Ranking the best player matchups we'll see at Spring Breakout

March 14th, 2024

Some of the best Spring Training matchups don’t come in the Cactus or Grapefruit League. They’re on the backfields, where prospects square off away from the bright lights and sharpen their tools against each other as they work to be the future stars of the game.

This year, Spring Breakout brings those battles to the main stages of Arizona and Florida.

The four-day exhibition series -- to be held tonight through Sunday across Spring Training stadiums in both states -- is designed to give each farm system’s top prospects a large spotlight before the season ahead. By putting them on the same field, it’s a chance to preview matchups we could see for a long time down the road in The Show.

With that in mind, here are the prospect pairings we’re most interested in seeing in this year’s Spring Breakout games.

1. Jackson Holliday, SS/2B (BAL No. 1, MLB No. 1) vs. Paul Skenes, RHP (PIT No. 1, MLB No. 3)
Come on, there could only be one matchup at the top. The two most recent No. 1 overall picks could take the same field in Bradenton, Fla., tonight in the Florida opener of the Spring Breakout, and while no pitcher-batter matchup is guaranteed, it sure would be a treat to see Holliday leading off against Skenes right from the jump a second time after the right-hander got the infielder to ground out earlier this spring. Holliday's advanced approach would provide a lovely test for Skenes' triple-digit fastball and plus-plus slider. Think of it as the Breakout’s answer to last year’s Ohtani-Trout World Baseball Classic showdown.

2. Colson Montgomery, SS (CWS No. 1, MLB No. 9) vs. Cade Horton, RHP (CHC No. 2, MLB No. 26)
Chicago loves its bragging rights, so all sides of the Windy City should be keeping close tabs if Montgomery and Horton cross paths in the Arizona desert on Friday. Montgomery brings Corey Seager comparisons as a tall, left-handed-hitting shortstop with plus hit and power tools to the table, while Horton can counteract that with a 94-96 mph fastball and wipeout slider.

3. Ethan Salas, C (SD No. 1, MLB No. 8) vs. Harry Ford, C (SEA No. 2, MLB No. 38)
Catchers. Get your catchers, here. Ford knows a thing or two about making the most of the big stage after competing for Team Great Britain in last year’s World Baseball Classic and European Baseball Championship, and his above-average power could feature nicely in the middle of Seattle’s lineup. Meanwhile, this Friday game will be a nice showcase for Salas coming off his breakout age-17 season in which he climbed to Double-A. His impressive receiving skills alone would be an asset to his fellow Padres prospects.

4. Junior Caminero, 3B/SS (TB No. 1, MLB No. 4) vs. Brooks Lee, SS (MIN No. 2, MLB No. 18)
Both had an eye on Major League competitions this spring, and though they're both likely to open the season in Triple-A, the two infielders could be absolute stars in Saturday's exhibition in Fort Myers. After hitting 31 Minor League homers on his way to Tampa Bay's postseason roster, Caminero brings some of the best in-game power to the inaugural Breakout series, and Lee shows an advanced approach and solid contact skills that have many raving about his tools from both sides of the dish. They are both blocked a bit positionally on their way to full-time roles in The Show, but they'll easily take center stage here.

5. Dylan Crews, OF (WSH No. 1, MLB No. 7) vs. Jett Williams, SS/OF (NYM No. 1, MLB No. 45)
Like his former LSU teammate Skenes, Crews will garner plenty of attention in his first Spring Training as the face of the Nationals system, and his plus-plus hit tool and plus power could make him a Major League option as early as Opening Day. As part of its rebuild, Washington will want to keep Crews in front of fans, so expect him to start on Friday. As for the Mets, potential division rivals Luisangel Acuña or Drew Gilbert could be good foils for Crews, but we’ll go with Williams -- a true up-the-middle talent with plus speed and an approach that could be a menace to Washington pitching in March and well beyond.

6. Jordan Lawlar, SS (AZ No. 1, MLB No. 11) vs. Adael Amador, SS (COL No. 1, MLB No. 28)
Could this be the future of the shortstop position in the NL West? It will certainly feel like it on Saturday at Salt River Fields. Lawlar made Arizona’s World Series roster last fall as a 21-year-old because he could provide plus-plus speed, a good glove and promising power off the bench. Those tools will take center stage in this Breakout contest. Amador has plus pure hitting ability with a career .292 average in the Minor Leagues, and the switch-hitter’s advanced approach should be valuable against Arizona arms.

7. Justin Crawford, OF (PHI No. 3, MLB No. 77) vs. Max Clark, OF (DET No. 1, MLB No. 13)
There could be a ton of speed on display in Lakeland on Saturday. Crawford swiped 47 bags in only 87 games between Single-A and High-A in his first full season, second-most in the Phillies organization despite some missed time. Clark is a 70-grade runner in his own right who will be out to make waves in his first taste of Spring Training as the 2023 No. 3 overall pick. Consider yourselves warned, backstops.

8. Jacob Misiorowski, RHP (MIL No. 2, MLB No. 33) vs. Blake Mitchell, C (KC No. 1, MLB No. 94)
Welcome to your first Spring Training, kid. The Royals are understandably excited about their 2023 first-rounder’s coming full-season debut, given his plus raw power and immense arm strength behind the plate, but he’ll have his hands full if he gets an at-bat against Misiorowski on Sunday. The top Milwaukee pitching prospect has some of the most wicked stuff in the Minors with an upper-90s fastball and plus-plus slider, and he should be a handful for any Kansas City prospect in this showcase environment.

9. Masyn Winn, SS (STL No. 1, MLB No. 43) vs. Noble Meyer (MIA No. 1, MLB No. 57)
Flip that narrative from the last matchup here. On Friday, it’s the arm just getting going against a more advanced bat. Meyer was the top prep arm selected last year when he went 10th overall to Miami, and he’ll bring a 94-97 mph fastball and high-spin slider to the table against the Marlins’ cross-facility rivals. That said, he needs his best stuff against Winn, who got 122 at-bats in the Majors last season. The St. Louis shortstop is expected to win the Opening Day job, thanks in part to his impressive defense and rocket arm, but he might have a little extra motivation to blow away the prospect competition after the club’s recent signing of Brandon Crawford.

10. Spencer Jones, OF (NYY No. 2, MLB No. 84) vs. Arjun Nimmala, SS (TOR No. 3)
Let’s end with some fireworks. Jones garnered plenty of attention when he teed off on a 470-foot homer on Feb. 24. No dinger measured by Statcast this spring has gone farther, tied with a similar shot from the human highlight machine Elly De La Cruz. At 6-foot-6, Jones will stand out on any field, and with his improved discipline in Yankees camp, he could make a massive Breakout impact. On Saturday, the Blue Jays will bring plenty of young pop as well with Nimmala. The 18-year-old is set to make his full-season debut with the organization after playing in just nine games last year in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League, but is already considered the most exciting long-term project in the system right now. He'll have an amazing stage to put that promising raw power on display.