Each team's best prospect in Rookie ball
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Each team's best prospect in Rookie ball

Jan 31, 2024

Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Sam Dykstra

At last, the gang is all here.

While the full-season levels have been playing games for two months, the Arizona Complex League, Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League all joined in on the fun with their Opening Days on Monday.

Typically, those Rookie-level circuits are filled with recent international signings and Draft picks who are just getting their careers going. That is to say, they are raw talents who are just developing their tools. But as was detailed in this week's MLB Pipeline newsletter, several Top 100 prospects have used the complex leagues as springboards to become the prominent names they are today.

To prepare fans for who could be next, here are the best prospects from each organization's farm system that are opening in the ACL, FCL or DSL this month:

Blue Jays: Enmanuel Bonilla, OF (No. 17)Signed for $4.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in January, Bonilla instantly became one of the Jays’ biggest-ever international additions. The right-handed slugger had some of the best raw power in his signing class, and he has enough speed and arm to play in center early in his career. His offensive profile would still fit in a corner if a move is necessary down the line. Notably, Bonilla walked three times in his first two DSL games this week.

Orioles: Braylin Tavera, OF (No. 23)When Tavera signed with the Orioles in January 2022 for $1.7 million, it was a franchise record for an international bonus from an organization that had just re-entered the amateur international market. In his pro debut last summer in the Dominican Summer League, Tavera showed impressive on-base skills for such a young player (.411 OBP). He has an intriguing power-speed combination and the potential to be a five-tool center fielder if it all clicks, as he's stateside for the first time in the Florida Complex League.

Rays: Brailer Guerrero, OF (No. 19)The Rays signed Guerrero -- MLB Pipeline's No. 12 international prospect this year -- and the left-handed slugger already posts exit velocities around 110 mph at just 17 years old. But he isn't just a hard hacker either, with his smooth swing and ability to protect the zone, leading to the potential he could be an above-average hitter on top of a plus power bat. Below-average speed already will limit him to the outfield corners in the DSL, but that won't be an issue if the bat meets its considerable ceiling.

Red Sox: Brooks Brannon, C (No. 21)Brannon led national high school players with 20 homers and 91 RBIs in 34 games last spring, tying the North Carolina prep home run record set by his father Paul in 1989. Signed for third-round money ($712,500) in the ninth round last July, he has some of the best raw power in Boston's system as well as plus arm strength.

Yankees: Brando Mayea, OF (No. 10)The prize of New York's 2023 international class, Mayea signed for $4.35 million in January. The Cuban has drawn some Gary Sheffield comparisons for his quick right-handed swing and could have plus or better tools across the board once fully developed.

Guardians: Chase DeLauter, OF (No. 7/MLB No. 94)The 16th overall pick in the 2022 Draft, DeLauter reinjured his left foot after signing, leading to surgery to replace a screw with a bone graft in January and delaying his pro debut until Monday in the Arizona Complex League. He offers a rare combination of tools, performance, plate discipline and size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), and he won't stay in the ACL for long. Once he departs, Cleveland's best Rookie-ball prospect will be another toolsy outfielder, Jaison Chourio, whose older brother Jackson is one of the game's best prospects with Milwaukee.

Royals: Austin Charles, SS (No. 17)Charles isn't like most 20th-round picks. The California native was a two-way prospect entering last year's Draft and was ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 109 talent in his class. The Royals signed him away from a UC Santa Barbara commitment with a $429,500 bonus and made him a full-time shortstop. Now able to focus on one job, Charles will try to make the most of his athleticism in the ACL with a particular focus on making consistent hard contact.

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Tigers: Enrique Jimenez, C (Not ranked among Top 30)Detroit signed three players ranked among MLB Pipeline's Top 50 international prospects from the January 2023 class, and the highest among them was Jimenez at No. 32. The switch-hitting backstop stands out more for his defensive work at this early stage, particularly his footwork behind the plate and his ability to call a game. He's a better hitter from the right side for now and shows some early pop that plays well to the opposite field.

Twins: Yasser Mercedes, OF (No. 14)Mercedes was in the top 20 of our Top 50 international prospects list when the 2022 signing period opened, and the Twins swooped in and signed him for $1.7 million. He made it look easy in the DSL, finishing in the top 10 in average, slugging, OPS and stolen bases. It was encouraging to see him access all of his considerable yet raw tools out of the gate. He might outgrow center field eventually, but he could profile well as an athletic right fielder. For now, we get to watch him go in the FCL.

White Sox: Ryan Burrowes, SS/2B (No. 11)Burrowes waited until he nearly finished high school in Panama before signing for $75,000 last April, then made an immediate impression in the Dominican Summer League and found his name brought up by other clubs in trade talks. His advanced hitting ability, pitch recognition, plate discipline and at least solid raw power give him one of the highest offensive ceilings among Chicago farmhands.

Angels: Nixon Encarnacion, RHP (No. 22)While the Angels’ bigger splashes in the 2022 international signing period might have been with the seven-figure bonuses given to outfielders Nelson Rada and Randy De Jesus, they may have also found a gem in Encarnacion, who signed for $500,000. Athletic and projectable, Encarnacion struck out nearly 11 per nine in the DSL last year, with the chance to have a legit three-pitch mix. He's going to have to find the strike zone more after walking 5.3 per nine in his debut, with the hope that if he can add strength to his 6-foot-2 frame, he’ll be able to repeat his delivery more consistently.

A's: Luis Morales, RHP (No. 8)A standout in Cuba in 2019 and 2020, Morales defected to Mexico in 2021 and was considered the top pitching prospect in the 2023 international signing class. The 20-year-old got $3 million from the A's to sign, and they sent his electric arm stateside to begin his pro career. He can crank his fastball up into the upper-90s and could have a four-pitch mix when all is said and done. Command will be key, and he did walk two in his official Arizona Complex League debut on June 6, but he also struck out three in 1 2/3 hitless innings.

Mariners: Walter Ford, RHP (No. 8)Quick shoutout to top international signee Felnin Celesten, who would have been the choice here but will be out 6-8 weeks with a hamstring strain in the DSL. Ford's a pretty good backup choice, though, a super-young and projectable right-hander who had reclassified to enter the Draft a year earlier than expected. Just 18 for all of this year, when he makes his debut in the ACL, it will be the first official professional pitches he throws as the Mariners have moved forward cautiously with his young arm that has the chance to have a very good starting pitcher's mix.

Astros: Kenni Gomez, OF (No. 17)The Astros invested heavily in Cuban prospects on the 2022 international market, including signing Gomez for $775,000. He hit .294/.402/.500 with 10 steals in 37 games during his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, displaying bat-to-ball skills, plus speed and solid defense in center field.

Rangers: Sebastian Wolcott, SS (No. 14)Some scouts believe that Wolcott could become the best player ever to come out of the Bahamas. Signed for $3.2 million in January, he's a projectable 6-foot-4 athlete with 30-homer upside and well-above-average arm strength.

Braves: Luis Guanipa, OF (No. 16)Thought to be one of the better outfielders on the international market when this year's signing period opened last January, Guanipa joined the Braves for $2.5 million. He's currently making his pro debut in the DSL, picking up a homer in his first two games, and while he's only 5-foot-11, he has loud tools, with a ton of bat speed and raw power to grow into. He can also really run, with the chance to stick in center field long-term.

Marlins: Jose Gerardo, OF (No. 17)Gerardo registered a 102-mph throw from the outfield as an amateur in the Dominican Republic, prompting the Marlins to wonder if they should sign him as a pitcher, but they made him a full-time hitter after landing him for $180,000 in January 2022. He slammed nine homers in his first month in the Dominican Summer League and has solid power and speed to go with his top-of-the-scale arm strength.

Mets: Jesus Baez, SS/3B (No. 10)Just a $275,000 signing in January 2022, Baez instantly jumped out in the pros, becoming the Mets’ DSL Player of the Year after hitting .242/.341/.403 with seven homers in 54 games. Even at just 5-foot-9, he possesses above-average power potential, and his plus arm makes him a fit for the left side of the infield, though he's sprinkled in some second base too. Baez heads stateside for the first time this summer in the FCL.

Nationals: Cristhian Vaquero, OF (No. 7)James Wood, Robert Hassell III and Elijah Green get a lot of the focus as Washington's Top 100 outfielder cohort, but Vaquero could be hot on their tails with a strong move stateside to the FCL. The 18-year-old switch-hitter, who signed for $4.925 million in January 2022, has tools to dream on with plus-plus speed, above-average power and strong defensive skills in center. A season of maturation could have ready him to pop this year.

Phillies: Yhoswar Garcia, OF (No. 22)Things haven't gone smoothly for Garcia. He wasn't able to sign with the Phillies for $2.5 million until March of 2020 because of an age discrepancy, though he was thought to be one of the top prospects in the 2019-20 international market. He's shown off glimpses of his considerable raw tools, especially his 70-grade speed, but he has yet to find consistency at the plate. A knee injury limited him last year, and while he's touched full-season ball in each of the last three years, the Phillies are hopeful he can find his footing back in the FCL this summer.

Brewers: Dylan O’Rae, SS/2B (No. 17)O’Rae was a little bit of a surprise pick in the third round last year, but Milwaukee believed the Ontario native's plus-plus speed and ability to control the strike zone could make him a valuable middle infielder in time. The organization is taking it slow with O’Rae for now with his assignment to the ACL, and he just needs more exposure to advanced pitching than he saw back at home to unlock some of his tools on the pro side.

Cardinals: Reiner Lopez, RHP (Not ranked among Top 30)Height isn't everything in a pitcher, but being 6-foot-8 will certainly make a player stand out. (Just ask Miami's Eury Pérez.) Ranked as the No. 36 international prospect in this class, Lopez is more than his size with an 89-93 mph fastball that should add a few ticks and a slider and changeup that both show early promise. His curveball could also take a jump, should the Cardinals choose to develop it, giving him a four-pitch mix to dream on, on top of his size.

Cubs: Derniche Valdez, SS (No. 18)After the Cubs signed Valdez for $2.8 million in January, vice president of international scouting Louie Eljaua said Valdez could grow into a Starlin Castro build and provide Hanley Ramirez production. He's a pure hitter with advanced bat-to-ball skills and should be able to remain at shortstop.

Pirates: Lonnie White Jr., OF (No. 12)It's just exciting to see White on the field. The multi-sport standout who got an over-slot deal to sign him away from playing football at Penn State in 2021 has battled injuries since joining the Pirates and had just 11 games on his resume entering this season, and he then needed thumb surgery this spring to slow him further. The athleticism and raw tools are still intriguing, and he badly needs reps to figure things out, something the organization hopes he can now get in the FCL.

Reds: Ricardo Cabrera, SS (No. 13)Cabrera got $2.7 million to sign in Jan. 2022 as one of the top-ranked prospects in that international signing class and got his feet wet last year in the DSL. The teenaged infielder has hit the ground running in the ACL, going 3-for-7 in his first two games, with a double and a homer. That right-handed bat is ahead of his glove, with bat speed and plenty of raw power to tap into, especially as he continues to make better swing decisions and make more contact. He has the chance to play short, but he could end up having to slide over to third if he outgrows the premium position.

D-backs: Cristofer Torin, SS/2B (No. 15)Torin -- a $240,000 signing out of Venezuela -- may not have been on many radars at this time last year, but he quickly grabbed the attention of many in the Arizona organization with his plate discipline, having walked 37 times (while striking out only 20 times) in 50 games in the DSL. His 9.9 percent K rate was ninth-lowest in the Dominican circuit among 255 qualifiers. Also considered a gifted defender at short, Torin moves stateside where another strong showing would cement his place in a promising system.

Dodgers: Joendry Vargas, SS (No. 22)Signed for $2,077,500 out of the Dominican Republic in January, Vargas may have the highest ceiling of any shortstop prospect in the Dodgers system. He's a polished hitter with 25-homer potential and the actions and tools to stick at short.

Giants: Ryan Reckley, SS (No. 22)A Bahamian and one of the top shortstops in the 2022 international class, Reckley signed for $2.2 million. A switch-hitter who understands his swing and the strike zone, he has plus speed, solid arm strength and smooth actions at short.

Padres: Yendry Rojas, SS (No. 17)Rojas was one of 27 (out of 255) DSL qualifiers with more walks (26) than strikeouts (23) last season, and that helped him earn a .373 OBP over 46 games. The power still needs to come as he's yet to homer in the Minor Leagues, but there should be at least some slugging ability coming from his 6-foot-1 frame soon. Rojas also brings a strong throwing arm to the ACL for the first time, though he made his debut at second base.

Rockies: Dyan Jorge, SS (No. 22)After defecting from Cuba late in 2019, Jorge waited to sign until January of 2022, when he knew teams would have reset bonus pools. He got a Rockies-record $2.8 million to sign and then went out and hit .320/.402/.452 in the DSL last year. He got off to a 4-for-9 start with a pair of doubles over his first two games stateside in the ACL this year, continuing to show for a good feel for the barrel at the plate, a solid approach and some extra-base thump to tap into. He runs well and has a good chance to stick at short.

Blue Jays: Enmanuel Bonilla, OF (No. 17) Orioles: Braylin Tavera, OF (No. 23) Rays: Brailer Guerrero, OF (No. 19) Red Sox: Brooks Brannon, C (No. 21) Yankees: Brando Mayea, OF (No. 10) Guardians: Chase DeLauter, OF (No. 7/MLB No. 94) Royals: Austin Charles, SS (No. 17) Tigers: Enrique Jimenez, C (Not ranked among Top 30) Twins: Yasser Mercedes, OF (No. 14) White Sox: Ryan Burrowes, SS/2B (No. 11) Angels: Nixon Encarnacion, RHP (No. 22) A's: Luis Morales, RHP (No. 8) Mariners: Walter Ford, RHP (No. 8) Astros: Kenni Gomez, OF (No. 17) Rangers: Sebastian Wolcott, SS (No. 14) Braves: Luis Guanipa, OF (No. 16) Marlins: Jose Gerardo, OF (No. 17) Mets: Jesus Baez, SS/3B (No. 10) Nationals: Cristhian Vaquero, OF (No. 7) Phillies: Yhoswar Garcia, OF (No. 22) Brewers: Dylan O’Rae, SS/2B (No. 17) Cardinals: Reiner Lopez, RHP (Not ranked among Top 30) Cubs: Derniche Valdez, SS (No. 18) Pirates: Lonnie White Jr., OF (No. 12) Reds: Ricardo Cabrera, SS (No. 13) D-backs: Cristofer Torin, SS/2B (No. 15) Dodgers: Joendry Vargas, SS (No. 22) Giants: Ryan Reckley, SS (No. 22) Padres: Yendry Rojas, SS (No. 17) Rockies: Dyan Jorge, SS (No. 22)