Major League Baseball's offseason is here, meaning it's time for everyone to shift their focus from the past to the future. For many teams, that means the next few months between now and Opening Day 2023. For others, a longer timetable is necessary. For those clubs, the hope for a better tomorrow isn't contingent on what happens tomorrow, but what happens over the course of the coming years.
All of this to say: it's time to rank some prospects, folks.
Below, you'll find the first of two league-wide lists CBS Sports will produce this offseason. This one runs 20 deep; the other, which will come closer to spring, will go to 50. No matter the length, the process in curating these lists is the same: conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development types, as well as some firsthand observations based on our own beliefs and biases. As always, bear in mind that this is an art, not a science, and a snapshot, not a prophecy set in stone. Players are more than capable of getting better and making this analysis look silly.
With all the fine print mumbo jumbo out of the way, let's get to the fireworks. (Editor's note: We originally included Blue Jays catching prospect Gabriel Moreno at No. 4. Moreno, as it turns out, exhausted his rookie eligibility last season on a service-time basis, not on a playing-time basis. We apologize for the error.)
1. Gunnar Henderson, 3B, Orioles (2023 seasonal age: 22)
Henderson, the 42nd pick in the 2019 draft, began last season in Double-A and ended it in the majors, hitting at each stop along the way. That included 34 big-league games, in which he batted .259/.348/.440 (123 OPS+) with four home runs and a steal. Henderson primarily played third base, though he also saw action at second and short in a nod to his above-average athleticism and footwork. Offensively, he has a strong foundation to build from thanks to his well-above-average raw power and his disciplined eye. If there is a flaw in Henderson's game, it's that he's had his problems with left-handed pitchers. Perhaps he can improve on that with time, but for now, it's fair to expect most of his damage to come with the platoon advantage. Otherwise, he's big-league-ready as it is, with an upside that could see him make All-Star Games.
2. Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks (2023 seasonal age: 22)
Carroll was limited by injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic to 142 minor-league games ahead of his debut in Arizona last August. The lack of repetitions didn't prevent him from batting .260/.330/.500 (133 OPS+) with four home runs and two steals in 32 games. Carroll continued to exhibit swing-and-miss tendencies within the zone, ranking in the 27th percentile in that respect. That flaw won't sink him (Paul Goldschmidt and the aforementioned Gunnar Henderson were just two recognizable names around him on the leaderboard), but it may result in a higher strikeout rate than he was expected to post in the past. Still, Carroll is a well-rounded center fielder with top-of-the-scale speed who ought to provide oodles of secondary value. He should begin the season in the majors.
3. Francisco Álvarez, C, Mets (2023 seasonal age: 21)
Álvarez reached the majors late last season when the Mets were seeking another capable right-handed bat for their postseason run. He didn't fare well in five regular season games, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Álvarez has big-time raw power and he's improved his defense enough to bet on him sticking at catcher. Strikeouts are always going to be part of his game, and he's been pull-heavy in the minors, a combination that may limit his batting average upside. Even if it does, there's more than enough pop-and-walk potential here for him to become an offensive force.
4. Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers (2023 seasonal age: 19)
Chourio was the breakout star of the minor-league season in 2022. Despite playing the entire campaign as an 18-year-old, he hit .288/.342/.538 with 20 home runs and 16 stolen bases split across three levels, including a cameo at Double-A. Chourio is a fantastic athlete with a dynamic (and well-above-average) power-speed combination who should have more room to add muscle to his frame as he matures. Chourio did strike out in more than 26 percent of his plate appearances, though it's easy to forgive him for that based on his youth. (He was four years younger than his average opponent in High-A, and six years younger in Double-A.) There's a strong chance Chourio ends the year ranked as the best prospect in the game -- provided, of course, he hasn't forced the Brewers to push him along to the majors by then.
5. James Wood, OF, Nationals (2023 seasonal age: 20)
Our belief is that a team can never win a trade in which they send out a generational talent like Juan Soto years before he's set for free agency. Be that as it may be, Wood has the potential to help Nationals fans forgive the move. (One talent evaluator who spoke to CBS Sports even suggested he should be ranked No. 1 overall.) Wood may be listed at 6-foot-7, but he's no Big 10 ogre; he's quite athletic, to the extent that he's primarily played center field so far in his professional career. Some mechanical tweaks he made last season left him with a 21 percent strikeout rate, an improvement over his initial professional introduction. Wood has big-time power, as you'd expect, and in a perfect world he'd turn into a middle-of-the-order, middle-of-the-diamond player. At minimum, he's raised his stock since being selected 62nd in the 2021 draft.
6. Jordan Walker, 3B/OF, Cardinals (2023 seasonal age: 21)
Walker has immense strength, resulting in the kind of raw power that could make him a prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger. In order to fully access that pop, scouts expect that he'll need to continue to learn how to lift the ball more frequently -- last season, more than 45 percent of his batted balls were grounders. (A point in his favor is that most evaluators believe it's easier to train launch angle than exit velocity.) There was always a chance Walker would outgrow the hot corner, and the Cardinals have already taken to cross-training him in the outfield. Whatever position Walker ends up playing, his bat will be the main draw. It's conceivable that he could become the latest young Cardinals hitter to take regular at-bats sometime in 2023.
7. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles (2023 seasonal age: 23)
Rodriguez would have debuted at some point last season had he not been sidelined in June by a right lat strain. (He returned in September for a series of minor-league appearances.) Rodriguez has a power pitcher's frame and an impressive arsenal that includes three well-above-average or better pitches: an upper-90s fastball, a slider, and a changeup. That trio empowered him to strike out 37 percent of the batters he faced last season, all the while amassing a 2.62 ERA in 75 innings. The Orioles will likely look to limit his workload, as he's never thrown more than 103 innings in a season. He should debut early in the year with an eye on becoming a frontliner starter.
8. Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins (2023 seasonal age: 20)
Not to be confused with the former journeyman outfielder of the same name, this Pérez is a 6-foot-8 right-hander with front-of-the-rotation potential. He has a deep, quality arsenal led by a mid-90s fastball and a pair of breaking balls, and he's shown impressive command given his profile. Whereas many pitchers his size and age are still struggling to find the strike zone on a consistent basis, he averaged a walk every three innings across 18 starts (all but one occurring at Double-A) while adding muscle to his once-gangly frame. Pérez may make his debut sometime in 2023, though it should be noted that he's yet to clear the 100-inning threshold in a single season.
9. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox (2023 seasonal age: 20)
Mayer, who entered the 2021 draft ranked by CBS Sports as the best prospect in the class, slipped to the Red Sox at No. 4. That looked like a blessing for the Red Sox then and now, as he hit .280/.399/.489 with 13 home runs and 17 steals across two levels in 2022 -- and did so despite being several years younger than his average opponent. In addition to being a well-rounded hitter who could add more power as he matures, he's a promising defender with fluid actions and a good arm. The only tool of Mayer's that projects to be below-average is his speed. Clearly that's not going to hold him back.
10. Jackson Holliday, SS, Orioles (2023 seasonal age: 19)
Holliday, the son of new Cardinals bench coach Matt, was the No. 1 pick in last July's draft. He looked the part in his first exposure to pro ball, hitting .297/.489/.422 with more than twice as many walks as strikeouts in 20 games. Holliday raised his stock last spring by getting into better shape and learning to use the entire field rather than pulling off pitches. He's an explosive athlete who can run and throw as well, giving him a chance to become a high-grade shortstop. He won't be able to legally drink until December 2024, giving him ample time to continue to refine his game.
11. Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds (2023 seasonal age: 21)
This will almost certainly prove to be an overrank or an underrank. De La Cruz is perhaps the most unusual prospect in the minors, and therefore the toughest to get an accurate read on. He's a 6-foot-6 switch-hitting shortstop with well-above-average power and speed who really likes to swing the bat. He split last season between High- and Double-A, hitting .304/.359/.586 with 28 home runs and 47 steals. De La Cruz did strike out in more than 30 percent of his trips to the plate because of his aggressive approach, and that percentage is likely to increase once he reaches the majors. De La Cruz has a real chance at becoming a star; there's just substantial downside, too.
12. Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees (2023 seasonal age: 22)
Volpe enjoyed a breakout 2021 season, homering 27 times after adding muscle to his frame. He didn't match that performance last season -- he outright struggled during a 22-game introduction to Triple-A, striking out 30 percent of the time -- thereby delaying his debut until sometime next summer. Volpe still projects as an above-average hitter who can contribute in each of the slash line categories. Defensively, he'll have to continue to prove that he can make all the plays at short despite a substandard arm. It's possible that he'll eventually end up at the keystone.
13. Noelvi Marte, 3B, Reds (2023 seasonal age: 21)
Marte, the top piece the Mariners sent to Cincinnati in the Luis Castillo trade, has homered 36 times the last two seasons despite being on average two years younger than his peers. In addition to having well-above-average raw power, he's shown a feel for contact by keeping his strikeout rate in check. He has the right attributes to be an average or better defender on the left side of the infield, too, though there's reason to think that'll come at third base. Among those: the Reds, packed to the gills with shortstop prospects, had him play third exclusively during the Arizona Fall League. If Marte's performance to date against older competition is any indication, he has a real chance to become a middle-of-the-order fixture in due time.
14. Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies (2023 seasonal age: 20)
Painter, a 6-foot-7 righty, was the Phillies' first-round pick in 2021. He's since rocketed through the system, finishing the year with five starts in Double-A. Overall, he tallied a 1.56 ERA and a 6.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103 innings. Painter has a broad arsenal that includes an upper-90s fastball that can clear the 100-mph mark, two breaking balls, and a changeup. He's shown good control, too, walking about two batters per nine last season, including just two across 28 frames at Double-A. Painter should make his big-league debut in 2023, perhaps earlier than expected, and may give the National League champions another big-time starting pitcher.
15. Marco Luciano, SS, Giants (2023 seasonal age: 21)
The book on Luciano remains the same as it's been for a while now: he's a promising hitter who seems highly unlikely to remain at shortstop for the long haul. He had an above-average year at the plate in High-A, batting .263/.339/.459 with 10 home runs and 10 doubles in 57 games. (He was limited by back issues on separate occasions.) Luciano shows off a good arm on defense, but his footwork leaves much to be desired and many evaluators feel he'll eventually have to move to third base. That shouldn't be an issue for him provided that he continues to develop into a plus hitter. Luciano figures to get a crack at Double-A to begin next season.
16. Druw Jones, CF, Diamondbacks (2023 seasonal age: 19)
Jones, the son of longtime Braves outfielder Andruw Jones, was the industry's preferred choice for the No. 1 pick entering last summer. Alas, he suffered a shoulder injury taking batting practice with the big-league club after signing, derailing his first taste of pro ball before it began. Jones projects to have five above-average or better tools, giving him a genuine shot at becoming a star-level performer. Predictably, he's a high-grade defensive center fielder with well-above-average speed and a strong arm. At the plate, meanwhile, he projects to hit for average and power alike. Presuming Jones stays healthy, he's likely to move up ahead of next winter's list.
17. Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants (2023 seasonal age: 21)
The Giants selected Harrison with the 85th pick in the 2021 draft and then dished out nearly $2.5 million to buy out his commitment to UCLA. So far, that looks like a prudent investment. Harrison struck out an unfathomable 15 batters per nine in 25 starts split between High- and Double-A, amassing a 2.71 ERA in 113 innings. He has a high-quality three-pitch mix, led by a lively mid-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider that benefits from a flat release point. Harrison needs to continue to improve his command (he walked about four batters per nine) and will need to average more than 4.5 innings per appearance in order to move up the list. If he can check those boxes, he'll solidify himself as one of the most promising arms in the minors.
18. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Diamondbacks (2023 seasonal age: 20)
Lawlar, the sixth pick in the 2021 draft, has elicited comparisons to Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr. based on their Texas heritage and skill sets. He performed well in his first full professional season, posting a .910 OPS in 100 games across four levels (including 20 at Double-A). Unfortunately, Lawlar's year again prematurely because of a shoulder injury; whereas in 2021 he tore his labrum, this time around a pitch hit him there and fractured his scapula during the Arizona Fall League. (The injury shouldn't impact his future, or even his 2023 season for that matter.) Lawlar has a chance to remain at shortstop and boast five above-average or better tools at maturation, giving him an All-Star-caliber ceiling should he develop as planned.
19. Brooks Lee, SS, Twins (2023 seasonal age: 22)
Lee, perceived to be in the running for the No. 1 pick deep into last summer, could prove to be a steal after slipping to eighth. His offensive polish and feel for the game were on display in 25 High-A contests, where he hit .289/.395/.454 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. The Twins played him exclusively at shortstop, but most scouts expect him to move to second or third base sooner than later. Some evaluators have expressed concern about his past knee and back injuries, so the Twins would be wise to monitor his workload. The upside here is an above-average, switch-hitting bat and good glove at a premium position attached to a high baseball IQ. That'll play.
20. Daniel Espino, RHP, Guardians (2023 seasonal age: 22)
The main concern with Espino is his durability. To wit, he would've ranked higher had he not appeared in just four games this last season because of knee and shoulder injuries. When Espino is healthy, he possesses a loud arsenal that includes a hot fastball and two high-grade breaking balls. He gets his hand up early and generates impressive torque (and velocity) thanks to his hip and shoulder separation. If Espino can stay healthier in 2023, he's likely to make his big-league debut late in the year.