A lot of what you’ve seen before and some of what you haven’t
MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list is finally here, marking the unofficial end of preseason prospect ranking season. Every prospect ranking list has its own idiosyncrasies, but MLB’s official prospect arm has a certain status; it’s the Starbucks of prospect rankings, the standard you’ll find from airports to hotel lobbies, the one most people are talking about when they say “the number x prospect in baseball” or “the number x prospect in the system.”
Like most other outlets, MLB Pipeline gives the top spot in the system to Jarred Kelenic, citing his imminent All-Star potential, advanced approach, and above-average tools, including a rosier look on Kelenic’s power than you’ll find elsewhere. Coming in at #2, Julio’s writeup actually contains the word “superstar,” though, so one can imagine the debates raging at MLB HQ over where to rank the two; even here at LL we copped out with the “1A and 1B” designation.
While the top two spots in the system might have gone chalk, there’s a shakeup at the #3 spot. In a departure from basically every other major outlet (Baseball America, FanGraphs, Pitcher List, CBS Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Prospects Live, and us here at LL), Pipeline lists Emerson Hancock as #3, ahead of Logan Gilbert. That’s quite a statement of confidence in someone who hasn’t yet thrown a professional pitch, especially considering Gilbert has now had two turns in Spring Training where he’s shown well against professional-caliber hitters, in addition to the lanky righty’s dominance in the minors throughout 2019 as he shot from the lower levels to the upper minors in just one year. The Pipeline writeup notes that Hancock was one of the best pitchers in college baseball in 2019, dismissing his 2020 performance entirely, and notes his potential to have four plus pitches, leading with the fastball at 94-99. It sounds like the fastball might have been used as the separator between Gilbert and Hancock, as Gilbert tends to work more in the 92-94 range, grazing 95 more than sitting at it, but seemingly sells short the polish Gilbert has put on his secondary pitches during his time as a pro. The Pipeline writeup also notes that Hancock has added a cut fastball to his arsenal, which seems like new information and indicates someone got a good look at Hancock at the alternate sites this fall. Still, while Pipeline declares Hancock to have top-of-rotation potential, Gilbert is said to have #2 starter potential, indicating this, too, might be more of a case of “1A/1B” for Seattle’s future starters.
The rest of the list shakes out similarly to what we’ve seen elsewhere. 2020 draftee Connor Phillips is a bit of a surprise, landing just outside the Top Ten at #11, ahead of college-experienced mainstays like Isaiah Campbell and Zach DeLoach. Again, the writeup includes some fresh information gleaned from the alternate site, like his pre-pitch warmup has been likened to Trevor Bauer’s (?!) and his fastball peaks at 98. 2019 7th-rounder Adam Macko also sneaks onto the list here a little higher than he’s been elsewhere, although without any distinctly new nuggets explaining why.
The back end of the list, where things get a little fuzzier in ranking Seattle’s system, is very pitcher-heavy: eight out of the ten prospects ranked 21-30 are pitchers, which isn’t surprising given Seattle’s pitching-heavy rebuild. Those two lone position players are barely-prospect-eligible Jake Fraley and 2020 draftee Kaden Polcovich, although it’s worth noting both spots 19 and 20 are occupied by position players: slugging 3B Austin Shenton at 19, a little lower than he’s been elsewhere, and Dominican speedster Jonatan Clase at 20, somewhat little higher than he’s been elsewhere, and again, drawing on his appearance at the alternate site for fresh info (but still listing him at 5’8” and 150, which is outdated—Clase has added two inches and thirty pounds since signing).
The 2020/21 international signees aren’t included yet, but will likely be accounted for in the mid-season list update. Prized signing 3B Starlin Aguilar will almost certainly appear on the list, but beyond that it’s difficult to predict who will make the list with such a late start to the signing period and the delay of the minor-league season.
You can read the full list here. Note there is a typo in listing catcher Cal Raleigh’s ETA as 2024, when Cal will be eligible for social security in baseball player years.