Who's the best prospect? Underrated? Execs weigh in

January 10th, 2023

We kicked off our 2023 MLB Pipeline Poll with who team executives -- from general managers to farm directors, from scouting directors to analytics specialists -- thought will be the Rookie of the Year in each league in the coming season. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Among the questions we asked front offices were ones that required them to look at today’s prospects a little more closely. That gives us a better sense of who the industry values the most on both sides of the ball.

Who is baseball’s best hitting prospect?

Also received votes: Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers; Termarr Johnson, 2B/SS, Pirates; Jordan Lawlar, SS, D-backs; Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees

Not surprisingly, the two picks for Rookie of the Year, Henderson and Carroll, led the polling about who the best position player prospect was. It is interesting to note, though, that it was Henderson who won this vote easily. There isn’t all that much separating the two top prospects, but Henderson’s power plus his ability to play on the dirt were among the reasons execs picked him over Carroll.

De La Cruz and Chourio both had huge seasons last year, charging up our Top 100 and in terms of pure ceiling, they might be hard to beat, while Henderson and Carroll have both reached the big leagues and seem a better bet to reach their respective ceilings as of right now. Walker and Álvarez are considered to have very impressive power potential (More on that in Part 3.).

Who is baseball’s best pitching prospect?

Also received votes: Taj Bradley, RHP, Rays; Hunter Brown, RHP, Astros; Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants; Roki Sasaki, RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines

Sometimes you go into a survey expecting one result but you get another. That was the case here, where I figured Rodriguez, our top pitching prospect at the end of 2022, would lead the voting. But the combination of him missing considerable time with a lat strain and Painter dominating across three levels en route to capturing MLB Pipeline Pitching Prospect of the Year honors, landed the Phillies young right-hander in the top spot. Pérez, the 6-foot-8 Marlins righty, wasn’t far behind, though his numbers weren’t quite as eye-popping as Painter’s last year.

Harrison was the only left-hander to get any attention, but the most intriguing name mentioned may have been Sasaki, the Japanese right-hander who dominated for Chiba Lotte in 2022 but isn’t even eligible to sign with an MLB team yet.

Who is the best defensive prospect?

14% -- Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs
11% -- Druw Jones, OF, D-backs
9% -- Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
9% -- Masyn Winn, SS, Cardinals
6% -- Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
6% -- Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox
6% -- Johan Rojas, OF, Phillies
6% -- Drew Romo, C, Rockies
Also received votes: Edwin Arroyo, SS, Reds; Eric Brown, SS, Brewers; Elly De La Cruz SS/3B, Reds; Branden Fryman, SS, Mets; Noelvi Marte, SS/3B, Reds; Joey Ortiz, SS, Orioles; Oswald Peraza, SS, Yankees; Jeferson Quero, C, Brewers; Brayan Rocchio, SS, Guardians; Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies; Brice Turang, SS, Brewers

There is a lot more data than there used to be regarding defensive ability, but that didn’t lead to any great consensus among executives. One thing that was clear: front offices love up-the-middle defense. A total of 20 prospects received votes in this one and all of them are catchers, center fielders or guys who have played shortstop. Many feel PCA is the best defender in the game right now, but it’s interesting to see Jones, last year’s No. 2 overall pick the Draft who has yet to play a professional game, get as much recognition for his outstanding work in center field already.

Which prospect has the best baseball IQ?

26% -- Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
23% -- Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
10% -- Brooks Lee, SS, Twins
6% -- Jackson Holliday, SS, Orioles
6% -- Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox
Also received votes: Diego Cartaya, C, Dodgers; Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs; Henry Davis, C, Pirates; Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B, Reds; Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS, Red Sox; Brayan Rocchio, SS, Guardians; Brice Turang, SS, Brewers; Nick Yorke, 2B, Red Sox

Volpe has long gotten high marks for his makeup and his instincts, which will continue to help him play above his solid all-around tools. It’s a reason why he’s considered to be one of the top prospects in baseball. Like with the defensive voting, there are a lot of up-the-middle players here, with Carroll just behind Volpe. Let the nature vs. nurture debate continue with two players receiving multiple votes being the son of a college coach (Lee) and the son of a big league All-Star (Jackson Holliday).

Which pitching prospect is the best future closer?

21% -- Daniel Espino, RHP, Guardians
15% -- Max Meyer, RHP, Marlins
12% -- DL Hall, LHP, Orioles
12% -- Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers
6% -- Jarlin Susana, RHP, Nationals
Also received votes:
Hunter Brown, RHP, Astros; Zach Brzykcy, RHP, Cubs; Jeremiah Estrada, RHP, Cubs; Wilmer Flores, RHP, Tigers; Tink Hence, RHP, Cardinals; Ben Joyce, RHP, Angels; Jack Leiter, RHP, Rangers; Griff McGarry, RHP, Phillies; Mason Miller, RHP, A’s; Daniel Palencia, RHP, Cubs; Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins

There’s a theme that sticks out among those who received votes. Most are ones who have really good raw power stuff that misses a ton of bats, but have some combination of size concerns, health issues or command problems. The top two vote-getters, Espino and Meyer, have both missed a lot of time and aren’t the biggest guys in the world. All five of the main recipients of votes have largely been starters thus far in their career, though Hall did move last year to the bullpen and reached the big leagues in 2022 as a reliever.

Who is the most underrated prospect?

Also received votes: Kevin Alcantara, OF, Cubs; Samuel Basallo, C, Orioles; Eric Brown, SS, Brewers; Alexander Canario, OF, Cubs; Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs; Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs; Harry Ford, C, Mariners; Druw Jones, OF, D-backs; Edouard Julien, 2B, Twins; Orelvis Martinez, SS, Blue Jays; Curtis Mead, 3B/2B, Rays; Connor Norby, 2B, Orioles; Logan O’Hoppe, C, Angels; Joey Ortiz, SS, Orioles; Endy Rodriguez, C/2B/OF, Pirates; Gavin Stone, RHP, Dodgers; Brice Turang , SS, Brewers; Austin Wells, C, Yankees; Carson Williams, SS, Rays; Nick Yorke, 2B, Red Sox; Samuel Zavala, OF, Padres

Of the 26 total prospects named here, 15 were on our Top 100 list at the end of the 2022 season. After many scouts felt Merrill was the best prospect in the Arizona Fall League, he may not be considered underrated for much longer. Gavin Stone of the Dodgers was the only pitcher who received a vote.

Who is the best amateur prospect you’ve ever seen?

13% -- Bryce Harper, OF, Phillies
13% -- Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
10% -- Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
6% -- Alex Rodriguez, SS, Mariners
Also received votes: Brady Aiken, LHP, Guardians; Javier Báez, SS, Tigers; Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles; JD Drew, OF, Cardinals; Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers; Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds; Josh Hamilton, OF, Rays; Luis Hernandez, INF, Ven. (class of 2026); Druw Jones, OF, D-backs; Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers; Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers; Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers; Mark Prior, RHP, Cubs; Corey Seager, SS, Rangers; Juan Soto, OF, Padres; Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals; Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals

Players are listed by the team they are currently on or which team signed them initially if they don’t currently have a home and/or have retired. This one kind of ran the gamut, a bit based on the generation of executive and whether they’ve focused on domestic or international amateur prospects. The top five vote-getters were all taken in the top two of their respective Drafts. The most interesting pick? That might be Venezuelan infielder Luis Hernandez, who is slated to be part of the 2026 international signing class.