The top 50 list we debuted today was the result of a process that included dozens of iterations over a month of discussions. Over the course of these debates, which varied in degrees of tension and courtesy, upwards of 100 names were mentioned, discussed and dissected in the name of narrowing things down to the 50 players most worthy. Some made initial versions and dropped off while others never quite made the cut, but all were worthy of discussion. With no attempt to rank them in any order besides the alphabet, these are those players.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Giants: A 2014 first-rounder (his second time being selected in said round), Beede received strong consideration for the back end of this list, but was ultimately beat out by a few arms with slightly better stuff. There are also some concerns about him tinkering with his arsenal too often and that he has too many voices in his camp pulling him in too many different directions.
Braxton Davidson, OF, Braves: Davidson has the talent to join the ranks of the top 50, but his limited defensive profile puts a lot of pressure on his bat even though his offensive potential should be enough to carry his skill set. His understanding of the strike zone is extremely advanced for his age, and his raw power potential is there, we just haven’t seen it in games yet.
Wilmer Difo, SS/2B, Nationals: The skill set for Difo is quite attractive, but the power production that blossomed in last year’s breakout campaign hasn’t quite followed him into this season. He’s still an up-the-middle threat, though he may end up spending more time at the keystone, dinging his value slightly.
Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays: The bat-missing potential of Honeywell is intriguing, particularly with that unique screwball in his arsenal, but there are questions about whether or not that’s a product of Low-A hitters being unfamiliar with what to do with him or a true sign of strikeouts to come. We’ll know more now that he’s been promoted to the Florida State League.
Franklyn Kilome, RHP, Phillies: Kilome is coming on strong with a power arsenal of stuff worthy of top 50 consideration, the track record just wasn’t quite strong enough yet. He’s a prime candidate to make a big jump between now and the off-season 101 now that he’s out of extended spring training.
Michael Kopech, RHP, Red Sox: Kopech’s transition to full-season ball couldn't be going much more smoothly, and his 96-99 mph fastball and power breaking ball certainly make a strong argument for this list. He lost out to a few players with a slightly longer track record but was very close in the end.
Sean Manaea, LHP, Royals: Look no further than Tucker Blair’s report on Manaea as an argument for making the top 50. Had he been healthy for the first half of the season, he almost certainly would have made the list
Frankie Montas, RHP, White Sox: Montas’ velocity, which can reach triple-digits, garners him some consideration for this list alone. His potential plus slider gives him another strong argument. The concern is over whether or not he can continue to make enough improvements with his mechanics and thus his command to remain a starter, or if he remains destined for a late-inning relief role. Either way, it’s a tremendous arm.
Jorge Mateo, SS, Yankees: Mateo was mentioned a number of times in our discussions and for good reason given what he’s doing in the South Atlantic League as an 20-year-old this season. Ultimately, we decided that he fit a similar profile to Jose Peraza and Ozhaino Albies, but is three levels behind the former and doesn’t possess the hit tool of the latter.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets: Nimmo may end up being a more productive player than some of the position players on the back end of this list, but without any true elite tools, he makes for a tough argument. His best skill is his refined approach at the plate, which allows his average bat speed and hit tool to play up slightly. This will have to play out in order to reach his ceiling, but if he does, he could be a first-division leadoff hitter.
Brett Phillips, OF, Astros: With a little more time between his promotion to Double-A and the release date of our list, Phillips might have been able to prove that he belonged on the back end given that he’s had as much helium this year as any prospect we discussed. Even with his continuing track record of success, however, his ceiling just wasn’t quite as high as some of the others on the back end of the list.
Amed Rosario, SS, Mets: Rosario almost made this list on the strength of his glove alone, but in the end, the back end became crowded with young shortstops, and their offensive potential won out. Rosario should hit enough to warrant everyday playing time given the strength of his glove, but until we see more with the bat, he’ll come in just below our back-end crop.
Dropped off the List
These players also just missed the cut, but were on our most recent lists and were on initial versions of this year’s mid-season top 50 until we ultimately talked them off.
Aaron Blair, RHP, Diamondbacks: Blair was so close to making the list that we actually had him written up for inclusion. Here is what Mark Anderson had to say about him before a late decision to bump him:
A first-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2013, Blair offers excellent size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and the ability to create difficult angles, making it difficult to square his heater when he works low in the strike zone. Both Blair’s curveball and changeup can work as above-average pitches, though neither is a consistent swing-and-miss offering, limiting his potential to miss bats at the highest level. Despite those concerns, Blair has consistently demonstrated an ability to get outs and turn over the lineup multiple times, allowing him to project as a 3/4 starter.
In the end, a few pitchers in our 40-50 range entered the discussion with higher ceilings than what Blair has to offer, despite his proximity to the majors.
Jonathan Gray, RHP, Rockies: Gray has been a rankings mainstay since being selected third-overall by the Rockies in 2013. His production since then has been nothing short of disappointing, though it’s his raw stuff that has taken a step back across the board and keeps him off of this edition. His inability to maintain velocity deep into games and the lack of bite on his once-wipeout slider have limited his ceiling until they return to form.
Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox: Owens has always made a case for himself on rankings lists thanks to big strike out numbers and a big left-handed frame. He’s always had control issues that we’ve had to overlook, however, and we’ve done so happily until this year when the strikeouts dropped significantly from his career norms. The Red Sox have been in need of pitching help all year and Owens is in his second stint in Triple-A, yet hasn’t gotten the call.
Kohl Stewart, RHP, Twins: The fourth-overall pick in the 2013 draft, Stewart’s arsenal, when at its best, is as well-rounded and high-ceilinged as any prospect in baseball. That makes it all the more difficult to explain something like a 4.4 K/9 rate in the most pitcher-friendly league in baseball. With the leash taken off of him this year, big things were expected from Stewart but instead he took a step in the wrong direction.