Inbox: Exciting full-season debuts, ranking Arias

February 17th, 2022

Opening Day is almost upon us. College Opening Day, that is.

The NCAA Division I schedule kicks off on Friday and I'm looking forward to being part of the broadcast team for the annual MLB4 tournament. Stephen Nelson, Dan O'Dowd and I will call games between California and Houston (3 p.m. ET) and San Diego State and Texas Christian (7 p.m. ET) on MLB Network.

Which 2021 draftee (or international signee) are you most excited to see make his full-season debut?
-- @WBoor

I'm most excited to see Jack Leiter, who went No. 2 overall to the Rangers, for a few reasons.

Not only will it be Leiter's full-season debut but also his pro debut because he didn't pitch after signing for a franchise-record $7,922,000. He was the most dominant pitcher in college baseball last spring at Vanderbilt, where he no-hit South Carolina in his first Southeastern Conference start and tied for the D-I strikeout lead (179 in 110 innings), and I want to see how his repertoire translates against pro hitters. He's the favorite to be the first 2021 draftee to reach the big leagues and his performance will give us a better idea of how quickly that might happen.

Shoutout to Pipeline teammate Will Boor for a fine question!

What does Luis Matos need to do to start next season as a Top 10 prospect in MLB?
-- @Riflejackson212

Matos rose to No. 77 on our end-of-season 2021 Top 100 Prospects list, will rank higher when we reveal our 2022 rankings and is equipped to soar into the top 10 a year from now.

Signed by the Giants for $725,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, Matos is one of the best pure hitters in the Minors. He won Low-A West MVP honors while batting .313/.359/.495 with 15 homers and 21 steals in 109 games. He possesses solid speed and similar upside as a defender in center field.

Whether Matos makes the 2022 Top 10 probably depends on how much his power continues to develop. His bat speed, knack for barreling balls and developing strength give him 20-25 homer potential. The closer he gets to achieving that, the further he'll move up the list.

Can you talk about Forrest Whitley a bit? About 10 months after TJ and looking solid last spring, does he have a legitimate chance to make the Astros rotation come June/July? Was so highly touted and now never gets discussed.
-- @LappyEnding

Whitley reached Double-A in 2017, a year after graduating from high school, but still has yet to surface in the Majors. He once ranked as the game's best pitching prospect but became more of an enigma following a series of injuries and some command issues, then had Tommy John surgery last March. He should return to game action by June after missing all of last season.

All five of my in-person looks at Whitley came in the Arizona Fall League in 2018 and 2019, and he was impressive each time I saw him while topping the developmental circuit in strikeouts both seasons. He has five different pitches that can grade as plus or better when they're on, with his 92-99 mph fastball and lively mid-80s changeup ranking ahead of his low-80s curveball, mid-80s slider and low-90s cutter.

Whitley's command lagged behind the quality of his stuff before his Tommy John surgery, and command usually takes a while to come back following elbow reconstructions. I doubt we'll see him in Houston's rotation this year, but it's possible he could contribute as a reliever later in the year and push for a starting job in 2023 if all goes well.

Where do you rank Roderick Arias among the prospects in this year's MLB Draft?
-- @StevieDAles97

Ranked No. 1 on our International Top 50, Arias is a Dominican shortstop who signed with the Yankees for $4 million. He's a switch-hitter with advanced skills at the plate, solid power and speed, huge arm strength and plus defensive ability at shortstop.

Compared to the infielders in the 2022 Draft class, Arias is similar offensively to Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee (No. 5 on our Draft Top 100), but he's faster and significantly better defensively. Just 17, Arias would be the equivalent of a high school junior, so he'd be younger and more unproven than the rest of the crop. Even if you discounted him significantly because of that added risk, he still could go as high as No. 3 overall and it's hard to imagine him lasting more than 10 picks.