May 17th, 2023
Big-money additions are all the rage in every farm system and for good reason. Those prospects come with a ton of hype and generally speaking the tools to back it up. But taking lesser-known talents -- whether they be late Draft picks, low signings or trade throw-ins -- to the next level is what can separate the good from the bad farm systems.
Here is one notable best find prospect from each of the 30 organizations:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Spencer Horwitz, 1B/OF (No. 18)
The 24th round doesn’t even exist anymore, but it did in 2019 when the Jays used their pick there to snag Horwitz out of Radford and sign him for $100,000. (No Radford player has been drafted since.) The 25-year-old first baseman has climbed to Triple-A Buffalo this season on the strength of his on-base skills. Without significant power, he’ll rely on that approach to get to The Show, but the fact we’re even talking about him as an option is a credit to him and the Jays scouts who identified him four years ago.
Orioles: Noah Denoyer, RHP (No. 28)
Denoyer was an undrafted free agent, and not one taken in the pandemic-shortened 2020 Draft. A junior college product who signed with the Orioles out of the summer wood bat Northwoods League in August 2019, Denoyer has both relieved and started, reaching Double-A in 2022, mostly out of the bullpen, but starting in the Arizona Fall League and getting added to the 40-man roster last offseason. He’s now in Triple-A trying to put the finishing touches on a surreal climb to the big leagues.
Rays: Junior Caminero, 3B/2B (No. 5/MLB No. 60)
This is what the Rays do. They identify lowest-level talent and develop them into potential stars. Tampa Bay acquired Caminero from Cleveland in a 40-man-clearing move for Tobias Myers in November 2021 when the infielder had yet to play above the DSL. He’s now at High-A at 19 years old and just jumped 36 spots in our Top 100 because his above-average bat and plus power are playing incredibly well in the South Atlantic League. Caminero could be Tampa Bay’s next Top 25 prospect before long.
Red Sox: Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS (No. 3/MLB No. 86)
Rafaela's slight 5-foot-9 frame meant that the Red Sox only had to spend $10,000 to sign him out of Curacao in 2017, but he since has developed into the most versatile defender in the Minors. He has the tools and instincts to provide plus or better glovework all over the diamond, and he slammed 63 extra-base hits and stole 28 bases between High-A and Double-A last year. He's off to a slow start in Double-A in 2023, batting .264/.310/.347 with 20 steals in 29 games.
Yankees: Will Warren, RHP (No. 7)
Arguably the Yankees' best pitching prospect, Warren was an eighth-round steal out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2021. Using a high-spin slider in the mid-80s and a low-90s sinker, he owns a 2.45 ERA with a 39/12 K/BB ratio in 29 1/3 innings in Double-A.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: Tanner Bibee, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 34)
Known mostly for his strike-throwing when Cleveland drafted him out of Cal State Fullerton in 2021's fifth round, Bibee has upgraded his stuff as a pro. After the Guardians had him focus on throwing with more intent, his fastball jumped to the mid-90s, his slider also gained power and became a plus pitch and his changeup became more effective. He's already helping the big league club, posting a 3.22 ERA with a 22/4 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings through four starts.
Royals: Drew Waters, OF (No. 6)
There’s buying low, and there’s getting a former Top 100 prospect as part of a three-player return for a single Draft pick. That’s what Kansas City accomplished last July when it picked up Waters from the Braves. The switch-hitting outfielder took well to the change of scenery and made his Major League debut, slugging .479 with an .803 OPS in 32 games for the Royals. He’s currently returning from an oblique strain, but while the Braves used the pick on a solid prospect in JR Ritchie, Waters is out to prove he's worth more than a part in a three-for-one.
Tigers: Wilmer Flores, RHP (No. 4)
The 6-foot-4 right-hander may have just slid off the Top 100 due to some down results at Double-A Erie, but it’s important to remember three years ago he was signed by the Tigers as an undrafted free agent for $20,000 out of Arizona Western (Junior) College. When he’s on, Flores can sit in the mid-90s and showcase two promising breaking pitches. He has midrotation upside, and that’s difficult to find outside the first five rounds regardless of the year.
Twins: Louie Varland, RHP (No. 10)
Varland will likely graduate from prospect status with his next big league start, so we’re glad to give him a fond farewell here. Both he and his brother Gus have reached the big leagues after getting drafted from Division II Concordia University. Louie went in Round 15 in 2019, pitched across two levels of A ball in 2021, his first full season, and from Double-A to the big leagues for the first time last year and now he looks like he could stick in the Twins’ rotation.
White Sox: Ryan Burrowes, SS/2B (No. 11)
First eligible to turn pro in January 2021, Burrowes waited until he nearly had finished high school in Panama before signing for $75,000 in April 2022. His advanced hitting ability, pitch-recognition skills and plate discipline translated into a .266/.393/.392 pro debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and he'll play in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League this year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Edgar Quero, C (No. 3/MLB No. 91)
Quero signed for $200,000 in February 2021, and it’s looking like that’s going to be a very good investment for the Angels. The Cuban backstop has a really advanced bat, one that has allowed him to start this year in Double-A at age 20. He walks nearly as much as he strikes out and the switch-hitter has plenty of power to tap into, especially from the left side. There’s work to be done defensively behind the dish, but things could get interesting back there in Los Angeles soon with him and Logan O’Hoppe.
Astros: Justin Dirden, OF (No. 7)
Dirden ranked second in NCAA Division I with nine homers in 17 games during the shortened 2020 college season, then went unpicked out of Southeast Missouri State and signed for $20,000 as a nondrafted free agent. A physical left-handed hitter with plus raw power and deceptive athleticism, he's on the verge of making his big league debut and hitting .256/.336/.504 with six homers in 31 Triple-A contests.
A’s: Mason Miller, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 97)
Yes, the injury, now reported as a mild UCL sprain, is concerning, but we’re ignoring that for now. Miller was nearly done with baseball at Division III Waynesburg University in Pennsylvania when he was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes. Once discovered and treated, he added weight and strength, started throwing harder, transferred to Division I Gardner-Webb and pitched his way into the third round of the 2021 Draft. He missed nearly all of 2022, but still managed to use his triple-digit fastball to get to the big leagues this season.
Mariners: Jonatan Clase, OF (No. 12)
The Mariners are never afraid to go big in the international market, but in the same signing period they signed Noelvi Marte for $1.55 million, they also got Clase for $35,000. His speed has always been his No. 1 carrying tool, and he stole 55 bases last year and already has 26 through 32 games this year. But his other tools are sharpening in a hurry and quickly got him promoted from High-A to Double-A after just 21 games this year. He now has a combined OPS of 1.022.
Rangers: Dustin Harris, OF (No. 7)
One of the top Florida junior college hitters in 2019, Harris signed with the Athletics for an over-slot $250,000 in the 11th round out of St. Petersburg JC and went to the Rangers a year later as the player to be named in a trade for Mike Minor. He has advanced feel for the barrel, developing power and sneaky athleticism, though he has started slowly this year with a .220/.367/.415 line, four homers and 13 steals in 31 Double-A games.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Dylan Dodd, LHP (No. 10)
While Dodd was thought to be a “priority senior sign” as the 2021 Draft approached, he still signed for well below slot ($122,500) as a third-round pick. The Southeast Missouri State product doesn’t have wow stuff, but he’s ridden his advanced feel for pitching and command to the big leagues. He pitched his way to Triple-A in his first full season and topped the system in K/BB and walk percentage and has made three starts with Atlanta to date this season.
Marlins: Eury Pérez, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 7)
Concerns about the results of his pre-signing physical led the Red Sox and Rockies to pass on deals with Pérez before he turned pro for $200,000 with the Marlins out of the Dominican Republic in 2019. He has wowed scouts since coming to the United States for instructional league in the fall of 2020 and offers a unique combination of size (6-foot-8), stuff (well-above-average fastball and changeup, plus slider) and polish. He made his big league debut last Friday at age 20, allowing a pair of solo homers while fanning seven in 4 2/3 innings against the Reds.
Mets: Mike Vasil, RHP (No. 10)
Vasil was an inconsistent, two-seam-heavy pitcher in his three seasons at Virginia, causing his stock to drop ahead of the 2021 Draft. The Mets snagged him in the eighth round, signed him for slot at $181,200 and worked on transitioning him to a more effective four-seamer closer to the mid-90s. He’s taken a leap early on this season with 41 strikeouts and only four walks in 30 innings at Double-A Binghamton and has a legit case as the Mets’ best pitching prospect now.
Nationals: Zach Brzykcy, RHP (No. 17)
Before his recent Tommy John surgery, Brzykcy looked like the closest thing to a future closer in the Nats system with a 95-98 mph riding fastball and above-average curveball. Not bad for an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech who signed for just $20,000 in 2020. The 23-year-old right-hander was already knocking on the door of the Majors and just needs to come back healthy after trotting down the well-worn TJ road to be an option for Washington in 2024.
Phillies: Carlos De La Cruz, 1B/OF (No. 9)
It’s not too common for a high school player to sign as an undrafted free agent, but De La Cruz did indeed join the Phillies organization in late August of 2017 after being seen playing for the New York Nice Scout Team after he graduated from George Washington High School. He really jumped on the map last year, hitting 17 homers and reaching Double-A for the first time. The 23-year old is back with Reading again and continuing to hit well, and not only because his home park is an offensive haven (.302 AVG on the road).
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Abner Uribe, RHP (No. 9)
While most top international talents sign when they’re 16, Uribe didn’t join the pro ranks until a month after his 18th birthday in July 2018. The 6-foot-3 right-hander signed with the Brewers for just $85,000, and three years later, he blossomed into a fireballing relief option at the full-season levels. While Uribe is known to touch triple-digits, he often shows more confidence in his upper-80s slider, giving him another weapon to use in the back end of a future Milwaukee bullpen.
Cardinals: Gordon Graceffo, RHP (No. 5)
No offense to the great school of Villanova, but when Graceffo was taken from there in the fifth round in 2021, he became the first Wildcat drafted in the first 160 picks in a full decade. He may have signed for above-slot at $500,000 but the right-hander has already vaulted ahead of Michael McGreevy (signed for more than five times that) on the St. Louis prospect list, thanks to an above-average fastball, slider and change.
Cubs: Matt Mervis, 1B (No. 5)
A priority free agent for several clubs after going unselected in the shortened five-round 2020 Draft out of Duke, Mervis responded to an aggressive Cubs pitch and signed with them for $20,000. He has the best combination of power and contact among Chicago's prospects and led the Minors with 78 extra-base hits, 210 total bases and 119 RBIs in 2022. Called up in early May, he went 9-for-36 (.250) in his first nine games and smacked his first big league homer on Tuesday against Cristian Javier.
Pirates: Endy Rodriguez, C/2B/OF (No. 2/MLB No. 45)
While Rodriguez is still trying to get going in Triple-A this year after missing some time with an arm injury, it’s time to celebrate just how far he's come. Not only did he sign for just $10,000 with the Mets back in July 2018, but he also came to the Pirates in what seemed like an afterthought in the three-team deal that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres. He snuck onto the back end of Pittsburgh’s Top 30 in 2021 after that deal. Now he’s near the top and will knock on the big league door soon.
Reds: Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B (No. 1/MLB No. 4)
Sure, he’s one of the most electric prospects in baseball now, but he began his career by signing for $65,000 back in 2018. He played well enough in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, then had to wait through the shutdown to really start taking the sport by storm, hitting his way to full-season ball in 2021 and up to Double-A last year, while posting a 20-40 season. He’s now back after a minor injury and starting to put up ridiculous numbers again in Triple-A, both in the stat column and on Statcast.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Brandon Pfaadt, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 33)
Those who witnessed the excitement around Pfaadt’s MLB debut on May 3 might have thought he’d long been the top arm in the Arizona system. Au contraire, the Division II Bellarmine product was the D-backs’ final pick in the five-round 2020 Draft, and he signed for below slot at $100,000. He’s developed a mid-90s fastball and two legit above-average pitches in his slider and changeup, making him a strong midrotation option at the least in the NL West.
Dodgers: River Ryan, RHP (No. 12)
A two-way star at NCAA Division II UNC Pembroke, Ryan drew more interest as a pitcher but wanted to hit and the Padres let him do that for a summer after taking him in the 11th round in 2021. They were preparing him for a move to the mound when they sent him to the Dodgers in a March 2022 trade for Matt Beaty, and he has impressed ever since with a mid-90s fastball with carry, a tight 88-92 mph cutter, a fading upper-80s changeup and a solid low-80s curveball. He has compiled a 2.55 ERA, .189 opponent average and 25 strikeouts in 24 2/3 Double-A innings.
Giants: Vaun Brown, OF (No. 5)
Brown homered 13 times in 26 games as a fifth-year senior at NCAA Division II in 2021 before signing for $7,500 as a 10th-rounder. Tooled up with well-above-average raw power and plus-plus speed, he led the Minors in hitting (.346) and OPS (1.060) while ranking third in slugging (.623) and sixth in on-base percentage (.437) during his first full pro season. After recovering from offseason cleanup surgery on his right knee, he has gone 13-for-37 (.351) with one homer and five steals in nine games since returning in late April, and he was just promoted to Double-A.
Padres: Jairo Iriarte, RHP (No. 11)
San Diego was capped at giving out $300,000 international bonuses in 2018 but may have found a potential Major League contributor for just $75,000 in Iriarte. The 21-year-old right-hander now sits in the mid-90s and has the slider and changeup to round out a solid three-pitch mix. He’s off to a great start at High-A Fort Wayne, including pitching the first six innings in the club’s no-hitter on Tuesday.
Rockies: Brenton Doyle, OF (No. 15)
Guys from small Division II schools like Shepherd University in West Virginia don’t enter pro ball with too many expectations, even if they’re taken in the fourth round like Doyle was in 2019. His performance was a little up-and-down but after a strong finish with some excellent adjustments at the end of 2022, Doyle was added to the Rockies’ 40-man roster this past offseason and after a strong start in Triple-A, he’s been in the big leagues since April 24 showing off the tools the Rockies liked from the get-go.