It's that time of year again, prospect fans. MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list is out, ready to be perused, deconstructed and analyzed. Undoubtedly, folks will have a lot to say about who is (and isn't) on the rankings.
This year's list starts with the newcomer everyone has been talking about, two-way star Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, bringing a combination of skills on the mound and at the plate Major League Baseball hasn't seen in generations.
:: Complete 2018 Top Prospects coverage ::
How is it that Ohtani, a star professional in Japan, can qualify? The rankings will continue to follow the guidelines laid out by the Collective Bargaining Agreement in terms of who falls under the international pool money rules: Players who are at least 25 years old and have played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible. Thus, the 23-year-old Ohtani is considered a prospect.
Those still on the list must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues or have accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club(s) during the 25-player-limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
The Top 100 is put together by myself, Jim Callis and Mike Rosenbaum, with input from industry sources, including scouts and front-office executives. It is based on analysis of players' upsides, tools and potential Major League impact.
The Top 10
1. Shohei Ohtani, RHP/OF, Angels
2. Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
4. Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox
5. Gleyber Torres, INF, Yankees
6. Victor Robles, OF, Nationals
7. Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds
8. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
9. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
10. Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
Complete list »
Taking out the draftees and international signees who weren't yet professional players at this time a year ago, there are plenty of new faces on this list compared to the 2017 preseason ranking. Outside of those newly signed players (more on them later), there are 37 jumping on the list in '18 who weren't on it a year ago. None have made a larger leap than Acuna, the Braves phenom who hit his way across three levels of the Minors, reaching Triple-A and winning Arizona Fall League MVP honors before his 20th birthday. He didn't start 2017 in the Top 100, though he joined it early in the year, and has risen all the way to No. 2. Tatis Jr. isn't too far behind, leaping all the way up to No. 8. Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette is a third player debuting in the top 20 (No. 14).
Video: Ronald Acuna is named the No. 2 prospect in 2018
Orioles outfielder Austin Hays (No. 23), Phillies right-hander Sixto Sanchez (26), Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (29), Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery (35), Padres infielder Luis Urias (36), Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty (38), Tigers righty Franklin Perez (39), Rockies infielder Ryan McMahon (41), Reds outfielder Taylor Trammell (43), Yankees outfielder Estevan Florial (44) and lefties Luiz Gohara (49) of the Braves and Adrian Morejon of the Padres (50) round out the list of prospects in this year's Top 50 who didn't appear in the Top 100 a year ago.
There are also a large number of prospects who were on last year's Top 100 who made huge jumps up the list. Those risers are led by Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler, who went from No. 93 in 2017 to No. 13 on this year's edition. Whitley is a close second, as the Astros' '16 first-round pick skyrocketed 75 spots, from No. 84 to No. 9. Fellow '16 first-round pick Cal Quantrill of the Padres is the only other prospect to move more than 50 spots, leaping from No. 97 up to No. 40. Seven players improved their standings 30 or more spots, led by Braves right-hander Mike Soroka (+47).
Video: Top Prospects: Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
A total of 24 players from the 2017 preseason Top 100 have fallen off of the list entirely. Brewers '16 first-rounder Corey Ray tumbled the farthest after his rough first full season of pro ball, going from No. 30 a year ago to beyond the Top 100. Rays right-hander Jose De Leon, Marlins lefty Braxton Garrett and Dodgers right-hander Yadier Alvarez are also Top 50 guys who did not make the list this time around.
Among those who fell, but stayed on the list, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak of the Phillies, slipped from No. 19 to No. 88, 69 spots. Padres righty Anderson Espinosa (-64), White Sox outfielder Blake Rutherford (-62), Cardinals slugger Tyler O'Neill (-58) and Angels shortstop Kevin Maitan (-55) all slid more than 50 slots.
The game is definitely getting younger and that's reflected in how many prospects graduate off the Top 100 each year. There were 31 players who lost prospect status and thus are no longer in the Top 100 because of big league time. That list starts with last year's No. 1 prospect, Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox, who went on to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting, behind Aaron Judge, who was No. 45 on the 2017 list. National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Cody Bellinger was No. 13 on last year's list, while Josh Bell, German Marquez, Manuel Margot and Ian Happ were all vote-getters who were in last year's Top 100.
As is usually the case, pitching dominates the Top 100. Another tradition is having more right-handed pitching representation than any other position. That holds true again in 2018, with 35 on the list. Add in the 11 southpaws and that's a total of 46 pitchers. That's four more than last year's pitching total, seven more than the 39 on the '16 list, matching the '15 total, but shy of '14's 58 pitchers.
Outfielders are the next largest group, with 28 in the Top 100, including three in the top 10. There are 12 shortstops, seven third basemen, and three apiece at first base, second base and catcher. Those good at math might realize that adds up to 102. That's because, for the first time, there are two players, Ohtani and Rays 2017 first-rounder Brendan McKay, who are both pitching and hitting in pro ball.
Video: Top Prospects: Brendan McKay, 1B, Rays
Feeling the Draft
Speaking of McKay, he's far from alone in representing the 2017 Draft class. There are 13 from last year's class, all first rounders, in the Top 100. No. 3 overall pick MacKenzie Gore of the Padres is the highest ranked, at No. 19 overall, with top pick Royce Lewis of the Twins right behind him at No. 20 and No. 2 selection Hunter Greene of the Reds at No. 21. McKay, the Rays' pick at No. 4, comes in at No. 25 and Braves top pick Kyle Wright finishes off the list of 2017 first-rounders in the top 50 at No. 30 overall. In total, there are 70 draftees on the Top 100.
Video: Top Prospects: Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
That means there are 30 players who were international signees (players from Canada count on the draftee list), with a strong foreign flair at the top of the list. The top six prospects were all signed from other countries, and nine of the top 15 are international guys.
The Dominican Republic leads the way with 16 representatives on the Top 100. Venezuela is a distant second, with seven, and Cuba is the only other country with multiple prospects on the list, with three. Brazil, Haiti, Japan and Mexico have one representative apiece.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.