Most, least aggressive prospect assignments

April 10th, 2023

Leading up to Double-A, High-A and Single-A Opening Days last week, we finally got our complete looks at rosters for all full-season Minor League clubs.

There are always some season-opening surprises. A player who jumps up two levels quicker than expected. A solid performer who is held back with his previous year’s club for one reason or another. As much as we like to think Minor Leaguers move station to station while taking steps closer to the Majors, things don’t always work that way. Player development isn’t always linear, as the saying goes.

With that in mind, here are some of the most aggressive and least aggressive Minor League assignments for prospects ranked among the Top 10 in their organizations to begin the 2023 season.

Most aggressive

Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Rays (No. 4, MLB No. 68) – Triple-A Durham

A second-round pick in 2021, Manzardo only got in 30 games with Double-A Montgomery last year but was one of three Double-A players to fan less than 16 percent of the time (15.6) while slugging at least .550 (.576) over 120 or more plate appearances in 2022. The others were Endy Rodriguez and Spencer Steer, an active Triple-A prospect and a current Major Leaguer, respectively. Being selective and hitting for impact when you do swing are two skills that can carry well level-to-level, and instead of letting Manzardo crush Double-A arms again, the Rays chose to make him learn against even more advanced arms.

Edgar Quero, C, Angels (No. 3) – Double-A Rocket City

There’s no doubt Quero performed well last season at Single-A Inland Empire, hitting .312/.435/.530 with 17 homers in 111 games, but jumping the switch-hitting backstop completely over High-A ball might seem like a stretch. However, the Halos may have wanted to keep a bat-first player like Quero away from Tri-City and its notoriously pitcher-friendly Gesa Stadium. To wit, Dust Devils hitters hit 17 homers in home games last year, compared to 53 on the road. Rocket City’s Toyota Field offers Quero a fairer opportunity to make the most of his above-average hit tool and solid power. He won’t be alone. Thirteen of the Angels’ Top 30 prospects open as Trash Pandas.

Junior Caminero, 3B/2B, Rays (No. 5) – High-A Bowling Green

The Rays have been high on the 19-year-old infielder since acquiring him in November 2021 when he had only played in the Dominican Summer League. They’ve backed that up with another strong move up the ladder after Caminero played 26 games with Single-A Charleston last summer, hitting .299/.359/.505 with six homers. Caminero’s profile is more reliant on power than Manzardo’s, but he doesn’t punch out much by modern standards either. Entering Monday, the 19-year-old is the fifth-youngest player to get a High-A plate appearance in 2023.

Jeferson Quero, C, Brewers (No. 5) – Double-A Biloxi

The 20-year-old backstop heads to the Southern League for the first time after getting only 20 games of High-A experience in 2022. Fresh off being named to Pipeline’s All-Defense Team, Quero has the defensive capabilities to handle a more advanced pitching staff, and his plus arm will play at any level. The bat will be more of a question, but he certainly held his own last year with Wisconsin, hitting .313/.329/.530 in those 20 contests. If it helps, Quero isn’t even the youngest Biloxi Shucker. That title belongs to 19-year-old Jackson Chourio, who is returning to Double-A for a second campaign.

Warming Bernabel, 3B, Rockies (No. 7) – Double-A Hartford

The longest Bernabel has ever stayed with one Minor League team in a single season: 65 games with Single-A Fresno. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a huge shock that the 20-year-old infielder has moved up to the Eastern League after playing in only 26 contests with High-A Spokane ahead of time. Bernabel has batted .312 and .313 in his last two Minor League campaigns, and he had a career K rate of just 13.4 percent coming into this spring. His aggressive approach will be worth watching against Double-A arms.

Least aggressive

Brett Baty, 3B, Mets (No. 2, MLB No. 19) – Triple-A Syracuse

In a world where Top 20 overall prospects Jordan Walker and Anthony Volpe made their Major League debuts on Opening Day, Baty had a very real case to crack the Mets’ Major League lineup but was instead sent back to the International League. The 23-year-old third baseman had a solid spring, and with his ability to hit the ball hard consistently from the left side, he has a higher offensive ceiling than New York’s other third-base option, Eduardo Escobar. Alas, the Mets decided to go with a more veteran presence, and Baty is slugging .722 with two homers and a double through his first five games.

Gavin Williams, RHP, Guardians (No. 2, MLB No. 38) – Double-A Akron

There are limited Triple-A rotation spots for each team, and that is certainly the case in an organization loaded with arms like Cleveland’s. But Williams is a pitcher you generally make room for, and he fit the bill with a 2.31 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 72 strikeouts in 70 Double-A innings last year. Williams’ four-pitch arsenal, headlined by his mid-90s fastball that can touch triple digits, will play at the Minors’ top level, but for now, he got started with nine K’s over 4 1/3 scoreless innings last Thursday.

Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS, Red Sox (No. 3, MLB No. 80) – Double-A Portland

The Red Sox have made it clear they want Rafaela focusing on plate discipline in 2023, and the presence of Jarren Duran and his need for at-bats as a Triple-A center fielder certainly complicates things. Perhaps it’s telling just how far Rafaela’s bat still needs to go that Boston held him back in Portland for another year after he hit .278/.324/.500 over a healthy 71-game period in 2022. His low 5.1 percent walk rate will need improving before he can elbow Duran out of the way because his defense is at least equal, if not superior.

Wilmer Flores, RHP, Tigers (No. 3, MLB No. 89) – Double-A Erie

The 6-foot-4 right-hander made 19 starts with Erie last season and was effective, posting a 3.01 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings (not counting the postseason). Like Williams, there were only so many spots in the Triple-A Toledo rotation, which the Tigers have typically used for more veteran options who can help the big-league team quickly in a pinch, but it would have some sense to get Flores a new challenge at the start of his age-22 season. His 94-95 mph fastball, plus curve and solid cutter should ease the transition whenever the day comes.

Bryce Miller, RHP, Mariners (No. 2, MLB No. 92) – Double-A Arkansas

Miller climbed three levels in his breakout 2022 campaign and topped out with Arkansas, posting a 3.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings in the hitter-friendly Texas League. It isn’t a massive sample, but the results could have led to a season-opening assignment with Triple-A Tacoma for the 24-year-old. Instead, he’s back in Arkansas with a four-pitch repertoire headlined by a heater that averaged 95 mph last year and can reach triple digits. That isn’t necessarily bad news; George Kirby moved from the Travelers to the Mariners ahead of his MLB debut last May.