MLB Prospect Watch: Nick Senzel, Wander Franco on short list for baseball's top prospect after Vlad Jr.'s promotion

With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. making his big-league debut last weekend, it's about time to reorder prospect lists. After all, Guerrero entered the season ranked at or near the top of most lists alongside Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eloy Jimenez. Each is in the majors, so who, then, is the best prospect who is currently in the minors? We polled the industry and received a number of compelling candidates. Let's take a look at a handful with the best cases.

The safe pick: Nick Senzel (CF, Reds)

Senzel would likely already be in the majors were it not for injury. Instead, he made his season debut last week, having missed the start of the year due to a sprained ankle. Factor in how he was limited to 44 games last season, and how he's changed primary positions multiple times along the way, and his promotion to the majors feels like it has been a long time coming (and may indeed come in the next few days, per reports). Every tool of his grades as above-average or better, and he should contend for a batting title someday thanks to his mature approach and feel for the barrel.

The speculative pick: Wander Franco (SS, Rays)

Franco won't turn 19 until next March and has fewer than 25 career appearances at A-ball or higher. Those are about the only things keeping him from the top spot. He's dominated as a professional, entering the week with a .961 OPS and more walks than strikeouts. The upside here is a switch-hitting All-Star caliber shortstop who can bat in the middle of the order. Expect to hear Franco's name a lot in conjunction with the No. 1 spot over the coming years.

The somewhat speculative, somewhat safe pick: Royce Lewis (SS, Twins)

Lewis, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, kinda sorta splits the uprights between Senzel and Franco. He'll turn 20 in June and has an All-Star ceiling thanks to his near-elite speed and potential to become a well-above-average hitting shortstop. If there's a catch, it's that he's scuffled in High-A, entering the week with a .538 OPS on the season. It's probably too early to worry, and once he gets going he'll again be a popular pick as the top prospect in baseball.

The darkhorse pick: Brendan Rodgers (SS, Rockies)

It feels like Rodgers has been around forever, having turned professional after he selected with the third pick in 2015. He won't turn 23 until August, however, and he's all but certain to reach the majors this season -- due in part to a hot start that saw him enter the week with a .326/.398/.605 slash line and nearly as many extra-base hits (13) as strikeouts (16). With Garrett Hampson struggling, it wouldn't be surprising to see Rodgers usurp him as the Rockies' everyday second baseman before long. Whenever Rodgers reaches the Show, he has a chance to an above-average contributor on offense and defense.

Others who merit consideration included Jo Adell (outfielder, Angels); Taylor Trammell (outfielder, Reds); Forrest Whitley (pitcher, Astros); MacKenzie Gore (pitcher, Padres); and so on. 

Basically, for the first time in a while, baseball doesn't have a clear-cut No. 1 prospect.

And now onto our weekly look at an intriguing prospect to watch in each of baseball's 30 farm systems:

Prospect watch

Arizona's Triple-A affiliate is based in the PCL, which is a notoriously friendly hitting environment. Nonetheless, Domingo Leyba is an interesting middle-infield prospect who counterbalances good bat control with an aggressive approach.

The last thing the Braves need is another interesting pitching prospect, yet Jasseel De La Cruz has struck out 28 in 24 innings across two levels. He has a quality fastball, but needs to work on his command and his changeup and has had trouble staying healthy. He's probably a reliever in the long term. 

Last year's third-round pick by way of Arkansas, Blaine Knight is probably ready for a promotion: He's struck out 26 batters and has permitted eight hits and four walks in 20 innings in A-ball.

Kutter Crawford has a 1.96 ERA and 3.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in High-A so far. He has the chance to be a back-end starter thanks to his largely average arsenal -- and yes, he throws a cutter.

Cory Abbott has struck out 28 and yielded 28 hits in 28 innings in Double-A. He does not wear No. 28 sadly (he's No. 30), but he could slot into the Cubs' rotation as a back-end type sometime over the next 12 months.

Steele Walker has one of the best names in the business and is hitting .365/.437/.581 in A-ball. Expect Chicago's second-round pick from last year to get a promotion sooner than later.

The aforementioned Taylor Trammell is now hitting .294/.424/.441 in Double-A. The only tool of his that grades as substandard is his arm, which could limit him to left field if he has to move away from center.

Tyler Freeman is a nifty shortstop prospect who is hitting .306/.438/.472 with eight steals on nine tries in A-ball. 

As mentioned in the introduction, Brendan Rodgers could be Colorado's starting second baseman at some point this season.

Likewise, it wouldn't be surprising to see Willi Castro become the Tigers' everyday shortstop before the season is out.

Kyle Tucker remains a top prospect, but he's struggling in Triple-A this season after scuffling at the big-league level last year.

Checking back in on speedster Nick Heath: He has 13 steals versus 16 hits on the season.

One-time uber prospect Kevin Maitan entered the week hitting in the .160s in A-ball. Yeesh.

Relief prospect Marshall Kasowski has Q-tip arm action and a big fastball. He's also hit (1), struck out (15), or walked (8) 24 of the 41 batters he's faced this season.

The key piece in the Giancarlo Stanton deal, Jorge Guzman has fanned 27 batters in 25 innings at Double-A. He's also walked 15 and permitted 21 hits, so cheer up, Miami.

In a system with other good infield prospects, third baseman Lucas Erceg gets overlooked. He has a big arm and so far has bounced back from a rough 2018.

We noted Royce Lewis's struggles in the intro. Don't abandon hope of him developing into an All-Star just yet.

Frankly, it's been hard to find bright spots in the Mets system. We'll give teenage shortstop Ronny Mauricio the nod here, while acknowledging that his .302 average is pretty empty. 

The Yankees promoted teenage right-hander Deivi Garcia to Trenton this week. He has a big arm but he's listed at 5-foot-9 and doesn't have the kind of easy delivery scouts like in starter prospects. As such, expect folks to question his long-term viability in the rotation until he's proven himself in the majors.

Cuban import Dairon Blanco is one of the fastest runners in baseball. He's off to a quality start at Double-A, and it's not out of the question he forces his way to the majors this season.

The No. 3 pick in last June's draft, Alec Bohm now has a 1.036 OPS in A-ball. It might be time for a promotion soon.

Cody Bolton doesn't have overpowering stuff. He does, however, have a 0.82 ERA and strikeout rate exceeding one per inning in four High-A starts.

The Padres system is so loaded that some interesting prospects get overlooked. For instance, consider Jorge Ona, an outfielder with a broad skill set who has five homers (his career-best is 11) and an OPS over 1.000 in Double-A. He'd get be getting a lot more attention in most any other organization. 

Former first-round pick and longtime enigma Tyler Beede has fanned 34 batters in 22 innings and has a 1.99 ERA. He'll get another look at some point.

Part of the return on Mike Zunino, Jake Fraley profiles as a spare outfielder. He's hitting .291/.358/.488 this season in Double-A.

Outfielder Dylan Carlson was the 33rd pick in the 2016 draft. He has a number of average or better tools, and is hitting .287/.343/.511 in Double-A -- not bad for a 20-year-old.

It's becoming clearer by the week that Brendan McKay's future is on the mound.

Right-hander Hans Crouse has an unorthodox delivery, but that hasn't stopped him from amassing 23 strikeouts (versus three walks) in 20 innings in A-ball.

With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the majors and Bo Bichette injured, that leaves hard-throwing Nate Pearson as the Blue Jays' top prospect. 

Likewise, with Carter Kieboom in D.C., that makes teenage shortstop Luis Garcia the Nationals' top prospect. Garcia hasn't taken well to Double-A just yet.
CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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