There’s no denying this is one of my favorite topics of the season. Sifting through videos, player pages, stats, scouting reports, articles, and discussion sites looking for the next player that could turn into the most talked about thing on Baseball Twitter. That feeling of FOMO drives you to scour near and far in search of the next Jackson Chourio.
And that’s what brings us together here today: searching for the 2023 breakout prospects. I covered four prospects I think might bust in 2023 in my last article, so now it’s time to look on the bright side.
Below, I highlight four prospects that I think are ready for major breakouts in 2023. These are some of my favorite prospects as they possess traits I value highly, and I project all four of these players will be in the Top 100—with three of them pushing the Top 50—by the end of the season. I could wax poetic about these dudes for a while as they ooze upside, but let’s save that for below.
2023 Breakout Prospects
1. Samuel Zavala, OF, SD #87
Age: 18/2022 Stats (ROK/A): 151 AB/.272/.366/.530/8 HR/5 SB/30 R/32 RBI
Samuel Zavala is an international free agent from the 2021 class that has the skills to challenge Jackson Merrill as the team’s best prospect by the end of the season. The sweet-swinging lefty backed up his quality 2021 season with a hot start to the 2022 season which earned him a promotion to Single-A where he became the youngest player. Zavala has the makings of a star as he exhibits three key skills for hitting prospects: he doesn’t chase often, makes quality contact (high exit velocity), and has growing in-game power.
To point more to Zavala’s upside, he had a higher exit velocity than 2022 breakout Jackson Chourio, and a lot of people’s 2023 crush, Junior Caminero, so the power is definitely in the bat. And I think a tweet from last summer by Jordan Rosenblum shines more light on how advanced Zavala may be: over the past 14 years, Zavala is the only 17-year-old to eclipse 50 PA in Single-A while maintaining a wRC+ over 100. That’s… insane.
The knock seems to be he can be too passive at times, but there’s time to adjust to a slightly more aggressive approach if needed. Although these players are extremely talented, it is important to remember how old they are. Most are often far from close to fully developed. The fact we’re already seeing signs of elite traits from Zavala bodes very well for his potential future in the big leagues.
Being only 18 years old, Zavala will likely add more muscle to his 6’1″ 175 lbs frame which could slow his foot speed some, but he should still be a contributor in the stolen base category. We’ve got the makings of a five-category contributor. I think we see more in-game power from Zavala in 2023, and more start to realize how special he could be. That could push him up toward a top-25 prospect spot. Jump on the rocket ship before it fully takes off.
2021 international signee Samuel Zavala OF @Padres SMOKES his first state side hit, an almost HR to dead center which turns into a 2RBI double. Stays back and shows easy power. One of the louder hits I've hears here in Complex as of recent. #ProspectOne (sound up) pic.twitter.com/d4SOT4uLwo
— The Welsh (@IsItTheWelsh) June 21, 2022
2. Josue De Paula, OF, LAD #95
Age: 17/2022 Stats (DSL): 186 AB/.349/.448/.522/5 HR/16 SB/42 R/30 RBI
Josue De Paula is an international free agent signee from the 2021-22 class and is an absolute dude. In 2022, as a 17-year-old he dominated the Dominican Summer League and quickly rose up the ranks thanks to a tantalizing combination of power, bat-to-ball skills, plate discipline, and speed. That’s quite a bit of what we look for when searching for the next breakout stars.
Of course, with most 17-year-old prospects there are still areas for improvement such as the power showing up more in-game, which would boost up his average exit velocity which right now can be argued as average. A 6’3″ 185 lbs frame at his age screams projectability, and a likelihood to grow into more strength and subsequently, power. What I really like is his apparent ability to make quality swing decisions shown by his 32 walks to 31 strikeouts and a sub-20% chase rate. Better pitching will challenge that, but it’s a great first step.
De Paula is super tooled up, oozes athleticism, and has explosive five-category potential. And that’s before mentioning he is the cousin of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair. Pretty good athletic bloodlines. He has already received a lot of hype, but I don’t think we’ve come close to exceeding his potential value as he has a lot of ingredients I look for in potential elite prospects. I think he could push a top-five prospect spot at peak. He’s got that much upside, especially if he can get to more power without sacrificing his contact skills. That would be a scary combination.
If De Paula gets off to a hot start he seems primed for a meteoric rise into the top 30 a la Jackson Chourio in 2022. There are no guarantees in Baseball, but De Paula has legitimate superstar potential and could be the best Dodgers prospect by the season’s end. What more do I need to say?
Fun series of slow-mos from #Dodgers outfield prospect Josue De Paula today. pic.twitter.com/Bm19ruvyZt
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) March 28, 2023
3. Bryce Miller, SP, SEA #91
Age: 24/2022 Stats (A/A+/AA): 133.2 IP/3.16 ERA/1.04 WHIP/163 K
Looking for the next electric arm to come out of the Seattle pitching factory? You found him. Bryce Miller climbed three levels in 2022 thanks to an impressive arsenal, growing command, and an easy, repeatable delivery. Miller has one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues due to elite velocity (sits 94-97, touching 100), and extreme ride that blows hitters away. A quality fastball is a top characteristic that I look for in pitchers, and Miller has that. He pairs that fastball with a slider that has major sweeping depth, which didn’t stop him from adding more horizontal movement on it this off-season. Miller’s arsenal is rounded out with an above-average cutter that plays well off the fastball/slider combination, a changeup that flashes above-average and has a good feel for, and a curveball he can mix in to show a different look.
Previously thought of as a reliever, Miller has put those thoughts to bed in 2022, which included a good showing in a hitter-friendly Double-A Texas League (3.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .191 BAA, 61 K in 50.2 IP). Miller has the ingredients to be a successful mid-rotation starter with strikeout upside and given the development that both he personally and the organization as a whole have shown, there could be even more upside. Miller has already gotten a lot of hype this off-season, and rightfully so as I expect him to continue his successes into 2023. If he can, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him soon viewed as a consensus Top 50 prospect.
Bryce Miller's 4 Ks. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/axZ8ZQ4fIb
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 6, 2023
4. Jarlin Susana, SP, WSH NR
Age: 19/2022 Stats (ROK/A): 45 IP/2.40 ERA/1.07 WHIP/66 K
Jarlin Susana, the former San Diego Padre, is an international free agent from the 2022 class that was included in the prospect haul for superstar Juan Soto and Josh Bell last summer. In his first season of pro ball, Susana dominated across two Rookie Ball levels and even held his own in a brief Single-A stint (10.1 IP, 13 K, .231 BAA).
Susana checks off a lot of boxes when it comes to evaluating pitching prospects: starter frame (6’6″ 235 lbs), ease of operation/delivery, elite fastball velocity, and at least one quality swing-and-miss off-speed pitch. His arsenal includes a power fastball (sits 96-98, touch 101-102), a hard slider that gets a ton of whiffs, and a developing changeup that he shows an advanced feel for given his age. There’s a lot to like here.
The risk comes with the inherent nature of pitching prospects, especially ones that haven’t had their 21st birthday yet. They likely have multiple years of development ahead of them and are one pitch away from being out 12-18 months. But you can’t live in your fears! There could be some work to be done with his fastball as it hasn’t gotten as many whiffs as the velocity would suggest, but there’s plenty of time for development. Although, there is something to be said about the Nationals’ ability—or lack thereof—to develop starting pitchers. Let’s hope the talent wins out.
I think the potential far exceeds the risks outlined above. And if that isn’t good enough for you, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said that Susana was the hang-up as they wanted him included for Soto, but the Padres didn’t want to add him with the other players. That’s how Josh Bell got involved. Sounds to me like he was a target for the Nationals, and the GM said as much. And while the Nationals may not have the best track record with pitchers, I think they got this one right. Susana has front of the rotation upside, and it’s only a matter of time before the buzz reaches a deafening level.
Nationals No. 7 Prospect Jarlin Susana was acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto trade. He went on the backfields today, was up to 102 mph on the FB sitting 96-98 mph, mixed in a high-80s slider and a changeup. #Nationals pic.twitter.com/ZHWVLzOUlw
— Geoff Pontes (@GeoffPontesBA) March 27, 2023
Emmanuel Rodriguez – He would be a no-brainer for this list, but he’s likely surpassed the breakout phrase. He looks to be a legit profile that could threaten top-five status this year.
Ethan Salas – Displays an extremely advanced approach both at the plate and especially behind it, regardless of his age (only 16). Quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Could be a top-50 prospect this year.
Keiner Delgado – Only qualified MiLB player to walk twice as many times as he struck out (58 BB to 28 K) in 2022. Chipped in 34 steals. Plus hit tool, approach, and speed. Could be a top-125 prospect this year.
Yasser Mercedes – The teenage star starter kit: struck out less than 20%, walked more than 10%, made a lot of contact (.355 BA), and made an impact on the bases (30 SB in DSL action). The power usually comes last. When it does, watch out.
Cristian Mena – Made it to Double-A as a 19-year-old. Big strikeout upside with growing velocity and at least two off-speed offerings. Only Andrew Painter and Dahian Santos had more strikeouts among teenagers (126 K). White Sox have had some success developing starting pitchers.
Ronel Blanco – Former short inning reliever turned heads early in camp and delivered by allowing only one run over 14 spring innings. Has a starter’s arsenal with his two best pitches being a mid-90s fastball that has 94th percentile extension (it gets on hitters quickly) and a slider that’s shown good velocity and improved location. The Astros are one of the best development organizations and are short on SP depth. Not currently on the prospect map at all—I’d imagine that changes.