The Road Ahead: Checking on MLB's top 10 prospects and their paths to the big leagues

Jordan Walker is expected to be promoted back to St. Louis this season. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)
Jordan Walker is expected to be promoted back to St. Louis this season. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)

Paid for by RAM

Five of MLB's top young players have already graduated from prospect status this year, with Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll, Francisco Álvarez, Grayson Rodriguez and Anthony Volpe reaching the majors, but there is still plenty of talent below the big leagues.

Here's how the top 10 prospects in baseball have performed in the first two months of the season and where they seem headed for the remainder of the year, with a few already on MLB's doorstep.

The following rankings come from MLB Pipeline as of Tuesday. All stats are entering games Tuesday.

1. Jordan Walker, 3B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals

MLB: .274/.321/.397 in 78 plate appearances, Triple-A: .238/.352/.381 in 125 plate appearances

For Walker, it's not a question of when he will make it to the majors. Rather, it's when he will make it back.

The athletic slugger made the Cardinals' Opening Day roster as a 20-year-old and held his own at the plate, but his defense was another story. A third baseman by trade, Walker was moved to the outfield due to the Cardinals' employment of All-Star Nolan Arenado and struggled mightily — to the point that the Cardinals sent him back to Triple-A Memphis near the end of April.

The Cardinals are using the time down to also work on Walker's hitting mechanics, due to a 60% ground ball rate in his first stint with the team, and the results have reportedly been encouraging. Walker figures to be back in St. Louis sometime this season.

2. Jackson Chourio, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Double-A: .259/.310/.424 in 187 plate appearances

One of last year's biggest prospect risers is getting his first taste of Double-A ball this year, usually the biggest leap a prospect makes before he's called up to the majors. So far, it has been a tough assignment for the 19-year-old playing a premium position and adjusting to a higher level of breaking pitches.

The youngest player in this article, Chourio signed with the Brewers for $1.8 million in 2021 and holds elite speed, plus a slick glove and a promising bat. He still has plenty of time to develop.

3. Jackson Holliday, SS, Baltimore Orioles

High-A: .371/.487/.639 in 119 plate appearances, Single-A: .392/.523/.667 in 65 plate appearances

Last year's No. 1 overall draft pick is playing like it. The son of former MLB All-Star Matt Holliday has been demolishing pitchers in his first full season of affiliate ball, entering Tuesday with a comical .378/.500/.649 line with six homers and 11 steals in 40 games between Single-A and High-A. Holliday was already the youngest player in High-A, and he might have a promotion to Double-A in front of him by the end of this year.

The Orioles have had Baseball America's top prospect each of the past two years, with catcher Adley Rutschman and third baseman Gunnar Henderson. Holliday is on track to make it three straight next year, and the majors might not be far in the future for him.

4. Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B, Cincinnati Reds

Triple-A: .304/.395/.644 in 157 plate appearances

The switch-hitter with monster tools entered this season knocking on the door of the majors, and all he has done through two months is knock louder. The biggest concern with De La Cruz's profile has always been his strikeout rate — he was punched out in 30.8% of plate appearances at lower levels last year — but he might be making progress there.

The other issue for the Reds is where to put him. Cincinnati has a promising shortstop in Matt McLain, who was hitting .380 in 57 plate appearances entering Tuesday, but that might be De La Cruz's best position for the future. Nick Senzel is currently holding down third base and could be the odd man out when De La Cruz makes his seemingly inevitable debut later this season.

5. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Boston Red Sox

High-A: .290/.366/.524 in 164 plate appearances

Mayer was arguably the top talent of the 2021 MLB Draft, but he fell to Boston at No. 4 for reasons he has made look silly so far in his career. The Red Sox have clearly liked what they've seen, as they promoted Mayer to Double-A Portland on Tuesday.

The Red Sox have had a Xander Bogaerts-sized hole in their infield since the longtime shortstop left for the San Diego Padres in free agency last offseason, and Mayer could provide the answer there sooner than expected, with a likely ETA of 2024.

6. Eury Pérez, RHP, Miami Marlins

MLB: 2.84 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 19 innings, Triple-A: 2.32 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 31 innings

Pérez likely isn't long for this list, as he's running near the end of his eligibility after getting called up earlier this month at a historically young age. So far in his MLB career, he has looked like a major-leaguer, with high-90s heat and nasty breaking stuff.

Consider that one of the reasons the Marlins sit in second place in the NL East, at 28-26.

7. James Wood, OF, Washington Nationals

Double-A: .250/.250/.250 in four plate appearances, High-A: .293/.392/.580 in 181 plate appearances

Wood was the true prize of the blockbuster Juan Soto trade between the Nationals and Padres last season, and he is looking like the team's best chance at finding another star to build around.

An enormous player, at a listed 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Wood has rare athleticism for his size and has so far avoided the swing-and-miss concerns typical of players with his frame. He has reached his next big test after being promoted to Double-A this week.

8. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

Double-A: .190/.315/.350 in 165 plate appearances

It has been a tough start for Lawlar, whom the D-backs gave a big bonus after drafting him sixth overall in 2021. A 27.9% strikeout rate reflects the difficulty of the Double-A adjustment, but he has plenty of time to figure things out.

9. Evan Carter, OF, Texas Rangers

Double-A: .283/.414/.395 in 186 plate appearances

Carter's most impressive trait so far has been his plate discipline, as evidenced by a 16.7% walk rate compared to a 19.9% strikeout rate this season. The Double-A adjustment hasn't made him hack like some other players.

Carter's tools are plenty respectable, though his power has so far lagged behind where he was in High-A last year, with a .476 slugging percentage, 18 doubles and 11 homers. So far this season, 35 of Carter's 43 hits have been singles.

10. Andrew Painter, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Has not pitched this season

Painter is here basically as a warning that you shouldn't fall in love with a pitching prospect, but it's also a testament to his talent that he's still a top-10 prospect despite his injury issues.

The 13th pick of the 2021 MLB Draft and only 19 years old, Painter was legitimately competing for the Phillies' Opening Day roster this season after reaching Double-A last season while posting a combined 1.56 ERA, but he went down with a UCL sprain in March and hasn't pitched since. Recent reports indicate that Painter is throwing again and on track for a midsummer return.