First it was Carroll, the top prospect on my top-100 list. Then it was Gunnar, the second-best prospect on that same list. With both of them gone, somebody else has to slot in at the top spot. Before I get to him I want to go over all of the players with a case for it.
In case somebody wonders why I don’t have Alvarez listed as a mention. Since 2015, 55 other players < 21 years old have had 100+ PA in AAA. He ranks 44th in xwOBA. Both Carroll and Gunnar outperformed him by 70 and 100 points in xwOBA. Many of the players with similar or lower xwOBAs have not panned out or are struggling in their young MLB careers. Namely Jackson (Clint) Frazier, Drew Waters, Jo Adell, Jose Peraza, Franklin Barreto, Heliot Ramos and Orlando Arcia. I think he’s a top-15 prospect due to the track record and high end power but it’s fair to question the profile’s upside.
Just Missed The Cut (Listed in no specific order)
Eury Perez, RHP, Marlins
Being a pitcher it’s hard to have him higher than position players but the stuff, command, track record and overall production since getting into pro ball has been fantastic. There’s a good argument for him over Grayson, I’ve got identical future values for both of them.
Jordan Walker, 3B/OF, Cardinals
Walker’s plate discipline worries me more than the whiffs because he doesn’t struggle with contact in the zone and the out of zone whiffs are a result of the poor decisions. Walker might be good enough to play the outfield and what looked like a 1B/3B profile reliant on run production has turned into a possible 6+ WAR type of player with incredible power.
Curtis Mead, 2B, Rays
Mead is your Max Muncy of the 2022s, a below-average 2B with enough range and mobility to be serviceable at the spot with player positioning. We’re working with a very small AAA sample but in that time, he ran a .442 xwOBA. The only player in the last three seasons with a higher clip and at least 50 PA (I know I know, very small sample) is Trent Grisham in 2019. The guys just below him? Alek Thomas in 2021 and Gavin Lux in 2019. He makes plenty of contact and more importantly doesn’t chase, gets the ball in the air, and has had elite contact quality since the day he joined the Rays org.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
Grayson has dealt with recent injuries which is part of the pain with pitching prospects but he still has 99th percentile stuff compared to his starting pitcher peers.
The Big Three
3. Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers
Chourio is just 18 and already in Double-A, it’s incredible. While extremely young and moving fast, he had his struggles in High-A and that is why he’s not the top guy just yet. Ultimately, when he was in Low-A, he still didn’t produce numbers quite as good as Wood. In High-A he posted a .341 wOBA, in Low-A it was .406. Across all leagues he’s made just enough contact to avoid rough strikeout numbers and as he’s moved up levels his swing rates have gone down. He’s a tooled up 18-year-old that could blow up in Double-A next year.
2. Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds
Cruz finished off the minor league regular season hot and erased the concerns of whether or not he could handle lefties after significantly raising his xwOBA, zone contact rate, and overall run production. In general he made much more contact in the zone despite similar swing decisions. It’s elite contact quality and the rest is improving. He’s one of just five players < 22 years old w/ at least 200 PA in full-season leagues and a 90th percentile EV above 108 mph. Since 2015, only 16 players have posted a zone contact rate ≥ 80% and a 90th EV > 108 mph. The notables of them include: Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Josh Naylor, Yordan Alvarez (2x), Carlos Correa, Julio Rodriguez, Austin Riley, Rafael Devers, and Oneil Cruz. Elly just misses the list with a 79% zone contact rate but he’s pretty close. Cruz has a solid case as the top prospect due to the 70-grade power but I have somebody else ahead.
1. James Wood, OF, Nationals
No player below the age of 20 has posted a higher xwOBA across Low-A, Single-A, and High-A than James Wood since 2015. That includes Bellinger in ’15, Alvarez in ’21, Guerrero Jr in ’17, Julio in ’17 and Volpe in ’21. His .414 xwOBA this year is not only the best clip in quite some time, but it’s the only season where a player was above .400. It’s an Aaron Judge profile with elite power, and elite athleticism with his size. He doesn’t chase, he doesn’t whiff in-zone and he has a 114.3 max EV. It’s MVP level upside and that’s why he’s the top prospect in my opinion.