The 10 MLB prospects who just missed Keith Law’s top 100 ranking: Cowser, Martinez and more

Every year that I produce a top 100 ranking, I go through an iterative process where I start with more than 100 players, circulate the first cut to industry sources, move some players around, take some names off the list and add other ones, circulate again, and so on. That process always means there are players who just missed the list — the decision to stop at 100 is rather arbitrary, just a function of us having 10 fingers and base-10 number system — and this year I’ve written up a few more of those players, all of who are very good prospects who shouldn’t be overlooked just because they missed the main list. I do write these comments in a way that I hope describes their abilities while also making it clear why I omitted them from the top 100.

I always say no one ever reads the intro, but here it is anyway: These players are listed in alphabetical order. This isn’t a further ranking, although someone will inevitably claim that it is. The last cut from the top 100, if you’re interested, was Drew Romo. I actually have a “just missed the just missed” list with 10 more names, but that’s just turtles all the way down.



Keith Law’s top 100 MLB prospects, with Diamondbacks’ Corbin Carroll at No. 1

Age: 23 | 6-3 | 195 pounds
Bats: Left | Throws: Right
Drafted: No. 5 in 2021

Last year’s ranking: 52

Cowser was an under slot pick at fifth overall in 2021, as the Orioles wanted to replicate their 2020 strategy of spreading some of their bonus pool around to later picks, going well over slot with John Rhodes (third round) and Creed Willems (eighth round). Neither of those two players has worked out so far, but Cowser looks like he’ll be as advertised — a very solid, reliable regular, maybe a 55, but perhaps not a star. Cowser has very good feel to hit, at least against right-handed pitching, as he hit .307/.432/.530 off them, but struggled against lefties with a 33 percent strikeout rate and just a .194/.329/.287 line on the season. He took off when he reached Double A in late June, moving to a slightly better ballpark for left-handed hitters, and didn’t stop hitting until he reached Triple A in September, where he was overmatched by offspeed stuff of all varieties.

Zack Gelof, 3B, Oakland A’s

Age: 23 | 6-3 | 205 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
Drafted: No. 60 in 2021

Last year’s ranking: Just missed

Gelof moved right to Double A to start 2022, even though he had only 36 pro games after the A’s took him out of the University of Virginia in 2021, and got off to a tremendous start, hitting .316/.372/.458 through May 26. That’s when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder, going on the injured list for seven weeks. When he came back, he wasn’t the same guy, hitting .231/.343/.419 until a late-season promotion to Triple A, with similar struggles in the AFL. I’d really just like to see him healthy again, because I believe in the bat — I think he’ll hit 20-25 homers with a .260-.280 average, a solid walk total, and probably more punchouts than you want, along with solid-average defense at third despite some throwing issues. The fact that the shoulder seemed to still be sapping his power in Arizona, where everybody hits, was the last straw in keeping him off the top 100.

Cardinals catcher Ivan Herrera (Jeff Curry / USA Today Sports)

Age: 23 | 5-11 | 220 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
International signing in 2016

Last year’s ranking: 75

Herrera is blocked by Willson Contreras, but he’s still ready to be someone’s everyday catcher, even if it’s not in St. Louis. Herrera is a high-contact hitter who almost never misses fastballs, still fares well against offspeed stuff, and doesn’t chase much out of the zone. He makes a lot of medium-quality contact, putting the ball on the ground more often in 2022 and losing some of the power he’d shown in 2021, when he hit 17 homers — he went three months between homers in 2022, finally hitting three in September to double his season total. His swing is probably too close to flat, lacking the angle in 2022 for big flies, although there’s no reason he can’t be a big doubles hitter with 8-12 homers given his size and selectivity. Behind the plate, he’s a solid-average receiver with a 55 arm, although he also had his career-worst caught stealing percentage in 2022, throwing out just 18 percent of runners. Perhaps the down year on both sides of the ball led the Cardinals to go outside for a full-time catcher, as they’re contenders and don’t have the luxury of time. Herrea won’t turn 23 until June, however, and I think he’s someone’s regular, with enough contact quality now to make him a solid everyday player even if he’s only hitting a half-dozen homers a year.

Age: 23 | 6-4 | 200 pounds
Bats: Left | Throws: Left
Drafted: No. 16 in 2018

Last year’s ranking: 36

Liberatore’s major-league debut was something of a disappointment, although it confirmed what the Rays feared when they originally traded him to the Cardinals in 2020 in a four-player deal that landed them Randy Arozarena: Liberatore’s four-seamer is too hittable and plays below its velocity. I don’t see this as a dealbreaker, but as a sign that he needs a different approach. Liberatore has a plus curveball with high spin and an above-average changeup, both of which generated 30 percent-plus whiff rates in his brief time in the big leagues, and he needs to use them a lot more, de-emphasizing the four-seamer in the process. Statcast credits him with a sinker, although it only shows modest differences from the four-seamer in velocity, spin, and movement, and only a third of balls hit into play off it were groundballs, so I’m not sure it’s truly a distinct pitch. He’s got command, a good delivery, above-average extension, and two weapons in his arsenal. He needs a new pitching plan to make better use of all the things he can do well and stop relying on one thing he can’t.

Age: 24 | 6-1 | 180 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
Drafted: No. 32 in 2020

Last year’s ranking: Unranked

Loftin does a little of everything, making contact, hitting with sneaky pop (17 homers last year), running plus (29 steals in 35 attempts), playing center field and second and third and still a little shortstop, but maybe not enough of any one thing to be a top-100 prospect. He also struggled in Triple A to end last season, a function of his wearing down over the course of the season, so he lost some bat speed and some power. He’s normally a selective hitter with good pitch recognition, and could be a 15-20 homer guy in the big leagues with speed and the versatility to play pretty much anywhere but behind the plate. He’s supposed to have worked to add some muscle this winter so he can hold up for the entire season, and if he does, he could really help this Royals team as a super-utility guy who gets 500 AB or even their starter at second base.

Age: 21 | 5-11 | 160 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
International signing in 2018

Last year’s ranking: 55

Matos had a disastrous season all around, hitting .211/.275/.344 in 91 games in High A and missing time with a quad injury that lingered much of the summer, then scuffling in the AFL (.233/.280/.361) and looking like a shell of his old self. He’s still just 20 and tooled out, so it’s quite possible, even likely, that this is all a function of the injury and him never feeling 100 percent throughout the season. He didn’t give up on at-bats or start hacking, and his strikeout rate on the season was just 16 percent; he just didn’t hit the ball as hard as he did in 2021. He’s a plus power guy with plus defense in center when he’s 100 percent, with some concerns about his pitch recognition, but none of that was evident in 2022. I’m inclined to write it off as injury combined with perhaps some frustration that he wasn’t performing. He’ll play at 21 this year and even if the Giants return him to High A, he won’t be old for the level.

Age: 21 | 6-1 | 200 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
International signing in 2018

Last year’s ranking: 44

Martinez had just 27 games in High A prior to 2022, but the Blue Jays took a chance and promoted him to Double A to start the season. It was too aggressive given Martinez’s lack of plate discipline, and he struggled quite a bit at the level, with a .286 OBP and a 28.5 percent strikeout rate. He did hit 30 homers, however, and played above-average defense at third base with close to average defense at short, although I don’t think he’s going to stay at shortstop for the long term. He was the only 20-year-old to play regularly in the Eastern League last year and one of only three anywhere in Double A; the other two, Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn, are both on the top 100 list. I think it is way too early to give up on Martinez, but I also couldn’t rank him over guys who might have similar ceilings with less risk, or who just have a lot more probability.

Age: 24 | 6-3 | 215 pounds
Bats: Left| Throws: Right
Drafted: No. 20 in 2020

Last year’s ranking: Just missed

Mitchell was the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2020, but he’s only played in 160 total games in two full seasons since then, including his 28-game stint in the majors last season. He’s a 70 defender in center who can show 80 run times out of the box, with a slappy approach that won’t produce power but might let him add some hits via his speed. There were concerns about his durability going back to high school between his slender frame and his Type 1 diabetes. I don’t know anywhere near enough about the latter to pass judgment, but he’s missed a lot of time in pro ball, and that’s often a good indicator of a player’s durability long term. Between that and the lack of power, I think he could still be a regular, but is more likely to be a good extra guy or a “soft” regular who starts for a second-division club.

Phillies outfielder Johan Rojas (Mike Janes / Four Seam Images via AP)

Age: 22 | 6-1 | 165 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
International signing in 2018

Last year’s ranking: Sleeper

It’s 80 run and might be 80 defense in center when it’s all said and done, which gives Rojas time for the bat to catch up to the rest of his game. He looked totally overmatched early in the season in High A, then went on a little run in June where he hit better and cut his strikeouts, so the Phillies pushed him to Double A. He actually hit better at the higher level across the board, although he still needs to get on base more often (in general, and to make use of that speed) and gain some strength just to have better contact quality to get his average up. He has a great foundation to be a good regular if he can impact the ball just a little more. With the current contact quality, though, there’s a risk he’s a Billy Hamilton-type of player, someone who gets a lot of chances for his speed and defense but can never be a regular.

Age: 21 | 6-1 | 205 pounds
Bats: Switch | Throws: Right
Drafted: No. 35 in 2020

Last year’s ranking: 97

Romo was the Rockies’ second pick in the 2020 draft, an elite defensive catcher for a high schooler who had big questions around his bat, but he’s hit extremely well in pro ball, to the point that he might end up a top-5 catcher in baseball at his peak. He has a short swing with good feel for the barrel, showing enough power to project to average when he fills out, maybe 12-18 homers a year. He was off to a great start in High A as a 20-year-old, hitting .280/.348/.408 with just a 17.7 percent strikeout rate, when he got hit on his hand. After that, he hit just .165/.228/.247 and only had 92 more plate appearances before the season ended. He’s a superb receiver and framer who’s advanced already as a game-caller and has a plus arm, to the point where his glove will be major-league ready before his bat. He’s already enough of a contact hitter, even when young for his levels, with enough strength projection that I think he could end up a .300 hitter with double-digit homers and significant defensive value to boot.

Carson Williams, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

Age: 20 | 6-2 | 180 pounds
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
Drafted: No. 28 in 2021

Last year’s ranking: Unranked

Williams has top-25 prospect upside, especially after the Rays worked with him on his running stride and took him from maybe a 50/55 runner to a 70 runner who swiped 28 bags in 38 attempts last year. He’s a plus defender at short with a 70 arm and showed plus power last year, with 22 doubles, 10 triples, and 19 homers as a 19-year-old in Low A. It’s very much power over hit though; he struck out 168 times last year, a 32 percent rate that maintained throughout the season, and that’s the main reason he’s not on the top 100. He’s absolutely young enough to improve, and I’m mindful of the fact that this is exactly the kind of player who would have gone to short-season ball prior to the Manfredization of the minors, where Williams probably would have done all the same stuff but with less punch. For right now, he just misses the cut.

(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic; Photos: Ralph Freso, Stacy Revere, Jill Weisleder and Scott Kane / Getty Images)

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