We are all excited for the full seasons of some of the game’s best prospects like: Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll, and Triston Casas coming in 2023. It’s fair to say that this new era of baseball is going to continue generating a lot of interest as the wave of young talent begins to take over the baseball landscape.
Every year, there are under-the-radar prospects who surprise at the big league level. Let’s take a look at some of the names outside our top 100 prospect list who could impress in 2023.
Pedro Leon – OF – Houston Astros
The Astros are fresh off a season where they dominated their way to a World Series title. Even though they were able to reach the ultimate feat, that did not deter them from continuing to make upgrades to their roster as soon as the off season hit.
If there is one area of weakness on their roster, if you can even use that word when describing this team, it is center field. Rumors of them being interested in Michael Conforto, Bryan Reynolds, and many others have given us an inclination that they are sharing the same thoughts in regards to their everyday lineup.
Though the prospect shine may have faded a bit on Pedro Leon, there is no denying the talent that he still possesses.
One look at his stats since being signed by the Astros in 2021 will have you questioning whether I know what I am talking about. Hey, I’m not saying he is going to be the next Mike Trout. What I am saying is that someone with the ability to play elite defense in center field, and have the raw power that he does, can certainly provide a boost to the bench of a team ready to repeat as World Series champions.
In order to get a real opportunity, Leon will need to show that he can be a little more selective at the plate and cut down the 30% K% he has had almost every season in the minors. A swing adjustment to improve the near-40% GB% from 2022 will be enough for him to get a chance to showcase his skill set for the Astros in 2023.
Zack Gelof – 3B/2B – Oakland Athletics
Even though he only has 132 games of professional baseball under his belt, I am expecting Zack Gelof to get every opportunity to show off his abilities at the Major League level this season.
The 2021 draftee is in an organization that is looking to build toward the future. With that, they will need to see what they have in their young players that are currently on the fringe of making their 26-man roster.
An ample amount of playing time should be in the cards for Gelof in Oakland this year. With many starting spots up for grabs in Oakland, combined with his positional flexibility, there is a great chance that the polished Gelof could debut in the earlier part of the season. Prior to the injury he sustained last season, Gelof was climbing the prospect ranks as well as the minor league ranks. Some have even compared his skill set to that of Ian Kinsler.
The Athletics sent him to the Arizona Fall League this year to make up for the at bats he missed due to the injury and he did not disappoint. During his time in Arizona, he showed a real ability to hit for power to all fields while controlling his at bats well.
Although he might not crack the Opening Day roster in 2023, I expect him to be called up shortly after and become a regular in the A’s lineup.
Casey Schmitt – 3B – San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ offseason did not go according to plan.
After losing out on Aaron Judge, and the mystery behind the Correa sweepstakes, the Giants are looking to see how they will now go into 2023 with what they currently have in-house. The main name to keep your eye on is going to be Casey Schmitt.
Although the farm system might not be at the top of the league, they still possess a crop of young players that are going to make an impact in the big leagues once they debut. Schmitt could be the first of the group.
The slick-fielding Schmitt raked his way from High-A to Triple-A last season and could get a long look at the third base duties in San Francisco sooner rather than later. He posted a .837 OPS with 17 home runs across 383 PAs with the Eugene Emeralds before getting promoted with Richmond, where he then continued his torrid pace with an .895 OPS in 127 PAs.
After being known as a glove-first prospect in the beginning, this sweet-swinging infielder will prove that he is more than that for the Giants in 2023. That said, he still has gold glove potential at the hot corner.
Nick Loftin – SS/2B/OF – Kansas City Royals
It is the beginning of a true youth movement in Kansas City.
We saw the debut of Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, Drew Waters and Maikel Garcia this past season and the next man up could very well be toolsy utility man, Nick Loftin.
While the bat may not be as developed as some may hope, his above-average grades in the field thanks to his strong arm and plus speed will provide give him a few different avenues to potentially contribute to the Royals this season.
Loftin struggled after being promoted to Triple-A last season, but his ability to consistently make contact along with sneaky pull side pop and exciting complementary tools give him a pretty solid floor which should translate to the big leagues once he finds his footing in Triple-A. At times, he does tend to get a little pull happy in order to get into his fringy power which is where he runs into the most issues. If he can find the balance of using his bat to ball skills while leveraging his hitter’s counts in the right spots, he could blossom into a well-rounded hitter.
As previously mentioned, the Royals are looking for players who can help them take that next step. While Loftin’s name might not possess that flash now, he could prove to be an impact for this roster on both sides of the baseball whether it be as a centerfielder or infielder. He also swiped 29 bags on 35 tries last year.
Thad Ward – RHP – Washington Nationals
The No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 Draft, Thad Ward should see plenty of innings for a thin Nationals staff. The former 5th-round pick in 2018 by the Boston Red Sox will now get his first opportunity in the big leagues after returning in 2022 from Tommy John surgery in 2021 and posting a 2.28 ERA in 51 1/3 innings across four different levels.
He then went on to pitch in the AFL where he continued to make strides towards showing the flashes that had him selected in first few rounds of 2018 and ultimately led to him being the no-brainer first pick for the Nats in this draft.
For an organization looking at ways to fill out their starting pitching rotation, Ward should get every opportunity to grab hold of one of those spots this upcoming season.
Ward has shown he can create plenty of swing-and-miss with his plus slider. He also has an effective cutter that he can rely on to help generate weaker contact early in counts and is building his way up to the pre-TJ velocity that played well up in the zone throughout his career.
To me, he is one of the more intriguing names to follow this season. If he is able to show he can still utilize his unique arsenal, he will be a huge boost to an organization looking for promising young starers.
Bryan Mata – RHP – Boston Red Sox
Speaking of promising young starters coming off of Tommy John surgery, Bryan Mata is another one that fits the bill.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Boston Red Sox right now, especially when it comes to filling out a pitching staff.
Once thought to be one of the better young arms in the minor league, Mata’s name has been overlooked because of the “prospect fatigue” attached to his name. He made his professional debut all the way back in 2016 for Boston and has had to battle through a combination of injury and struggles to get back to where he is now.
Mata looked a lot like the former top prospect we came to know with a strong showing in 2022. He pitched to a 2.49 ERA across 83 innings–most of which were at the upper levels–while striking out 105 batters along the way. While the numbers don’t truly jump off the page, it was a great sign to see him generate 11.4 K/9 in his first season back after undergoing elbow surgery in 2020.
His command is an issue, but his triple-digit fastball has shown to be a terrific pitch for him thus far. The continued development of his four-pitch arsenal is something that should be monitored, but there is still a lot of promise in the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher in the Red Sox organization. With that being said, Mata does have three pitches that all produce chase rates above 23%, and none of them are his fastball. With a strong utilization of his four pitches, with usage above 10% on each, I’m ready for the Bryan Mata breakout.
By the end of the season, Mata could be entrenched as a rotation option for this Red Sox team that is going to rely on a lot of their young guys to get through innings for them this year.