There is a ton of unbelievably good young talent in the major leagues right now. Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. are currently in a pitched battle for NL Rookie of the Year while putting up numbers that just are not put up by guys under the legal drinking age and that doesn’t even include the slightly more seasoned guys like Javier Baez, Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, etc. Luis Severino and Blake Snell are being dominant on the mound despite their lack of experience along with Aaron Nola, German Marquez, and Mike Foltynewicz. That those names are just a small sampling of the young talent in the majors right now tells you all you need to know about the embarrassment of riches around baseball.
Beyond that, there seems to be more great young talent coming as we speak. We have all heard about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ascendance while also wondering why in the hell he isn’t in the majors yet (yeah, yeah....service time blah blah). The big names are known quantities and are exciting, but not who we are going to be discussing here.
Below you will find ten prospects that have seen their stocks rise a huge amount in 2018. Before anyone slides into the comments section to yell at me, this list is only players who are clearly considered prospects. Yes, Juan Soto would win this title hands down if he was eligible, but he isn’t. Same goes for any other players that have exhausted rookie eligibility or were already considered awesome coming into the season.
Bryse Wilson - RHP
Bryse Wilson’s ascent through the minor leagues in 2018 has been amazing to behold. Wilson started to generate some buzz in 2017 thanks to a strong full season debut for Rome. However, he still had his detractors that saw him more as a reliever than a starter due to his secondary pitches needing some work. Bryse also had the problem being in the deepest farm system in terms of pitching in the entire league which hid him from view in a lot of ways. He started 2018 in high-A and after five dominant starts there, he was moved to Double-A Mississippi, then to Triple-A, and is now about to begin his SECOND stint with the Braves in the big leagues at the tender age of 20. Posting a 3.43 ERA across three levels of the minors while striking out well better than a batter an inning and debuting in the majors is no joke. There might not be a pitching prospect in baseball whose stock has risen more that Bryse.
Jo Adell - OF
If you like raw tools, then you likely loved Jo Adell as a draft prospect during the 2017 draft. The Angels were clearly sold as they nabbed him with the 10th overall pick. As a high school prep player with big tools, the biggest question for Adell was his hit tool and it would have been understandable if it took him a while to develop. Instead, Adell has shaped himself into one of the top position prospects in baseball as he has hit his way up three levels of the minors all the way to Double-A while slashing .290/.355/.543 in 2018 with 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases. The scary part: he is still learning and developing (he is just 19). It would not be crazy to think that he could be a top 10 prospect in baseball sometime in 2019.
Austin Riley - 3B
Another guy with a questionable hit tool coming into the season, the Braves’ Austin Riley has some of the best raw power in the minor leagues and was coming off of back to back 20 homer seasons in the minors. Some questioned whether or not he could stick at third base and others questioned his bat speed, but he has diminished a lot of those concerns thanks to a season that saw him dominate in Double-A before getting bumped up to Triple-A. A knee injury slowed him down and caused him to miss some time, but after he took about a month of knocking off the rust he is back at it again. He will probably not hit 20 homers this year, but a late season dinger splurge has him closer than one would have thought and he again looks like one of the better young power hitters in the minors.
Alex Kirilloff - OF
Alex Kirilloff is an interesting case because he was a very highly regarded prospect when he was drafted out of high school in 2016 by the Twins. However, he missed the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery (which is less serious and less common among position players) so his stock as a prospect was definitely in question due to the missed time. Instead, Kirilloff hit the ground running and raked in low-A before getting moved to high-A and continued to rake there. Posting .967 OPS in one’s first season back from missing a full season of baseball has definitely caught some eyes and he is now considered among the top outfield prospects in baseball.
Wander Franco - SS
(video from 2080 Baseball)
The Rays’ Wander Franco has kind of come out of nowhere to take the prospect world by storm. Not on many radars in a significant way coming into the season, the 17 year old out of the Dominican Republic has wreaked havoc in the Appalachian League while slashing .351/.418/.587 while hitting 11 home runs and walking more than he has struck out in his first 61 games as a professional baseball player. If you were wanting to bet money on a guy who could jump to the very top of prospect lists soon, Franco is likely the guy to bet on.
Drew Waters - OF
Drew Waters was the Braves’ second round pick in last year’s draft and was billed as being raw but having tons of tools at his disposal. His pro debut after he was drafted saw him struggle with more advanced pitchers and hitting offspeed stuff specifically. Given those concerns about his hit tool and approach, he didn’t get a ton of love from prospect evaluators. In 2018, he changed all of that while showing plus defense in center field and showcasing all of his tools on his way to a 145 wRC+ in low-A before getting bumped up to high-A. During his time in Rome, more than a couple people considered him to be the best prospect in the South Atlantic League with a rare combination of switch-hitting power and speed that both played in games.
Keston Hiura - 2B
Keston Hiura was drafted last year in the top 10 by the Brewers as one of the best pure bats from the college ranks. Everyone thought he would hit. The questions surrounding him were with his health and his position as a pro. There were rumors that he had issues with his elbow that may require Tommy John surgery down the road and highlighted pre-existing concerns about whether he best fit at second base or as a corner outfielder (the latter of which would have put a lot of pressure on his bat to perform). In 2018, Hiura’s elbow has held up and has performed well at second base while hitting his way out of High-A into Double-A. Having quashed many of the concerns surrounding him, many consider him a top 40 prospect in baseball at this point who should see time in the majors in 2019.
Matt Manning - RHP
Matt Manning from the Tigers is guy that has long been big on stuff, but just needed to show he could pitch significant innings. His fastball/slider combination is among the best in the minor leagues, but he had pitched just 51 innings in 2017 and even less during his draft year in 2016. Well, he is up to 113 inning in 2018 and has struck out a staggering 149 batters this season against 48 walks. The command will have to improve as he progresses, but he is already in Double-A as a 20 year old and his forcing his way up prospect rankings.
Peter Alonso - 1B
College hitters who rake often get love from teams and evaluators during the draft and Peter Alonso was no exception. Drafted out of Florida by the Mets in the second round in the 2016 draft, no one questioned that Alonso had power at his disposal. The question was how much his hit tool would let his power play in games, especially when one considers that he’s strictly a first baseman which puts a ton of pressure on his bat. After a strong but not otherworldly 2017 season, Alonso started hitting tape measure shots on the regular and mashed his way to Triple-A. His 35 home runs and reasonable contact rates have him competing for the title of best first base prospect in baseball. The downside is that he isn’t a great defensive player, but it looks like the Mets are going to work him hard to improve that aspect of his game before he debuts (likely sometime in 2019...although who knows given its the Mets we are talking about).
(video from MLB)
Chris Paddack was drafted by the Marlins in the 2015 draft and was amidst a breakout season for Miami before getting traded to the Padres. Unfortunately, he had to miss the entire 2017 season after having Tommy John surgery. The success rate on a guy’s first Tommy John surgery is much higher than it used to be, but it is far from a certainty that Paddack was going to return completely back to form. Thanks to one of the best changeups in the minor leagues, Paddack returned from his injury and pitched his way all the way to Double-A while posting a 2.10 ERA and striking out 120 batters in 90 innings while walking just eight batters (no, that is not a typo....he has walked eight batters all year).