I’m not sure any organization has a trio of prospects at the top of their list, like the Diamondbacks. Corbin Carroll, Jordan Lawlar, and Druw Jones all have star upside. Carroll is already in the big leagues, Lawlar will likely join him in 2024, and Jones shortly after that. Who will be the best of the three? Dunno, they all are super talented.
The pitching has also taken an excellent step forward, with Ryne Nelson, Brandon Pfaadt, and Drey Jameson improving. Yeah, Reno was a speed bump, at least for Nelson and Pfaadt, but all three have a chance to be in the rotation in Arizona next season. Neither can be an ace, but the upside for each is a number three starter.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Corbin Carroll
- Biggest Mover: AJ Vukovich
- Emerging Prospect: Junior Franco
1. Corbin Carroll (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 OF
- Tools Summary: Power and speed with a patient approach could make him a superstar.
After missing most of the 2021 season, Corbin Carroll made up for lost time in 2022 by playing out of his mind. In 93 games across Double and Triple-a (plus two games in a rehab assignment), he slashed .307/.425/.611 with 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases. The results got him a September call-up, where he plied his skills quite well against Major League pitching.
There’s some swing-and-miss in his game, but he also is extremely patient at the plate. The only knock against him is the one that dropped him in the 2019 draft; he’s 5-foot-10. If you’re all in, the comp is Mookie Betts. If you’re worried, the comp is Andrew Benintendi. I tend to lean in the Mookie direction.
2. Jordan Lawlar (SS)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS
- Tools Summary: His power-speed potential with a solid approach gives him star potential.
Jordan Lawlar was my favorite player drafted in the 2021 MLB Draft. The tools are explosive, highlighted by 70-grade speed and plenty of bat speed to project at least above-average power. The question was how much he would hit. He only played in two games in 2021 before hurting his shoulder, so my fears were eased when he got off to a blistering start in Low-A, showing a solid approach. He does strike out too much, but with his power-speed potential, fantasy owners will live with a .250 to .260 batting average if it comes with 20-20 potential, maybe even 20-30 potential.
3. Druw Jones (OF)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 OF
- Tools Summary: He has all the tools to be a Superstar. The only question centers around how much he will hit. He did not post a stat line in 2022.
Druw Jones has been famous since he was a kid. He’s the son of former Atlanta Braves star Andrew Jones and might have the talent to give his father a run for his money at baseball-reference.com. There is one big difference. Dad did it, and Druw has got to translate his numerous gifts to the minor leagues and eventually the Major Leagues.
First, the grades. 70-grade runner. 70-grade defender. Plus bat speed that should translate into 20+ future home run power. Hit-tool? Well, there are open questions. First, at 6-foot-4, there are likely to be holes in his swing, leading to more strikeouts than you would like. Plus, he’s prone to chase pitches out of the zone. But he’s still 18 years old with plenty of time to hone his swing and approach, so I’m just noting it now.
Based on the tools alone, he’s a top 50 prospect, likely a Top 25 prospect with All-Star written all over him.
4. Brandon Pfaadt (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
- Tools Summary: He’s a strike-thrower with size and a solid arsenal
Brandon Pfaadt built upon his strong 2021 by continuing to build his resume for a call-up to the Major Leagues in 2023. He has the size at 6-foot-4 and overall arsenal to be a mid-rotation starter, but his ability to pound the strike zone could allow him to exceed that ceiling. In 167 innings across Double and Triple-A, he walked 1.9 per nine while striking out over 11 per nine. He throws hard but neither his fastball nor breaking pitch grades out with a high spin rate.
5. Ryne Nelson (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with upside
- Tools Summary: He has a plus arsenal and could pitch at the top-of-the-rotation with some improvements in his control.
It was natural to be concerned with Ryne Nelson’s 2022 season in Triple-A. In 26 starts, he pitched to a 5.43 ERA giving up over a hit an inning and nearly a home run a game. However, the PCL is a tough league, and one of the worst parks was Nelson’s home field – Greater Nevada Field in Reno. Everyone took a deep sigh of relief when Nelson made his Major League debut and looked great. He pitched to a 1.47 ERA in three starts, only giving up nine hits (two were home runs).
The arsenal looks terrific with a fastball that sits 94 to 96 MPH with average spin, a plus curveball with nice spin and movement, and a solid-average change-up and slider. He’s never had elite control, which will keep his ceiling to a mid-rotation starter, but if he can throw more strikes, the whole package will play up, and that could move his ceiling to that of a top-of-the-rotation starter.
6. Blake Walston (LHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with upside
- Tools Summary: He is athletic with a premium arsenal, but he’s currently struggling to find a consistent release point.
Blake Walston started the 2022 season back in High-A and pitched effectively. After four starts, the Diamondbacks promoted him to Double-A, and while he flashed swing-and-miss stuff, his location was poor, and hitters took advantage. In 21 starts, he pitched to a 5.16 ERA striking out over a batter an inning while walking 3.3 per nine. He did improve as the season progressed. He’s athletic with premium stuff but is struggling to find a consistent release point. I think the odds are high that he will solve the problems, and I continue to hang a number three starter on his ceiling.
7. Drey Jameson (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: He has a premium fastball with solid secondary pitches. He’s only six feet tall, and that, combined with his arsenal and average control, gives him a mid-rotation ceiling.
He was another Diamondback pitcher who struggled in Reno, posting a 6.95 ERA, giving up 1.6 HR/9 and well over a hit an inning. However, he shoved it in four starts in the Major Leagues, pitching to a 1.48 ERA. The stuff looks solid with a fastball that sits 95 to 97 MPH with plenty of spin (2234 RPM) and a decent slider and change-up. He is only 6 feet, so I expect him to be homer-prone, and his lack of elite control might inflate his ERA. But the total package, for me, gives him a mid-rotation ceiling.
8. Landon Sims (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP or Closer
- Tools Summary: He has plus stuff but also had TJS last March.
The Diamondbacks selected Landon Sims with their Supplemental First Round pick in 2022. It was a high-risk, high-reward selection as Sims has a plus fastball-slider combination with success as both a starter and reliever in college. He also blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John Surgery last spring, which adds the risk element to the profile. Before the injury, you could have argued for him going in the top 15 picks of the first round as one of the best pitchers in college in 2022. We should see him pitch sometime next season, likely in May or June.
9. Ivan Melendez (1B)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: His carrying tool is his 70-grade raw power. If he can control his strikeouts, he’s an easy 30-home run power bat at first/DH.
In 67 games at the University of Texas last season, Ivan Melendez hit 32 home runs. While that is Aaron Judge-esque, I’ll stop short of putting that as his ceiling. There’s no question he has enormous power, and while he walked more than he struck out in college, there are concerns about how much he’ll hit in professional baseball. That was not a problem in his first kick at the can, as he only struck out 25 times in 120 plate appearances (21% K-Rate). However, the swing is long, so he could easily post a 27 to 33% strikeout rate over a season. So the math is pretty simple here. There is 30 home run upside with a chance he’ll hit .220 to .240. Stolen bases will not be part of the equation.
10. AJ Vukovich (3B/OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
- Tools Summary: He is an intriguing power-speed player but has an overly aggressive approach that is tamping down his ceiling.
It’s easy to get excited about AJ Vukovich, particularly his surface stats from last season. Across High and Double-A, he hit .276 with 17 home runs and 36 stolen bases. He also struck out 24% of the time, which isn’t going to win him a batting title, but it’s only slightly below average. The problem is that he walked 19 times. If you walk less than once a week, it’s a problem. Sure, players have done this successfully in the Major Leagues, but those players have incredible hand-eye coordination and contact skills. I don’t see this in Vukovich. But he has fantasy-friendly skills and could hit enough to get full-time playing time. Managers in OBP Leagues need to understand the risk.
11. Deyvison De Los Santos (1B)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B with risk
- Tools Summary: Huge raw power but with plenty of swing and miss in his game
Deyvison De Los Santos has some of the best raw power in the minor leagues. It’s easy to throw an 80-grade on it, as batting practice can be bomb after fence-clearing bomb. The approach is extremely aggressive as he rarely walks, and while he kept his strikeout rate in check in Low-A, he struck out over 30% of the time in 166 plate appearances in High-A. Long-time readers know of my struggle with players with this profile. While I want to roster the next Austin Riley, you are often rostering Seuly Matias.
12. Leandro Cedeno (1B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: His 70-grade raw power started to translate into in-game power. Plus, he made noticeable improvements in his ability to control the strike zone.
Leandro Cedeno is a big body first base only prospect with 70-grade raw power. 2022 was his breakout season as the raw power started translating into in-game power. In Double-A, he slugged .571, hit 30 home runs, and added two more in his September promotion to Triple-A. He made better contact and even improved his approach, which was overly aggressive up until last season. He’s still prone to expand the strike zone, but if the improvements he made last season can carry forward, the power will play at the highest level.
13. Dominic Fletcher (OF)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: He improved his approach at the plate last season, and with a bit of speed and power, his ceiling is likely a fourth outfielder on a Major League team.
Dominic Fletcher had a nice season in 2022. Across Double and Triple-A, he slashed .312/.378/.486 with 12 home runs and nine stolen bases. He struck out less than 20% of the time and improved his walk rate (9.3 BB-Rate). His Major League role is likely a fourth outfielder, but with his improved approach at the plate, he might be a fantasy option that would not hurt you. He just turned 25, so I expect to see him in the Major Leagues next season.
14. Slade Cecconi (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Reliever
- Tools Summary: He improved his control in 2022, but the delivery still points to a possible reliever role. Regardless, the fastball-slider will get guys out.
Slade Cecconi stayed healthy last season and posted a solid stat line. In 129.2 inning in Double-A, he pitched to a 4.37 ERA, striking out nearly a batter an inning while walking just 2.2 per nine. His control is encouraging, as when I saw him in 2021 in the Fall League, there was a lot of violence in his delivery, and I didn’t think he’d ever repeat it well enough to start. I’m still on the fence, but regardless, his fastball and slider are good enough to get big league batters out.
15. Junior Franco (OF)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF with upside
- Tools Summary: He’s a plus runner who has gotten stronger. The approach still needs work, but there are some intriguing tools here.
Junior Franco was one of Low-A’s youngest players last season and held his own. He’s a plus runner who has gotten stronger and projects to have at least average power down the road. He did slug .406 with 14 home runs in 103 games in 2022. The approach still needs work as he’ll expand the strike zone and put himself into bad hitting counts, but overall, there’s enough here to be at least a fourth outfielder, if not more.