Welcome to ESPN Insider's 2016 ranking of the top 100 prospects in baseball.
This is my ninth such ranking for Insider, and this time around there's a ton of turnover on the list thanks to the big year for rookies in 2015. In fact, my No. 1 and No. 3 prospects from last year won the Rookie of the Year awards in the NL and AL, respectively, and the Nos. 6 and 15 prospects were the runners-up in the AL. Eleven of my top 20 prospects last year graduated to the majors.
As usual, the list is heavy on position players up the middle, with a fifth of the top 100 currently playing shortstop. And there's a slew of center fielders on the list, but it's very light on catchers and third basemen. There also is a bit of a renaissance for left-handed starters right now, with a dozen on the list this year. The back of the list seems, just at a glance, to be the youngest I've had in years, thanks in part to all the graduations from the high minors in the past year.
The rankings are limited to players who still have rookie eligibility; that means they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors and have not yet spent 45 days on the active roster of a major league club, excluding call-ups during the roster expansion period after Sept. 1.
Only players who have signed professional contracts are eligible.
I do not consider players with professional experience in Japan or Korea "prospects" for the purpose of this exercise. I also exclude Cuban players who are considered professional free agents by Major League Baseball by virtue of their experience in Cuba's Serie Nacional de Béisbol. As such, this list excludes Byung-Ho Park and Kenta Maeda, but it will consider Cuban players whom MLB treats as amateurs, like Yusniel Diaz (who is in the rankings) and Yadier Alvarez.
When ranking players, I consider scouting reports on players -- usually my own, supplemented with conversations with other scouts and front-office executives, as needed -- as well as performance, adjusted for age and context. I've made one adjustment in my ranking philosophy in recent years, favoring higher-upside prospects over lower-ceiling prospects that are closer to the majors. This better reflects how these players are valued now by front offices and scouting departments, and it gives me a chance to deliver more information on prospects whose names or scouting reports might be new to you.
I use the 20 to 80 grading scale in these comments to avoid saying "average" and "above average" thousands of times across the 100 player comments. On that scale, a grade of 50 equals major league average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 45 is fringy or below average and so on. Giancarlo Stanton has 80 raw power, for instance. David Ortiz has 20 speed. Andrelton Simmons is an 80 defender with an 80 arm. An average fastball for a right-hander is 90 to 92 mph, with 1 to 2 mph off that for a lefty.
I've included last year's rank for players who appeared in the Top 100 in 2015. An ineligible player (labeled as "NE" for not eligible in the 2015 rank area) was still an amateur at this time last January, whereas an unranked player (labeled "NR" for not ranked) was eligible but didn't make the cut. I've also tagged players who were on last year's sleepers lists ("SL") -- I listed a player or two per team in my 2015 team-by-team prospect rankings -- and identified those on my list of 10 players who just missed the cut ("JM").
51. Alex Verdugo, OF
Age: 19 (5/15/96) | B/T: L/L
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 205
Top level: High-A | 2015: NR
Verdugo was widely viewed as a first-round talent going into the 2014 draft, but an inconsistent spring and questions about his maturity led him to slip into the second round, where the Dodgers grabbed him in what now looks like a brilliant bit of opportunism. Only Corey Seager has a higher ceiling among Dodgers position-player prospects than Verdugo, who has special ability at the plate and when he's throwing, although ultimately he's going to end up in right field. At the plate, Verdugo has great bat speed and the ability to make quick adjustments, reacting well even when seeing an off-speed pitch in a fastball count. He started slow in Great Lakes, but those adjustments kicked in around the Midwest League All-Star break, after which he hit .349/.372/.460 with only 16 Ks in 200 plate appearances. He was then promoted to Rancho Cucamonga and raked.
He looks like a 20-homer, high-batting-average hitter who can play plus defense in a corner with a 70 arm and add a little value on the bases.