This is one of the busiest and most enjoyable times on the baseball prospect calendar. The Minor Leagues are in full swing, the Draft is just six weeks away and the NCAA tournament starts today.
We're covering it all for you at MLB Pipeline, including answering your questions...
Jim, with Complex league ball set to start next week, who are you most interested to see in game action? Cristian Hernandez and Rayne Doncon are a couple of mine. -- @tjco1006
The Rookie-level Arizona Complex and Florida Complex leagues will kick off their schedules on Monday and several future stars will be making their U.S. debuts. I haven't seen official rosters yet, so it's unclear which players who just signed in January as part of the 2021-22 international class will head to the ACL or FCL versus the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. For the purposes of this question, I'm going to focus on players who turned pro before 2022.
The lone Top 100 Prospect ticketed for a Complex league is Cubs shortstop Hernandez (No. 2), whom clubs officials believe has more upside than any international player they've signed in at least a decade -- a group that includes Willson Contreras, Eloy Jiménez and Gleyber Torres. Other prospects of note in the ACL: Padres shortstop Victor Acosta (No. 10), Dodgers shortstops Wilman Diaz (No. 10) and Doncon (No. 22), Mariners outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez (No. 9), Angels shortstop Denzer Guzman (No. 5), Rockies shortstop Dyan Jorge (No. 18) and Rangers outfielder Yeison Morrobel (No. 17).
Pirates right-hander/shortstop Bubba Chandler (No. 9) will make his pro pitching debut in the FCL after giving up a football scholarship to play quarterback at Clemson in favor of signing for $3 million as a third-round pick in last year's draft. He got 30 at-bats as a shortstop last summer. Others to watch in the FCL: Blue Jays shortstop Manuel Beltre (No. 9), Red Sox center fielder Miguel Bleis (No. 16), Marlins shortstop Yiddi Cappe (No. 13), Rays shortstop Carlos Colmenarez (No. 11), Nationals shortstop Armando Cruz (No. 8), Mets outfielder Simon Juan (No. 13) and Twins right-hander Brayan Medina (No. 12). You can find detailed scouting reports for all these players with our organization Top 30 Prospects lists.
Jackson Chourio, what are you hearing/seeing? -- @ullsperj
I'm not sure there's any player in Single-A drawing more raves right now than Chourio (No. 9), an outfielder whom the Brewers signed for $1.8 million out of Venezuela in January 2021. After a fine debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League last summer, he skipped a level and is batting .346/.395/.548 with 15 extra-base hits in 25 games as the youngest player (age 18) in the Carolina League.
Chourio is impressing scouts in so many ways. His ability to recognize pitches and command the strike zone is extremely advanced for his age, and from a physical standpoint, his bat speed, projectable strength and foot speed are all impressive. He should be able to stick in center field, and his only tool that doesn't stand out is a fringy arm that's certainly playable up the middle.
How high is Brandon Walter's ceiling? Is he a high floor/mid ceiling guy? -- @Lmbclean
Walter's (No. 8) ceiling is a lot higher than it appeared when the Red Sox signed him for $35,000 after taking him in the 26th round of the 2019 Draft as a Delaware redshirt junior. The left-hander had a nondescript pro debut that summer, lost the 2020 season to the pandemic but came back last year with improved stuff. He has added velocity to his fastball (now 92-97 mph) and his slider (now in the low-80s with a ton of horizontal action) and also has a low-80s changeup with tumble.
Walter got knocked around in his first Triple-A start on Thursday but still ranks second in the Minors in K/BB ratio (70/4 in 51 2/3 innings). He has a high floor because his slider alone should make him at least a useful reliever, and his combination of stuff and strike-throwing gives him the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
What's the rationale for ranking Jacob Berry over Gavin Cross? -- @brian_recca
Louisiana State third baseman/outfielder Berry is No. 7 and Virginia Tech outfielder Cross is No. 9 on our recently updated Draft Top 200, so there's not a huge separation between the two. I prefer Berry because he offers the best combination of hitting ability, power and plate discipline in this year's college crop. There are some position questions but I had a scout give me a switch-hitting Andrew Vaughn comp earlier this year and I like it.
It's true that Berry's exit velocities have been fairly ordinary this spring, while Cross hits the ball as hard as just about anyone in the college class. Cross is more athletic than Berry and has a chance to play center field, though both could wind up on outfield corners.