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Don't sleep on these loaded MiLB teams

It didn't take long for these squads to get in the swing of things
April 9, 2024

Following last Friday’s second Opening Day, all four full-season levels of Minor League Baseball are officially playing their 2024 regular seasons. That has given us a few days to take in and digest rosters across Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A to determine the best of the best. Some are loaded

Following last Friday’s second Opening Day, all four full-season levels of Minor League Baseball are officially playing their 2024 regular seasons. That has given us a few days to take in and digest rosters across Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Single-A to determine the best of the best.

Some are loaded with big names from the MLB Pipeline Top 100 list. Some are well-rounded with notable prospects all over the diamond. With so many ways to define and dissect Minor League talent, there is no one formula for determining the most loaded squads from those levels. But at this early stage of the season, it is clear that some clubs have separated themselves from the pack.

These are the 10 most talented Minor League rosters at the start of the 2024 campaign:

1. Norfolk Tides (Orioles, Triple-A)
Having the No. 1 overall prospect in the game in Jackson Holliday certainly gave Norfolk a leg up ... for a couple days anyways until he was reportedly called up Tuesday night. But we'll keep the Tides atop the season-opening ranking as an indication of just how loaded and dominant they were to open 2024. Supplementing Holliday with Coby Mayo (No. 28) and Heston Kjerstad (No. 30) gave the Tides plenty of firepower. In fact, Norfolk was the only Minor League club with three prospects from the first 30 spots of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 overall rankings at the start of the season. Among those remaining, Orioles' No. 6 prospect Connor Norby adds some thump of his own to the lineup, and Chayce McDermott (BAL No. 8) and Cade Povich (BAL No. 9) make sure there are some notable arms in the pitching corps as well. But the bats have gotten the bulk of the early attention; Tides batters collectively hit 29 homers through nine games while no other Triple-A team hit more than 14.

2. Tennessee Smokies (Cubs, Double-A)
As a system, the Cubs boast six Top 100 prospects, the most in baseball. It stands to reason that one of their affiliates would also lead the way in Top 100 prospects on a single team, and that happens to be Tennessee with four in Cade Horton (MLB No. 24), Matt Shaw (No. 50), Kevin Alcántara (No. 60) and James Triantos (No. 68). That’s a promising mix of a club ace (Horton) and three legit bats (Shaw, Alcántara, Triantos). Cubs' No. 7 prospect Moises Ballesteros also got some Top 100 consideration as a bat-first catcher as he heads to the Southern League for his age-20 season, and Michael Arias (CHC No. 12) gives the Smokies another arm with three above-average pitches.

3. Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox, Double-A)
Following Ceddanne Rafaela’s graduation, the Sox have three Top 100 prospects, and they’re all together in Maine this spring. Boston’s Big Three of No. 15 overall prospect Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony (No. 22) and Kyle Teel (No. 38) give the Sea Dogs an enviable heart of the order, and considering they play three different spots on the infield, they won’t get in each other’s development path either. The Red Sox have been very purposeful about grouping the competitive trio together so they can play off each other ahead of potential Fenway debuts, and that continues with this season-opening assignment. Infielders Nick Yorke (BOS No. 6) and Blaze Jordan (BOS No. 19) deepen Portland’s lineup, and top Boston pitching prospect Wikelman Gonzalez (BOS No. 5) returns to Double-A where he struck out 63 in 48 1/3 innings last season.

4. Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies, Double-A)
The Rockies have sent 11 of their Top 30 prospects to Connecticut’s capital city this spring, including five of their Top 10. Top Colorado prospect Adael Amador (MLB No. 26) is the big name here, joined by Yanquiel Fernandez (COL No. 3/MLB No. 67). Amador’s plus hit tool as a switch hitter could set the table nicely for Fernandez’s plus pop. Rockies' No. 5 prospect Sterlin Thompson, Zac Veen (COL No. 6) and Benny Montgomery (COL No. 10) add more dynamism to the lineup, particularly with Thompson’s hit tool and Veen and Montgomery’s speed. Carson Palmquist (COL No. 15), Mason Albright (COL No. 22) and Jaden Hill (COL No. 28) are the arms to watch for the Yard Goats.

5. Harrisburg Senators (Nationals, Double-A)
Few clubs in the Minors can meet the Senators’ considerable ceiling. Last year’s Golden Spikes winner Dylan Crews (MLB No. 7) begins his first full season in the Eastern League, and he’ll have plenty of protection in the lineup with fellow Top 100 talents Brady House (No. 45) and Yohandy Morales (No. 100) around him. It was interesting that Washington paired those two third basemen on a roster this early, but they considered both bats too advanced to keep down, forcing Morales to get more time at first base -- the sign of a good problem in a developing system. Former Top 100 prospect Robert Hassell III (WSH No. 8) and 2023 Draft standout Andrew Pinckney (WSH No. 17) combine with Crews for one of the most loaded outfield groups in the Minors, and 2020 second-rounder Cole Henry (WSH No. 25) still carries some intrigue on the pitching staff.

6. Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays, Triple-A)
There was an outside shot Ricky Tiedemann (MLB No. 27) finished Spring Training with the Major League club. Instead, he heads back to Triple-A as the most notable southpaw at the level. He isn’t the only Top 100 prospect in Buffalo either. Orelvis Martinez (No. 83) heads to the International League after entering 2024 with the most Minor League homers (86) in the last three seasons. The Bisons could even start a Blue Jays Top 30 prospect at each spot on the infield with Leo Jimenez (TOR No. 5), Addison Barger (TOR No. 6) and Damiano Palmegiani (TOR No. 14) joining Martinez on the dirt. Connor Cooke (TOR No. 19) isn’t far from carving out a meaningful relief role in the Majors either.

7. Birmingham Barons (White Sox, Double-A)
The White Sox picked up Drew Thorpe in last month’s Dylan Cease deal and they’ve quickly made him the face of their Double-A club. The No. 79 overall prospect could dominate out of the gate after leading the Minors with 182 strikeouts in the Yankees' system last year. But while he carries plenty of weight, the Barons are also loaded beyond their only Top 100 representative. Five of Chicago’s Top 10 prospects opens in the Southern League, including Bryan Ramos (CWS No. 4) and Edgar Quero (CWS No. 5) as bats and fellow trade pickups Jairo Iriarte (CWS No. 9) and Jake Eder (CWS No. 10) in the rotation. The future of the South Side could well be in the Southern League.

8. Modesto Nuts (Mariners, Single-A)
Colt Emerson went from the 22nd overall pick in last year’s Draft to the No. 81 spot on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 after slashing .374/.496/.549 with 12 extra-base hits, 17 walks and eight steals in 24 games across two levels last summer. He rejoins Modesto to begin his first full season and could be ready to pop off in the hitter-friendly California League. (Note: He homered on the first pitch he saw with the Nuts last Friday.) Modesto could put up some crooked numbers in that circuit with fellow Top 10 M’s prospects Lazaro Montes (SEA No. 4), Jonny Farmelo (SEA No. 6), Tai Peete (SEA No. 7) and Michael Arroyo (SEA No. 9) also opening at Single-A. Even Aidan Smith (SEA No. 14) has the potential to be an above-average hitter with plus speed. This could be a fun hitting group to move together for years to come, and Emerson may not be its only Top 100 prospect before long.

9. San Antonio Missions (Padres, Double-A)
Thorpe could have opened here but was traded. Ethan Salas saw Double-A in 2023 but opens one spot lower to begin this spring. The Missions could have popped even higher on this list had some season-opening assignments broken differently, but it’s a testament to the depth of the San Diego pipeline that they’re here in the first place. Nine of the Padres’ Top 18 prospects are beginning 2024 in the Texas League, including No. 34 overall prospect Robby Snelling and last year’s Arizona Fall League MVP Jakob Marsee (SD No. 9). Adam Mazur (SD No. 7) and Ryan Bergert (SD No. 10) give San Antonio two more Top 10 Padres on the pitching staff, and Nathan Martorella (SD No. 13), Brandon Valenzuela (SD No. 16) and Marcos Castañon (SD No. 18) provide thump on the hitting side.

10. Iowa Cubs (Cubs, Triple-A)
The remaining two Top 100 Cubs prospects not in Tennessee open this season one level higher in Iowa. Pete Crow-Armstrong (MLB No. 16) and Owen Caissie (MLB No. 44) combine with Chicago’s No. 10 prospect Alexander Canario to form arguably the most talented outfield corps in all of the Minors, and they bring different assets to the table. Crow-Armstrong is lightning-quick as the Minors’ best defensive center fielder. Caissie and Canario provide serious power and arm strength from the corners. First baseman Matt Mervis (CHC No. 13), who homered 58 times in the Minors over the previous two seasons, adds even more pop, and BJ Murray Jr. (CHC No. 16) brings a career .386 OBP to the table. Should Horton join this group soon, the I-Cubs would be even closer rivals to Norfolk and Buffalo in the International League.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.