While my main focus has long been the farm system of the Seattle Mariners, both the lockout and the social media conversation surrounding recent rankings releases sent me off in the direction of the game’s best. While I couldn’t commit the work necessary to go 100 deep, I studied video and data, and had several in-depth conversations about the top prospects in Major League Baseball, so here’s my Top 25.
25. Ronny Mauricio, SS — New York Mets
He’s 21 now but there’s still physical projection remaining entering 2022 after the switch hitter added strength and more leverage in his swing a year ago, producing 20 homers at High-A. Hos chances to stick at shortstop aren’t great, yet non-zero, but the power may end up fitting the profile of a third-base or corner-outfield bat thanks to plus bat speed.
24. Vidal Brujan, 2B/CF — Tampa Bay Rays
Brujan possesses 70-grade speed and well above-average contact skills from both sides of the plate to pair with at least average defense at second and what projects as a plus glove if he were move permanently to center. Some scouts still see playable shortstop defense and at least average long-term power, suggesting Brujan’s ceiling is quite high no matter where he ultimately plays in the field.
23. George Valera, OF — Cleveland Indians
I’m a bit higher on Valera than fellow Guardians prospect Brayan Rocchio thanks to a higher ceiling that, for me, outweighs the face he’s missed time to multiple injuries since signing in 2017. It’s easy plus power from the left side and he’ll work counts and draw walks (18.2%) versus above-average contact rates. He’ll need to clean up his swing versus left-handed pitching, but the combo of tools and presents skills is impressive.
22. Noelvi Marte, SS/3B — Seattle Mariners
Marte packs 60-grade power that showed in games in his first full season in the states, but I think the industry is at least a half-grade too high on Marte, which is I have him here and not in the Top 15. For me, he’s not sticking at shortstop — he’s already at least 6-foot-2 and is closing in on 200 pounds at age 20, but the pop should fit at third, as should the arm strength, leaving the real pressure on the hit tool to unlock all the possibilities. There’s a potential star here, but he’s at minimum two full years from the majors, and has question to answer all over the profile before I feel confident placing him among the elite prospects in the game, something we could see from him by this coming summer.
21. Edward Cabrera, RHP — Miami Marlins
Cabrera, 24, should again see the big leagues this season and starts 2022 working with a fastball firmly in the mid-90s and touching triple digits, and a changeup that’s generally above-average to plus and generates elite whiff rates when at its best. He’s a beast at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds. He repeats a sound delivery, and with more consistency with fastball command and his hard slider, there’s a frontline starting pitcher here and Miami could see it at some point this season.
20. Reid Detmers, LHP — Los Angeles Angels
Detmers didn’t pitch well in the majors in 2021, but entered pro ball with 60 command and a 65 curveball, and has now added a few ticks of velocity on a four-seamer he’s yet to command as well as he did at 88-92 mph. He’s a good athlete with some deception in the delivery, and if can push back toward the plus side of fastball command, he’s a good No. 3 starter with no significant minor-league time necessary in order to contribute in the majors.
19. Nolan Gorman, 3B — St. Louis Cardinals
Gorman’s athleticism is why I have him Top 20 after heading into this process thinking he’d land around No. 35 or 40. He’s a left-handed stick with huge raw power, and showed significant signs of polishing the swing in 2021, suggesting a potential star is on the way in St. Louis. And he may be able to manage at second base, at least early in his career, perhaps allowing the Cards to play he and Nolan Arenado on the same infield.
18. George Kirby, RHP — Seattle Mariners
I’m high-man on Kirby, who sits 93-97 mph with ease, and touched 99-101 in some of his outings in 2021. I understand the questions about the breaking balls, but I saw numerous above-average changeups last summer, a pitch that induced enough swing-and-miss to believe it’s on its way to consistent plus status. The slider, well ahead of the curveball with a lot more projection, also flashed 55-60 at times, and with his easy, repeatable delivery and fastball command, he’s as likely as any advanced arm to finish off his pitch development in quick fashion. Kirby may be two months of development from showing out as the game’s best pitching prospect.
17. Jordan Lawlar, SS — Arizona Diamondbacks
Lawlar remains almost all projection, but looks like a long-term, above-average shortstop with plus power and speed, meaning as long as the hit tool gets to at least average levels, he’s a potential all-star, perhaps beyond.
16. Brennen Davis, CF — Chicago Cubs
I may be high-man on Davis, too. He’s a legit centerfielder with plus power and an advanced ability to find the barrel with leverage and reach base via the base on balls. Despite adding weight to his 6-foot-4 frame, Davis remains at least an above-average runner. He draws some comparisons to Matt Kemp on the upside, and is close to big-league ready. His swing reminds me of Franklin Gutierrez, but with looser hands and quicker hips rotation.
15. Corbin Carroll, CF — Arizona Diamondbacks
Carroll missed nearly all of 2021 with a shoulder injury, but has never done anything but hit at every stop of every level, amateur or pro, and offers the chance at a Jacoby Ellsbury-like profile, likely without Ellsbury’s outlier 32-homr season in 2011.
14. Marco Luciano, SS — San Francisco Giants
Like Marte, Luciano isn’t a shortstop for the long haul, but despite a greater chance he can’t remain on the dirt, there are fewer questions about the bat right now, hence the slight advantage in the rankings. The power, however, is undeniable and likely gets him to Double-A in 2022 at age 20.
13. Anthony Volpe, SS — New York Yankees
I think most are a tad higher on Volpe than I am, and i think the reason is the belief in the power. While he has shown plus power at times, I fall just shy of the former first-round pick landing consistently in the 30-homer range, but he belongs firmly in the Top 15 and is closer to Bobby Witt Jr. than some are willing to admit, perhaps shedding some light on how little difference there is between players ranked in this range. Volpe could be the shortstop at Yankee Stadium before the end of the season, but certainly appears to be the guy for 2023.
12. Diego Cartaya, C — Los Angeles Dodgers
Cartaya raked last season until a hamstring injury destroyed his season, so admittedly it’s a small sample, but he flashed similar abilities in 200-plus PAs in 2019, and I couldn’t find a scout that wasn’t at least optimistic about his defense behind the plate, including a few who were purely bullish on it. He’s a few years away, but the tools are loud, including plus power and signs his pitch recognition and strike zone judgment have taken a few steps forward, possibly creating another potential all-star caliber backstop for the Dodgers. Ho hum.
11. CJ Abrams, SS — San Diego Padres
Abrams has the tools to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball by mid-season, led by a plus hit tool, above-average raw power, blazing 70-or-better speed. There are conflicting opinions on his shortstop defense ranging from average to plus, and if it’s the former he has the speed and agility to handle center. The biggest questions seem to be all about how he responds to the fractured tibia that cut his 2021 short, and how much power shows up in the long run.
10. Shane Baz, RHP — Tampa Bay Rays
Baz very well could be the best pitching prospect in baseball, but one thing is holding me back, and I can tell you it’s not because I don’t believe his fastball-slider combo won’t dominate big leaguers in 2022. The velocity reached the upper 90s with rise, and his curveball has a chance to be an above-average pitch, too, perhaps giving him three high-quality offerings. His changeup is his fourth pitch and flashes above-average, even plus at times, but until he proves he can use it consistently he’ll have one tiny flaw keeping him from ace status.
9. Spencer Torkelson, 1B — Detroit Tigers
Torkelson is as good a bet to hit at all-star levels as any prospect of the last several years, and we’re likely to see it in the majors very early in 2022, if not from the get-go. But he’s not a perfect prospect, even at the plate, where it’s a power-driven approach with some warts against good off-speed stuff. He’s also not a third baseman, putting all the pressure on his bat to provide value, so he’s clean out of the Top 5 for me. But he’s going to hit 30-plus homers and get on base.
8. Hunter Greene, RHP — Cincnnati Reds
There’s risk here, after Greene had UCL surgery and missed all of 2019, only to miss all of 2020, too, thanks to the pandemic. But he returned last summer to log 116.1 innings often hitting triple digits and topping out at 103 mph. Command will be key, even with that kind of velocity, thanks to rather ordinary data on the fastball, but he also has a chance at three above-average secondaries in a mid-90s cutter, a true slider with bite and a changeup that could end up his best off-speed pitch. Greene needs time, but is now nearly three years off the surgery and with the velocity clearly all the way back, we can shift the focus on his big-time upside.
7. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP — Baltimore Orioles
Rodriguez may not have quite the upside of Greene and is a little further away and not as polished as Baz, but he might be the best combination of present stuff, projection, and command after a pounding the zone with 95-99 mph heat flashing plus life, setting up a slider showing plus often enough to buy its future as such, an average curveball, and projectable changeup which flashed above average but was inconsistent a year ago. Rodriguez should make his big-league debut in 2022.
6. Gabriel Moreno, C — Toronto Blue Jays
Moreno, 22 this month, doesn’t posses the kind of power Alvarez does, but offers above-average defense and a plus hit tool. He makes tons of contact — rates that might remind one of the best contact bats in baseball, such as David Fletcher, Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve — and is near big-league ready despite an injury limiting him to 169 plate appearances a year ago.
5. Francisco Álvarez, C — New York Mets
Alvarez, who just turned 20 in November and spent 2021 hitting .272/.388/.554 in an 84-15 split between both levels of Class-A ball, projects well defensively and the swing carries huge power garnering 70 raw grades. He’s always drawn walks — every year over 11% walk rate — but he was challenged with the better stuff in High-A, posting a 25% K rate. His plus defense will get him to the majors, but whether he’s a borderline all-star or a superstar will depend on how consistent he can make contact and unleash the easy power.
Prospects ranked from No. 3-6 are interchangeable for me. I wouldn’t argue for one second with any of the four being ranked in any of the four slots in that range, and in any order.
4. Riley Greene, CF — Detroit Tigers
Greene may be able to handle center field early in his career, which suggests enormous value for the Tigers, who may be staring down their best homegrown player in more than two decades. Green does strike out a bit — nearly 27% in his pro career — but counters it in what I like to call the Nelson Cruz Way; plenty of walks, but mostly a very high rate of very hard contact and a swing that generates easy loft. It’s more than plausible Greene is a .270 or better hitter with 30 homers and plenty of OBP as a five-year center fielder. In other words, a perennial all-star with a shot to earn some MVP votes.
3. Julio Rodriguez, RF — Seattle Mariners
Rodriguez has tremendous, easy 70-grade raw power that plays to all fields and may end up in the 40-homer range. He’s a better than-average athlete with man strength despite having just turned 21. It’s a plus arm that fits well in right field, and he may be able to get away with some center very early in his career before he fully matures physically. Rodriguez impressively uses his natural power swing to his advantage and has made consistent contact at every stop. He’s played just 46 games above High-A, but looked anything but overmatched at any point over that span. He’s Magglio Ordonez on vitamins. His ceiling looks like prime Nelson Cruz — 148 wRC+, 260 homers over seven seasons — but with above-average corner outfield defense.
2. Bobby Witt Jr., SS — Kansas City Royals
Witt doesn’t come without concerns, but he’s as tooled up as any prospect in the game, led by 70 raw power, plus to plus-plus speed, and no glaring weakness. He’s an above-average shortstop entering 2022 with a chance to be plus, and the arm is a cannon earning a lot of 80 grades. He moves well at short to both sides and vertically, has good hands, and is uber athletic in making accurate throws. Most scouts see the only thing that may hold him back from stardom is a tendency to load deep, leading to some swing and miss. But thus far, including in the upper minors, his strikeout rates have been beyond tolerable.
1. Adley Rutschman, C — Baltimore Orioles
Rutschman checks off all the boxes as a big-league prospect. Premium defender at the premium defensive position, a performance record backed by plus to plus-plus tools across the board, and proximity to the majors (Now. Right now.) He’s an adequate switch hitter with well above average hit and power strokes from each side, and his ability to force opposing pitchers to throw strikes is as good as there is in the minors right now. He runs like a catcher. There, something Rutschman isn’t good at, but that may be the only thing. If he stays healthy, which is always a question with backstops, there’s a realistic chance he competes for multiple MVP awards.
Jason A. Churchill
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