Written by: Ray Butler
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It’s here. Today, we roll out my top-20 prospects for the 2020 season.
There’s no reason to set the stage for an article that, based on track record, will easily be one of the most popular articles on the site this year. Instead, I’d like to simply say thank you. I grow speechless every time I ponder how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time, but I’m also aware of how much growing we have left to do. As always, nothing we accomplish would possible with our amazing readers.
Before you dive in to my top-20, make sure you’re up to date on the first 180 prospects published from this list. You can read about my #21-40 prospects here, my #41-60 prospects here, my #61-80 prospects here, my #81-100 prospects here, my #101-120 prospects here, my #121-140 prospects here, my #141-160 prospects here, my #161-180 prospects here and my #181-200 prospects here. That’s 100 prospects and over 20,000 words worth of content for those of you keeping score at home. Several prospects in the bottom half of my top-200 were also discussed on Episode 3 of the Prospects 365 Fantasy Baseball Podcast.
I hope you enjoy reading about my thoughts on tomorrow’s MLB stars.
20. Michael Kopech, SP, CHW. Age: 23
The most handsome man in baseball will be back with a vengeance in 2020, and it appears as though he may be a full-go by Opening Day. The good news for Kopech is he just missed an entire season, he now has a new and fully healthy elbow and he’s still only 23 years old. You’ve known about the stuff since Prospects 365 was created (I ranked Kopech 23rd on my first-ever prospect list in 2017), but you’ve also known about the spotty command. The ‘towards’ is commonly the final thing that returns to a pitcher’s repertoire post-operation, so it will be interesting to see how much it (further) hinders Kopech this season. The White Sox now have master framer Yasmani Grandal in the fold, so he should be able to help to a certain extent. Chicago will be a popular pick for an AL Wild Card spot in 2020, and while they’ve added rotational depth this offseason, they will likely need to tap-in to whatever upside they possess within their organization if they hope to make a legitimate postseason run. That means Kopech will have his chance to shine under the bright lights on the South Side at some point this season, though it’s likely best if expectations are a bit muzzled for a pitcher whose worst attribute was command before undergoing Tommy John surgery. The fastball and slider are both explosive and analytically elite; prior to going under the knife, the changeup was making strides as a viable weapon against left-handed hitters. After Kopech settles back in and becomes comfortable taking the ball every fifth day over the stretch of an entire regular season, Kopech’s ceiling is that of a high-variance, heavy strikeout SP2. A tight workload restriction will make the right-hander a frustrating player to roster in redrafts this season. White Sox Rank: 3rd
19. Matt Manning, SP, DET. Age: 22
Much like with Shane Baz (who you read about above), there are still concerns from the org side of scouting that Manning may be best suited in the bullpen. In my eyes, most of these issues were largely alleviated in 2019. The right-hander’s changeup made notable strides last season; it now projects a future, average big league offering that will play a big role against left-handed hitters the second and third time through the order. Manning doesn’t spin his fastball nor curveball exceptionally well, but his elite athleticism—which translates to fantastic extension—allows both pitches to play-up. With said extension and upper-90s velocity, the right-hander’s fastball has played particularly well up in the zone versus minor league hitters. With well below average spin, I will be interested to monitor its ability to miss bats at the big league level. The 22-year-old pairs his heater with a plus curveball, a pitch that’s thrown fairly hard and has proven to be effective against both righties and lefties. Manning’s walk rate has consistently improved throughout his minor league career, so further control refinement will focus on strike zone command rather than strike-throwing ability. The right-hander has the look of a pitcher who will only continue to improve with additional experience. The Tigers have no reason to rush the pitcher with the highest ceiling in their entire organization, though a mid-or-late summer MLB debut is justifiably expected. Everything clicking would mean Manning has become a mid-tier SP2 at the big league level. Tigers Rank: 2nd
Staff writer Adam Ehrenreich has now published both portions of his Post-Hype Pandemonium series for the 2020 season. Read about his offensive sleepers and breakout candidates here. Read about his pitcher sleepers and breakout candidates here.
18. Casey Mize, SP, DET. Age: 22
There are so many factors that must be baked in to a valid Mize evaluation. I’ll divvy out as much as I can first, then we’ll try to draw some conclusions at the end. In his first full season since being selected at 1.1 in 2018, the 22-year-old struck 24.7% of the batters he faced in the Florida State League and Eastern League (19.3 K-BB% in 109.1 IP). That’s not a gargantuan punch-out rate like so many of the other pitchers within my top-50, but there was a train of thought amongst some evaluators that Mize purposely experimented with different patterns of two-strike sequencing at times last season. The fact Mize’s 14.1 SwStr% ranked third amongst all Eastern League pitchers (min. 70.0 IP) perhaps speaks a bit to some untapped strikeout potential moving forward. But if the right-hander truly is the 8-9 K/9 pitcher he was in 2019, the floor needs to be incredibly high to warrant a ranking inside the top-20. Statistically, Mize exemplifies this notion. He induces a ton of soft contact, doesn’t walk many hitters (0.94 WHIP in 2019) and should post consistently low earned run averages (2.55 ERA, 2.69 FIP in 2019). The bust risk here centered on injuries. There’s a long track record that validates this notion, ranging from shoulder concerns as a prep pitcher, to forearm and elbow ailments while at Auburn, to another shoulder injury last season that forced Mize to miss a month of Double-A action in the home stretch of the regular season. He posted a 6.61 ERA in eight appearances post-injury. The combination of an amazingly high statistical floor and (suspected) untapped strikeout potential means Mize—at his best—can be a mid-tier SP2 at the big league level. Tigers Rank: 1st
17. Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF, MIN. Age: 22
Notice one of the positions attached to Kirilloff above. It’s not a forgone conclusion the 22-year-old ends up at first base, but reading the tea leaves here really only leads to one hypothesis. The Twins traded Lewin Diaz to the Marlins last season, seemingly creating an organizational void at first base. The organization also seems to love Trevor Larnach in right field, as it was Kirilloff who transitioned to first base when both played in Double-A Pensacola throughout the final month of the 2019 season. Lastly, Kirilloff appeared to lose a step last season, most of which can be credited to a thicker lower half than in previous seasons. These factors all point to first base likely being the eventual defensive destination. In depth, I’ve already discussed ignoring the dip in statistical output last season. Josh Donaldson signing with the Twins (which subsequently moves Miguel Sano to first base) throws a bit of a wrench in the outlook, but—assuming good health–the 22-year-old should be ready for a big league debut by July. There’s some aggressiveness at the plate that will create some ebbs and flows early in his MLB career, but Kirilloff has all the makings of an impactful big league slugger. As I stated in the link above, the ceiling here is in the region of .280 BA/.350 OBP/30 HR at first base. Minnesota should be in the driver’s seat in the AL Central near the trade deadline; Kirilloff would fetch a game-changing return at positions of need in order for the big club to make a deep postseason run. I’m just saying. Twins Rank: 2nd
16. Jasson Dominguez, OF, NYY. Age: 17
For a while, Maitanphobia hindered my evaluation and outlook on Dominguez. “This generation’s Derek Jeter” are words forever branded into the dark side of my brain. But that quote from behind a shield of anonymity; the reports on Dominguez have not. FanGraphs currently has the outfielder’s future grades at 55-hit, 65-raw, 65-speed, 55-field, 60-arm. He was the youngest player on their 2019-updated top-100 by nearly a year and a half (he ranked 58th). Baseball America’s grades for the teenager are equally loud, and their recently-released Yankees’ organizational report ($) projects Dominguez to be New York’s starting center fielder by 2023 (he’ll be 20-years-old at the time). These are huge, well-connected publications that are publishing these otherworldly reports. There’s always risk associated to a 17-year-old who is yet to play a single professional game, but sitting on your hands here likely means you’ll be left without a share of a prospect who could truly be one of the more remarkable players of the next two decades. Dominguez will likely debut in the Gulf Coast League this summer. FYPD Rank: 2nd, Yankees Rank: 1st
Most of my 2020 high-value active player list has already been released. You can check out my high-value infielders here, my high-value outfielders here and part one of my high-value pitchers here. This. Will. Win. You. Money. This. Season.
15. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, CHW. Age: 22
Something you absolutely need to know about Vaughn: the real life floor here is a lot lower than we’d like from a prospect inside the top-20. A right/right first baseman is a profile that will always lean heavily on consistent, high-powered offensive output. It’s also a profile that—in the eyes of MLB organizations—can be adequately and cheaply replaced following inconsistent production or injury. As a 3rd overall pick, Vaughn will have a longer leash than any other first base prospect destined to debut within the next two seasons; he is the top-ranked first base prospect in baseball, after all. The White Sox are also in the process of pushing most of their chips to the center of the table, which means the 22-year-old won’t be left marinating in Charlotte longer than he should. Statistically speaking, Vaughn reaching his ceiling would mean he’s evolved into a right-handed Freddie Freeman: a first baseman who should consistently flirt with .300 BA/30 HR seasons throughout his prime. Even as a four-tool contributor at a corner infield position, that would mean Vaughn becomes a top-30 overall player in dynasty leagues. The Southern League likely beckons for the majority of the 2020 season. FYPD Rank: 1st, White Sox Rank: 2nd
14. Carter Kieboom, INF, WAS. Age: 22
Following Trea Turner fracturing his right index finger and before he was fully ready, Kieboom was thrust into in a big league role last April. It was quite clear pretty quickly the then 21-year-old needed more repetitions in the minor leagues; he was demoted back to Triple-A after striking out in 37.2% of his plate appearances and posting a 17 wRC+ in a microscopic sample (11 games). We’re definitely checking in with our league mates about a possible buy-low opportunity in dynasty leagues, because the reports from the Pacific Coast League last season were excellent. The infielder slashed .303/.409/.493 with 16 home runs and a 13.8 BB% (20.2 K%) in 109 games and 494 plate appearances (123 wRC+), reaffirming himself as one of the best infield prospects in the sport after leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the prospect world in his first, infinitesimal big league sample. The Nationals appear ready to give Kieboom every possible opportunity to break camp as their everyday third baseman, so in redraft leagues in which the infielder possesses shortstop eligibility, there’s certainly some intriguing value in the discounted price tag. Regardless of how the 22-year-old is able to turn the page on his disappointing MLB debut last season, it’s likely he’ll play a huge role in the Nationals’ success both in 2020 and throughout the next decade. Nationals Rank: 1st
13. Dylan Carlson, OF, STL. Age: 21
It was a monumental year for Carlson, breaking out statistically at Double-A Springfield before cementing himself as a top prospect in an 18-game sample at Triple-A Memphis. In all, the 21-year-old slashed .292/.372/.542 with 26 home runs, 20 stolen bases (71.4%), a double digit walk rate (20.6 K%) and a 28.8 Hard% (145 wRC+). Destined to become an everyday big league player in 2020, the only remaining question regarding Carlson centers on sustainability of tools. Older reports suggest a belief the switch hitter’s frame will thicken early in his career, leading to a transition to a corner outfield spot and a dwindling of speed output on the bases. But I didn’t get that vibe watching Carlson twice in 2019; though the stolen base output will rely a little more on instincts and quick-twitch reaction time than I’d like, there’s a low-maintenance frame and obvious athleticism within this profile. Attempting to dive into the mind of the Cardinals’ front office is equivalent to asking Albert Pujols to steal 40 bases this season, but Carlson should have an everyday impact in St. Louis by July at the latest. Cardinals Rank: 1st
12. Marco Luciano, SS, SF. Age: 18
So it’s quite possible—perhaps even likely—Luciano has the best bat speed of any prospect on this entire list. If I’m wrong, there are worse things in life than being second to Wander Franco. The 18-year-old has impact potential both from a bat-to-ball and power projection standpoint. There’s at least decent chance—a few seasons from now—Luciano finalizes his development as a plus-hit, plus-power slugger destined for MLB stardom. The cloudy portion of this profile is potential defensive position. Luciano doesn’t wow evaluators athletically (stolen bases will never be part of this skillset), and there are questions regarding his ability to make enough plays to remain at shortstop long term. A potential move to the outfield—or third base—would lower the real life floor while tempering the positional upside in fantasy, but I suspect the bat will hold redraft value regardless of defensive position. I’m really interested to see how the Giants handle Luciano’s placement in 2020. Do they go ahead and bite the cold weather bullet and place the teenager in the South Atlantic League to open the season? Do the Giants slow-play the development and place Luciano back in the Northwest League? Does he open the season at the complex before debuting in Augusta once it warms up a bit? That’s an aspect of prospect development that often goes overlooked or completely disregarded throughout the prospect world. Regardless, the best-case statistical scenario here is .300 BA/30 HR from shortstop. But even if those numbers come from the hot corner right field, Luciano has the ingredients to someday be an impact player at the big league level. Giants Rank: 1st
11. Kristian Robinson, OF, ARI. Age: 19
My 2019 breakout prospect pick was everything I hoped he would be last season, slashing .282/.368/.514 with 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 69 games and 291 plate appearances between the Northwest League (A-) and Midwest League (A Full). A year later, Robinson now finds himself near the top of any fantasy-focused prospect list and uniformly included within any real life top-100 prospect list. Now with a foundational track record of success, expectations will be sky-high for the 19-year-old in 2020 as he either returns to the MWL or is pushed aggressively to the California League to open the season. I do worry the unpolished spin recognition will lead to some bumps in the road once he’s introduced to High-A and Double-A pitching (especially because he’ll be so young), but it won’t be anything he’s incapable of overcoming. The swing itself is extremely short to the ball, and I expect the teenager’s work ethic and IQ to iron-out any wrinkles in his path. Robinson played all-three outfield positions last season and is athletic enough to hold his own in center, but I feel strongly his off-the-bat reads and routes are better suited for one of the corners (he has the arm for right). In my breakout prospect article last preseason, I comped the outfielder’s upside to prime Justin Upton. A year later, this is still firmly in play—especially since it’s beginning to appear as though Robinson (who recently showed up to minor league camp noticeably thinner than his playing weight last season) will maintain his speed throughout at least the first chunk of his hypothetical big league career. Diamondbacks Rank: 1st
10. Royce Lewis, SS, MIN. Age: 20
Imagine—last March—predicting Lewis would be the top-overall prospect in baseball by the end of the 2019 season. Everybody hurts. The 20-year-old’s swing became annoyingly noisy last season, implementing a huge leg kick and a lot of (read: too much) hand movement pre-pitch. The results were quite bad; Lewis regressed in every notable statistical category both in the Florida State League and post-promotion in the Southern League. What’s worse, the mechanics aren’t simply viewed as in need of additional refinement. There’s no corner to turn or hump to get over. They’re just bad. That means I’m ranking Lewis as a top-10 prospect while also admitting he needs to overhaul his swing to reach anything that resembles his gaudy potential. Fortunately, the 20-year-old has some of the best makeup and pedigree of any prospect on this list. The batting practices are still spectacular, and the plus (perhaps plus plus) raw power is still completely intact. Lewis showcasing a quieter set-up and swing this season and beyond would be a dream come true to scouts and evaluators alike. If I’m being greedy, the cherry on top would be the former 1.1 showing more willingness to work counts during his second go-around in the Southern League. Twins Rank: 1st
9. Forrest Whitley, SP, HOU. Age: 22
What a disaster of a 2019 regular season for Whitley. Only 59.2 IP. A 7.99 ERA. 44 walks (6.64 BB/9). Name removed, those are the statistics of a pitching prospect not worthy of a top-1000 list, let alone the top-10. But this is Forrest Whitley. There’s a long, established track record of success here. It was fairly obvious early in the season the right-hander’s mechanics were way out of whack. The numbers plummeted, then the 22-year-old was placed on the MiLB injured list with shoulder fatigue. A month later, Whitley returned, eventually working his way back to Double-A (he began the season in Triple-A) before the end of the regular season. Instead of making his MLB debut, the Astros announced Whitley would instead pitch in the AFL. The numbers bounced back to an extent in Arizona: 25.0 IP, 2.88 ERA, 30.5 K%, 8.6 BB%. With the reset button hopefully pressed and the struggles of the 2019 regular season now in the rearview mirror, Whitley has the stuff and organizational support to quickly prove his recent tribulations were simply blips on the radar. Following the AFL, scouts and industry folks I reached out to seemed evenly split on whether Whitley or MacKenzie Gore would begin the 2020 season as the top pitching prospect in baseball. Despite that, I’m worried enough about some aspects of Whitley’s mechanics—namely the effort and repeatability of his delivery—that I’m giving a late nod to Jesús Lúzardo as my second-ranked pitching prospect. The margin is microscopically thin. If everything eventually clicks, Whitley will become an undoubted SP1 and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. I’m less confident about that outcome coming to fruition than I was a year ago. Astros Rank: 1st
8. Jesús Lúzardo, SP, OAK. Age: 22
Lúzardo only threw 12 innings after being promoted to Oakland on September 11th, but his small sample success gave the world a glimpse of why he’s one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. And good googly moogly was Lúzardo’s curveball phenomenal in his first taste versus big league hitters. The southpaw threw the pitch 51 times (29.8%), allowing only two balls in play while inducing a .000 BAA, .046 xBA and 68.4 Whiff% (!!!). The arsenal distribution was also beautiful post-promotion; Lúzardo basically threw four different pitches at least 20% of the time. None of the quartet posted an xBA higher than .236. I question whether Luzardo’s fastball/sinker will ever be dominant enough to lead to the type of overall production that mimics a fantasy first rounder in redraft formats, especially if he’s unable to ever consistently shake concerns about his durability. But even if the curveball and changeup fuel the strikeout viability, connecting the dots on full, healthy campaigns in the near future would create a floor/ceiling combination that would make Lúzardo one of the safest pitchers in the sport. Athletics Rank: 1st
Recently, Connor Kurcon and I embarked on a data-driven journey in search of finding the players who were most affected by the juiced ball in the big leagues last season. Focusing on a certain strand of wOBAcon and a subsequently created ‘Benefit Ball’, here are our findings.
7. Gavin Lux, 2B, LAD. Age: 22
It’s darn near impossible to poke holes at what Lux accomplished in the minor leagues last season. In 113 games and 458 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, Lux slashed an unconscious .347/.421/.607 with 26 home runs, 10 stolen bases, a double-digit walk rate and a strikeout rate less than twenty percent (166 wRC+). The performance was simply a punctuation mark after the 22-year-old officially broke out in 2018, and the infielder was consistently great for so long he forced the Dodgers’ hand and debuted in Los Angeles September 2nd. The subsequent big league numbers in 23 MLB regular games were modest, but Lux was named to the Dodgers’ NLDS roster and homered off Hunter Strickland in Game 1. The infielder is no-doubt a large part of LA’s immediate and distant future, though I’m sure manager Dave Roberts will find ways to rest the 22-year-old a little more than we’d like—especially as Lux continues to acclimate to big league pitching. The Dodgers don’t prioritize stolen bases, so I fear the infielder will never fully utilize a sprint speed that ranked in the 90th percentile amongst MLB players last season. And he obviously can’t be expected to mimic his MiLB slash numbers from last season as a big leaguer, but something like .280/.360/25 HR/10 SB should become the conservative norm for Lux once he fully acclimates to the best pitching in the world. That’s a top-5 second baseman in redrafts. Before the Mookie Betts trade, Roberts hinted Lux could see time “on the grass” in 2020. While those odds have certainly worsened since the Betts deal was officially announced, multiple positions of eligibility would really make the 22-year-old’s fantasy profile pop moving forward. Dodgers Rank: 1st
6. Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA. Age: 20
Did you know Kelenic was actually drafted by the Mets? You see, the Mets traded him to the Mariners for then 36-year-old Robinson Cano (0.8 fWAR in 2019) and reliever Edwin Diaz (0.0 fWAR in 2019). It was a win-now trade for the Mets, who finished eleven games behind the division-winning Braves last season. Kelenic is now the 7th-ranked prospect in all of baseball, dominating three different levels in route to a 152 wRC+ in his first full season as a professional. The 20-year-old is often hailed for his well-rounded skillset. ‘Balanced’ was the most common descriptor I heard regarding the outfielder in Cleveland at the Futures Game. There are evaluators who believe Kelenic will slow down once he finalizes his physical development; I’m hopeful his work ethic and makeup allow him to maintain his speed throughout the majority (or at least first half) of his big league career. One of my favorite contacts promises Kelenic will make his big league debut at some point in 2020; as a top prospect in a Mariners’ organization once again destined for the cellar of the AL West, I’ll believe it when I see it. I have a hunch the power will continue to tick-up as Kelenic grows closer to the age of his opposition, so a .280 BA/.350 OBP/30 HR/15 SB upside projection feels about right. Mariners Rank: 2nd
5. Luis Robert, OF, CHW. Age: 22
There is an unfinished article currently sitting in the drafts of the queue on Prospects365.com. Its title? The All-Sell Team of the 2019 Offseason. The list was headlined by Luis Robert. I never got around to finishing the article, but I completed the write-up on Robert. It basically reads like this: The upside here is obvious, and the ceiling is something like .300 BA/30 HR/30 SB if everything clicks. The talent is truly transcendent, and at some point, Robert will likely be very good big league hitter. But how long does it take to get there? And more importantly, what if Robert is only human in his first big league stint? What if the aggressive approach and below average ability to identify spin manifest themselves a bit when facing the best pitching in the entire world, and Robert finishes the season at .250 BA/.310 OBP/20 HR/20 SB? Solid defensive skills might mean the outfielder is still a multi-win real life player even with those moderate offensive statistics, but in the fantasy world, those numbers would Robert a mixture of 2019 Amed Rosario and Lorenzo Cain. Or 2020 Scott Kingery. They would also come as a surprise to uninitiated stat line scouters who won’t easily understand how Robert can be too talented to be burdened by minor league pitching, but too aggressive to ever truly thrive offensively against big league pitching with his uber-aggressive approach and suboptimal breaking ball recognition. And the numbers above are not even the worst-case scenario. What role do those hypothetical numbers play on a contending dynasty league team? How long would it take for Robert to regain the trade value he currently has in your deep keeper league? Granted, I’ve baked the perceived risk into my valuation of the 22-year-old and he’s still my 5th-ranked prospect; the ceiling is just that good. But I do fear Robert’s value is currently as high as it will be for the foreseeable future, and that presents somewhat of a problem (or an opportunity) if you’re currently holding him in a dynasty league. A 6-year, $50 million contract signed shortly after the New Year means the 22-year-old should be Chicago’s starting center fielder on Opening Day; he’ll easily be one of the most polarizing players in the fantasy world moving forward. If we look back on this write-up in a year and laugh maniacally, it’ll be because Robert’s elite hand-eye coordination simply overwhelmed even the best pitchers in the world. It also would mean the 22-year-old will likely be drafted as a top-20 player in redrafts next preseason. White Sox Rank: 1st
I recently completed my 2020 vision series, outlining the still-immense potential of Corbin Burnes. Earlier in the offseason, I also wrote about the unlucky Mitch Keller and the Lance Lynn-esque Adrian Houser. If you’re a fan of analytical deep dives, I promise these articles are for you.
4. MacKenzie Gore, SP, SD. Age: 21
Gore has potential to be the best left-handed starter in all of baseball. When you read that sentence in 2020, you imagine that must mean the 21-year-old can really spin it, posting Statcast numbers that makes R&D departments across the sport drool. But this is simply not true of Gore, who has well below average spin on both his fastball and curveball currently. Instead, the southpaw relies on extreme athleticism, unique mechanics and elite pitchability to overwhelm hitters. Gore pitched 101 innings in 2019 between the California and Texas League, posting a 1.69 ERA (2.77 FIP) while striking out a whopping 35.7% of the batters he faced (28.3 K-BB%). In an Age 20 season at those levels, it’s impossible to not consider those numbers deeply impressive. The left-hander’s entire arsenal (fastball, curveball, changeup, slider) all play-up thanks to superb command, a quality that should also allow the 21-year-old to avoid split concerns at the MLB level. In 2019, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Patrick Corbin were the two best left-handed pitchers in baseball according to fWAR. Throughout his prime, I firmly believe Gore will battle the likes of Blake Snell (and perhaps Jesús Lúzardo) to determine the gold standard amongst southpaws at the sport’s highest level. Padres Rank: 1st
3. Julio Rodriguez, OF, SEA. Age: 19
It’s more likely than not that Wander Franco will still be a prospect this time next year, but I fully expect Rodriguez to be nipping at his heels for the title of best prospect in baseball. The outfielder was unspeakably good last season between the South Atlantic and California leagues, slashing .326/.390/.540 with 12 home runs in 84 games and 367 plate appearances. Rodriguez posted an unsightly, combined 164 wRC+ in those leagues despite being four years younger than the average competition in the Sally and Cal League. I haven’t even arrived at the most impressive part yet: the 19-year-old compiled an unfathomable 40.0 Hard% in 2019. Let’s think about that for a minute. Of all the balls Rodriguez put into play last season, two out of every five were hit 95 mph or harder. At the big league level, a 40.0 Hard% last season exceeded that of Michael Conforto, Hunter Renfroe, Nomar Mazara, Yasiel Puig and hundreds of others (Rodriguez would have ranked inside the top-200 amongst all hitters in Hard Hit%). There will be seasons throughout Rodriguez’s big league career in which projection systems peg him for north of 40 home runs. The approach has been to all-fields thus far, and Rodriguez has freakish bat-to-ball skills. If these facts remain unchanged, the teenager should continue to hit for high averages without striking out too much. Sitting down for this last part? The teenager will reportedly attempt to be a factor on the base paths in 2020. Being able to bank on 5-10 steals per season at the big league level would simply be the icing on the cake for a player whose baseline could be .280 BA/30 HR annually throughout his prime. That’s an arousing outlook. Mariners Rank: 1st
ICYMI: I debated the definition of a ‘breakout’ prospect, then I discussed four prospects who could do exactly that during the 2020 season. Perhaps we see at least one of the included prospects in this portion of my list next season?
2. Jo Adell, OF, LAA. Age: 20
I would say it’s a shame Wander Franco exists because Adell deserves to be the top-overall prospect in baseball, but who am I kidding? Franco is awesome. Anyways, Adell is built like the last thing you see before you’re laying on your back with a facemask full of grass on a football field. Kyle Muller had the best pitching prospect body I saw in 2019. Adell had the best position playing prospect body I saw. On paper, the 20-year-old’s raw tools are just as explosive as Franco’s. And despite what the season-long numbers might tell you, Adell has unlocked more of his in-game power at this point of his development. The difference in the pair is the bat-to-ball skills. Bat control. Adell does more damage when he connects, but Franco connects more often while showing everything necessary to fully believe he’ll someday access plus-or-better power in-game. With the Angels destined to contend—at minimum—for an AL Wild Card spot in 2020, Adell will either break camp with the big league team or make his MLB debut shortly thereafter. I don’t share the same magnitude of concern with Adell as I do with Luis Robert, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the 20-year-old was fairly pedestrian from a fantasy standpoint throughout his rookie season as he adjusts to big league pitching and big league scouting reports. Any redrafter who pays the ADP price on Adell target cheap outfield depth in the homestretch of their draft. Don’t worry, all-star production is on its way in dynasty leagues sooner rather than later. With only 132 plate appearances of (middling) experience in Triple-A last season, the Angels will likely keep their prized outfielder in the Pacific Coast League until June-ish. Angels Rank: 1st
1. Wander Franco, SS, TB. Age: 19
It takes a whale of a prospect to rank higher than Jo Adell, but Franco is exactly that. Listen: there are decent wrists. There are quick wrists. Lightning quick wrists. And then there are Wander Franco’s wrists. Packed into a 5-foot-10, 190 lb. frame, Franco is a bat-to-ball god who just walked at a higher rate than he struck out at two different full season levels… at the tender age of 18. He’s never stepped onto the diamond and not immediately been the best player on the field, and after a solid season defensively at shortstop, it’s likely Franco’s worst tool is now his speed (I’ve been told it’s not as impressive as public perception). Perhaps, maybe, someday—possibly—we’ll get to witness the 19-year-old face anything that resembles on-field adversity, just to see how effectively he handles it. Because as of today, he’s in the process of putting together one of the best minor league careers in the history of baseball. The switch-hitting shortstop will likely open the 2020 season in Double-A; from there, assuming good health, he’ll simply bide his time until the Rays decide he’s ready to assume an everyday role at the big league level. Tampa Bay should compete step-for-step with the Yankees for the AL East Crown in 2020, so it shouldn’t automatically be assumed Franco is destined to have tangible impact in redraft leagues this season. Willy Adames was a multi-win shortstop last season thanks to great defense, so it may be 2021 before Franco officially breaks through as a big leaguer. There are also a few ‘doomsday’ scenarios where the entirety of the Rays’ middle infield crop hits their ceiling and Franco eventually transitions to third base or a corner outfield spot. Don’t worry: the bat and skillset will play anywhere. He could very well be a top-20 overall player in redraft leagues by his Age 22 season. Monitor the stolen base output (or lack thereof) versus Double-A and Triple-A batteries this season, and don’t forget to bask in the glory of rostering a future face of baseball on your dynasty league teams. Rays Rank: 1st
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