These prospects could see a meteoric rise

February 25th, 2021

Ahhh, Spring Training. That time of year when all things seem possible. And while that kind of euphoric optimism might still be hard to come by these days, even altered Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules have to put a spring in our collective steps, right?

After a 2020 in which we didn’t get to see most of the game's top prospects play any kind of baseball, for us in Pipeline land, it’s really exciting just to see things like Spencer Torkelson take an early BP. The idea of seeing players from the Top 100 get some at-bats and some innings, even in early exhibition action, seems really normal.

It’s a sign of the season to come, just like the rollout out of our Top 30 team lists. Which leads us to the first question in this week’s Inbox, which we also discussed on this week’s Pipeline Podcast.

When will the organizational Top 30s come out?
-- @bookiewood

It might surprise you to find out that this is not the first time either Jim Callis or myself have gotten this query when putting out the call for questions. Sometimes we even get it when we haven’t asked. And we know people are eager to see the lists. So I’ll answer it again, just like we did on the podcast. And will again when someone asks.

The rollout of our Top 30 lists will begin on Monday, March 8. We’ll go a division a day for any team not in the top 10 of our farm system rankings (which will get posted AFTER all the Top 30s are out). It will be a two-week rollout, going division by division, then teams 10-9, 8-7, 6-5-4, 3-2-1 on Tuesday-Friday of week 2.

Which player outside the Top 100 could we see having a meteoric rise after missing all of last season due to the pandemic?
-- @ericshoulerr

I’m going to throw a couple of big, young shortstops at you. And keep in mind that while they officially missed the 2020 season, they did play at their teams’ alternate sites and/or in instructional league play. The first is Gunnar Henderson, whom Orioles farm director Matt Blood described as the most exciting guy at the alternate site last summer. He doesn’t turn 20 until the end of June, but has an outstanding left-handed swing with power to spare, and while he’s big at 6-foot-3, he’s super athletic with every chance to stick at shortstop.

The Mariners’ Noelvi Marte, like Henderson, was the youngest player at his team’s alternate site. He’ll be just 19 for all of 2021 and has yet to officially play in the United States. He understandably scuffled production-wise at the alternate site, but carried those lessons with him to a very successful instructs, setting the stage for what could be an exciting U.S. debut.

Which players from the last few Drafts are looking to be the biggest steals?

I’m going to put these into two categories: The established-big-leaguer category and the still-on-prospect-lists category. And I’ll start with the former simply by perusing the Top 100 list. There are four who fit this category (which I’m defining as anyone not taken in the top three rounds):

Tarik Skubal, LHP, Tigers (No. 24 on Top 100): Taken in the ninth round of the 2018 Draft largely because Tommy John surgery wiped out most of 2016 and all of 2017 for the left-hander, Skubal is making the Tigers look smart for having gone over slot to sign him as he’s now the No. 2 lefty pitching prospect in baseball.

Sam Huff, C, Rangers (No. 78): Huff was a seventh-round pick out of the Arizona high school ranks in 2016 and it took him a little while to get going (not uncommon for high school catchers). But he broke out in 2019 with 28 homers and Futures Game MVP honors and his power showed up in his big league debut last year as well.

Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B, Red Sox (No. 93): No. 6 on the Top 10 third baseman list, Dalbec was a fourth-rounder in 2016 after struggling offensively at Arizona in his junior year, leading some to worry about his ability to get to his power. A total of 59 homers combined in 2018-19 and eight big league home runs in 80 ABs say he’ll be just fine.

Jordan Balazovic, RHP, Twins (No. 97): The Canadian high schooler went in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft as a thin and projectable right-hander. He’s grown two inches and added a ton of strength, with all of his stuff ticking up as a result. He got added to the 40-man roster this past offseason.

Man, that 2016 Draft was good for late-round finds, right? And there’s even more. Shane Bieber was taken in the same round as Dalbec that year and won the American League Cy Young Award last year. Cavan Biggio went in the fifth round to the Blue Jays, while Tommy Edman was the Cardinals’ sixth-rounder in ’16. Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin was a ninth-rounder and the Indians took Zach Plesac in the 12th round. (Add in the fact they got James Karinchak in the ninth round in 2017 and it’s clear the Indians are very good at finding talent on the mound in later rounds.). In other words, when looking for Draft steals, check out the Class of 2016.

What is your expectation for the three players-to-be-named-later the Red Sox will receive and do you have an idea of what kind of prospects they’ll be (i.e., tier 1, tier 2, tier 3)?
-- @ajamirr

This is the other question that was answered on the Podcast, so be sure to check that out, especially since we started talking about Jim’s classifications of “dude, guy, body” in terms of prospects. Jim took on this question since he does the Red Sox Top 30 list each year, so I’m going to paraphrase what he said.

His understanding is that it’s two players to be named from the Royals and one coming from the Mets. (He was right in that assessment.) And he’s not expecting any top-10 prospects to come over in the end, instead believing it to be more middle-of-the-list kind of guys. So that would make them “guys” and not “dudes,” perhaps. The thinking is that the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to the Royals will net the Red Sox three “guys,” in addition to Josh Winckowski, who also qualifies as a “guy.” Not “dudes,” but better than “bodies.”