Here's each team's best pure hitting prospect
The most important tool for position players is hitting ability. If you can't hit, it's almost impossible to be a big league regular. If you can't hit at a high level, it's difficult to be a star.
So as we kick off our series of identifying the prospects with the best individual tools in each organization, we're starting with the bats. Twenty-two of the 30 players below made our Top 100 Prospects list, with Brewers outfielder Sal Frelick and Pirates second baseman Termarr Johnson the only ones to earn 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Otto Lopez, 2B/OF/SS
This isn’t solely because Lopez went 6-for-9 during his various trips to the big leagues last year, but that certainly didn’t hurt. The 24-year-old utilityman is a career .305 hitter in the Minor Leagues and continues to post strikeout rates in the mid-teens, driving home how much of a strength his bat-to-ball skills are. The Blue Jays gave Lopez looks at second, short, center and left at Triple-A in 2022 because they want to increase the avenues to his playing time and ability to impact games with his hitting ability.
Orioles: Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS (No. 1)
It’s not exactly a shocking choice, picking our No. 1 overall prospect and American League Rookie of the Year Award front-runner. The most impressive thing is how Henderson has evolved as a hitter, learning to see more pitches, draw more walks and swing and miss a lot less, which allows him to do a lot more damage.
Rays: Curtis Mead, 3B/2B (No. 33)
This is a close call between Mead and 2022 breakout prospect Kyle Manzardo, but we’ll go with the Australia native because of the way his hit tool has carried him straight to the Majors’ doorstep. A career .306 hitter in the Minors, Mead uses a simple upright stance to see the ball well out of the hand and reacts well to pitches around the zone. Improvements in swing decisions toward pitches he can drive should help lock in both his near-plus-plus bat and potential above-average pop.
Red Sox: Marcelo Mayer, SS (MLB No. 9)
Mayer was MLB Pipeline's top-ranked prospect as well as the best hitter and best defender in the 2021 Draft, where the Red Sox gladly scooped up the California high school prospect with the No. 4 overall pick. Like fellow Eastlake HS (Chula Vista, Calif.) product Adrian Gonzalez, he has a sweet left-handed stroke and advanced skills at the plate. He batted .280/.399/.489 with 45 extra-base hits and 17 steals in 91 games between Single-A and High-A during his first full pro season.
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS (MLB No. 5)
A 2019 first-rounder as a New Jersey high schooler, Volpe has a .262 career average in the Minors that belies his pure hitting ability and advanced strike-zone judgment. He was MLB Pipeline's Hitting Prospect of the Year in his first full pro season in 2021 and encored last year by becoming the first 20-homer/50-steal Minor Leaguer since Andruw Jones in 1995.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Will Brennan, OF
Brennan looks like a potential Steven Kwan 2.0, going from unheralded college contact hitter to potential big league regular. He had a career 5 percent strikeout rate at Kansas State, led NCAA Division I in at-bats per whiff (18.6) in 2019 before Cleveland made him an eighth-round pick, and topped the Minors with 166 hits and ranked second with 40 doubles last year before debuting with the Guardians in September. He has outstanding hand-eye coordination and a compact left-handed stroke that have translated into a .296 average in the Minors and a .357 mark during his brief stint in Cleveland, while his solid speed also makes him an asset on the bases and in the outfield.
Royals: Maikel Garcia, SS
If not for the presence of Bobby Witt Jr., we’d likely be talking about Garcia as the potential shortstop of the future in Kansas City. The infielder, who turns 23 on March 3, has shown a steady rate of contact throughout his time in the Royals system, and while there isn’t a ton of pop behind it, his plus speed could also help him hit in the .280-.290 region in the bigs. Garcia heads into the spring after sporting a .323/.444/.498 over 250 plate appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Tigers: Jace Jung, 2B (No. 83)
Jung has one of the funkiest pre-swing setups you’ll ever see when he puts his bat at an unorthodox backward angle, but he snaps it back to attention in time. He exhibited a remarkable mix of strike-zone awareness (42/59 K/BB ratio) and power (14 homers, .612 slugging) in his final season at Texas Tech, and that was a big reason why the Tigers selected him 12th overall in last July’s Draft. Considering he’s locked in defensively at second base, Jung will use his bat to fuel his drive toward Motor City.
Twins: Brooks Lee, SS (No. 31)
Lee was thought of as the best pure college hitter in the 2022 Draft class for a reason. He hits wherever he is, leaving Cal Poly with a career .351/.426/.647 line and more walks than strikeouts, not to mention a K rate of just 11.7 percent. He hit .405 in the Cape Cod League and, not shockingly, turned in a .303/.389/.451 in his pro debut that included him touching Double-A.
White Sox: Colson Montgomery, SS (MLB No. 38)
Montgomery has proven even better than expected since the White Sox made him the No. 22 overall pick in the 2021 Draft, making advanced swing decisions, controlling the strike zone and using the entire field. The former two-sport star -- he had an offer to walk on Indiana's basketball team if he hadn't turned pro -- batted .274/.371/.429 with 11 homers in 96 games while advancing to Double-A in his first full pro season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Zach Neto, SS (No. 89)
Neto established his hit tool bona fides by batting over .400 as a sophomore at Campbell in 2021. He hit on the Cape that summer then won his second straight Big South Player of the Year award by hitting .407/.514/.769 as a junior. The Angels took him No. 13 overall as a result, and after hitting .320 in 30 Double-A games after signing, it’s looking like it won't take Neto long to get to the big leagues.
Astros: Yainer Diaz, C
The most underrated catching prospect in the game, Diaz has stood out with his natural hitting ability and fluid right-handed swing since the Guardians signed him for $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016. He's a career .321 hitter in the Minors who has shown more power and improved his defense since joining the Astros as part of a deal for Myles Straw in July 2021.
A’s: Jordan Diaz, 1B/3B
Signed back in 2016, it took a while for Diaz to find his footing, but once he did, he did nothing but rake. He earned a spot on the 40-man roster after hitting .288/.337/.484 in his full-season debut in 2021, then really took off last year with a .326/.366/.515 line between Double-A and Triple-A that led to his first big league call up. Now the A’s will work to find ways to get his bat into the lineup, especially after he added to his resume by hitting .339 in the Colombian Winter League this offseason.
Mariners: Cole Young, SS
The Mariners’ player development department has a hitting mantra, “Dominate the Zone.” It seems like Young, Seattle's 2022 first-round pick, will be able to do just that. The Pittsburgh-area prepster was one of the better pure high school hitters in the class, and he showed off his all-fields approach when he hit .367/.423/.517 during his brief pro debut. Those who might be concerned about his impact should know he’s put on about 15 pounds of muscle this offseason.
Rangers: Evan Carter, OF (MLB No. 41)
Carter has gone from shocking second-round pick out of tiny Elizabeth (Tenn.) HS in 2020 to potential five-tool center fielder now recognized as one of baseball's top prospects. He recognizes pitches and controls the strike zone better than most 20-year-olds, and his clean left-handed swing has produced a .282/.406/.467 batting line in two pro seasons.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Ignacio Alvarez, 3B/SS
The Braves may have found themselves a Draft steal in Alvarez, who they took in the fifth round of last year’s Draft. The Riverside Community College product hit .370 in his Draft year, then showed off his super-advanced approach at the plate with a 26/15 BB/K ratio during his pro debut split between the Florida Complex and Single-A Carolina Leagues. He has really quick hands at the plate and makes a ton of contact, with more extra-base thump to come.
Mets: Brett Baty, 3B/OF (No. 21)
Since he was a 12th overall pick in 2019, Baty has always hit the ball exceptionally hard in pro ball, but in 2022, he also started to lift the ball more on contact, cutting down his groundball rate from 55.8 percent (worst in the Mets system) in 2021 to 43.5 percent. The result was a .315 average in 95 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Baty’s ability to sting the ball from the left side -- he maxed out with a 113 mph exit velocity during his brief stay in the Majors -- will continue to be what drives his chances of picking up hits at the top level.
Marlins: Jacob Berry, 3B (MLB No. 61)
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2022 Draft, Berry posted a 1.094 OPS with more extra-base hits and walks than strikeouts last spring at Louisiana State, then batted .264 in Single-A. He's a switch-hitter with a nice stroke and advanced approach from both sides of the plate, though his ability to make contact stands out more than his pedestrian exit velocities.
Nationals: Robert Hassell III (No. 35)
Nicknamed “Bobby Barrels,” Hassell has shown a classically beautiful left-handed swing throughout the pro and amateur ranks, and he was off to a solid start with a .299/.379/.467 line in 75 games at High-A Fort Wayne before his trade from the Padres to the Nationals in the Juan Soto blockbuster. Washington has tried to get him to keep his bat path longer in the zone, and he was set to continue that work in the Arizona Fall League before suffering a broken hamate. If those changes stick, Hassell’s projections as a plus Major League hitter are even more secure.
Phillies: Hao Yu Lee, 2B
The Phillies thought they had a pretty advanced hitter right out of the gate after signing Lee in June 2021 for $570,000 as he whetted their appetite by hitting .364 in a nine-game debut in the FCL in 2022. He has a clean swing and an advanced approach, one that helped him reach High-A ball in 2022, and he hit .284 with a .386 OBP as a teenager, limiting strikeouts and drawing a lot of walks.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Sal Frelick, OF (No. 30)
The game is supposed to get harder the higher you climb. It didn’t appear that way for the 2021 15th overall pick in his first full season. Frelick climbed three levels from High-A to Triple-A, increasing his average and cutting his strikeout rate at every stop to the point where he batted .365 while punching out only 7.4 percent of the time over 46 games with Nashville. Frelick’s plate discipline and short left-handed swing help him work counts and protect the plate, and his plus-plus speed can help him pick up additional knocks on grounders.
Cardinals: Alec Burleson, OF (No. 91)
The St. Louis outfielder won the International League batting title with a .331 average over 109 games for Triple-A Memphis last season. He did so by showing an incredible balance of power (20 homers) and constant contact (14.3 percent K rate, sixth-lowest among IL qualifiers). Burleson isn’t afraid of spraying line drives to all fields, especially with two strikes, and that approach has him firmly a part of a loaded Cardinals outfield mix headed into ’23.
Cubs: Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF (MLB No. 28)
Not only is Crow-Armstrong the best defensive player in the Minors, he's also a gifted hitter with a quick left-handed stroke and has made adjustments to deliver more power since the Mets made him the 19th overall selection in the 2020 Draft. Traded to the Cubs for Javier Báez and Trevor Williams in 2021, he batted .312/.376/.520 with 46 extra-base hits and 32 steals in 101 games between Single-A and High-A in his first extended stint in pro ball last season.
Pirates: Termarr Johnson, 2B (No. 26)
One of only two prospects with a 70-hit grade on our Top 100, Johnson was one of the best pure high school hitters scouts had seen in years, which is why the Pirates took him No. 4 overall in last year’s Draft. One evaluator went as far as to say Johnson has Wade Boggs’ plate discipline with Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s contact skills.
Reds: Cam Collier, 3B (No. 69)
It’s clear that Lou’s kid likes to be challenged. He finished high school early, reclassified for the 2022 Draft and went to Chipola Junior College, where hit hit .333/.419/.537 as a 17-year old. That helped him land in the first round to the Reds, and he swung the bat well during a brief pro debut. He has a sweet left-handed swing that’s loose and has excellent bat speed. He makes a ton of contact and uses the whole field well.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 2)
Imagine if a spring-loaded action figure took at-bats in a baseball game, and that’s what it looks like to watch Carroll at the plate. Standing at just 5-foot-10, the left-handed slugger might not be the biggest presence in the box, but he generates great torque and bat speed to send balls flying in all directions. With a 130 wRC+ over 115 plate appearances for Arizona last year, Carroll is already comfortably an above-average hitter in the bigs with enough ceiling to be even better.
Dodgers: Miguel Vargas, 3B/OF/1B (MLB No. 37)
Lazaro Vargas was the DH on Cuba's 1992 and 1996 Olympic champions, and his son's hitting ability has been evident since he drove in the gold-medal winning run off Team USA's Hunter Greene at the 2014 15-and-under World Cup. Signed for $300,000 in 2017, Vargas has elite bat-to-ball skills, a mature approach and power that seems to keep increasing every year. He's a career .313 hitter in the Minors who doubled off Alex Cobb in his first big league at-bat last August.e's
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (MLB No. 22)
Though he's known most for his electric bat speed and huge power potential, Luciano also has natural hitting ability and an aptitude for making adjustments. Signed for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, he's a career .271/.363/.491 hitter in pro ball despite being consistently two or three years younger than the average player in his leagues.
Padres: Jackson Merrill, SS (No. 19)
It isn’t hard to find Merrill admirers in the industry between what he showed Padres officials in his first full season and many others during his advanced assignment in the Arizona Fall League. Merrill’s pull and opposite-field rates were nearly equal at Single-A Lake Elsinore last year, as he proved he’s willing to take pitches where they’re thrown and dump them in the outfield. Impressive early plate discipline should only help his chances of being a plus hitter by the time he reaches San Diego.
Rockies: Adael Amador, SS (No. 68)
He doesn’t turn 20 until April, but Amador has already shown off one of the best approaches in the Rockies organization. Since making his pro debut in the ACL in 2021, the infielder has hit a combined .294/.409/.445 and has walked a lot more (114) than he’s struck out (96). That’s just a 12.7 percent K rate, and he’s shown good feel for the barrel while making outstanding swing decisions as a switch-hitter.