11. C.J. Abrams, San Diego Padres
Abrams was taken sixth overall in the 2019 Draft by San Diego and they were over the moon about the pick. C.J. quickly showed their excitement was not misplaced as he hit .401 at the Rookie-level after being drafted. His blend of skills is almost unmatched. The guy has some of the best wheels I’ve ever seen as he grades out to be a 70 or 80-grade runner. C.J. is a legitimate hitter as well. He makes a lot of hard contact and will use the whole field. There’s also power potential in his bat given his size . As of right now, his bat path is very flat. He looks to use his hand-eye coordination and speed to get on base. If he makes an adjustment to his swing as he adds strength to his frame he could hit 20+ home runs.
Defensively, Abrams will play second for the Padres long-term. With Machado and Tatis Jr. having the left side of the infield locked down it leaves him no choice. Abrams should fare well no matter where he plays. He has more than enough range given his quickness and his arm is pretty strong and accurate. His elite speed and athleticism could play well out in center if San Diego choose to go that route. We’ve seen teams do it before with guys like Mookie Betts and Billy Hamilton.
Some may say the shift in position makes him less valuable, but I disagree. If C.J. were to stick at short, he would be somewhere in the top 10 at the position at his best. With the shift to the right of the second base bag, Abrams has a chance to be the very best at the position for years. Second base is one of the weaker positions in baseball and having a star there can give teams a major advantage. For San Diego, C.J.’s development makes some believe they could have stars littered across the dirt.
The guy I keep coming back to when I watch Abrams is Trea Turner. C.J. should lead off for the Friars when he’s at his peak and provide Fernando and Manny plenty of RBI opportunities. The elite-level speed with the skills to be a very production lead off is the blend of talent that makes Turner so enticing and it’ll do the same for Abrams. I would put the over/under for 20 homer, 50 steal seasons for C.J.’s career at 2.5.
12. Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hayes had one of the better cups of coffee in recorded history as he had an OPS+ of 202 in his first 24 games. Ke’Bryan is the son of former Major League journeyman Charlie Hayes so he brings a professionalism to his game others don’t. Hayes is polished and doesn’t do any one thing poorly. Hayes’ calling card is his defense. Ke’Bryan has manned the hot corner almost better than anyone in the Minors and it proved to be true in the Majors as well. He has very soft hands to go along with a strong and accurate arm. The NL Central certainly has the best crop of third basemen of any division with Hayes and Arenado joining Suárez and Bryant.
Hayes’ defense isn’t all he’s lauded for. His offense has been consistently above average throughout his Minor League career. The power hasn’t always been there, but every at bat is a good one. Ke’Bryan will get stronger as time goes on and with how much he walks and the kind of bat he carries, he could be a very well-rounded hitter when it is all said and done. Hayes is no slouch on the base paths either. For his MiLB career, he is 66-84 (79%) in stolen base attempts. Ke’Bryan may never be a true five-tool player, but to even approximate it while playing third is quite the rare sight.
Because of how much Hayes does in all facets of the game, I liken him to Captain America, David Wright. Ke’Bryan may never be quite the hitter Wright was for the Mets, but his ability to put up numbers in every category garners the comparison. Wright had six seasons in which he hit 20+ long balls with 15+ steals and he won the Gold Glove in two of those years. David was one of the more complete third basemen the league has ever seen and I think Charlie’s son may be following in his footsteps.
13. Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
Witt’s father, Bobby Witt Sr., played in the Majors for a decade and half; it looks like his son will follow in his footsteps. Witt Jr. hails from the Lone Star state and was the second ranked prospect in the 2019 Draft behind Rutschman. Bobby was selected by the Royals number two overall and looks like he will be their franchise-altering piece at short. He has no true weakness as he receives 50 and 60-grades for every one of his tools. There are few concerns about his ability to stick at shortstop while people have been excited about his offensive development. Witt’s speed and aggressiveness on the base paths gives him a chance to be five-tool player at a premier position.
There were some concerns about Bobby’s eye at the plate when he was drafted, but the reports out of KC’s alternate site were encouraging. The one major complaint people had about the prep infielder was that he swung and missed a little too often. It seems he’s put the work in necessary for him to reach his ceiling as an above average hitter. Witt has also started to tap into more power as well. His loudest hit balls are to his pull-side, but his all-fields approach and continued growth should help him spray hard hit balls all over the place. He has the upside to be a great two-hole hitter and it’s looking more and more like he’ll reach that ceiling.
The next step for Witt is to show how complete of a player he can be. He has only 164 at bats under his belt to this point so it’ll be important to see just how big of a jump he took in 2020. With the Royals still a ways away from competing and Bobby coming from the high school ranks, I don’t think we will see him till 2023. There’s no real need to push the guy given the Major League club’s position in the league. If his improvement as a hitter prove to be real, there is a legitimate chance 2022 is the year we see Witt in a Royals uniform.
The guy I have seen Bobby compared to is Trevor Story. The swing and miss issues with plus tools across the board sound like the Colorado shortstop, but I’m not entirely sold. Trevor has benefited big time from Coors Field so his numbers shouldn’t be looked at as Witt’s future. I liken him more to Marcus Semien but with louder tools.
14. Dylan Carlson, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlson was selected by the Cardinals with the 33rd pick in the 2016 draft and he has impressed from day one. His career Minor League average (.260) isn’t all that impressive, but his ability to do a little bit of everything makes him someone to keep an eye on. He’s also advanced quicker than what some originally thought due to his advanced approach at the plate. He’s found himself to be one of the younger guys at every stop, which makes some of his numbers very impressive.
Carlson is a switch-hitting corner outfielder who profiles to be a steady every day contributor with All-Star upside. He might not have incredibly loud tools like all of the guys ahead of him have, but Dylan’s blend of skills makes him special. He profiles as a solid defender thanks to his accurate arm. While Carlson’s a decently big guy, he moves pretty well. He has more speed than what you’d expect and he puts it to use. He stole 20 bases in 2019, showing he knows how to make the most of his tools.
His offense is what has everyone so infatuated with this young man. Dylan is a pure switch-hitter with an approach at the plate beyond his years. He uses the whole field and has power while understanding the strike zone very well. One of the biggest compliments a hitter can get in today’s game is having defenses play you straight up and that’s what you’ll see against Dylan. While he may never hit for an incredibly high average, Carlson will make up for it with plenty of walks and extra base hits. Carlson will hardly ever looked over matched at the plate as he has a keen eye and doesn’t get fooled by speed or breaking pitches. There are very few hitters in the Minors that can match his professionalism at the dish.
Carlson has already made his MLB debut and he figures to be a staple of St. Louis’ outfield in 2021 and beyond. In terms of a player comparison, I had to move to the infield to find one. His offense is reminiscent of Tampa Bay’s second baseman Brandon Lowe. Solid pop with plenty of walks to offset some swing and miss. Throw in 15+ steals and solid defense and the Cardinals have yet another capable young player on their hands.
15. Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox
Vaughn tore it up at Cal before being drafted by the White Sox third overall in the 2019 Draft. His gaudy numbers followed him from college to the pros as he has thoroughly dominated Minor League pitching. Vaughn is similar to Torkelson in the sense his entire value comes from his bat. He’s going to play first for the entirety of his career and will need to be a standout hitter if he wishes to be a star. Up to this point, Andrew hasn’t given us any reason to doubt he will.
It’s pretty difficult to find someone as offensively proficient as Vaughn. He has a short but strong right-handed swing that helps him hit for contact and power. Andrew has one of the prettier swings I have ever seen from a righty. His mechanics are always in sync and it creates a bat path meant for crushing pitches. Vaughn lets his power come naturally as he focuses on making solid contact and it works out well. Finding someone with his feel to hit with power is a rare thing.
Andrew’s approach at the plate is something people like as much as his swing. He’s patient and isn’t afraid to use the entire field. Very seldom will he be fooled. Vaughn has walked about as much as he struck out, showing how well he handles the bat. People dream about having someone with his offensive upside anchoring their lineup in the three hole.
For as much talent as the White Sox already have on their roster the best is yet to come as Vaughn is nearly ready. I expect Andrew to see the Majors in 2021. He’ll likely see plenty of time as the DH with a day or two a week where he’s at first. The South Side was blessed to watch Paul Konerko for a decade and a half. I think long-time fans of the team will be reminded of the 6-time All-Star when they watch Vaughn.
16. JJ Bleday, Miami Marlins
Bleday led the NCAA in home runs his Junior season when he smacked 27, showing how big of a power hitter he could be. It seemed like an apparition when looking at his numbers for Vandy prior to 2019, but everyone knew he had that kind of power and it helped him be selected fourth in the draft.
Bleday displays one of the better bats you’ll see in the Minors. He hits for power with the ability to use all fields. JJ kills breaking pitches, especially from a right hander, and his short, quick swing indicates he’s not selling out for power. His M.O. in college was “advanced hitter”. He didn’t necessarily show that as he hit only .257 in his pro debut but he has the skills to be an absolute force.
The thing people draw the most attention to with JJ is his offense. It is for a good reason as he profiles to be a very solid three hole hitter for quite some time. However, his offense isn’t the only thing people like about him. Some might look at JJ and think he’s best suited for first base given his size, but he handles himself well in the outfield. Bleday has more than enough arm to play right field and he has a solid glove. JJ may move to first at some point, but it’s not like he’s a hulking, offense-only prospect.
JJ hasn’t played past High-A yet but he is set to begin the year in Double-A and could find his way to Miami before season’s end. With how advanced he is at the plate and the track record he has, there shouldn’t be anyone that doubts Bleday’s ability to hit in the Majors sooner rather than later. He was uncharacteristically aggressive in his debut, but it may have been more of an anomaly than a trend.
17. Marco Luciano, San Francisco Giants
Marco may be my very favorite prospect in all of baseball. The offensive skills this young man has to go along with the chance to stick at short has me head over heels. Luciano was an international signing by the Giants in 2018 and quickly showed he would one day be a star. Marco wasn’t the headliner of San Francisco’s class that year, but he proved evaluators wrong after hitting for a .981 OPS in 2019.
Luciano has some of the best power of any Minor Leaguer. While he isn’t the biggest guy in the world, his arms are very strong and he efficiently uses his body to create terrific bat speed. That coupled with the numbers he put up at the age of 17 when he made his state-side debut make Marco a coveted prospect. The reports coming out of San Francisco’s alternate site is that Luciano struggled against better competition, but he was only a teenager in 2020. Many believe he has a chance to be a 60-grade hitter with 60 or 70-grade power while holding down shortstop.
Marco does have some faults outside of his offensive game. He has a very strong arm that should help him stay on the left side of the infield, but it may be at third. Luciano is a solid shortstop right now, but people worry he will slow down over time. He won’t balloon up like Pablo Sandoval or anything but he may need to move off the premier position to the hot corner. The bat can play at third without a doubt. Marco playing short with his offensive upside would make him much more valuable, though. As for his speed, he grades out to be above average but will lose a step as he gets older. Probably league average wheels when he’s fully matured.
I am pretty optimistic about Luciano’s chances to stick at short and maintain his speed. Like I said before, his power comes from his arms and wrists rather than his whole body. While he does need to continue to train there is no need for Marco to add weight to add more power. If Luciano focuses on retaining his athleticism, he may be able to stave off a move from short for quite some time.
Marco is by far the youngest prospect listed so far so it will quite a while before we see him in the Bigs. I would say 2023 will be when we see Luciano in a Giants uniform. 2022 is plausible if he hits extremely well from here on out, but I’m not betting on it. There’s no real rush anyhow. San Francisco isn’t competing and Brandon Crawford will remain their everyday shortstop still the end of his contract.
Fans of Xander Bogaerts will be fans of Luciano. They profile to be very similar across the board. Same body type with Marco’s upside being what Xander has done to this point. An offense-first shortstop who’s good enough in all other facets. Luciano may not ever be a true five-tool player, but his bat and ancillary skills should make him a well-rounded star.
18. Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants
Bart was picked second out of Georgia Tech in the 2018 Draft and rapidly made his way to the majors. Joey’s ascension to being the everyday catcher for the Giants was forced upon him as Buster Posey opted out of the 2020 season due to personal reasons. Due to his poor play in his first stint in the majors, most people have soured on the young backstop.
Bart is pretty solid across the board. There isn’t too much to complain about outside of his tendency to swing and miss. He isn’t a terrible hitter by any means, but you may want a bit more out of someone picked two overall. The offensive bar for catchers is much lower when compared to other positions, especially if you’re solid everywhere else and Bart is.
Joey is a big guy behind the plate, but he moves very well. While he may not seem like a great athlete Bart certainly plays like one when he block balls in the dirt. He has more than enough arm to handle the position and has been praised for how well he commands a pitching staff. There was a tidbit in the 2019 MLB Futures Game that Joey started calling his own games in college (a very rare sight) because he just quit looking over to the coach for signs. It was a risky move, but it was one that worked out. Bart is lauded for his maturity behind the plate. At the very least he’ll be an everyday player thanks to his defensive acumen.
Joey is no slouch at the plate either. Bart has power to all fields and brings a solid approach to the plate. He is willing to go the other way and was very good at staying inside the zone in college. Since he’s made his pro debut, Bart has had some problems with chasing pitches, leading to a higher whiff rate. The offensive abilities he showed in his rookie campaign shows those problems may persist.
Many talent evaluators have Bart slotted well below where I rank him, but I value catchers a lot. Everyday Major Leaguers are hard to come by behind the plate. Even if he never hits for a high average the power production and defense makes him just that. Mike Zunino is the guy many have linked Joey to. Zunino was a top-five pick but struggled to hit like he did in college and is now just an everyday guy. That’s not a bad outcome whatsoever.
19. Royce Lewis, Minnesota Twins
Lewis will miss all of the 2021 season due to a torn ACL after slipping on ice a week ago. It was a devastating blow to the Twins and all of baseball because of Lewis’ stature as a top-tier prospect. He’s still only 22 years of age and has plenty of time left in his career, but it hurts to see a year of his career go to waste.
Royce was picked 1-1 by the Twins in the 2017 Draft as a prep shortstop out of the state of California. He’s dazzled people with him superb athleticism and how well that has translated to the diamond. Lewis is one of the faster guys you’ll ever see in baseball as he regularly rates out to be a 70-grade runner. It is without a doubt his premier skill and it helps Royce in more ways than one. It’s obvious his speed helps him be a great base stealer, but it helps him in the field as well. Whether Lewis plays short, second, or center his top notch wheels will help him have extreme range.
Lewis’ speed isn’t all there is to like about this guy. There’s definite power in the bat that he’ll be able to get to more consistently as he gets older. To go along with that, Royce looks like a pretty good lock to play shortstop in the Majors. If he comes back healthy and everything comes together we could be looking at a 20 homer, 50 steal shortstop; the only player in the league approximating that is Trea Turner.
I personally haven’t been as high on Royce as others due to his hit tool. His numbers up to this point in his Minor League career have been good, but I don’t like his approach. He’s very Javier Baez-esque at the plate. There’s a lot of moving parts to his swing that aren’t always in sync and he swings and misses a fair amount due to his aggressive nature. I think his production to this point has come from him just being supremely talented and he’ll need to clean up his game plan if he wants to be a star.
As far as the injury goes I’m not too worried. Lewis is extremely young and athletic, giving him a better chance to bounce back unscathed. People who might shy away from viewing him as anything less when he comes back from the surgery shouldn’t. It is a pretty major injury, but I have faith he’ll be just fine.
20. Austin Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
Martin was the favorite to go 1-1 in the 2020 Draft before the season got under way. Torkelson had other ideas and Martin slid to five for the Blue Jays. Toronto was ecstatic to get the young Vanderbilt product as he may be the missing piece they need to take over the AL East.
The position I have for Martin is “utility” because I’m not really sure where he’ll play. I don’t think Toronto even knows but it isn’t a bad thing. Austin saw time mostly on the left side of the infield while at Vandy, but was thrust into the outfield for Team USA during the Summer of 2019. He proved to be pretty solid playing off the infield dirt, displaying how good of an athlete he is. His willingness to play anywhere he’s put to go along with how well he can play anywhere makes him a very interesting prospect going forward.
The thing people love most about Martin is his hit tool. Austin seems to do just about everything well, but it his ability to hit that makes him an upper echelon prospect. He starts hunched over in his stance, but gets into perfect position when at the point of contact. He makes constant contact while lining the ball all over the field. Martin is very advanced as he doesn’t chase outside the zone much and walked about as often as he struck out in college. Some people have the hit tool graded to be a 70, but I think that may be a bit optimistic. Still, he’s going to be great hitter.
Like I said before, Martin does a lot of things well. He’s an excellent athlete with a strong arm. Those traits have allowed him to take on any defensive assignment and play pretty well. He has a sure glove with an accurate arm thanks to how well he keeps his body in sync when throwing. As an infielder, he could be well above average at third or second. In the outfield, he’s more than capable at all three spots, giving Toronto plenty of options moving forward. How he profiles to play anywhere is reminiscent of Ben Zobrist. Martin has much louder tools, though.
Martin displayed a terrific power/speed combo while in college as well. While he isn’t a true burner, he has excellent speed and should be a decent threat to swipe a bag. His power isn’t as pure as some other guys but there is definite power in the tank. Realistically, Austin rates out to have all five tools be a 55-grade or higher; truly a five tool player.
I don’t think we’re going to see Martin in Canada in 2021. He’s very advanced as a hitter, but given the absence of professional at bats he may need awhile before he can take on the Bigs. I expect him to find his way to Double-A New Hampshire by the time the upcoming year comes to an end with a chance in 2022 to become a part of the Major League team.