Since my Top 100 went up in February, a number of the top players on the list — including my clear top three — have entered the big leagues and some have lost prospect eligibility. Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez all look like they are in the big leagues to stay, along with others from my Top 25: Spencer Torkelson, Alek Thomas, Hunter Greene, Nolan Gorman and M.J. Melendez.
In addition, C.J. Abrams made his big league debut, though he has since been optioned to Triple-A. Riley Greene looked set to open the year in the big leagues if not for a foot injury — he just returned in Triple-A. Meanwhile, Oneil Cruz has just caught fire (in, you guessed it, Triple-A) and seems primed for a call-up.
An updated Top 100 already looks totally different up top, which will be only more true in another month. So we decided to answer the question: Who is the top prospect in the minor leagues right now?
After consulting some sources, we settled on a list of six position players under consideration for the honor:
Abrams (No. 4 in the February Top 100), SS, Padres
Greene (5), CF, Tigers
As mentioned above, Abrams got a 20-game big league look and played pretty well, but is now back in Triple-A. Moreno is also playing well at Triple-A and could get a big league look soon. Since those two — and Greene, as well — are still in the minors, they qualify for this list, but they might not for much longer.
We have three more candidates one level lower, at Double-A: Volpe, Alvarez and Carroll. Carroll is the biggest riser among this group — he missed almost all of the 2021 season due to a shoulder surgery, so we were waiting to see how explosive he would be in his return. So far, it looks like the answer is extremely.
My top pitching prospect in the Top 100, Rodriguez just suffered a lat muscle strain after a Triple-A start last week. It looks like he will miss significant time, so he has now fallen a bit behind the hard-charging, fireballing Espino. Espino came out of the gates red-hot in Double-A this spring, sitting near 100 mph with a hellacious plus-plus breaking ball and improved command before dealing with patella tendinitis. All that combined for an outlandish line for a 21-year-old: 18 1/3 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 35 K.
Rodriguez’s injury doesn’t change his long-term outlook, but the time he’ll miss is just enough of an opening in some scouts’ eyes to slide Espino into that top spot. It’s still a toss-up around the industry, though.
What’s the verdict?
Since there’s no clear answer here — and nothing near a consensus from scouts — you can’t just line up tool grades, stats and history to logic out the answer to this question.
The sources I spoke with had clear opinions on who belonged in consideration — but when it came to choosing a clear No. 1, largely said “¯\_(ツ)_/¯ you’re on your own.” It’s really a matter of choosing what you’d like to prioritize and using that to eliminate a few candidates, making comparisons easier.
It will be hard for a pitcher to ever be the answer for me, given the various attrition risks historically inherent and, recently, the terrible track record of whoever is anointed the best pitching prospect on the winter lists (see Rodriguez’s blurb on the Top 100 for details). So for Rodriguez and Espino, this top tier — but not the top spot — is about the highest praise I can responsibly offer.
That leaves us with those half dozen position players to sort through. It would be easy to just leave them in the same order they were on the winter list, but we have 40ish games of new information, which would be enough to shuffle names a bit if warranted. It’s not really enough information for a drastic change, though, so Carroll can’t make a 20-spot move. Let’s eliminate him.
Now, to recap, here’s the info we’ve gleaned on each of our remaining five candidates since I set my Top 100:
Greene’s injury means his spring training performance is the only new information we have. His overall offensive approach comes with some inherent swing-and-miss, and while he’s solid in center field, most think he’ll settle in a corner spot eventually. Those two factors limit his upside. He’s still a special hit/power combo who comes with real defensive value.
Abrams has given us new info, but it was a short, mediocre big league look that doesn’t really move the needle either way. He’s still an electric, somewhere-up-the-middle fit with top-of-the-scale speed, elite contact skills and anywhere from 15 to 25 homers depending on how the last stage of development goes.
Moreno is an elite contact hitter with average game power (call it 15-18 homers annually). I expect him to stick behind the plate due to plus athleticism for the position.
Volpe had a slow start (.170/.297/.330, 25% K in his first 30 games), but has since been heating up (.275/.351/.451, 17% K in the next 13 games). That was more about his outcome matching his process, as analysts mentioned to me that his ball-in-play luck had been awful this year. He’s a no-doubt shortstop with 25-home run upside.
Alvarez is the youngest of this group by more than six months (still just 20 years old until almost Thanksgiving) and continues to hum right along, demolishing Double-A. He’s playing the most valuable position on the field at catcher and is good enough to stay back there.
Keep in mind that we’re looking only at the surface-level stats available to anyone (teams have much more advanced options). But using those for this group, as well as adding an age and positional value credit, the 2022 information is strongest for Alvarez.
OK, I know, I previously ranked Rutschman as the top prospect this year, but I don’t really like to let catchers win coin flips on rankings, and scouts tend to agree, particularly when it comes to first-round catchers. Since they’re so far from the big leagues, more bad can happen and, behind pitchers, that position has always had the second-most attrition. That said, other scouts consistently argue to round up on catchers in the minor league Top 100 because the state of the position is so bad that a standout playing three years for the league minimum has tons of value — similar to that of a young playoff-proven ace.
Given the position concerns of corner outfield (upside/margin for error issue for Greene) and catching, when I started this process, I assumed I would land on Volpe vs. Abrams for the top spot. But both started slow statistically this spring (though that didn’t really change my projections for them) while Alvarez excelled. In a coin flip situation, that sort of momentum and newest information does matter.
When it comes to the top spot, I think expecting a sure combination of hit, power and defensive value is a key separator, to give a high floor and high ceiling. I’m not sure Abrams will do all three — he has all the tools, but I’m not sure we will see more than average in-game power production. So let’s knock him out.
Classic: We’re left with an ESPN East Coast Bias™ of prospects from the Yankees and the Mets. When comparing the two, Alvarez is performing a little better right now, his position is a little more valuable, and he’s a little younger. Volpe’s revelatory 2021 breakout season came out of nowhere, while Alvarez had been anointed as one of the top players in his international signing class at least five years ago. He has held serve every moment since then and made notable improvements along the way. A longer track record of elite performance is another key tiebreaker in situations like this.
For what it’s worth, I think this answer will probably be clear — and might very well be different — after about another month of games, but that’s not the exercise. Right now, I think Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez is the best prospect currently in the minor leagues.
Other players in the mix
Almost every player in the top 30 from the February list who’s still eligible is in the mix for a spot in the top 10-15, thanks to mostly as-expected performances and plenty of players getting called up to the big leagues. Here’s a quick list of guys to keep an eye on from that group:
Tyler Soderstrom, C, Athletics (10)
Noelvi Marte, SS, Mariners (12)
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates (13)
Orelvis Martinez, SS, Blue Jays (16)
Jordan Walker, 3B, Cardinals (17)
Zac Veen, RF, Rockies (20)
Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox (22)
Diego Cartaya, C, Dodgers (26)
Jordan Lawlar, SS, Diamondbacks (29)
Marco Luciano, SS, Giants (30)
There’s also a list of arrow-up guys taking a step forward this spring. They’re either moving way up in the Top 100 (Harrison might be second only to Espino on next winter’s list), from off the list to on it, or from way off the list to in contention for it. They’re listed in order of preseason ranking:
Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants (50)
Eury Perez, RHP, Marlins (55)
Curtis Mead, 3B, Rays (64)
Drew Romo, C, Rockies (85)
Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles (96)
Tyler Black, 2B, Brewers (45+ FV, not on top 100)
Pete Crow-Armstrong, CF, Cubs (45+ FV)
Kevin Alcantara, CF, Cubs (45+ FV)
Jackson Chourio, CF, Brewers (45 FV)
Masyn Winn, SS, Cardinals (45 FV)
Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies (45 FV)
Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies (45 FV)
Edwin Arroyo, SS, Mariners (45 FV)
Alex Ramirez, RF, Mets (45 FV)
D.J. Herz, LHP, Cubs (45 FV)
Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Blue Jays (40+ FV)
Colt Keith, 3B, Tigers (40+ FV)
Max Muncy, SS, Athletics (40+ FV)
Vaughn Grissom, SS, Braves (40+ FV)
Gordon Graceffo, RHP, Cardinals (40 FV)
Emmanuel Rodriguez, RF, Twins (40 FV)
Hao Yu Lee, 2B, Phillies (40 FV)
Darell Hernaiz, SS, Orioles (40 FV)
A.J. Smith-Shawver, RHP, Braves (40 FV)
Colin Barber, CF, Astros (40 FV)
Marco Raya, RHP, Twins (40 FV)
Marc Church, RHP, Rangers (40 FV)
Tanner Bibee, RHP, Guardians (35+ FV)
Dahian Santos, RHP, Blue Jays (35+ FV)
Mason Auer, RF, Rays (35 FV)