MLB Pipeline will be releasing their annual Top 100 this evening. It seems like the appropriate time to initiate a discussion amongst our Minor League Ball faithful.
The first question: what goes into declaring someone a top prospect? Is it simply numbers and mechanics, or is the makeup equally important? Shouldn’t a top prospect be someone like Kris Bryant was? Someone who can make their mark almost immediately and help turn a franchise into a perennial contender?
The second question is simple. Who will be number one? Sometimes it’s clear as day, and the number one prospect will be a consensus. Other times, there is heated debate.
Yoan Moncada enters 2017 as the reigning No. 1 prospect in baseball. He had a successful 2016 for the Red Sox organization, even reaching the bigs at the age of 21. He slashed .294/.407/.511 with 31 doubles and 15 home runs. He swiped 45 of 57 stolen base opportunites and perhaps more importantly showed big improvement in his walk rate and wRC+ (up nearly 20 points from 2015).
The negatives? Moncada could be labeled as a makeup alert. The whole base running gaff in his big league debut put him in the doghouse a bit. It is also tough to pinpoint Moncada with a position, although with Todd Frazier still in Chicago, it’s likely he’ll get heavy work back at second base. Still, you would be hard pressed to find any prospect with more pure athleticism than Moncada.
Moncada’s former teammate, Andrew Benintendi, had an amazing 2016, perhaps better than even the Red Sox expected. He showed excitement at the plate and solid makeup, excelling as a 22 year old rookie in the Major League playoffs. He slashed .295/.359/.476 in his 34-game MLB debut, before hitting .333 with a double and a home run in the ALDS.
John’s write up in last season’s Prospect Book:
Drafted in the first round last June from the University of Arkansas, Andrew Benintendi was devastatingly effective during the college season and remained devastatingly effective in pro ball. Scouts weren’t 100% certain how his power would translate against pro pitching but that seems much less of an issue after he slugged .566 with 11 homers in his first 54 games. Although he’s not tall, Benintendi is quite athletic and very strong. His swing translates that strength to field power and the entire hitting package plays up due to his tremendously good pitch recognition. The high power/high walks/low strikeout combination he’s demonstrated thus far is quite rare and there are no red flags indicating that it is a fluke. Benintendi also has above-average speed, a decent arm, and excellent instincts in center field. In short, he is a complete Seven Skill player. Possible comp: Jason Kipnis with a few more homers, a few less strikeouts, and the ability to play above-average defense in center field. Another possibility: left-handed Mookie Betts. Grade A-.
While you can argue Moncada is the best athlete in the prospect game, you can also argue that Benintendi is perhaps the most well-rounded. He doesn’t have many weaknesses. Standing at just 5-foot-10 and 170, he doesn’t possess a cannon of an arm from the outfield, but his instincts both at the plate and in the field are second to none.
(Benintendi's sweet left hand swing. Video courtesy of MLB.)
He possess great patience at the plate. While his big league strikeout rate was high — 21.2 percent — it was highly uncharacteristic of a player who never struck out more than 11.4 percent at any level of minor league ball. He’s also quick enough on the base paths to be a threat. Moncada’s ceiling may be higher, but Benintendi seems like a lock to be a .300, 20-home run, 15-stolen base player for many seasons to come.
Then there are the rest. Gleyber Torres has picked up a lot of steam, especially coming off of his AFL MVP performance. Freshly 20 years old, the young shortstop still hasn’t appeared above High-A ball. Like Moncada, he’s now been the top prospect in two organizations, but top prospect in baseball? That may be a stretch... right now.
(courtesy of 2080 Baseball)
Torres has incredible athleticism. He will likely stick at shortstop with Jorge Mateo taking the reps at second base in Tampa once Torres came over in the Aroldis Chapman deal. He hadn’t shown much ability to hit for a high average until his big AFL campaign, where he hit .403 in 18 games, but was still a nice .280 to .290 guy. A much improved strikeout and walk rate this past season however suggests that he still has room to grow into his swing.
His power took a step forward this season as well, blasting a career-best 11 home runs and 29 doubles. The gap power was always there, but now it seems to be developing to some over the fence pop as well. It shouldn’t be unexpected that Torres has improved, because many feel his greatest assets are his work ethic and makeup. Combined with his athleticism, the sky is the limit.
For what it’s worth, I still think Moncada is the best in the game. What he can do on the baseball field as opposed to what he has struggled with is exciting and fixable. Benintendi is likely the safest and I wouldn’t have a major problem if many felt he was No. 1. I also feel that the Atlanta Braves Dansby Swanson deserves to be in the mix. Hs talent and ceiling may not be as high as the rest, but he just has a certain something that makes one feel as if he is about to lead the Braves into an era of greatness.
Who else can contend for the top prospect position. Are there any pitchers even worth having in the conversation? Does someone like Dansby Swanson, who seems ready to make an instant impact, deserve some attention?