Prospects primed to break out in ’24 — one for each team

Detroit Tigers

Put the Times Square ball back in storage, and let’s take out the crystal ball instead.

With the dawn of each new year, the MLB Pipeline gang makes our predictions on which prospects will break out in each of the 30 farm systems in the season ahead.

In last year’s edition, our biggest hit was Rays infielder Junior Caminero, who was ranked 17th in his farm system at the time and climbed to No. 6 overall by the end of 2023. We also listed Chase DeLauter (Guardians), Everson Pereira (Yankees), AJ Smith-Shawver (Braves), Luisangel Acuña (Rangers/Mets), Jett Williams (Mets), Cade Horton (Cubs), Dalton Rushing (Dodgers) and Samuel Zavala (Padres) as potential breakout performers, and each member of that list ended the year in the MLB Pipeline Top 100.

So with that success rate in mind, here are our looks at which prospects — one for each organization — could be in for big breakouts in 2024:

Blue Jays: Enmanuel Bonilla, OF (No. 24)
Signed for $4.1 million last January, Bonilla got his career off to a solid start with a .307/.407/.429 line and 127 wRC+ over 50 games in the Dominican Summer League. The 6-foot-1 outfielder is expected to grow into at least above-average power as he matures, so expect that slugging percentage and three-homer total to climb as he moves stateside. If it truly pops like it could, he could easily end the season as a Top 10 or even Top 5 prospect in the Jays system.

Orioles: Chayce McDermott, RHP (No. 10)
Part of a basketball family that includes a brother (Sean) who played in the NBA, McDermott joined the Orioles as part of the July 2022 trade that sent Trey Mancini to the Astros. He still needs to improve his control and command, but his mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider are weapons that allowed him to post a 3.10 ERA, a Minors-best .167 opponent average and 152 strikeouts in 119 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023.

Rays: Santiago Suarez, RHP (No. 14)
The adage remains true – don’t trade your complex-level prospects to the Rays. Suarez joined Tampa Bay as the youngest pickup in a four-player deal with the Marlins in November 2022, and the 18-year-old right-hander dominated with a 1.52 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 11 walks in 59 1/3 innings in the Florida Complex League and with Single-A Charleston. The 6-foot-2 righty, who shows two good offspeed pitches in his curveball and changeup along with special control, could take off if he comes close to replicating that success over a true full season this summer.

Red Sox: Miguel Bleis, OF (No. 5)
We anticipated a Bleis breakout last year, but he subluxated his left shoulder on a swing in late May and had season-ending surgery after hitting .230/.282/.325 with 11 steals in 31 Single-A games. Boston’s best international prospect since Rafael Devers, he signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2021 and is a center fielder with the potential for at least solid tools across the board.

Yankees: Roderick Arias, SS (No. 6)
Signed for $4 million out of the Dominican Republic as MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect in the 2022 international class, Arias has missed time in his first two pro seasons with wrist and thumb injuries. But he also has flashed four plus tools along with a plus-plus arm and batted .267/.423/.505 with six homers and 17 steals in 27 games in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League last summer.

Guardians: Ralphy Velazquez, C/1B (No. 7)
Velazquez offered one of the best combinations of hitting ability and power in the 2023 high school class, which is why the Guardians made him a first-round pick. The California prep product went 8-for-23 with two homers in his brief pro debut while displaying solid arm strength behind the plate.

Royals: Ramon Ramirez, C (Not ranked among Top 30)
Kansas City signed the then-17-year-old Venezuela native for just $57,500 last January but quickly saw him become one of the DSL’s most productive hitters. Ramirez hit .344/.440/.615 with eight homers while posting an 18/21 K/BB ratio over 150 plate appearances. His combination of plate protection and early power would be exciting at any position, but Royals officials have also expressed their pleasure with how Ramirez works defensively behind the dish. A stateside introduction will put Ramirez’s early production to the test, and he could make for a great KC catching depth chart alongside Blake Mitchell and Carter Jensen.

Tigers: Kevin McGonigle, SS/2B (No. 5)
Don’t be surprised if last year’s 37th overall pick pushes his way high up the Top 100 in his first full season. Known for his bat-to-ball skills, McGonigle possesses a plus hit tool that’s already stood out in pro ball after he walked 18 times and struck out only 10 times over 93 plate appearances with the Tigers’ FCL and Single-A affiliates. Power remains a question, especially at this early stage, but if it plays around average with that plate discipline, the middle infielder will develop a much bigger reputation in ’24.

Twins: Marco Raya, RHP (No. 4)
Raya is the Twins’ best pitching prospect, though he flies under the radar because they’ve handled him with extreme care and he has totaled just 127 2/3 pro innings since signing as a 2020 fourth-rounder out of a Texas high school. He misses bats with a mid-90s fastball, a high-spin slider and a downer curveball, compiling a 4.02 ERA, .197 opponent average and 65/22 K/BB ratio in 62 2/3 frames between High-A and Double-A.

White Sox: Jake Eder, LHP (No. 5)
Eder ranked among the best lefty pitching prospects in baseball during his 2021 pro debut, but he blew out his elbow that August and missed all of 2022, then lost the first two months of last season to a fractured left foot. Acquired from the Marlins in the Jake Burger trade in August, he can showcase a plus fastball and slider but still is regaining his feel for his stuff. He logged a 6.35 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 56 2/3 innings, mostly in Double-A.

Angels: Nelson Rada, OF (No. 3)
After signing for $1.85 million out of Venezuela in 2022, Rada made the jump to Single-A as a 17-year-old last season and batted .276/.395/.346 with a California League-high 55 steals in 115 games. He has a good approach, 15-homer upside, plus speed and the instincts to handle center field.

Astros: Jacob Melton, OF (No. 1)
Melton batted .245/.334/.467 with 23 homers and 46 steals in 99 games between High-A and Double-A during his first full pro season, and his underlying metrics were even more impressive than his raw numbers. A 2022 second-rounder from Oregon State, he might have solid or better tools across the board.

Athletics: Luis Morales, RHP (No. 5)
The best pitching prospect in the 2023 international class, Morales signed for $3 million after defecting from Cuba. With a mid-90s fastball and a pair of high-spin breaking balls, he recorded a 2.86 ERA, .202 opponent average and 53/15 K/BB ratio in his 44-inning pro debut while advancing from the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League to High-A.

Mariners: Lazaro Montes, OF (No. 12)
Part of a Mariners stockpile of gifted international outfielders, Montes signed for $2.5 million in 2022 after leaving Cuba. His signature tool is his plus-plus raw power, which translated into 13 homers in 70 games as he batted .303/.440/.560 as an 18-year-old making his U.S. debut between Rookie ball and Single-A.

Rangers: Anthony Gutierrez, OF (No. 7)
Gutierrez originally planned on waiting until 2023 to sign with the Nationals, then changed his mind and joined the Rangers for a $1,997,500 bonus a year earlier. The Venezuelan could have four plus solid tools to go with solid speed once he’s fully developed, and he batted .265/.329/.351 with two homers and 32 steals in 84 games (mostly in Single-A) at age 18.

Braves: Luis Guanipa, OF (No. 10)
Atlanta’s top international signing from the 2023 class, Guanipa is an absolute burner on the basepaths with 65-grade speed that helped him steal 20 bags in 46 DSL games last summer. He has the good bat speed that helps him project as a potential above-average hitter, so while his .238 average didn’t look great in 2023, expect better things moving forward, especially as he turns catchable flyballs (a 48.8 percent flyball rate) into more stung line drives with age.

Marlins: Thomas White, LHP (No. 2)
The best left-hander in the 2023 Draft — high school or college — White dropped to the Marlins in the supplemental first round and signed for a well over-slot $4.1 million, a record for a New England draftee. After a brief 4 1/3-inning pro debut, he’s ready to take off with the potential for three plus pitches and an effortless delivery.

Mets: Marco Vargas, INF (No. 8)
New York acquired Vargas in a Deadline deal with the Marlins for David Robertson, and the organization seemingly did well by picking up an infielder with such elite contact rates at just 18 years old. Vargas’ 1.6 BB/K ratio ranked second among 124 complex-level qualifiers, while his 10.1 percent swinging-strike rate placed third among the same group. The left-handed hitter will get a longer look at Single-A to begin his age-19 season, and if he keeps putting the ball in play in a similar fashion, he’ll lock in his plus hit tool and become a bigger name outside Port St. Lucie. 

Nationals: Travis Sykora, RHP (No. 11)
Pitchers standing at 6-foot-6 with an upper-90s fastball, plus splitter and makings of an above-average slider don’t typically last until the third round, but there’s always risk involved with prep arms because of the typically long road of development. Even so, Sykora has all the makings of a potentially dominant starter, and since he’s yet to throw his first Minor League pitch, we just need to see the arsenal translate before adding steam to the hype train.

Phillies: Nikau Pouaka-Grego, 2B/3B (No. 26)
The New Zealand native was seen as a potential breakout candidate for 2023 until a torn ACL suffered in the Australian Baseball League knocked him out for the entire season. Assuming he can return to full strength, watch out for the bounceback to come, just a year later than expected. The infielder showed an impressive approach with just a 12.8 percent strikeout rate and a 16/16 K/BB ratio over 35 games in the Florida Complex League in 2022, and the retention of that skill shouldn’t be affected by the knee injury.

Brewers: Yophery Rodriguez, OF (No. 13)
Milwaukee has a recent history of skipping talented outfielders over the Arizona Complex League and sending them from the Dominican complex to Single-A in their second years, doing that with Jackson Chourio in 2022 and Luis Lara last year. Could Rodriguez be next? The teenager showed the makings of an above-average hitter with a .393 OBP and 41/40 BB/K ratio in 52 DSL games in 2023, and his power is coming along fine for his age. A little more physical maturation and continued production stateside, regardless of level, could make him a bigger name in a burgeoning Brewers pipeline.

Cardinals: Won-Bin Cho, OF (No. 13)
The first two years of Cho’s Cardinals career have been about him finding his footing in pro ball with stops in the Florida Complex and Florida State Leagues, posting wRC+’s above 114 at each stop. The 2024 season could be go time. The left-handed slugger, who turned 20 in August, has the potential for above-average power and getting out of the pitcher-friendly FSL could be a big step toward realizing it, along with an increased focus on elevating the ball after hitting the ball on the ground 50 percent of the time in ’23.

Cubs: James Triantos, 2B (No. 9)
After hitting .287/.364/.391 with four homers and 16 steals in 83 games (mostly in High-A) following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Triantos hinted at his upside while winning offensive player of the year accolades in the Arizona Fall League. A 2021 second-rounder from a Virginia high school, he has advanced feel for the barrel and is making strides with his power, plate discipline and baserunning.

Pirates: Estuar Suero, OF (No. 29)
Acquired by the Bucs as part of the deal that sent Rich Hill and Ji Man Choi to San Diego, the switch-hitting Suero remains a raw player with tons of upside in his 6-foot-5 frame. Despite his long levers, he has good bat speed that should lead to better in-game power as he gets more reps that should come in 2024. Cutting his strikeout rate by nearly 10 points after the trade was a solid start, and it’s worth noting that Suero is still only entering his age-18 season.

Reds: Sheng-En Lin, SS/OF/RHP (No. 19)
Cincinnati signed Lin with a $1.2 million bonus in June, and there’s intrigue on both sides of the ball. The Reds kept him as a hitter, and while his 45.7 percent K rate in the ACL was difficult to swallow, it did come with a big jump for the 17-year-old Taiwan native. Lin provides plus speed that can help him stick up the middle if he stays as a position player, and he has a better history of hitting internationally. Should he get more looks on the mound, he has a three-pitch mix that could be effective, but after getting his feet wet in 2023, expect Lin to show his truer skills at the plate with more experience this summer.

D-backs: Ruben Santana, 3B (No. 23)
A $750,000 signee out of the Dominican Republic in January 2022, Santana has shown a capacity to hit at both of his complex-level stops and enters 2024 with a career line of .316/.409/.466 through 95 games. The most enticing news is that his power is already ticking up with a slugging percentage that moved from .436 in 2022 to .487 in 2023, and now he’s taking that skill, which projects to be potentially above-average, to the hitter-friendly California League where it may truly pop and secure his place as a name to know for Arizona’s future.

Dodgers: Josue De Paula, OF (No. 7)
Some Dodgers officials say that De Paula is the best international hitter they’ve signed in the last decade. Landed for a $397,500 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2022 — though he was born in Brooklyn and is a second cousin of former NBA guards Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair — he has a picturesque left-handed stroke, makes advanced swing decisions and projects to have solid or better power. At age 18, he batted .284/.396/.372 with two homers and 14 steals in 74 Single-A games.

Giants: Bryce Eldridge, OF/RHP (No. 4)
Eldridge teamed with James Triantos (see Cubs) to lead Madison HS (Vienna, Va.) to a state Class 6 championship in 2021 before emerging as the top two-way prospect in the 2023 Draft. The 16th overall pick last July, he has a brighter future as a slugger but can run his fastball up to 96 mph while flashing a pair of promising secondary pitches. He hit .294/.400/.505 with six homers between Rookie ball and Single-A.

Padres: J.D. Gonzalez, C (No. 24)
Gonzalez became the first Puerto Rican catcher drafted in the top 10 rounds since 2017 when he went to the Padres in the third last July, and his power potential and plus arm strength give him some interesting traits heading into his first full season. San Diego knows how to develop backstops too with Ethan Salas, Brandon Valenzuela and Lamar King Jr. also among its Top 30 prospects, so even if 2024 is just about setting a strong foundation for Gonzalez, who missed time with a knee injury last spring, that might be enough to increase his stock going into ’25.

Rockies: Robert Calaz, OF (No. 15)
Calaz showed intriguing power before the Rockies signed him for $1.7 million last January, making him their biggest international signing of the year. The right-handed-hitting outfielder built upon that reputation by hitting an impressive .325/.423/.561 with seven homers over 43 games — numbers that may have gotten him promoted if 2023 wasn’t about finding his footing in the DSL. If he comes close to reproducing those stateside — not out of the question given his profile, — he may end up at Single-A Fresno before his 19th birthday.

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