Ray Butler’s 2021 Top 200 Prospects: #1-50

Written by: Ray Butler

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For prior editions of this list, click on these links: #51-100, #101-150, #151-200.

50. Emerson Hancock, RHP, SEA. Age: 21

PRE-DRAFT REPORT: Hancock epitomizes the phrase ‘prototypical college pitcher’. There’s an optimal frame (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.), plenty of stuff (you can make a case for three above-average-or-better pitches), solid command and elite pitchability that was evident in each of the right-hander’s four starts this spring. After allowing nine hits and six earned runs in just four innings in Georgia’s Opening Day game versus Richmond, Hancock settled in nicely throughout his final three starts: 20 IP, 13 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 30 K (0.75 WHIP, 1.80 ERA); even against the Spiders, scouts came away impressed with the crispness of the right-hander’s stuff. Hancock was sidelined at times last season due to arm soreness, which also kept him away from competition throughout last summer. He showed no lingering signs of ailment this winter and spring prior to the collegiate season being canceled. While Hancock doesn’t quite possess the otherworldly two-pitch combination of Asa Lacy (fastball/slider), the former’s holistic arsenal—paired with worry-free mechanics and the prospect of above-average-or-better command as a professional—makes him the easy choice as 2nd-ranked pitching prospect in this draft class. As the industry as a whole continues to dive-in and become more comfortable with this draft class, don’t be surprised if Hancock dips to the Max Meyer/Mick Abel/Garrett Crochet tier of pitchers before next offseason. The driving force behind that hypothetical drop would be further dissection of an arsenal in which no pitch posted a swinging strike rate higher than 13.0% in a shortened 2020 campaign. ADD: The margin between Hancock and George Kirby is razor thin. The Mariners possess one of the more underrated R&D departments in the sport, so I’m hopeful Hancock is able to connect the dots on one of the more polished profiles amongst pitching prospects on this entire list. The number of missed bats throughout the 2021 season should be an early tell here.

49. Oneil Cruz, SS, PIT. Age: 22

It has certainly been an, uh, interesting offseason for Cruz. After initial reports suggested the worst, it appears the 22-year-old may avoid criminal charges for his role in a traffic accident in the Dominican Republic in September. As you know, Cruz might be the single most unique prospect on this list. Heck, will we ever write-up another 6-foot-7 shortstop on the cusp of becoming an MLB player? Cruz’s 80-grade raw power and surprise athleticism relative to frame form a foundation of what could become a special player, but we’ll need to make sure the long levers don’t lead to a strikeout rate north of 30% versus big league pitchers. Barring any news from the DR and assuming good health, Cruz should make his debut in Pittsburgh sometime in 2021. NOTE: Cruz has received some work in center field during Spring Training, which is an interesting wrinkle regarding how the Pirates view the 22-year-old moving forward. Hypothetical defensive versatility would help Cruz find a role at the big league level sooner rather than later.

48. Kristian Robinson, OF, ARI. Age: 20

Robinson had an interesting summer and fall despite the minor league season being canceled. The outfielder wasn’t originally added to the Diamondbacks’ alternate site roster due to virus-related traveling restrictions (I assume Robinson was home in the Bahamas), but it’s the next chapter worth mentioning here. After finally arriving to camp in August, Robinson reportedly struggled mightily against spin, to the point scouts considered him a defeated player who was in need of a reset. The issues were so prevalent that some evaluators now believe the 20-year-old’s hit tool may be on the outside-looking-in to ever reach league average. When you add that to the fact those same evaluators are also worried Robinson might have lost a step on the basepaths, and we’ve arrived at a bit of a danger zone heading into 2021. The power is still noise complaint loud, and no one is questioning the fact the ceiling is still ‘edibles mixed with Xanax’ high. But based on the latest information we’ve received, we have no choice but to dock Robinson a bit thanks to a floor that’s lower than it was perceived a year ago.

47. Tarik Skubal, LHP, DET. Age: 24

Skubal was another inclusion on my ‘All Buy Team’ of the 2020-2021 offseason. In the vacuum of the 2020 sprint season alone—whether evaluating surface numbers or predictive stats—it’s hard to make a case that Casey Mize should be ranked more favorably on this list than the southpaw. That changes when you consider track record and arsenal depth, but Skubal is due for some positive regression in 2021 nonetheless. It’s not a scorching hot take based on his early ADP, but I’ll wager the 24-year-old is a top-300 redraft player in 2021 as long as he plays the majority of the season in Detroit instead of Toledo.

46. Jasson Dominguez, OF, NYY. Age: 18

What an interesting year for this profile. Dominguez was the Aaron Donald of baseball. Then he wasn’t. Then he was again! Then he wasn’t. Now that the dust has settled (or has it?), I’m fairly certain of two things: one, the 18-year-old possesses some of the most precipitous bat speed of any prospect on this list. Two, I don’t really see a path in which the outfielder ever plays with the 70-grade speed he was once labeled with. Can Dominguez still be a really good player? Despite only being 18-years-old and still having not played in an official minor league game, the answer remains a resounding ‘yes’. Is he the next coming of Mike Trout? A player destined to become a face of the game? I wasn’t overly confident a year ago, and I’m far less confident now than I was then.

45. Matt Manning, RHP, DET. Age: 23

Both Manning and fellow pitching prospect Alex Faedo were shut down in August with forearm strains; the latter has since undergone Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, Manning appears to have avoided the worst, and he declared himself back to 100% in late October. The announcement of Manning’s shut down came ten days after Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal were promoted to Detroit, but the 23-year-old’s forearm strain meant he’d have to wait until 2021 to finally take the mound at Comerica Park. People who have seen Manning more than I have remain concerned about a lack of a viable third pitch and the ability of big league hitters to see the curveball out of his hand. The fact Manning is so close to the big leagues and still has obvious areas of needed refinement makes me a bit queasy, but SP3 potential remains intact.

44. Spencer Howard, RHP, PHI. Age: 24

Another pitcher on this list whose value has plummeted following a stale MLB debut. The 24-year-old pitched through shoulder soreness and blisters at various times during the sprint season, so heavily weighing the 24.1 IP sample would be quite unwise. The shoulder ailments continue to linger, which is far more worrisome than pondering whether Howard has the stuff to maneuver his way thru big league batting orders. He does, and I’m personally expecting a notable step forward in 2021 assuming the right-hander is able to stay healthy. Regardless of his role on Opening Day, t’s safe to assume the Phillies will need the right-hander to log important innings at the big league level this season.

43. Nate Pearson, RHP, TOR. Age: 24

Much like Casey Mize, you really have to squint and tilt your head a certain way to find things Pearson did well on the mound during the 2020 sprint season. He didn’t command his arsenal well. He didn’t miss enough bats with a fastball/slider combination he threw 86.7% of the time. Then—of course—he missed time with a flexor strain in his right elbow. These issues don’t necessarily point towards eternal damnation for the 24-year-old, but it certainly gives us pause as we evaluate him both in dynasty leagues and in redrafts leading up to the 2021 regular season. I wouldn’t mind seeing the right-hander throw his changeup more moving forward, but that’s a secondary desire compared to the hope he commands his repertoire better in the near and distant future. The Blue Jays appear ready to contend now, so it’s doubtful they hand the ball to Pearson every fifth day if it’s adverse to the success of the team. I continue to be wary of this profile; in my eyes, the arsenal is a bit overrated and the frame will continue to be frustratingly high-maintenance throughout his career. Speaking to the latter point, a recent groin strain means Pearson could be temporarily omitted from Toronto’s rotation to open the 2021 regular season

42. DL Hall, LHP, BAL. Age: 22

It blows my mind that Hall’s prospect stock and fantasy value is still partially suppressed by a walk rate as a 20-year-old in High-A, especially since it’s been highly publicized the southpaw was asked to tinker with his pitch mix and usage while in the Carolina League. This is a premium left-handed arm with sublime fastball velocity, advanced offspeed and immense pitchability. Even if the control and command finalize a notch below average—a notion I’m not sold on based on reports from the alternate site—Hall has multiple routes to becoming an above average big league starting pitcher. Don’t sleep on the possibility of an MLB debut down the homestretch of 2021.

41. Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B, STL. Age: 20

I was more interested about the offensive development, but org contacts I talked to this offseason regarding Gorman were quick to point out his improvements defensively at third base at the alternate site this summer. If you’d like to over-penalize Gorman for ‘only’ posting a 117 wRC+ in the Florida State League as a 19-year-old, be my guest. I won’t. From a fantasy standpoint, this profile could eventually look fairly similar to that of Matt Chapman, who—disregarding his injury-plagued sprint season—has quickly become a reliable power source with a middling batting average and double digit walk rate. That plays regardless of fantasy format. NOTE: Gorman has been receiving reps at second base defensively since the start of Spring Training. This would be an ultra-intriguing move for a power-first prospect who was once perceived as prime candidate to eventually move to first base defensively. With modern day shifts, I do believe a transition to the cornerstone—at least in a part time fashion—is possible for Gorman. If this transition sticks, it could potentially accelerate the 20-year-old’s ETA by a few months or so.

40. Luis Patiño, RHP, TB. Age: 21

What a fun write-up. As you know, Patiño was recently traded from the Padres to the Rays in the Blake Snell deal. I tweeted it at the time, but it’s worth restating here: By doing the deal, Tampa Bay may have saved Patiño’s outlook in dynasty leagues. As a 20-year-old, the right-hander debuted as a reliever in the Padres’ bullpen during the sprint season; the outcomes were interesting to say the least. Featuring a three pitch arsenal (four-seam, slider, changeup), Patiño struggled with command and suppressing home runs, finishing his first stint as a Major Leaguer with a 16.5 BB% and 12.5% HR/FB. But while it was by every definition a small sample (I’m still ranking him on this list), the disparity between the right-hander’s BAA (.257) and xBA (.191) and ERA (5.19) and xERA (4.15) point to a pitcher who fell victim to bad luck. I concede the command (or lack thereof) is an issue that needs refinement, but a look under the hood points to brighter days ahead. There had been whispers that the Padres were contemplating moving Patiño to the bullpen for good, which would have largely destroyed his value in the dynasty world. His potential role with the Rays hasn’t been disclosed yet, so we’ll be keeping our eyes on that leading up to Spring Training. One more thing before we move on: I don’t agree with how the Padres asked Patiño to attack hitters. With an average fastball velocity of 96.7 MPH and above average vertical movement, the right-hander threw the majority of his heaters in the bottom quadrants of the zone. I can assure you the attack plan will be different in Tampa Bay.

39. Jose Barrero, SS, CIN. Age: 22

Barrero was featured on my ‘All Buy Team’ of the 2020-2021 season, and with good reason. We probably didn’t need hindsight to realize the 22-year-old debuting at the big league level before seeing pitching above High-A was going to be a monumental challenge, and the subsequent statistical outcome certainly speaks to that. Barrero has since dipped on many industry lists, but I’m holding steady with my valuation. He will likely begin the 2021 season in Double-A or Triple-A, which will allow him to gain invaluable at-bats against advanced pitching prior to officially reaching the top level of the sport. I’m confident that patient dynasty players will be rewarded here, and that’s evident by Barrero’s ranking on this list.

38. Jazz Chisholm, SS, MIA. Age: 23

Another prospect whose current value is a bit lower than it should be due to a subpar first stint in the big leagues. Chisholm’s first 62 MLB plate appearances included the typical Jazz experience: power, speed, smooth defense at shortstop and contact issues. It’s the epitome of high variance, but the potential will keep us coming back time and time again. The range of outcomes here continue to span from ‘borderline face of the game with an electric personality’ to ‘I really wish he wasn’t a Quad-A guy, he’s so fun’. It takes a special type of dynasty player to live with those peaks and valleys, and it makes the bullseyes all the more special.

37. Asa Lacy, LHP, KC. Age: 21

You already know how good Lacy’s stuff is, since I reminded you as often as I could prior to last summer’s MLB Draft. What you might not know is the Royals have already quieted some of the violence in the southpaw’s mechanics, leading even his biggest detractors to admitting they liked what they saw. If you’ve been reading my work for any amount of time, you know I’m a sucker for superb fastballs that lay the groundwork for a pitcher’s profile. Lacy exemplifies this notion, and his new mechanics should help put any potential injury concerns to bed. Let’s hope a cleaner delivery doesn’t come at the expense of the 21-year-old’s eye-opening data.

36. Zac Veen, OF, COL. Age: 19

Veen is indisputably one of the best pure hitters from the 2020 draft class. At this point, an eventual 50-hit, 55-raw power outcome would be relatively disappointing when you evaluate his present skillset. Luckily, it appears as though the most likely outcome is a 55-hit, 70-raw power output that chips in a handful of stolen bases per season (some outlets are bullish on Veen’s speed, but I believe he benefits from being a long strider and likely won’t impact the stolen base category much once he reaches the big leagues). The teenager likely transitions to a corner outfield spot defensively, but the offensive skillset will play fine regardless of position. If you’re a dreamer, .270 BA/30 HR/5 SB with a healthy OBP from right field isn’t even the 90th percentile outcome here. Let’s hope the Rockies don’t screw this up.

35. Edward Cabrera, RHP, MIA. Age: 22

A year from now, I may wish I had flip-flopped Cabrera and Sixto Sánchez on this list. The Marlins have done a fantastic job with the 22-year-old, who now sports three pitches that flash above average with command that has improved immensely throughout the past two seasons. Not only does Cabrera miss bats, but a lot of the contact he surrenders is beat into the ground. Had the 2020 season been 162 games, I have little doubt the right-hander would have debuted in Miami at some point last summer. As it stands, assuming health, Cabrera should pair with Sánchez to form one of the more exciting, young starting pitching combos in the big leagues at some point in 2021. NOTE: Cabrera was bumped down one spot on this list after it was revealed he was battling a nerve issue in his throwing arm during the beginning stages of Spring Training. This is why we it’s difficult to assume good health for any pitching prospect. I still think the right-hander will play a role in the Marlins’ rotation at some point in 2021, though it’s obviously far more uncertain now than it was before the start of Spring Training.

34. Michael Kopech, RHP, CHW. Age: 24

Here’s what we know: Kopech has never thrown more than 140.2 IP in a single professional season. After he debuted in Chicago in 2018, the fastball displayed its elite characteristics (fantastic raw spin, above average vertical and horizontal movement) but was beat around thanks to a control-over-command approach. The slider wasn’t thrown enough (16.4% usage), but its outcomes were strong enough to serve as an adequate foundation for a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The rest of this outlook is ominously cloudy. As you know, Kopech missed the entirety of the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2018. Then, seemingly healthy once again, the right-hander opted out of the 2020 season. It’s hard to invest a non-free draft pick in redrafts or a premium pick in dynasty leagues on Kopech with so much unknown dwelling over this outlook, but as it stands now, the White Sox will need the best version of the 24-year-old at some point during the 2021 season. Whatever your stance, be sure to take a likely limited workload into account when pondering whether to draft Kopech prior to Opening Day. NOTE: It now appears the White Sox will likely utilize Kopech more often from the bullpen than in the rotation in 2021. This news should not be overly surprising, though it will limit his upside in fantasy leagues for the upcoming season. I suspect he’ll be transitioned back to the rotation prior to the 2022 season.

33. Casey Mize, RHP, DET. Age: 23

What exactly did Casey Mize do well in 2020? In the telephone booth of on-field performance, where exactly is the silver lining of Mize’s surface or peripheral data versus big league hitters during the sprint season? To not be absolutely terrified of drafting the right-hander leading up to 2021, you’re basically wagering his first taste of MLB competition was equivalent to that of a high-variance position player who takes his lumps because he couldn’t stop swinging at spin out of the zone. Mize has a deep arsenal, he knows how to pitch and he’s polished for a pitcher who was drafted in 2018. And sure, based on the amateur and minor league track record, one should expect 9.8 BB% to take a step in the right direction soon. However, we simply need to be able to believe he can maneuver his way through an MLB batting order multiple times per outing. We didn’t see that consistently during the sprint season. I fully understand Mize is still in the first steps of his thousand-mile MLB journey, but I’m not sure how you can’t be a bit apprehensive when evaluating the right-hander for the 2021 season and beyond. I’ll gladly let someone else grab him this draft season and hope I regret it before the summer’s over.

32. Jordan Groshans, 3B, TOR. Age: 21

While no one would come right out and say it, I got the sense Groshans looked a bit like a player who missed a chunk of the 2019 season due to injury while at the alternate site this summer. Some productive struggle versus the most advanced pitching he’s ever faced. Some growing pains defensively. None of this is bad, especially if the 21-year-old performs like he should against more age-appropriate opposition in 2021. If Vlad Guerrero Jr. is able to recapture the hot corner in Toronto, I assume it will only last long enough for Groshans to become fully ready for the big leagues.

31. Royce Lewis, SS, MIN. Age: 21

Lewis is only 21 years old despite the fact it feels as though I’ve been ranking him for a decade now. The fatigue here is palpable, but the talent and potential is still as evident as ever. The Twins were very hush-hush about goings on at the alternate site and instructs, so we’re not overly sure how his swing mechanics have progressed since Spring Training in 2020. Basing this take on how he looked the last time we saw him, there’s more boom-or-bust than we’d like to see from a prospect ranked so highly. This high, you’re almost banking on the makeup eventually propelling the skillset to its lofty potential. 2021 will undoubtedly be a crucial year for Lewis’ standing in the dynasty world, and I feel like we’ll know by Opening Day which way the arrow is pointing. Oh, and don’t entirely discount the notion of him eventually moving to center field defensively. Oof, oof, oof. Lewis will miss the entirety of the 2021 season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. In a way, that does give us an answer as to which way the arrow is pointing on this profile, albeit not in the way we expected/hoped. The 21-year-old ranked 16th on the edition of this list sent to VIP members on New Year’s Day, and it’s quite possible 31st is now too bullish of a ranking. Get well soon, Royce.

30. Brandon Marsh, OF/1B, LAA. Age: 23

As a fantasy player, the prospect of Marsh moving to first base is endlessly intriguing. Fantastic on base skills and above average speed at a thin position? Count me in. Unfortunately, thanks to the 23-year-old’s oozing athleticism, the move makes very little sense from a real-life perspective. As is everyone, I’m skeptical we actually ever see Marsh in the dirt at the big league level. Thankfully, this is currently one of my favorite profiles in the prospect world regardless of defensive destination; a decade from now, we may look back and laugh at the fact Jo Adell ranked much higher than Marsh on industry lists. NOTE: Marsh’s Spring Training has been a bit delayed due to a minor arm issue, but it’s not expected to restrict him from development and repetitions once the minor league season begins.

29. Jeter Downs, IF, BOS. Age: 22

I haven’t seen this published elsewhere, so I’ll repeat myself here: be careful when you’re projecting a future triple slash for Jeter Downs. The last time the 22-year-old faced opposing pitching (pre-Mookie Betts trade), he was perhaps the Pulled Fly Ball gawd amongst position playing prospects. It’s a fantastic (and increasingly popular) way to unlock the extent of one’s power, but it doesn’t exactly translate with the on base numbers a player’s bat-to-ball skills and approach say he emit. Think José Ramirez, who I’ve Lite comped Downs to in the past. Downs ETA solely depends on how much Boston wants to suppress his service time; I’m hopeful he’s a big leaguer by July 4th.

28. Logan Gilbert, RHP, SEA. Age: 23

Even when he’s not at his best, Gilbert attacks hitters with four average pitches and average command, all being employed from a 6-foot-6 frame with elite extension. When everything’s clicking, the arsenal evolves into three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) that are at least above average, thrown with above average command. There’s such a good floor here, but I think Gilbert’s ceiling could ascend to a new level when begins to consistently locate his fastball (92-95 T97) at the top of the zone in plus counts, which would indirectly improve the curveball as well. The Mariners are adding relievers like an organization that feels like its on the cusp of contention, so I assume we’ll see Gilbert sometime within the first two months of the 2021 big league regular season.

27. Max Meyer, RHP, MIA. Age: 22

Marlins talent. Marlins talent everywhere. This is the first time I’ve ever ranked Max Meyer ahead of Asa Lacy in any of my work, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any new issue or miscalculation regarding Lacy. Instead, I simply underrated Meyer during the 2020 draft cycle. Any concern about the height has been mitigated thanks to supreme athleticism and clean mechanics. Once you move past the fact he doesn’t possess the body of a prototypical pitcher, Meyer’s fastball/slider combination is one of the best duos amongst any pitching prospect on this list. He should move quickly through the minors, and a Meyer/Sixto Sánchez/Edward Cabrera trio could someday hold its own versus any rotation threesome in the big leagues.

26. Randy Arozarena, OF, TB. Age: 26

There’s not much I can say in this space that you haven’t already heard regarding Arozarena this offseason. If you’re banking on receiving the same production the outfielder emitted during the 2020 postseason in 2021 and beyond, you’re in for a tragic outcome. The 26-year-old strikes me as a player who will continue to be streaky as an everyday outfielder for Tampa Bay. Loose launch angles seem to confirm that notion. He’ll go on spurts in which it appears he’s the best baseball player on planet earth; he’ll also have stints that make you wonder whether he should be optioned to Triple-A. The improvement in Max Exit Velocity means he’s evolved from the player who once struggled to carve a normal role in the big leagues, but he’s also not the player who’s currently sporting a 58.61 ADP on NFBC.

25. Nick Gonzales, 2B, PIT. Age: 21

PRE-DRAFT REPORT: Thanks to our Ian Smith’s deep dive on Gonzales last month, there’s not too much to add here. I will say the second baseman’s makeup has been compared to that of Royce Lewis. Prospect Live’s Matt Thompson is correct when he says you ‘can’t put those types of qualities in a spreadsheet’, but it does allow us to feel fairly confident Gonzales will always get the most of his skillset. If you’ve done much reading on the 21-year-old, you know we’re not allowed to finalize this evaluation without mentioning the similarities between Gonzales and Keston Hiura. The latter has massively outperformed his base stealing projections despite being an average runner; Gonzales will likely need to do the same to become a top-50 player in redraft leagues, which Hiura has accomplished leading up to the 2020 season. ADD: Becoming part of the Pirates organization is no longer the sentence to inevitable disappointment it was once perceived to be.

24. Triston Casas, 1B, BOS. Age: 21

Every time I think about Casas, I remember the late, great John Calvagno impersonating the first baseman’s squatty batting stance at the beginning of the 2019 season. Since then, Casas has ascended to the upper-echelon of first base prospects, which just so happened to coincide with a batting stance that suddenly became more upright. The 21-year-old was fantastic at the alternate site this summer, and Boston’s emerging analytics department will only serve to help the first baseman as he nears the big leagues. I don’t throw around the phrase ’40 home run potential’ haphazardly, but Casas could reach that number with solid on base skills at the peak of his MLB career.

23. JJ Bleday, OF, MIA. Age: 23

Bleday impressed the Marlins so much at the alternate site that some within the organization wonder if he’ll receive a legitimate chance to impact the big league roster early in 2021. Like so many others on this list, Bleday finds himself in a weird spot because he’s already 23-years-old and has only accrued 38 games worth of competitive stats in his minor league career. Most organizations are contesting data from the alternate site and instructs outweigh game experience, though there’s room for both facets when evaluating MLB readiness. Don’t let Bleday’s unspectacular 151 plate appearance sample from the Florida State League in 2019 following a grueling college season fool you; he’s one of the best pure hitters on this list.

22. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, BAL. Age: 21

A hot take: based on the data we’ve received since Spring 2020, there’s a chance Rodriguez is already the best pitching prospect in the sport, and the industry (myself included) simply doesn’t have the stones to rank him accordingly. My favorite part of this profile is we don’t have to project fastball development in order for the 21-year-old to become an impact big league starting pitcher; the 70-grade offering would already stack amongst the best heaters at the top level of the sport. With Rodriguez’s offspeed continuing to evolve within a player development system that is criminally underrated among most dynasty players, it’s only a matter of time before the right-hander officially takes the reins of the MacKenzie Gores, Sixto Sánchezes and Ian Andersons of the pitching prospect world.

21. Austin Martin, IF/OF, TOR. Age: 21

I assume this ranking will be a bit low compared to other industry lists, so allow me to explain my reasoning here. The main topic of debate regarding the 21-year-old is his eventual defensive home. His biggest proponents think he has a decent chance to stick up the middle, but the growing majority of evaluators tend to believe he’ll eventually shift to the hot corner or even left field. That would be a fairly large issue, because the batted ball data doesn’t exactly reek of a hitter who will thrive offensively while playing a defensive position that demands offensive firepower in the modern era. This lowers the real life floor a bit, and I’m not completely sold on the notion of Martin’s bat completely overshadowing this conundrum. I don’t mind being in ‘wait and see’ mode here, even if means I won’t be drafting the 21-year-old in any upcoming First Year Player Drafts.

20. Sixto Sánchez, RHP, MIA. Age: 22

I assume this ranking will come off as a bit low compared to other industry lists, but I’m willing to live with it. There’s a current misconception that Sánchez will be a plug-and-play pitcher in redraft leagues who will pile up strikeouts and assuredly be ready to take the ball every fifth day throughout the course of a 162-game season. The issue with those assumptions is the track record. Are the various ailments that plagued the right-hander throughout the minor leagues now a thing of the past? A distant memory? We can certainly hope so, but I would also contest it’s unwise to simply assume that’s the case. Secondly, despite thoroughly impressing in his first sting as a big league pitcher, the 22-year-old wasn’t exactly a strikeout machine during the 2020 sprint season (20.9 K%, 7.62 K/9). Maybe this changes if Sánchez ditches a mediocre sinker and throws his four-seam more, but then you run the risk of the plus-or-better changeup becoming less effective. Don’t get me wrong; assuming good health, the right-hander is going to be a very good MLB pitcher for a very long term. However, I strongly believe this profile will eventually be more commonly known as a pitchability/finesse profile rather than the overpowering arm he’s currently perceived as. NOTE: Minor Visa issues and a false positive COVID test delayed the start of Sánchez’s spring, so don’t be surprised if his 2021 debut is delayed by a week or two as the Marlins slot him fifth in their Opening Day rotation.

19. Ian Anderson, RHP, ATL. Age: 22

At the beginning of the analytical era in baseball, raw spin rate was widely considered the special sauce of the pitching Big Mac. Among others, Anderson proves that—depending on the circumstance—raw spin rate is more aptly comparable to the napkin you use to wipe your face and hands after eating the Big Mac. The right-hander’s fastball spin rate (9th percentile) and curveball spin rate (6th percentile) are both quite poor, but an over-the-top arm slot and solid spin efficiency creates above average fastball vMOV (.180 xBA in 2020) and adequate curveball tumble. The deceptive mechanics and a changeup (.175 xBA, 19.9 SwStr%) that has quickly become Anderson’s best pitch were the catalysts in an ultra-successful MLB debut season, but the 22-year-old’s fastball command will ultimately decide his fate both in the Braves’ rotation and in the fantasy world. As you can see by his ranking, I’m buying a continuation of Anderson’s stellar sprint season in 2021 and beyond.

18. Trevor Larnach, OF, MIN. Age: 24

Deeply elite batted ball data masks subpar defense to make Larnach an appetizing prospect on fantasy-focused lists. We still don’t talk about the 24-year-old’s 2019 campaign enough; in his first full professional season, the outfielder was 48% better than the average hitter in the Florida State League and Southern Leagues, which are two of the toughest challenges position players can face in the minor leagues. Now destined to impact the Twins’ lineup sooner rather than later, Larnach could team with Miguel Sano and Alex Kirilloff to form one of the more potent 1B/LF/DH tandems in the big leagues before school lets out for summer.

17. Noelvi Marte, SS, SEA. Age: 19

I’m worried the prospect community is a bit exposed on Marte currently. We know there’s pop in the bat. We know he can run. We don’t know just how poor the hit tool is. We don’t know if he can stick up the middle defensively. The batted ball data from instructs was just about everything we hoped it would be, but the strikeouts practically scream of a player who won’t breeze his way through the minor leagues like some anticipate. Add in the fact there’s a growing sentiment he may move to the hot corner on defense, and we find ourselves with a surprising amount of questions for a teenager who’s on the cusp of being ranked inside the top-20 on lists like this one. I’m not raining on the Noelvi Marte parade; I think he’s going to be a good—perhaps special—player for a very, very long time. But let’s hold our horses on assuming the batting average, strikeout rate and future defensive home (there should be concern here as he’s already north of 200 pounds) won’t drag this profile down a bit at some point.

16. Brennen Davis, OF, CHC. Age: 21

“I hear the crystal raindrops fall, on the window down the hall. And it becomes the morning dew, and darling when the morning comes, and I see the morning sun. I wanna be the one with you.” Brennen Davis is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and he’s all out of Double Bubble. In my eyes, the only way you’re not projecting Davis to be an above average big leaguer is you don’t believe in the hit tool or you believe he’ll continue to injure his hands/fingers during bunt attempts. Assuming the Cubs organization isn’t entirely inept, the 21-year-old should never be asked to bunt ever again. Ever. And if you evaluate the approach and swing, which features a short, explosive path with adaptability in the middle of an at-bat, it’s difficult to project anything less than a 5 hit tool with a walk rate that should lead to a delicious OBP. I assume Davis—who continues to transform his body from the lean figure he possessed during high school—should at least reach Double-A assuming a normal-ish minor league season in 2021.

15. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, PIT. Age: 24

It seemed like Hayes had done just about everything in his power to signal he was destined to always be a better real-life player than fantasy player—until he made his big league debut. It’s true his 24-game sample at the end of the sprint season is by every definition a small sample, but the fact Hayes was 95% better than average offensively post-debut is simply too tough to ignore. The BABIP will surely regress, and he won’t continue to post Hard Hit rates north of 55% throughout his career. Fortunately, Hayes can remain plenty valuable once both of those metrics shrink. Pair the offensive evolution (assuming it mostly sticks) with Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner, and we’ve got a perennial All-Star candidate on our hands. I’m interested to see if opposing pitchers attack the 24-year-old with breaking balls more frequently in 2021 (only 30.7% usage in 2020) and beyond. We knew the real-life floor was high; it appears the ceiling may be a lot higher than the minor league performance indicated.

14. Alex Kirilloff, OF, MIN. Age: 23

I was wrong to penalize Kirilloff on my 2020 midseason list based mostly on a hunch, and I hope you’ll let me correct that mistake here. The 23-year-old was reportedly spectacular at the alternate site last summer, and he actually made history by becoming the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to make their debut by starting a playoff game. The embodiment of forcing your organization’s hand. A year after starting the season late and underperforming with a lingering wrist issue, Kirilloff appeared healthy and strong in 2020. Nelson Cruz is officially back with the Twins, but the organization appears intent on getting the 23-year-old big league at-bats in 2021 anyways. Look for Kirilloff to see the majority of his playing time this season in left field, and the redraft impact could be substantial relative to ADP. Buy.

13. Corbin Carroll, OF, ARI. Age: 20

It’s really, really hard to poke holes in this profile. Pound for pound, Carroll’s batted ball profile—namely his ability to consistently barrel the baseball–is one of the more impressive data points on this entire list. The hit tool is at least above average, the speed is double plus, the defensive skills are solid. If we’re nitpicking, the launch angle could mean he’s more of a doubles and triples monster than a perennial 30 home run threat, but that ‘deficiency’ should allow the outfielder to rack up enough stolen bases to truly impact your fantasy team once he debuts. Scouting contacts from the alternate site were adamant that Carroll has become the runaway top prospect for the Diamondbacks, which is quite an impressive feat when you consider the amount of talent within the system.

12. Riley Greene, OF, DET. Age: 20

Fun fact: A Tigers fan once told me Riley Greene was destined to become a ‘more athletic Juan Soto’. While that outcome isn’t likely, the 20-year-old has quickly become one of the very best prospects in the sport. It now appears inevitable Greene will blossom into at least an average every day big leaguer and fantasy player, with plenty of room to grow in the positive direction. I’m far from sold on the odds of sticking in center field long term, but the bat will profile fantastically from either corner spot. There’s still a ways to go here, but .280/30 HR feels like an eventual, realistic ceiling as we near the 2021 season.

11. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, SD. Age: 22

Gore’s stock in the dynasty world took a bit of a hit last summer and fall when his velocity was down at the alternate site, but those concerns have officially been laid to rest after the southpaw sat in the mid-90s (and induced multiple swings and misses with his fastball) in a recent Spring Training outing. The 22-year-old’s chances of cracking the Padres’ Opening Day rotation have evolved from a pipe-dream to a legit possibility, with a big league debut slated to occur early in 2021 regardless of his status during San Diego’s first regular season game. The pitchability is off the charts, the arsenal is polished and the velocity has undoubtedly returned. This arrow is back to pointing in the correct direction in my eyes.

10. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, KC. Age: 20

All things considered, Witt may be the highest ceiling shortstop prospect on this list. It’s 70-raw and 60-speed, which is a beautiful duo to team with fantastic defense at a premium position. There’s a chance the hit tool never quite reaches league average, but the growing sense is it’s more likely now the perception a year ago. The 20-year-old spent his summer at Kansas City’s alternate site, so don’t be surprised if an organization looking to contend sooner rather than later pushes their prized shortstop a bit harder than we expect in 2021. At the very least, Witt could push for a big league debut prior to his 22th birthday in June 2022.

9. Adley Rutschman, C, BAL. Age: 23

Another round of two truths: It’s generally wise to fade catchers in dynasty leagues. It is possible to carry that notion too far. We’ve long known Rutschman has potential to be the best catcher in fantasy baseball (and real baseball, FWIW). I’ve included that very thought in the 23-year-old’s write-ups on former lists. However, I feel this is the first time I’ve ranked him accordingly. The reports from the alternate site were dazzling. At this point, the biggest question remaining is how long the Orioles will wait before making him their everyday catcher. He’s ready. In a perfect world, he breaks camp with the big club; instead, I’ll be crossing my fingers he’s up the Fourth of July.

8. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH, CHW. Age: 22

Vaughn has expectedly (and rightfully) taken a backseat to Spencer Torkelson amongst first base prospects, but we don’t mind that. Not only has it likely skimmed a bit of the fat from his value in dynasty leagues, but it’s probably suppressing the redraft stock a bit as well. The White Sox have not yet signed an Edwin Encarnacion-type player to split 1B/DH duties with Jose Abreu in 2021, so—despite not yet being on Chicago’s 40-man roster–it’s possible the 22-year-old is far closer to a big league debut than is widely suspected. General manager Rick Hahn mentioned as much recently, stating Vaughn should see the bulk of his 2021 playing time at the big league level. ‘A notch below Spencer Torkelson’ is the furthest thing from an insult in our world, and it leaves plenty of room for All-Star campaigns from Vaughn even if Torkelson is everything we expect him to be.

7. Dylan Carlson, OF, STL. Age: 22

A rocky start to Carlson’s MLB debut quickly gave way to comfortability and production late in the regular season and during the Cardinals’ brief stint in the playoffs during the 2020 season. The short term outlook is largely dependent on a stubborn organization allowing a young player to go through the ebbs and flows of becoming an everyday MLB starter. The long term outlook lends itself more so to Carlson’s defense and speed keeping its head above water throughout the next decade. His current NFBC ADP inside the top-150 likely means I’ll be hands-off in most redrafts.

6. Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, DET. Age: 21

Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t matter if Torkelson ends up at the hot corner or at first base. It doesn’t matter that he likely won’t impact your team in the stolen base category. It doesn’t matter that there’s a chance the Tigers handle the 21-year-old conservatively as prospect to ‘optimize’ his service time. This is a cornerstone bat who could flirt with being the top first baseman drafted in redraft leagues prior to 2025. The batted ball data is everything you’d hope it would be, and there’s a strong chance Torkelson makes a mockery of most minor league pitching he faces. 60-hit, 70-power is well within the realm of possibility here.

5. CJ Abrams, SS/2B/OF, SD. Age: 20

No matter who I reached out to regarding Abrams’ performance at the alternate site, everyone wanted to talk about the power. The power. The power. The power. It’s developing more rapidly than expected. With the Abrams’ earth-altering speed, 60-grade raw power once seemed like a bit of a distant thought and rosy projection despite the 20-year-old’s obvious talent. Not anymore. The Padres believe they have a truly special player on their hands, to the point they’ve signaled to multiple teams they’re unwilling to trade Abrams regardless of the return. He was widely considered the best low-minors prospect in Arizona during the summer and in instructs, and there’s a growing portion of evaluators who now believe the 20-year-old will inevitably become the sport’s top overall prospect before graduating. If you’re considering a sell-high trade on Abrams in your dynasty league, don’t. Despite growing during 2020, it’s unlikely his value as a prospect has plateaued.

4. Marco Luciano, SS, SF. Age: 19

Goodness gracious. The Bat Speed King produced perhaps the highlight of alternate sites this summer, blasting a Ryan Rolison fastball over the left field fence at a reported 119 miles per hour. Even if that number makes you a little skeptical (I don’t entirely blame you), anything within 8-10 MPH of 119 to the pull side is damn impressive. Generally speaking, Luciano joins Spencer Torkelson (above) and Julio Rodriguez (below) as the Crème de la Crème from a batted ball data standpoint on this list. I continue to think it’s more likely than not the teenager eventually shifts to third base or right field (though he reportedly improved defensively at the alternate site this summer), but the bat will take a tremendous amount of pressure off the glove no matter the defensive destination. As I stated earlier this offseason, Luciano should be considered one of the odds-on favorites to be the top overall prospect in baseball a year from now; he’ll especially be the name to beat if Rodriguez graduates prior to the conclusion of the 2021 regular season.

3. Wander Franco, SS, TB. Age: 20

Everyone has seen the clip of Franco’s mammoth home run during the early stages of Spring Training. And yes, the video speaks to the 20-year-old’s lightning quick hands/wrists as well as what can happen when everything clicks in his swing. Unfortunately, similar results were fleeting at the alternate site last summer and in LIDOM this winter. Specifically—as you’ve likely read elsewhere—Franco struggled to consistently lift the ball and didn’t post the exit velocities that are typical of a prospect considered a generational, game-changing talent. Don’t get me wrong; the shortstop is still extremely good and will be a notable big leaguer for the duration of his MLB career. But if I had to choose a prospect that would undoubtedly alter the complexion of my dynasty team regardless of contention window? Currently, Franco would fall in line behind both Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. I promise this is not an insult.

2. Julio Rodriguez, OF, SEA. Age: 20

Set aside the tool grades for a moment; no other prospect on this list impacts the baseball the way Rodriguez does. Already posting exit velocity data that would place him amongst the elite hitters in the big leagues, the outfielder also possesses adequate athleticism and fluid movement for such a young player with his frame and size. No, Rodriguez doesn’t quite possess the hit tool of Wander Franco. He also doesn’t possess the speed or defensive skills of Jarred Kelenic. But if I had to choose one prospect on this list who I firmly believe will change the entire complexion and outlook of a dynasty team throughout his big league career? It’s Julio Rodriguez. His placement as my second overall prospect simply reflects that notion, and a bit of skepticism regarding the hit tool (which is simply splitting hairs and nitpicking) is the only factor keeping the outfielder out of the top overall spot on the final edition of this list. I’ll lean on the 20-year-old’s pristine work ethic to ensure this placement holds up in the near and distant future.

1. Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA. Age: 21

HOW ‘BOUT THEM MARINERS?!?!?! Jarred Kelenic is extremely good. Hitting 88 MPH cookies over the fence at the alternate site didn’t mean he was ready to debut during the sprint season. Both can be true. Within the Big Three alongside Julio Rodriguez and Wander Franco, Kelenic is the most well-rounded of the trio. The 21-year-old has evolved to the point that the hit tool, power and speed trinity only finalizing at 55 would be slightly disappointing to most dynasty players. Most expect a 60/60/55 outcome to materialize once the outfielder settles into an everyday role in Seattle, though I could see the hit tool flat-lining at above average if Kelenic doesn’t eventually adjust to advanced spin out of the zone. Here’s to hoping this is the last time the 21-year-old is eligible for our preseason prospect lists. Despite a knee injury early in Spring Training, Kelenic leap-frogged Julio Rodriguez for the top overall prospect spot thanks to a more reliable hit tool and a holistic skillset that is closer to contributing at the big league level (and for your fantasy teams) than Rodriguez’s. Assuming there’s no long-term, lingering effects from the adductor strain in his left knee, the ailment—which could keep Kelenic away from competition for six weeks or so—is also a convenient excuse to make sure his service clock doesn’t begin until a few weeks after Opening Day.

For prior editions of this list, click on these links: #51-100, #101-150, #151-200.


Written by: Ray Butler

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Featured image courtesy of site graphic designer Dorian Redden. Follow him on Twitter (@dRedden26) and Instagram (@d26gfx)

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