Big Hype Prospects: Wood, Holliday, Williams, Rodriguez, Crow-Armstrong

The international signing market is well underground. We can think of these mostly 16-year-old boys as transplanted seeds. Some of them will grow big and strong over the next half-decade. Others will sprout then later wither during a drought or cold spell. Many won’t take to the new soil in which they’re planted. Perhaps the soil is too base or acidic. Or maybe a team thought they were buying one type of seed and actually got another. The wrong type of nurturing can ruin a plant. As outside observers, we can check back in a year or three once these youngsters have taken to their new soil.

Plant metaphor aside, we have a honking update from Baseball America to chew upon this week. They’ve released their initial 2023 Top 100 Prospects list. I’m pleased to point out that Big Hype Prospects has correctly anticipated several notable surges up the prospect ranks, most notably number one overall Gunnar Hendersonnumber three Jackson Chorioand number five Andrew Painter. Today, I’ll focus on a few names who have shot up the ranks.

For those of you who have been frustrated by the lack of “Big Hype” in our offseason prospects coverage, this is the episode for you.

Five BHPs In The News

James Wood, 20, OF, WSH (A)
(R/A) 348 PA, 12 HR, 20 SB, .313/.420/.536

Wood drew attention as the principal returned in the Juan Soto trade. While he was joined by several promising young players, Wood is now seen as the “big get” in the deal. One concern from professional evaluators is the lack of successes from the Nationals development pipeline. While they’ve had a few big stars over the years (ie Soto), they’ve also seen a number of top prospects vastly underperform expectations (ie Victor Robles other Carter Kieboom).

If we assume the club doesn’t find some way to spoil Wood, there’s considerable upside here. Wood is built like a young Oneil Cruz. He’s a lean, physical giant with above-average speed, light tower raw power, a surprising feel for contact, and natural plate discipline. Like many young players, his contact profile is still geared toward ground balls. He also has an all-fields approach which has helped with his BABIPs at the expense of home runs. These will be the areas of his game likeliest to differentiate between a core performer or superstar future. Wood ranks 11th on the new Top 100 list.

Jackson Holiday, 19, 2B/SS, BAL (A)
(R/A) 90 PA, 1 HR, 4 SB, .297/.489/.422

The first overall pick of the 2022 draft, Holiday checks in as the 15th prospect for Baseball America. In limited exposure, he demonstrated pristine plate discipline and only rarely whiffed. The Orioles have recently garnered a sterling reputation when it comes to developing middle infielders. Holiday is still built like a typical 19-year-old athlete. He’s expected to add weight in the coming years. Scouts believe he’ll grow into 60-grade power. “Grow” is the operative word. Holliday and the Orioles will want to be careful. Too much growth could lead to a future as a second baseman with average or worse speed. Too little growth could leave his bat lacking thump.

Gavin Williams, 23, SP, CLE (AA)
(A+/AA) 115IP, 11.7K/9, 3.1BB/9, 1.96ERA

Williams looks the part of a future ace, combining an effective upper-90s heater with a plus slider and curve. Like many power pitchers, his changeup flashes as usable but lags behind the other offerings enough that it’ll play fourth fiddle. A fly-ball pitcher with average command, Williams should be ready to contribute in Cleveland this season – health allowing. Williams is rated 20th by Baseball America. Between him and fast-rising Daniel Espino (19th-ranked), the Cleveland rotation could feature two lethal aces by the start of 2024.

Endy Rodriguez, 22, C, PIT (AAA)
(A+/AA/AAA) 531 PA, 25 HR, 2 SB, .323/.407/.590

Back in September, my sources were talking about bumping Rodriguez onto their Top 100 lists. I said the following:

Acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade, Rodriguez’s development advanced by leaps and bounds this season. He entered the year as a utility man with some catching experience. He now looks the part of either a premium catcher or second baseman. His hitting, which has always been discipline-forward, took a big step this season. Including all three levels he’s played, Rodriguez hit 24 home runs, 37 doubles, and three triples in 520 plate appearances. Not only is he hitting for power, he’s making excellent swing decisions and improving at every level. In a more widely applauded system, this performance could merit inclusion among the top 25 prospects. As it stands, he’s quietly leaping onto Top 100 lists.

Rodriguez now ranks 23rd. Victory lap complete, Rodriguez is on the cusp of reaching the majors. The Pirates have quietly given their roster a chance to “surprise content.” One position they’ve done little to solve is catcher. They’re currently set to roll out a duo of defensive specialist Austin Hedges and perennial third-catcher Tyler Heineman.

Pete Crow-Armstrong, 20, OF, CHI (MLB)
(A/A+) 423 PA, 16HR, 32SB, .312/.376/.520

Crow-Armstrong is spoken of as a Kiermaierian defender, giving him one of the highest floors in the entire minor leagues. On this strength, Baseball America has ranked him 25th. Concerns about his hit tool have been alleviated following a successful 2022 campaign. It’s now believed he’ll settle in as an above-average hitter in addition to being the best defensive outfielder in the league. While that sounds like the profile of an easy Top 10 prospect, there are still enough ways for his bat to stumble to merit caution. The next hurdle for him is to see how his bat reacts to higher-quality breaking balls in the upper minors.

FiveMore

Kodai Senga, NYM (29): This column typically avoids international free agents. Technically, Senga is a prospect and ranks 16th. From the perspective of immediate contribution, only Henderson and Corbin Carroll are in the same stratosphere. Of course, Senga’s advanced age reduces his “value” as a prospect.

Evan Carter (20): Carter, another guy whose rise was anticipated by this column, is frequently comped to Brandon Nimmo. The left-handed hitter is carried by plate discipline and a feel for contact. His power isn’t a total zero, but it lags behind his other hitting traits. He might top out as a 20-homer threat, or he might not climb that far. Even so, he’s a high-probability future core performer. He’s ranked 26th. Teams value these sorts of players – just look at what Nimmo earned in free agency.

Brandon Pfaadt, ARI (24): There’s disagreement about which of the Diamondbacks young pitchers will turn out as the best performer. Baseball America has hitched its stakes to Pfaadt after his breakout 2022 campaign. He ranks 27th. We discussed him last week.

Marco Luciano, SFG (21): At one point, Luciano was trending toward top overall prospect status—much the way Chourio is now. Some of Luciano’s skills haven’t developed as expected, and his meteoric rise has stalled to a more gradual approach to the majors. Luciano, 37th-ranked, still projects as a prodigious power hitter, one with flaws and a future move down the defensive spectrum.

Kevin Parada, NYM (21): At 50th on the list, Parada’s was the first name to catch me entirely by surprise. The 11th overall pick in the 2022 draft, Parada ranks where he does due to promising offensive traits and roughly average defense. Parada was taken with the compensation pick for not signing Kumar Rockers in 2021. Rocker, you might note, does not rank in the Top 100.

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