There are so, so many baseball players. And a huge number of them matter a lot before they become household names. Now, nobody expects a normal fan to maintain a full mental catalog of MLB’s prospect ranks, but knowing a handful each year can enrich your understanding of the sport.
That’s what we are here to talk about. Thanks to the tireless scouting work published at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline, among other outlets, we know more about future stars than we ever have before. What follows is merely an attentive, 30,000-foot summary of their tremendous work — work I’d encourage you to click on, subscribe to and enjoy if you have interest in the crucial arena of minor-league talent and player development. Here’s where you can start down that road:
FanGraphs in-depth team lists (top 100 list coming later this spring)
MLB Pipeline coverage (top 100 list coming soon)
If you want the overhead view first, though, let’s run down 25 names you need to know. I’ve broken them into categories to answer one question: Why? What’s the immediate reason to know these prospects?
I’m mostly not going to detail exactly where each player falls on the major lists — they are behind paywalls for a reason — but the top 11 players by a simple consensus of the published lists are the first 11 names presented here.
Elite prospects set to reach MLB in 2023
Gunnar Henderson, Orioles shortstop/third baseman: The No. 1 prospect in baseball — so honored by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America — is the second straight Orioles youngster to wear the crown, following catcher Adley Rutschman. And Henderson already reached Baltimore, briefly joining Rutschman late in 2022 as the O’s made a surprise playoff push.
Sporting golden locks, Henderson can play short but likely lands at third. There aren’t a lot of holes to poke in his game. A marvelous 2022 that vaulted him from intriguing Double-A bat to AL Rookie of the Year favorite showed his potential for 30 homers, a .275 average, at least a few steals and solid defense at a difficult position.
But if you’re dreaming of a Mookie Betts or Jose Ramirez-style sneak-attack power stroke, be warned: Carroll, at least at the moment, has a lot more swing-and-miss in his game. His ultimate upside will hinge on how much contact he can make and whether he becomes a great center fielder or a great corner outfielder. Still, across 93 games and three levels of the minors, then 32 games in the big leagues, Carroll whacked 28 homers and stole 33 bases in 2022. If you’re thinking about him from a fantasy baseball lens, move Carroll to the top of the list.
Francisco Alvarez, Mets catcher/designated hitter: Do you like big, beefy dingers? The 21-year-old Alvarez takes some of the loudest, most impressive power hacks in baseball and displays plenty of patience. The only conundrum is whether the Mets want to get him more defensive seasoning behind the plate at Triple-A or unleash him for a full season in the majors.
Anthony Volpe, Yankees shortstop: The Yankees heaped plenty of pressure on Volpe by sitting out two straight classes of marquee free-agent shortstops. They are banking on Volpe being a well-rounded star. His revelatory 2021 gave way to a few concerns about how his uppercut-ish swing might fare against advanced pitching, but Volpe has consistently won high marks for making adjustments and squeezing the most out of his raw talent. Set to turn 22 in April, he will probably get to test his mettle in the Bronx soon.
The most exciting prospects in the minors
Jordan Walker, Cardinals third baseman/outfielder: Sometimes, the book does match the cover. Walker’s imposing, 6-foot-5 frame is just visual prelude to a hitting freight train barreling toward a major-league cleanup spot near you.
Jackson Chourio, Brewers outfielder: No prospect won more hype in 2022 than Chourio. He rocketed from A-ball to Double-A at just 18 years old, tantalizing scouts with a huge power surge and the athleticism to portend a franchise-anchoring center-field star. Baseball America ranked him their No. 3 overall prospect.
James Wood, Nationals outfielder: The headliner in the Juan Soto trade, Wood stands 6-foot-7 and fell to the second round in the 2021 draft due to concerns that he might suffer from the strikeout issues most hitters his size battle. Then his 2022 was basically one big “OH, MAYBE NOT.” If the contact abilities he displayed last season remain even relatively steady, it’s not difficult to see Wood as an Aaron Judge starter kit. Baseball Prospectus ranked him their No. 3 overall prospect.
Elly De La Cruz, Reds shortstop: If you tune in to one minor-league game in 2023, make it one involving De La Cruz. A spindly, dynamic 6-foot-5, De La Cruz plays shortstop and hits the absolute crap out of the ball (that’s a technical term there). He’s an athletic marvel — a slightly less extreme version of Oneil Cruz with an even more promising skill trajectory — with basically one hurdle (plate discipline) left to clear before we start talking about MVP awards, plural. And even without clearing that hurdle, De La Cruz could be a fantastically fun player to watch.
Potential aces in the making
Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles right-handed pitcher: Yes, by Baseball Prospectus’ reckoning, the Orioles have the best overall prospect in baseball and the best pitching prospect in baseball. Baseball America has Rodriguez one spot behind the next name on this list.
Rodriguez almost certainly would’ve debuted in Baltimore alongside Rutschman and Henderson if not for a lat injury that kept him out for a couple of months. Durability might be the only question left for him to answer. This is a classic ace profile — fastball that can get whiffs up in the zone, devastating slider, a whopper of a changeup, two more pitches he might not even need to win in the majors — alongside a very contemporary lack of experience pitching more than four or five innings per start.
Andrew Painter, Phillies right-handed pitcher: The pitcher whom MLB Pipeline and Baseball America project to have the “highest ceiling” won’t turn 20 until April, but he already boasts eye-catching control and, yes, triple-digit heat. He reached Double-A to end his torrid 2022 campaign … where he struck out 37 batters and walked two (!) in 28 1/3 innings. There’s a non-zero chance Painter becomes the third pitcher since 1995 to start a major-league game as a teenager, joining Felix Hernandez and Julio Urias.
Eury Perez, Marlins right-handed pitcher: Also still 19 years old, Perez stands (at least) 6-foot-8 and throws in the upper-90s with a befuddling changeup. His “rookie Giannis” frame lends itself to some worries about how he will hold up against a starter’s workload, and he missed starts due to shoulder fatigue in 2022, but Perez is well on his way to becoming yet another Marlins pitching success story.
Other top prospects ready to contribute in 2023
Ezequiel Tovar, Rockies shortstop: A savvy shortstop who won hearts and minds with strong offensive showings across two levels of the minors in 2022, Tovar should, by most logical progressions, take over the Rockies shortstop job by June and take aim at 15 homers and 15 or more steals.
Brett Baty, Mets third baseman: Without Carlos Correa in the fold, Baty’s sweet lefty swing faces fewer hurdles to regular playing time in Queens. One is a tendency to put the ball on the ground against top-level pitching. The other has nothing to do with the swing: He needs to improve his defense at the hot corner soon or migrate to the outfield.
Taj Bradley, Rays right-handed pitcher: Having trounced hitters at every lower level and held his own at Triple-A, Bradley will be matriculating to Tampa soon. The former fifth-round pick exploded into a big-time prospect in 2020 with a monstrous fastball he can command.
Miguel Vargas, Dodgers third baseman/outfielder: Vargas fits the recent Dodgers mold of a “hitter who will stand wherever.” He isn’t actually a good defender anywhere except perhaps first base, but he casually laces line drives everywhere while walking almost as much as he strikes out. The Dodgers will rely on Vargas to provide some offense after an offseason of major departures.
Hunter Brown, Astros right-handed pitcher: Having carbon-copied Justin Verlander’s delivery, Brown got to play with his idol in 2022. The 24-year-old might end up in the bullpen if his control doesn’t improve — or if he simply can’t crack the loaded Astros rotation.
Oswald Peraza, Yankees shortstop/second baseman: Most frequently mentioned to finish the phrase “Anthony Volpe and,” Peraza reached the majors late in 2022 and had some impressive moments in the postseason. He is viewed as having a lower ceiling than Volpe because of less apparent power potential. But he’s a more surefire shortstop long-term, and if you’re looking for the youngster most likely to win the Yankees’ Opening Day job, he’s your guy.
Logan O’Hoppe, Angels catcher: A strong offensive catcher with patience and over-the-fence power acquired at the trade deadline from the Phillies, O’Hoppe will be joining the starting lineup immediately.
Prospects worth an eyes emoji in 2023
Marcelo Mayer, Red Sox shortstop: Three years out from trading Mookie Betts and months out from letting Xander Bogaerts walk away, Red Sox Nation is restless. Fans booed chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom relentlessly at a recent team event, and the future that was promised has not yet arrived in Boston. If the sun is going to rise on Bloom’s tenure, it probably requires Mayer — the No. 4 overall pick in 2021 — to fulfill high expectations. So far, so good, but there’s a lot of development left for a 20-year-old still waiting for his first crack at Double-A.
Daniel Espino, Guardians right-handed pitcher: He throws 99 mph. He throws a wicked slider. He does not throw often enough or regularly enough to hold your breath for his Cleveland debut. Espino has thrilling, “Meet the new Spencer Strider” strikeout stuff. He also might not stay healthy enough to use it. Luckily for the ever-churning Guardians pitching machine, they have two additional starters among the top 100 prospects, Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee, who look like better bets to claim rotation roles by season’s end.
Ricky Tiedemann, Blue Jays left-handed pitcher: The southpaw has only one pro season and 78 2/3 innings under his belt, but he has convinced some evaluators that he’s a top-15 overall prospect. The stuff is eye-popping, especially a slider and a changeup that move like divergent flying saucers. Short track records equate to uncertainty for young pitchers, but if his progression continues apace, he could make the majors in 2023.
Curtis Mead, Rays infielder: The Australian’s swing gave scouts pause because of the distinct “is that a video glitch?” moment right before his hands explode toward the ball, but the industry has accepted that it just works. Mead’s open question revolves around his glove. He has played third and second but doesn’t look great at either. He might wind up a must-play bat who wedges in wherever is convenient.
Endy Rodriguez, Pirates catcher/outfielder: A blistering 2022 of wrecking minor-league pitching (.323/.407/.590 across three levels) likely means Rodriguez will abandon catching as his primary occupation and move to an outfield corner to join the Pittsburgh lineup early in 2023, completing a fascinating rise for the relatively unheralded player the Pirates acquired from the Mets for Joey Lucchesi.
Noelvi Marte, Reds shortstop/third baseman: The headliner in the Luis Castillo trade, Marte looks like a well-rounded hitter, but there’s some question as to where he will play defensively. A Reds farm system loaded with middle infielders will now be tasked with finding out whether Marte can adjust to third base or needs to move to a less valuable spot.
Tink Hence, Cardinals right-handed pitcher: Still years away from the majors, Hence is what an exciting pitching prospect looks like a year or two before he rises to the tippy-top of the rankings. The Cardinals have handled him very carefully so far, but his movement leaps off the screen.
Follow Yahoo Sports' Zach Crizer on Twitter @zcrizer.