Need for speed: Each team’s fastest prospect

Detroit Tigers

Speed has always a key tool for position players. It’s about to get a whole lot more important.

New rules coming to Major League Baseball in 2023 — namely the ones limiting disengagements on the mound and increasing the size of the bases — are set to encourage an increase in basestealing. We’ve already seen the fruits of that this spring as stolen-base attempts per game are up from 1.53 in Spring Training 2022 to 1.81 entering Thursday. SB efficiency is also up a few points from 73.2 percent last spring to 79.2 with one week to go before Opening Day.

“Have wheels, will steal” should be a mantra for teams looking to take advantage in the weeks and months to come. That will make up-and-coming prospects with elite speed tools all the more valuable as they try to crack Major League rosters in this new era.

Along those lines, these are the fastest prospects from each of the 30 organizations.

Blue Jays: Dasan Brown, OF (No. 15)
Brown’s elite wheels have long driven his standing as a prospect. It manifests itself at top speed (he regularly eclipsed 30 ft./sec. in the Florida State League), and he can jump out of the box with home-to-first times in the 3.9-4.2 range from the right side. His steal rates have been relatively modest to this point with 22 thefts in 2021 and 24 in 2022, but the speed makes him a potentially elite defender in center, too. If he keeps performing with the bat like he did last summer, the Ontario native’s move back to Toronto could be a fast one.

Orioles: Luis Valdez, 2B/OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Signed for just $10,000 in May of 2019, Valdez showed off his 80-grade speed right out of the gate in his official pro debut in 2021, swiping 21 bases in 24 attempts in the Dominican Summer League. He jumped to full-season ball in 2022 and ran his way from Single-A to High-A, finishing second among all Minor Leaguers with 71 steals while playing a lot of second base and continuing to see time in the outfield.

Rays: Chandler Simpson, SS (No. 18)
We stay with the 20-80 scouting scale, but the running report on Simpson heading into last year’s Draft was that he had 90 speed and 10 power. We’ll stick to the positive here and note that the Georgia Tech product has recorded home-to-first times around 3.8 from the right side, which would put him top of the scale no matter the apex. Simpson’s Division I-best .433 average in 2022 was in part driven by that speed as he could beat out infield grounders, and he proved the speed played in the pros by going 8-for-8 in steal attempts in the Florida Complex League.

Red Sox: David Hamilton, 2B/SS (No. 29)
Hamilton ranked fifth in the Minors with 52 steals in his 2021 pro debut, then went from the Brewers to the Red Sox as part of the Hunter Renfroe trade that December. He used his plus-plus speed to set a Boston Minor League record with 70 steals (third in the Minors) last season while hitting .251/.338/.402 in Double-A.

Yankees: Brandon Lockridge, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
A 2018 fifth-round selection out of Troy, Lockridge flashes plus raw power and top-of-the-scale speed. He had the worst season of his career last year, however, batting .230/.300/.378 with 14 homers and 18 steals in Double-A.

Guardians: Luis Durango, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Durango follows in the footsteps of his father Luis, who played 39 games in the Majors, as a Panamanian outfielder with double-plus speed. Signed for $500,000 in 2019 and nicknamed “Dash,” he hit .189/.321/.226 with 20 steals in 71 Single-A games.

Royals: Tyler Tolbert, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Simply put, Tolbert is the most efficient basestealer in the Minors today. He went a perfect 60-for-60 in steal attempts last season at High-A Quad Cities, making him the only Minor Leaguer with more than 35 thefts and zero caught-stealings. He’s been caught only three times in 147 attempts dating back to his debut season in 2019, and that gives him a 97.9 percent SB rate that ranks best among the 209 Minor Leaguers with at least 50 steals in that span.

Tigers: Seth Stephenson, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
The Detroit system doesn’t have a ton of speed – it was the only org without a Minor Leaguer who had more than 30 steals in 2022 – but it added some in a big way by drafting Stephenson in the seventh round last July. The Tennessee outfielder swiped 25 bags for the Vols in the spring and then went 9-for-9 during his time in the Florida State League, where he recorded a home-to-first time as low as 3.85 on a bunt and eclipsed the elite Sprint Speed mark of 30 ft./sec. seven times in 10 games.

Twins: DaShawn Keirsey Jr., OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Keirsey has shown off his speed ever since he was taken out of the University of Utah in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB Draft, but he’s had trouble staying healthy enough to put it to good use in game action. That changed in 2022, when his 121 games and 468 at-bats nearly tripled his previous season highs. As a result, he led the Double-A Texas League with 42 steals in 49 attempts.

White Sox: Duke Ellis, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
The son of former big league pitcher Rob Ellis, Duke succeeded on his final 32 college basestealing attempts at Texas and has gone 80-for-93 in two pro seasons since signing as a nondrafted free agent in 2020. He has plus-plus speed and batted .275/.363/.397 with 57 steals in 109 games between High-A and Double-A.

Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF (No. 30)
Adams’ wheels have never been in question and he’s long used his 80-grade speed to cover a ton of ground and be a plus defender in center field. The 2022 season was the first time he really used his carrying tool on the basepaths consistently, going 33-for-36 in stolen-base attempts between High-A and Double-A. The hit tool is going to have to come along (.670 career OPS) for him to be get a chance to use that speed in the big leagues.

Astros: Logan Cerny, OF (No. 22)
Acquired from the Phillies for Garrett Stubbs in November 2021, Cerny not only possesses double-plus speed but also plus raw power and solid arm strength. He hit .197/.293/.401 in Single-A during the first two months of last season, then improved to .297/.404/.513 in the next two before getting shut down with a bruised right thumb.

A’s: Esteury Ruiz, OF (No. 6)
Have legs, will travel? Initially signed by the Royals in 2015, he was sent to the Padres two years later. In 2022, he went from San Diego to Milwaukee in the Josh Hader deal, then got sent to the A’s in the three-team trade that made Sean Murphy a Brave.

Mariners: Jonatan Clase, OF (No. 12)
Clase has long been considered the fastest player in the organization, ever since he signed for $35,000 in July of 2018 and he swiped 31 bags while hitting .300 in his DSL debut in 2019. He missed a bunch of 2021 with injuries but in 107 games during his full-season debut with Single-A Modesto, Clase led the California League with 55 stolen bases. His prospect stock has risen as he’s added strength and started to develop into a more well-rounded outfielder.

Rangers: Cam Cauley, SS/2B (Not ranked among Top 30)
Cauley’s plus-plus speed also made him an all-state wide receiver as a Texas high schooler before he gave up football as a senior and became a third-round pick in 2021. He’s also a quality middle-infielder defender with bat speed and sneaky power, though swing-and-miss issues led to a .209/.306/.289 line with 38 steals in 77 Single-A games. The Rangers are optimistic that he’ll bounce back after cleaning up his swing and some timing issues during the offseason.

Braves: Kevin Kilpatrick, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
As a Georgia high schooler, Kilpatrick posted some impressive 60-yard dash times, then took his speed to the College of Central Florida. The outfielder didn’t get to run a ton in junior college, though he did steal 18 bases in 22 tries over two summers in the Northwoods League. The Braves took a flyer (See what we did there?) on him in Round 17 of the 2022 Draft and he promptly went 10-for-11 in stolen-base attempts over 32 games during his summer pro debut.

Mets: Omar De Los Santos, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
No one had more of a green light in the Mets’ system than De Los Santos in 2022. Case in point, he stole 70 bags in 111 games for Single-A St. Lucie: His next-closest competition in the system: Johneshwy Fargas with 28. The 23-year-old outfielder has the freedom to run because of his agility and quickness. De Los Santos recorded 14 of the 21 fastest home-to-first times measured by Statcast among St. Lucie players in 2022, all of which were between 3.88 and 4.15 seconds.

Marlins: Nasim Nuñez, SS (No. 21)
A second-round pick as a Georgia high schooler in 2019, Nuñez grades as a plus-plus runner and shortstop defender and also has well above-average arm strength. He ranked third in the Minors with 70 steals last season but his lack of physicality resulted in a .251/.384/.317 line between High-A and Double-A.

Nationals: Elijah Green, OF (No. 3, MLB No. 46)
An ample set of tools is what made Green the fifth overall pick last July, but there’s only one 70 on his scouting report. That’s his speed after he was measured at IMG Academy with a laser-timed 5.99 second 60-yard dash time. (The Nats have him around the 6-6.1 range.) Even if the 19-year-old slows down as he matures into his 6-foot-3 frame, that’s still going to be near-elite quickness and will help him compete with a plethora of options for the future of the center-field spot in D.C.

Phillies: Justin Crawford, OF (No. 4)
The Phillies have a lot of speed in their system, with four members of their Top 30 getting 70 speed grades. Crawford, the club’s first-round pick in 2022 and son of former MLB speedster Carl, gets the nod among the quartet. He swiped 10 bags during his pro debut and has the chance to be known for much more than just his speed, which he already knows how to use on both sides of the ball.

Brewers: Garrett Mitchell, OF (No. 4)
The 2020 first-rounder played 28 games in the Majors last year and instantly became one of the top level’s fastest players. His Sprint Speed ranked in the 99th percentile, and he posted multiple Statcast-measured home-to-first times below 4.03 seconds from the left side, thus blazing out of the box. While the bat remains in question, Mitchell has leveraged his athleticism into becoming the likely Opening Day center fielder, and he’ll need every ounce of it to hold off charges from Jackson Chourio and Sal Frelick in the middle of the park down the line.

Cardinals: Victor Scott II, OF (No. 28)
You could go with Scott or Mike Antico (he of the 67-steal season in 2022) here, and we couldn’t complain too much. For his part, Scott, who had multiple sub-4 home-to-first times, finished with 11 of the 12 highest Sprint Speeds measured by Statcast among Palm Beach players last year, and he only joined the FSL club in late July. His 38 steals in his final spring with West Virginia led the Big 12 and ranked sixth in Division I, so you can bet he’ll be moving in his first full season this summer.

Cubs: Zach Davis, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Davis started just 56 games in four years at Texas Tech, but his 80-grade speed got him selected in the 32nd round of the 2016 Draft and he signed for $1,000. He has 154 steals in 394 pro games, including 34 in as many tries last year, when he batted .254/.356/.299 in 70 contests between Double-A and Triple-A. Interestingly, outfielder Kevin Alcantara grades as merely a solid runner out of the batter’s box but has the highest peak speed in the system as tracked by GPS (23 mph).

Pirates: Ji Hwan Bae, 2B/OF (No. 13)
Bae has used his legs to carry him up to the big leagues and he even swiped three bases during his 11 games with Pittsburgh in 2022. He has started to impact the ball a little more, giving him the chance to be a regular in a big league lineup, but he knows his bread-and-butter is making contact and getting on base and then creating havoc, having stolen 30 or more bases in two of his three full Minor League seasons.

Reds: Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B (No. 1, MLB No. 10)
One of two Top 100 prospects in this story — both are in the top 10 — De La Cruz obviously offers up much more than just pure speed. The 6-foot-5 infielder has plus power and an above-average hit tool to boot, a big reason why he turned in a 20-40 season in 2022. He’s pretty efficient, too, stealing 47 in 53 tries last year while hitting the most home runs of anyone who stole 40 or more bags for the season.

D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 2)
Carroll is the other Top 10 overall prospect, and there’s a good case to be made that he’s already the Majors’ fastest runner. His average Sprint Speed of 30.7 ft./sec. led all Major Leaguers (min. 10 opportunities). He recorded the Majors’ fastest triple of 2022, going home to third in 10.75 seconds. His 3.77 home-to-first time this spring – recorded on a March 21 bunt attempt — is the fastest measured by Statcast this spring in eligible ballparks. Carroll’s blazing speed will play a big role in his NL Rookie of the Year campaign.

Dodgers: Jake Vogel, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Vogel ran the fastest 60-yard dash (6.15 seconds) at the 2019 Perfect Game National Showcase and was regarded as one of the best high school athletes in the 2020 Draft, where he signed for a well over-slot $1,622,500 in the third round. Still adjusting to pro pitching and learning how to maximize his double-plus speed, he hit .236/.327/.336 with 19 steals in Single-A.

Giants: Grant McCray, OF (No. 3)
The son of former big leaguer Rodney McCray and a 2019 third-round pick out of a Florida high school, McCray broke out in 2022 when he finally stayed healthy and made some adjustments to his swing and approach. He batted .289/.383/.514 between Single-A and High-A, parlaying his solid power into 23 homers and his plus-plus speed into 43 steals.

Padres: Korry Howell, OF/SS (No. 13)
Howell’s plus-plus speed has allowed him to move all around the diamond during his time in the Brewers and Padres systems, including all three outfield spots as well as short, second and third. He hasn’t been as aggressive as you’d expect on the basepaths, but he was efficient last year, going 12-for-13 in steal attempts in 48 games for Double-A Biloxi before a wrist injury ended his season. He could be a prime candidate to take advantage of the new rules and post gaudy stolen-base numbers as he closes in on the Majors.

Rockies: Braiden Ward, OF (Not ranked among Top 30)
Wherever Ward has gone, he’s been a legit basestealing threat. He stole 89 bases in his career at the University of Washington while also swiping 35 in the Northwoods League in 2018, 27 in the Cape Cod League in 2019 and 34 more back with the Northwoods League in 2020. He showed that the speed plays at the pro level in 2022, with his 57 steals (in 62 attempts) across two levels of A-ball putting him in a tie for 11th among all Minor Leaguers.

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