Inbox: Why Álvarez over Henderson at No. 1?

August 25th, 2022

The Top 100 Prospects list is updated. All of our organization Top 30s are revamped. The new farm system rankings are out. We finally can catch our breath at MLB Pipeline, though I'm already counting down the days until the start of the Arizona Fall League season (40).

Let's answer some of your questions ...

Why is [Francisco] Álvarez ranked above [Gunnar] Henderson? -- @gunnar_henderson_collector (Instagram)

Mets catcher Francisco Álvarez is No. 1 on our new Top 100, followed by Orioles shortstop/third baseman Gunnar Henderson. It really comes down to a matter of taste because both are worthy of ranking as the game's best prospect, as is Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll, whom we have at No. 3.

I voted for Álvarez because of his hitting ability, plus-plus power -- that's plus-plus usable pop, not plus-plus raw pop -- and the positional value that comes with being a catcher. I just as easily could have opted for Henderson, who may be the best pure hitter of the trio and could have at least solid tools across the board if he winds up at third base. Carroll was tempting too, because he may have the best all-around tools of the group.

It's a very similar situation to the beginning of the season, when Bobby Witt Jr., Adley Rutschman and Julio Rodríguez ranked 1-2-3 in that order atop the Top 100. Rutschman was my personal choice then, with his position a significant factor. He's a better hitter and defender than Álvarez and the best catching prospect I've seen in three-plus decades on this beat.

Is Dylan Crews the clear first college bat off the board [in 2023]? How big is the gap to who's next? -- @calscards (Instagram)

Crews, who batted .349/.463/.691 with 22 homers in 62 games as a Louisiana State sophomore this spring, is the top college position prospect at this moment. His power and his hitting ability are his most attractive tools, and he also has a chance to stick in center field and the arm to profile in right.

Crews' stock took a slight hit when he batted .158 with a 30 percent strikeout rate in a dozen games with the U.S. collegiate national team this summer, so he's not a slam dunk to be the first college bat drafted next July. Other contenders include Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford, Grand Canyon shortstop Jacob Wilson, Mississippi shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield and Texas Christian third baseman Brayden Taylor.

Is Tanner Bibee close to your top 100? I feel like he's better than [Brandon] Pfaadt already. -- @JonT187827

As we discussed on the latest Pipeline Podcast, few pitchers have raised their profiles as much this season as Bibee. Known for pounding the strike zone with fairly pedestrian stuff at Cal State Fullerton, the right-hander got the rest of the summer off after signing with the Guardians as a fifth-round pick last July. He's making his pro debut this year and it has been spectacular: 2.10 ERA (fifth in the Minors), .219 opponent average, 128/20 K/BB ratio (sixth) in 102 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

Not only are Bibee's numbers eye-popping, but his improvements with his fastball and slider have been as well. After operating with a 90-93 mph fastball and peaking at 95 in college, he's now dealing at 93-97 mph and touching 99. His sweeping slider has climbed into the mid-80s and looks like a future plus pitch.

Bibee also can miss bats with a fading changeup in the low 80s and mixes in an upper-70s curveball with depth. He's not too far off the Top 100, though 2022 first-round outfielder Chase DeLauter would be the next Guardian I'd add to the list.

The Astros have recently had success in developing some under the radar prospects. Who are some similar guys that Astros fans can look out for in the future? -- @AstrosRhetoric

The Astros just placed 29th in our biannual farm rankings for the fourth straight time, but they also have a longer and more notable streak going. They've played in the last five American League Championship Series, in part because their system keeps coming up with unheralded prospects to plug holes, such as Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia and Chas McCormick. Jeremy Peña barely ever snuck onto our Top 100 and he has capably replaced Carlos Correa at a fraction of the cost.

Houston just called up infielder David Hensley, a 26th-round senior sign for $1,000 in 2018, and he's a versatile defender who gets on base and displays gap power. Catcher Yainer Diaz is hitting the ball harder and showing defensive improvement since arriving in the 2021 Myles Straw trade with the Guardians, and he soon could be getting regular at-bats in the big leagues.

Slugging outfielder Justin Dirden, a fifth-year senior/nondrafted free agent, could get a call to Houston soon. Polished right-hander Jayden Murray, part of the three-team Trey Mancini deal in July, could help as a multi-inning reliever in the near future.

I didn't include right-hander Hunter Brown, who's ready to help the Astros, in this discussion because he's on the Top 100 list and thus not under the radar. I'll leave you with one more name: outfielder Colin Barber, who's in High-A but has 20-20 potential and Top 100 upside if he can stay healthy.