Numbers don’t lie: One standout prospect stat from each team

Detroit Tigers

Stats help tell the story of baseball.

Those are all iconic numbers tied to the best of the best in the game, and the pursuits of them give us storylines to follow as the seasons roll along. That’s no less true in the Minors than it is in the Majors. There may be significantly fewer 20-game winners (read: virtually zero in the modern age), but while we focus on tools as well as performance, the numbers help give us peeks into who could be the record-setters of tomorrow.

With that in mind, here is one prospect-related stat that stood out to us from each of the 30 farm systems this year:

Blue Jays: .450 OBP
Spencer Horwitz, 1B (No. 16)
Owner of a career .407 OBP in the Minors, Horwitz has always been a solid on-base guy through his four seasons in the Jays system, but he took things to a new level in 2023 with a .450 mark for Buffalo that ranked third among 707 Minor League full-season qualifiers. To get there, Horwitz batted .337 and walked more times (78) than he struck out (72) over 484 plate appearances, leading to multiple Major League looks.

Orioles: 162 wRC+
Samuel Basallo, C/1B (No. 5/MLB No. 46)
The Orioles, as everyone knows, have more hitting prospects than they know what to do with. But even with Hitting Prospect of the Year Jackson Holliday, big league contributors like Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, and sluggers like Coby Mayo, it was Basallo who led the organization with his 162 wRC+ in 2023. He also finished second in OPS (.953) and slugging (.551), while finishing third in OBP (.402) and second in batting average (.313).

Rays: .591 slugging percentage
Junior Caminero, 3B/SS (No. 1/MLB No. 6)
Pick a power stat from Caminero’s season at High-A and Double-A, and he’s going to stand out. But we’ll stick with the slugging percentage. Caminero’s .591 was fifth-best among Minor League full-season qualifiers, and playing in his age-19 season, he was the only qualified teenager to slug above .565. His .547 SLG at Montgomery alone was the second-best mark by a Double-A teenager (min. 300 PA) since 2006, trailing only Justin Upton’s .556 in 2007.

Red Sox: 13.6 K/9
Wikelman Gonzalez, RHP (No. 9)
Gonzalez shook off a 15.58 ERA in High-A in August to finish strong in Double-A and lead the Minors in strikeout rate as well as strikeout percentage (35 percent). Signed for $250,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, he flashes three plus pitches, including a mid-90s fastball with quality carry.

Yankees: 182 K
Drew Thorpe, RHP (No. 5/MLB No. 99)
A second-round pick out of Cal Poly in 2022, Thorpe won MLB Pipeline Pitching Prospect of the Year honors and topped the Minors in strikeouts in his pro debut. His changeup and his command are his best attributes, and he also ranked first in strikeout minus walk percentage (26.9) and second in wins (14), winning percentage (.875), WHIP (0.98) and strikeout percentage (34 percent).

Guardians: 2.86 FIP
Will Dion, LHP (No. 27)
Dion led the Minors in Fielding Independent Pitching, which is similar to ERA but focuses solely on events that pitchers have the most control over: strikeouts, walks, hit batters and homers. An unheralded 2021 ninth-round pick out of McNeese State, he thrives with deception and command and also placed second in the Minors in ERA (2.39).

Royals: 3.3 swinging-strike rate
Javier Vaz, 2B/OF (No. 13)

In this age of higher strikeout numbers, finding a player who thrives on making contact is increasingly rare, making the 2022 15th-rounder’s breakout an even bigger breath of fresh air. Vaz whiffed on only 3.3 percent of the pitches he saw between High-A and Double-A this season, leading to a swinging-strike rate that ranked third among all full-season qualifiers. As a result of that and his plus speed, the Vanderbilt product hit .279 with a .373 OBP while only striking out 50 times across 119 games.

Tigers: .343 average
Justice Bigbie, OF (No. 21)

Bigbie’s breakout was one of the stories of the Tigers system in 2023 as he worked on getting ahead of the ball more after being more opposite-field-dependent earlier in his career. That helped him hit for more authority – his home-run total jumped from three in 2022 to 19 this season – and the hits followed. The 2021 19th-rounder, who played across three levels, was at his best with Double-A Erie, where he hit .362 with a 170 wRC+ and just a 12.5 percent K rate over 63 games.

Twins: 35 homers
Yunior Severino 2B/3B (No. 28)
No one in the Minor Leagues hit more home runs than Severino did during the 2023 season, as the infielder tied with Shay Whitcomb of the Astros with his 35 home runs. He also topped the Twins organization with his .546 SLG and .274 ISO.

White Sox: .939 OPS
Colson Montgomery, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 17)
Though he missed half the season with oblique and back injuries, Montgomery showed why he’s one of the best prospects in baseball and earns constant Corey Seager comparisons when he’s healthy. The 2021 first-rounder from an Indiana high school batted .287/.455/.484 with eight homers in 64 games between Rookie ball, High-A and Double-A.

Angels: .505 OBP
Nolan Schanuel, 1B (No. 1/MLB No. 98)
Sure, it was only 22 Minor League games and 97 plate appearances, but the fact Schanuel drew 21 walks and struck out just 10 times in that span is simply incredible, especially considering it was his pro debut after being a first-round pick in July. Maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising since he had a .516 OBP in his college career. It’s a big reason why the Angels likely felt comfortable bringing him up to the big leagues, where he more than held his own.

Astros: 35 homers
Shay Whitcomb, INF (No. 25)
The last player selected in the shortened five-round 2020 Draft, Whitcomb tied for the Minor League lead in homers. The NCAA Division II UC San Diego product has 77 homers and 70 steals in 350 games over three pro seasons.

A’s: 12.5 K/9
Mason Miller, RHP (No. 2)
While injuries have held him back, including an elbow sprain that shut him down for four months this year, there’s nothing questioning Miller’s ability to miss bats with premium stuff. He threw just a combined total of 52 2/3 innings between his brief time in the Minors and big leagues, but he struck out 73 in that span for his 12.5 combined K/9 rate. He whiffed 16.3 per nine in the Minors and 10.3/9 across 10 Major League outings.

Mariners: 1.045 OPS
Colt Emerson, SS (No. 4)
We always warn against putting too much stock in a recent draftee’s pro debut, good or bad. But it doesn’t hurt to hit the ground running. Emerson, the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2023, quickly hit his way to full-season ball and finished with a .374/.496/.550 line in 24 games. His 1.045 OPS was the best of any high schoolers from the class who had more than a handful of plate appearances.

Rangers: .619 SLG
Abimelec Ortiz, 1B (No. 14)
Ortiz struggled in his first full pro season after signing as a nondrafted free agent out of Florida SouthWestern State JC in 2021, then exploded in his second. He led the Minors in slugging, ranked fourth in homers (33) and OPS (.990) and won South Atlantic League MVP honors after pacing the High-A Circuit with 26 homers in just 80 games.

Braves: .169 BAA
AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 53)
What a crazy year for Smith-Shawver, who entered the year as a 20-year old with 77 total professional innings on his resume. He went from High-A to the big leagues, including the postseason roster. That miniscule .169 BAA (5.4 H/9) over 62 Minor League innings came with a K rate of 11.5 per nine. He wasn’t much easier to hit on a big league mound, either (.183 BAA).

Marlins: 116 RBIs
Troy Johnston, 1B (No. 22)
Johnston paced the Minors in RBIs, ranked fourth in extra-base hits (67) and total bases (281) and also led the Double-A Southern League in slugging (.567) and OPS (.963). A 17th-round pick from Gonzaga in 2019, he hit 26 homers and stole 24 bases between two levels to become the only 20-20 first baseman in the Minors.

Mets: 104 walks
Jett Williams, SS/OF (No. 3/MLB No. 78)

The 2022 14th overall pick looked the part of a future above-average hitter entering his first full season, but his patience and unwillingness to expand the zone certainly popped and allowed him to climb to Single-A, High-A and Double-A in 2023. Williams’ 104 free passes were second-most in the Minors, behind only Justyn-Henry Malloy’s 110, and his 19.5 percent walk rate ranked 10th among full-season qualifiers. He was the only Mets full-season qualifier with an OBP above .400, and his was .425.

Nationals: 26 homers
James Wood, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 7)
Given his 6-foot-6 frame and general raw power, Wood was almost certainly going to build on his 2022 total of 12 homers. In fact, he more than doubled it with 26, making him the system-wide leader in the dinger department. Eighteen of those came with Double-A Harrisburg, making him one of four players aged 20 or younger with at least 16 homers at the Minors’ second-highest level. Fellow young sluggers Owen Caissie, Jackson Chourio and Deyvison De Los Santos were the others on that list.

Phillies: 2.33 xFIP
Orion Kerkering, RHP (No. 7)
A 2022 fifth-round pick, Kerkering put up video game numbers in his rise from Single-A to the Phillies playoff roster in 2023. His 2.33 xFIP was at the top of the Minor League leaderboard, along with Jackson Jobe, for pitchers who threw 50 or more innings. He also struck out 13.2 per nine while walking only 2.0, had a .186 BAA, 0.89 WHIP and 1.51 ERA while racking up 14 saves. No wonder he was our choice to be the first-team reliever on our Prospect Team of the Year.

Brewers: 22 homers/44 steals
Jackson Chourio, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
Entering this season, there had been only four teenagers who had achieved a 20-40 season in the Minors since 1958 — Ronald Acuña Jr. (2017), Álex Escobar (1998), Andruw Jones (1995) and José Cardenal (1961). As you can guess, there’s now a fifth in Chourio. Milwaukee’s top prospect built on his breakout 2022 season with a power-speed-heavy age-19 campaign, mostly at Double-A Biloxi with a quick cup of coffee at Triple-A Nashville at the tail end. Chourio has set himself up for a potential Major League debut next summer when he’ll still only be 20 years old.

Cardinals: 94 stolen bases
Victor Scott II, OF (No. 4)
Scott was a known 80-grade runner coming into his first full season as a 2022 fifth-rounder, but his willingness to press the issue on the basepaths was nearly unmatched this year. The former West Virginia Mountaineer’s 94 steals tied him with Rays prospect Chandler Simpson – a fellow Atlanta-area native and former teammate from the Northwoods League – for the Minor League lead. Scott hasn’t stopped running in the Arizona Fall League either; he leads that circuit with nine thefts entering Thursday.

Cubs: 25% HR/flyball
Owen Caissie, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 64)
Acquired in the 2020 Yu Darvish trade with the Padres, Caissie may be the best power prospect in the Minors, producing exceptional velocities and performance for a 20-year-old. The sixth-youngest regular in the Double-A Southern League, he had the best rate of homers to flyballs in the circuit while ranking in the top five in 12 significant offensive categories, including third in on-base percentage (.398), slugging (.519) and OPS (.917), fourth in homers (22) and fifth in batting (.289).

Pirates: 21.9 BB%
Termarr Johnson, 2B (No. 2/MLB No. 22)
In some ways, Johnson’s first full year of pro ball was a bit uneven. But we can’t question his plate discipline. Johnson led all Minor Leaguers in walk percentage and was one of eight to finish the year with 100 or more walks for a .422 OBP. That helped him get to his power, with 18 homers, and he finished with a solid 141 wRC+.

Reds: 34.6 K-BB%
Andrew Abbott, LHP (Graduated from Reds Top 30)
While Abbott is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the better young left-handed starters in the big leagues, we need to take a moment to recognize just how dominant he was in the Minors before his callup. No one had a better K-BB% in all of the Minor Leagues (min. 50 IP) than Abbott. The southpaw struck out 15 per nine while walking just 2.8, holding hitters to a .173 average in the process.

D-backs: 30 homers
Ivan Melendez, 3B/1B (No. 8)
Fifteen Minor Leaguers hit 30 homers or more in 2023. Only two reached the mark in 100 games or fewer – Cardinals slugger Luken Baker (33 homers, 84 games) and Melendez (30 homers, 96 games). The 2022 Golden Spikes Award winner set the High-A Hillsboro club record with 18 long balls in only 58 contests before getting a promotion to hitter-friendly Double-A Amarillo and adding 12 more there in only 38 games. That’s par for the course for a former Texas Longhorn who set a Division I BBCOR-era record with 32 dingers in his final spring on campus.

Dodgers: 1.049 OPS
Michael Busch, 3B/2B (No. 2/MLB No. 44)
After leading the Minors with 118 runs and ranking in the top six in four other major offensive categories a year ago, Busch ranked second in slugging (.618) and OPS and eighth in on-base percentage (.431) this year. The 2019 first-rounder from North Carolina won MVP accolades in the Pacific Coast League after topping the Triple-A circuit in slugging and OPS and finishing second in batting (.323).

Giants: 2.3 GO/AO
Manuel Mercedes, RHP (unranked on
Giants Top 30)
It’s almost impossible to lift the ball against Mercedes, who led the Minors in groundout/airout ratio as well as home run rate (0.2 per nine innings). Signed for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic, he features a 93-95 mph fastball with power sink.

Padres: 1.82 ERA
Robby Snelling, LHP (No. 3/MLB No. 60)

San Diego kept pushing the 2022 39th overall pick in his age-19 season, and he kept responding at Single-A, High-A and even Double-A. Snelling’s 1.82 ERA over 103 2/3 innings was the lowest among the 272 Minor League pitchers who tossed at least 100 frames in 2023. The 19-year-old didn’t have an ERA above 2.34 at any of his three stops, and his 1.56 mark at Double-A San Antonio (albeit in a small 17 1/3-frame sample) was actually his best.

Rockies: 34 homers
Hunter Goodman, 1B/C (No. 12)
After Goodman hit 36 homers in 2022, mostly at the lower levels of the Minors, we wanted to see if his power would continue to show up as he moved up the ladder. He answered with a resounding yes by finishing one off the Minor League lead in 2023 en route to making his big league debut. He’s also driven in 217 runs over his last two Minor League seasons.

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