In honor of the release of our inaugural 2023 Top 100 Draft Prospects list last week, we took the time to look back at all of the players who made up those lists over the years. We began ranking the top amateurs in each class back in 2011, which featured a star-studded group headlined by Gerrit Cole and future All-Stars Anthony Rendon, George Springer and Francisco Lindor also finding their way into the Top 10. The result? A team made up of the premier prospects over the past decade (plus a few years).
Jonathan Mayo and Jason Ratliff brought the debate to this week’s MLB Pipeline Podcast, with Mayo naming the top Draft prospect at each position over the past decade.
This best of the best group is not meant to convey which prospects have gone on to the most successful big league careers (although you can listen to the full podcast to hear the guys chime in on that) but rather to highlight who was the cream of the crop during their respective Draft seasons.
Catcher: Adley Rutschman
The top prospect in the 2019 Draft class, Rutschman runs away with the backstop honors. Lauded for not only his offensive skill but his defensive acumen and ability to handle a pitching staff, Rutschman won both the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser Award in his final season at Oregon State. He then soared up the Orioles’ farm system and placed second in 2022 American League Rookie of the Year voting, nearly helping lead Baltimore to an out-of-nowhere playoff berth.
“Even though Adley Rutschman has only been up for one year, I don’t think there’s any question about who the top Draft catching prospect has been,” Mayo said, “and really, you could make the strong argument that he’s been the best performer, even though it’s only been one year. And if you’re going to pick a guy going forward, it’s got to be him.”
First baseman: Spencer Torkelson
A finicky position for top-tier talent over the past decade, Torkelson gets the nod here due to the immense production that he delivered both during his collegiate career at Arizona State and on the summer circuit in the Cape Cod League.
“He has not put it together as a big leaguer, but given who he was and how young he still is -- I still think he’s going to figure it out -- I think he’s got to be the guy who is the most highly thought of first baseman that we’ve had in quite some time," Mayo said.
Second baseman: Termarr Johnson
Johnson made history as a Draft prospect just last season when he became the first high school bat to garner a 70-grade hit tool per our grades. Pittsburgh nabbed him with the fourth overall pick and got him into 23 games between Rookie-level and Single-A shortly after he turned 18 years old.
“Maybe one of the best pure high school hitters we’ve ever seen,” Mayo said of Johnson. “He can really, really hit. Pirates fans haven’t really gotten a chance to see much of it yet over his summer debut, but they’re going to in 2023.
“He’s as exciting an offensive second base prospect that we’ve had come out of the Draft.”
Third baseman: Kris Bryant
While Bryant’s overall marks are slightly below those of Jacob Berry (sixth overall pick last season) and on par with Rendon, the former MVP gets the slight nod due to a bit of corrective analysis. Scouts were right on the mark as it pertained to Bryant, who collected four All-Star appearances in his first seven seasons.
“If we were to go back and redo some of those [overall ratings], it’s only been recently that we’ve been giving out overall 65s,” Mayo said of Berry having a higher grade than Bryant. “We try not to do it too much because obviously that’s a special level of player -- we’re projecting a big league All-Star -- but that’s kind of what people thought Kris Bryant would be when he was coming out of his Draft year.”
Shortstop: Bobby Witt Jr.
A loaded class of shortstops brought this decision right down to the wire. Witt earned the nod over other former top up-the-middle stars such as Brendan Rodgers, Dansby Swanson and Carlos Correa, just to name a few.
“The combination of tools, the energy with which he played the game -- a generational kind of prospect,” Mayo said of Witt.
Outfield: Druw Jones, Elijah Green, Dylan Crews
A true embarrassment of riches, the outfield crop over the past decade has seen an immense level of talent. Byron Buxton -- a five-tool phenom in his own right -- made the three-man choice here difficult (which Ratliff still may not be over), but Mayo leaned in the recency direction with two top Draft picks from last year (Jones went second, Green fifth) and one that is primed to come off the board early in July (Crews).
"His combination of ceiling and floor are astounding," Mayo said of Jones, who ranks as MLB's No. 11 overall prospect. "He is going to be an incredible player."
“Elijah Green has as much -- if not more -- ceiling than anyone in last year’s Draft class and that’s saying something because there were those high school players at the top," Mayo said of Green, who has already ascended to Washington's No. 2 prospect. "But his ceiling is so high now ... in terms of his five-tool ability and potential, he belongs high up on the list.”
“Right now, there was a clear consensus that Dylan Crews should be No. 1 [in the 2023 Draft class]," Mayo said of the top-ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline's newly unveiled Top 100 Draft Prospects list.
Right-handed pitcher: Hunter Greene
A high school phenom who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the game’s next potential two-way star, Greene had already achieved fame before the Reds selected him with the second overall pick in the 2017 Draft. He focused on pitching upon turning pro, routinely deploying his triple-digit fastball, which earned him high marks dating back to his prep days.
“He might be one of the most hyped Draft prospects that we’ve had since [Stephen] Strasburg and Bryce Harper,” Mayo said of Greene. “Just because he got a lot of recognition outside of amateur baseball, Draft-focused circles.”
Left-handed pitcher: Brady Aiken
The case of “what could have been” factors more prominently on this position than maybe any other. There were numerous candidates to fill this slot, the vast majority of whom incurred injuries or progression setbacks (or both) upon being selected. But Aiken, the No. 1 overall pick by Houston in 2014 and then the 17th overall selection by Cleveland in '15, earned the nod here due to his immense potential as a prep hurler from San Diego.
“It’s another example of arm issues -- he was never able to become what people thought he would,” Mayo said. “But at the time we ranked him that high, he was the complete package in terms of size, stuff, feel for pitching. There’s always a risk with high school pitching but people tend to be more comfortable with a lefty -- there’s a reason he got taken No. 1 overall, even though he didn’t sign. He was everything that teams wanted in a pitching prospect.”