Ten Prospects Outside The Top 100 To Watch

Image credit: (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Three years ago, Baseball America conducted a study that showed there are 110 future all-stars in the minor leagues in a given year, on average. That means that even if every member of the BA Top 100 Prospects becomes an all-star, there will still be 10 other players who miss the BA Top 100 and go on to earn at least one all-star selection during their major league careers.

While some of the players outside the Top 100 with all-star potential are well-known or have a prominent pedigree, there are always players who slip under the radar as prospects before emerging as standout major leaguers. Recent examples include Jared Walsh and Jake Cronenworth, both of whom earned all-star selections in 2021 and have established themselves as productive everyday starters for years to come. Other examples include Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Altuve, who both had productive minor league careers and became two of MLB’s best players of the 2010s. Neither made a Top 100 nor ranked as one of their organization’s top 10 prospects.

Here are 10 players who did not make the 2022 BA Top 100 but have shown the talent and productivity to become everyday major leaguers or better. Some don’t fit traditional scouting preferences or profiles, others were late-round draft picks or low-dollar international signees without much pedigree and others have been overshadowed by other players in their organizations. In any case, all have shown promising tools or traits that have pushed them up the minors and give them a real chance to have more substantial careers than many players who made the Top 100.

1. Jonathan Aranda, 1B/3B, Rays

Signed out of Mexico in 2015, Aranda steadily improved as a hitter each year before breaking out in 2021 and establishing himself as one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues. He hit .331/.419/.543 with a career-high 14 home runs and 65 RBIs in 100 games between High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery and was added to the Rays’ 40-man roster after the season. Aranda doesn’t exactly cut an imposing figure, but his above-average bat speed from the left side, smooth bat path, excellent strike-zone discipline and advanced feel for hunting pitches he can drive make him a consensus everyday-caliber hitter. He’s a particularly adept low-ball hitter with some leverage in his swing and above-average raw power that should translate to 10-15 home runs per season to go with high batting averages and on-base percentages. He handles lefties as well as righties, battles with two strikes and consistently makes hard contact off the barrel. Though listed as a second baseman, Aranda’s below-average athleticism and range limit him to a corner infield spot. His hands work and he does a good job scooping balls out of the dirt, but he doesn’t move well at third base and he’s short for a first baseman. Even with the uncertainty about what position he’ll play, Aranda projects to hit enough to force his way into a starting lineup and be an everyday contributor.

2. Joey Wiemer, OF, Brewers

Wiemer’s big tools were often overshadowed by a wild, out-of-control swing in college at Cincinnati. That continued to be the case at the start of his pro debut in 2021. Wiemer opened the season at Low-A Carolina taking enormous, violent swings that mostly led to whiffs and his unrestrained play extended to the outfield, where he nearly injured his teammates running full-speed into them. But after Wiemer ditched his big leg kick and toned down his swing and actions at midseason, he took off. Wiemer hit .234 with five home runs in his first 52 games and .344 with 22 home runs in his final 57 games, only getting hotter after a promotion to High-A Wisconsin. He followed that up with a red-hot start in the Arizona Fall League before a bruised left thumb ended his time there. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Wiemer is an exceptional athlete with plus speed, plus-plus raw power, 80-grade arm strength and the ability to play all three outfield positions. Now that’s he’s learning to play more under control, he has a chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order force.

3. Caleb Kilian, RHP, Cubs

An eighth-round pick by the Giants out of Texas Tech in 2019, Kilian lived on average stuff and plus control before adding velocity in the leadup to a breakout 2021. He was acquired by the Cubs in the deadline trade for Kris Bryant and finished the year with a 2.42 ERA and 112 strikeouts against just 13 walks in 100.1 innings across High-A and Double-A. Kilian’s fastball now ranges from 92-98 mph and alternately cuts, rides or sinks, leaving batters guessing which way the ball will move on any given pitch. His sharp, 86-90 mph cutter has added power to become another swing-and-miss pitch and his twirling, mid-70s curveball freezes hitters at the knees for called strikes. Kilian ties it all together with plus control and a feel for moving the ball around the strike zone, which he showcased with six perfect innings in the Arizona Fall League championship game en route to winning MVP honors. With three put-away pitches, pinpoint control and an aggressive, efficient mode of attack, Kilian has every chance to become a mid-rotation starter.

4. Juan Yepez, 1B, Cardinals

The big-bodied Yepez used the 2020 coronavirus shutdown to get stronger and turned in his best season in 2021, batting .286/.383/.586 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs across Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. The Cardinals added him to their NL wild card game roster against the Dodgers and put him on the 40-man roster in November after he hit .302 with seven home runs in the Arizona Fall League. Yepez has long had advanced strike-zone discipline and now has the strength to consistently drive balls over the fence. He crushes fastballs at any velocity, forces pitchers into the strike zone and frequently finds the center of the barrel. He rarely chases out of the strike zone and doesn’t miss a pitch to hit when he gets one. Yepez isn’t particularly mobile and is strictly limited to first base, where he flashes the ability to make the routine plays but also makes clumsy errors. He’ll likely need to DH in order to get everyday playing time, especially if he remains with the Cardinals, but his power and plate discipline give him a chance to be a productive slugger if he gets consistent at-bats.

5. Hunter Brown, RHP, Astros

Brown’s explosive stuff has turned heads ever since the Astros drafted him in the fifth round out of Wayne State in 2019. Now, his longstanding control issues are slowly showing signs of getting better. Brown cut his walk rate from 6.8 BB/9 at short-season Tri-City to 5.3 BB/9 at Double-A Corpus Christi to 3.7 BB/9 at Triple-A Sugar Land, a promising trend that is helping his results come closer to matching his stuff. He went 6-5, 4.04 with 131 strikeouts and 50 walks in 100.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021 and showed the ability to succeed even on the days he didn’t have his best stuff. Physical and athletic, Brown possesses three plus pitches in a 94-98 mph fastball with downhill plane, a 12-to-6 curveball with depth and a sweeping power slider that gets swings and misses. His firm changeup is an effective pitch, too. His stuff doesn’t get hit when it’s over the plate and he has a knack for making big pitches in big spots to get out of jams. What has long held Brown back is 30-grade command and control. His fastball command in particular is not where it needs to be, but if he can continue improving as he has been and get his command and control up to a 40, he may be able to stay in a rotation as a hard-throwing, five-inning starter. Even if he doesn’t, his power stuff will play in short bursts out of the bullpen.

6. Andy Pages, OF, Dodgers

Few young players can hit the ball as hard and as far as Pages, who hit a team-record 31 home runs for High-A Great Lakes in 2021 and led the High-A Central in slugging percentage and OPS in addition to homers. While his uphill swing path leaves him vulnerable to pitches at the top of the strike zone, he’s significantly improved his pitch selection to lay off pitches in the upper-third of the zone and hunt offerings at his belt or below that he can drive. He has excellent hand-eye coordination, has good instincts for making adjustments in the batter’s box and has flashed a knack for delivering big hits in key spots. Pages’ main issue is his lack of consistency. He’ll crush upper-90s fastballs one day and swing and miss through average fastballs the next. He’s a capable right fielder with at least plus arm strength, but he’s easily distracted in the outfield and is prone to airmailing throws. He also frequently runs into outs with poor baserunning decisions. If Pages can iron out the inconsistencies in his game, he has a chance to be a low-average hitter who puts up solid on-base percentages and big power numbers. He’ll be 21 all of next season at Double-A and has plenty of time for his game to mature.

7. Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Royals

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Pasquantino took some time to figure out his big body and tap into his latent raw power as an amateur. Once he did, he only continued to get more powerful. Pasquantino hit 16 home runs while posting more walks (32) than strikeouts (29) his junior year at Old Dominion and followed with 14 home runs in 57 games for Rookie-level Burlington that summer after the Royals drafted him in the 11th round. He made his full-season debut in 2021 and hit .300/.394/.563 with 24 home runs, 83 RBIs and as many walks as strikeouts (64) in 116 games between High-A Quad Cities and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Pasquantino possesses exceptional strike-zone discipline and a mature, patient approach to go with plus lefthanded power, a combination that bodes well for continued power production at higher levels. He tracks pitches well, takes advantage of mistakes and is a good situational hitter who hits both lefties and righties with a clean, polished swing. Pasquantino can be awkward at times like many players his size, but he’s decently flexible and moves around the bag well enough to be an average first baseman. Pasquantino saw a steady dose of changeups and backdoor breaking balls in the Dominican Winter League after the season and struggled, so he still has to prove he can hit against upper-level pitchers who can mix and match and test his patience and discipline. His acute understanding of hitting and ability to make adjustments create optimism that he will eventually become a part of the Royals lineup.

8. Peyton Battenfield, RHP, Guardians

Battenfield has already been traded twice since the Astros drafted him in the ninth round in 2019 out of Oklahoma State. The Astros traded him to the Rays in 2020 as one of two prospects for reliever Austin Pruitt and the Rays sent him to the Guardians at the 2021 trade deadline for outfielder Jordan Luplow and reliever D.J. Johnson. It’s no coincidence that the Astros, Rays and Guardians, three of the most analytically-minded organizations in baseball, have targeted Battenfield at various points. The 6-foot-4 righthander features elite vertical ride on his 91-94 mph fastball and pairs that movement with plus command of the pitch, allowing him to rack up swings and misses with it. He went 7-1, 2.53 with 131 strikeouts against just 19 walks in 103 innings across High-A and Double-A, largely on the strength of his fastball. He complements his fastball with a hard, upper-80s cutter that gets swings and misses and shows feel for a high-spin, 79-81 mph curveball and solid mid-80s changeup, all of which he locates. Battenfield was a reliever in college, but he is showing the arsenal, control and durability to start in pro ball and has a chance to emerge as a back-of-the-rotation starter.  

9. David Villar, 3B, Giants

Villar accomplished what few thought was possible in 2021: he hit for average and power at Double-A Richmond. The 2018 11th-round pick out of South Florida became the first Richmond player to hit 20 home runs in a season since 2005, a product of the big gaps and high walls at The Diamond that have held even future major league power hitters like Adam Duvall and Brandon Belt below that total. He did it while putting up a .275/.374/.507 slash line that was weighed down by playing more than half of his games at one of the minors’ most pitcher-friendly parks. Villar takes clean, powerful swings and makes good swing decisions at the plate. He attacks hittable pitches, has above-average strike-zone discipline and makes consistent contact with above-average exit velocities. He is prone to swinging and missing in the zone at times, especially against lefties, but he makes enough contact to be an average hitter who gets to his power enough to hit 15-20 home runs. Villar has worked hard to improve at third base and has a chance to be an average defender with more development. He is still too error-prone, but if he can get to average, he has a chance to be an everyday third baseman who is a solid contributor to a big league club. If he doesn’t, his ability to flip between third and first base and hit for average and power could still find him a home on a big league bench.

10. Hayden Wesneski, RHP, Yankees

The Yankees drafted Wesneski in the sixth round in 2019 after he put together a decorated three-year career in Sam Houston State’s starting rotation. He made his full-season debut in 2021 and rose three levels from High-A to Triple-A, finishing 11-6, 3.25 with 151 strikeouts and 31 walks in 130.1 innings. Wesneski is an aggressive, confident pitcher who goes right after hitters with a deep, polished arsenal and has life on all of his pitches. His four-seam fastball sits 93-97 mph with heavy sink, his 90-95 mph two-seamer moves in the opposite direction with late tail, his short, 87-88 mph slider with late cut is an average pitch he can land for strikes, his 78-82 mph curveball is a potential plus pitch with two-plane break and he can mix in an average changeup as well. Wesneski sometimes struggles with the proper sequencing of all his pitches and his three-quarters arm slot can wander. As he learns which pitch mix works best for him and hones his delivery, he has a chance to become a solid back-end starter or effective late-game reliever, possibly as soon as 2022 for the Yankees. 

Staff writers Geoff Pontes and Matt Eddy contributed research.

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