Top-10 Breakout Candidates for 2023

For the purposes of this list, I’m going to exclude our top-14 prospects on our preseason list. Those 14 are:

  1. Gavin Cross
  2. Maikel Garcia
  3. Nick Loftin
  4. Tyler Gentry
  5. Angel Zerpa
  6. Drew Waters
  7. Carter Jensen
  8. Cayden Wallace
  9. Frank Mozzicato
  10. Alec Marsh
  11. Ben Kudrna
  12. Diego Hernandez
  13. Jonathan Bowlan
  14. Asa Lacy

Picking any of those 14 feels a bit like cheating so we’ll use any combination of other prospects for “breakout” candidates. Players on our list of breakout candidates are prospects that I feel could jump up several spots in our ranking by midseason without the graduation of everyone in front of them. In other words, who has the ability to play so well that we are forced to jump them in front of other prospects currently on the list? Let’s get to it.

#10: TJ Sikkema, LHP

  • Preseason ranking: 19
  • Prediction: Pitches enough big league innings this year to graduate from our preseason list in 2024.

Sikkema had a rough go at AA after he was traded to the Royals in the Andrew Benintendi deal, but I’m excited about his potential role in the bullpen moving forward. Sikkema is a nasty lefty who, despite not throwing very hard, creates a ton of whiffs with fantastic movement on all of his pitches. I’m sure the Royals will want him to keep starting early in the season, but I think we’ll see him emerge as a legitimate weapon over multiple innings in the bullpen sometime soon. If he never moves to the bullpen and remains a starting pitcher candidate by the end of the season, even better.

#9: Daniel Vazquez, SS

  • Preseason ranking: 37
  • Prediction: Jumps into the top-25 of our 2024 preseason rankings.

Vazquez’ offensive numbers in 2022 were nothing impressive, but that’s okay. The infield defense for the Royals Low-A affiliate was so bad early in the season that the Royals moved Vazquez up just to help bring some stability for the sake of the young arms on the team. Vazquez’ approach needs some work, and he was not close to physically mature enough for the level last season, but I’m not concerned about his long-term outlook. He’s a fantastic defender, he makes a fair amount of contact, and he’s still just 19 years old. Vazquez’ hands, feet, and arm give him a good chance to move through the minors.

#8: River Town, OF

  • Preseason ranking: 28
  • Prediction: Town is a consensus top-30 prospect by the end of the season.

Town is a bit old for the levels he’s played in in the past, but he has the benefit of a (barely) post-July 1 birthday, so he’ll technically be in his age-23 season this year. If he can take most of those at-bats at AA, he’s still got a good bit of “prospect” status left in him. All this dude has done since being drafted is hit. He absolutely wrecked Low-A pitching last year, setting a Columbia Fireflies record for consecutive games reaching base. He got off to a bit of a slow start in High-A, but by the end of the season he looked like his old self again. Like I said…if he can go to AA this year and show he can handle the level, there could be a big league outfielder in there somewhere.

#7: Chandler Champlain, RHP

  • Preseason ranking: 35
  • Prediction: Champlain is a consensus top-30 prospect in the Royals system by midseason.

I love the aggressiveness with which Champlain throws the baseball. Dude is in attack mode at all times and his curveball benefits with a sharp plane and plenty of depth. The Champlain we got on national television last summer at the Field of Dreams is already a top-25 prospect in the system, but he’s been far too inconsistent to warrant that kind of ranking just yet. If he can put it all together at AA this year, he’ll still be a 23-year old with a bright future ahead of him. He’s the exact kind of pitcher that could benefit greatly from a new development team. I’m really excited for this kid.

#6: Darryl Collins, OF

  • Preseason ranking: 29
  • Prediction: Collins is firmly back on our radar by midseason, but still isn’t quite a consensus top-30 guy.

Collins is still just 21 years old and has experience hitting at High-A, so it’s not like it’s “now or never” for the left-handed outfielder, but it would be nice to see him take some steps forward in the power department. Collins has always shown a legitimately elite combination of approach and bat-to-ball skills, he just does not hit the ball very hard with any consistency. The funny thing is that Collins’ in-game max exit velocity is one of the best marks in the entire system. He just doesn’t get to it hardly ever. Anyway…the talent is still there. Just waiting for it to appear in games more often.

#5: David Sandlin, RHP

  • Preseason ranking: 27
  • Prediction: Sandlin is a consensus top-30 prospect in the Royals system by midseason.

Sandlin, the Royals 11th round pick in 2022, has all the makings of a big league starter. He was a draft-eligible sophomore at OU last year and got a ton of money in the draft, which is why he fell to the 11th round, but don’t let that fool you. This kid is going to eat up the lower levels of MiLB with an advanced feel to pitch and arsenal of offspeed pitches that will keep younger hitters off balance. I think he’s every bit as talented as guys like Andrew Hoffmann, TJ Sikkema, and Max Castillo, all of whom were in our top-21 this preseason.

#4: Lizandro Rodriguez, 2B

  • Preseason ranking: 31
  • Prediction: Is a consensus top-30 prospect by midseason.

Lizandro Rodriguez and the next guy on this list, Junior Marin, are by far the two guys I am most cautiously optimistic about heading into 2023. I seriously think Rodriguez has top-10 talent potential in this system. He is an electric athlete with an electric swing with a phenomenal ability to defend second base. I’m not saying he’s going to be a top-10 prospect in this system…but I’m not saying he won’t be either.

#3: Junior Marin, OF

  • Preseason ranking: 43
  • Prediction: Marin jumps into our top-30 by midseason.

Marin is still just 18 years old and has the 11th best wRC+ by a prospect in all of Minor League Baseball over the last couple of seasons (for players under the age of 28). The track record of production and impressive physical tools give Marin one of the best chances to make a massive ascent through the system in 2023. If Marin starts the year as a 19-year old in Low-A, he has a chance to hit his way into our top-15 next preseason.

#2: Noah Cameron, LHP

  • Preseason ranking: 22
  • Prediction: Consensus top-25 prospect in the system next preseason.

Cameron was absolutely NASTY last year before an injury shut him down for the second half of the season. Over Cameron’s first 60 innings he struck out 92 batters between Low-A and High-A and walked just 16. His changeup will remind some of Kris Bubic but Cameron’s control and curveball may even give him an edge over Bubic at this point in their careers. Cameron is 23 and has a bit of an injury history, but if you want to talk about a kid getting very little national recognition for his standing in the Royals system with a chance to shine in 2023, there aren’t many better options than Cameron. Fun fact: Cameron’s Steamer projections project him to have a better ERA than Jordan Lyles in 2023.

#1: Peyton Wilson, 2B/CF

  • Preseason ranking: 15
  • Prediction: Wilson is a consensus top-10 prospect in the system at midseason.

Wilson has a chance to be really, really good. The 22-year old posted a 128 wRC+ last year at High-A and will have the opportunity to play every day as a 23-year old in AA this season. He’s a gifted athlete with a really good approach at the plate and the ability to play plus-defense at both 2B and CF in the upper-minors. He still chases a bit too often, but he makes great contact on pitches in the strike zone and while he’ll never be a 20+ home run hitter or anything, he could give you 12-15 in his best years with 40+ doubles. Sort of like a less powerful, faster Alex Gordon in some ways. Obviously he’s nowhere near as good a prospect as Gordon was, but a similar type of player…I think. Assuming that Garcia, Loftin, Gentry, and Waters all graduate from our list by the end of the season, Wilson will be on a short list for the title of second best hitting prospect in the system.


5 thoughts on “Top-10 Breakout Candidates for 2023

  1. I like the article as a fun thought exercise.
    I think by midseason, Anthony Veneziano, Will Klein and Steven Cruz will look like potentially dominate bullpen arms for 2024. Beck Way, Noah Cameron and Mason Barnett could emerge as strong starting pitcher prospects. I like Lizandro Rodriguez, Roger Leyton and Brennon McNair to show exciting potential in Low-A this year. Hopefully Erick Pena and Daniel Vazquez show they are worth the large signing bonuses they received and Low-A can have a very exciting young group of hitters. Peyton Wilson and Luca Tresh will become Top 10 prospects by the end of the year as they will perform well in the upper minors. And finally, I predict that Austin Charles will show himself to be a freakishly unique prospect in Rookie ball and will draw some early comps to Oneil Cruz of the Pirates. (there just aren’t very many SS out there with 6’6 height)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe it’s because I used to live in St. Joe, but I love seeing Noah Cameron ranked so highly. (Btw, my wife had a conversation with some of his family members about a year ago & they were very complimentary to RFR.) Also, I was listening to Keith Law on Soren Petro & Rany’s podcast the other day, and he had a lot of good things to say about KC’s catching prospects. Luca Tresh is not on your list, but how do you feel about his chances of breaking out?


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