Inbox: 2 prospects poised for rebound in '24; Leiter's future

January 5th, 2024

With a new year comes new prospect rankings. Starting on Jan. 17, we'll begin listing the 10 best talents at each position leading up to our Top 100 overall unveiling on Jan. 26, which will include a one-hour special on MLB Network.

Next on tap will be our organization Top 30s, which should come out division by division around the end of February.

Two National League West outfielders whose 2023 seasons were wrecked by injuries immediately come to mind: Andy Pages (Dodgers) and Zac Veen (Rockies). Pages fell off MLB Pipeline's 2023 Top 100 Prospects list following mid-May shoulder surgery that ended his year, while Veen plummeted to No. 92 after mid-June wrist surgery that did the same to him. Neither will open 2024 on our new Top 100.

After the worst season of his pro career in 2022 -- he still led the Double-A Texas League with 58 extra-base hits at age 21 -- Pages showed a more patient approach last year and had just gotten promoted to Triple-A when he tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. He has 30-homer upside, as well as a plus-plus arm that fits nicely in right field. He could carve out a role for himself in Los Angeles by the end of the summer.

The Arizona Fall League's Offensive Player of the Year in 2022, Veen got off to a rough start in Double-A last year before needing repairs to a damaged tendon in his left wrist. His .260/.357/.417 line through three pro seasons is pretty ordinary, but the No. 9 overall pick in 2020 has 20-20 potential and can handle all three outfield spots. He also could make a push for the big leagues this year.

What is Jack Leiter more likely to do first -- make his [MLB] debut or get traded?
-- Jason P., Dallas, Texas

After Leiter dominated college hitters in his lone full season at Vanderbilt and went No. 2 overall in the 2021 Draft, he seemed like a good bet to be the first player from that class to reach the Majors. Instead, he has posted a 5.37 ERA while battling his control and command the last two seasons, making all but one of his starts in Double-A.

Leiter's signature pitch in college was a fastball with elite carry, and while he still misses bats with his heater, pro hitters have pounded it when he hasn't located it up in the strike zone. The right-hander also has had trouble throwing his breaking pitches for strikes, reducing their effectiveness.

The Rangers placed Leiter on the developmental list for six weeks last summer so he could focus on his mechanics, in particular taking a more direct path to the plate and trying to better control his tempo. The results were slightly better in five starts at the end of the season, as he compiled a 4.12 ERA with a 29/6 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings, though he still got tagged for five homers.

Leiter will debut before he gets traded and we could see him in the big leagues before the end of the season if he can build on the strides he made at the end of 2023. There's no reason for the Rangers to sell low on him and he wouldn't bring back a significant return as the headliner in a deal.

The Phillies getting Miller with the 27th overall pick was the biggest steal of the first round of the 2023 Draft. He was the best hitter on the high school showcase circuit the previous summer, and it never made sense to me that his stock dipped because he missed most of his senior season with a broken left hamate. He's going to hit for power and average, and he'll settle in at third base after spending his pro debut at shortstop.

I can't reveal exactly where Miller will rank on our upcoming Top 100, but I can tell you that he'll move up significantly from his No. 90 spot on our end-of-2023 list. He'll continue to climb in the rankings until he takes over the hot corner in Philadelphia in mid-2026, when he'll be 22.

A fine question from Greg, who does fine work covering the Cubs at The prep shortstop crop isn't as bountiful as it was in 2021 (eight first-rounders), 2022 (five, including No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday) or 2023 (three, plus four more in the supplemental first round).

Caleb Bonemer (Okemos, Mich., HS) is the highest-rated high school shortstop on MLB Pipeline's 2024 Draft Top 100, checking in at No. 24. He has one of the quickest bats in the prep class and well-above-average raw power, though he's also very aggressive and mixed some monster performances on the showcase circuit with struggles at other events. He may wind up at third base in the long run.

Other prep shortstops to keep an eye on include Carter Johnson (Oxford, Ala., HS), Bryce Rainer (Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif.), Rustan Rigdon (Metter, Ga., HS), Owen Paino (Ketcham HS, Wappingers Falls, N.Y.), Ty Southisene (Basic HS, Henderson, Nev.) and JD Dix (Whitefish Bay, Wis., HS), all of whom project as top-two-rounders at this point. Charlie Bates (Palo Alto, Calif., HS) and Arnold Abernathy (North Cobb Christian HS, Kennesaw, Ga.) also made our Top 100.

And here's a few more high shortstops who just missed our list: Tyler Bell (Lincoln-Way East HS, Frankfort, Ill.), Michael Ryan (Archbishop Rummel HS, Metairie, La.), Brendan Lawson (P27 Academy, Lexington, S.C.), Tyson Lewis (Yutan, Neb., HS), Trey Snyder (Liberty, Mo., North HS) and Gabe Fraser (Orange, Calif., Lutheran HS).

Of the seven prep shortstops who went before the second round last July, just three of them (Arjun Nimmala, Colin Houck, Kevin McGonigle) rated that high on our Top 100 heading into the season. Colt Emerson, George Lombard Jr., Tai Peete and Adrian Santana all enhanced their stock as seniors, and we'll see some members of the Class of 2024 do the same.