MLB Notebook: Orioles again have baseball’s top prospect, Rōki Sasaki reiterates desire to play in Major Leagues, and more

Photo credit:© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Holden
27 days ago
It was another pretty quiet weekend around the baseball world, so let’s get into the things that are worth mentioning!

The Orioles have baseball’s top prospect for the third straight year

After some years of hard tanking, the Baltimore Orioles have consistently had one of the best farm systems in baseball lately, and that still hasn’t changed after their breakout season in 2023. For the third straight season, the Baltimore Orioles own the top prospect in the MLB. Jackson Holliday headlines this year’s crop of prospects, just as Gunnar Henderson did last year, and Adley Rutschman the year before in 2022. This is the first time in MLB Pipeline history that an organization has held the top prospect three years in a row. 
Jackson Holliday, the son of long-time St. Louis Cardinal and Colorado Rockie, Matt Holiday, was selected first overall in the 2022 MLB Draft by the Orioles. Holliday, who was selected out of high school, rose his way through the Minor Leagues in 2023, starting the season in A-ball and finishing with 18 games in AAA. Across the minors, Holliday smacked 12 home runs, 75 RBIs, and a healthy .323 batting average. Holliday’s rapid rise almost landed him on the Major League roster by the end of the 2023 season, ultimately he stayed in AAA to close out the season. 
However, Jackson Holliday may end up cracking the Opening Day roster in 2024. Earlier this offseason, Orioles General Manager Mike Elias stated there is “definitely a very strong possibility” Holliday sticks with the big club to start the new season. Gunnar Henderson was in a bit of a different spot heading into last season after being named MLB Pipeline’s top prospect. Henderson was expected to make the Opening Day roster for the O’s and he did. In 150 games last season, Henderson slugged 28 homers in the majors, bringing in 82 RBIs and a .255 batting average, eventually capturing the American League Rookie of the Year. 
Before Henderson was the first round pick from the 2019 MLB Draft, Adley Rutschman. One of the most highly touted prospects in recent years, Rutschman has taken off in his MLB career. In his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, Adley has received MVP votes in both seasons, was an All-Star in 2023, won the Silver Slugger for catchers last season, and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race in 2022 to Seattle Mariners sensation, Julio Rodríguez.
Not only do the Orioles house the top prospects in baseball the last few years, they have one of the best farm systems in the game. Along with Holliday, the Birds have five other prospects named in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 Prospects; C Samuel Basallo (17th), OF Colton Cowser (19th), IF Coby Mayo (30th), OF Heston Kjerstad (32nd), and IF Joey Ortiz (63rd). 
If the contributions from the youth last season are any indication as to what’s to come for the O’s, they could be one of the best teams in the MLB for a very long time. 

Justin Turner is expected to sign this week

Veteran Free Agent and former World Series Champion Justin Turner is expected to sign sometime this week. The market for the former Dodger and Red Sock seems to be pretty active. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Chicago Cubs are all looking to add an “impact corner infielder,” and could land Turner as their eventual option. 
Turner signed with the Red Sox in the winter of 2023 and had a relatively up-and-down season in Boston. The 39-year-old slashed 23 homers in Bean Town and cashed in 96 RBIs, but only played six games at third base all year, mostly splitting his time between the DH spot and first base. Turner hasn’t played that little at the hot corner in over a decade when he was with the Mets in 2012. The question will become, how much will Turner be able to play on the field in 2024?
Currently, the San Francisco Giants only have JD Davis slotted as an available third baseman and have an obvious need for another corner infielder. Thairo Estrada has only played 13 games at third across his career, and their other infielders, Marco Luciano and LaMonte Wade Jr. have never played the hot corner in their professional careers and aren’t likely to make the change anytime soon. While the Giants have a need at the corner infield spots, Justin Turner played predominantly at first base in 2023, which San Francisco already has covered with Wade. 
The Mets shipped Turner out back in 2013 when they DFA’d him after the season. Now, after his resurgence with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they seem to be interested in bringing Turner back. Brett Baty has been the third baseman of the future for the Mets since being drafted in the first round in 2019. Justin Turner would make a great mentor for the youngster, who also had an up-and-down season in 2023, and it would almost make nostalgic sense for the Mets and Turner to reunite and help develop a guy New York has a lot of trust in. 
The Blue Jays have had a less-than-satisfactory offseason and would love to add a veteran bat like Turner. The third base spot is currently up in the air for Toronto, but they do have a lot of prospects who are likely ready to step into the Major Leagues. Davis Schneider really impressed in his time with the big club and has proven he can play all over the diamond for the Jays. Orelvis Martinez has long been a name Blue Jays fans have been excited to see, and this season will likely be the year they get their wish. Martinez can play that corner infield spot and has the bat to complement his glove. Just like the Mets, Turner would be a great mentor to some of those younger talents to help them develop into serviceable Major Leaguers.
As for the Cubs, they have had their hand in a lot of potential additions including Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Cody Bellinger, but have only managed to bring in Shōta Imanaga. Unlike the other teams mentioned in the Turner race, the Cubs have a plethora of infielders. Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, Nick Madrigal, and Patrick Wisdom are all established Major Leaguers in their own right. On top of that already strong infield, the Cubs went out and acquired Michael Busch from the stacked Dodgers earlier this month. The Cubs don’t need another infielder but are in need of another lefty bat. Right now, the Cubs only have three natural lefty hitters such as Mike Tauchman, Michael Busch, and Miles Mastrobuoni, plus Ian Happ, who can hit from both sides. If Cody Bellinger were to sign with the Cubs before Turner makes his decision, he would have some familiarity with the team and could be more enticed to join the Cubbies. However, Bellinger is also a lefty bat and could leave the Cubs out of the race for Turner.
Turner, who turned 39 in late November, is on the back end of his career but could bring so much to a team not only on the diamond but off it as well. So, where do you think Turner will sign?

Rōki Sasaki wants to play in the big leagues

22-year-old Japanese pitching prodigy, Rōki Sasaki has made his wishes to play Major League Baseball in the near future quite clear, but his landing date remains uncertain. Sasaki, who signed a one-year deal with his NPB club, the Chiba Lotte Marines, on Saturday, has been very vocal about his desire to play Major League Baseball in North America. 
Sasaki has already been viewed by many as a better prospect than Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed a 12-year, $325 million deal earlier this offseason and has been scouted by teams in Japan previously. A video surfaced in December of Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman and Sasaki talking at a workout in Japan, and they seem to be the favourites to sign the young flamethrower. 
There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the status of Sasaki’s MLB availability. Early in the winter, Sasaki reportedly asked Chiba Lotte to be posted for availability to Major League teams. However, that never came to fruition, and eventually, the Marines and Sasaki agreed to a new, one-year deal over the weekend. Prior to the agreement, Sasaki and his club were in a contractual stand-off as he was holding out for posting. At one point, it was reported that the impressive righty had withdrawn his name from the Japanese Baseball Players Association
In April of 2022, Sasaki threw a beyond impressive 19-strikeout perfect game and followed that up with a remarkable 2023 season. In 15 games, Sasaki struck out 135 batters, garnered a 13.4 K/9, and an unearthly 1.88 ERA in 91.0 innings. In his three seasons with Chiba Lotte, he accumulated 376 strikeouts, 19 wins, and an even 2.00 ERA. Sasaki has been as advertised and is looking to add to his already impressive resume in 2024. 
It is rumoured that Sasaki may’ve taken some tricks from former highly touted Japanese prospects in his contract negotiations as well. While it has yet to be confirmed, Sasaki may have a clause in his contract similar to what Shohei Ohtani included in his Japanese contract that stated he could leave for North America and be made available upon his request. But, since Sasaki is under 25 years old, he would be viewed as an amateur free agent by Major League Baseball and would not be able to sign a lucrative deal like Yamamoto on his first Major League contract. 
For now, Sasaki is ready for his upcoming season in Japan. “I believe it’s important to play well in the season that’s right in front of me,” says Sasaki. With that being said, he has made his wishes well known to Chiba Lotte’s management. “I’ve been communicating every year. I believe the club understands it, too.”
It is unlikely we will see Sasaki in Major League Baseball in 2024, but the race for the young, exciting international prospect, but when he is made available, the Sasaki Sweepstakes may overshadow Yamamoto’s lottery. 

Quick Notes:

  • Chicago Cubs sign reliever Hector Neris. Neris and the Cubs agree on a one-year, $9 million deal that includes an option for 2025.
  • Brandon Crawford is eyeing an MLB contract but is considering retirement. Crawford is reportedly willing to swap positions including second base and third base, but is also considering retirement if nothing comes his way.
  • Alex Wood signs with the Oakland Athletics. Wood and the A’s are finalizing a deal that would send Wood to his third California-based team in four years.
  • Carlos Carrasco joins the Guardians on a Minor League deal. After leaving the Cleveland organization in 2020, Carrasco agreed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.


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