off course.
Pat Burrell, 1B/OF, Phillies
The first overall pick in 1998, Burrell hopped on a fast track and reached Philadelphia two years later. He was good for 30 homers and 100 walks at his peak and finished with 292 bombs.
Will Clark, 1B, Giants
Drafted second overall in a loaded 1985 draft, Clark reached San Francisco the next year. Only Bonds, Mays and McCovey have a higher OPS+ in the Giants’ Candlestick era than Clark.
Peak: No. 8 in 1986
Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers
Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka and others came first, but no Japanese pitcher has accumulated more WAR in MLB than Darvish, whose 11.1 SO/9 is an all-time record.
Peak: No. 4 in 2012
Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals
College Player of the Year. Minor League POY. Eight-time Gold Glover in left field. A World Series champion in 2015. After a rough MLB apprenticeship, Gordon became a low-key star.
Peak: No. 2 in 2007
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Jeter was well-regarded as a prospect but tended to be error-prone. That issue evaporated in the Bronx, where he won five World Series rings and collected 3,465 hits, the sixth most all time.
Peak: No. 4 in 1995
Brad Komminsk, OF, Braves
A huge Carolina League season in 1981—.322 average, 33 homers, 35 steals, 110 walks—foreshadowed great things, but Komminsk never clicked in parts of eight MLB seasons.
Peak: No. 1 in 1982
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
Seager won a minor league batting title in 2014 and vied for MVP as a rookie two years later. But his coming-out party came last October when he was MVP of the NLCS and World Series.
Peak: No. 1 in 2016
B.J. Upton, SS, Rays
Upton reached the majors as a 19-year-old but never quite ascended to stardom. A switch to center field helped him find a role. He hit 164 homers and stole 300 bases in 12 seasons.
Peak: No. 2 in 2004
Delmon Young, OF, Rays
The first overall pick in 2003 ranked as a top three prospect in baseball the next three seasons. Young’s MLB production—98 OPS+, 109 homers, done by age 30—fell short of the hype
Peak: No. 1 in 2006