Inbox: Top 100 prospects; make-or-break years

February 11th, 2021

Every week on the Pipeline Podcast, we pick out a question or two sent in for Inbox consideration and answer it in the pod.

For this week's Inbox, Jim Callis and I dug deep into the mailbag and answered several of your questions. Be sure to listen to the entirety of this week’s pod, because we covered some fun stuff, like prospects we’ve whiffed on over the years, but you can also read below a synopsis of how we answered your questions this week.

We’d love to keep the extended mailbag segment going for future podcasts. So keep an eye out for whenever Jim (@JimCallisMLB) or I (@JonathanMayo) tweet out a call for questions!

Why did Ryan Weathers fall off the Top 100 after his playoff performance?
-- @bartsim31678834

Ryan Weathers has plus command, 2 plus secondaries, and has a velo jump from 90-92 to 94-96.

How does this man not make the Top 100?
-- @FriarBad

We’re still continuing to get questions about the Top 100, so be sure to tune in to the MLB Network Top 10 show on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. ET! As for Weathers, he didn’t miss by much. It’s not official, but a strong argument could be made that he’d be our No. 101 guy, as his name certainly came up a lot in our conversations.

That said, we do want to provide a word of caution about the two questions. The first is tying Top 100 status to Weathers’ playoff experience. It was one outing, an inning and a third, so we’re certainly not going to base any ranking on just that. If we were, we’d have to give him 30 control, right, since he walked two for a 13.5 BB/9 rate? You get the point.

As for the other breakdown of his gains stuff-wise, he definitely took a step forward in 2020 during his time at the Padres’ alternate site. But that also was a smaller sample size and not in real competition. I think we’d like to see Weathers do it over the course of a real season before we completely buy in, but I expect him to pitch his way onto the list quickly in 2021.

Which player that did not make the Top 100 do you believe is poised for a huge break out season. My bet is on Jordyn Adams of the Angels.
-- @Chapdaddy76

Adams is a great choice. And we have a "just missed” choice for each team on the site currently. On the podcast, I went with Pirates shortstop prospect Liover Peguero. The Pirates got him from the D-backs in last year’s Starling Marte trade after a 2019 United States debut that saw him hit .326/.382/.485 with 11 steals across two levels of rookie ball. He performed very well against much older and more advanced competition at Pittsburgh’s alternate site in 2020.

Jim’s choice was Michael Busch of the Dodgers, who was one of the best college bats in the 2019 Draft class. He has a very intriguing combination of hitting ability, power and plate discipline that should get him to the big leagues quickly. He’s become a better athlete and has a chance to stick at second base, which could be a really good fit.

Who are some guys in make or break years? And your projections of how their careers end up. I’m thinking guys like Desmond Lindsay, Austin Beck, Kody Clemens.
-- @Todd9115

There are so many ways we could go with this question, and don’t be surprised if we eventually break this out into one of our “one for each team” features. Both Jim and I decided to do a Top 100 version of an answer.

I went with Oneil Cruz, who comes in at No. 64 on our new Top 100. The Pirates 6-foot-7 shortstop still has as much raw power as perhaps anyone in the Minors and has tremendous offensive upside while somehow not having played his way off of shortstop yet (we think a corner outfield spot is likely his eventual home). But even though he had a solid 2018 season, made it to Double-A in 2019 (despite an injury) and is only 22, there are some question marks. He was lost, and looked disinterested, in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, and his focus and work ethic will have to improve for him to reach his ceiling.

Jim’s choice was Forrest Whitley, who is No. 41 on the list. Both Jim and I have seen Whitley completely dominate in the Arizona Fall League, twice. We’ve never actually seen him bad. But injuries and a drug-related suspension kept him off the mound quite a bit and he struggled with command as well. The Astros ran through just about every viable pitching prospect during the 2020 season, but Whitley surprisingly wasn’t one of them, partially because of some elbow soreness. He still has frontline starter stuff and he’s only 23, so there’s time, but he needs to get up to the big leagues and show he can do it there.

The recent recipients of the first 80-grade hit tools ever are both in the last 5 years. Would you say this is due to coincidentally generational talents, or over time has scouting become more accurate/confident?
-- @nickwillisjr

Nick, of course, is talking about current No. 1 prospect Wander Franco and former No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. I think we ended up with a little bit of a both/and answer here. We agree that this is a case of generational talents, at least in terms of showing of skills with the bat at a very young age. Time will tell if it’s more than just these two players and if there’s a trend for young hitters to be this advanced a bit more regularly.

At the same time, I do think there is a bit more of an appetite to hand out top-of-the-scale grades than there used to be. I think you’d find some scouts who will never give out an 80 grade, especially not on a hit tool, or that’s only reserved for the best player in the game. Ever. It’s like a teacher who’ll never give anyone 100 percent on a test or paper. Now, it’s not like 80s are going to be handed out willy-nilly, but I think there’s more of a willingness.

In retrospect, maybe Mike Trout should have gotten one (though his strikeout rate would make one pause). Juan Soto is another that comes to mind, though he zoomed through the Minors so fast. A .295 average isn’t an 80 in the big leagues, but he’s crazy young and could get there. Nick Madrigal, from a contact standpoint, might be an 80, but the concern about lack of impact held us back.