The 2023 MLB season is right around the corner, with Opening Day on March 30. While a lot of the focus for baseball fans has shifted to the World Baseball Classic, which has it’s championship on Tuesday, a number of top prospects have impressed this Spring Training. The performances of these prospects has gotten them on the doorstep of the show and pushing their respective teams to putting them on the active roster. Not all of them will be in the majors on Opening Day, but it shouldn’t take too long after that for them to get there. Service time manipulation aside, these next several guys have shown their abilities very well and deserve to get the call sooner rather than later. This list will be updated from now until Opening Day with the latest stats and other players to note.
1. RHP Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles Top Prospect
If Rodriguez hadn’t landed on the injured list last June with a Grade 2 right lat strain, the right-hander was on track to make his debut with Baltimore in 2022. The 2018 11th overall pick has dominated hitters at every level with a strong combination of filthy stuff and an advanced feel for pitching. He has a tremendous four-pitch mix, led by a four-seamer that can touch triple digits and a disgusting changeup that matches well with his fastball. Rodriguez has also refined his command, as he has struck out almost 13 per nine heading into the 2023 season. He will open up his major league career as the fifth starter for the Orioles, but he has a strong projection as their future ace. His FanGraphs ZiPS projections has him putting up a 3.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 10.89 K/9 over 103 innings in the majors this season. While he will run into his share of struggles as he adjusts to the big leagues, Rodriguez could very well reach those numbers, if not pitch better than that.
2. SS Anthony Volpe, Yankees Top Prospect
The 2019 first-round pick is very quickly putting himself into the lore of Yankees’ fans with a tremendous spring. Volpe has been raking at the plate, slashing .297/.422/.568 with two homers and four stolen bases through March 18. He has shown an impressive ability at both shortstop and second base this spring, and I don’t believe he would have any problems playing third either. Aaron Boone recently said on the Foul Territory podcast that Volpe is “very much in the running” to make the Opening Day roster. The New Jersey native has an outstanding demeanor and baseball IQ, on top of having strong hit, base running, and defensive tools. While the Yankees’ third overall prospect, Oswald Peraza, looks to have the starting shortstop role locked up, that shouldn’t stop Volpe from breaking through onto the roster. The Bombers recently tried Isiah Kiner-Falefa in center field, with Harrison Bader out, as he moves to a utility role. It may look like an infield logjam right now, with DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Josh Donaldson as well, but these situations find a way to work themselves out. LeMahieu struggled to stay healthy last year and was lacking on his production when he was on the field, while Donaldson was no where to be found offensively last season. Volpe could certainly find himself in the mix, and why shouldn’t he as the Yankees’ top prospect? General manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ front office held onto him for a reason, and now is the time to show everyone why. Even if that isn’t right away, on the Opening Day roster, Volpe definitely will have an impact on the big league club at some point this season. He is a pure leadoff hitter and would really put the Yankees’ lineup fully together while setting the table in front of captain Aaron Judge.
3. LHP Jared Shuster, Braves Top Prospect
Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder were surprisingly optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett last week, which opens up an opening in the Atlanta rotation. The fifth spot is now down to the Braves’ top prospect, Shuster, and their 10th-ranked prospect, Dylan Dodd. Shuster has been virtually flawless during the spring, allowing just one run over 12 2/3 innings, following a seven strikeout performance on Friday over four shutout innings. The 2o2o first round pick out of Wake Forest has logged 212 2/3 innings over his two seasons in the Braves’ system and is in a similar situation as Spencer Strider last year. The Braves are one of the best teams at giving their young pitchers a shot and it has worked out well for them over the years. Shuster hasn’t come out of nowhere as a former first round pick, but the health questions of Mike Soroka and continued struggles of Anderson have certainly opened the door even more. Both Shuster and Dodd will be making their mark on the rotation this season. Whoever loses the battle will likely log plenty of innings down in Triple-A and get the call whenever the Braves need help in the rotation.
4. INF Elly De La Cruz, Reds Top Prospect
De La Cruz was one of the bigger prospect storylines to follow in spring training before he and Christian Encarnacion-Strand were both cut from major league camp. While neither of them will start the season in Cincinnati to make their debuts, it shouldn’t be too long especially with a rebuilding team like the Reds. One of the top shortstop prospects in all of baseball, De La Cruz wrecked High-A and Double-A pitching last season, and will start 2023 at Triple-A Louisville. It isn’t exactly a surprise that he was among the roster cuts this past week, as the 21-year-old had been having a rough spring hitting .200 with one home run and five RBI in 20 at-bats. It is a smart decision by the Reds to give him some more seasoning in the minors, especially since he had not reached the highest level in 2022. The infielder hit .304-28-86 with 47 stolen bases in 120 games between High-A and Double-A last season, and should see the majors by the second half of the 2023 season.
5. OF Sal Frelick, Brewers No. 2 Prospect
Coming off a strong World Baseball Classic in which he played a key role in Team Italy advancing to the semifinals against Team Japan, Frelick has put himself on the Brewers’ radar. The 2021 first-round pick reached Triple-A Nashville in September before slashing .304/.333/.435 with four RBI, three runs, and one stolen base in the WBC. Frelick is one of the best pure hitting prospects in baseball and he showed off his overall abilities across three levels in 2022. The pride of Lexington, Massachusetts posted a .331 average, .883 OPS, 59 RBI, and 11 homers last season while also stealing 24 bases and keeping his strikeout rate just above 11 percent.
6. RHP Brandon Pfaadt, Diamondbacks No. 4 Prospect
After signing their top prospect Corbin Carroll to an 8-year extension following his impressive debut in September, the D-Backs still have a number of other impressive prospects in their system. They are an up-and-coming young team and their top pitching prospect is Pfaadt, who impressed in 10 starts with Triple-A Reno last year. The former fifth-round pick posted a 2.63 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP over 61 2/3 innings while striking out 74 and walking just 14. Arizona is a team that has the groundwork for a top-tier lineup, but is lacking in the pitching department. Given that, Pfaadt is showing up at just the right time. In 12 spring innings, he has a 3.75 ERA with four walks and 15 strikeouts. After entering Spring Training as a darkhorse for the final rotation spot, the 24-year-old has been better than anyone else in the running, including other top prospects like right-handers Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson.
7. RHP Quinn Priester, Pirates No. 4 Prospect
Pittsburgh is starting to see exciting development with their big league rotation, with Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz making their debuts last season. After drafting Termarr Johnson in the 2022 MLB Draft, the Pirates have won the top pick in the first-ever MLB Draft lottery for 2023. They will have a chance to add to their already impressive pipeline, led by Johnson, switch-hitter Endy Rodriguez, catcher Henry Davis, and Priester. The Cary, Illinois native pitched across four levels in 2022 and made two September starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. The right-hander struck out 89 over 90 1/3 innings across 19 starts while posting a 3.29 ERA. He was named the Pirates’ minor league pitcher of the year following this solid stat line. Priester likely won’t begin the season on the big league roster, but should have a chance to throw innings for Pittsburgh at some point. Rodriguez is another Pirate prospect that will be up at some point this season as well
8. RHP Taj Bradley, Rays Top Prospect
The Tampa Bay Rays and developing pitchers, name a better duo. The Rays have grown accustomed to streamlining pitching prospects in their pipeline, and that is no different with Bradley. The right-hander was drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Redan High School in Georgia. He sustained his impressive 2021 breakout last year while making it up to Triple-A Durham, and made 28 starts overall between Double-A Montgomery and Durham. Bradley struck out 141 batters over 133 1/3 innings to go with a 1.04 WHIP. The 22-year-old should be able to give the Rays rotation help at some point this season with his strong fastball-slider combo and terrific command.
9. OF/3B Jordan Walker, Cardinals Top Prospect
The 21st overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Walker has been raking this spring and is seriously making a case for the Opening Day roster. Despite not reaching Triple-A Memphis last year, the Georgia native nearly posted a 20-20 season in Double-A in 2022 as he was one homer short. At just 20 years old, Walker posted a 128 wRC+ while making consistent hard contact in the minors and at the Arizona Fall League. He currently has a 1.058 OPS in 45 at-bats during spring through March 18. Whether Walker makes the Opening Day roster or not is yet to be seen, but he shouldn’t take too long to breakthrough. Of course, that will be in the outfield with future Hall of Famer Nolan Arenado manning the hot corner.
10. C/1B Tyler Soderstrom, A’s Top Prospect
The A’s are in the midst of a grueling rebuild, but one good thing about that is that they can see what they have with their prospects. Soderstrom mashed 29 taters across three levels last year and gives Oakland some flexibility in moving to first base. In last year’s Matt Olson trade, the A’s landed catching prospect Shea Langeliers who now goes into this season as their starting backstop. Soderstrom has been getting consistent playing time in Arizona this spring and it looks promising that he will make the Opening Day roster.
11. RHP Bobby Miller, Dodgers No. 2 Prospect
12. RHP Eury Perez, Marlins Top Prospect
13. 3B/2B Curtis Mead, Rays No. 2 Prospect
14. OF Oscar Colas, White Sox No. 2 Prospect
15. RHP Gavin Stone, Dodgers No. 5 Prospect
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