1 reason to be excited about each of MLB's top 3 prospects

February 1st, 2023

The best prospects in baseball have already given us a glimpse of what they can do in the Majors. And it was an exciting glimpse.  

MLB Pipeline unveiled its Top 100 prospects for 2023 last week, and the three players on top of the list are Orioles third baseman/shortstop , D-backs outfielder and Mets catcher .

They all made their big league debuts late last season … and they all flashed their high-end talent when they did. So let's take a look at each player. 

Here's a reason to get excited about each of MLB's top three overall prospects.

1. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Orioles -- Hard contact and plate discipline

Henderson got called up by the O's on Aug. 31, joining fellow superstar prospect Adley Rutschman in the big leagues. And the 21-year-old looked like he could be a future star himself, posting a 123 OPS+ in 34 games.

Henderson showed a great combination of skills as a hitter: he makes hard contact, and he doesn't swing at bad pitches.

Over half of Henderson's batted balls were hit 95 mph or harder, giving him a top-10 hard-hit rate in all of baseball for 2022 in his limited sample size.

Highest hard-hit rate in 2022
Min. 75 batted balls

  1. Aaron Judge: 61.8%
  2. Yordan Alvarez: 59.8%
  3. J.D. Davis: 56.1%
  4. Eloy Jiménez: 54.9%
  5. Kyle Schwarber: 54.4%
  6. Gunnar Henderson: 53.7%

All it takes is a quick glance at the names on the hard-hit leaderboard to know it's a list you want to be near the top of. If you hit the ball hard a lot, you're going to have a high ceiling as a hitter.

But Henderson's other skill is just as impressive for a hitter his age, getting his first big league experience. He was extremely disciplined, chasing fewer than one out of every five pitches out of the strike zone.

From the date of his MLB debut onward, Henderson had one of the lowest chase rates in the league.

Lowest chase rate, Aug. 31 through end of season
Min. 250 out-of-zone pitches seen
1. Juan Soto: 15.0%
2. J.P. Crawford: 15.1%
3. (tie) Gunnar Henderson: 17.9%
3. (tie) Matt Chapman: 17.9%
5. Brendan Donovan: 18.7%

He chased fewer pitches down the stretch than hitters like Aaron Judge (19.5%), Mike Trout (20.9%), Alex Bregman (21.7%), Brandon Nimmo (22.0%) and Mookie Betts (22.6%).

Sometimes, that means a hitter just isn't swinging the bat. But that wasn't the case with Henderson. He swung at two-thirds of pitches in the strike zone, right at the Major League average. So his approach at the plate coupled with his hard-hit ability really bodes well for Henderson going forward.

2. Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs -- Elite speed and defense

Carroll's callup came two days before Henderson's, on Aug. 29. By the end of the season, the 22-year-old had established himself as the fastest player in the Major Leagues.

Carroll ranked at the top of the sprint speed leaderboard for 2022, averaging an elite 30.7 feet per second. He was even faster than players like Bobby Witt Jr. and Trea Turner.

Fastest players by avg. sprint speed, 2022
1. Corbin Carroll: 30.7 ft/sec
2. (tie) Bobby Witt Jr.: 30.4 ft/sec
2. (tie) Jose Siri: 30.4 ft/sec
2. (tie) Bubba Thompson: 30.4 ft/sec
5. Trea Turner: 30.3 ft/sec
MLB avg.: 27 ft/sec. Elite: 30+ ft/sec

On 60% of Carroll's competitive runs, 31 of 51, he reached elite speed. Only 22 players in MLB had 30 or more runs at a 30-plus ft/sec sprint speed for the entire season, let alone in a month and change.

That elite speed means lots of exciting plays on the bases -- like when Carroll had the fastest triple of the MLB season on Oct. 3, going home-to-third in just 10.75 seconds.

That elite speed also translates to elite range in the outfield. Carroll was worth +5 Outs Above Average in a very small batch of outfield opportunities. That was actually good enough to make him the top National League left fielder by OAA for the entire season.

Based on the catch probability of all of his opportunities, Carroll would have been expected to catch 79% of the balls hit his way in the outfield. Instead, he caught 90% of them. That +11% success rate added was the best of any Major League outfielder in 2022.

Highest catch rate over expectation, 2022
Min. 25 OF opportunities
1. Corbin Carroll: +11%
2. Jake Marisnick: +9%
3. Jonathan Davis: +8%
4. (tie) Daulton Varsho: +7%
4. (tie) Brett Phillips: +7%

If he can do what he did in one month of 2022 over a full season in 2023, you're looking at a Gold Glove outfielder.

3. Francisco Álvarez, C, Mets -- Big bat potential

Álvarez got a much smaller preview than Henderson and Carroll -- the Mets only called him up for the very end of the season, on Sept. 30. So we're only looking at five games and 14 plate appearances. Not a lot to go on.

But one thing we did see is that Álvarez doesn't get cheated at the plate, and he can drive the ball a long way.

Three of the eight balls Álvarez hit were barreled: a 107.8 mph, 356-foot double off the wall at Citi Field; a 100.2 mph, 376-foot flyout to dead center in Atlanta, just the wrong part of the ballpark; and, of course, his first career home run, a 108.9 mph, 439-foot blast to left-center in New York on Oct. 4.

Barrels are balls hit with both ideal exit velocity and ideal launch angle, the type of contact most likely to result in an extra-base hit or home run. Álvarez's quality of contact produced an expected slugging percentage of .654 for his first bit of big league action.

And the way Álvarez attacks the ball, he could drive a lot more barrels in the future and produce a lot of slugging from the catcher position.

He was highly aggressive when he got into the Mets' lineup, swinging at over half the pitches he saw and swinging at the first pitch in 10 of his 14 plate appearances. He'll probably need to chase a little less as Major League pitchers see him more, but when you look at Álvarez's Ruthian hacks, it's no wonder he wants to unleash that powerful swing.