Spring training is almost here and you know what that means: It’s almost time to get out my sunglasses, suntan lotion and Athletic baseball cap to make the journey. I love this time of year because we’re able to evaluate so many players over about a month, and it’s a great opportunity to compare and contrast young talent.
My favorite part specifically is being able to scout all the young up-and-coming players to see how they’ve developed and matured, physically and mentally, over the past year and since they were drafted. Therefore, as a fun exercise, I decided to put together a “40-man roster” of some of the most important young players and prospects in the game who are on my target list to scout this spring in Arizona and Florida. This roster has minor leaguers and major leaguers, from top prospects to rookies to players who are a bit further into their careers. All of them are intriguing in different ways though. These are the young players I’m most excited to see this spring.
Brayan Bello, RHP, Red Sox
Bello has tremendous upside but logged a 4.37 ERA over 214 1/3 innings in the first two seasons of his major-league career. However, the 24-year-old’s ability to induce groundballs and his special changeup show tantalizing potential. Last season opposing batters hit .193 against the pitch, which Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez has helped him hone. I’d like to see more movement on his two-seam and four-seam fastballs and will be looking for that this spring.
Chase Dollander, RHP, Rockies
Dollander was the No. 9 pick in the 2023 MLB Draft. Going into last season, he was considered a candidate to go first overall. In 2022 at Tennessee, Dollander went 10-0 with a 2.39 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 79 innings. But in 2023 his stuff and command were inconsistent and he finished with a 7-6 record and a 4.75 ERA in 89 innings. Dollander has a high-90s fastball with elite four-seam life, a nasty hard slider and a big slow curveball. He has yet to make his professional debut. Will he resemble the prospect from 2022 this year?
Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds
If the Reds are going to win the NL Central this year, I believe Greene will be a pivotal player in making it happen. The fastball hits triple digits, but he doesn’t have the life on it or command of it that’s needed to develop into an ace. Last season opposing batters hit .265 against his four-seam fastball with 12 home runs. However, his slider is a swing-and-miss-pitch and his changeup shows flashes of being an average offering. The Reds must help him do a better job with his pitch sequencing, which has been inconsistent in his first two seasons. The physical and mental talent are there but Greene, 24, needs to make further adjustments to become an All-Star, top-of-the-rotation-caliber starter.
Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants
The Giants are tired of teams asking for Harrison in trade talks but they’re not tired of saying “no.” San Francisco is hoping his command and control arrive this year because if they do, he and their ace, Logan Webb, would give the Giants a strong duo at the top of the rotation. Harrison, 22, posted a 1.478 WHIP and 4.52 ERA in 21 starts last year in the minors, but struck out 109 in 67 2/3 innings. He made his major-league debut in late August and held his own over seven starts (4.15 ERA, 1.154 WHIP), showing how effective he can be when he throws strikes, pitches ahead and hits his spot. I’ll be focused on his command and control this spring.
Cade Horton, RHP, Cubs
Horton was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 draft out of Oklahoma and he’s the Cubs’ best pitching prospect. He posted a 2.65 ERA in 21 starts last season across Low A, High A and Double A, with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings. I’m looking forward to watching him because I’ve never seen him pitch in person.
Michael King, RHP, Padres
King was one of the headliners in the Juan Soto trade after a career-best year with the Yankees in which he registered a 2.75 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings. When he arrived in the big leagues in 2019, his fastball was just 90-92 mph, but now he’s throwing in the mid-90s. King throws his sweeper, which he developed in the majors, 29 percent of the time. His changeup (14.5 percent) was so good last season that opposing batters hit just .106 against it. I’m curious if his repertoire will hold up as a full-time starter and how many innings he’ll be able to log. I love his makeup and am fascinated to see what he can do over 24 to 25 starts as he hasn’t started more than 10 games since 2018.
Dylan Lesko, RHP, Padres
Lesko, the 15th overall pick in the 2022 draft, has top-of-the-rotation stuff but struggled with command and control last year in his first professional season (33 innings across three levels). He walked 6.0 per nine innings and struck out 14.2 per nine. He was 19 and coming off Tommy John surgery. I want to see how the Padres are working with him on his delivery to achieve a more consistent release point, which should reduce the walks. He certainly has “wow” raw stuff.
John Means, LHP, Orioles
Means returned last season from Tommy John surgery and made four starts in September, logging a 2.66 ERA and allowing just 13 hits in 23 2/3 innings. In that small sample he displayed similar velocity and stuff to his past form. At his best in 2019 and 2021 he posted a combined 3.61 ERA over 53 starts. If he can make 25-plus starts with an ERA in the 3.60 range it would be meaningful for the back of the Orioles’ rotation — that would certainly bode well for a team that won 101 games last season and was without him for most of the year. Is he all the way back?
Jacob Misiorowski, RHP, Brewers
Misiorowski had the best raw stuff of anyone in the Futures Game last year in Seattle. He struck out the side in the fourth inning, giving up only a broken-bat single to the Tigers’ Colt Keith. He threw 11 fastballs in that outing, and all of them were between 100 and 102 mph. He also threw a wipeout curveball that struck out the A’s Lawrence Butler and a 92 mph wipeout slider that struck out the Tigers’ Justyn-Henry Malloy. Like many young pitchers, control is an issue for Misiorowski, who walked 5.3 batters per nine innings last season across Low A, High A and Double A to go along with 13.9 strikeouts per nine. The Brewers are developing him as a starter but he could probably pitch in the big leagues as a reliever as soon as this September. His stuff is so electric, and I can’t wait to see the progress he’s made since last season.
Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers
Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Auburn. He reached the majors in 2020 and made seven starts that season, then showed his vast potential in 2021 when he had a 3.71 ERA over 30 starts (150 1/3 innings). He missed most of the 2022 season and all of 2023 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and back surgery. He’s one of the players returning from injury I’m really looking forward to seeing this spring.
Ryan Pepiot, RHP, Rays
Pepiot was the headliner in the trade that sent Rays ace Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Manuel Margot to the Dodgers in exchange for him and outfielder Jonny DeLuca. The 26-year-old righty had a strong debut for Los Angeles last season, posting a 2.14 ERA over 42 innings while allowing just 27 hits and five walks compared to 38 strikeouts. He also made six starts at Triple A, logging a 3.97 ERA with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His fastball is 93 to 95 mph, his changeup is his best secondary pitch (he throws it a whopping 34 percent of the time), and he has a hard slider that averages 88 mph. On the surface, it didn’t seem like the Rays got enough in return for Glasnow. However, I learned long ago to never bet against Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander and his staff. I can’t wait to see what Tampa Bay’s analytics and pitching groups do with Pepiot in spring training.
Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins
Pérez looked like a future Cy Young Award winner in his first 11 starts with the Marlins last year, going 5-3 with a 2.36 ERA, 1.088 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings. However, Miami decided to shut him down when he was on a roll, then started him back up a few weeks later. He finished the year with a 4.26 ERA over his final eight starts. I want to see if Pérez, 20, can regain the dominance he showed in the first half of the season. He has ace-level potential.
Cole Ragans, LHP, Royals
On the final day of June last year, Royals general manager J.J. Picollo made the best trade of his career when he dealt Aroldis Chapman to the Rangers for Ragans and minor-league outfielder Roni Cabrera. Ragans proceeded to become the best starting pitcher on their roster, going 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts with Kansas City, striking out 89 while allowing only 50 hits over 71 2/3 innings. Is he really this good? Was it really that good of a trade for the Royals? I can’t wait to find out more about him.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
Baltimore fans have been clamoring for the Orioles to trade for an ace or sign one in free agency, but they might already have one in Rodriguez. He was dominant last August, posting a 2.64 ERA over five starts, and was even better in September (2.17 ERA in five starts). In his final 10 starts of the regular season, he logged a 2.48 ERA over 59 2/3 innings. His fastball is mostly 97 to 99 mph to go with his nasty, “dead fish” changeup, and he throws a cutter, slider and curveball as well. He has special extension (96th percentile) and his secondary stuff is just mind-blowing. Opposing batters hit .201 against his changeup, .155 against his slider and .176 against his curveball. If Rodriguez can improve the life on his fastball and his location of it, he might just finish top 5 in the AL Cy Young Award voting this year.
Paul Skenes, RHP, Pirates
Skenes, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, went 12-2 with 1.69 ERA as a junior at LSU, striking out 209 in 122 2/3 innings over 19 starts. The Pirates are expected to take it slow with him, which is the right thing to do, but Skenes is so talented that I won’t be surprised if he makes it to the big leagues as early as this September. Many scouts have told me they view him as the best pitching prospect in the sport since Stephen Strasburg. I can’t wait to see his dominant stuff next month in Bradenton, Fla.
Gavin Williams, RHP, Guardians
Williams had a strong rookie season, going 3-5 with a 3.29 ERA in 16 starts. His extension ranked in the 99th percentile according to Statcast. His Breaking Run Value was in the 86th percentile, his Fastball Run Value was in the 80th percentile, and his Barrel% was in the 84 percentile. All of those metrics scream future success. I’m most excited to see both of Williams’ breaking pitches because major-league hitters batted just .157 against his slider and .174 against his curveball last year. When you combine that with a mid-90s fastball, look out.
Francisco Alvarez, Mets
Alvarez’s power is real and if he gets to be the full-time catcher of the Mets this season, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t belt 30 home runs or more. (He had 25 homers last season.) However, he struggled in other ways as a hitter last year, batting only .209 with a .284 on-base percentage and a 95 OPS+. He struck out 47 times in 202 at-bats against a fastball and 41 times in 128 at-bats against a breaking ball. However, he’s much better than those metrics suggest and I’m eager to see his adjustments at the plate this year. Behind the plate, Alvarez continues to improve defensively, but I’d like to see the 22-year-old make a giant leap forward in his game calling. I believe he’ll develop into an All-Star catcher.
Yainer Diaz, Astros
The Astros said adios to Martín Maldonado, the catcher most responsible for their pitching success over the past five years, because they felt Diaz was ready to be the everyday guy. He’s going to hit, as he showed last year when he batted .282 with 23 home runs in just 355 at-bats. The big question is, how well will he do calling games? He’s following in the footsteps of one of the best in the business in that area.
Jeferson Quero, Brewers
The Brewers’ No. 1 catcher, William Contreras, had a more than a solid first season in Milwaukee, as he hit .289 with 17 home runs and 3.8 WAR while being considered at least a top 10 overall receiver in the game. But the Brewers also have one of the sport’s top catching prospects in Quero, who the industry has been buzzing about and I’ve never seen play in person. He posted a .339 OBP with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs in 90 games last year in Double A. He’s considered a much better defensive catcher than Contreras and has an above-average arm with a quick release, which he showed in the Arizona Fall League, throwing out 11 of 24 would-be base stealers. If Quero, 21, develops quickly and is major-league-ready by this summer, do the Brewers move Contreras to DH? Trade one of them? Just platoon them?
Ethan Salas, Padres
Salas is considered the best catching prospect in baseball and the best overall prospect in the Padres system and he’s only 17 years old. San Diego gave him a $5.6 million bonus when they signed him out of Venezuela last January, and who could blame them when you look at his above-average tools across the board except his speed. He didn’t disappoint in his first pro season, making it all the way to Double A. Everyone in the sport wants to see Salas this spring.
Luisangel Acuña, 2B, Mets
The Mets acquired Acuña from the Rangers in the deadline trade for Max Scherzer. He is the younger brother of Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. The 21-year-old middle infielder slashed .294/.359/.410 last year in Double A with 28 doubles and 57 stolen bases. (He was caught stealing 10 times.) He profiles as a future table-setter who plays with high energy and enthusiasm.
Michael Busch, 1B, Cubs
The Cubs made a shrewd trade when they picked up Busch in a deal with the Dodgers, realizing he was blocked behind Freddie Freeman at first base with Los Angeles. However, they paid a huge price as they gave up Jackson Ferris, a top left-handed pitching prospect, in the four-player trade. The Cubs say they plan to play Busch at first base. He really hit in the minors with his best season coming in 2022, when he belted 32 homers and drove in 108 runs in Double A and Triple A. In 2023 at Triple A, he hit 27 home runs with 90 RBIs and slashed .323/.431/.618. Will that minor-league success translate to the majors?
Junior Caminero, 3B, Rays
Every time I see Caminero hit I get goosebumps. His electric bat speed and power get me every time. And Caminero, 20, has put up the stats to match his skills as last year he slashed .324/.384/.591 with 18 doubles, 31 home runs and 94 RBIs between High A and Double A. He was so good that the Rays called him up to the majors for the final seven games of the regular season. Now, with Wander Franco’s legal troubles and Taylor Walls trying to come back from hip surgery, is there a pathway for Caminero to make the big-league team out of spring training? The Rays currently have Isaac Paredes at third base and José Caballero at shortstop. I know this much: When Caminero is ready, he’ll be in The Show, and I’m excited to see this spring if he can make the leap as early as Opening Day.
Jackson Holliday, SS, Orioles
Holliday was the best hitting prospect I saw last year, bar none. He was the most talented player I saw in the Futures Game. His hit tool looks like that of someone who will win multiple batting titles in his career. Mike Elias will not be afraid to have the 20-year-old make the big-league team out of spring training as the Orioles GM knows if Holliday wins Rookie of the Year, they’d get an additional first-round pick in 2025. I don’t know how much power he’ll have in the majors, but I think he’ll be a high average and high OBP player.
Brady House, 3B, Nationals
The Nationals signed Nick Senzel to be their placeholder at third base for 2024, but don’t be surprised if he’ll have to change positions again come September, when House should be major-league-ready. You can bet your House (drumroll) he’s going to hit for average and have way more power in the majors than he’s shown in the minors. In 2023, across three different levels (Low A, High A, Double A), he slashed .312/.365/.487 with 12 home runs and 21 doubles in 374 plate appearances. However, the raw power he showed last year in batting practice tells me he’ll be a 25- to 30-home run bat when fully developed.
Xavier Isaac, 1B, Rays
There are already scouts who are calling him Yordan Alvarez Jr. Isaac is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. When the Rays traded first baseman Kyle Manzardo to the Guardians last year, they felt comfortable doing it in part because of Isaac. Last season, he slashed .285/.395/.521 with 20 doubles, 19 home runs and 72 RBIs between Low A and High A. I can’t wait to see him pound the ball in spring training.
Termarr Johnson, 2B, Pirates
Johnson is considered the best-hitting second-base prospect in baseball. He was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 draft out of Mays High in Atlanta. A left-handed hitter, Johnson had a .422 OBP between Low A and High A with 18 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts. The 19-year-old is going to be special. I can’t wait to see him on the back fields in spring training.
Colt Keith, 3B, Tigers
Tigers fans have been screaming for the team to add more bats this offseason but part of the reason the front office hasn’t is they don’t want to block their prospects and Keith is their very best. That was reinforced this weekend when they signed the 22-year-old to a landmark contract extension before he’d played a major-league game. Keith will be given every chance to win the Tigers’ third-base job in spring training and with A.J. Hinch as the manager, it’s likely he makes the leap with a strong spring. Keith batted .306/.380/.552 last season with 27 homers and 101 RBIs between Double A and Triple A. Most player development people I talk with think he’s major-league-ready now.
Keith will make $28,642,500 over the first six years of the deal: $2.5M in 2024, $3.5M in 2025, $4M per season from 2026-27, and $5M per season from 2028-29. The deal also includes a $2M signing bonus, $10M club option for 2030 with a $2,642,500 buyout, $13M club option for 2031…
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) January 28, 2024
Brooks Lee, SS, Twins
I could not believe it when Lee dropped to the Twins at No. 8 in the 2022 draft, and I think the Cal Poly product will eventually be a game-changer for them. I don’t know whether he’ll end up playing second base, shortstop or third base, but regardless I view him as a future All-Star. Last year, Lee posted an .808 OPS with 39 doubles, 16 home runs and 84 RBIs between Double A and Triple A while playing solid defense at shortstop.
Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Guardians
The Guardians were willing to trade starting pitcher Aaron Civale to the Rays despite being in a pennant race because the return, Manzardo, solved the first base position for the long term. A left-handed hitter, Manzardo posted an .802 OPS last season with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs. Following the trade, he had a .938 OPS in 92 plate appearances with Triple-A Columbus and a .905 OPS in 103 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League. He’s ready to be the Guardians’ everyday first baseman now.
Coby Mayo, 3B, Orioles
The Orioles have been trying to trade for starting pitching over the past couple of years and teams keep asking for Mayo as the headliner in return. The O’s are reluctant to move him, but with Gunnar Henderson, Jackson Holliday and Jordan Westburg already in key infield positions, they could at least consider moving Mayo if they could acquire a starter such as Corbin Burnes, Dylan Cease or another difference-maker. Mayo slashed .290/.410/.564 last year between Double A and Triple A with 45 doubles, 29 home runs and 99 RBIs. Yeah, with that kind of bat, I’d be reluctant to move him, too.
Noelvi Marte, 3B, Reds
Marte is trying to come back from a hamstring injury he suffered during winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He’s expected to be the Reds’ everyday third baseman this year, although at this point they’ll be rotating seven infielders in and out of the lineup. I view Marte as a future All-Star who will hit for average and power. He should be able to join the 20 home run/20 stolen base club this year if he gets 500 plate appearances.
Jackson Chourio, CF, Brewers
Who doesn’t want to see the 19-year-old this spring after he signed a guaranteed eight-year, $82 million deal before he’d played a single game in the majors. Chourio is a line-drive hitter who will use the whole field from foul pole to foul pole while focusing on hitting the ball up the middle from gap to gap. His line-drive stroke is one of the shortest in the game, and he has great barrel awareness and special hand-eye coordination. He’ll develop into a 30-home run/30-stolen base player in time.
Max Clark, OF, Tigers
Clark was the No. 3 pick overall in last year’s draft, as the Tigers opted to take him instead of Wyatt Langford, whom the Rangers selected at No. 4. The pick was controversial because most clubs had Langford ranked above Clark on their draft boards. Clark has one of the best outfield arms in the minor leagues and is one of the fastest players in the sport, which is why Detroit took him over Langford. Only time will tell who drafted the better outfielder, but it will be fun to evaluate these players over the next several years. It’s just another example of a great baseball debate.
Dylan Crews, OF, Nationals
The Nationals took Crews out of LSU with the second overall pick last year, as he was by far the most polished position player in the draft and should be major-league-ready quickly. He played 35 games in the Nationals farm system last season and hit .292/.377/.467 with nine doubles and five home runs in 137 at-bats.
Walker Jenkins, OF, Twins
Jenkins was drafted fifth overall last year and the Twins were able to select him because they jumped eight places in MLB’s inaugural draft lottery. I’ve never seen him play in person. Jenkins, who is nicknamed “Captain America,” slashed .362/.417/.571 over 105 minor-league at-bats last year.
Wyatt Langford, LF, Rangers
Don’t be surprised if Langford ends up being the best position player taken in the 2023 draft even though he was taken fourth overall. In his first pro season, he raced through four levels, slashing .360/.480/.677 (1.157 OPS) with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases. And that’s not counting the 21 homers he hit in his final season at Florida. The Rangers considered calling him up last September and are open to seeing if he can make the team out of spring training. He’s one of those prospects who makes your heart beat faster just thinking about his potential.
Zac Veen, CF, Rockies
Veen, 22, has battled injuries the past couple of years and this is a big season for him. I’ve always felt he’d hit for average, with the potential of 20 home runs and 50 stolen bases when fully developed. I will be interested to see how he’s matured and how he fares in his return after season-ending wrist surgery last June.
Jordan Walker, RF, Cardinals
The Cardinals mishandled Walker last spring when they put him on the big-league team out of spring training, then abruptly optioned him a few weeks into the season even though he was holding his own. I think he was given too much instruction and overanalyzed things in the first half of season, but the Cardinals finally let him just play in the second half. He did well in learning a new position, right field, but remains a work in progress. However, he did end up hitting .276 with 16 home runs in 420 at-bats last season, and he batted .304 in September with four homers and 12 RBIs. I expect him to hit .290 this year with about 22 to 24 home runs.
James Wood, OF, Nationals
In my Futures Game superlatives column last year, I called Wood the best middle-of-the order power prospect in the game and wrote the following: “At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Wood really stands out on the field. What’s even more impressive is his ability to cover the strike zone despite his large frame. Also impressive: his speed at that size, thanks to large strides and good first-step quickness. However, my biggest takeaway Saturday was his BP power to left and right field. He’s a superstar in the making.” Wood is coming off a season in which he posted an .873 OPS with 26 homers between High A and Double A. I’m looking forward to monitoring his progress in West Palm Beach this March.
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(Top image photos: Noelvi Marte: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Paul Skenes: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press; Francisco Alvarez: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)