Part of the beauty in evaluating prospects is that while we can make educated guesses with the information available, we don’t truly know how each player will develop. The superstars are often what we remember, but there are plenty of promising first-round draft picks that never develop into major-league-caliber contributors. As we know, prospect development is not linear, and is often filled with peaks and valleys. And while that can certainly be frustrating, it can create exciting potential breakouts to be on the lookout for. It can also lead to players that may be too highly rated, or in other words, bust candidates.
In a perfect world, all prospects become successful major leaguers in some facet, but that isn’t the reality we live in. Baseball, especially at the highest level, is a hard game. Every year there are prospects that we have high expectations for only to be let down due to injury, poor performance, unforeseen circumstances or something in between. This article highlights four prospects from our Top 100 Prospects consensus list that I think have potential to lose value, or bust in 2023. And this is not to say that I think these players are bad or won’t have major league careers, especially when it comes to the first one on this list. It’s more about highlighting that their prospect pedigree or hype might exceed what proceeds.
2023 Prospect Busts
1. Marco Luciano, SS, SF #47
Age: 21/2022 Stats (ROK/A+): 227 AB/.269/.350/.467/11 HR/0 SB/33 R/36 RBI
I will say this is the one I am least confident in. Marco Luciano is still so young and has already displayed plus power that could still develop into an All-Star caliber power bat; think 30+ home runs, with an average to above-average hit tool. Being only 21 and likely headed to Double-A, Luciano has plenty of runway to work towards getting back to the Top-15-prospect status he held coming into 2022. It is somewhat interesting that he has fallen in prospect lists despite posting a 121 wRC+ in 230 PA while posting solid walk and strikeout rates at High-A.
Well, this guy sounds amazing! How is he on this list? Well, if I haven’t mentioned it enough already, he could easily make this claim look foolish. He is a 21-year-old prospect that has had his development stymied due to injuries after all (i.e. we might not have seen his true ceiling yet), but I think the reason for Luciano’s fall in rankings is a mix of injury fears and realizing a more clear picture of what his profile will be as a big leaguer.
It seems logical to assume speed won’t be a part of his game, and his range on defense suggests a move to third base or a corner outfield position. That puts a lot of pressure on the bat to do the heavy lifting in order to stay in a big league lineup. He certainly could pull this off, whether he develops a big power profile or a combination of power and batting average, but his work in the batter’s box will have to impress.
However, my major concern is if the power doesn’t progress or, worse, regresses due to injury hindering his abilities. Luciano had a back strain that caused him to miss two months of the 2022 season and sustained a lower back stress fracture during this past winter. The talent is unquestionable, but he has posted higher than 453 PA in 3 seasons, and back injuries can be really tricky. He is reported as feeling better, and in hitting and throwing programs so there is some optimism, but I do wonder if there could be more growing pains on the horizon.
2. George Valera, OF, CLE #64
Age: 22/2022 Stats (AA/AAA): 484 AB/.250/.353/.463/24 HR/2 SB/51 R/65 RBI
George Valera, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, is one of the more polarizing players in the game as you can find plenty of evaluators and analysts on either side of the fence when it comes to his future profile. His supporters will cite his sweet lefty swing that can generate plus power, his ability to get on base (double-digit walk rates), and how he has often been one of the youngest players on the field.
The doubters will point to how he has shown big swing-and-miss tendencies, and how elite pitching can really eat up those that can’t adjust. We got a glimpse of that in 2022 as his swinging strike rate jumped to 14.5% against Triple-A pitching, which is a far cry from the level of pitching he’ll face in the majors. Like Luciano, age is on Valera’s side so he could improve on his current deficiencies. But without substantial gains, he may struggle to make consistent contact in his big league debut.
A scout at the Arizona Fall League made an interesting point in which some players run high OBP in the minors not because of an extremely elite eye or approach, but because the stuff isn’t that good so it’s easier to dismiss pitches out of the hand. That’s not to say that Valera or some of these prospects don’t have good approaches, but rather it could be adding some inflation to those numbers. Although it was only 179 PA, Valera did post his lowest OBP of his career (.324) in Triple-A.
He also has had two hamate bone surgeries which could affect the power at some point. Valera isn’t likely to be a stolen base threat so he will also have pressure on his bat to help him carve out a role on a major league roster. The power potential will likely give him multiple opportunities, but his name value might still be exceeding what he ends up becoming.
3. Ceddanne Rafaela, OF, BOS #82
Age: 22/2022 Stats (A+/AA): 481 AB/.299/.342/.538/21 HR/28 SB/82 R/86 RBI
Ceddanne Rafaela is a 2017 international signee that has displayed plus speed and defense prior to 2022 but was relatively undiscussed. In 2022 Rafaela enjoyed a breakout season with his bat, posting career highs in multiple categories, which now gives some the feeling that he could be a five-tool player. Despite his size (5’8″ 152 lbs), on the surface, he looks to be a power-speed combo that can play quality defense up the middle (CF or SS) which should give him opportunities to play at the highest level.
The concern with Rafaela lies within his approach as he swings often, and doesn’t take many walks. That’s an approach that better pitching will likely take advantage of, and then we’re looking at a defensive first player. You like players with speed to put the ball in play, but not at the cost of expanding the zone and making weak contact, which is what Rafaela has hints of. There’s a chance he is able to maximize his size and the 21 home runs in 2022 is a sign of things to come, but it could also have been a perfect storm of sorts, and he’s more of an 8-12 home run hitter.
I think Rafaela would benefit by refining his approach with better pitch selection, and swing decisions. There’s a chance that happens, but I think with the year he just had this could very well be his peak, and thus be at risk of being a bust this season.
4. Quinn Priester, SP, PIT #86
Age: 22/2022 Stats (A/A+/AA/AAA): 90.1 IP/3.29 ERA/1.20 WHIP/89 K
Quinn Priester is a former first-round pick (18th overall) in 2019 that pitched with some success across four levels in 2022. Priester has a repeatable delivery, a deep arsenal of 4+ pitches, and at times commands them well, so there could be a mid-rotation profile here. But he currently lacks overpowering stuff and has switched to more of a sinker approach so his strikeout upside is likely capped at around a strikeout per inning unless there are adjustments made. He has a good curveball that can miss bats, but major league hitters likely won’t chase as often.
Another factor working against Priester is the team he is on. Not only are the Pirates likely a bad team for starting pitcher wins, but they are also not exactly known for their pitching development department (see Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon). If Priester were on the Guardians or Mariners I’d probably be a bit more intrigued with his future potential, but given the current environment, I’m not as optimistic.