Most Improved Prospects: 2019

Christopher Crawford

One of the most rewarding aspects of following prospects is that every once in a while, a player comes out of nowhere to go from fringe big-leaguer -- if that -- to potential star. This year was no exception, and saw several hitters and pitchers see their stock soar.

A quick note, prospects who are currently in the majors don't qualify, so no Gavin Lux or Brendan McKay, who both would have qualified if not. 

Here’s a look at the most improved prospects of 2019.

Hitters

Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox -- Robert was far from an unknown prospect coming into the season, but what he did in 2019 saw him go from a future solid regular into a potential superstar; particularly in fantasy circles. He hit .328/.376/.624 while homering 32 times and adding 36 steals, and he spent close to half the season doing it in Triple-A. In a fair world, Robert would already have been up, but it's not, so Robert will go into next season as the top fantasy prospect for the 2020 campaign. That's probably not a spoiler. He's a five-tool talent that has a chance to make a huge impact at the highest level.

Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals -- Of prospects who weren't on my original Top 100, Carlson was the most improved. The switch-hitting outfielder crushed Double-A pitching with 21 homers and 18 steals in 108 games, and in a smallish sample size with Triple-A Memphis, he hit .361/.418/.681 with five homers in 18 games. The power and ability to get on base, and despite not being none of the faster outfielders, the 20-year-old has a chance to provide some steals, as well. Carlson has a real chance to be a regular for the Cards before the end of the 2020 season.

Xavier Edwards, INF, San Diego Padres -- Edwards was selected by the Padres with the 38th pick in the 2018 draft, so obviously, they liked the talent quite a bit. Even they have to be surprised by how well he's applied that talent, however, as reached High-A as a 19-year-old with slashing .322/.375/.367 with 34 steals in his stops at Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne. He's a double-plus (or 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) runner, and his smooth, line-drive swing makes hard contact all over the field. He probably could play shortstop, but as long as he's in the San Diego organization, he's likely going to stick at shortstop. The bat can certainly play there, too, and he's a must-add in dynasty formats.

Sam Huff, C, Texas Rangers -- Huff was a seventh-round pick by the Rangers in 2016, and in a short span, he's gone from potential bench bat to what looks to be the Rangers' backstop of the future. He launched 28 homers last year, and that doesn't include the one that he hit in the Futures Game that allowed him to win the MVP award of that prestigious event. Huff isn't likely to hit for a high average, but the power is legit, and it also looks like he's going to be able to stick behind the plate. The value drops significantly if he does have to move positions, but if the 21-year-old can stay at catcher, he's a potential well above-average regular.

Pitchers

MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres -- It almost feels like cheating listing Gore in one of these spots because he was a consensus Top 25 prospect coming into the year, but the truth is that things escalated here, and escalated quickly. He dominated High-A to the tune of a 1.02 ERA with 110 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings, and while his ERA jumped up to 4.15 in Double-A because of a couple of clunkers at that level, he still showed the same impressive stuff/command for the most part. The 20-year-old has four pitches that can miss bats, and there aren't many pitchers in the minors -- heck, or the majors -- who command it better. He's not a lock for a 2020 debut, but there's a chance, and he should be a major part of the rotation by the end of 2021. He's special.

Deivi Garcia, RHP, New York Yankees -- Every once in a while, there's a prospect whose numbers don't tell the complete story of how well -- or sometimes the opposite -- they played in a year. Garcia would be one of those prospects. His 4.28 ERA in 111 1/3 innings over three levels may not stand out, but the 20-year-old also put up a whopping 165 strikeouts against 54 walks, and he's one of the most intriguing prospects in baseball. His curveball is an out pitch right now, and can miss bats with that offering along with a 92-95 mph fastball with late life. Garcia, 20, needs to improve his change and throw more consistent strikes, but if he can, he can be a top-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he could be a lights-out reliever. It would be an upset if he wasn't a part of the Yankees' pitching staff in 2020. 

Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore Orioles -- Rodriguez was taken by the Orioles with the 11th pick, and he quickly established -- if you can establish something in 20 starts -- as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. The right-hander can get his heater up to 97 mph and sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and he complements that heater with two swing-and-miss breaking-balls and an improving change. The command needs work -- he walked 36 hitters to go with his 129 strikeouts over 94 innings -- but it shouldn't keep him from being a starter. Rodriguez has a chance to be an ace, with an ETA of 2022.

Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle Mariners -- I was higher on Gilbert than most both in the 2018 draft and to begin the 2019 season, but even I was surprised by how dominant he was this summer (2.13 ERA, 165/33 K/BB ratio over 135 innings). He's touching the high 90s with his fastball and commanding the heck out of it, and his slider and change are both potential swing-and-miss offerings at the highest level. Add in a solid change and quality command of all four pitches, and Gilbert is the rare pitcher who offers a high-floor and high-ceiling. He has a great chance of joining Seattle's rotation next summer.