Hello there, everyone! Welcome to the first edition of Down on the Farm of the 2024 Major League Baseball season. While there won’t be minor league baseball until tomorrow, the MLB season begins today! It’s a time for optimism, as it’s not only the start of a fresh season of baseball…but it’s also time for our staff to share our MiLB-related predictions for the year.

Our regularly contributing staff consists of Josh Wittmer, David Gerth, Drew Haugen, Adam Sanford, & Haden Raymer, with occasional posts from our friend north of the border, Sean Murphy. Each of our contributors has picked selections for the American League and National League Rookies of the Year, as well as a breakout prospect and a bounceback prospect. Hope you all enjoy the season with us here at Down on the Farm… and don’t forget to purchase a subscription to follow along with us for the entire year.

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Rookie of the Year (AL): Wyatt Langford, TEX

Not exactly going out on a limb here, but it’s hard to not choose Wyatt Langford for Rookie of the Year. He’s basically been a one-man wrecking crew going back to his days at the University of Florida, and then he nearly slugged his way onto the Rangers’ World Series roster five months after playing games in Omaha. He may even have been the best player in the 2023 draft, and if not for Crews and Skenes, he would have probably gone 1-1. It’s still difficult to believe the Tigers passed on Langford in favor of Max Clark, but the Rangers are probably happy they did. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Langford hit 30+ homers this season.

Rookie of the Year (NL): Jackson Chourio, MIL 

After signing a record-breaking pre-debut extension, 20-year-old Jackson Chourio was pretty much guaranteed of a spot on the big league roster early in 2024. After also having a strong spring training, the Brewers announced that Chourio will start the season with the club when camp breaks. Chourio’s speed and defense should keep him in the lineup most days, but the Brewers also have a ton of outfielders in their mix, a good problem to have and one that was partially resolved by experimenting (and perhaps successfully) with moving Sal Frelick to third base. Now that Garrett Mitchell will start the season on the IL, Chourio will have every chance to be a full-time starter for the Brew Crew. There are some question marks around Chourio’s plate discipline, which will surely be tested by big league pitchers. While he’s likely to punch out quite a bit in his first season, he also has a chance to be a 20-20 rookie while playing strong defense on the grass.

Breakout Prospect: Jared Jones, PIT

Jared Jones earned his way into the Pirates starting rotation mostly because of a major uptick in stuff, something Drew Haugen highlighted in his piece on pitch shape changes he posted a few weeks back. If you are going to believe in one thing from Spring Training performances, quickly stabilizing data points like pitcher stuff is a good place to start. I think Jones becomes a stalwart in the Bucs rotation this season.

Bounce Back Prospect: Henry Davis, PIT

Another Pirates player? Maybe means I think they will contend in the NL Central…no, not really. But I don’t think they’ll finish in last either. I’ve been a fan of Davis going back to his days at Louisville and I feel like maybe his development was hurt to some degree by moving his position around. This year he is 100% a catcher and I like his chances to anchor that lineup and staff for the next few seasons.

Rookie of the Year (AL): Evan Carter, TEX

It’s a nice position to be in when you win a World Series and have two players on your Opening Day lineup that have the best chances to win Rookie of the Year. That’s where the Texas Rangers find themselves to open the season. It was hard choosing between Wyatt Langford and Evan Carter, but Carter’s defensive capabilities, plus the additional seasoning, makes me feel more comfortable that he will end up being the Rookie of the Year over Langford. Jackson Holliday is in the Top 3, but the Orioles elected to send him down to start the year, which hurts his chances. In any case, having two of the three most likely players to win the award means the Rangers are likely to walk away with a Prospect Promotion Incentive pick by the end of the year.

Rookie of the Year (NL): Yoshinobu Yamamoto, LAD

Getting shelled in your Major League debut is never fun, but I don’t think this first start is indicative of what’s to come from Yamamoto this year. This is someone who dominated the NPB the past few years while being under 25-years-old, and all of the public Stuff+ models agree that he has plus stuff, and solid command. Steamer and the various public projection models put him near the top of all pitchers, not just rookies. The one concern I have, aside from general difficulties of living in a new country, is that Yamamoto’s ERA might get dinged by poor defensive play behind him. As much as I love Mookie Betts, I’m not super fired up watching him (or the rest of the Dodgers infield), play defense. Since ERA factors in sequencing luck, poor defense could balloon his ERA more than expected, even if the stuff is there. Still, the Dodgers don’t hand out $300 million to anyone, and I’m expecting Yamamoto to cruise to a ROY nomination.

Breakout Prospect: George Lombard Jr., NYY

I’ve spent more time on minor league coverage than draft coverage lately, so I wasn’t too familiar with George Lombard Jr. prior to the 2023 draft. But his performance after the draft, along with watching him during spring training intrigued me. Unsurprisingly for a young-for-the-class high schooler, he was overmatched during spring training, but I liked the hit tool he’s shown in the minors so far. Lombard has a high level of athleticism and a projectable frame, and he projects to have at least average power. A projectable athlete who can stick at short and hit for power is the type of player every team wants and pays good money for. I expect to see him in Single-A Tampa to start the year, and think he has a good shot at finishing in Double-A at the end of the year.

Bounce Back Prospect: Cam Collier, CIN

Cam Collier was an interesting prospect in the 2022 draft. Son of major leaguer Cam Collier, he followed the Bryce Harper route by getting his GED a year prior to his draft year and played his draft year at Chipola Junior College and spent a bit of time on the Cape, where he largely excelled. Collier wasn’t close to being the prospect Harper was, but he showed a double-plus hit tool and above-average power, while providing just enough defense to stick at third base. Most public draft analysts had him in their top 10, but he fell to the Reds at pick 18, making it seem that there were more teams concerned with Collier’s profile than the public.

While the pedigree made it seem like he would be a fast riser, Collier spent all of 2023 in Low-A, putting up a pedestrian .246 / .349 / .356 with just 6 home runs. In addition, while it was likely that he would need to move to first when he was an amateur, he’s moving faster down the defensive spectrum than anticipated, which puts more strain on the bat. Only 6 homers as a first base prospect doesn’t cut it. But defensive concerns aside, I am still betting on Collier for a couple reasons. One, he posted top tier exit velos in the Florida State League (EV90 of 105.4), which means that the power is there, he just needs to lift the ball. Two, he posted strong contact rates as well. Collier has whiffed on about a quarter of his swings, which is pretty low considering that he chased at an above-average level. Contact on pitches out of the zone isn’t really a good thing, oddly enough you’d rather have the whiff than the bad contact result in non-two strike counts, but I think it’s a positive sign that he can at least reach those pitches. Of course, the chase issues are a problem, but I’m willing to look the other way a bit due to his age.

Overall, I think that there’s a strong enough foundation for him to have a better sophomore season. The chase rate is concerning, but he was one of the youngest guys in the league last year and you can expect approach issues from someone like that. The lingering concern I have is still how much power he will tap into in-game; just from video this year he still has this inside-out swing that leaves him vulnerable to pitches inside. Again though, he’s still very young even though he is advanced for his age and near physical maturity. I think that power and bat-to-ball skills provide a strong foundation, and he will jump back to the top of the public’s top 100 lists soon enough.

Rookie of the Year (AL): Evan Carter, TEX

I like David’s pick here, and despite the possibility that he gets beat out by another outfielder on his own team, I’m expecting Carter to continue to succeed with the advanced, well-rounded approach he demonstrated in limited playing time last year. He did strike out a good bit with the Rangers, but a little more aggression will probably bring that number as he took a good amount of called strikes. Although he will very likely decrease his wRC+ from the astronomical 180 mark he put up last year, a 125-130 wRC+ with solid defense is absolutely possible, and that’s a 3.5+ win player. He’s also projected for around 18 steals by most systems, but I think he has the chance to exceed that number with his near 30 ft/sec sprint speed. Carter is just 21 and will continue to develop, a scary thought for American league pitchers.

Rookie of the Year (NL): Jackson Chourio, MIL

Fresh off a huge extension, Chourio will look to impress in just his age 20 season. He’s got a near average hit tool, but the power is tantalizing and he has incredible athleticism, the type of player with tons of ability to adapt and improve. He’s held his own in spring training this year, and he’ll have a clear path to playing time. Projections have him between 1-2 wins next year, but I’m looking for a 3 WAR season or more. It will be a tough race against guys like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but Chourio is dynamic enough to become a solid contributor for the Brewers in a weak NL Central.

Breakout Prospect: Joey Ortiz, MIL

In our coverage of the Corbin Burnes trade earlier this year, David gave a great explanation of what makes Ortiz interesting: “Ortiz graded out positively in nearly all the hitting metrics we like to track. He had a 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 MPH, a whiff rate of just 17%, a dynamic hard hit rate of 27%, and a sweet spot percentage of 39%”. The largest hole in Ortiz’s game if his plate approach/discipline, but that’s a skill that tends to improve with age. Additionally, Ortiz has developmental projection on the defensive side of the ball and there will be chances for him to make an impact this year in a few different spots in the Brewers infield.

Bounce Back Prospect: Gavin Stone, LAD

Stone, although he didn’t have an awful year last year, looks to improve this year. He put up a 4.74 ERA and 4.52 FIP in Triple-A with near-average pitch quality. He looks to have improved that, though, and has been sitting 96-97 with his fastball in his appearances in 2024 — up from an average of 94 in 2023. Stone’s command is just around average, but with the player development powerhouse that is the Los Angeles Dodgers, he will surely continue to adapt and improve. He already is armed with a great changeup that should only improve with additional fastball velocity, and if his other secondaries come around Stone could be a legit big league mid rotation starter.

Rookie of the Year (AL): Colt Keith, DET

Since being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 5th round of the 2020 draft, Colt Keith has continuously hit. He has explosive and tremendous raw power, but also an excellent ability to make contact. That power showed up in a big way in 2023 as he split the year between Double-A and Triple-A. Overall during the season, Keith appeared in 126 games and hit .306 / .380 / .552 with 27 HR over 577 plate appearances. What makes Keith even more appealing is he doesn’t completely sellout to enhance his power as he maintained a solid 21% strikeout rate.

Keith’s defense is a question mark but he should be able to play a passable second base. The Tigers believe in his bat enough that in January, the team signed the 22-year-old to a six-year contract that should allow Keith to be their starting second baseman on Opening Day, instead of starting the year in the minor leagues due to service time manipulation.

Rookie of the Year (NL): Kyle Harrison, SF

The San Francisco Giants have been patiently waiting for Harrison to be ready for the big leagues since taking him in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft. Harrison quickly became one of the top prospects in the Giants system and they knew they had a potential future ace. Harrison carved his way through the Giants system and reached Triple-A in 2023. During the year, the Giants tinkered with Harrison’s arsenal, just to try and help him in his inevitable leap to the big leagues.

Harrison did make his big league debut last year and ultimately pitched in seven games, compiling a 4.15 ERA | 5.53 FIP with a 23.8% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate over 34 2/3 innings pitched. Although the numbers are rough, the Giants are hoping that Harrison’s minor league numbers will show up as he adjusted to the higher level of competition. Over his minor league career, which consisted of 69 starts, Harrison had a 3.32 ERA | 3.74 FIP with a 37.4% strike out rate and 12.3% walk rate over 279 1/3 innings pitched. Harrison will open the season as part of a fearsome trio of southpaws in the Giants rotation that includes former Cy Young winners, Blake Snell and Robbie Ray.

Breakout Prospect: Brayden Taylor, TBR

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Brayden Taylor after he fell to them as the 19th overall selection in the 2023 draft. Taylor quickly signed and made his debut shortly thereafter. The Rays moved him quickly to Single-A where he finished the season on a tear. Although he didn’t hit for a high average, he pounded the ball as he slugged .512 and launched five home runs in just 95 plate appearances, while walking 14.6% of the time. Taylor did strike out a bit too much, finishing the season with a 31.5% strikeout rate. However, Taylor only whiffed 11.8% of the time, which was among the best in the Rays’ organization in 2023.

Taylor projects as a versatile infielder that should produce decent averages with occasional power while also having solid enough speed that he’ll record a decent number of stolen bases per season. Entering the season, Taylor has been ranked just outside the top 100 of numerous prospect lists; with a solid season, he could break into that top 100 and possibly find himself among the top prospects in all of baseball.

Bounce Back Prospect: Mason Auer, TBR

Mason Auer has mouth-watering tools. If Tampa Bay were to promote him to the big leagues today, he would immediately be a leading contender for a Gold Glove award. He possesses 70-grade speed as well as an 80-grade arm. Offensively, his tools suggest that he could be tremendous as he received above average hit and power grades from most prospect pundits. He seemed well on his way to becoming one of the best prospects in baseball after a 2022 season in which he hit .290 / .372 / .487 with 15 home runs and 48 stolen bases over 115 games between Single-A and High-A. This caused a stirring of support for Auer has he would be ranked as one of the top prospects in a vaunted Rays system

Unfortunately, once Auer reached Double-A, his hitting completely tanked. His strikeouts spiked significantly as he finished with a 36% clip and he hit just .205 / .292 / .348. Auer did manage 11 homers and 47 stolen bases over 124 games. However, Auer tinkered with his swing and set-up all season long as he tried to figure out a way to make more contact. A noticeable change in his season started on July 5th as he performed much better over the second half of the campaign. Over a 56 game span, Auer hit .250 / .332 / .418, giving him a 100 wRC+. The strikeouts were still problematic and his BABIP ran at .373 suggesting it may have just been good luck.

Regardless, Auer has continued to work on his swing in the hopes of finding a more comfortable set-up that allows him to use his above-average tools. One thing is certain though, Auer’s defense will carry him to the big leagues, perhaps as soon as this upcoming season.

AL Rookie of the Year: Colt Keith, DET

I went with the easy pick in the National League, so let’s go off the beaten path and take a look at Colt Keith. The Tigers bought out Keith’s free agent years before he made his major league debut this offseason. Keith has an exciting bat with some of the best power in the minors last season. He hit .306 / .380 / .552 across 126 games in Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. Keith projects to get regular playing time at second base for Detroit. The AL field is crowded with the likes of Evan Carter, Wyatt Langford, and Jackson Holliday, and Keith’s name is not one that gets tossed in that conversation enough. 

NL Rookie of the Year: Yoshinobu Yamamoto, LAD

It’s hard to bet against the player who got the highest free agent contract for a pitcher ever, all while never throwing a pitch in the majors. Before he has thrown a single pitch, the ZiPS projects him to be tied for the fifth most fWAR by a starting pitcher. Yamamoto dominated in Japan and dominated in Spring Training. I’m not too worried about his rough inning in Korea. Barring injuries, I don’t think there is any rookie close to matching Yamamoto in 2024. 

Breakout Prospect of the Year: Ty Floyd, CIN

Is taking a 38th overall pick here cheating? Well, he is considered the 11th best prospect in the Reds system according to Baseball America. Floyd split time between the rotation and the bullpen for his first two seasons at LSU, but showed out in his junior year, striking out 31 percent of the batters he faced while walking 9.6%. When building a dream starting pitcher, having a killer fastball is the best foundation you can have. Thankfully for Floyd, that is exactly what he possesses, and while he lacks any other plus offerings currently, the Reds have a knack for getting the most out of their pitching prospects. 

Comeback Prospect of the Year: Robert Hassell III, WSH

Bobby Barrels was disappointing in 2023. He came to Washington as one of the more major league ready pieces in the Juan Soto trade, and after sustaining a broken hamate injury at the end of 2022, Hassell struggled. He struck out nearly 32 percent of the time, posted an ISO below .100, and in the last 30 days of the season he had just four extra-base hits. Now I know Spring Training stats are not everything, but Hassell looked much better in major league camp than last season. He had three extra-base hits in his 17 plate appearance. Maybe he got lucky, maybe his offseason adjustments and the extra time to get healthy paid off. Either way, I think a bounce-back campaign is in order for Hassell. 

Rookie of the Year (AL): Jackson Holliday, BAL

Rookie of the Year (NL): Jackson Chourio, MIL

Breakout Prospect: Tommy Troy, ARI

The Diamondbacks selected the former Stanford Cardinal 12th overall in the 2023 MLB Draft after Troy posted a .394 / .478 / .699 slash line during his final season in Palo Alto. Tommy brings above-average bat-to-ball skills to the plate with the ability to drive the ball displaying some power potential. He also shows a solid approach while making good swing decisions. Troy played SS this past season but can play 2B and 3B with experience playing those at Stanford. A versatile defender with decent speed, excellent on-base rates, a disciplined approach, and an above-average hit tool? Sign me up!

Bounce Back Prospects: Adam Maier, ATL & Calvin Ziegler, NYM

A couple of Canadian injury bounce-back candidates with Adam and Calvin.

What a journey just to get drafted by the Braves (2022 – 7th Rd., 215th overall) for righty Adam Maier. Starting his college career at the University of British Columbia, Adam thew just 19 innings before the pandemic shut down the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Maier’s coming out party was during his time playing in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2021, where he impressed evaluators in attendance. Heading to Eugene after transferring to the University of Oregon, Maier was put on the shelf after three starts with a partially torn UCL. Throw in some oblique issues and 2023 was a wash. When healthy, Adam displays a 3-pitch arsenal with all three pitches (FB/SL/CU) being a 50 or above, with a high spin slider being the leader as a plus offering. 

Calvin had quite the journey of his own to being drafted due to pandemic restrictions north of the 49th parallel.  Ziegler made his way to TNXL Academy (Ocoee, FL) where the Mets selected him in the 2nd round (46th overall). During his debut season in 2022, Calvin struck out an excellent 35% of the batters he faced but an extremely high 17% of hitters were walked as well. He was limited to 46.2 IP with bicep tendonitis in 2022 then missing almost all of 2023 (only 1.0 IP in September) with surgery on his elbow to deal with bone spurs and a torn quad during rehab from the aforementioned elbow surgery. When healthy, Calvin shows plus fastball and curveball offerings with a developing splitter for a third pitch. This season is off to a good start with Ziegler being named to the Mets Spring Breakout roster.