No matter how deep your dynasty league is, you always want to be the first to know about a prospect. Knowledge is power and even if you are not instantly adding a deep prospect to your team, you want to have them on your radar in case they take off. Playing dynasty baseball requires you to work year-round to improve your team and scout new prospects. Top prospects bust and deep prospects break out every season. Being able to identify which prospects to buy in on before their breakout helps sustain your team’s success year over year. This article looks at three prospects primed for a breakout in 2023 that you should be targeting before it is too late.
2023 Breakout Prospects
Kevin Alcantara: OF, Chicago Cubs
The Yankees signed Kevin Alcantara in 2019 out of the Dominican Republic for $1 million. He was then the main piece in the Anthony Rizzo trade that broke Cubs fans’ hearts. Fear not Cubs fans, this trade is going to be paying dividends for years to come. Standing at 6’6”, Alcantara possesses some of the best raw tools in all of Minor League baseball. His big frame lends itself to plus speed and plus-plus raw power. He continues to grow and mature into his body each year and flashes the highest upside in the Chicago system. Already consistently ranked inside most top 100 lists despite only reaching Low-A, Alcantara flashes rare number one overall prospect upside. Grab him now before it is too late.
The raw skills pop off the screen when watching Alcantara hit. His effortless power plays up to all fields. While he has demonstrated a strong ability to tap into his pull-side power, his home run potential is not reliant on that. Smaller prospects need to pull the ball more to help their raw power play up, but not Alcantara. When you think about Alcantara hitting home runs the other way, think of Aaron Judge. A lofty comparison, but that is how effortless it looks. Pitches over the outer part of the plate are easily deposited into the right field stands with a flick of the wrist. At Low-A he is already posting exit velocities toward the top of Minor League leaderboards and continues to improve year over year. He spent half the 2022 season at 19 years old, but already has some of the best raw power among all prospects.
Fourth-ranked @Cubs prospect Kevin Alcantara goes yard on just the second pitch he sees for @Pelicanbaseball: pic.twitter.com/q2ym1nyMDU
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 13, 2022
Alcantara’s skill set is more than just power. He also has plus speed which allowed him to steal 14 bases last year. The speed figures to come down as Alcantara continues to add muscle and grow stronger, but there is 10-15 steal potential here even with the decline. He is lanky, tall, and has excellent instincts.
Raw skills are great, but there must be more to a prospect’s profile to include him in a breakout piece. We have already talked about the raw power, but Alcantara made significant strides to transform this into game power during the 2022 season. Yes, he still only hit 15 home runs, but this is all about growth and progression. During his first two professional seasons, Alcantara struggled to get the ball off the ground. His body would pull out from his swing and his hands would roll over the baseball, especially on outside pitches. His ground ball rate was at least 48.3% at all four stops he made prior to the 2022 season. During 2022, Alcantara showed a more in-sync swing allowing him to drive the baseball and stay back on pitches he was rolling over on. The ground ball percentage came down to a career-best 43.1%.
The unspectacular 15 home runs and 14.7 HR/FB% came while playing his home games in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in Minor League baseball. Only six of his 15 home runs came at home and he also hit an impressive .303 while on the road. We should expect Alcantara’s stat line to dramatically improve once he gets out of Myrtle Beach. Alcantara’s stat line is also slightly skewed by a terrible month of April. From May forward, he hit .281/.364/.468 with a .186 ISO and a strikeout rate under 24%. Alcantara steadily improved throughout the season which is all we should want to see from a 19-year-old.
The biggest concern with Alcantara has always been his hit tool. In 2021, Alcantara posted a swinging strike rate above 32% across 107 games. The swing and miss paired with a high chase rate led to many long-term concerns with his profile. April of 2022 looked largely the same with a strike-out rate above 31%, but then something clicked. Alcantara’s approach at the plate slowly started to mature. He chased less out of the zone and improved his contact rates. As a result, his strikeout rate from July 1st forward was just 22.3%. His swinging strike rate on the season ended up being nearly half of what it was in 2021. All signs point to a growing maturity in Alcantara’s profile. An improving hit tool is just the icing on the cake to an already exciting profile.
Entering 2023, Alcantara hype is already taking over Cubs’ Spring Training. Videos of Alcantara hitting massive home runs in batting practice are coal in the engine of a hype train ready to leave the station. Alcantara’s power is legit and the 2022 improvements point to a player about to put it all together. There is .270 with 30-HR and 10-SB upside here and I fully expect 2023 to be his breakout season. Now is the time to buy in before his price skyrockets.
Wikelman Gonzalez: SP, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox signed Wikelman Gonzalez back in 2018 as a projectible yet extremely raw project. Since, he has added over 35 pounds of muscle, increased his velocity, and improved his secondary pitches. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with the ability to reach 97 at times. He throws both a changeup and curveball, although the curve is still a work in progress. When Gonzalez is on, the curveball is sharp and controlled while he runs into issues when he pulls it way out of the zone to righties. His changeup sits in the mid-80s and is thrown with conviction to both lefties and righties. The Red Sox saw enough potential in Gonzalez to add him to their 40-man roster this offseason despite never pitching above High-A. The organization sees the upside that he possesses, and it is time for the industry to start paying attention too.
Coming out of the pandemic, Gonzalez saw his hard work pay off as his strikeout rate soared. Since the start of 2021, Gonzalez has posted a strikeout rate of 29% and a K/9 of 11.15. All three of his pitches profile to be plus and can effectively strike batters out. The increased velocity has allowed Gonzalez to throw his fastball up in the zone generating whiffs while locating his secondary offerings down.
Gonzalez came out of the gates firing on all cylinders to start 2022. Through his first four starts, he had a 0.57 ERA with a strikeout rate of 31.7%. The underlying metrics, however, provided a reason for skepticism. During this stretch, Gonzalez was still walking 12.7% of the batters he faced. While Boston had been able to help improve Gonzalez’s stuff, the control still was not there yet. The wheels started to fall off and over his next 14 starts, Gonzalez looked like a pitcher who had no idea where the ball was going. His walk rate ballooned to 15.4% and his ERA went with it all the way up to 6.70. This rough stretch caused many to drop Gonzalez from their prospect rankings and give up on him despite being just 20 years old.
The end of the season is what inspires confidence in a 2023 breakout. Across the final six starts (split evenly between Low-A and High-A), Gonzalez posted a 1.93 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and a walk rate of just 7.2%. Included in this time was a six-inning start in which he did not allow a hit. Something clicked for Gonzalez at the end of the season, and he looked like a different pitcher. The strikeout rate remained high, even with his promotion to High-A. The stuff clearly is there, and if Gonzalez can keep the walks in check as he did at the end of the season then he will fly up prospect boards.
Not only is the stuff above average, but Gonzalez consistently limits hard contact. He only surrendered two home runs all season, showing an exceptional ability to avoid barrels. The only issue has been walks and Boston identified something late last season to help Gonzalez in this area. Now is the perfect time to buy as his spectacular run at the end of the season is going virtually unnoticed, keeping his trade value low. The organization believes in the talent and with three plus pitches, he is primed for a breakout season in 2023.
Aeverson Arteaga: SS, San Francisco Giants
The Giants made signing Aeverson Arteaga a priority back in 2019. Originally known for his glove, Arteaga has shown flashes of brilliance at the plate early in his career. He stands at 6’1” and swings the bat from the right side. His swing is quiet and smooth featuring a small leg kick and allowing his hands to fly through the zone. Arteaga will be 20 for the entire 2023 season which figures to be a big year for his development. He spent all of 2022 in Low-A and the Giants figure to challenge their promising shortstop with more competition in 2023.
Coming out of the pandemic, Arteaga burst onto the scene in the complex league. Across 56 games, he hit .294 with nine home runs and eight stolen bases. This 20/20 pace paired with a .294 average caught the attention of the baseball industry. Heading into 2022, Keith Law commented that Arteaga has “a swing on which I’ll gladly bet” and pegged him as a breakout prospect last season. Others were a little more skeptical as Arteaga posted a strikeout rate north of 30% in complex play with a .398 BABIP that was bound to regress. The most concerning part was a swinging strike rate north of 36%. There were clear and obvious flaws to his hit tool casting doubt over his future value.
So how did Arteaga respond? He was unspectacularly solid in 2022. He hit .270 with 14 home runs, 11 stolen bases, and a 101 wRC+. The strikeout rate came down but was still above 27% and his average was fueled by a .362 BABIP. Although the strikeout rate did not come down as much as some hoped, Arteaga’s season was more impressive than it looks. He made significant strides with his approach at the plate and improved his swinging strike rate by over 20%. Arteaga still walked over 8% of the time but was able to make more contact. In fact, Arteaga was one of only 11 Minor League batters under the age of 20 to hit at least .270 with 10+ steals and 12+ home runs. The other prospects on that list:
- James Wood, Edgar Quero, Jordan Lawlar, Evan Carter, Kevin Alcantara, Jasson Dominguez, Marcelo Mayer, Jackson Chourio, Adael Amador, and Edwin Arroyo
That list is filled with some of the biggest prospects in baseball. Arteaga’s ceiling might not be as high as players like Wood or Chourio, but he deserves more respect from prospect writers. On top of this impressive list of similar players, Arteaga showed drastic improvements as the season progressed. Through May 5th, he was batting .225 with a strikeout rate over 38%. From May 6th forward, he hit .279 with a strikeout rate of just 25.4%. 2022 was a year of growth and progression for Arteaga and we should be impressed with the results.
Arteaga’s swing is what inspires the most confidence. So often we see the raw skills in prospects but fail to account for the swing adjustments they will have to undergo to unlock their full potential. Arteaga’s swing is already designed for in-game results. He can consistently elevate the baseball and hit line drives at a high rate. He taps into his pull-side power well allowing his raw power to play up. His swing is refined and polished for a player this young and is something that should excite dynasty players.
Combining Arteaga’s mature swing and improving plate discipline should yield excellent results in 2023. He has enough raw power to hit 20 home runs and combines this with plus speed to steal 20 bases. The hit tool is improving, and Arteaga could be one of baseball’s biggest breakout prospects in 2023. Get him now while the value is still low before it skyrockets this season.
Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)