Farm Futures: Top 15 Hitters Under 23

Farm Futures: Top 15 Hitters Under 23

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

A subscriber requested that I stack up some of the best young former prospects with the best current prospects. I thought this was a great idea, but it was much more difficult than I was expecting, because everyone on this list feels like they should be higher. That's just a testament to how many great young hitters there are in the game. There were many iterations of this list, and the exact order could change if I released the exact same article a week from now, but after hours of deliberation, I feel comfortable with the order I settled on.

Here are my top 15 hitters under the age of 23 for standard 5x5 roto dynasty leagues (age in brackets):

1. Ronald Acuna (21.7)

2020 projection: .295 AVG, 44 HR, 32 SB

I really don't think you can go wrong with the No. 3 overall pick in 2020 redrafts. My preference up top rotates almost daily between Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Acuna. In dynasty though, it's Acuna, as he's seven years younger than Trout and six years younger than Yelich.

2. Juan Soto (20.8)

2020 projection: .296 AVG, 36 HR, 10 SB

Sometimes we get a player (there's another one on this list) that steals bases through guile and instincts despite being a fringe-average runner, and Soto appears to be one of those guys. The real story is just how amazing he is at the dish. He had a .434 OBP in the minors and has a .402 OBP in the majors. Eventually he will be a 40-homer guy and he may even be a 50-homer guy in five years.

3. Fernando Tatis Jr. (20.6)

2020 projection: .276 AVG, 31 HR, 23 SB

I thought Tatis would struggle against big-league pitching this year and I was dead wrong. It's not a process over results thing, just an analyst (me) being wrong about a player. He could be a top-30 pick in redraft leagues, and while I think there is a very wide range of outcomes with where the batting average settles, he would have to hit below .250 for it to be a "bad" pick in that range.

4. Wander Franco (18.5)

ETA: mid-June 2020

Franco has been the youngest player at every level he has played at, yet he has 78 walks and 50 strikeouts in 164 games. He has as many doubles + triples (50) as he does strikeouts. I expect him to look big-league ready in spring training, so there's just no way I can see the Rays keeping him down for all of 2020. If they come to the same conclusion, a June promotion makes the most sense, so they get their extra year of control and only have to pay three years of arbitration. I expect him to have an ADP inside the top 350 in March NFBC drafts.

5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (20.4)

2020 projection: .315 AVG, 30 HR, 0 SB

Since the All-Star break, Guerrero has been the player we should get over a full season in 2020. His slow start might lead to fourth-round ADP next year, which would be ideal. The Blue Jays have had the 11th best offense (104 wRC+) in baseball in the second half, so his runs and RBI should get a boost in his second MLB season.

6. Rafael Devers (22.8)

2020 projection: .299 AVG, 30 HR, 9 SB

I thought about Devers vs. Vlad long and hard – it's clearly close enough that they could be flip flopped. I'm pretty sure Devers has upped his batting average by 15 points since I started working on this article. The edge for him is in lineup context and steals, while I think Guerrero will hit for a higher average in his prime and he's 2.4 years younger. It's easy to just decide that this is who Devers is going to be going forward – this is confirmation bias at its greatest (that doesn't mean it's wrong). Players like Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Byron Buxton have shown that the elite prospects of our day can still have wild performance swings from one year to the next. We can always convince ourselves that this is the new normal when an elite prospect makes good on his potential for the first time in the majors. In many cases, the down years are clear outliers. Sometimes the down years are the result of injuries. This could be the new normal for Devers, but he also hit .240 in 2018, so I don't think I want to pay full freight on a repeat of by far his best MLB season. He will probably go around 25-30 spots higher than Vlad in 2020 redraft leagues, and while I enjoyed having a lot of Devers shares this year, I wouldn't be surprised if I don't have any shares next year. Having him sixth on this list legitimately feels insane, but it would feel insane to me to have Tatis, Franco or Vlad in the sixth spot as well. 

7. Yordan Alvarez (22.1)

2020 projection: .307 AVG, 36 HR, 0 SB

None of this seems fake. I had Alvarez ranked higher (15th overall) than anyone (to my knowledge) coming into the year, but his minor-league production was screaming for him to be ranked even higher. 

This notion remains true. If Alvarez's production were to slip, and I mean really slip, I'm just not sure what the cause of that would be. His batted-ball profile is elite, his power is ridiculously easy, his lineup context is perfect, he works the count... Sure, he strikes out little more than a perfect hitter would strike out, but a 24.1 percent K-rate for a 22-year-old is hardly a red flag. I'm not opposed to drafting a couple pitchers at the turn and having Alvarez be my first hitter selected in 2020 drafts, although you'd need to POUND speed later if you go pitcher-pitcher-Alvarez.

8. Bo Bichette (21.5)

2020 projection: .287 AVG, 27 HR, 15 SB

It was incredibly difficult to decide where to place the non-Wander Franco prospects on this list. Bichette, Jo Adell and Gavin Lux are a clear tier of three on the top 400 prospect rankings – they have high ceilings, high floors and proximity all on their side. I think Bichette is one of those guys like Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman or Francisco Lindor who will get to way more power than you'd expect just by sizing him up. His early power in the majors masks the fact that he is a pure hitter first, and the power is a result of his elite hit tool. He's not a plus runner, but he'll be on base enough to steal double-digit bases for the foreseeable future. He also figures to hit in front of Vlad for the next six years.

9. Gleyber Torres (22.7)

2020 projection: .280 AVG, 34 HR, 5 SB

There is perhaps no bigger testament to how loaded this list is than the fact Torres barely cracks the top 10. He's going to be a 40-homer guy at some point. While he may never hit .300 in a season, it would be surprising to see him dip below .270 or so in his prime years. The guys ahead of him all offer something more scarce than Torres' power, whether it be double-digit steals, an average at or north of .300, or both.

10. Jo Adell (20.4)

ETA: late-April 2020

While Bichette and Gavin Lux will steal bases based on how often they are on base, their excellent instincts and solid speed, Adell will steal bases in a more traditional manner – he's a legitimate plus runner. He also has the most raw power of the trio. However, it's possible Adell is just a .250 hitter in his prime. It's also possible that he develops into a .280 hitter, and if he does that he'll be a borderline first-round pick every year. This ranking is about risk management. It could absolutely look bad a year from now, but I'm 100 percent sure that the nine guys ahead of him are (or will be) really good MLB hitters. I'm only about 80 percent sure Adell will be a really good MLB hitter.

11. Ozzie Albies (22.6)

2020 projection: .292 AVG, 25 HR, 14 SB

Albies is incredibly tough to place, because he feels like more of a compiler than the guys ahead of him, yet when you look up at the end of every season, he will have provided 20-plus home runs, double-digit steals and a good batting average while flirting with 100-plus runs. There's something to be said for a guy who could very reasonably be a top-10 player at his position for each of the next 10 years. All of the guys below him have higher ceilings, but while Albies is a "floor over ceiling" guy, his "floor" is a top-50 fantasy hitter.

12. Gavin Lux (21.7)

ETA: September 2019

I've discussed Lux a lot recently, mostly regarding whether or not he will make his big-league debut this year. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said last week that Lux has earned a callup, but that they don't have a clear opening for him on the big-league roster. If their internal data suggests that they are unlikely to gain an edge in the postseason by having him in the lineup and in the field over Matt Beaty/Alex Verdugo (if healthy), then we won't see Lux. This article isn't about 2019 though. Of all the players on this list, I think Torres is his best analog. Both players can play shortstop but fit best at second base. Both players could hit .300 in a good year, but that shouldn't be the expectation. And both players went from being 15-20 homer threats to 30-plus-homer threats, seemingly overnight.

13. Victor Robles (22.3)

2020 projection: .261 AVG, 21 HR, 25 SB

Robles is the fastest player on this list. Unfortunately, it's possible that he will continue to get most of his starts in the bottom third of the order over the next couple years, which can't be said of any of the other players on this list. He was once a hit-over-power prospect, so perhaps he will still develop into a plus hitter, but for now it seems his game power is ahead of his pure hitting ability. Acuna and Tatis are the only other players on this list whom I project to steal 20-plus bases next year, so if Robles' improves drastically over the coming years, he could leap a lot of the guys currently ahead of him.

14. Eloy Jimenez (22.7)

2020 projection: .272 AVG, 34 HR, 0 SB

Jimenez is the closest thing there is in this top-15 to a buy-low target. He hasn't been anywhere near the pure hitter I expect him to be in his prime, yet he is hitting homers at a 40-homer pace as a rookie. The biggest knock on Jimenez is that every year he seems to miss time with various injuries – this year ankle, hamstring and elbow injuries plagued him – so we can't really expect him to play more than 145 games in a season. Almost all of his starts have come in the No. 5 and No. 6 spots in the order, but I expect him to hit third or fourth most years.

15. Luis Robert (22.1)

ETA: late-April 2020

At the risk of this sounding really stupid in a year or two, I still don't quite buy what Robert is selling. I don't really know how to justify having him lower than I do in the top 400, but I'm wary of how the hit tool will play against MLB pitchers (much more so than with Adell). Fortunately, even if he's a .245 hitter (wouldn't surprise me at all), there will be enough power and speed for him to be a top-100 player in fantasy. He's someone I'd be trying to sell high on, which is where this set of rankings comes in handy. If you can turn him into one of the players ahead of him, I believe you should do it. 

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James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
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