The Rule 5 Draft is coming next week at the Winter Meetings, but I have Rule 4 Draft fever. Hence the leadoff question in the latest edition of the Pipeline Inbox . . .
With the No. 1 pick in the 2024 Draft, the Royals select . . . ? -- Marty J., St. Joseph, Mo.
Not so fast, my friend. Until MLB conducts the Draft Lottery next Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, we won’t know who will get the No. 1 overall pick. Along with the Athletics and Rockies, the Royals have the best chance of any club -- but it’s only an 18.3 percent chance.
Whichever team gets the first selection will have seven months to figure it out and may need most of that time to do so. Based on this year’s crop of talent, it’s highly likely that a college position player will go No. 1, but no one has established himself as a clear frontrunner at this point.
Wake Forest first baseman Nick Kurtz, West Virginia shortstop JJ Wetherholt and Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana are the leading candidates as of now. My best guess is Kurtz, whose combination of hitting ability, power and control of the strike zone should allow him to make the greatest offensive impact of any player available. While he doesn’t add a lot of positional value, he does play a fine first base.
What prospect outside the top 100 will make the biggest jump this season? -- @ChiSoxJRod
I’m still missing the Arizona Fall League two weeks after the season ended, so the first player who comes to mind is Cubs second baseman James Triantos. He hit .417/.495/.679 to earn AFL Offensive Player of the Year accolades, showing off the impressive bat-to-ball skills that earned him an over-slot $2.1 million bonus as a 2021 second-round pick from a Virginia high school.
With the usual caveats that the Fall League favors hitters and represents a small sample size, the Cubs' No. 9 prospect made encouraging progress with his power, plate discipline and aggressiveness on the bases. His defensive home remains a question but he’s poised for a breakout year in 2024 and I could see him ranking in the upper half of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list by the end of the season.
We discussed this topic on the latest Pipeline Podcast, with Jonathan Mayo opting for No. 4 Mariners prospect, shortstop Colt Emerson, a 2023 first-rounder whose profile is similar to Triantos'. Other players who could make a jump next year include No. 5 Red Sox prospect, outfielder Miguel Bleis, No. 6 Mets prospect, outfielder/first baseman Ryan Clifford and Astros top prospect, outfielder Jacob Melton.
If the Red Sox catching situation remains the same, where do you see Kyle Teel ranking in their catching depth order? Is there a chance we see him in the big leagues in 24? -- @a_j_s0250
Teel lasting until the Red Sox pounced on him with the 14th overall pick looks like one of the steals of 2023’s first round. The Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year broke into pro ball by hitting .363/.482/.495 with 21 walks in 26 games while advancing to Double-A.
The club's No. 4 prospect has a selective approach and drives the ball to all fields from the left side of the plate. He could hit .275 with 20 homers per season, and he also frames pitches well while displaying plus arm strength behind the plate.
Boston currently has a big league catching tandem of Connor Wong and Reese McGuire, so Teel could become their best backstop option in the very near future. He needs some more development time, but it the Red Sox are in contention and Teel is ready, they could turn to him during the second half of the 2024 season.
How much could a guy like Roderick Arias progress next year? Very toolsy player who could fly up the ladder. -- @RyanJackNYY
MLB Pipeline’s top-rated prospect in the 2022 international class, Arias could start soaring up prospect rankings when he moves to full season ball at age 19 next season. He batted .267/.423/.505 with six homers and 17 steals in 27 games this year in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League before an injury to his right hand ended his U.S. debut.
The No. 7 Yankees prospect is a switch-hitter with 20-20 upside and made impressive strides with his strike-zone management this summer. He also has plus speed and well above-average arm strength, leaving no doubt about his ability to remain at shortstop. It’s not out of the question that he could join the Top 100 list and rank as the Yankees’ top prospect by the end of 2024.