Ten Young Hitting Prospects With Good Underlying Data

Image credit: Roman Anthony (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

When evaluating young hitters, production is important. How well you produce in the lower minors is often a sign of things to come, but it’s not everything. The impact of each player’s run environment early in the season can mask potential future success, particularly in the early months of the season where cold weather has an impact in several leagues.

While weighted stats can give us a good idea of how a player measures up against competition within their league it doesn’t give us a real snapshot of true talent. When evaluating young prospects, I often look at underlying data to decipher true talent. Through sourced contacts we gain access to underlying data for exit velocity, contact rates and chase rates. This “big three” combination allows us to take a step back and isolate a player’s power, bat-to-ball skills and approach to more accurately measure skills.

Below I have earmarked 10 hitters showing impressive underlying data this season with a bias toward impact and approach.

Moises Ballesteros, C, Cubs: When Ballesteros signed out of Venezuela during the 2020-2021 signing period the catcher was billed as one of the top offensive prospects in the class. Just a few short years later and we’re beginning to see that ability show itself. Over 42 games Ballesteros is hitting a less than impressive .255/.371/.386 but keep in mind his home park in Low-A Myrtle Beach is one of the most treacherous hitting environments in the lower minors. When looking under the hood it’s clear that Ballesteros has a special set of skills that make him a problem for opposing pitchers. Outside of Roman Anthony and Carson Williams, no hitters show the same level of advanced skills at that age. His combination of power and bat-to-ball skills is impressive, with a 105 mph 90th percentile exit velocity and an 82% contact rate this season. He’s more aggressive than either Anthony or Williams when it comes to expanding the zone, but his swing decisions and chase rate fall squarely into an average zone. 

Ryan Clifford, OF, Astros: Few players impressed from the genesis of this season like Clifford. Over 25 games with Low-A Fayetteville, Clifford hit .337/.488/.457 with 25 walks to 27 strikeouts and seven extra-base hits. He earned the promotion to High-A Asheville during the second week of May. While he’s scuffled during his 17-game stint in High-A his combination of bat-to-ball skills, approach and power have seen his profile rise significantly over the first two months of minor league play in 2023. Despite a fair amount of strikeouts this season the underlying data points to some good luck, as his chase rate of 21% is easily plus with an above-average contact rate of 76%. These plate skills are enough to grab your attention, but his prodigious power is the real driving force with an average exit velocity in the 91 mph range and a 90th percentile exit velocity of 106 mph. Clifford presents a tidy set of skills that could see him develop into a steal for the Astros, who plucked him in the 11th round of last July’s draft with an overslot bonus. 

Xavier Isaac, 1B, Rays: In many ways Isaac was the surprise pick of day one of the 2022 draft, as the Rays selected him with the 29th pick of the first round. While his slash line thus far in 2023 isn’t anything to get terribly excited about, as he’s hit .237/.406/.371, he’s showing strong underlying data. Isaac was billed for his plus power and that thus far has held true as his 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 mph is impressive with a 112 mph max exit velocity. What might be more impressive is Isaac’s advanced swing decisions and average contact, pointing to a slugger with plate skills and plus power that can play in games. Thus far this season Isaac has chased pitches outside the zone at a rate of 18.5% while running an average contact rate of 72.5%. The impressive combination of skills should eventually show in his surface level stats as Isaac gets acclimated to the professional game.

Roman Anthony, OF, Red Sox: The outfielder received the highest bonus of any player in Boston’s 2022 draft class and so far the underlying data points to that being a smart decision. While Anthony is hitting .239/.384/.343 over 35 games with Low-A Salem, his data is excellent. The Stoneman Douglas (Parkland, Fla.) High alum is displaying advanced plate discipline, high-end exit velocity numbers and strong contact rates. Anthony’s plate skills are impressive as he’s chasing pitches outside the zone just 16.5% of the time in 2023, while rarely missing when he does swing, as his 83% contact rate points to. In addition to the strong plate discipline numbers his exit velocity data catches the eye with a 104.8 mph 90th percentile exit velocity and a 112 mph max exit velocity. While the data is great, Anthony’s lack of production stems from an inflated groundball rate, as he puts the ball in play nearly 50% of the time. As the outfielder learns to elevate he could develop into one of the top prospects in the game. 

Carson Williams, SS, Rays: Elite shortstop defenders are a rare commodity, and often that sort of defensive prowess lends itself to eventual big league opportunities. When a player can pair strong defense at the six with above-average offensive skills they tend to enjoy long and fruitful careers in the major leagues. While systemmate Junior Caminero might receive the headlines, Williams is an impressive prospect in his own right. His combination of contact, approach and power is among the best in the minor leagues, and when you factor in age few if any players are his equal when it comes to “the big three” of contact, approach and power. Williams rarely chases outside the zone with a chase rate of just 24% this season and a palatable contact rate of 71%. While the plate skills are impressive, it’s Williams’ power that really separates him from other young shortstops. On the season Williams’ average exit velocity is 93 mph with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 108.5 mph—both elite numbers for a player who won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until later this month. One can argue that Williams is one of the most underrated players in the minor leagues at the moment. 

Won-Bin Cho, OF, Cardinals: Signed out of Korea during the 2021-2022 international period, Cho initially made headlines with his home run derby exploits on social media, but it wasn’t until this spring that we saw what Cho was capable of. Thus far on the season Cho is hitting .258/.375/.367 with 23 walks to 31 strikeouts. While his line isn’t going to make you stop in your tracks, his underlying data is impressive. His plate skills in particular have been the most impressive part of his game. Through 37 games with Low-A Palm Beach Cho is running a 74% contact rate with a superb 19% chase rate. Cho will be 19 for a majority of the season and in addition to advanced plate skills is showing notable high-end power output. Cho’s 90th percentile exit velocity is in the 105 mph range, which when combined with his plate skills paints a rosy picture of a well-rounded player. 

Owen Caissie, OF, Cubs: The Cubs acquired the Canadian slugger in the trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Padres in December of 2020. After a solid but unspectacular season in 2022, Caissie is showcasing some of the best impact in minor league baseball in 2023. While the outfielder’s strikeout rate of 37.6% is difficult to stomach it hasn’t stopped Caissie from hitting .265/.354/.525 and matching last season’s home run total of 11 across 44 games. His 136 wRC+ ranks in the top 10 in the Southern League despite being one of five players 20 years or younger to begin the season on the circuit. How much Caissie’s inflated strikeout rate is driven by the Southern League’s pre-tacked balls remains a question. That said, a look under the hood tells the whole story. While his 56% contact rate is a red flag, his exit velocity and chase numbers are otherworldly. His average exit velocity this season is 94 mph, while his 90th percentile exit velocity is 113.5 mph with a max exit velocity higher than 117 mph. His chase rate is squarely average at 25%, meaning the impact and swing decisions are there. The inflated swing-and-miss makes Caissie a risky bet, but his impact is such an outlier it puts him into Joey Gallo territory. 

Chris Newell, OF, Dodgers: Not too long ago Newell was considered to be one of the top talents in the 2022 draft class. After a strong showing over 18 games in 2020, Newell saw his stock plummet over the next two seasons at Virginia as he struck out at a rate of 30.1% over his three seasons with the Cavaliers. Selected by the Dodgers in the 13th round of the 2022 draft, Newell has found early success as a professional. The lefthanded-hitting center fielder hit .312/.426/.662 over 41 games with Low-A Rancho Cucamonga before seeing a promotion to High-A Great Lakes last week. While his strikeout rate remains a cause for concern, Newell’s combination of power and swing decisions give hope for optimism. The outfielder’s average exit velocity is 90 mph, while his 90th percentile exit velocity is just under 108 mph. His chase rate has been excellent, and he’s only swinging at pitches outside of the zone 18.1% of the time. While his sub-70% contact rate is a concern, Newell is showing a strong combination of power and approach that portends future success. 

Creed Willems, C, Orioles: It’s been a breakout spring for the 20-year-old catcher. After a tumultuous 68 games in Low-A in 2022, Willems returned to the level in 2023 and hit .302/.442/.615 over 30 games before he was promoted to High-A Aberdeen. Prior to last week’s promotion Willems was displaying strong underlying traits. His exit velocity data is strong with a 91 mph average exit velocity, a 105 mph 90th percentile exit velocity and a max exit velocity of 108 mph. While his contact rate is below-average his swing decisions have been strong as Willems has chased pitches outside the zone just 25% of the time. There are both body and defensive concerns with Willems, but his combination of power and swing decisions with fringe-average contact skills have made him a standout over the first two months of the season. 

Samuel Basallo, C, Orioles: While Willems saw a promotion to High-A Aberdeen it’s Basallo who’s been most impressive this season for Low-A Delmarva. The 18-year-old catcher is hitting .299/.346/.475 across 45 games and has shown both power and feel to hit. Blessed with a double-plus throwing arm and double-plus raw power Basallo already has a pair of standout tools that are showing in games. Basallo’s power is extremely impressive for a teenager as his average exit velocity is north of 90 mph with a 90th percentile exit velocity just a tad under 106 mph. His chase rate is high, as Basallo is an aggressive swinger, but despite this his contact rate remains squarely in the average range at 74%. While his swing decisions could improve, at 18 years old Basallo is showing standout impact with bat-to-ball skills to match.

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