Prospect Primer: American League Central
Some prospects are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. As the 2023 season approaches, MiLB.com goes through each MLB division to take a look at the most intriguing prospects. Other Prospect Primers:
Some prospects are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. As the 2023 season approaches, MiLB.com goes through each MLB division to take a look at the most intriguing prospects.
Other Prospect Primers:
AL East | AL West | NL East | NL Central | NL West
Full-season debutant: Brooks Lee, SS, Minnesota Twins
It may have only been a small taste of big league camp, but the top Twins prospect made quite the impression at Spring Training with the organization that drafted him eighth overall in 2022.
“He had what I would call a near-perfect camp -- because nothing’s ever perfect, but he did everything and showed us everything that we would be hoping to see from him,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli told MLB.com’s earlier this month.
MLB’s No. 31 overall prospect showed exactly what he could do in his pro debut last season, hitting .303/.388/.451 with four homers, six doubles, 16 walks and 15 RBIs in 31 games with three teams. In his first full professional season, he’ll start the 2023 season at Double-A Wichita -- the same place where he ended 2022 with a surprise promotion -- and will take with him the invaluable experience he gained at Twins camp.
“Just being with Major Leaguers; that's all that matters,” Lee told MLB.com. “I just want to feel comfortable and feel like I'm at home, and that's how I feel right now. I'm just excited at some point to get up there and reconnect with a lot of these guys.”
The shortstop's path to the Majors got a little more complicated when the Twins eventually won the Carlos Correa sweepstakes. The organization plans to gradually get Lee work at third base to build his experience at the position and give him as much versatility as possible.
His future teammate had a lot of praise for the 22-year-old.
“Man, that kid is a stud,” Correa told MLB.com when asked about Lee this month. “I really, really, really like this kid. I’m very, very high on him. Don’t be surprised if we see him up this year.”
The jury may be out about that last part, but Twins fans can look forward to checking in on Lee all season long wherever he plays.
Major League-ready: Maikel Garcia, SS, Kansas City Royals
Since signing with the Royals out of Venezuela in 2016, Garcia has only gotten better. Now 23 years old, the shortstop made his Major League debut last season, slashing .318/.348/.364 in nine games. He logged 40 games at Triple-A Omaha in 2022, and while he’ll begin the 2023 season in Nebraska, there isn’t much else he needs to prove. The Royals' No. 3 prospect primarily serve as infield depth and will be ready for the Royals when they need him.
Loudest tool: Daniel Espino, RHP, Cleveland Guardians
There's no debate that Espino sports one of the most electric heaters in all of baseball. One of only three ranked prospects with an 80-grade fastball, the top Guardians prospect can touch 103 mph and regularly sits between 95-98 mph. After a strong 2021 season in which he racked up 152 strikeouts in 91 2/3 innings, knee tendinitis and shoulder soreness limited him to only four starts in 2022 and he’ll be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a muscle strain and a capsule tear. Even so, Espino lights up the radar gun when he’s on the mound, and it’s a sight to behold.
Emergent star: Wilmer Flores, RHP, Detroit Tigers
No, not the Giants’ Wilmer Flores. This is his younger brother, who broke out in a big way in 2022 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 130 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie last season. Paired with a strong Arizona Fall League stint, Flores went from being unranked in 2021 to becoming the Tigers' No. 3 prospect at the start of 2023. The 22-year-old has a strong fastball-curveball combination that Detroit expects to be featured in its future rotation along with fellow top-five prospects Jackson Jobe (No. 1) and Ty Madden (No. 4).
At the crossroads: Austin Martin, SS, Minnesota Twins
It’s been an up-and-down journey for Martin, who was taken No. 5 overall by the Blue Jays in 2020 and was ranked as the No. 22 overall prospect in baseball a year later. He was traded to the Twins in 2021 as part of the José Berríos deal, started slow in 2022 and was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his non-throwing elbow later that year. Currently ranked as Minnesota’s No. 12 prospect, the 2023 season will provide a crucial chance for Martin to firmly establish his role with the Twins. He looked like his old self in the Arizona Fall League last year, collecting 31 hits in 21 games and posting a .936 OPS, giving the 24-year-old a good foundation to build off of in 2023.
Stephanie Sheehan is an contributor for MiLB.com.