Though home runs and strikeouts may be on the rise across Major League Baseball, teams will always value players who just can flat-out hit.
Among prospects ranked on MLB Pipeline’s 2019 preseason Top 100 list, Fernando Tatis Jr. (.317), Yordan Alvarez (.313), Bo Bichette (.311) and Keston Hiura (.303) all went on to post a .300-plus average as rookies, with all four players establishing themselves as franchise cornerstones in the process.
Who will form the next wave of great young hitters in the big leagues? Below, we identify the best pure hitting prospect in each organization.
American League East
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1; MLB No. 4)
The No. 1 pick in last year’s Draft, Rutschman is a switch-hitter with a very advanced approach at the plate. He walked more than he struck out in college and those on-base skills continued to show up during his pro debut last summer (.351 OBP). In his longest stop, with short-season Aberdeen, Rutschman hit .325/.413/.481 in 20 games, a hint of things to come.
Red Sox: C.J. Chatham, SS/2B (No. 13)
The highest pick in Florida Atlantic history (second round, 2016), Chatham is a career .298 hitter in four seasons in pro ball. He employs a contact-oriented right-handed swing and laces line drives to all fields, though he projects more as a utilityman than a regular because he doesn't provide a lot in the way of extra-base hits or walks.
Yankees: Canaan Smith, OF (No. 21)
Smith has a keen eye at the plate that helped him draw 57 walks (the ninth-highest total in U.S. prep history) as a Texas high school senior in 2017 and lead the low Class A South Atlantic League with 74 free passes last year. The former fourth-round pick's patience, bat speed and strength give him the ingredients to hit for average and power, as evidenced by his ranking third in the SAL in batting average (.307) and OPS (.871).
Rays: Wander Franco, SS (No. 1; MLB No. 1)
Splitting his age-18 season between Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte, the teenage phenom slashed .327/.398/.487 with nine homers, 43 extra-base hits and 18 steals. A truly elite hitter -- he was the only 80-grade hitter of the 900 prospects ranked by MLB Pipeline -- the switch-hitting shortstop is a career .336/.405/.523 hitter through his first 175 Minor League games, during which he has also accrued more walks (83) than strikeouts (54) while whiffing at a minuscule 4.3 percent clip.
Blue Jays: Alejandro Kirk, C (No. 5)
Signed for $7,500 out of Mexico in 2016, Kirk opened the 2019 season, his age-20 campaign, at Class A Lansing before making the jump up to Class A Advanced Dunedin. Between the two stops, the 5-foot-9, 220-pound backstop compiled a .290 average with seven home runs, 31 doubles and an OPS of .868. He also recorded 56 walks against 39 strikeouts in 372 plate appearances, demonstrating an advanced approach and discerning eye to go along with his plus hitting ability.
American League Central
Indians: Tyler Freeman, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 96)
One of the best high school hitters in Southern California in 2017, Freeman has raked since the Indians took him in the supplemental second round. He has elite bat-to-ball skills and has batted .319/.379/.441 in three pro seasons while posting a 9 percent strikeout rate.
Twins: Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B (No. 2; MLB No. 32)
The only thing that’s held Kirilloff’s bat back has been injuries. He hit .348/.392/.578 in a healthy 2018 to establish himself as one of the best pure hitters in the Minors. The jump to Double-A was up-and-down, including some time on the injured list. He did hit .311/.351/.500 in August, more in line with what he’s capable of.
White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B (No. 4/MLB No. 40)
The second-highest-drafted second baseman ever, Madrigal signed for $6,411,400 as the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 and is the best contact-hitting prospect in the game. He hit .311 and led the Minors with a miniscule 3 percent strikeout rate while reaching Triple-A in his first full pro season, burnishing his reputation for extraordinary hand-eye coordination and feel for the barrel.
Tigers: Isaac Paredes, 3B/SS (No. 5)
Signed by the Cubs for $500,000 out of Mexico in July 2015 only to be traded to the Tigers two years later in a Deadline deal for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, Paredes has long shown a knack for finding the barrel and is a pest at the plate, fouling off tough pitches and consistently grinding out long at-bats. As one of the younger players in last year’s Eastern League, the then-20-year-old posted a .282/.368/.416 line with 13 homers and 37 extra-base hits 23 doubles for Double-A Erie, recording nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (61).
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1; MLB No. 10)
The son of former No. 3 overall pick (1985) and 16-year big league pitcher Bobby Witt became the highest-drafted member of his family when the Royals took him second overall last June. While he didn’t tear the cover off the ball last summer in the Rookie Arizona League, batting .262/.317/.354 over 37 games, the 19-year-old is an impressive athlete who possesses across-the-board tools, including an above-average bat that he complements with a power-speed combo that could make him a 20-homer, 20-steal player in the big leagues.
American League West
Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 2; MLB No. 79)
While there’s some swing-and-miss to his game, he’s also posted a career .287 average and .368 OBP. The outfielder had no problem with the jump to Double-A in 2019, though he missed a month with a sprained ankle, finishing with a .300/.383/.428 line. He then went on to hit a robust .328/.387/.522 in the Arizona Fall League.
Astros: Abraham Toro, 3B/2B (No. 3)
Part of the Astros' Oklahoma junior college pipeline, Toro signed as a fifth-rounder out of Seminole State JC in 2016 and broke out last year by batting .324/.411/.527 between Double-A and Triple-A before making his big league debut. A switch-hitter, he has a better stroke from the left side and does a fine job of controlling the strike zone and recognizing pitches.
A’s: Luis Barrera, OF (No. 10)
Barrera has pretty much hit wherever he’s been, even when he was dealing with a shoulder injury in 2019 that eventually shut him down early in Double-A. Still, he hit .321/.357/.513 a year ago and his .513 SLG and .192 ISO were career highs, showing he was starting to impact the ball more before the injury.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 1; MLB No. 11)
Yes, the sixth overall pick in the 2018 Draft did strike out 111 times in 2019, but he also was a Wisconsin high schooler who hit his way across three levels up to Double-A in his first full season. He finished with a .291/.364/.540 line, drawing 50 walks in the process, en route to finishing with 23 homers and 20 stolen bases.
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 55)
One of the best college hitters in the 2019 Draft, Jung went eighth overall and signed for $4.4 million after winning co-Big 12 Conference player of the year honors at Texas Tech. He has a mature approach, manages the strike zone well and repeatedly barrels balls, and he should advance quickly through the Minors.
National League East
Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1; MLB No. 13)
This was a bit of a tough call between Pache and Waters, who did hit .309 in 2019. But he also struck out in 28.6 percent of his plate appearances with a 6.8 percent walk rate. By contrast, Pache whiffed in 22.7 percent of his PA and walked nearly 8 percent of the time. While most think both will be plus hitters, there’s a touch more belief in Pache’s hit tool carrying over to the big leagues because of the better plate discipline.
Marlins: Jose Devers, SS (No. 11)
A cousin of Rafael Devers, Jose signed with the Yankees for $250,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016 and went to the Marlins as part of the Giancarlo Stanton trade a year later. He missed much of last season with a forearm strain but hit .325 in a month in high Class A as a 19-year-old, showing a disciplined approach and the ability to make line-drive contact against more experienced pitchers.
Phillies: Alec Bohm, 3B/1B (No. 1; MLB No. 30)
Bohm was billed as the most adanced college bat in the 2018 Draft and he lived up to it during his first full season. The corner infielder hit .305/.378/.518 across three levels of the Minors, striking out just 73 times in 475 total at-bats. He kept going in the Arizona Fall League, with a .361/.397/.528 line, finishing second in the batting race.
Mets: Andres Gimenez, SS (No. 3, MLB No. 84)
Though he is known more for his plus defense on the dirt, Gimenez, whom the Mets signed for $2.1 million out of Venezuela in July 2015, also owns a highly promising left-handed bat. He struggled early last year in the Double-A Eastern League but improved as the season unfolded, batting .276/.318/.444 with six homers over his final 56 games. That second-half success carried over into the 21-year-old’s second straight Arizona Fall League campaign, as he claimed the circuit's batting title with a .371 average after posting a .125 average the previous year.
Nationals: Luis Garcia, SS/2B (No. 2, MLB No. 97)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million in July 2016, Garcia opened 2019 as the youngest player (18) at the Double-A level and struggled early, batting .241 with only eight extra-base hits -- none of which left the park -- over his first 64 games at Harrisburg. But he put his slow start behind him in the second half to post a .272 average with 22 extra-base hits, including four home runs, over his final 65 contests in the Eastern League, and then continued to perform well in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Meanwhile, the fact that the Nationals have challenged the teenager with aggressive assignments at every stage of his career makes his cumulative batting line of .281/.312/.373 particularly impressive.
National League Central
Cubs: Nico Hoerner, SS/2B/OF (No. 1/MLB No. 51)
Somewhat of a surprise pick at No. 24 overall in the 2018 Draft, Hoerner made the Cubs look smart by hitting everywhere he went in pro ball before batting .282 with three homers in 20 games as an emergency callup last September. With his excellent hand-eye coordination, compact right-handed swing and disciplined approach, he's one of the best pure hitters in the Minors.
Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (No. 2; MLB No. 41)
Hayes struggled with the move to Triple-A for the first half of 2019, but showed off his excellent hit tool as the season wore on, hitting .327/.379/.452 in August. The power has yet to show up consistently, but his career .279 average and .354 OBP point to the ability to hit and manage the strike zone.
Reds: Jonathan India, 3B (No. 4)
There were high expectations for India as an advanced college hitter taken No. 5 overall in the 2018 Draft and the Florida product struggled to live up to them. Much of it can be chalked up to a nagging wrist issue he played through, but the Reds believe in his right-handed swing and his plate discipline (he still had a .365 OBP), thinking once healthy, he’ll show the pure hit tool that made him a top-five pick.
Brewers: Brice Turang, SS (No. 1)
Selected by Milwaukee in the first round of the 2018 Draft (No. 21 overall), Turang scuffled at the plate after receiving a late promotion from Class A Wisconsin to Class A Advanced Carolina but still enjoyed a solid first full season, batting .256/.367/.340 with 82 runs and 30 steals across two levels. The 20-year-old may never offer much in the way of power, but he is a future above-average hitter with an advanced approach and plus speed that he uses to impact the game once on base.
Cardinals: Dylan Carlson, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 17)
The No. 33 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, Carlson steadily improved throughout his pro career before exploding in his age-20 season. He won Texas League MVP honors after leading the Double-A circuit in slugging (.518) and ranking second in OPS (.882), runs (81), homers (21) and extra-base hits (51), while a torrid three-week stint in Triple-A pushed his combined season line up to .292/.372/.542. The switch-hitting outfielder finished with 26 home runs and 20 steals, making him the Cardinals' first 20-20 Minor Leaguer since Terry Evans and Tyler Greene in 2006.
National League West
Dodgers: Gavin Lux, SS/2B (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
The 20th overall pick in 2016 as a Wisconsin high schooler, Lux led all Minor League shortstops in all three slash stats in 2018 (.324/.399/.514) and nearly did so again last year (.347/.421/.607), when he became the first middle infielder age 21 or younger to post a 1.000 OPS in the upper Minors since Gregg Jefferies in 1987. He has a pretty left-handed swing with plenty of bat speed and an advanced approach, qualities that helped him earn a spot on the Dodgers' playoff roster and become the youngest player ever to pinch-homer in the postseason.
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 35)
Signed for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Luciano is the Giants' best international prospect in years in large part because he may have more bat speed and raw power than any infielder in the Minors. His pop overshadows his impressive hitting ability and mature approach, which translated into a .302 average in his pro debut last summer.
Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, 2B/SS (No. 1; MLB No. 29)
A torn labrum shut down his 2019 season early, but Rodgers still very much has the elite bat speed that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2015 Draft. He hit at pretty much every stop in the Minors, including .350 over 37 Triple-A games before his callup a year ago, leading to a robust .296/.352/.503 career line.
D-backs: Alek Thomas, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 49)
A second-round pick in the 2018 Draft out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where he was a three-sport standout, Thomas has done nothing but hit as a pro after signing for above slot value ($1.2 million). After batting .333 across two levels during his debut, he climbed from Class A Kane County to Class A Advanced Visalia last year at age 19 and slashed .300/.379/.450 between the two full-season levels. A compact left-handed swing that yields hard, line-drive contact to all fields, on top of an advanced approach, fuel Thomas’ projection as a plus hitter, and there is enough pop in his bat to forecast 12-15 homers annually.
Padres: CJ Abrams, SS (No. 2, MLB No. 25)
Selected by the Padres with the No. 6 overall pick in last year’s Draft after he had garnered honors as the Georgia Gatorade high school player of the year, Abrams is an elite athlete with 80-grade speed and an advanced left-handed bat that could make him a plus hitter at maturity. The 19-year-old offered a glimpse of his offensive ceiling last summer during an eye-opening pro debut, producing a .401/.442/.662 line over 32 games in the rookie-level Arizona League to earn a late bump up to full-season Class A Fort Wayne.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.