Inbox: Who will shake up the elastic Top 100?

April 15th, 2021

It’s hard to tell which duo is getting more attention from prospect fans these days: The Vanderbilt phenom combination of Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter or the American League rookie sensations Yermín Mercedes and Akil Baddoo. Both groups are garnering a ton of headlines these days, and for good reason.

In this week’s Pipeline Inbox, we’re leaving the potential top two picks of the 2021 Draft alone for a change (though there is a Draft question below). But I couldn’t ignore the impacts of Mercedes and Baddoo.

With the long break between Minor League games and such a long time between Draft and first pro looks, can we anticipate an unprecedented shakeup in ranks once things get ramped back up?
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Who’s going to make the biggest jump on the Top 100 prospect list in ‘21?
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We answered both of these questions kind of in tandem on this week’s Pipeline Podcast since they are somewhat related. Both Jim Callis and I agree that the lists will undoubtedly be volatile this year for the reasons you bring up. Last year when we did our “re-rank,” we didn’t change orders other than inserting 2020 draftees into the Top 100 and team Top 30s. Our preseason lists this year changed based on some big league performances in 2020 along with reports from alternate site and instructional league play. But those were almost all internal reports with each club, so there was a limit to how much we used those to alter the rankings.

Combine that with getting real data and information on how players are performing in the big leagues and when the Minor League season begins in May and we’re sure there will be some large corrections coming in the future.

As for the biggest jumps, I picked two players, one who just joined the Top 100 and one who jumped to the middle of the list to start this season. The first is Mariners shortstop Noelvi Marte, who has yet to play a game in the United States. Had there been a Minor League season in 2020, I’m pretty confident Marte would have played his way onto this list last year. After going to the M’s alternate site last year, he’s ready to make a huge splash in full-season ball. (Where else would he go considering there’s no short-season options?) Perhaps he doesn’t stick at short long-term, but I expect him to hit enough to jump up the Top 100 in a hurry.

The second player I mentioned was Pirates right-hander Quinn Priester. He’s already at 44, a remarkable jump considering he wasn’t on the Top 100 last year. We got so many reports on him from the alternate site (internal) and from instructs (internal and external from other teams' scouts) to warrant this. But the 2019 first-round pick hasn’t even reached full-season ball yet. Once he does, look out. He’s going to be close to the top of the right-handed pitching prospects list at this point a year from now.

Jim, always eager to one-up me, provided four names. First, two players in the upper half now who might end up near the top: Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas (No. 37) and Jordan Groshans (No. 39) could hit their way into the top 20 or better. Then in the bottom half, he went with a pair of Mets prospects: right-hander Matthew Allan (No. 67) and third baseman Brett Baty (No. 86).

Jud Fabian, Christian Franklin or Sal Frelick?
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If you had asked me this question last fall when we were putting out the Draft Top 100 currently on the site, there would be no hesitation in answering Fabian, who was No. 8 on that list. Now I can answer just as quickly, but with a different name: Frelick.

Some of that is because Fabian, the toolsy Florida Gators outfielder with a ton of power, has really struggled. He has 11 homers, but a 33 percent strikeout rate has led to a .228 average and caused his stock to fall. But most of it is because Frelick has been really, really good. As detailed in our story about five guys on the rise in the Draft, the Boston College product has hit a ton (.360/.438/.576), shown he can play center field and continued to impress scouts with his plus makeup. He’s played his way into top-10 consideration, and outside of maybe Miami catcher Adrian Del Castillo, he could be the top college bat taken in July.

This takes nothing away from Franklin, the Arkansas outfielder. He has 20-20 potential, but he hasn’t performed quite as well as Frelick and is in the next tier of college bats.

Where would you rank Baddoo and Mercedes on the Top 100 Prospects list right now due to their performance since the start of the season? Or would you not rank them on the list at all?
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You kind of answered your first question with your second one. What Baddoo and Mercedes have done this year has been a whole lot of fun, and they deserve a ton of credit for overcoming odds to get where they are, not to mention taking advantage of this opportunity.

But can I be real a second, for just a millisecond? (Bonus points if you get this reference.) Yes, Baddoo is making about as big of a splash a Rule 5 pick has done in some time. His .391/.400/1.043 line with four homers and 10 RBIs (as of Wednesday) has been astounding and belies the fact he hadn’t played above A ball before this season. And absolutely, Mercedes’ .485/.541/.758 start as a former Minor League phase Rule 5 pick and 28-year rookie has been one of the best storylines of this early season. But the emphasis must be on "early."

Mercedes had played in nine games and collected 33 at-bats heading into Wednesday’s action; Baddoo had appeared in eight games with 23 ABs. I don’t want to diminish their starts, but that’s way too small of a sample size to consider moving them into the Top 100. Keep in mind that Baddoo entered the year at No. 22 on the Tigers list, while Mercedes was No. 20 on the White Sox Top 30. That would be a huge leap to make based on a handful of plate appearances. For some perspective, if Baddoo hit .250 after 400 at-bats and then went 9-for-23, he would be hitting .258.

See what I’m getting at? Enjoy the run they’re on. I hope it continues, but don’t put too much stock into it.