The game of baseball is in good hands with an abundance of superstar-caliber players breaking into the league in recent years and more impressive young talent on the way.
Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi was the No. 1 prospect at the start of the year at several sites, and he’s since settled in nicely as the team’s everyday left fielder, opening the door for a new top dog in leaguewide prospect lists.
This will be the first update to our top 50 prospect rankings since we published the initial list on April 5 and there’s been plenty of movement since, thanks to a combination of graduations from the prospect ranks and hot/cold starts from those who remain.
So who takes over as the game’s new No. 1 prospect?
Yoan Moncada and Gleyber Torres had strong cases alongside Benintendi entering the year. Amed Rosario probably belongs in that top tier of middle infielders now, while Cody Bellinger has backed his standing as the game’s top power prospect with an impressive debut in Los Angeles.
Let’s dive right into the updated rankings to see which of those four candidates climbed into the No. 1 spot:
Graduated Since Last Updated: 1. Andrew Benintendi, BOS, 4. Dansby Swanson, ATL, 13. Tyler Glasnow, PIT, 20. Manuel Margot, SD, 25. Josh Bell, PIT, 45. Hunter Renfroe, SD, 50. Robert Gsellman, NYM
9. 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his long-anticipated pro debut last season, and he didn’t disappoint, posting an .808 OPS with 23 extra-base hits over 276 plate appearances in rookie ball.
That was enough to earn him the top spot among Toronto prospects and a place inside our top 50 at the start of the season, but expectations remained tempered as he prepared to make the jump to full-season competition.
It’s safe to say the 18-year-old has made that leap with flying colors.
Playing in the Midwest League against competition that’s an average of 3.2 years older, he’s hitting .305/.413/.492 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 21 RBI in 143 plate appearances.
He’s also showing plate discipline well beyond his years with more walks (20) than strikeouts (17), and if that continues, a midseason promotion to High-A Dunedin is not out of the question.
27. RHP Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Indians
Triston McKenzie took over as the top pitching prospect in the Cleveland system last year after Justus Sheffield was shipped to the New York Yankees in the Andrew Miller deal.
Now he’s backing up that standing.
The projectable 6’5″, 165-pound teenager still has a lot of physical maturing to do, yet he’s already dominating opposing hitters at the High-A level.
After posting a 1.62 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 83.1 innings last season, he’s been equally impressive against higher-level competition this year with a 2.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.
There’s potential for more from his low-90s fastball once he adds muscle, and he already has an advanced feel for his curveball/changeup pairing, leaving him with undeniable front-line potential if he continues on his current developmental path.
28. SS Franklin Barreto, Oakland Athletics
How much longer can the A’s resist the urge to promote Franklin Barreto?
The 21-year-old is hitting .313/.364/.483 with 12 extra-base hits for Triple-A Nashville, and he has a clear path to playing time in the majors after incumbent shortstop Marcus Semien suffered a fractured wrist last month.
For now, Barreto will continue building his case in the minors as he’s expected to be a major piece of the puzzle going forward for the perpetually rebuilding Oakland organization.
While he’s still playing shortstop, second base is probably a better long-term fit. There, he has a chance to emerge as one of the league’s top offensive threats at the position with a strong batting average and solid gap power that could eventually develop into double-digit home run pop.
32. RHP Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves
Lefty Kolby Allard remains the top arm in an Atlanta system that’s rife with pitching talent, but Mike Soroka is quickly closing the gap.
The No. 28 pick in the 2015 draft was aggressively promoted to Single-A as an 18-year-old, and he more than held his own with a 3.02 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 125 strikeouts in 143 innings, climbing prospect rankings in the process.
The Braves saw enough to jump him over the High-A level and straight to Double-A this year, and he’s continued to impress with a 3.14 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and a 41-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 43 innings.
Soroka has a solidly built 6’5″, 225-pound frame and an advanced three-pitch repertoire that includes a heavy mid-90s fastball, plus curveball and solid changeup. The 19-year-old is further along on the developmental curve than the vast majority of pitchers his age, and his stock is clearly trending up.
36. C Carson Kelly, St. Louis Cardinals
Drafted as a bat-first corner infielder, Carson Kelly shifted to behind the plate in 2014, and his offensive game took a back seat to learning a new position.
Now everything seems to be falling into place for the 22-year-old.
After hitting .289 with a .738 OPS and making an appearance in the Futures Game last season, he’s off to a red-hot start in Triple-A with a .317/.400/.535 line that includes seven doubles and five home runs.
Those five long balls are just one short of his total over 362 plate appearances last season, and he has enough raw power to develop into a perennial 15-homer threat to go along with a solid hit tool.
The Cardinals’ decision to extend Yadier Molina through the 2020 campaign means there will be no need to rush Kelly, but he could push his way into a timeshare by next season if he keeps hitting.
37. RHP Dylan Cease, Chicago Cubs
A first-round talent leading up to the 2014 draft, Dylan Cease slipped to the sixth round when he suffered an elbow injury that spring.
The Cubs gave him an above-slot $1.5 million bonus, knowing he was headed for Tommy John surgery and that they’d need to be patient—that patience is now starting to pay off.
Cease was touching triple-digits with his fastball last summer, and he pairs that heater with a legitimate 60-grade curveball that has drawn comparisons to Dwight Gooden, per MLB.com.
The kid gloves are still on for the 21-year-old, seeing as he entered the year with just 68.2 professional innings, but the early returns for Single-A South Bend have been impossible to ignore.
Over 34 innings, he’s racked up 54 strikeouts while posting a 2.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.
41. SS J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies (Previous: 12)
J.P. Crawford now has 533 plate appearances at Triple-A and a .227/.320/.297 line to show for it.
The tools are still there for him to develop into a terrific everyday shortstop and a franchise cornerstone for the rebuilding Phillies, but at some point, potential needs to turn into production for him in the upper levels of the minors.
Triple-A manager Dusty Wathan told Jordan Hall of CSN Philly:
“Failure sometimes I think is just as important as having success in the minor leagues because they learn how to deal with the failure, learn how to deal with the success and they don’t end up being a roller coaster ride. I think it’s important for development.”
I suppose that’s one way to take a glass-half-full look at a .185/.303/.238 line so far this season.
RHP Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox (Previous: 22)
Once considered by some to be the top pitching prospect in baseball, Lucas Giolito has continued to see his command deteriorate since joining the White Sox organization in the Adam Eaton trade last December.
He’s pitching to a 6.55 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in Triple-A, and while he’s struck out 36 batters in 34.1 innings, he’s also walked 19 hitters for a 5.0 BB/9 clip.
The 22-year-old is not showing the same elite velocity he boasted in the past, and his overall fastball command has regressed, according to Kyle Glaser of Baseball America.
Moving from a contending Nationals team to a rebuilding White Sox club should help take some pressure off as far as the short term is concerned, but there’s no question his stock has dropped considerably from where it was a year ago.
LHP Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers (Previous: 34)
Speaking of issues with command, Brewers left-hander Josh Hader is having his own problems.
The 23-year-old looked poised to break into the Milwaukee rotation this season after posting a 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 161 strikeouts in 126 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
However, his walk rate has spiked from 3.9 to 5.3 BB/9 and his ERA (4.20) and WHIP (1.35) have followed suit for Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Hader has electric, swing-and-miss stuff, so he’ll be able to get away with a higher walk rate than some others. It doesn’t matter how good your stuff is, though; a 5.3 BB/9 rate simply doesn’t play at the next level.
He’s the one pitcher in a deep Brewers system with legitimate front-line potential, so he’ll be given every chance to succeed as a starter. His ETA might not be quite as soon as the team hoped, though.
RHP James Kaprielian, New York Yankees (Previous: 43)
James Kaprielian was expected to move quickly through the minors after going No. 16 overall in the 2015 draft following a standout career at UCLA.
A strained flexor tendon limited him to just three starts last season, but he was able to avoid Tommy John surgery and his stock was back on the rise after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
Alas, his good health would be short-lived, as the arm issues returned this spring and he finally underwent the Tommy John procedure in April.
The 23-year-old still has significant upside with a polished four-pitch mix and solid overall command from a strong 6’4″, 200-pound frame. The injury issues and upcoming rehab are enough to bump him out of the top 50 until he’s back in action, though.
OF Tyler O’Neill, Seattle Mariners (Previous: 44)
After slugging 32 home runs at the High-A level in 2015, Tyler O’Neill announced himself as a bona fide top prospect last year when he hit .293/.374/.508 with 24 homers and 102 RBI for Double-A Jackson.
There’s always going to be a good amount of swing-and-miss to his game, but a stark improvement in his walk rate (6.5 to 10.8 percent) coupled with his undeniable raw power sent him flying up top-prospect lists.
That improved discipline is still present this season with a 9.4 percent walk rate, but he’s not making the same consistent hard contact.
The result: A brutal .204/.275/.358 line—albeit with 13 extra-base hits and a manageable 27.6 percent strikeout rate.
Maybe it’s just a run of bad luck to start the season and things will turn around, but he was close enough to the cut line last time at No. 44 that he’s simply been passed by other prospects off to better starts.
Knocking on the Door
There are a handful of prospects off to hot starts who fell just short of earning a spot in this iteration of our Top 50, but they’re worth keeping an eye on as potential entrants next time we roll out an update.
Infielders Bo Bichette (.373 BA, 1.049 OPS, 18 XBH) of the Blue Jays and Carter Kieboom (.333 BA, .984 OPS, 16 XBH) of the Nationals have emerged as early standouts from last year’s draft class while making the jump from rookie ball to the Single-A level.
Joining Kieboom as an early star for the Nationals is outfielder Juan Soto (.360 BA, .950 OPS, 8 XBH), who is also stationed at Single-A Hagerstown and will play the entire 2017 season at the age of 18.
The Eaton trade cost Washington a ton of prospect talent, but the emergence of those two alongside established top prospects Victor Robles and Erick Fedde once again has the system looking up.
Slugger Rhys Hoskins (.343 BA, 1.139 OPS, 12 HR) is putting up big numbers for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, proving that last season’s 38-homer performance at Double-A Reading wasn’t entirely the result of his home ballpark.
Meanwhile, power/speed threat Derek Fisher (.325 BA, .950 OPS, 20 XBH, 6 SB) has followed up consecutive 20/20 seasons with more of the same in Triple-A. It might not be long before he’s pushing for a spot in an already loaded Houston lineup.
On the pitching side, Chance Adams (40.0 IP, 0.90 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 38/18 K/BB) of the Yankees and Brandon Woodruff (39.0 IP, 2.77 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 34/9 K/BB) of the Brewers have backed up surprising breakout performances from a year ago with equally impressive showings for their clubs’ respective Triple-A affiliates. There’s a good chance we’ll see both in the majors at some point in 2017.
Rounding out this group is a pair of prospects the Atlanta Braves acquired from the Seattle Mariners during the offseason: left-hander Luiz Gohara (38.1 IP, 2.11 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 40/11 K/BB) and catcher Alex Jackson (.297 BA, .923 OPS, 12 2B, 10 HR).
Gohara has improved his conditioning over the past year and seen an uptick in his velocity as a result, while former No. 6 overall pick Jackson has seemingly benefited from a change of scenery and a return to his natural catcher position.
Those two might be a little further away from the top 50 than some of the other guys listed above, but they deserve a mention here as two of the more intriguing early-season standouts.
Other Prospects on the Rise: RHP Beau Burrows (DET), 3B Michael Chavis (BOS), RHP Jon Duplantier (ARI), 3B Jake Gatewood (MIL), RHP Tyler Mahle (CIN), 3B Ryan McMahon (COL), SS Ryan Mountcastle (BAL), RHP Nick Neidert (SEA), OF Christin Stewart (DET), OF Marcus Wilson (ARI)
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference or FanGraphs and accurate through May 17.