Beck’s Top 100 Prospects Q&A
Beck runs down questions about his newly written up, top 100 prospects.
Before you read the Q&A, be sure to check out the full top 100 with writeups.
Do you have your eye on any players outside of the top 100 who are positioned to be big risers?
There’s a lot of turnover on this list every year. The biggest mechanism is graduations, which have accelerated since the introduction of pick compensation in the new collective bargaining agreement. About 18 of the top 25 have the potential to exhaust prospect eligibility by accruing 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on the active MLB roster.
All of that to say, there are a lot of players who should vault into the top 100 without demonstrating true skill gains. I’ll focus on players I think are poised to make significant jumps based on performance.
Henry Lalane has been a buzzy name this offseason. Sharp industry outlets were on him mid-summer, and the public is starting to come around, too. The six-foot-seven, 19-year-old lefty was a Dominican Summer League repeat to open the year and pitched to a 2.98 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 48.1 innings before coming stateside and throwing in the Florida Complex League. He’s advanced for his age and height, and while none of his offerings flash more than plus, his stock will explode as he gets more exposure with televised starts. There’s risk abundant in his profile — largely because he is so large and hasn’t yet made a start in full-season competition — but the potential payoff relative to his cost to acquire is very high.
Luis Baez was the Astros’ top international signing in 2022 and has since progressed to Low-A Fayetteville after spending his first summer in the DSL. His early promotion out of the Complex was a strong vote of confidence from the player dev team. He hits the ball hard and often in the air with a classic Astros’ swing path. He has some issue with whiff at present, especially against breaking stuff, but he shows enough upside as a power hitter to warrant attention. He was strongly considered for the 100.
Jefferson Rojas of the Chicago Cubs leaped Low-A as an 18-year-old in 2023 and has been pushed at the same pace as Luis Baez. He managed a 126 wRC+ despite being one of the youngest players in full season ball. His surface numbers were depressed by a bad home park environment. He’s grown considerably since his signing and now projects for more offensive impact than was once believed.
Walker Martin, George Lombard Jr., and Arjun Nimmala were all considered for the 100 but a lack of video and professional sample held them out. All three are high upside preps taken in the 2023 draft that could blossom into top-50 prospects by the end of the year.
Martin led all high schoolers in the nation in home runs before being selected in the second round and signing for a bonus that nearly doubled the slot value. He has a sweet left-handed stroke and scored as a 10 on the Loden Sports Athletic Testing scale, a figure that cemented him as one of the best combinations of size and athleticism in the entire prep class.
Lombard Jr. is the son of a former major league outfielder and went to the Yankees at 26th overall. He has average or better tools across the board presently with opportunity to grow on the offensive side of the ball.
Nimmala was the Blue Jays’ first pick in July and came off the board 20th overall. He’s shown a little swing and miss in a short sample but was also just 17 years old until October, so some growing pains are expected. He has plus bat speed and is a rangy athlete with a full belt of physical tools. He was on the original rough draft of the 100 but fell out in favor of candidates with longer track records.
How much does proximity factor into rankings?
The objective is to win your leagues. That’s pretty hard to do if you have a full farm system of 17- and 18-year-old players without minor league reinforcements bolstering your team. Generally speaking I’m evaluating players with a three year payback window in mind, so if I’m getting immediate production from a player like Joey Ortiz I may prefer that to the upside of a youngster like Joendry Vargas. Very few players aged 18 or younger made the top 100 and the ones that did have demonstrated either truly advanced skills (Ethan Salas) or very loud tools (Sebastian Walcott).
What 3 players in the top 25 have the most “bust risk”?
The ingredients I’m looking at to determine performance-based risk for any given offensive profile are generally swing decisions (how often are they swinging both in and out of the zone, is there a certain pitch type they struggle to recognize), bat-to-ball (how much contact are they making when they do offer at a pitch), and impact (how hard do they hit the ball and can their ability to do damage mitigate other risk factors).
For pitchers, the risk is often that they can’t command their arsenal well enough to remain a starter, don’t have enough offerings to be viable against hitters of both handedness at the MLB level, or haven’t proven they can handle a starter’s workload.
Other non-performance risk for both bats and arms is largely encapsulated by injury concern, which can be nebulous and hard to pin down but is best predicted by previous injury history.
James Wood finally saw his contact rates regress to what you’d expect from a guy his size, and while they aren’t in concerning territory yet (I did rank him 14th after all), he could get exploited by better pitchers who are more equipped to take advantage of his levers and large zone.
Matt Shaw was pushed rather aggressively after the draft and performed well. He hits the ball hard and often at good angles. He’s ostensibly in the mix for playing time at the end of this year. Those dynamics have culminated in a very aggressive ranking — not just on my list but across the industry — and there is almost certainly more risk in his profile than is discussed. His swing decision metrics regressed even while he was putting up gaudy numbers, and while they may not have hamstrung him in the minors, they could make his transition to MLB competition a little rocky.
Walker Jenkins deserves a mention simply because he’s a prep inside the top 10. It’s a risky demographic in general, and it’s hard for there to be much upward mobility when he’s already ranked #8. He had a pre-draft hamate injury which are famous for sapping power and his EVs in a short sample were only pedestrian. You’re counting on some projection with his profile.
A bonus pick: Jackson Jobe has dealt with a slew of injuries since his draft year. He threw just 77 innings in 2022 and followed that up with 64.1 innings in 2023, so even if he’s ready to debut at some point this year it’s likely an abbreviated campaign. Young arms with injury track record carry inherent risk.
Do you factor in future home ballpark? If so, to what degree?
Home ballpark dovetails with proximity. The closer a prospect is to debut, the more their home park factor matters. Take Noelvi Marte and Roderick Arias as examples — Marte will open 2024 in the big league lineup for Cincinnati where he will benefit from playing half of his games in Great American Ballpark, the friendliest stadium for right-handed home run power in MLB. Arias on the other hand should ostensibly reap the benefits of playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark in New York, but it’s also much more possible he’s dealt at any point between now and his debut.
What do you think the top 10 will look like in January of 2025?
Presented without too much commentary:
Walker Jenkins, OF, MIN
Roman Anthony, OF, BOS
James Wood, OF, WSN
Samuel Basallo, C, BAL
Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF, MIN
Colt Emerson, SS, SEA
Ethan Salas, C, SDP
Joendry Vargas, SS, LAD
Sebastian Walcott, SS, TEX
Max Clark, OF, DET
Jenkins looks like one of the best hitters of the 18 and younger crop, and assuming he can get past the hamate injury and show off the underlying power we’re all expecting, should remain highly regarded. Anthony and Wood are already just outside the top 100 and trending toward debut. I’d like to see Anthony shore up his reputation against lefties and Wood demonstrate he’s caught up to the Double-A level by improving his bat-to-ball. Basallo is a thunderous bat and may actually be the player I’m most confident will be somewhere in the top 10 come this time next year. He just needs to continue the trajectory he’s already on. Rodriguez has a lot of top 10 traits but is entirely too passive at present with some concern about in-zone whiff, both of which can be assuaged with adjustments over a larger sample. He’ll have that opportunity in 2024 (health permitting). Emerson and Clark are a ways out from debut and will test their mettle in full season competition to open the year. The former got off to a better start by posting great exit velocity and contact data while the latter scuffled but was almost universally higher regarded at draft time. Vargas and Walcott are my bets to be the next crop of elite international prospects (presuming Basallo and Salas somewhat resemble the current crop).