While everyone is excited to see their favorite team start their 2021 campaign shortly, we can’t forget about what’s down on the farm. While some of these players are still years away, it is good to get a look at the future. Today, we’re going to be looking at the top 10 prospects in all of baseball. These young men could be the stars of tomorrow.
1. Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Franco is the clear favorite for best prospect in baseball. Every major scouting service sees him as the top guy despite being a teenager. It would be much easier if I were to go into what he didn’t do well: nothing. Wander is a switching-hitting shortstop who has hit .336/.405/.523 across three levels and can steal a bag. Franco uses the entire field and lines the ball all over the place, doesn’t strike out much, and presently has power. Realistically, there hasn’t been a prospect with his blend of skills on the infield since Yoán Moncada.
There are few questions about what Franco can and can’t do. Some question his ability to stick at shortstop long term, which seems reasonable. He fares well at the position, but with Willy Adames seemingly locking down the position for Tampa Bay it seems like a move to the hot corner may be in Wander’s future. He has a sure glove and strong arm, but he lacks the range of a guy like Adames. If he had to play short, he’d be fine. The other slight concern people have is his size. He isn’t big and tall. He’s sort of stocky and will add weight onto his frame overtime. In no way is he big, but there is a chance the athleticism that makes him a 20+ steal threat might fade with time. Even if he loses a step and moves off of a premier position, his bat will make him a star.
Most people seem to think Wander will reach the Majors some time in 2021, but I think Tampa Bay may hold him back till next season. His bat could play right now, but there is no need to rush him. Franco hasn’t made it past High-A yet and with the depth the Rays have in their infield they can make sure he’s completely ready. A late-September call up would more than likely be the way we see him reaching the Bigs in 2021.
I mentioned Moncada earlier as a comparison for Franco, but I don’t think that’s completely accurate. Yoán is a better athlete while Franco’s pure hitting is more advanced than the Cuban import. The guy I would liken Wander to is José Ramírez. Cleveland’s third baseman has a very similar frame and skillset; not to mention their both switch-hitters. If Wander can keep his body in peak condition, he has a chance to be a 30-30 threat while slashing .300/.400/.500 at the hot corner for a decade.
2. Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
Rutschman was the number one overall selection by Baltimore in the 2019 Draft after posting elite numbers at Oregon State. The switch-hitting catcher posted an insane 1.327 OPS his Junior season for the Beavers and was the obvious pick at number one. He has done little to make people think he wasn’t worthy of the selection. Adley is as solid as they come behind the plate and at it. While his numbers in his professional debut weren’t crazy good, he did a lot of good things.
Rutschman can hit, hit for power, play Gold Glove caliber defense, and has a strong and accurate arm. He uses the whole field at the plate and walks as much as he strikes out. Given the power he showed at OSU, he should anchor Baltimore’s lineup for years to come. There aren’t many catchers that have shown the kind of hitting prowess he has. To do it with 25 homer power and well above average defense makes this guy special.
You don’t ever want to waste a year of a guy, but Rutschman is too good to not be on the Orioles Major League roster sometime in 2021. The team won’t compete and that makes people worry they’d be burning a year of service time. Adley might be the best player the Orioles have regardless of level and that makes it incredibly hard to keep him down. For people concerned with service time, just know he’s got some backup on the way in 2022 and 23. I don’t think Rutschman will start the season in Baltimore, but he will certainly end there.
If I had to give Adley a comp, it would be Buster Posey. There are some differences like how Adley hits from both sides of the plate. The other main difference is that Rutschman shows more power due to his mechanics and the gigantic park Posey has always played in. A top-tier catcher coming from the college ranks with no weaknesses sounds a lot like Buster and it’s what everyone sees in Adley.
3. MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres
Gore was the number three pick in the 2017 Draft by the Padres after winning three state titles in North Carolina. MacKenzie is maybe my personal favorite prospect and I was tempted to put him second on this list. I held back because of how rare it is to find a catcher with Adley’s tools. It is just as rare to find a lefty with the upside this young man possesses.
Gore throws four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, and change up) all for strikes with the chance for all of them to be above average to plus pitches. The fact he throws two distinct breaking pitches intrigues me. It’s hard enough to have one off-speed offering be an elite pitch, but potentially having two is special. Gore comes right at you. He won’t walk many batters and he keeps hitters from squaring up the ball.
His fastball works 92-95 with it reaching 97. As he fills out his frame, MacKenzie should be able dial it up even further. His breaking pitches have fluctuated. Gore’s slider seems like the better of the two at times while his curve flashes as an elite pitch from time to time. The inconsistency mostly stints from a blister issue he had in 2018. MacKenzie is still trying to piece everything together at this point. Which is a scary thought considering how good he has been in the Minors.
Gore should be up at some point in 2021. Given how the Padres have filled out their rotation, it will be hard for the young lefty to break camp with the team. He will start in Triple-A and be available whenever someone goes down with an injury. I thought we might have seen him last season, but the reports are that he struggled with his mechanics at San Diego’s alternate site. That doesn’t seem out of the question given how many moving parts there are in his windup.
I really believe in Gore. I think he has just started to scratch the surface of what he can do. He’s completely healthy coming into the new season and will look to impress everyone even further. The guy that comes to mind when I think of how good Gore could be is Jacob deGrom. That’s obviously the highest outcome possible for the 21 year old, but I think he has a chance to do it. They have very similar frames and pitch mixes. Anyone who knows Gore knows he’s as hard a worker as any and that bodes well for him hitting his ceiling. Even if he doesn’t reach his full potential, he has the floor to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. There aren’t too many guys you can say that about.
4. Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners
Rodriguez was signed by Seattle as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He was ranked as the 10th best international prospect at the time and quickly showed that was too low. Julio just turned 20 and shows offensive skills well beyond his years. His massive frame and picturesque swing make people drool over the kind of home run totals he’ll put up. The more impressive part of his game may be his ability to flat out hit.
Rodriguez combines his incredible power with an advanced approach and a good eye. This isn’t a hitter that sells out for power like Jorge Soler or Hunter Renfroe. Julio is a legitimately great hitter who just so happens to have crazy power potential. His bat isn’t all he impresses people with, though. Julio will hold his own in the outfield on a corner as he possesses a great arm. He is decently fast for someone his size now, but over time he will add weight onto his frame and slow down. He won’t be a negative in the outfield, but the vast majority of his production will come from his bat.
To this point, Rodriguez hasn’t made it to Double-A so I don’t think we will see him this upcoming season. He very well could be; Seattle is a team that hasn’t been shy about pushing their top prospects and Julio’s advanced approach makes me think he could handle big league pitching. If he does end up in the Majors in 2021, I think it will more than likely be sometime after the All-Star Break.
Rodriguez possesses one of the best bats you’ll ever see. There are still some inconsistencies he needs to iron out to reach his ultimate ceiling, but given what he has done up to this point there isn’t much reason to doubt Julio’s future. Nelson Cruz comes to mind when I watch him. Something about his confidence in the batters box makes me thing we could be looking at one of the premier bats in the league from 2021 and beyond.
5. Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers
Torkelson was the first player off the board in the 2020 MLB Draft as the Tigers chose to take the big bat from Arizona State. Spencer went from undrafted out of high school to breaking Barry Bonds’ Sun Devils freshman home run record. Spencer carries a big stick and that is what will help him be a potential perennial All-Star.
Torkelson and the aforementioned Rodriguez have similar profiles as hitters. They both are great hitters who have the power to hit 30+ long balls a year. The reason I put Julio ahead of Spencer is defense. Torkelson is going to get a shot to play third for Detroit in the Minors, but his defensive home is more than likely going to be first base for the majority of his career. Even so, his bat will make up for the lack of defensive value. Spencer has a short swing for someone of his size. The loft he has to go along with the amount of contact he makes has people wondering if he could be next Albert Pujols. There are lofty expectations following this young man around, but he seems up to the task.
Spencer’s power is maybe the best of any prospect. He can go from line to line with power and it seems somewhat effortless. There isn’t any real leg kick or aggressiveness to his swing. He just gets the bat through the zone and lets the pitcher supply power. He has plenty of power on his own, but you can tell he isn’t trying to muscle up on everything he sees. His power combined with how he controls the zone makes people believe Spencer has a chance to be the next big thing to hit Detroit.
Since he was drafted in the year of Covid-19, he never got the chance to play in the Minors. With as advanced as he is as a hitter, I don’t think the team is all too worried about him missing 150 at bats last year. I don’t think we will see him this season, but 2022 is closer than you would think.
Big bats playing on the corners of the infield are the guys people go to when making comps for Torkelson. J.J. Cooper, executive editor for Baseball America, mentioned Paul Goldschmidt once while I’ve heard others say Kris Bryant would be the perfect comp. Either way, this guy is going to be a special bat. Tigers fans and team officials alike are waiting with bated breath to see how special he will be.
6. Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners
Kelenic was touted as the best pure hitter in the 2018 Draft class and ended up going sixth overall to the Mets. Some didn’t think the hit tool was real due to the lack of competition Jarred faced in Wisconsin as a high schooler and boy were they wrong. Kelenic has done nothing but hit since entering pro ball and looks like he and Rodriguez will help the Mariners be atop the AL West for years to come. He was originally drafted by New York but was traded to Seattle in the Edwin Diaz deal.
Jarred may be the most well-rounded prospect in all of baseball. He can hit for average and power while manning center field and stealing 25+ bases. Despite how much he can do besides hitting, it’s what everyone draws attention to. He walks a ton, hits line drives all over the field, and handles velocity very well. The Mariners haven’t been afraid to move him quickly as he reached Double-A in his first full season; something not many guys do coming out of high school.
The most impressive thing about what he has done up to this point is his power production. Scouts believed he had power in the tank and that he would eventually get to it, but no one thought it would show up at 19 or 20. Jarred carries a .514 slugging percentage to this point in his professional career which is just a few points shy of Julio Rodriguez’s .534. He hit 23 home runs in this first full season in 2019 while stealing 20 bases, showing how he will affect the game in every facet.
Given how the team has pushed Kelenic and how all the reports coming out of the Mariners alternate site were positive, I expect him to be up sometime this season. More than likely, Kelenic will begin the year in Triple-A and find his way to Seattle sometime in June or July. With Evan White already with the Mariners and some great pitching prospects in tow, the youth movement is almost under way in Seattle and Kelenic will be the face of it.
The two guys Jarred is commonly compared to is Jacob Ellsbury and Andrew Benintendi. Those are pretty solid comps. Kelenic may have a little more power in the tank than those two, but the hit tool is pretty similar. The guy will lock down center field while getting on base at a .400 clip and steal 20+ bases. If the power is legitimate, he has a chance to elevate himself past the previously mentioned comps into Mookie Betts territory.
7. Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins
Sanchez was originally signed by the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. He was traded to Miami as the headliner in the J.T. Realmuto deal. Even though the Marlins gave up the best catcher in the game, they can feel good about the return. Sixto looks like a frontline starter with Cy Young potential.
Sanchez utilizes a 2-seam fastball, 4-seam fastball, changeup, and curve with his go-to combo being fastball-change. His 2-seam dives to the bottom of the zone while his mid-to-upper 90’s 4-seam has great life at the top of the zone. Throw in one of the better changeups in the Minors and you’ve got the makings of an ace. This guy isn’t just all stuff. He backs it up with great command as he walked right around 1.5 batters per nine innings in the Minors. One confusing note is that he doesn’t strike out guys like you would think. The stuff is great, but he doesn’t miss as many bats as you would like. It isn’t too worrisome, though. Great stuff and great command usually results in great pitching.
Sixto has already made his debut as he made seven starts for the fish last year. His debut was solid as he had an ERA of 3.46 in 39 innings of work. The walk rate he posted in 2020 was a little high (3.5 per nine) but that could be him being young and nervous. You would think he will get better with time, but even if his rookie numbers are where he’s at for most of his career the Marlins have a good one.
People have had lofty expectations for this guy for quite some time. Ever since he made his pro debut state side, Sixto has been garnering comparisons to Pedro Martinez. Pedro is one of the greatest pitchers ever so it kind of seems like people are setting the guy up for failure. Sanchez has the talent to be the that kind of guy, but I’m not sure he’ll ever get there. They guy he reminds me of is Luis Castillo for the Reds. Fastball-changeup combo at 6’0” tall with a third pitch well behind the others sounds like La Piedra.
8. Cristian Pache, Atlanta Braves
Pache was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Braves in 2015. The team has been aggressive in calling him up and he has handled the challenge well. There are some things that people worry about when it comes to Pache’s offense, but he looks like he is blossoming into a star for Atlanta.
Cristian is the best defensive prospect in all of baseball. His arm and glove receive 70 and 80-grades on the 20-80 scale from evaluators consistently. As good as Ronald Acuña is in center, Pache will move him to one of the corners; he’s just that good. I’m not blowing things out of proportion when I say Cristian should be the favorite to win a Gold Glove for the next 9-13 years. Pair that elite defense with increased power production and terrific speed and you’ve got a guy who’s got a chance to have all five tools.
There are some qualms with Pache. Despite him being a well above average to elite runner, he doesn’t use his speed well on the base paths. For his Minor League career, Pache is 58-96 (60%) in stolen base attempts and that isn’t very good. Something else worth mentioning is that he doesn’t have the best eye at the plate. He doesn’t walk as much as you would like and Cristian swings and misses a little too often as well. He’s still very young and some of his weaknesses can/will be addressed over time so there isn’t too much reason to worry.
Pache got some playing time in the 2020 playoffs due to an injury to Adam Duvall and he fared pretty well. Pache didn’t seem overwhelmed by the situation he was in and ended up hitting his first career home run in the playoffs. With Duvall’s departure to Miami, Pache is lined up to be in the outfield everyday for the Braves in 2021. With how quickly he’s been brought up, this sounds about right. He may struggle a bit once people figure out how to pitch him, but I think his first full season will be a promising one.
The guy that I am reminded of when I watch him is Starling Marte. Similar body type with the same skill set. Marte has been an elite base stealer during his career and I believe that is the only true difference between the two to this point. If you’re a fantasy player and want to know how Pache may do a few years from now, use Starling as a reference point.
9. Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have had the top pick in two of the past three drafts so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have two of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Like Torkelson, Mize was undrafted out of high school and then ended up going number one overall. Only eight players have done ever done this and it’s now happened twice in three years with Detroit linked to both of them. Casey has had some ups and downs due to injury, but the upside with him is through the roof.
Mize throws a fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, sinker, and splitter and he throws them all for strikes. While his stuff is pretty solid, it is his command of it all that makes him one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Don’t get me wrong; the stuff is good. His splitter rates out to be one of the better pitches in all of the Minors. But it is his control (1.9 walkers per nine in Minors) that has people so excited about what the future holds.
The only thing left for Casey to do is put it all together in the Bigs. He made his debut in 2020 and it was a rough one as he posted an ERA of 6.99 in 28.1 innings. He got hit and hit hard while giving up an uncharacteristically high number of walks (4.1 per nine). Some people were disturbed by the lack of production in his first stint with Detroit, but it’s too small of a sample size to make any sort of overarching judgements. He’ll be back in 2021 for the Tigers and will certainly look more like the guy they drafted one overall.
For whatever reason, the guy I keep coming back to when I watch Mize is Jake Arrieta. Casey doesn’t have the pure stuff the other top pitching prospects have but it all plays up do to his plus control. I think he will be consistently above average with a year or two of downright dominant numbers.
10. Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays
Pearson throws hard. That’s all there is to it. Nate sits 97-100 comfortably with the fastball able to get up 103. He grabbed the attention of everyone in the 2017 draft with his live arm and developing breaking stuff. People were a bit concerned with his ability to hold up as a starter, but Toronto took the chance and it has paid off.
Nate doesn’t just have the electric fastball. Pearson also displays a great slider that sits 88-93. He throws a curve and a changeup as well, but the latter are well behind his fastball and slider. Pearson has been practically untouchable as batters have hit only .176 against him in his Minor League career. He’s done it against upper level competition as well. In the 2019 Futures Game, he sent Gavin Lux packing on three pitches, all 100 mph or above. His pure stuff rivals anyone in baseball and it might be getting better. Blue Jay officials were pleasantly surprised at how his changeup looked at their alternate site last year.
Nate got the call up to the Majors last year and was a bit inconsistent. His first couple of appearances went well but that faded and he ended up on the IL as the season came to an end. Inconsistency is expected out of someone as young as he is. With Pearson being as tall as he is, his mechanics will get out of sync and that’ll cause command issues also. Even with the subpar numbers in 2020 no one should worry about what he can do in 2021 and beyond.
Noah Syndergaard is the guy Pearson garners comparisons to. The size and velocity makes it too easy of a comp, but it seems like a good one. If the changeup becomes a useable third offering, Nate has a chance to be one of the better arms in the AL East.