A year ago, MLBPipeline.com introduced the Pipeline Poll, where general managers and scouting executives were asked to choose the game's top prospects. In that edition, Corey Seager was the clear-cut winner as the overwhelming choice for top overall prospect, and that seemed to work out pretty well.
The 22-year-old was an All-Star, won the National League Rookie of the Year Award, finished third in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting and set a slew of franchise records, including most homers, hits, doubles and total bases by a Dodgers rookie shortstop.
The best rookies in the class of 2017 might be hard-pressed to match Seager's production from last year, but there are plenty of talented prospects who are expected to become future big league stars.
Like last year, we asked those in the know two simple questions:
1. Who do you think is the No. 1 prospect heading into 2017?
2. Who do you think is the top pitching prospect heading into 2017?
This year's vote was a bit closer than last year's, with a Red Sox prospect leading the way and a former one coming in second.
While Benintendi was not quite the clear-cut winner Seager was, it's clear he was the preferred choice, getting half of the 20 votes cast for top overall prospect. The 2015 first-round pick's former teammate, Moncada, recently traded to the White Sox in December's blockbuster Chris Sale deal, finished with half of Benintendi's total. Swanson and Torres, themselves parts of big trades over the past year, also received votes.
It seems apparent that closeness to the big leagues, and perhaps effectiveness there, played a part in the voting. Three of the four have already played in the big leagues, with Benintendi and Swanson barely holding on to prospect status. In order to qualify for rookie status, a player must not exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Majors, or accumulate more than 45 days on the active roster of a big league club (or clubs) during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
Moncada didn't fare well in Boston, but also only had 19 at-bats, while Torres is still a little ways away from the highest level. That might make it seem like Benintendi, who fast-tracked it to Fenway Park and hit .295 with two homers, 11 doubles and 14 RBIs in 105 at-bats in his first full season of pro ball, is a safe pick. But many believe he's more than just that.
"He has the best combination of upside and risk," one American League executive said. "He should be at least an everyday type player at the Major League level with the chance to be a consistent All-Star. In a perfect world, he would profile very well as a center fielder, but obviously that seems unlikely with Boston."
"He's playing left field in 2017, but he is a legitimate premium position player with one of the more advanced hitting approaches you'll see," said a pro scouting director who agreed Benintendi could profile well in center.
It wasn't a no-brainer for everyone who voted for the talented Red Sox outfielder, however. More than anything, certainty that Benintendi's bat will play long term in the Majors is what pushed many to vote for the former Arkansas star.
"I went into this exercise thinking there was a slam-dunk candidate, but there is not a slam-dunk candidate," a second pro scouting director said. "I'm taking Benintendi because I'm convinced of the plus bat. That's rare in and of itself, no?"
Moncada, who will go back to playing second base for the White Sox, still has his supporters. His tools, especially on the offensive side of the ledger, are hard to ignore.
"His upside at the plate is unparalleled for a middle infield prospect, and he has elite ability on the basepaths," one general manager said. "Even with some defensive questions, the offensive potential separates him from a guy like J.P. Crawford."
"He impacts the game with his bat and speed," an assistant to a GM said of Moncada. "His power is developing. He needs to keep an eye on his strikeouts, but he's an exciting high end player who is just 21 years old."
This one was a rout, with Reyes, the Cardinals' top prospect receiving 15 of the 19 votes cast. Like with Benintendi, Reyes' success in the big leagues undoubtedly played a part, but it was really more about the belief that he, more than anyone, has the greatest chance to be a future ace.
"I think this one is WAY easier," said the pro scouting director who didn't think there was a slam-dunk candidate among the hitters. "I don't even know who else is a candidate. Reyes has the best combo of stuff and results with the stuff."
"He combines top-of-scale velocity with two plus secondary pitches and improving command, and the durable frame gives me confidence that he'll hold up in a frontline role," an AL GM said. "The elite arsenal and consistent track record of swing-and-miss puts him at the top of the group."
While Reyes was the obvious winner, it wasn't a unanimous choice. Glasnow, who got a pair of votes in last year's poll, got three this time. Though he struggled during his brief big league time in 2016, there are those who still believe he'll figure it all out.
"He has frontline starter stuff with swing-and-miss ability," another scouting director said. "He's still continuing to get better and will be a dominant No. 1."
When Giolito was dealt to the White Sox in the Adam Eaton deal, there was some talk that his value as a prospect had slipped a bit. While it remains to be seen where he and the rest of these prospects land on our new Top 100 list, perhaps it is a bit telling that Giolito led polling a year ago with seven of 20 votes, but got just one vote this time. But it's not like people are giving up on him, and one GM still had him at the top of his list.