MLB Pipeline will reveal its 2022 Top 100 Prospects list on Friday, with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. Leading up to the release of the Top 100, we'll examine baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
Ke’Bryan Hayes and Isaac Paredes have graduated. Spencer Torkelson and Nolan Gorman have new primary positions. Jonathan India graduated, found a new position and won a National League Rookie of the Year award. MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the Top 10 third-base prospects looks a whole lot different than it did a year ago. It’s amazing what can happen when Minor League games are actually played, right?
Brett Baty takes the crown as the biggest name at the hot corner, picking up where he left off from last year’s midseason update. He is joined by Mark Vientos to give the Mets two representatives on the Top 10, making New York the only organization with multiple players here.
Guardians prospect Nolan Jones is among this group for the fourth straight season, dating back to 2019, but likely won’t see a fifth. He is one seven third basemen on this year’s list with a 2022 estimated time of arrival.
The Top 10 (ETA)
Hit: Baty, Jung, Vargas, Mead (60)
Jung, Vargas and Mead all have career Minor League averages of .310 or better, and even though Baty’s stands at just .271, he has the clean swing and proper approach to bump up that number as his sample size expands. (For what it’s worth, he hit .309 in 51 games at High-A Brooklyn prior to a midseason promotion.) Mead is the only one here who might not see the Majors in 2022, but don’t rule out his bat pushing him to an aggressive assignment from Tampa Bay.
Power: Walker (65)
The 2020 21st overall pick was already considered to have some of the best power in his Draft class. Then, he produced multiple exit velocities above 100 mph to begin his first full season and topped out at 116.2 mph (a similar high to those put up by Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. among other Major Leaguers) during his time with Palm Beach. Using every bit of his 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame, the Cardinals masher finished with 14 homers and a .548 slugging percentage over 82 games at Low-A and High-A. Thirty-plus homers at the top level seem well within reach.
Run: De La Cruz (60)
It isn’t often that you see a 60 runner at the hot corner, so it’s worth noting that De La Cruz also saw ample time at shortstop in 2021 (more on that later). Listed at 6-foot-2, 150 pounds, the Reds infielder is bigger than that now but still possesses burning speed that could lead to more steals as he climbs the ladder. De La Cruz swiped 10 bags in 15 attempts in the Arizona Complex League and Low-A last season.
Arm: Baty, De La Cruz, Jones, Vientos, Montero (60)
Half of our Top 10 earned plus grades for their arms, and that shouldn’t come as any surprise, given the needs of their position. All five have seen time at other spots on the diamond, but it’s their abilities to fire the farthest infield throws across the diamond that keep them coming back to third.
Field: De La Cruz (55)
Circling back to De La Cruz’s glove, the 20-year-old already shows impressive defensive actions at both short and third. That starts with his athletic ability to cover ground and includes the use of solid, steady hands. He could be above-average at either spot (or even center if he moves there), and he only qualifies here instead of short because of starts made in 2021 (34 vs. 23).
Highest ceiling: Baty
Eight members of our Top 100 received at least 60 grades for both their hit and power tools. Only one of them was a primary third baseman. Baty already pounds the ball all over the field with a sweet left-handed swing, takes his walks and shows a capable glove at the hot corner. He puts the ball on the ground a little too much at this stage, but catch him launch rockets during batting practice and you’ll see the easy slugging ability. The future of the Mets’ hot corner is closing in on Queens.
Highest floor: Jung
The 2019 eighth overall pick has hit everywhere he’s been, from Texas Tech to the 2020 alternate site to Double-A/Triple-A last year. The fact he’s been able to make quality adjustments (namely tapping more into his power with increased launch angle) speaks to how well he should be able to tackle the game’s highest level, and it could point to even more pop to come. As a 40 runner, he may not provide huge value defensively, but the bat could make him a longtime Major Leaguer.
Rookie of the Year candidate: Miranda
The easy pick was Jung. That was until Feb. 23, when he underwent shoulder surgery that's expected to keep him out until August. Instead, we’ll stay in the AL with Miranda. The 2016 73rd overall pick looks Major League-ready with the bat after hitting .343/.397/.563 with 17 homers in 80 games with Triple-A St. Paul last season. The trouble is, where do the Twins play the 23-year-old masher with a plus hit tool and above-average pop? He has seen time at three infield spots (all but shortstop), and his limited range makes him a long shot to unseat the newly acquired Gio Urshela at his natural position of third. Of anyone in this group, Miranda is still best equipped to help out a Major League team offensively right away, and even as a utilityman, he might get enough at-bats and do enough damage to warrant ROY consideration.
Highest riser: De La Cruz
The Dominican Republic native signed with Cincinnati in July 2018 and was a solid, if not dominant performer in the DSL the following season. The 2020 pandemic delayed his breakout, but when it came, it came in a big way with a .296/.336/.538 combined line at the Arizona Complex League and Low-A. As such, De La Cruz, who wasn’t ranked among the Reds’ Top 30 prospects to begin 2021, is now a Top 100 prospect for the first time.
Humblest beginning: De La Cruz
De La Cruz signed for $65,000 back in 2018, making him the only Top 10 third baseman with a five-figure bonus. Curtis Mead, who originally signed with the Phillies out of his native Australia in November 2017, was closest at $200,000.
Most to prove: Jones
It felt like 2021 was going to be the season of the 2016 second-rounder’s ascension. It didn’t quite work that way. Jones hit .238/.356/.431 with 13 homers in 99 games at Triple-A Columbus and dropped out of the Top 100 list. While he possesses plus power potential and has a good walk rate, the left-handed slugger can get too passive at times, leading to an unhealthy amount of strikeouts. José Ramírez could be on the trading block soon, but if he is moved, Cleveland might want signs that Jones is ready to take his place at third. Making more contact and finding better ways to incorporate his raw pop would be good starts.
Keep an eye on: Rece Hinds, Reds
A torn meniscus caused the 2019 second-rounder to miss two months in the second half of last season. Otherwise, we may have been talking him up somewhere in the back half of this list. Hinds has shown plus-plus raw power dating back to his prep days and was making the most of it in 2021 with 10 homers and a .515 slugging percentage in 43 games at Low-A. He also showcases a plus arm. Swing-and-miss issues and his potential future defensive home cloud Hinds’ profile for the moment, but a loud and healthy 2022 could give Cincinnati a second Top 10 third-base prospect.