It’s a fun time in baseball, with a lot of elite talent floating around, much of it close to the majors. We discussed seven of those elite talents as potential top overall prospects for this midseason list—not surprisingly, the top seven guys on the list. I’d suggest that the top eight or nine prospects (depending on your feelings about Tommy John recovery with regard to Alex Reyes) form a top tier, and they could be jumbled in nearly any order without being abjectly wrong. But part of the job here is to find an order in the mayhem, and after some great internal debate, we came up with a list. Here’s how that top prospect debate developed…
Candidate: Gleyber Torres
Gleyber Torres very well might’ve ended up being the top prospect on this list, and in all of our early iterations ranked no worse than third. Then he needed Tommy John surgery…on his glove elbow?
We frankly have little to no precedent on how to treat this—almost all UCL tears seem to result from years of wear-and-tear throwing, yet this was suffered during a single traumatic incident to the other arm. I don’t think this alters his long-term outlook much, but at the very least, he is missing a half-season’s worth of at-bats and further development during the year where everything was consolidating. It’s certainly possible he comes back next spring, picks up directly where he left off, and ends up the best player on the list. But the uncertainty around the injury did eliminate any real chance he had at the top spot, and ultimately knocked him down a few spots within the elite-of-the-elite subsection on razor-thin calls.
Candidate: Brendan Rodgers
Ranking Rockies hitting prospects was tough enough when you couldn’t figure out how much of their ultimate MLB success was Coors Field aided. But they’ve added a series of completely comical minor-league parks all the way down the full-season chain. Asheville is one of the few parks in organized baseball that’s under 300 down the line. Lancaster is the single most extreme offensive environment in baseball. The new Hartford park is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the biggest bandboxes at the Double-A level. Albuquerque is an extremely hitting-friendly park in the most hitting-friendly league division of any full-season league. So even more than most, we can’t take Rockies hitting prospect stats all that seriously, although perhaps all this does prepare them for the Coors Field experience.
All that said, .400 is .400 even on the moon or in Lancaster, and Brendan Rodgers did hit .400 for a half-season. He’s looking more and more likely to stay up the middle at short or second as time progresses. Our reports from west coast guru Wilson Karaman are drool-worthy. But Rodgers is just a little rougher around the edges than the guys ahead of him—the walk rate is Nick Williams-esque, for example—and that skews us a little more towards the guys who have a better shot at the monumental upside. (Everyone in this article has a decent shot to be a superstar.) How he looks against more advanced pitching in Double-A in the second half may be telling, and given that everyone ahead of him could graduate except Victor Robles, Rodgers could very easily be in the mix for the top spot in the offseason.
Candidate: Rafael Devers
Listmaker nonpareil Jeffrey Paternostro might be the overall high man on Devers now, and you will find no one at BP that’s down on him. The hit and power play together to form a ferocious offensive combo. If we were ranking prospects just based on ability at the plate, Devers would probably be number one. I’ll even go a step further: I think it’s safe to say that if nothing about Rafael Devers changed except that his body looked like Yoan Moncada’s, he’d be the consensus top prospect in baseball.
But he is a big dude, big enough at a young age that there’s a real chance that despite the defensive tools he’s ultimately headed for 1B or even DH, and big enough that it might be a long-term general concern too. Again, the smallest of nits to pick, and if you still wanted to stick him at 1 nobody here will quibble, but you have to separate future stars with similar looking scouting reports somehow, right?
Candidate: Victor Robles
We sometimes get chat questions about who is the favorite to be the top prospect in some future year. The favorite to lead every future list through about 2019 or so is Victor Robles, given that he’s got the best shot to be in the minors of anyone this high with how conservatively the Nationals are handling him. Like everyone here, there’s a great argument for him; Robles is currently scorching the High-A Carolina League having just turned 20 about six weeks ago. Most importantly for his growth, the power projection is becoming reality, adding a fifth average-or-better tool to the mix.
Ultimately, we compared him directly to Moncada, and most of the arguments one would make for Robles still put him a hair’s breadth behind Moncada. Robles has yet to do it in the high-minors—there’s that conservative approach flipping back around to his slight detriment—whereas Moncada is performing at a pretty high level in Triple-A. As loud as Robles’s tools are, Moncada’s are just a touch louder. Perhaps the biggest separation here is injury risk; Robles stands right over the plate and takes hit-by-pitches at a rate even higher than Brandon Guyer. While this absolutely inflates his on-base abilities positively, it also puts his hands and wrists at a unique kind of risk. Robles already missed significant time last year after being plunked in that area, and he wasn’t the same kind of hitter upon his return. When you get this high, it can be the tiniest of nits.
Candidate: Francisco Mejia
Mirroring the Devers/third base discussion, if we were relatively sure Francisco Mejia would be a 125 games per season above-average catcher in the majors over the medium-term, let alone the long-term, we’d probably have him at 1. Someone internally made a huge and compelling argument to put him there anyways, which goes like: this is the best hit tool in the minors and he’s a catcher that has a real shot to stay behind the plate.
Put bluntly, we have overall concerns about the rigors of the catching position impacting bat development that are exacerbated by specific concerns that Mejia might not hold up to catching 125 games a season. Mejia will be among the smallest catchers in the majors when he makes it, and he’s topped out at 94 games caught in the minors because Cleveland has given him plenty of days and half-days off. Short and lean is a strange body combination for a starting MLB catcher. Throw in that while we relatively like Mejia’s defense (especially his arm), he’s not Austin Hedges, and it wouldn’t surprise us if he ultimately ends up playing a lot of DH or even moving off to another position. The bat will almost certainly hold up elsewhere, but it reduces the overall value of the package unless he ends up in a spot like Buster Posey where he can catch regularly while DHing or playing elsewhere on his “off” days. There’s just a little too much uncertainty about what he ultimately profiles as, even if we all agree the profile should be quite good.
The Final Decision: Yoan Moncada vs. Amed Rosario
For most of the process, these two were back and forth in the top two spots. I suspect if we counted “days in the lead” Rosario may have even been at the top of the draft list longer, but we resolved not to bother hashing out the debate between them too much until the end, thinking it might be pointless. We expected one or both to be up by now. Yet they’re both still here, so we had to rank them.
The decision came down as such: we’re pretty sure both of these guys are going to hit enough to be good MLBers. They’re both hitting well at Triple-A, but with some small warts in the slash lines. We’re pretty certain that they’re both going to stick up the middle, although Rosario is both a bit better glove and a shortstop, which are obviously points in his favor. But we’re leaning towards Moncada as an overall package over Rosario today because of Moncada’s power being already present as opposed to mostly a potential future development. If we came back and did this exercise again next week, it very well might be Rosario’s similarly outstanding upside combined with a relatively safe floor of “very good shortstop with useful offense.” It’s that close.