The Crystal Ball 2021 Top-100 Prospect List: The Near Misses

Written by: Ray Butler

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Let me explain.

A few days ago, I woke up with a content suggestion from one of my favorite VIP members. The gist of the message was simple: I should take a stab at projecting the top-100 prospects…. for next season.

I immediately fell in love with the idea, and I quickly realized I was going to spend wayyyyyy too much time on this project. That’s how I arrived at publishing a ‘near misses’ list for a prospect list—for next season—before I publish the actual top-100 itself.

I apologize if you find this article redundant, but I’m sticking to our temporary mission statement for the near future: if our work can simply ease your mind from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for ten seconds, it’s well worth our time and energy.

There are some things you should know about the 2020 minor league season. First, the MiLB regular season will almost certainly be shortened—perhaps drastically. It’s hard to quantify how much of an impact a delayed/shortened season will have on prospects throughout each level of the minor leagues, and evaluating throughout the next calendar year will be uncharted waters for the industry as a whole.

Next—and most importantly—there’s already been whispers that the delayed start to the minor league regular season (which will likely translate to a delayed start to short season leagues) might mean organizations simply choose to keep their young, prized prospects at their respective facility throughout the summer instead of assigning them to Rookie Ball and Short Season leagues. This would be HUGE news for the near-future outlook of prospects like Noelvi Marte, Jasson Dominguez and many others. A shortened season will also play a critical role in the volume of prospect graduations we witness in 2020, as well as the sample sizes we’ll receive from prospects who hope to explode onto the scene this season. I’ll try to highlight the players who this will most affect as I publish the full list.

Of course, there’s also been talk of delaying or canceling the 2020 MLB draft, which would subsequently eliminate any American born FYPD prospect you read about throughout the list (there are several).

I don’t say this to sound morbid, but money and fear often drive decision making. When you combine the two—the fear of losing money—I find it relatively easy to believe there will be meaningful baseball played this year, even if that means games in empty stadiums that don’t begin until July. Of course, that’s assuming the proper public safety precautions are taken between now and then, leading to the minimalization of the COVID-19 threat before the heat of the summer.

I tried my darnedest to utilize as much common sense as possible as I created this projection list, all while also attempting to contextualize the infinite moving parts worth considering when evaluating the upcoming, shortened minor league season. It’s honestly a mess to think about, but I gave it my best shot.

Here are the prospects I project to narrowly miss my top-100…. next season.

Seth Beer, 1B/OF, ARI

Beer hits the ball hard consistently, but the approach is pull-heavy to the extent the .328 BABIP—as unmighty as it may sound—won’t be sustainable moving forward. That fact, paired with the defensive questions and where he falls on Arizona’s organizational depth chart, keeps Beer (narrowly) off my 2021 top-100. 2020 Rank: 97th

Michael Busch, 1B/2B/OF, LAD

In the big picture, Busch is a player I’ll win OBP leagues with circa 2025. In the vacuum of a shortened 2020 season, I’m not sure his numbers will be quite eye-popping enough for an ascension into the top-100. I’ll continue to gobble-up those non-premium shares though. 2020 Rank: 131st

Bobby Dalbec, INF, BOS

I’m a huge fan of the gains Dalbec made in 2019, especially in the contact department. It’s possible a 162-game regular season would mean the infielder graduates from prospect lists this season; with a shortened season likely, Dalbec and his OBP-league prowess are likely to graduate before midseason 2021. 2020 Rank: 98th

Ezequiel Duran, 2B, NYY

A full season debut means we’re (likely?) about to receive our largest sample on Duran to date. The power output means an ascension is likely; the swing-and-miss and second base only profile means Duran will narrowly miss the top-100 a year from now. 2020 Rank: 167th

Tyler Freeman, INF, CLE

I continue to be underwhelmed with how Freeman’s profile—which is one of an above average real life player—will translate to the fantasy world. I recently featured the infielder in a P365 prospect team collaboration on the most overrated prospects in baseball. 2020 Rank: 104th

Deivi Garcia, SP/RP, NYY

Garcia seems like a strong candidate to make his MLB debut in 2020, experience the common struggles of rookie pitchers at baseball’s highest level, maintain prospect eligibility heading into 2021 and be stuck in active player/prospect purgatory on lists this time next year. 2020 Rank: 78th

Josiah Gray, SP, LAD

In many (most?) other organizations, we’d be touting Gray as a pitching prospect who has a chance to hold a bit of redraft value in 2020. As a member of the Dodgers, it feels inevitable—once the decision makers within LA’s front office deems him ready for a big league debut—the athletic right-hander is destined to suffer the same, temporary fate as Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. And since Gray has the worst (and least expansive) secondary stuff amongst this trio, it becomes fairly easy to envision him narrowly missing the top-100 again next season. 2020 Rank: 109th

Hudson Head, OF, SD

The way over slot third rounder from last summer’s draft has some things working in his favor to make next season’s top-100 that other teenage hitters don’t (a likely full season debut in a shortened season being the most important), but Head strikes me as a bit too much of a slow-burning developer—especially from a hit tool and power standpoint—to confidently project him into my 2021 top-100. It’s coming at some point though. 2020 Rank: 151st

Kody Hoese, 3B, LAD

I’ve remained steadfast in ranking Michael Busch over Hoese since the Dodgers drafted the pair last summer. If that evaluation looks silly a year from now, it’s likely the latter will be a top-100 prospect; I’m just yet to see the upside that’s necessary to land Hoese amongst the best prospects in the sport. 2020 Rank: 138th

Josh Jung, 3B, TEX

One of two things will happen with Jung in 2020, assuming there’s a minor league season. He’ll either continue his all-fields approach, leading to terrific on base skills but middling power output, or we’ll begin to see an altered swing approach, which means an increased power output with a decreased AVG and OBP. I lean toward either outcome leading to Jung narrowly missing next season’s top-100. 2020 Rank: 132nd

Jared Kelley, SP, C/O 2020*

Prep right-hander, yadda yadda yadda yadda. Kelley’s fastball already reaches into the upper-90s, with an advanced changeup and a developing breaking ball to boot. High school baseball seasons are currently in major flux, but Kelley will likely battle with Mick Abel and Nick Bitsko as the top prep arm selected in the 2020 Draft… whenever it happens. 2020 Rank: Not Available 

Max Meyer, SP, C/O 2020*

Meyer has a few things working against him, most notably his frame (6-foot, 170 lbs.) and track record of being a power reliever. He officially moved into the University of Minnesota’s starting rotation this season, though, and the results were deeply impressive both statistically and to eyewitness evaluators. I assume the shortened college season will hurt the right-hander’s draft stock a bit compared to others, but the fantasy ceiling here is quite high. It’s worth noting opinions are still extremely split within the industry concerning Meyer’s future role. 2020 Rank: Not Available

Andy Pages, OF, LAD

The offensive tools are certainly present for Pages (pronounced Pah-hez) to someday be a big time fantasy prospect, but I need to see how he adjusts to full season spin with his max-effort swing in the Midwest League this summer before fully-committing to moving him inside my top-100 next preseason. For many reasons, the outfielder may eventually be known as one of the more polarizing prospects in the sport. 2020 Rank: 147th

Isaac Paredes, 3B, DET

Even if you’re pot-committed on Paredes remaining at the hot corner throughout the majority of his big league career—which is far from a consensus—you also need to believe he’ll consistently hit for a high average and a lot of power to rank him inside the top-100. With a pull-heavy approach and a below average Hard Hit rate last season, the offensive upside isn’t quite high enough for the third baseman to move into the preseason top-100 for what should be his final season as a prospect. 2020 Rank: 112th

Oswald Peraza, SS, NYY

My love of the underrated Peraza is well documented at this point (here and here). There’s definitely a chance the shortstop climbs all the way into the top-100 before the end of the 2020 regular season, but a shortened campaign makes it more likely he doesn’t officially explode until next season. 2020 Rank: VIP

Alejandro Pie, INF, TB

Honest admission: FanGraphs ranking Pie 14th amongst Rays prospects (ahead of Ronaldo Hernandez and J.J. Goss amongst others) was the confirmation bias I needed after ranking the teenager aggressively last midseason and this preseason. Pie will be stateside this summer, but I assume there’s at least a decent chance he stays and trains at a Rays facility instead of being assigned to the Gulf Coast League. Subsequently, it may be 2021 before Pie begins to get his footing on or near top-100 lists. 2020 Rank: 172nd

Alexfri Planez, OF, CLE

Planez is one of my breakout prospects for the 2020 season, yet I project him to ‘just miss’ my top-100 list for 2021? HOW SWAY? Even in the breakout article, I outlined Planez’s current issues with his aggressive approach and pitch recognition. While I strongly feel as though the entirety of the prospect world will know the outfielder’s name by the end of 2020, the pitching in the NYPL (easily the most advanced Planez has seen) in a shortened season will suppress the on base numbers just enough to keep Planez off my 2021 top-100. 2020 Rank: 157th

Quinn Priester, SP, PIT

In the Gulf Coast League post draft, Priester (in a 32.2 IP sample) showed an affinity for missing bats while also inducing an elite ground ball rate (55.4%). Assuming he debuts in the South Atlantic League this summer, a repeat performance will leave him knocking on the door of the top-100 next preseason. 2020 Rank: 196th

Gabriel Rodriguez, 3B, CLE

Rodriguez is another prospect who will likely fall into the unfortunate category of a really minute sample size in 2020. The New York Penn League will be a fantastic test for the teenager, and I assume I’ll still be ‘in’ on the third baseman regardless of the story the stats from this summer tells. I just don’t think we’ll see a large enough sample this season to supplant Rodriguez over the upper-echelon of 2020 draftees. 2020 Rank: 129th

Luis Rodriguez, OF, LAD

A lack of information and reports regarding Rodriguez has left prospectors no choice but to rank the outfielder conservatively this preseason. Regardless of altered season length, I’m willing to bet Rodriguez’s stateside debut means he rises on prospect lists between now and Opening Day 2021. 2020 Rank: 194th

Yerry Rodriguez, SP, TEX

If Rodriguez can make it through 2020 with his elbow fully intact, he’ll likely be a top-100 prospect this time next year. Unfortunately, the *if* is currently worrisome enough to keep him on the outside looking in a calendar year ahead of publishing time. 2020 Rank: 163rd

Johan Rojas, OF, PHI

I’m guessing Rojas will be one of the more surprising names in the ‘just missed’ portion, but the prospect world is about to learn all about the outfielder once the South Atlantic League begins this summer. Factor in the fact Rojas won’t have to acclimate to the early-season cold weather in Lakewood, and he could be a big-riser regardless of sample this season. 2020 Rank: 193rd

Joe Ryan, SP, TB

Ryan’s newly-constructed fastball/slider combination and a full, 162-game regular season would mean he has a decent chance to graduate from prospect lists prior to next season, despite the Rays’ big league pitching depth. With a shortened season on the horizon, Ryan will likely thrive in Double-A and Triple-A while biding his time for a big league debut. 2020 Rank: 118th

Ethan Small, SP, MIL

Small’s inevitable, impending success versus low minors hitters will serve as the catalyst as he ascends prospect lists this summer. But I’m equally intrigued by Small adding a slider to his arsenal; if the pitch can become a stronghold in the southpaw’s usage, this profile may officially pop. 2020 Rank: VIP

Tahnaj Thomas, SP, PIT

The variance between Thomas’ floor and ceiling means he could flirt with top-75 prospect status a year from now. It could also mean even the ‘just missed’ portion of dart throw projection was too aggressive, despite the right-hander likely debuting in full season ball in 2020. 2020 Rank: 195th

Mark Vientos, 3B, NYM

Make no mistake, Vientos will certainly recoup some of his stock in 2020. But playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with an uber-aggressive approach and defensive question marks means the infielder will still be on the outside looking in of the top-100 a year from now. 2020 Rank: 149th

Top-100 coming soon…..

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Featured image courtesy of photographer Robert M. Pimpsner and RMP Sports Media




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