Image credit: Bobby Witt Jr. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Everyone on the Top 100 Prospects list is there for a reason. They are all among the best prospects in baseball. But that doesn’t mean that we (and scouts) don’t still have some questions. Here are some notable queries we have for Top 100 Prospects.
1. Wander Franco, SS
Which position will be Franco’s eventual home?
There are plenty of evaluators who believe Franco is capable of playing shortstop in the majors, but few believe he’ll be a plus defender at the position. Franco’s bat will likely make him MLB-ready quickly, so the Rays won’t have a lot of time to figure out where he best fits in Tampa Bay. So far, the Rays have had Franco focus on playing shortstop. It would make sense to start exposing him to other positions more often as he nears the major leagues, because he could be the team’s best option at a variety of positions if there is an injury during the second half of the season.
2. Luis Robert, OF
Can Robert keep up his exceptional work with two strikes?
Robert dominated at three different levels in 2019, but he didn’t get himself into better counts than 2018. Instead, he did great work when he fell behind in the count. Robert was in that situation at the end of 40 percent of his plate appearances in 2019 (the MLB average was 33 percent), but that didn’t make much difference. In 74 at-bats when the plate appearance resolved on the 0-2 pitch, Robert hit .257/.263/.460. On 1-2, he hit .211/.220/.400. Those numbers might seem unremarkable until you realize that almost nobody is a decent hitter on 0-2 and 1-2 counts. In the majors last season, MLB hitters hit .149/.159/.234 on 0-2 and a slightly better .161/.169/.256 on 1-2. Robert’s 34 total bases on 0-2 counts was second-best in the minors (behind the Orioles’ Ryan Mountcastle). Robert’s 124 total bases when hitting behind in the count was the best in the minors in 2019 by a significant margin.
13. Casey Mize, RHP
How durable can Mize be?
Mize had durability issues in high school. When Mize was a sophomore at Auburn, he was shut down with a forearm issue. He was healthy in 2018, but in 2019 he had to be shut down with a sore right shoulder. He returned to make eight more starts, but was not nearly as effective. A healthy Mize is a potential ace, but there are legitimate concerns around how well Mize can stay on the mound.
14. Brendan McKay, LHP
Can McKay develop a swing-and-miss pitch to finish off MLB hitters?
McKay toyed with minor league hitters thanks to his ability to locate his solid stuff. McKay threw strikes on 69 percent of his pitches in the minors which helped him post exceptional numbers—12-2, 1.78, 172 IP, 107 H, 37 BB, 226 SO. McKay continued to throw plenty of strikes in the majors (66 percent) but his inability to finish off hitters caused him some issues in his first stint in the big leagues. McKay’s control and varied arsenal will lead to big league success, but to be a mid-rotation pitcher he’s going to need to develop a true putaway pitch.
15. Carter Kieboom, INF
Is Kieboom’s defense ready for the majors?
With Anthony Rendon headed to the Angels, Kieboom has a shot at earning a starting job in Washington. His bat should be ready, but his defensive reliability is a bigger question. Kieboom made four errors in 10 games in his big league debut. Playing third base at Fresno he made four errors in 10 games. Kieboom’s throwing motion is a little awkward and leads to some accuracy issues. Defensive reliability usually improves with experience—Javier Baez made 44 errors in his final season in the minors—but there is reason to believe that Kieboom fits better at second base than third base.
24. Bobby Witt Jr., SS
Can Witt refine his pitch selection and swing?
Witt’s tools are excellent. He hits the ball extremely hard. He’s a plus runner, has plus power potential and a plus arm. Refining his pitch selection and adjusting his swing to get more balls in the air would would further amplify his already enviable gifts.
34. Tarik Skubal, LHP
Can Skubal do it again?
Skubal’s 2019 season was nearly perfect and his stuff was among the best shown by any pitcher in the minors. It was also the first time he’d shown such dominance since he was an impressive freshman at Seattle in 2015. Recovery from Tommy John surgery and a control-troubled redshirt junior season in 2018 ate up the time in between. Now, Skubal needs to prove he can do it again. If he does, he’ll be pitching in Detroit by midseason.
48. Nick Madrigal, 2B
Will Madrigal hit the ball hard enough for his elite bat-to-ball skills to make an impact?
Madrigal’s contact ability is better than almost anyone in the minors or majors, but he is extremely aggressive (nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances finished in fewer than three pitches) and he does not hit the ball particularly hard. Madrigal’s 85 mph average exit velocity is among the worst for hitters in the Top 100. There are few consistently productive hitters who hit the ball as softly that often. Mets infielder Jeff McNeil had an 85 mph average exit velocity in his 2018 MLB debut. He bumped his exit velo up by three mph in 2019 and saw his offensive impact jump as well.
81. Keibert Ruiz, C
Is Keibert Ruiz Nick Madrigal?
Like Madrigal, Ruiz plays a valuable defensive position and is nearly impossible to strike out. Both players hit a lot of singles and not a lot of doubles and home runs. Ruiz could end up being a useful MLB catcher even if he’s just a singles hitter, but he’ll be a lot better big leaguer if he drives the ball more as he matures.
93. Josh Jung, 3B
Can he pull the ball?
At Texas Tech and in his pro debut, Jung showed both an excellent batting eye and an inability to consistently pull the ball. At low Class A Hickory, 12 of Jung’s 14 extra-base hits were to right or center field. Even in batting practice, Jung generally works balls to the opposite-field power alley. It helps him hit for average, but Jung’s home run potential will be limited if he doesn’t show at least an occasional ability to yank a ball down the line. He’ll need that power to improve to profile at third base.
98. Joe Ryan, RHP
Can Ryan develop a breaking ball to pair with his elite fastball?
At a time when many pitchers have dramatically cut their fastball usage, Ryan attacked hitters with a very fastball-centric plan. He’s worked on throwing a curveball, slider and cutter, but none has really clicked. Ryan’s fastball is a swing-and-miss pitch and his changeup is effective, but it’s hard to have consistent success as a righthanded starter without a usable breaking ball. Ryan will either have to develop a consistent breaking ball or prove he’s a true outlier who can succeed without one.