Prospect debuts we're excited to see in 2023
The 2022 season was an exciting one for Major League debuts. Twelve Top 100 prospects began the campaign on Opening Day rosters, including three of the top five in Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodríguez and Spencer Torkelson. Others who followed in their footsteps with later bows -- like National League Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II and American League ROY runner-up Adley Rutschman -- kept the train coming with talent. The steady stream of big names making an impression in The Show is something we'll definitely remember from this year in baseball.
With any luck, 2023 will be no different.
Just before the calendar flips to the new year, let’s look at the top-prospect debuts we’re most excited to see in the Majors next season.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Yosver Zulueta, RHP (No. 5)
Zulueta’s upper-90s fastball and impressive slider likely would have gotten him a spot with the Blue Jays late last year if not for shoulder/knee issues that knocked him out for much of August and some control concerns after his return to Double-A/Triple-A in September. Still, he finished with a career-high 55 2/3 innings and after being added to the 40-man roster this month, he has an outside shot to make the club out of Spring Training. Even if he doesn’t, that mix of high-end velocity and decent offspeed stuff will likely be too good to keep him down for long.
Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 4)
The Orioles gave us Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson in the big leagues in 2022 (Henderson is still a rookie for 2023!). Rodriguez likely would have joined them if not for a lat strain, but assuming health, look for his four-pitch mix (three of them plus) and plus command to make a huge impact as Baltimore continues to move towards contention in the AL East.
Rays: Curtis Mead, 3B/2B (No. 2/MLB No. 35)
Taj Bradley would also be a great shout here, but we’ll lean on the Australian infielder who will almost certainly hit his way to St. Petersburg in the first half. A career .306 hitter in the Minors, Mead continues to add power as he develops from his simple upright stance, and his moving around from third to second to first at times fits the Tampa Bay mold quite well.
Red Sox: Ceddane Rafaela, OF/SS (No. 3/MLB No. 96)
Rafaela might be the best defender in the Minors -- he's outstanding all over the diamond -- and could fill a hole in the infield or outfield depending on how the Red Sox wind up replacing Xander Bogaerts. Signed for just $10,000 out of Curacao in 2017, he's listed at 5-foot-8 and 182 pounds but has sneaky power and plus speed. He hit .299/.342/.538 with 21 homers and 28 steals in 116 games between High-A and Double-A.
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 5)
Coming off the first 20-homer, 50-steal season in the Minors since Andruw Jones in 1995, Volpe should be starting somewhere in the Yankees' middle infield at some point this season. The 2019 first-rounder from a New Jersey high school continues to improve his tools and get the most out of him with his high baseball IQ.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Daniel Espino, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 15)
Though Espino made just four Double-A starts in 2022 while dealing with tendinitis in his left knee and soreness in his right shoulder, there's no question that the 2019 first-rounder from a Georgia high school has front-of-the-rotation stuff when healthy. He can blow hitters away with a running mid-90s fastball that tops out at 101 mph as well as with two versions of a power slider, and he also has a solid curveball and a changeup with similar upside.
Royals: Nick Loftin, OF/3B/SS (No. 4)
Kansas City underwent a youth movement in 2022 but should have a farm system that is farther away at the top next year. With Maikel Garcia and Drew Waters seeing the Majors last summer, that leaves us with Loftin as the next option here. With above-average grades for his speed, arm and glove, the 24-year-old has moved around the diamond from shortstop to center to third base to find a spot in KC’s plans. Should he bounce back from a rough early spell at Triple-A Omaha, that athleticism should do him well to find a spot in the Royals’ team of the future and even present.
Tigers: Wilmer Flores, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 100)
If 2022 was the year of rookie hitters in Detroit, Flores could help make 2023 more focused on the arms as he tries to force his way into the rotation discussion. The 6-foot-4 righty, who will only turn 22 in February, had a 3.01 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings at Double-A Erie last season and relied on a mid-90s fastball and plus curveball to elbow his way into MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 for the first time. He’ll need to see Triple-A for the first time in the spring, but he has the potential to make it a short stay in Toledo.
Twins: Edouard Julien, 2B (No. 14)
He’s always drawn walks (110 in 2021 and 98 in 2022) and he did a lot of damage in Double-A last year (.300/.441/.490). Then he went on to hit .400 with a 1.249 OPS to earn Arizona Fall League Breakout Player of the Year honors. That performance should serve as a springboard to Minnesota, even if it’s a little unclear what position he’ll play long term.
White Sox: Oscar Colas, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 95)
Signed for $2.7 million last January, Colas lived up to expectations in his U.S. debut, batting .314/.371/.524 with 23 homers while rising from High-A to Triple-A and looking like the next Cuban star for the White Sox. With his well above-average raw power and arm strength, he fits the right-field profile nicely -- and Chicago happens to have a need at that position.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Zach Neto, SS (No. 2)
Is this a stretch given the fact Neto was drafted just last July? Maybe, but the No. 13 overall pick of the 2022 Draft has the kind of advanced hit tool that could carry him to the big leagues in a hurry. The fact he hit .320 with an .874 OPS in 30 games in Double-A during his summer debut gives us more confidence he can start the season in the lower levels and hit his way to L.A., perhaps as the first 2022 draftee to make his Major League debut.
Astros: Pedro Leon, OF/2B (No. 4)
Leon has had the loudest tools in the Astros' system since signing for $4 million in January 2021, the largest bonus in that international class. The Cuban defector has well above-average power and speed, not to mention top-of-the-scale arm strength. To find a job with the defending World Series champions, he'll need to make more consistent contact after batting .228/.365/.431 with 17 homers, 38 steals and a 29 percent strikeout rate in Triple-A.
A’s: Zack Gelof, 3B/2B (No. 3/MLB No. 94)
Gelof got off to a hot start in Double-A to begin his first full season of pro ball only to be sidelined by a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. He came back to touch Triple-A and play in the AFL and while his performance at the plate was uneven, he showed glimpses offensively as well as some defensive versatility that could punch a ticket to Oakland soon.
Mariners: Emerson Hancock, RHP (No. 2)
The 2018 and 2019 first-rounders, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, are in the Mariners’ rotation already. Now it’s time for the 2020 No. 6 overall pick to join them. Arm and shoulder issues hampered him in 2021, but he bounced back with 21 starts in Double-A in 2022. A little more seasoning at the upper levels and he should be ready to help out the big league staff.
Rangers: Owen White, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 59)
Recent top-three-overall picks Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker are much more famous, but fellow Rangers right-hander White may have a brighter future than either. After he signed for $1.5 million as a 2018 second-rounder out of a North Carolina high school, he didn't make his pro debut until May 2021 because of Tommy John surgery and the pandemic. He used four solid-to-plus pitches to post a 3.59 ERA, .233 opponent average and 104/23 K/BB ratio in 80 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2022, though he did miss two months with forearm issues.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Jared Shuster, LHP (No. 1)
The Braves' system is certainly thinned out, even more so following the trade to acquire Sean Murphy, but they always find help from the farm every year. Shuster, the club’s first-rounder in 2020, proved to be very durable (139 1/3 IP) and able to miss bats (9.4 K/9) at the upper levels of the system. He’s more floor than ceiling, but he’s ready to reach it now.
Mets: Ronny Mauricio, SS (No. 6)
Francisco Álvarez, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos have already debuted, and Kevin Parada, Alex Ramirez and Jett Williams are too far to see the Majors in 2023. So we’re focused on Mauricio, who has been in the news lately after he was named LIDOM MVP. Where will he play if he gets the call with Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa operating on the left side of the infield? That’s TBD, but there’s enough thump in the bat for the 22-year-old to make an impact even as a depth piece.
Marlins: Eury Pérez, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 9)
Pérez won't turn 20 until April 15 but doesn't have much left to prove in the Minors after compiling a 4.08 ERA, .223 opponent average and 106/25 K/BB ratio in 75 Double-A innings. He did miss nearly two months with mild shoulder fatigue, though that was a precaution. Signed for $200,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, he could have four plus pitches when he's a finished product and his 6-foot-8 frame creates difficult extension and angle.
Nationals: Thad Ward, RHP (No. 13)
In its rebuild, Washington seemed primed to take a quality Rule 5 selection earlier this month and did so by taking arguably the best pitcher available in Ward from the Red Sox. The 25-year-old right-hander returned from Tommy John last year and showed quality stuff with a 92-96 mph sinking fastball and plus slider. The Nats have said Ward will begin ‘23 in the bullpen, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get starts before long.
Phillies: Andrew Painter, RHP (No.1/MLB No. 24)
If you’re not already, it’s time to get on the Painter train. Yes, he doesn’t turn 20 until April and only has 109 2/3 professional innings on his resume. But after dominating at three levels, including pitching well in Double-A and earning MLB Pipeline Pitcher of the Year honors, it’s clear he doesn’t need much more in terms of development. Look for him to help the Phillies win the NL East in 2023.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Sal Frelick, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 46)
The 2021 first-rounder hit at all three levels he played in 2022 and arguably was at his best at Triple-A Nashville, where he produced a .365 average and .943 OPS while striking out only 7.4 percent of the time. He has the speed to cover ground on the basepaths and the grass, though he has been a bit rough around the edges defensively early in his career. Still, his bat and overall offensive approach can’t be held down for long, and there’s a good chance he jumps over 2022 debutant Garrett Mitchell on the MLB depth chart.
Cardinals: Jordan Walker, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 6)
Walker’s debut will be one of the most highly anticipated across the league, whenever it comes. That could be as early as Opening Day because even with a crowded outfield situation, Walker still possesses the high ceiling of a player you’d want up for an entire season. That comes from the thunderous right-handed bat that helped him hit .306/.388/.510 with 19 homers in 119 games at Double-A last season, and as he showed in the Arizona Fall League, his transition to the outfield has been relatively smooth, thanks in part to plus-plus arm strength.
Cubs: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 48)
If not for repeated back issues that limited him to 53 Triple-A games and necessitated June 2 surgery to correct a nest of blood vessels pushing against a nerve, Davis already would have debuted with the Cubs. The 2018 second-rounder from an Arizona high school and 2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game MVP could have at least solid tools across the board and is capable of playing all three outfield spots.
Pirates: Endy Rodriguez, C/2B/OF (No. 6/MLB No. 97)
He can play all over and he can flat out rake, reaching Triple-A in 2022 and finishing with a combined .323/.407/.590 and 25 homers. Sure, the Pirates signed Austin Hedges to bridge the gap to Rodriguez and/or Henry Davis, but Rodriguez will certainly hit his way to the big leagues and the staff can work his bat into the lineup behind the plate, at second or in the outfield.
Reds: Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
If you’re not itching to see what De La Cruz does in the big leagues, you haven’t been paying attention. He’ll be just 21 for all of 2023 and is coming off of a season that saw him get to Double-A and hit a combined .304/.359/.586 with 28 homers and 47 steals as one of the most electric prospects in all of baseball.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Brandon Pfaadt, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 90)
Arizona could be a dark horse candidate to make the 2023 postseason, and its chances could be aided by the arrival of Pfaadt, last year’s Minor League strikeout leader with 218 at Double-A/Triple-A. A 92-94 mph fastball and fading changeup have been considered his two plus pitches, but his sweeping slider also helped him rack up the K’s against upper-level bats last summer. Those three pitches (plus an occasional curveball) give Pfaadt mid-rotation potential, and he likely won’t need much more Pacific Coast League seasoning before reaching The Show.
Dodgers: Bobby Miller, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 26)
The Dodgers can replace some of the innings they lost with departed free agents Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney by turning to Miller, who recorded a 4.25 ERA, .222 opponent average and a 145/37 K/BB ratio in 112 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. A 2020 first-rounder from Louisville, he can overwhelm hitters with a riding upper-90s fastball, a power slider and a fading, sinking changeup.
Giants: Kyle Harrison, LHP (No. 2/MLB No. 21)
A third-round choice who signed for first-round money ($2,497,500) as a California high schooler in 2020, Harrison has developed into baseball's best left-handed pitching prospect. He led the Minors in strikeout rate (14.8 per nine innings) and strikeout percentage (39.8) while logging a 2.71 ERA, .196 opponent average and 186 strikeouts in 113 innings between High-A and Double-A. His two best pitches are a running mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider.
Padres: Alek Jacob, RHP (No. 25)
We’re excited to see a wider audience reaction to Jacob’s throwing style and repertoire. The 24-year-old right-hander chucks it from a difficult sidearm angle and still manages to keep hitters off balance with a sinking fastball that sits in the upper-80s. A low-70s fading changeup and low-70s sweeping slider look Bugs Bunny-like at times, and those were the two that have given Jacob success in Minor League bullpens. The former Gonzaga star will be there whenever San Diego wants to add funk to its relief corps.
Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 23)
Veen struggled when he got to Double-A for the first time in 2022, but righted the ship with a strong showing in the AFL, hitting .333, drawing a ton of walks and swiping 16 bags. Give him a little time at the upper levels before he hits and runs his way into the Rockies’ lineup in Colorado.