Believe it or not, we’ve reached the final MLB Prospect Watch of the year. By this time next week, every level of the minors will have completed the regular season. As is tradition, we’re devoting this space to our version of end-of-year awards.
Below, we’ve highlighted players and teams in six different categories of our creation. It should go without stating that there are more individuals worthy of recognition than this format allows us to highlight. The minor leagues are a big apparatus, after all. Just keep that in mind in case your favorite prospect isn’t mentioned.
Now, onto the gasbaggery.
Hitter of the year: Corbin Carroll, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Carroll has had an eventful career for someone with just over 160 professional appearances since being selected 16th in the 2019 draft. He missed most of last season because of a shoulder injury, and he was robbed of a normal development cycle the year prior by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carroll looked no worse for any of it this season, as he hit .307/.425/.611 with 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases in 93 games split across three levels before getting called up to the majors. (Most of those came in Double- or Triple-A.) Don’t let Carroll’s diminutive (5-foot-10) frame fool you: he’s a well-rounded player who can hit and run and play a mean center field. He was a strong candidate for the No. 1 prospect slot in the minors prior to his recent promotion to the majors, and the combination of his output, his star upside, and his background makes him our choice here.
Pitcher of the year: Kyle Harrison, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Things didn’t go the Giants’ way at the big-league level, as they fell short in their attempt at repeating in the NL West, but at least they continued to employ Harrison. He made 25 starts between High- and Double-A, amassing a 2.71 ERA and striking out a ridiculous 14.8 batters per nine. Harrison has a sturdy three-pitch mix, including a fastball that can touch into the upper-90s. His pitch quality is aided by a lower arm slot that creates a flatter plane and an optical illusion that hitters can’t seem to solve. The one thing holding Harrison back is his location. He walked four batters per nine this season — and that was progress after he walked nearly five last year.
Organization of the year: Baltimore Orioles
There are many ways to define this category. We like to keep it simple: the purpose of a minor-league system is to improve the big-league roster. That can mean through promotions; it can mean through trades; or some combination thereof. With that in mind, we’re giving the nod to the Orioles. They graduated Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson this season, both of whom were in the running for the No. 1 prospect spot in all the minors at the time of their promotions to the majors. (Were it not for his injury, righty Grayson Rodriguez would’ve been in the mix, too.) Rival scouts have also praised the progress made by Colton Cowser and Colby Mayo, among other future arrivals. Factor in the addition of No. 1 pick Jackson Holliday, and the O’s minor-league system had a great year, no matter how you slice it.
Most improved organization: Cincinnati Reds
We were not fans of what the Reds did last offseason, when they salary-dumped Wade Miley and Tucker Barnhart to kick off their rebuild. Their work this summer was much more to our liking, however. Over the course of July, the Reds obtained infielders Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo, Spencer Steer, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand (among others) in trades. They also nabbed Cam Collier, a darkhorse candidate to go first overall heading into the draft, in the middle of the first round. This is what the “talent accumulation” phase of a full teardown is supposed to look like.
Biggest riser: Jackson Chourio, CF, Milwaukee Brewers
Who else could it be, really? Chourio, who won’t celebrate his 19th birthday until next March, guaranteed himself a spot near the top of prospect lists this winter by batting .288/.342/.538 with 20 home runs and 16 steals (on 20 tries) over the course of 99 games split between Class-A, High-A, and Double-A. He did the bulk of his damage in the Carolina League, where he led the Brewers’ A-ball affiliate in OPS despite being nearly three years younger than his average competitor — with that kind of age gap, he would’ve been doing well to merely hold his own. That Chourio instead flourished while showing impressive physical tools suggests he’s well on his way to stardom.
Biggest faller: Austin Martin, SS, Minnesota Twins
We’ve been fond of Martin dating back to his collegiate days at Vanderbilt. In fact, we ranked him as the best prospect in the 2020 draft on the strength of his bat-to-ball skills, his approach, and his defensive versatility. It didn’t hurt that scouts who spoke to CBS Sports believed he had more juice in his bat based on his exit velocity readings.
Unfortunately, Martin has yet to prove them (or us) correct. In 90 Double-A games this season, he hit .241/.367/.316 with two home runs and a total of only 18 extra-base hits. His career home-run total now is up to seven in 185 professional games. It’s possible for low-wattage hitters to succeed in the majors, but it’s not easy. Martin’s .075 ISO would be the fifth lowest among qualified hitters. And that’s if it translated in whole.