One breakout prospect candidate for each team

Detroit Tigers

After Triple-A play began last Friday, Double-A, High-A and Single-A circuits followed this week, meaning we’re running at 100 percent participation across the Minor League full-season levels.

Some of the most fun parts of every campaign are the breakouts – players who weren’t prominently ranked on prospect lists but surprise evaluators with improved tools and on-field performance. We don’t see every breakout coming, by definition, but some are easier to predict than others.

After our MLB Pipeline team spread out across Arizona and Florida this spring, here is one breakout candidate for each of the 30 organizations, along with comments from their respective farm directors:

Blue Jays: Rainer Nunez, 1B (No. 26)
The 22-year-old put himself on the map with 19 homers between Single-A and High-A last season and the exit velocities to back it up. After being named the LIDOM Rookie of the Year in the offseason, he kept up his hard-hitting ways this spring and could launch himself into the stratosphere in his return to Vancouver this week.

“It was only supposed to be for a little bit so we could get him a little extra work, but he played so well that he got the Rookie of the Year,” said Blue Jays director of player development Joe Sclafani of Nunez’s winter-ball experience. “Credit to him, he put in the work that he needed to, and he’s shown up looking like a man amongst boys.”

Orioles: Samuel Basallo, C (No. 11)
After years of staying away from making big international signings, the O’s made a splash by adding Basallo for $1.3 million in January 2021. Two years later, he’s shown the above-average power and plus arm to move up to Single-A Delmarva at just 18 years old and could rocket in his first taste of full-season ball.

“I think he’s going to be challenged there,” said Orioles director of player development Matt Blood. “We know that it’s a year of development. Obviously performance matters, but for us, he’s going to be 18 years old at that level, and we know that that will come with challenges. That’s what development is all about. So for us, this is going to be a really productive year for him regardless of the exact numbers that he produces.”

Rays: Evan Reifert, RHP (No. 28)
The 23-year-old right-hander was one of the most dominant pitchers in Arizona Fall League history. Though he’s missing the start of the season with shoulder inflammation, his mid-80s slider is a nearly unhittable wipeout pitch that could get him into the Tampa Bay bullpen soon.

“Obviously, the slider is the highlight, but he’s tinkered with some changes to his fastball in the hopes of getting a little bit more movement to complement the slider,” said Rays director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran. “We’ll find that balance, but we’re really excited about how he’s been able to carry over the success from the Fall League while pushing himself to a new level.”

Red Sox: Luis Perales, RHP (No. 13)
The Boston system is known more for its bats than its arms, but the 19-year-old right-hander has the mid-90s fastball and above-average slider to become a more prominent name heading into his first full season with a non-complex affiliate.

“I think number one is slowing things down and really challenging the strike zone with the stuff he has,” Abraham said. “He has really good stuff. Now, we want him to challenge the strike zone, challenge hitters because it’s really hard to hit what he has. From there, it’s continuing to develop a slider and a changeup so he has a mix.”

Yankees: Spencer Jones, OF (No. 5)
Taken 25th overall last July, Jones battled injuries over his time at Vanderbilt but showed what he was capable of when healthy, hitting .325/.411/.494 in 22 games while topping out with a 111.3 mph exit velocity in the Florida State League last season. At a listed 6-foot-6, he should be able to plug himself right into an organization that knows how to develop a certain-sized slugger.

“He doesn’t seem to be a guy that’s just swinging out of hand or just looking to do damage,” said vice president of player development Kevin Reese. “He doesn’t have to get too much behind it to get the exit velos up as someone that size. [Zone coverage] is something we’re continuing to work on with everybody, but with him, so far so good.”

Guardians: Jake Fox, OF/2B (No. 12)
Scouts loved his left-handed swing and approach as a high school product heading into the 2021 Draft, and Fox showed off tremendous on-base skills (.381 OBP in 2022), and his contact skills point to a huge step forward offensively.

“He’s really fun to watch,” Guardians assistant general manager Harris said. “He’s going to play second base and primarily some center field, so that’ll be fun to watch as well. He’s an under-the-radar guy who works hard and shows up and helps your team.”

Royals: Carter Jensen, C (No. 10)
Jensen improved significantly in the final two-plus months of his first full pro season as an 18-year-old in Single-A, batting .286/.440/.429 with 51 walks in his final 52 games of 2022 while also making progress with his receiving.

“The strides he has made behind the plate after never catching as much as he did last year, Carter has done a great job,” Kansas City farm director Mitch Maier said. “From an offensive standpoint, he has really performed well in the metrics we value. He walks, he controls the strikes zone, he swings at good pitches, he uses the entire field. He’s also very mature for his age in the way he goes about his work.”

Tigers: Cristian Santana, SS/2B (No. 10)
Detroit has had high hopes for Santana since signing him for $2.95 million in January 2021, and the organization got aggressive with the infielder with an assignment to Single-A Lakeland last summer. His 123 wRC+ in the FSL indicated some understanding of the level early on, and now that he’s repeating it to begin 2023, even better numbers may not be far behind.

“He knows how to swing at the right pitches,” said Tigers director of player development Ryan Garko. “Now it’s just refining some things with the swing to get the ball in the air a little bit more and drive the balls to the gap. Then, all the rest of the numbers will round out around some of his zone-control numbers.”

Twins: Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 87)
You could call Rodriguez’s 2022 — in which he hit .272/.482/.551 over 47 Single-A games — a breakout, and we wouldn’t argue. But a torn right meniscus held him back from entering the upper echelon of the Top 100 rankings in the offseason. Now healthy again and off to High-A Cedar Rapids, it could be a quick ascent for the 20-year-old with plus pop and above-average speed.

“He had an incredible eye, and he showcased power that I think you rarely ever see from a teenager in the Florida State League,” said director of player development Drew MacPhail. “In our mind, he proved all he needed to prove at Single-A, and now he’s ready for that next challenge.”

White Sox: Loidel Chapelli, 2B (No. 27)
Listed at 5-foot-8 and built like a slightly taller Jose Altuve, Chapelli crushed younger competition in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League after signing last June and has jumped two levels to High-A in 2023.

“It’s tough to make a lot out of performance in the DSL, but I believe in Loidel’s bat,” Chicago assistant GM and farm director Chris Getz said. “It’s a low-maintenance swing, and he has good hands with strength. For a 21-year-old, it’s a pretty mature bat. He has a little bit of pop and can scoot a little bit.”

Angels: Walbert Urena, RHP (No. 17)
Signed in 2021, Urena lit up radar guns in the Arizona Complex League in 2022, touching triple digits, and he will work on refining his command (7.7 BB/9 last year) as he hits full-season ball for the first time.

“It’s a big fastball, he flashes a plus changeup, the breaking ball has continued to come along,” Angels farm director Joey Prebynski said. “Physically, he’s gotten stronger over the winter. He’s continued to improve his ability to repeat his delivery and compete with his stuff in the zone.”

Astros: Colton Gordon, LHP (No. 10)
Gordon bounced back from 2021 Tommy John surgery to compile a 2.35 ERA between three levels last summer while ranking first in the Minors (minimum 50 innings) in strikeout-minus-walk rate (35 percent) and second in K/BB ratio (9.8). His 89-94 mph four-seam fastball gets swing and misses because his low release point and wide and flat approach angle create tremendous carry, and his experience pitching for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic could expedite his development.

“Colton is so in tune with what we’re trying to accomplish,” Houston farm director Sara Goodrum said. “The opportunity to play for Team Israel and face top big league hitters on that stage was good for him. He’s a fast learner who makes adjustments very quickly. That’s why he keeps getting better.”

A’s: Brett Harris, 3B (No. 15)
The breakout sort of came for this 2021 senior sign last year as he reached Double-A and showed surprising power, but a full season at the upper levels could really put him firmly on radars everywhere.

“He doesn’t get talked about,” A’s farm director Ed Sprague said. “He’s a steady Eddie guy. For me, he’s going to be kind of like a Scott Brosius-type guy, a solid defender who comes with a little bit of power. He plays every day, he’s not a superstar-type guy, but on a winning ballclub, he’s a really good fit.”

Mariners: Lazaro Montes, OF (No. 13)
Montes signed for $2.5 million in January 2022 and slugged .585 in the Dominican Summer League, and now he’s ready to bring his offensive upside to the States.

“I think the biggest thing is him to keep tapping into that power,” Mariners farm director Justin Toole said. “He’s put some good swings on some pitches [in Spring Training]. Obviously, it’s early, but we’re excited about it. He’s also a kid that’s got a great attitude. He’s the type of guy that a lot of his teammates gravitate towards, because he’s got a big, fun personality.”

Rangers: Winston Santos, RHP (unranked on Rangers Top 30)
Signed for just $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, Santos didn’t make his pro debut until 2021 because of the pandemic. In his first two seasons, the right-hander stood out with the armside run on his fastball, his advanced changeup and his ability to throw strikes. Then his velocity took a leap this spring.

“Winston stayed here all offseason, working on his body and getting stronger,” said Ross Fenstermaker, Texas assistant GM in charge of player development and international scouting. “He has been sitting 95-98 mph every time out. He can move the fastball around, the changeup is there and he has some of the best command in our system.”

Braves: Ambioris Tavarez, SS (No. 9)
Thoracic outlet syndrome can be scary to hear in baseball circles, but the Braves aren’t concerned about the procedure Tavarez underwent to address the issue on his non-throwing side. With a solid bat from the right side, he’s jumping to Single-A Augusta as a healthy and potentially productive 19-year-old infielder.

“He has above-average power, and I think the athleticism at short is exciting,” said Braves assistant general manager Ben Sestanovich. “Any time you have an up-the-middle player with a combination of speed and power, it’s exciting.”

Marlins: Dax Fulton, LHP (No. 4)
Fulton continues to get better as he puts his 2020 Tommy John surgery further behind him, and he finished last season as a 20-year-old in Double-A, striking out 13 over six scoreless innings in the Southern League playoffs to help Pensacola win the championship.

“Dax was up to 98 mph at the end of last year in his playoff game,” Miami director of Minor League operations Hector Crespo said. “The slider allows him to get hitters off his plus curveball and puts a back-foot slider in play for right-handers. It’s cool to see how comfortable he is with it. He’s working on better usage of his pitches and when to use them in different counts. His changeup can be a solid pitch too and when he throws it at a consistent rate, he’s tough to hit.”

Mets: Raimon Gomez, RHP (unranked on Mets Top 30)
Gomez has flown under the radar since signing for $10,000 out of Venezuela at the relatively advanced age of 19 years, 11 months in August 2021. He spent most of his first full pro season as a reliever in Single-A, displaying a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider. He’ll get a chance to start in 2023 and opened eyes by averaging 100 mph with his heater during a mid-March outing on the back fields.

“Raimon’s stuff is electric,” New York farm director Kevin Howard said. “He might rival [Mets’ No. 7 prospect Blade] Tidwell as the most high-profile starting pitcher in our system. He has a very good slider and he’s working on a changeup. He has pretty decent command for a guy who throws that hard.”

Nationals: Daylen Lile, OF (No. 16)
One of the best pure hitters in the 2021 high school class, Lile missed his entire first full pro season following Tommy John surgery last March but impressed with his bat and athleticism this spring.

“Daylen manages the strike zone as well as anyone here,” Washington farm director De Jon Watson said. “He plays hard and is an unbelievable competitor. He was swinging it so well back here that we sent him over to big league games and he showed out: quality at-bats, flying around the bases, making diving catches in the gap.”

Phillies: William Bergolla, SS (No. 11)
A $2.05 million signing out of Venezuela last year, Bergolla flew out of the gate with a .380/.470/.423 line in 24 games in the 2022 Dominican Summer League. Perhaps most notably, he struck out only three times in 83 plate appearances, showing talent the Phils are hopeful will translate with his move stateside.

“He has a chance to have elite bat-to-ball skills and be a really quality defender at shortstop,” said Phillies director of player development Preston Mattingly. “We hope to see him over here this year. He has to get stronger and honestly continue to improve in all aspects of his game, but he’s a really good young worker.”

Brewers: Wes Clarke, 1B/C (unranked on Brewers Top 30)
Clarke hit 23 homers at South Carolina in 2021, but scouts weren’t sure if his swing would work, or where he would play defensively, as a pro. The 10th-round pick made it to Double-A in his first full season, hitting 14 homers and surprising everyone with how he looked in the field.

“Honestly coming out of the Draft, I think we weren’t sure on his position,” Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said. “It’s one of those, ‘Hey, we drafted him as a catcher but is he going to stay behind the dish?’ The early reports when we sent him to a full-season club last year was that he can really catch. The bat we were more confident in, and we feel he can really drive the ball. He’s a guy that’s definitely in that sleeper category.”

Cardinals: Jonathan Mejia, SS (No. 10)
The top prospect in St. Louis’ 2022 international class, Mejia has the tools to hit for average and power, though his defense is more a work in progress as he prepares to make his U.S. debut.

“Jonathan is a young man who has made an impression in Minor League camp,” St. Louis assistant GM and farm director Gary LaRocque said. “Right up front, you notice the bat. He has a lot of real good qualities and now we want to make sure he understand the importance of working on his defensive game.”

Cubs: Daniel Palencia, RHP (No. 14)
Traded by the Athletics for Andrew Chafin in July 2021, Palencia has the best fastball among Cubs farmhands, working at 96-98 mph and peaking at 102 with explosive carry, and he also can break off some nasty sliders and knuckle-curves. Some scouts believe Palencia could help the Cubs this year if moved to the bullpen, while others like his upside as a starter.

“Daniel is in our top tier of pitching prospects,” Chicago vice president of player development Jared Banner said. “People short-change him as a starter because of his velocity and delivery, but all four of his pitches work.”

Pirates: Bubba Chandler, RHP (No. 7)
Chandler will stick to the mound in 2023 after being a two-way player last year, and the Pirates have pushed him to High-A Greensboro based on their belief in his pitching ability. With a fastball in the mid-90s and a pair of above-average breaking pitches, the 20-year-old right-hander is cleared for takeoff now that he has only one focus.

“We want him to have an opportunity to focus on one thing and really master a craft,” said director of player development John Baker. “In truth, we’re at a position now where the team that he’d be competing to pitch for is different than the team that he would be competing to hit for. We reached that fork in the road. So we put it in front of him and let him take ownership of it. We’re excited to see him pitch.”

Reds: Austin Callahan, 3B/1B (unranked on Reds Top 30)
A junior college product taken in Round 18 of the 2021 Draft, Callahan didn’t even win a job with a full-season team to start 2022. But he played his way to Single-A Daytona Beach and performed well there, and a full season of that could really put him on the map.

“He played his way out of extended, forced our hand to get him to Daytona Beach and put up really mature, professional at-bats for the whole time he was there,” Reds senior director of player development Jeremy Farrell said. “He has the ability to play both corners on the infield and was our instructional league MVP. He just kept getting better all year.”

D-backs: Cristofer Torin, SS/2B (No. 18)
Signed for $240,000 in January 2022, Torin put up good numbers Dominican Summer League (.333/.465/.434 line), impressing everyone with his incredibly advanced approach and knowledge of the strike zone, which will be on display in the U.S. for the first time this year

“His bat-to-ball skills are elite,” D-backs farm director Josh Barfield said. “He’s got the ability to stay at shortstop, and he’s just very mature for a 17-year-old kid that hasn’t played a game here in the States yet … so I expect his name to kind of pop up on some of these prospect lists by the end of the year.”

Dodgers: River Ryan, RHP (No. 14)
A two-way star at NCAA Division II UNC Pembroke, Ryan drew more pro interest as a pitcher, but the Padres granted his wish and allowed him to focus on hitting in his pro debut after taking him in the 11th round of the 2021 Draft. After getting traded to the Dodgers for Matt Beaty last March, he posted a 2.45 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings while reaching High-A.

“River is a tremendous athlete, and he has taken another step this spring,” Los Angeles farm director Will Rhymes said. “He pitched at 97-99 mph and got up to 101 yesterday with a very high quality fastball. He’s messing with slider grips, and he can dial it up to the upper 80s with more movement or throw a cutter up to 93. His curveball is very good and we’re trying to encourage him to use it more, and he has pretty good feel for his changeup too.”

Giants: Spencer Miles, RHP (No. 28)
The Giants’ fourth-round pick in the 2022 Draft, Miles is a bit delayed starting his 2023 season because of a back issue, but the organization thinks his stuff is going to pop in pro ball once he gets going.

“I watch this guy right now, I don’t know how this guy didn’t dominate in college,” Giants senior director of player development Kyle Haines said. “Maybe the defense wasn’t great behind him or balls found holes, that Missouri team wasn’t very good, but I think if he pitches on a better team, I could easily see him in the top 60 picks of the Draft. He has a very good delivery, he’s very athletic, he has a good breaking ball. He looks the part of a guy.”

Padres: Jagger Haynes, LHP (No. 27)
The 2020 third-round pick has yet to throw a competitive pitch because of COVID and then Tommy John surgery, but he’s 6-foot-3 and projectable with the thought that soon, people will want to move like Jagger.

“For a guy that’s come through the adversity of the Tommy John, through the rehab program, I think he’s somebody that you guys will be talking about and Padres fans will be talking about here at the end of the season,” Padres assistant director of player development Mike Daly said.

Rockies: Andy Perez, SS/3B (unranked on Rockies Top 30)
Signed out of Cuba for $300,000 in January 2021, Perez spent two summers in the Dominican Summer League and hit well. If how he looked during Spring Training is any indication — he played his way onto the Single-A Fresno roster — his U.S. debut could be a good one.

“There’s a lot of projection, he has good actions, he’s going to catch the ball. But his bat has shown up more,” Rockies farm director Chris Forbes said early in Spring Training. “This is his first Minor League camp in the United States and if he’s nervous, it hasn’t shown up. He’s created a nice little stir in camp.”

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