8 prospect-related predictions for 2024

December 27th, 2023

As the Pipeline Podcast wraps up 2023, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo preview the '24 season with a wide range of predictions. The duo breaks down eight categories, from Rookies of the Year in both leagues and the No. 1 overall Draft pick to which organization will finish with the top-ranked farm system at season's end and more.

Last year's edition had some big hits, including correctly predicting both Rookies of the Year (Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson), the No. 1 prospect at the end of the year (Jackson Holliday) and the biggest riser among Top 100 prospects (Jackson Merrill). Let's see how this year's guesses stack up.

Check out the entire Pipeline Podcast here.

Rookies of the Year

"[Crow-Armstrong is] coming off of a 20/30 season in the Minors. We know about his defense. The defense and speed will keep him in the lineup every single day, and he’s going to contribute, and I think he’s going to hit enough for the counting numbers that a lot of people pay attention to [and that] will matter. I think his combination of talent and opportunity made him a solid, albeit, far from slam-dunk pick for me.

"[Holliday] is so good that he is going to play his way -- even if it is not on Opening Day -- into the lineup quickly. I think there is a non-zero chance that he ends up making the big league team. If they think he can help them win, then I could see it."

"I just think [Skenes is] on the same path that Stephen Strasburg was on. I think he’s going to come out and destroy the Minors for six weeks and be up before the end of May and be one of the better pitchers in baseball right off the bat. I think his stuff’s that good. I think he’s got the command to go with the stuff. We all know he averaged 98 mph last year throughout the season at LSU. He can hit triple digits. The slider may be more devastating than the fastball. In one of his College World Series starts, his best pitch was his changeup; it was a well-above-average pitch in that start. I think he’s the complete package.

"After watching [Carter] in September and October, I’m not worried about him being able to prove himself and handle the big moment -- he did that; I don’t think they make the playoffs without him. I think he provided a huge spark, and then he played great in the postseason, not just hitting but defensively."

Pipeline Hitter of the Year

"There are other guys who could be candidates, but we can’t be sure they're not going to have graduated, so they wouldn’t be eligible. For Pipeline Hitter of the Year, it doesn’t matter where Walker Jenkins plays. They can figure that out, let him play center field. We needed to pick guys who were younger who we knew were going to spend the year in the Minor Leagues who we thought would put up really big numbers. I’m still a big believer in Max Clark, and I don’t think he’s going to struggle out the gates, but I just think that Walker Jenkins has the chance to put up some pretty big numbers right away."

Callis: Jenkins

“I feel like, in general, fans maybe underappreciate him a little bit because he was only the fifth pick in the Draft last year. He’d clearly be the number one pick in a lot of drafts. ... I mean, there’s not much this guy can’t do. He hits for average, hits for power, solid runner, good arm, you know we can quip, ‘Is he a center fielder or right fielder in the long run? OK, we’ll see.’ Make up is off the charts.”

Pipeline Pitcher of the Year

“This isn’t based on any track record as a professional, but Rhett Lowder was the number seven overall pick in the Draft. The Reds took him out of Wake Forest. We’ve talked a lot about Wake Forest and the talent that's been churning out of there lately. I think his combination of stuff and command are really, really interesting to me, and I think he is going to have success right out of the gate. I don't know where they start him. I could see him going straight to Double-A. Maybe there’s an outside chance he ends up in the big leagues … Because his feel and command were so highly talked about, I think sometimes his stuff got the short end of the stick. He’s got good stuff. We’re talking about above-average fastball and a plus changeup with plus control.”

“I’m going to go with Robby Snelling … Last year [he] had a 1.82 ERA and got to Double-A by the end of the year. What’s not to like about this guy?... It’s a quality fastball that nobody hits. It’s a quality curveball. It’s one of the better breaking balls in the Minor Leagues. The changeup is coming along fine. He throws a ton of strikes. He’s left-handed. [He has] tremendous mound presence.”

No. 1 overall Draft pick

Mayo: JJ Wetherholt (Draft No. 1)

“I took Wetherholt not just because he’s now a friend of the podcast, but [of] his ability to do multiple things well and play up the middle ... Let’s say shortstop doesn’t work and there are enough scouts who think he’d probably end up back at second base. I do think that he will play up the middle, and it gives him a little more value. He’s going to hit; there’s enough juice in the bat. He can really run. He does have a pretty full toolbox … I just think Wetherholt fits the kind of hitter [Cleveland likes] and he has impact. I don’t think people are worried about lack of impact from him, so I think that it makes as good of sense as anybody at this point."

Callis: Nick Kurtz (Draft No. 2)

“Jonathan took the best pure hitter in the Draft. I took the best power hitter in the Draft. ... Kurtz is the best power hitter in the Draft, but he has a lot of hitting ability, too, he’s not just an all-or-nothing slugger. I just don’t think there is any real weakness at the plate in him… Nick Kurtz would fit what Cleveland needs so much.”

No. 1 prospect at the end of the year

“I’m going to go with Ethan Salas. Obviously kind of took the prospect world by storm [after he] signed just last January … He kept moving and ended up in Double-A. Now this year, I think we can pump the brakes a little bit. He doesn’t turn 18 until June. He’s so far ahead of the curve, they could send him wherever they want. Even if they want to send him back to High-A, where he only spent nine games before moving up to San Antonio for the very end of the year and the postseason. … I think his combination of tools, his ability to catch, his youth and his off-the-charts makeup -- he’s just going to keep getting better.”

Callis: Jenkins

“I think there’s a possibility the Padres push Salas further than he needs to be. I didn't really see the need for him to be in Double-A at all last year, it wasn’t like he tore up High-A. I think there's a possibility he gets challenged a little too quickly or pushed a little too hard. ... If Salas goes out and hits .260 with 12 home runs and he’s in High-A, that’s actually a great year for a guy who started the year at age 17, but I don’t know that we’re going to rank that guy as the number one prospect in baseball. That’s why I went with Jenkins over Salas.”

No. 1 farm system at the end of the year

Mayo: Reds

“I’m going to double down and I’m going to stick with the Cincinnati Reds. They’ve had a lot of guys graduate and they held steady at No. 5. Noelvi Marte, who should be mentioned in conversations about National League Rookie of the Year, will graduate. Some of this may hinge on whether Rhett Lowder does graduate. I don’t want to put it on one guy. … He’ll still be a part of the farm system when we rank farm systems at close to the end of the year. It’s a deep system; also, there are guys who are going to bounce back.

"Entering into my equation for keeping the Cincinnati Reds is the fact that, because of the Draft Lottery, they’re picking No. 2 overall. Adding that quality of talent will help offset some of those graduations. They’ve got a Competitive Balance Round B pick, so they’ve got three picks in the Top 75. They’ve got a pretty good bonus pool to work with. They may be able to get aggressive with some high school pitching, maybe, with some of those subsequent picks after picking No. 2 overall. Where they landed in the Draft definitely entered into my calculations when picking them."

Callis: Cubs

“I went with the Cubs because I think they have the potential for the most Top 100 prospects at the end of the year when guys have graduated. Pete Crow-Armstrong is going to graduate this year. I think Cade Horton is going to graduate. ... Right now, Owen Caissie, Kevin Alcántara, Ben Brown and Matt Shaw are all in the Top 100 list -- they all could qualify. … I think Jackson Ferris is going to be a Top 100 guy by the end of the year. I think James Triantos is going to be a Top 100 guy by the end of the year. They’ve got Jefferson Rojas, super young international signee who they kind of fast-forwarded to Single-A last year and he held his own."

Biggest riser among current Top 100 prospects

“I am going with Aidan Miller, who is currently No. 90 on the list. The Phillies may have gotten one of the steals of the first round of the 2023 Draft by getting Miller close to the end, No. 27 overall. He had a broken hamate, so he missed most of his senior year. I think he may have been a Top 10 pick, certainly a top-half-of-the-first-round pick. He can really hit. He can play third base. He had a strong debut after a lot of time off. He made it to full-season ball after just completely raking in the Florida Complex League. It was a small sample size -- he played a total of 20 games -- but I think that he’s going to hit the ground running. He’s going to hit for average and a ton of power. I think he probably ends up playing -- maybe if he starts in Clearwater and ends at Jersey Shore -- across two levels of A-ball in the Phillies system.

"I think he’s one of these high school bats who should’ve gone higher in the Draft and was a little under the radar because of the injury. People are going to realize how good he is with a full season of at-bats in pro ball in 2024.”

“The Cubs took him 13th overall. He was considered one of the best hitters in the college ranks of last year’s Draft. He was one of the best hitters in the Draft in pro ball. He hit .357, spent most of his time in Double-A, had an OPS over 1.000. A little of the risk with him is that he could hit his way into the Cubs lineup by midseason, in which case he’ll be off the list. They are crowded in the middle infield, obviously with Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson. I think he could wind up at third base. He could push Nico over to third and play second. That’s really my only concern with Matt Shaw -- that he graduates. He soars up the list and graduates."

Who will be this year's Jackson Chourio?

“He was ranked in the Top 10 [of the international signing class] and signed for $2.5 million with the Mariners. One of the things that’s interesting is, Ethan Salas aside, we tend to pause [on[ even a guy who is really highly ranked on an international list [because] they’re so young when they sign. We don’t know what the transition is going to be like. We don’t know what the transition from the Dominican Summer League -- if they start there -- to the United States is going to be.

"What Montes has done has certainly raised my interest. He hit well, had an OPS over 1.000 in the Dominican Summer League after signing. He came stateside, and not only did he hit really well in the Arizona Complex League, but he got moved up to full-season ball and hit better, in many instances, there. The strikeout rate was a little bit of a concern out of the gate; he’s already improved that. He draws walks, he’s big, he’s left-handed, there’s a ton of power. He’s No. 12 on the Mariners’ list at the end of the season, and there’s some concern that he’d end up at first base, but he’s going to stay in the outfield. He hits the ball really, really hard. The comp that has been made, unfairly, has been to Yordan Alvarez, but it’s that kind of profile. If he gets bigger, maybe he ends up at first base, but the bat is going to play. He’s going to hit his way up this list in 2024."

“He was one of the top international prospects on Jesse Sanchez’s 2022 list. He signed for $4 million. He’s had some minor injuries his first couple years, so he hasn’t played a full season in Rookie ball. But he’s as tooled up as we thought he was going to be. He’s got a chance to hit for power, hit for average, solid-to-plus runner, cannon arm, can stay at shortstop. He was very good in the Florida Complex League. He hit [.267], six homers in 27 games before he had an injury that won’t affect him long-term. I think he’s going to be really, really good. He had a broken thumb last year. … He won’t turn 20 until, pretty much, the season is done."