Image credit: Robby Snelling (Justin Packard/Lake Elsinore Storm)
Each year, players from the previous year’s draft class begin to cement themselves as legitimate prospects who were perhaps undersold heading into the draft.
Last season, players like Tanner Bibee, Bryce Miller, Ricky Tiedemann, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Justyn-Henry Malloy emerged early—and just kept getting better. Bibee, Miller and Tiedemann finished the year as Top 100 Prospects.
These improvements in skills are often the product of professional instruction and coaching, strength gains or a combination of the two. This year, we focus on players drafted after the first round in 2022 who stood out early in the season to prime themselves as full-fledged breakout candidates.
Robby Snelling, LHP, Padres
Low-A Lake Elsinore
Snelling earned rave reviews this spring in the California League. The Padres’ supplemental first-rounder out of a Reno high school dominated through six appearances. The 19-year-old Snelling struck out 26.7% of batters while limiting them to a .156 average and allowing a 0.94 WHIP. In 26.2 innings he had allowed just four earned runs.
Snelling’s pitch mix consists of a four-seam fastball that sits 92-94 mph and touches 95, with 18 inches of induced vertical break. He pairs his fastball with a slurvy low-80s breaking ball and a mid-80s changeup he shows the ability to kill ride on. He has a projectable pitch mix with at least above-average stuff overall. Look for Snelling to rise up prospect rankings in the coming months.
Jackson Ferris, LHP, Cubs
Low-A Myrtle Beach
A second-round pick out of IMG Academy in Florida, Ferris has made two appearances so far this season—but has been impressive in each turn. Over a pair of three-inning appearances, he allowed only one earned run while striking out nine.
The 19-year-old Ferris punched out seven in his first appearance and two in his second. Reports from scouts in attendance have been extremely positive, pointing to Ferris as a name to monitor the rest of the season.
Tyler Locklear, 1B, Mariners
An analytical darling at Virginia Commonwealth heading into last year’s draft, Locklear was drafted by the Mariners in the second round and popped seven homers in a 31-game pro debut. Through 34 games this season, he hit .308/.399/.577 with eight homers. Locklear has taken advantage of a hitter-friendly park in Everett to slug .764 with five homers in home games.
The 22-year-old Locklear’s balance of skills show up in the underlying metrics. His chase and contact rates are average, while his exit velocity data points to above-average to plus raw power. A talented hitter with a balance of skills and power upside, the righthanded Locklear could develop into one of the better sluggers from this draft class.
Jacob Misiorowski, RHP, Brewers
While the 21-year-old Misiorowski carries relief risk, his stuff is undeniably some of the best in the minor leagues. The 6-foot-7 righthander sits 97-99 mph on his four-seam fastball with a low-launch vertical approach angle. He mixes in a mid-to-high-80s slider with good sweep for its velocity and a mid-80s curveball with depth. All of Misiorowski’s primary pitches boast a Stuff+ grade of 120 or higher.
Through six appearances spanning 14.2 innings this season, Misiorowski has struck out 25 batters—or 46.3% of those faced—while walking five. While the Brewers have limited him to a max of four innings and 60 pitches in any single outing, he is beginning to ramp up as he gets established in pro ball.
The Brewers drafted Misiorowski in the second round out of Crowder (Mo.) JC, the same program that yielded Aaron Ashby in 2018. Milwaukee has a strong track record of developing pitchers with big stuff and relief questions into viable starters. Keep an eye on Misiorowski.
Roman Anthony, OF, Red Sox
Drafted in the second round out of South Florida prep power Stoneman Douglas, Anthony has modest surface production this spring, but his underlying metrics are strong. The 19-year-old’s chase rates and miss rates were both below 20%, an area considered to be plus, and his exit velocity data was above-average by major league standards.
Through 25 games, Anthony hit .242/.387/.295 with 23 walks and 25 strikeouts. His flaw had been a lack of elevation on balls in play. His groundball rate was north of 50%, while his flyball rate was below 20%. Adjustments to his bat path and swing plane could yield excellent results.
Anthony is one name to not get too caught up in scouting the statline.
Dalton Rogers, LHP, Red Sox
Drafted out of Southern Mississippi in the third round, Rogers is a funky lefthander with good stuff and unique release traits. His average release height of 5 feet, 4 inches and average induced vertical break of 18 inches combine to create a flat vertical approach angle that makes it difficult for hitters to get on plane with his fastball. He throws a curveball at 78-81 mph with good depth and a changeup with excellent vertical separation from his fastball.
In the early going, these traits yielded strong results for the 22-year-old Rogers in the Carolina League. Through six appearances, he sported a 2.49 ERA, supported by a 2.17 FIP, while striking out 41.3% of batters faced. He held opposing hitters to a .139 average, while generating a solid rate of ground balls and infield pop-ups. While his command remains a question, Rogers was showing the type of unique stuff that leads to good results.
Nathan Martorella, 1B, Padres
High-A Fort Wayne
Martorella is a first base-only slugger in the mold of recent breakouts like Vinnie Pasquantino and Kyle Manzardo. Martorella, the Padres’ fifth-rounder out of California, has the same batch of skills that have led to success.
Martorella’s combination of a miss rate below 20%, a zone-miss rate below 17%, a chase rate below 15% and an average exit velocity north of 90 mph puts him in rare company. So far in 2023 it’s led to results as well. The 22-year-old lefthanded hitter batted .267/.383/.500 with a walk rate of 15.6% and strikeout rate of 14.9% through 34 games.
It’s an exciting combination of skills from a player who’s more athletic than either Pasquantino or Manzardo.
Nate Furman, 2B/3B, Guardians
While power has become arguably the most important tool for a hitter to possess, there’s still room for prospects with elite hit tools. Furman is one such prospect.
Through 34 Low-A games, the 21-year-old Furman hit .333/.503/.390 with a 10.1% strikeout rate and a 21.5% walk rate. His zone whiff rate is below 5%, his chase rate is around 10% and his overall contact rate is floating around 90%. His biggest question mark is his ability to hit the ball hard, which he’s not been able to do, ranking in the bottom 5% in the minor leagues in terms of average exit velocity. His launch angles are good, leading to some hope that added strength over the next several seasons could see Furman begin to hit for respectable—but below-average—power.
Drafted by the Guardians out of UNC Charlotte in the fourth round, Furman has plate skills that make him a name to monitor.
Chase Meidroth, 2B/3B, Red Sox
The pre-draft Cape Cod League has become fertile ground for late risers with the new mid-July draft date. Meidroth is one such player who began to earn substantial buzz heading into the draft based on a strong Cape showing. The San Diego middle infielder hit .286/.434/.381 in 22 games with Yarmouth-Dennis, prompting Boston to draft him in the fourth round.
Meidroth’s skills so far have translated to pro ball, earning him a quick promotion to Double-A as a 21-year-old. He hit .327/.476/.429 through 26 games between High-A Greenville and Portland.
An advanced hitter with excellent plate skills, Meidroth is a classic hit-over-power player. The 5-foot-9 righthanded batter may already be maxed out, but he has big league skills. His ceiling is somewhat limited based on limited power and merely average defensive skills, but he’s shown one of the most important attributes a hitter can show. He hits.
Ignacio Alvarez, SS, Braves
Known as “Nacho” Alvarez when drafted by the Braves in the fifth round out of Riverside City JC in Southern California, the 5-foot-11 shortstop has impressed in pro ball this season by hitting .286/.458/.337 in 30 games for High-A Rome.
Alvarez is right on target age-wise as a 20-year-old at High-A and is two years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League. His underlying stats point to a player with highly advanced plate skills and some potential for more power in the coming seasons. His zone whiff rate is below 10%, while his chase rate is in the neighborhood of 17%, both excellent markers.
While he has not yet hit a home run this season, Alvarez’s exit velocity data isn’t bad, with a 90th percentile reading of 102.5 mph. As he adds strength, he has the sort of plate skills that could translate to strong overall production.
Victor Scott, OF, Cardinals
Supremely talented athletes are rare in any draft class. They’re even more rare to be had in the fifth round, but that’s where the Cardinals drafted Scott out of West Virginia. St. Louis may have struck gold.
Through 33 games, Scott hit .279/.360/.450 with 28 stolen bases in 30 tries. The lefthanded hitter has run above-average contact and chase rates, while flashing some power with 13 extra-base hits.
The 22-year-old center fielder saw time with the big league club during spring training, and it’s easy to see why when watching Scott’s defense and advanced plate skills.
Speed is Scott’s standout tool. A 70 runner, he jumped out to an early lead for stolen bases in the minor leagues. He has an exciting center field profile with a good combination of speed, plate skills and power.
Chase Hampton, RHP, Yankees
High-A Hudson Valley
There’s no question the Yankees target pitchers with big stuff in the draft, but they’ve struggled to develop viable starting pitching prospects of late. Hampton, like system-mate Will Warren, might just break that mold. Through five appearances this season, Hampton struck out 42 batters and walked nine across 23.2 innings.
Hampton combines a mid-90s fastball with an average of 19 inches of induced vertical break with a mid-80s slider with sweep and ride and a curveball at 78-81 mph with good depth. The 21-year-old Hampton, a sixth-rounder out of Texas Tech, has shown the ability to work efficiently at his best by getting through five innings on 70-80 pitches.
Hayden Birdsong, RHP, Giants
Low-A San Jose
Drafted by the Giants in the sixth round out of Eastern Illinois, Birdsong was excellent in his first seven Low-A appearances. He struck out 37.9% of batters while holding opponents to a .213 average.
A 6-foot-4 righthander, Birdsong mixes four pitches led by a mid-90s fastball with plus ride, a low-80s curveball with two-plane break, a sweepy low-80s slider and a changeup. The 21-year-old has a starter’s pitch mix with a starter’s build.
David Sandlin, RHP, Royals
An 11th-round pick out of Oklahoma, Sandlin impressed through seven starts for Low-A Columbia. While he struggled against lefthanded batters at times, Sandlin had tamed righthanded hitters to the tune of .250/.301/.395.
The 22-year-old Sandlin’s stuff is good. He mixes a mid-90s fastball with ride, a slider in the mid 80s with some sweep and a two-plane curveball. There’s certainly some relief risk with Sandlin, but he’s performing well, particularly for an 11th-round pick.
Caden Dana, RHP, Angels
Selected by the Angels in the 11th round out of Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, Dana carved up Low-A California League competition this season to quickly earn a promotion to High-A Tri-City as a 19-year-old. While he struggled after the move to the Northwest League, Dana is one of just two teen pitchers in the league.
Dana pitched to a 6.75 ERA through his first three High-A starts, but his stuff looked good. In 29.2 total innings he had struck out 36 batters against 12 walks, while holding opponents to a .175 average.
Dana primarily relies on a four-seam fastball and a slider. The former sits 93-94 mph and touches 96 with heavy ride and bore. His slider is a tight, mid-80s pitch with cut. He has mixed in a curveball and changeup, but neither pitch is a heavy part of his arsenal.
There’s no questioning Dana’s stuff or starter upside.
Ryan Clifford, OF, Astros
Arguably the biggest hitter breakout among the 2022 high school class, Clifford has mashed in his first full season. He hit .337/.488/.457 over 25 games with Low-A Fayetteville to earn a promotion to High-A Asheville in mid May.
A longtime known commodity on the prep circuit, Clifford was drafted in the 11th round out of high school in Cary, N.C. He combines advanced plate skills and plus power projection. This season he has limited the whiffs while rarely chasing outside the zone. These numbers tapered off some since the move to High-A, but the underlying skills are there.
Clifford’s average exit velocity was north of 92 mph, a standout number for a 19-year-old in full-season ball. Look for Clifford to continue to climb up rankings as his true talent settles in among older High-A competition.