Here's each team's best pure hitting prospect
There’s a reason the hit tool is the first one on the scouting report.
That said, pure hitters can fit all sorts of descriptions. Some make a ton of contact, regardless of power. Some swing with intent, using impressive exit velocities to fuel their high batting averages. Some are the freakish hitters who combine both concepts -- few strikeouts, good power, constant challenges for a batting title.
The bottom line: If you can hit, teams will find you a spot in the lineup.
These are the best pure hitters in each of the 30 farm systems. (Note: Stats are through Wednesday’s games.)
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Leo Jimenez, SS/2B (No. 5)
Jimenez put together one of the most eye-popping, yet under-the-radar stat lines of the 2021 season. The Toronto middle infielder owned a 54/36 BB/K ratio over 59 games (mostly with Single-A Dunedin) last year. No, those numbers aren’t flipped. His rate of 1.5 walks per strikeout was the highest among full-season hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, and as a result, he batted .320 with a .517 OBP. Jimenez has tremendous bat-to-ball skills (a trade-off that comes with little power), and the Jays made sure to protect that elite skill set with a 40-man spot in November.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1, MLB No. 2)
Rutschman’s Gold Glove-caliber defense behind the plate helps make him a special prospect, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to consider just how highly he’d rank on his bat alone. The answer: pretty dang high. The 24-year-old switch-hitter batted over .400 in each of his two final seasons at Oregon State and owns a .284/.390/.491 line with 27 homers over 166 career games in the Minors thus far. If not for the triceps injury, his mixture of plate discipline and impact power would make his bat ready for the Majors.
Rays: Xavier Edwards, 2B/3B (No. 7)
Edwards has played for five teams since the Padres selected him 38th overall in 2018. He hasn’t batted below .301 for any of them. The switch-hitting infielder, who was acquired from San Diego in the December 2019 trade involving Jake Cronenworth and Tommy Pham, is a career .320 hitter with just an 11.1 percent K rate. His hitting performance prioritizes contact over power (just one homer in 247 career games), but his plus-plus speed after impact helps him pick up knocks as well. Edwards is currently out with a shoulder impingement.
Red Sox: Nick Yorke, 2B (No. 3, MLB No. 53)
Though Yorke wasn't heavily scouted because of shoulder surgery as a California high school junior and the pandemic cancelling most of his senior season, the Red Sox saw elite hitting traits and made him a surprise first-round pick (17th overall) in 2020. His sweet right-handed swing and advanced pitch recognition and approach enabled him to bat .325/.412/.516 in his pro debut last year, including leading the Low-A East in hitting (.323) and OPS (.913). Outside of an 0-for-14 slump at the end of April, he has continued to produce as one of the youngest (age 20) regulars in the High-A South Atlantic League.
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS (No. 1, MLB No. 8)
A 2019 first-rounder from a New Jersey high school, Volpe had a lackluster pro debut while dealing with mononucleosis but exploded last season, winning MLB Pipeline Hitting Prospect of the Year honors while batting .294/.423/.604 with 27 homers and 33 steals at two Class A stops. He used the pandemic layoff to add strength and improve his right-handed swing, and he projects as a future star despite a slow start as one of the younger hitters (he turned 21 on April 28) in Double-A.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Tyler Freeman, INF (No. 5, MLB No. 86)
Since the Guardians made Freeman a supplemental second-round choice out of a California high school in 2017, he has been one of the best contact hitters in the Minors, producing a .317 average with a 9 percent strikeout rate and winning the 2018 short-season New York-Penn League batting title at .352. He has outstanding bat-to-ball skills and returned to action April 29 in Triple-A after a torn labrum in his left shoulder ended his 2021 season last June.
Royals: Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B (No. 5)
Kansas City officials said this spring that Pasquantino followed his K/BB ratio closely during his first full season to the point where he would be annoyed if strikeouts overtook walks. He finished with a .300 average and an even 64 strikeouts and 64 walks over 116 games at High-A and Double-A, so mission accomplished there. The 24-year-old first baseman, who typically seems to be on time with his swings from the left side, is back up to his old tricks in his first trip to Triple-A Omaha, where he owns a .284/.406/.556 line with 12 strikeouts and 16 walks through 24 games.
Tigers: Riley Greene, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 5)
A right foot fracture was about the only thing keeping Greene from joining Spencer Torkelson in Detroit’s Opening Day lineup because of the way his bat has progressed in pro ball. The 21-year-old outfielder has a fluid swing from the left side and marries that with enough thump to make consistent solid contact. He’s a career .292 hitter through 181 games in the Minors and projects to feature in the middle of the Tigers lineup when his foot can heal fully this summer.
Twins: Jose Miranda, INF (No. 3, MLB No. 93)
Miranda debuted in the Majors on Monday, and it was on the strength of his hit tool that he was able to push himself to The Show at 23 years old. The Puerto Rico native has always been a contact machine -- he’s never fanned more than 14.7 percent of the time with any Minor League affiliate -- and started to incorporate a little more selectivity in his swings during a breakout 2021, leading to a .344/.401/.572 line and 30 homers at Double-A and Triple-A. His .343 average in 80 games at St. Paul specifically was the highest among Triple-A qualifiers last season.
White Sox: Yolbert Sanchez, INF (No. 14)
A teammate of Luis Robert on a Cuban 18-and-under squad before he defected, Sanchez has exceeded offensive expectations since signing for $2.5 million in July 2019. His compact right-handed swing and contact-oriented approach yielded a .308 average in 2021, including a .342 mark following a late-July promotion to Double-A, and he's presently pacing the Double-A Southern League in hitting (.353) and on-base percentage (.507).
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
A’s: Tyler Soderstrom, C (No. 1, MLB No. 54)
It’s been a slow go out of the gate for Soderstrom at High-A Lansing -- just a .174 BABIP has something to do with that -- but we’re still in small-sample territory. The 20-year-old backstop brings plenty of bat speed to the table and isn’t afraid to wait out hurlers to get his pitch and do damage. He hit .306/.390/.568 over 57 games last season at Single-A Lansing in his first taste of the Minors, and he has enough bat for first base, should he move there full time eventually.
Angels: Michael Stefanic, 2B (No. 25)
Steven Kwan became famous for never swinging and missing in the Majors to start the season. That wasn’t new. He led a group of 853 Minor Leaguers who had at least 300 plate appearances last season with a 2.6 swing-and-miss percentage. Just behind him in second on that list: Stefanic, 5.0 percent. The 26-year-old middle infielder hit .336 between Double-A and Triple-A because of that contact rate last season, and he’s picked up right where left off with a .345 average and 1.3 swinging strike percentage through 67 plate appearances back at Salt Lake.
Astros: Yainer Diaz, C/1B (No. 15)
Signed for a mere $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic by the Guardians in 2016 and sent to the Astros in the Myles Straw trade last July, Diaz is a natural hitter with a fluid right-handed swing. A career .323/.355/.489 hitter as a pro, he's batting .275 in his Double-A debut.
Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 3)
You may look at Rodríguez’s .230 average in the Majors and scratch your head. Reminder: he is 21 years old and only just getting his feet wet at the top level. Since Rodríguez debuted in 2018, there have been 792 Minor Leaguers with at least 900 plate appearances. His career .331 Minor League average ranks fifth among them. (Another .331 hitter in that span: Wander Franco.) Even during his early struggles, Rodríguez has always hit the ball hard; he has four of Seattle’s five highest exit velocities in 2022, all at 111.5 mph and above.
Rangers: Josh Jung (No. 2, MLB No. 28)
The Rangers expected that the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 Draft would be their starting third baseman by now, but the Texas Tech prospect lost 2020 to the pandemic shutdown, missed the start of last year with a stress fracture in his left foot and will not see much action this season after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder while lifting weights in February. When healthy, he has shown the advanced bat-to-ball skills, pitch recognition and plate discipline that made him a first-rounder, posting a .322/.394/.538 line while reaching Triple-A.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Michael Harris II, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 63)
Already known for his plus defensive gifts in the outfield, the 2019 third-rounder has become a legit threat at the plate in the last two seasons as well. The Braves were already enthused that he had dropped his strikeout rate to 18.1 percent, leading to a .291 average, last season at High-A Rome, and those gains in approach have held. Harris has opened the season with a .326 average and 18.3 percent K rate through 23 games at Double-A Mississippi. Improving power and above-average speed give him other offensive assets to tap into as he gets deeper into his age-21 season.
Marlins: Kahlil Watson, SS (No. 1, MLB No. 24)
A candidate to go first overall to the Pirates in the 2021 Draft before he surprisingly slid all the way to No. 16, Watson is a potential five-tool shortstop who makes a lot of hard contact with an aggressive left-handed swing. Yes, we see that 41 percent strikeout rate in High-A, but we believe that's more fluky than indicative of his true ability. He's also hitting .263/.302/.525 as one of just four 18-year-old regulars in the Single-A Florida State League.
Mets: Brett Baty, 3B/OF (No. 2, MLB No. 26)
Baty certainly employed a smooth swing from the left side last season, leading to a .292 average over 91 games at High-A and Double-A, but there was the knock that it resulted in too many ground balls. That trend seems to be correcting itself in his early days back at Double-A; his GB rate with Binghamton specifically has dropped from 61.2 percent last season to 40.8 now. It hasn’t resulted in major results so far (.263/.349/.408), but Baty’s impressive raw power and ability to stay back on pitches, alongside his other improvements, should help him take off in short order.
Nationals: Daylen Lile, OF (No. 10) The two-time Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year stood out for his left-handed bat speed in his days at the Bluegrass State, leading the Nationals to select him in the second round last July. He showed a solid approach as well with an 18.8 percent walk rate during a brief 19-game foray into the Florida Complex League. He could have made for a fun lineup addition alongside Brady House, Jeremy De La Rosa and T.J. White at Single-A Fredericksburg, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in March, meaning we’ll have to wait to see the hit tool in longer Minor League action.
Phillies: Bryson Stott, INF (No. 1, MLB No. 43)
Have we mentioned the Major Leagues are really hard? We’re not so worried about Stott’s long-term future after his 4-for-30 (.133) start in the bigs. This is still a career .298 Minor League hitter who has looked much more like himself with a .290/.324/.516 line through eight games following his move back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley last week. Stott is still capable of hitting the ball hard all over the yard and projects to be a quality hitter from somewhere on the dirt when he gets a better chance to settle in the Majors.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Felix Valerio, INF (No. 11)
Don’t underestimate the 5-foot-7 infielder based on his size alone. Since joining the Brewers system in a January 2019 trade with the Mets, Valerio has hit .299 over his first four Minor League seasons and is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he produced a .290/.401/.368 line with a 71/69 K/BB ratio. He’s back to showing plate discipline (eight strikeouts, nine walks) and seems to be adding a little more power as well with seven extra-base hits through 18 games for Double-A Biloxi. Combining that pop with Valerio’s bat-to-ball skills could push the 21-year-old to Milwaukee in short order, regardless of what position he calls home.
Cardinals -- Juan Yepez, 1B/3B/OF (No. 6)
Yepez was in the news this week after doubling twice in his Cardinals debut on Wednesday. The promotion was certainly earned. Yepez showed added strength and a shortened swing in 2021 and has hit .287/.370/.603 with 31 homers over 114 games with Triple-A Memphis since first joining the club on June 1 last year. Yepez doesn’t fan a ton (20 percent at Triple-A) either for someone with that type of power, strengthening the belief that he can continue to produce in the Majors. Even with Albert Pujols in the frame now, the 24-year-old could make for a solid DH candidate for years to come with the Cards.
Cubs: James Triantos, 3B (No. 3)
Triantos' compact right-handed stroke, feel for the barrel and swing decisions earned him comparisons to Alex Bregman and David Wright as an amateur, not to mention a $2.1 million bonus as a second-rounder from a Virginia high school last July. Currently in Single-A, he has hit .291/.348/.460 in 46 pro games.
Pirates: Nick Gonzales, 2B (No. 1, MLB No. 20)
Gonzales fires his quick hands in the box to show exceptional bat speed. The result is typically what you’d expect -- hard-hit balls all over the yard. Gonzales managed a .302 average in 80 games at High-A Greensboro last season, despite missing some time with a broken finger, and was an even better performer in the Arizona Fall League (.380 average in 19 games) once he was fully healthy. There is some swing-and-miss here that continues to be a problem in Gonzales’ move to Double-A this season, but the pieces remain for a potential plus-plus hitter in Pittsburgh.
Reds: Matt McLain, SS (No. 4, MLB No. 85)
Cincinnati believes its 2021 first-rounder is so advanced offensively that it sent him to Double-A Chattanooga to begin his first full season. McLain has fit the level like a glove. The UCLA product is hitting .278/.363/.696 through 22 games with the Lookouts, mixing in an April 17 cycle and two separate two-homer games along the way. McLain’s swing is especially compact, allowing him to barrel the ball early in the Southern League.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 19)
Carroll wasn’t worried about his return from shoulder surgery. The D-backs weren’t worried. And now you shouldn’t be either. The 2019 16th overall pick has looked very much like himself at Double-A Amarillo with a .333/.444/.617 line and 12 extra-base hits in 20 games. The left-handed hitter typically makes good swing decisions, meaning he unleashes on pitches on which he can do the most damage. That used to result in doubles and triples, but he’s starting to show improved over-the-fence power too. Despite the missed time, Carroll is tracking to be a potential star with his bat and plus-plus speed.
Dodgers: Miguel Vargas, 3B (No. 5, MLB No. 92)
The son of Lazaro Vargas, the DH on Cuba's 1992 and 1996 Olympic champions, Vargas defected with his father in November 2015 and signed for $300,000 two years later. He has an advanced understanding of his right-handed stroke and barrels balls and controls the strike zone with ease. He won the Double-A Central batting title (.321) last year at age 21, is hitting .275 as the third-youngest regular in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and owns a career .313 average as a pro.
Giants: Luis Matos (No. 2, MLB No. 61)
Forget about Matos' .152 batting average in the first month of the Northwest League season. He's the youngest regular in the High-A circuit, he entered the year with a career .332 average since singing for $725,000 out of Venezuela in 2018 and he still has exceptional bat-to-ball skills and precocious pitch recognition.
Padres: Robert Hassell III, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 35)
The 2020 first-rounder had a strong first season end on a somewhat sour note when he hit just .205 over 18 games with High-A Fort Wayne. He’s responded with a .368/.434/.575 line over 23 games back with the TinCaps this spring. That ability to make adjustments, along with his ability to control the zone and drive balls consistently from the left side, point to why Hassell shows so much promise offensively. The career .313 hitter could improve his ceiling if recent power gains hold deeper into his age-20 season.
Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 34)
Veen utilizes a decent-sized leg kick to stay on time and has the bat control to drive the ball well early in his pro career. He hits lefties and righties pretty evenly too and has actually done even better against his fellow southpaws to open 2022 at High-A Spokane, going 8-for-19 against them in the early going. With above-average power and his aggressive baserunning, Veen -- a career .298 hitter in the Minors to this point -- could fit comfortably anywhere in the top half of a future Major League lineup.