These prospects got back on track in 2023

Detroit Tigers

They’re the exceptions, however. Most prospects face adversity at some point before reaching the big leagues. As 2023 comes to a close, we want to celebrate a dozen prospects who struggled mightily in 2022 but rebounded in fine fashion last season to get their careers on track:

Mason Albright, LHP, Rockies (No. 23)
Albright set a since-broken record for a post-10th-rounder in the bonus-pool era when he signed with the Angels for $1,247,500 as a 12th-rounder from a Florida high school in 2021. He got rocked for an 8.67 ERA in 55 innings during his first full season as a pro before shortening his arm action worked wonders for him this year. He logged a 3.28 ERA and 119/34 K/BB ratio in 109 2/3 innings between two Class A levels and went to the Rockies as part of a July trade for C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk.

Ryan Bergert, RHP, Padres (No. 18)
Though Bergert missed the entire 2021 college season at West Virginia following Tommy John surgery, the Padres still drafted him in the sixth round and paid him fourth-round money ($500,000). He got bashed for a 5.84 ERA in High-A in 2022, but his stuff and command improved in 2023 when he compiled a 2.73 ERA (eighth in the Minors), .204 opponent average (ditto) and 126 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

Justice Bigbie, OF, Tigers (No. 21)
A 19th-round pick from Western Carolina in 2021, Bigbie ranked third in the Minors in batting and slashed .343/.405/.537 with 19 homers while rising from High-A to Triple-A. That’s a far cry from his 2022 line — .269/.347/.380 with three homers at two Class A stops — and can be attributed to better swing decisions that produced a higher quality of contact.

Ryan Bliss, 2B/SS, Mariners (No. 14)
Bliss starred at Auburn en route to becoming a 2021 second-round pick by the D-backs, then stumbled through a .214/.298/.343 first full season as a pro. He simplified his setup at the plate and took a more direct path to the ball in 2023 while exploding for a .304/.378/.524 line with 23 homers and 55 steals between Double-A and Triple-A. Traded to the Mariners in the Paul Sewald trade in July, he finished third in the Minors in runs (110) and total bases (283), fourth in hits (164) and seventh in extra-base hits (65).

Jose Corniell, RHP, Rangers (No. 23)
One of the top pitchers in the 2019-20 international class, Corniell signed with the Mariners for $630,000 and went to the Rangers in a December 2020 deal for Rafael Montero. He got nailed for a 5.45 ERA in his 2022 full-season debut in Single-A, then lowered that mark to 2.92 with a .194 opponent average and 119/31 K/BB ratio in 101 2/3 innings between two Class A levels last season. He threw more strikes in 2023, which made his mid-90s fastball and two-plane slider more effective.

Will Klein, RHP, Royals (No. 26)
Klein went from the fifth round of the 2020 Draft out of Eastern Illinois to a strong pro debut in 2021 to a disastrous 2022, when he recorded a 10.51 ERA with 55 hits and 51 walks in 43 2/3 innings. He did a better job of harnessing his upper-90s fastball last season when he had a 4.62 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, Cardinals (No. 17)
The Blue Jays paid Kloffenstein late first-round money ($2.45 million) as a 2018 third-rounder from a Texas high school, only to see him compile 6.22 and 5.54 ERAs in his first two years in full-season ball in 2021 and ’22. Adding an upper-80s cutter helped his low-90s sinker play better and he did a better job of locating his pitches last season when he improved to a 3.16 ERA, .228 opponent average and 140 strikeouts in 128 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The Cardinals acquired him at the Trade Deadline in a deal for Jordan Hicks.

Ivan Melendez, 3B/1B, D-backs (No. 7)
Melendez won the 2022 Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur player in the United States after leading NCAA Division I with 32 homers, 214 total bases and an .863 slugging percentage, though that success didn’t immediately translate to pro ball after the D-backs drafted him in the second round out of Texas. He put a lackluster .206/.358/.351 pro debut behind him by batting .272/.345/.578 with 30 homers between High-A and Double-A in 2023. The key to his success was getting back to his aggressive approach of driving the ball in the air to his pull side.

Abimelec Ortiz, 1B/OF, Rangers (No. 14)
Signed for $20,000 as a non-drafted free agent out of Florida SouthWestern State JC in 2021, Ortiz produced a meager .226/.308/.380 line in Single-A during his first full pro season. Afterward, he trained with fellow Puerto Rican and former All-Star Carlos Delgado, shortened his left-handed swing and began wearing contact lenses in games. The results were spectacular, as he hit .294/.371/.619 between two Class A stops, led the Minors in slugging while ranking fourth in homers (33) and OPS (.990) and won High-A South Atlantic League MVP honors.

Austin Shenton, 3B/1B, Rays (No. 26)
Acquired from the Mariners in a 2021 trade for Diego Castillo, Shenton battled a hip injury in his first full season in the Rays system and hit just .236/.338/.415 in 52 Double-A games. Healthy again, he bounced back to a .304/.423/.584 line with 29 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. He topped the Minors in doubles (45) and ranked second in extra-base hits (74), third in OPS (1.007) and sixth in total bases (276) and slugging.

Justin Slaten, RHP, Red Sox (No. 25)
Slaten’s riding mid-90s fastball and two-plane slider both can be well above-average offerings, but the 2019 third-rounder from New Mexico couldn’t locate them well in 2022 when he put up a 6.93 ERA with 48 walks in 50 2/3 innings in Double-A. He did a much better job of throwing strikes last season, leading to a 2.87 ERA, .206 opponent average and 86/20 K/BB ratio in 59 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The Mets took him in the Rule 5 Draft in December and immediately shipped him to the Red Sox for lefty pitching prospect Ryan Ammons.

Luis Vazquez, SS, Cubs (No. 21)
After the Cubs made Vazquez a 14th-round pick out of a Puerto Rican high school in 2017, it took him four years to stick in full-season ball, and he hit just .225/.276/.345 between Double-A and Triple-A in his fifth. He lowered his hands at the plate in 2023, enabling him to keep his right-handed stroke more on-plane, and he hit the ball harder and farther than ever while looking to pull more pitches. Playing at the same two levels, he set career highs in most categories while batting .271/.361/.456 with 20 homers and 10 steals.

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