Dylan Carlson has been obliterating baseballs in Spring Training as a non-roster invite for the St. Louis Cardinals, and that’s awesome. But there is a part of me that gives pause to the acclaimed prospect not because I don’t think he’s going to be good, but because I’m not sure that he’s going to be that good. And by that good, I mean, like, Mike Trout good. Which is, of course, an absurdly high threshold to which to hold any prospect, but let’s put it this way: Dylan Carlson is MLB.com’s #17 prospect leading into the 2020 season. This is very good, no question, but when Mike Trout was a prospect, he reached #1 on MLB.com’s lists. He wasn’t expected to be as transcendent as he became–he was generally clustered with Bryce Harper and Matt Moore on these lists in a somewhat interchangeable fashion, but he was regarded as a mega-prospect in ways that Carlson, acclaimed as he is, is not.
But instead of fixating on the fact that Dylan Carlson probably will not be as good as Mike Trout, I want to instead take an optimistic view and assemble an all-MLB team of the best players in Major League Baseball today who were less acclaimed prospects than Dylan Carlson is, and therefore players that Dylan Carlson is definitely going to eventually be better than.
Catcher: Yasmani Grandal
Yasmani Grandal, now with the Chicago White Sox, is projected by ZiPS to be the best catcher in baseball thanks largely to his supernatural gifts in the art of pitch framing. In some ways, his inclusion on this team is somewhat misleading, as Grandal came up at a time in which, at least publicly, pitch framing was not regarded as highly as it is today. But nevertheless, Grandal was absent from MLB.com’s top prospects list following the 2011 season. That said, if you feel guilty about including Grandal, the next two projected catchers, J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez, also qualify for the “Dylan Carlson is going to be better than him” team.
First Baseman: Cody Bellinger
The defending National League MVP, Bellinger was an acclaimed prospect, but only got to #32 on the MLB rankings following the 2016 season. The presence of Mookie Betts on the Los Angeles Dodgers makes Bellinger’s positionality a bit more of a question now, but Bellinger is certainly qualified to play first base, right field (where he won a Gold Glove last year), or center field.
Second Baseman: Jose Altuve
I’m cheating slightly with Altuve, as his prospect years pre-date MLB.com’s prospect rankings, but based on existent prospect rankings at the time, it is very safe to assume he wouldn’t have cracked the Top 17, or even the Top 100. Altuve was never a Top 100 prospect per Baseball America, and following the 2010 season, the year before Altuve debuted in the majors, he ranked 28th in the Houston Astros organization. Anyway, Altuve later went on to win an AL MVP and even if you believe he should be docked a few points for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme, it’d be hard to argue against Dylan Carlson becoming that level of player.
Shortstop: Marcus Semien
As a prospect, the then Chicago White Sox infielder was thought to be too defensively deficient to crack the big leagues as a shortstop, and he was such an afterthought of a prospect that he was a throw-in when the White Sox acquired Jeff Samardzija from the Oakland Athletics. As it turns out, Semien’s defense has steadily improved and in 2019, he had a breakthrough offensive season and he finished third in AL MVP voting.
Third Base: Alex Bregman
Alex Bregman was a #2 overall pick around the time that the Houston Astros became renowned for their player development, but his prospect ranking never eclipsed #21. In the meantime, Bregman, who was a shortstop in his prospect days, has moved to third base and developed one of the sport’s most dangerous bats. Over the last two seasons, Bregman hit a total of 72 home runs, was twice an All-Star, and finished fifth and second in MVP voting in the American League.
Left Field: Juan Soto
That the Washington Nationals left fielder hit the ground running in MLB as a teenager might make one think he was a super-duper prospect, but at his peak, Soto “only” reached #37 on the MLB.com rankings. But today, Soto is, conservatively, a top ten position player in Major League Baseball and is still only 21 years old, a level he reached during last season’s World Series.
Center Field: Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich is probably the most direct comp for Dylan Carlson on this team in the sense that he is also an outfielder whose prospect peak was exactly #17. Am I saying that this means Dylan Carlson will be exactly as good as the Milwaukee Brewers superstar, who has finished in the top two in NL MVP voting in each of the last two seasons? I’m not not saying it.
Right Field: Mookie Betts
Betts is probably the second-best player in baseball today, but unlike the hyper-hyped Mike Trout, Mookie Betts did not arrive with quite the same level of acclaim. While he cracked some Boston Red Sox team prospect lists, he never reached the pre/post-season MLB Top 100, partially because of his size and partially because of his lack of clear position (at the time, and through most of his time in the minors, Betts was a second baseman). That said, he has become a legitimate superstar in right field, and Dylan Carlson wants to go ahead and turn into Mookie Betts, I wouldn’t be opposed.
Pitcher: Jacob deGrom
Today, Jacob deGrom is a two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner and rightfully among the sport’s most feared arms. But as a prospect, while deGrom did receive some positive reviews, he was slightly older than the Noah Syndergaards of the New York Mets’ pitching prospect cavalcade, and thus he was ignored in terms of the upper reaches of prospect lists. While deGrom had respectable showings on team prospect lists, he never cracked the overall Top 100.
Thank you for reading, and just remember: Dylan Carlson will be exactly as good or better than all nine of the players listed in this lineup.