There may be no Minor League Baseball games yet, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.In the coming weeks, Toolshed will craft the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age. So far, the series has focused on teenagers, 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds and 22-year-olds. This time, we turn our attention to
There may be no Minor League Baseball games yet, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.
In the coming weeks, Toolshed will craft the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age. So far, the series has focused on teenagers, 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds and 22-year-olds. This time, we turn our attention to prospects who will be 23 this year. Eligibility is determined by a player's age on June 30, roughly the midpoint of a regular season -- the same date used by Baseball-Reference in its age calculations. Also, to keep this as clean as possible, a player will only be placed at his primary position, with an exception of a designated hitter spot. As fun as it would be to move around shortstops or put third basemen across the diamond at first to get their bats in the lineup, such moves wouldn't fit the spirit of the exercise.
With those ground rules set, here is the most prospect-laden roster of 23-year-olds headed into 2020:
Catcher -- Joey Bart, Giants: In a world without Adley Rutschman, Bart is the undeniable best catching prospect in baseball. We don't live in that world, of course, but there's still a whole lot to like about MLB.com's No. 14 overall prospect. Drafted second overall out of Georgia Tech in 2018, San Francisco's top prospect has plus skills on both sides. He can be a plus power hitter, as he showed with 16 homers in 79 games last season between Double-A and Class A Advanced. He can be a plus receiver and thrower from behind the plate, bringing additional value on the defensive side. Bart was limited by broken bones in his hand during the regular and Arizona Fall League seasons last year, but he remained well on track to reach the Bay Area at some point this summer before the Major League season was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Supplanting Buster Posey is no small feat at any time, but Bart has the goods to accomplish just that, making him an easy first pick here.
First baseman -- Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles: Mountcastle can certainly hit. The No. 94 overall prospect was last year's International League MVP after producing a .312/.344/.527 line with 25 homers in 127 games for Triple-A Norfolk. He sports a career .299 average and .799 OPS and has shown the potential to be above-average in the Majors when it comes to his hit and power tools. It's on the defensive end that matters get complicated. Mountcastle was selected in the first round of the 2015 Draft as a shortstop, became a third baseman full-time in 2018 and then moved around between first, third and left field last season at the Minors' highest level. The vast majority of his starts -- 83, in fact -- came at the cold corner, so that's how he ends up here, even though Baltimore gave him more time in left in Spring Training. Mountcastle isn't a very rangy defender and has a below-average arm, placing a higher necessity on his ability to hit. He's passed that offensive bar so far and already looked prepared to help the Orioles at the end of last season. That Major League readiness and hitting potential give him the boost to claim this spot.
Second baseman -- Brendan Rodgers, Rockies: We made a promise to you. Players would be featured only at their primary positions. There was a real desire to shift Rodgers to shortstop, his original Minor League position, to make room for Nick Madrigal here. But as he closed in on Colorado and Trevor Story, the 2015 third overall pick was moved to second base basically full-time. He made 40 starts at the keystone in 2019 between Triple-A and the Majors, compared to only 11 at short and three at third. With that stipulation in place, Rodgers receives the nod over Madrigal because his offensive skill set is more well-rounded. The Rockies' top prospect can hit for average and slugging with career Minor League marks of .296 and .503 in those respective categories. Additionally, there is belief he should be an above-average defender at his relatively new defensive position. It's the whole package that makes him the No. 29 overall prospect, and if not for shoulder surgery after his Major League arrival, he likely would have picked up too many at-bats with the Rockies to qualify for this list. It'd be great to have Madrigal's elite contact-making ability in this spot, but without anything close to Rodgers' power, he has to settle for a bench spot instead.
Third baseman -- Alec Bohm, Phillies: This selection comes down to the preference of the picker. On one hand is Ke'Bryan Hayes, who would instantly become a Gold Glove favorite at the hot corner in the Majors, but is more projection over production thus far offensively. On the other is Bohm, a gifted 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter who faced questions about his ability to stick to third. There's a reason "faced" is in the past tense. When the Phillies drafted Bohm third overall out of Wichita State in 2018, there was a strong school of thought that he would have to move over to first base in time. Bohm did that some in his first full season, getting 23 starts at first, but this spring, he worked exclusively at third, and the organization expressed even more optimism that he'd shown enough growth with his range to make third his long-term spot on the diamond. That would be big because Bohm showed an impressive bat with a .305/.378/.518 line, 21 homers and only 73 strikeouts over 125 games across three levels last season. His hit tool is surprisingly above his power tool for now, but plenty of teams would like to have a slugger that makes as much contact as Bohm and is still capable of belting 20-plus homers out of the gate in the pros. This hypothetical team can be included among them.
Shortstop -- Nico Hoerner, Cubs: With Rodgers sliding over to second, this isn't as deep a group of shortstops as some other Toolshed dream lineups have boasted in previous weeks. Thankfully, there's a Major Leaguer with prospect eligibility remaining ready to fill the void. Hoerner, who missed time with a broken left wrist, batted .284/.344/.399 over 70 games for Double-A Tennessee in his first full season in 2019 before getting called up by Chicago on Sept. 9 following injuries to Javier Baez and Addison Russell. The 2018 first-rounder had taken reps at second and center in the Minors, but made 17 starts at short down the stretch while hitting .282/.305/.436 with three homers over 20 games for the big club. The hit tool is Hoerner's best by far, highlighted by his ability to make a lot of contact. He struck out only 10.5 percent of the time with Tennessee and that mark modestly bumped up to 13.5 percent in the Majors. He also possesses above-average speed that enables him to play multiple spots in a pinch. With slightly below-average power and just an average arm, Hoerner lacks some of the flash of other shortstop prospects, but his already-established Major League resume and otherwise consistent offensive production across multiple levels pushes him to become the No. 51 overall prospect and this team's shortstop.
Trevor Larnach, Twins: Larnach is at his baseline a solid hitter, especially going the other way from the left side. The former Oregon State star batted .309/.384/.458 over 127 games between Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola last season. The next point in his development, by his own admission, needs to be power. Larnach hit only 13 homers in 2019, and at 6-foot-4, there should be more pop in the tank. Even if the gains are modest, the rest of the hit tool is good enough to make Larnach a solid Major League corner outfielder because of his ability to reach base consistently. He received most of his starts in right field last season, but he'll move over to left for the purposes of this lineup.
Kyle Isbel, Royals: There's a decent dropoff from Larnach and the other two non-Top-100 prospects taking the other outfield spots, but both bring plenty to the table. For Isbel, that's an ability to be an above-average hitter from the left side with plus speed. Ignore his time at Class A Advanced Wilmington last season, which was marred by a hamstring injury and a broken hamate bone. Pay more attention to his Arizona Fall League, where he showed he was fully recovered from the hand injury by batting .315/.429/.438 with six steals over 21 games. Yes, it came in a small sample, but considering the competition, it was a strong showing and enough to propel the 2018 third-rounder to become the No. 7 prospect in the Royals system. Because of his plus speed, Isbel fits in center field for now, though there are fears he will have to move to left eventually due to his arm.
Yusniel Díaz, Orioles: A former Top-100 prospect, Diaz has dropped in the rankings due to injuries in recent years and an inability to break past Double-A after reaching the level for the first time in 2017. The good news is there is still plenty to like in Diaz's profile. The Orioles' No. 7 prospect is considered at least average in all five tools, and while that sounds like a dig, it really isn't considering how difficult it can be to find outfielders who are at least decent in all facets of the game. His defensive grades for his arm and glove were actually 55s on the 20-80 scouting on MLB.com's scouting sheet, indicating he will provide a good amount of value there. It's also why he'll fill the right-field role on this roster. Diaz hit .262/.335/.472 with 11 homers in 76 games at Double-A Bowie last season, and we expect a little more production as he matures, works to stay on the field and gains a little more exposure to upper-level pitching.
Designated hitter -- Daulton Varsho, D-backs: The drawbacks on Varsho's profile right now are mostly defensive. We don't have to worry about those from the catcher, who turns 24 on July 2 (two days past the deadline for this group), and can move him comfortably here instead. Varsho has a unique skill set for a catcher in that he's an above-average hitter but also earns 55 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale for his run tool. Indeed, the D-backs' No. 3 prospect was one of only two Minor League catchers with at least 20 stolen bases in 2019 with 21. (Texas' Matt Whatley was the other with 29.) He also went yard 18 times, led the Southern League in slugging (.520) and OPS (.899) and ranked second among all Double-A hitters with a 159 wRC+. Take him away from the rigors of everyday catching, and it's possible Varsho's power and speed outputs both increase. His profile is less fun as a designated hitter, but Varsho's overall offensive potential at the plate and on the basepaths is too good to pass up getting in this lineup somehow.
Right-handed pitcher -- Nate Pearson, Blue Jays: The toughest call here. Pearson is the eighth-ranked prospect on the Top-100 list. Tigers right-hander Casey Mize is No. 7. Selecting one of them comes down to the ultimate picking of nits. There isn't regret in taking either. The reason Pearson gets the nod here is he's a touch closer to the Majors, having ended 2019 at Triple-A Buffalo while Mize finished up at Double-A Erie. (It's also worth noting Mize dealt with shoulder issues last season.) On stuff alone, Pearson is basically Major League-ready anyway. His triple-digit heater is the obvious headliner, but his slider also represents a plus offering right now. Additionally, the Toronto right-hander will tell anyone who listens how pleased he is about the development of his changeup, and that now above-average offering is the difference between him becoming a top-line starter and an elite reliever. While pitching on a strict innings limit at times, Pearson managed to post a 2.30 ERA and an 0.89 WHIP while striking out 119 and walking only 27 over 101 2/3 innings across three levels last season. Mize, with his plus-plus splitter and other plus pitches, could one day end up being the better pitcher of the two. For now, it's tough to go wrong with a pitcher like Pearson who could help any Major League, not just Minor League, rotation right away.
Left-handed pitcher -- Tarik Skubal, Tigers: From a ninth-round selection to becoming the top 23-year-old left-handed pitching prospect in the game. That's what the kids call a glow up. Skubal surged through the Detroit system in his first full season, ending up at Double-A Erie, where he formed the future of the Tigers rotation with Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz. Skubal put himself in that position by showing four above-average pitches, including a low-to-mid-90s fastball with good movement. He throws the whole repertoire for strikes, and as a result, he fanned 179 batters over 122 2/3 innings between Erie and Class A Advanced Lakeland. With a longer history of this type of performance, Skubal could have ranked higher than his No. 46 spot in MLB.com's rankings. Even as things stand, it's still a remarkable climb.
Preferred batting order
DH Varsho (L)
2B Rodgers (R)
3B Bohm (R)
C Bart (R)
LF Larnach (L)
1B Mountcastle (R)
SS Hoerner (R)
RF Diaz (R)
LF Isbel (L)
No, it's not typical to have a player who usually catches at the top of the lineup, but as we've established, Varsho is far from the typical catching prospect. Now at designated hitter, his speed could play up even more, and his bat is good enough to feature high in the lineup anyway. If handedness wasn't an issue, Mountcastle might jump over Larnach for the fifth spot because he possesses a touch more pop at this stage. However, Larnach's bat from the left side breaks up what would otherwise be a righty-heavy middle of the lineup.
Mize vs. Pearson might be the most difficult call of the whole series. Both were limited in 2019. Both have killer stuff. Both should lead Major League rotations some day. Pearson's high-octane arsenal feels the better bet here right now, but ask us again in a week and that might change.
It's also tough to imagine any prospect infield in which Madrigal and Hayes qualify but don't feature. Both are ranked second at their respective positions by MLB.com but happen to be the same age as those ranking one spot above them. If we built this out to a 36-man roster, both would be guaranteed spots.
The outfield group isn't particularly deep, but gifted center fielders Daz Cameron and Jarren Duran were late cuts. Cameron's inability to perform as a hitter at last year's offense-friendly Triple-A level hurt his case, while Duran's lack of power and arm strength came up short of Isbel and Diaz.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.