FanGraphs released their Top 41 Philadelphia Phillies prospects on Jan. 12, with Mick Abel, Bryson Stott, Johan Rojas, Andrew Painter, Matt Vierling, and Logan O'Hoppe ranking as the top six. But what do prospect rankings really mean?
Below, we dive deeper into these rankings and take you through what is the best, worst, and most likely case for these top-six prospects in the Phillies' system.
SS Bryson Stott (no. 2)
Best Case: Becomes the Phillies' everyday shortstop for the foreseeable future.
The best case for the Phillies' 14th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft would be that he becomes all he's been projected to be at the major league level. If Stott can continue to put up similar numbers in the big leagues as he has in the minors, this would be huge for Philadelphia, as the club has failed to fortify the shortstop position since the Jimmy Rollins era.
In the minors and Arizona Fall League in 2021, Stott dazzled offensively. In 112 games between A, AA, and AAA, Stott batted .299 with a .876 OPS, 16 home runs, 26 doubles, 65 walks, and 49 RBI. As a member of the Peoria Javelinas in the Fall League, Stott continued this tear. In 119 plate appearances, he clubbed two homers, collected 31 RBI, and 24 walks, all while hitting to the tune of .318/.445/.489. His impressive fall campaign earned him a spot on the Fall Stars Game roster.
At 6'3", 200 lbs., Stott doesn't possess the "typical" build of a shortstop. While those working closely with Stott believe he's ready for big league action offensively, defense is still a concern. However, Stott has been honing in on his defense with a series of drills, and even connecting with Phillies' new infield coach Bobby Dickerson to ensure he's up to speed on what it means to be a quality defender in MLB.
Worst Case: Becomes another Philadelphia draft pick bust.
Phillies fans know the story all too well: A prospect hyped up in the minor leagues, just to get called up to the bigs and fall flat, unable to find any consistency. If this were to happen with Stott, it would be the worse case scenario for the shortstop and for Philadelphia.
By all accounts, the Phillies' front office seems to have an immense amount of faith in Stott, and they believe him to be the shortstop of the future. This is evident in the fact that Philadelphia is electing to pass on a historic free agent shortstop class and focus elsewhere this offseason in favor of the 24-year-old. So, if the "Stott experiment" were to fail, it would backfire on the club rather harshly.
Most Likely: Becomes a serviceable defender and produces solid offensive numbers at the major league level.
Is Stott future MVP material? Probably not. Will he be a valuable addition to the Phillies lineup in the near future? Yes.
Above all, Stott needs to solve the Phillies' shortstop problem. If he can come up to the bigs and satisfy the position with ease, even if he doesn't reach his full potential at first, it would be massive. For example, if Stott doesn't pull an Alec Bohm by fumbling his opportunity to play everyday by underperforming offensively and being costly on defense, the club should be in great shape. And based on Stott's determination and attitude alone, this seems likely to happen.
RHP Mick Abel (no. 1)
Best Case: Becomes Philadelphia's ace.
As Rob Terranova of milb.com notes, "Abel has the chance to have a solid four-pitch mix" and possesses a "super fast arm" due to his large frame. As a result, the 20-year-old is able to throw hard, with his fastball reaching 95 mph consistently the summer before he was selected 15th overall in the 2020 Draft. Also in his pitch arsenal are an elevated four-seamer "with riding action to miss bats," a slider "which reaches 85-86 mph and flashes plus," a curveball with "more over-the-top action to it," and a sinking changeup, "thrown with excellent deception thanks to arm speed."
For Abel to truly satisfy the best case scenario, he'd be a #1 or #2 starter in the Phillies' rotation someday. He is the #1 ranked prospect in the Phillies' organization and #64 overall of the top 100 MLB prospects in 2021, so expectations for the 6'5" right-hander are high. He even reminded one National League scout of a “young Roy Halladay.” If Abel can continue to make his way through the minors unscathed, perfect his pitch arsenal, and continue to throw hard, he should be in good shape to be the face of the Phillies' rotation someday.
Worst Case: Injury prone.
Abel made 14 starts for Philadelphia's Low-A affiliate Clearwater Threshers in 2021 before it was cut short due to a shoulder injury in July. He finished the season with a 4.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 13.3 strikeouts per nine in 44.2 innings pitched.
President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said of Abel that he dealt with “a little bit of tendinitis,” but he was doing fine, and the organization was just being very careful. However, it's always concerning when your top pitching prospect is already dealing with shoulder discomfort so early on in his career.
Abel still has a lot of time in the minors left to prove he's ready for big league action. Currently, he's on pace for a 2024 ETA, but could that be set back due to nagging injuries? Let's hope not, as this would be the worst case for the Phillies and the young right-hander's budding career.
Most Likely: Becomes a solidified starter in the rotation.
Abel is going to make his way into the Phillies rotation within the next 3-5 years. He has the talent and the tools to become Philadelphia's ace of the future, but that's difficult to predict. However, Abel is likely to become a staple in the rotation and still generate a ton of strikeouts.
Even if he's not the next Halladay, Philadelphia won't regret selecting the Jesuit High School product 15th overall.
C Logan O'Hoppe (no. 6)
Best Case: Becomes Phillies' everyday backstop.
J.T. Realmuto is signed through 2025, when he will be in his age-34 season. As he ages, the demands of catching will likely catch up to him. With O'Hoppe's ETA being 2023, this gives the 21-year-old enough time to serve as a backup to the three-time All-Star and learn from one of the best in the game before assuming the position himself.
Worst Case: Becomes Andrew Knapp.
In 2016, Baseball America ranked Knapp as the #4 prospect in the Phillies' minor league system, with MLB.com praising his "ability to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate." Flash forward to 2021, where Knapp batted just .152 with a .429 OPS in 159 plate appearances. He's now with the Cincinnati Reds on a minor league deal.
As O'Hoppe has moved up in the rankings and caught the organization's attention in 2021, it would be a shame to see the catching prospect go down the same route as Knapp. Let's hope his .270/.331/.458 slashline can still hold up in the bigs.
Most Likely: Becomes trade piece.
O'Hoppe seems the perfect target to be included in a trade, as the Phillies obviously do not have an imminent need at catcher. However, with Knapp gone, Philadelphia is in need of a backup, but Rafael Marchan has already spent time with the big league club and has been serviceable behind the plate.
Due to this and O'Hoppe's ETA not being until 2023, it's very likely he could be included in a trade to acquire an immediate need for the team (i.e. a center fielder)
OF Matt Vierling (no. 5)
Best Case: Becomes everyday outfielder.
In 2021, the Phillies had a taste of what Vierling could become. The 25-year-old made his MLB debut on June 19 and played in 34 games, making 15 starts. He slashed .324/.364/.479 in 77 plate appearances. However, his BAbip was an unsustainable .420. Even still, his average exit velocity was a very respectable 91.5 and his xBA and xSLG were .292 and .411 respectively.
Those are numbers to aim for when considering Vierling’s future. Should he consistently slash around those averages and play solid defense with positional flexibility, then Vierling could be a staple on the Phillies bench and the bottom half of the lineup for years to come.
Worst Case: Proves that MLB was wrong to increase his prospect ranking.
Prior to 2021, Vierling was lower-tier talent on a lower-tier Phillies farm system. At the beginning of last season, he was ranked #24 on the Phillies prospect list, and as of this season's end he is ranked #5.
His meteoric rise has much to do with a flash in the pan bench job at the end of the 2021 season, as well as feasting on young pitchers at AA as a 24-year-old. Even at AAA Vierling struggled, slashing just .248/.331/.359 in 236 plate appearances, a much larger sample size than his time in the bigs.
Vierling could be the Phillies' next Cody Asche. He has some flexibility between corner infield and outfield but he hasn’t proven yet to be anything more than AAAA talent.
Most Likely: Utilityman.
While it was a small sample size, Vierling did show an ability to catch up to major league pitching. Now that major league pitchers have seen Vierling, they will undoubtedly adjust to his weaknesses.
While it isn’t entirely realistic to expect Vierling to repeat his 2021 success, it is possible that he becomes a solid back-end of the bench option due to his positional flexibility and high average exit velocity. As long as Vierling can maintain an OPS above .700, there will likely be a spot for him on the Phillies roster considering lack of depth is a major issue for the club going into 2022.
RHP Andrew Painter (no. 4)
Best Case: Becomes future ace.
The problem with high school pitchers is the inability to project their success years down the line. After the success the Phillies have had developing Abel, Dombrowski decided to draft another high-risk pitcher in Painter this summer.
Painter was unstoppable as the top high school pitching prospect in 2021. His fastball topped out at 97 with good secondary pitches in a change-up, curveball, and slider.
The 6’7” righty pitched only six innings in the minors this season at rookie ball, but had the same dominance there as he did in high school. Painter faced 21 batters and struck out 12, walked none and allowed four hits. Again, Painter is years away from seeing big league action, but if his ability to miss bats holds up throughout the minors, a future 1-2 punch of Abel and Painter could be devastating in 2024-25.
Worst Case: Never reaches the majors.
The Phillies have seen first hand the worst case for a top pitching prospect draft bust. When Vince Velasquez was acquired from Houston after 2015, Mark Appel came over in the deal as well. The first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft has yet to reach the majors at 29, even in a comeback attempt during 2021 after three years away from the game.
Painter has never had the hype Appel had, and he’s even further from the majors than Appel was in 2013. Especially given the Phillies history of development, it would not be remotely surprising for Painter to miss the majors entirely.
Most Likely: Back end of the rotation.
Given Painter's huge frame, blazing fastball, and secondary arsenal, it would be tough to see him missing the big leagues entirely. Painter’s natural ability will likely propel him to a long relief role at the very least. If he develops his secondary pitches, he would likely be able to exist in the majors as a innings eater or #4 starter for a contending team.
Or he could be used as a chip in future trades.
CF Johan Rojas (no. 3)
Best Case: Defensive stud center fielder of the future.
Rojas just turned 21 in August, and he still has growing to do before he reaches the majors. He will likely start 2022 in A+ ball after finishing 2021 with a .262/.329/.417 between Clearwater and Jersey Shore.
Rojas could be described as “toolsy”; his hitting ability is overshadowed by his defense and speed, both of which could outweigh his slightly lacking offensive capabilities. Thus, a best case scenario for Rojas may be comparable to Ramon Laureano in 2021. His OPS+ won't rise that far above 100, but he has the propensity to steal 20-30 bags a year and save five runs on defense.
When everything comes together for Rojas at the same time, he'll have the ability to be a threatening player on both sides of the ball.
Worst Case: Flames out in the upper minors.
Like Painter, Rojas is still more than a year away from the majors. In that time, his hitting may not develop as expected and slightly above-average defense at center field may not carry him to the big league club alone.
Once Rojas rises through the upper minors, he may find that the higher level of pitching means his bat to ball skills become less and less apparent and his already measly ability to draw walks disappears entirely.
As he ages, like every other player, he’ll probably lose some speed and range in the outfield making his value further depreciate as his tools decline.
Most Likely: Solid bench option and/or bottom of the lineup bat.
Rojas’ speed and ability in centerfield will likely keep him a viable option for major league teams throughout much of his young career. Even if his bat doesn’t develop as planned, his value as a defensive replacement will be above-average. Should his bat become even below-average at the major league level, Rojas would likely become a average player and journeyman for much of his career.