While many things about the 2020 season were unique, the flood of prospect talent into the majors represented the continuation of a consistent multi-year trend. Half of last year’s preseason Top 50 MLB Prospects saw big-league action despite the shortened campaign, and you can bet there will be plenty more in 2021. That means fantasy baseball owners need a special spot on their draft cheat sheets and rankings (particularly keeper/dynasty rankings) for these potential rookie sleepers.
Last season, Seattle’s Kyle Lewis and Chicago’s Luis Robert, who finished 1-2 in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, each clubbed 11 home runs, a rate that would have translated to 30 dingers over a full 162-game season. Lewis also swiped nine bags to lead all rookies. Alec Bohm solidified himself as the Phillies’ third baseman of the future by posting a .338 average and a .400 on-base percentage over 44 games. Bohm finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting to Milwaukee’s Devin Williams, who used an unhittable changeup to post a 0.33 ERA while striking out an unbelievable 53 batters and giving up just eight hits in 27 relief innings. Cleveland’s James Karinchak wasn’t far off Williams’ pace, as he also struck out 53 in 27 innings while giving up just 14 hits.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: 2021 Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet
A total of 29 rookie pitchers held rotation spots for at least 50 percent of the season, and 11 of those hurlers posted an ERA under 4.00. Kansas City’s Brady Singer led rookie pitchers in strikeouts (61), innings pitched (64.1) and games started (12) while posting a solid 4.06 ERA, with Oakland’s Jesus Luzardo close behind (4.12 ERA and 59 Ks in 59 IP). Other impact rookies hitters included San Diego’s Jake Cronenworth (.285/.354/.477), Detroit’s Willi Castro (.349 average and six HRs), Oakland’s Sean Murphy (seven HRs and .364 on-base percentage), the Angels’ Jared Walsh (.293 average and nine HRs), and the Dodgers’ Edwin Rios (eight HRs and .645 slugging). Top pitchers included Houston’s Cristian Javier (3.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 54.1 IP), Seattle’s Justus Sheffield (3.58 ERA over 10 starts), and two rookie hurlers, Dustin May (2.57 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 56 IP) and Tony Gonsolin (2.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 46.2 IP), who helped solidify the World Series champion Dodgers’ rotation down the stretch.
In addition to all the players mentioned above, a number of prospects who retained rookie eligibility and are still on this list made positive first impressions during limited big-league debuts. Tampa’s Randy Arozarena, Pittsburgh’s Ke’Bryan Hayes, Atlanta’s Ian Anderson, Miami’s Sixto Sanchez, Texas’s Dane Dunning, and Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie are among the 20 guys on this list who saw major league action in 2020.
The result is a deep pool of big-league ready prospects who promise to make a significant impact in 2021. While prospects have played an increasingly significant part in every season over the past six years, this year could see the largest crop of impact rookies in recent memory.
2021 MLB Top Prospects
1. Wander Franco, SS, Tampa Bay. Franco remains the top prospect in baseball despite not seeing any official game action in 2021. He did play at the team’s alternate training site where he got experience against advanced pitching. Franco will turn 21 in March and should make his big-league debut this season. A switching-hitting shortstop who can hit for average and power, he’s an elite offensive talent with outstanding plate discipline and contact skills (83 BB and just 54 K in 768 pro plate appearances). He’ll need to use his lower body more in his righthanded swing to fully unlock his power potential, and defensively he may eventually move to second or third. However, wherever he lines up in the field, his bat is good enough to make him an All-Star.
2. Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore. Rutschman has only 130 official pro at-bats under his belt and posted a modest .254 average in his brief 2019 minor-league debut, but he’s a top-tier talent who could be a perennial All-Star backstop. He reportedly performed very well at the team’s alternate training site in ’20, and, at 23, has a mature offensive and defensive game. Rutschman is has the potential to hit for power and average and profiles as a plus defender behind the dish. Offensively, Rutschman uses plus bat speed and good lower body explosiveness to generate plus raw power. He also shows good plate discipline, which should allow him to hit for average and get on base at a high rate. The rebuilding Orioles have no incentive to rapidly push him to the majors but we should see him in the bigs at some point in ’21.
3. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Seattle. Only 20, Rodriguez already has elite raw power. In 2019, he hit .326 with 12 HRs in 84 games split between Low-A and High-A, then impressed as the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League. Last season, he fractured his wrist in summer camp, returned to form in instructionals, and then got some work in the Dominican Winter League. Rodriguez isn’t a polished hitter and will chase pitches, but he’s a hard worker who should improve his approach as he matures. If he continue to develop, Rodriguez has the potential to bat in the middle of a big-league lineup while slugging 30-plus HRs a year.
4. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Miami. Sanchez made his big-league debut in 2020 and looked every bit the future ace. Just 22, he showed off a mature, improved physique that helped him pump his fastball up into triple-digits. His electric heater and plus change elicited lots of swing-and-miss, and he got batters to chase out of the zone at an elite rate. Sanchez will open the season in the Miami rotation, and if he can continue to refine his command and sharpen his breaking ball, he’ll quickly reach his ceiling as a No. 1 starter.
5. Jared Kelenic, OF, Seattle. Kelenic had a breakout season in 2019 (.291/.364/.540 with 23 HRs and 20 SBs) and spent ’20 facing top quality pitching at the alternative training site. Although he’s just 21, he’s a polished hitter who reached Double-A in ’19. Kelenic has plus bat speed and an efficient swing path that generates plus raw power. He also has a strong work ethic and has made steady skill improvement in his short pro career. Kelenic has the potential to hit 25-plus home runs and post a .280 average in the bigs. Don’t be surprised to see him in Seattle in ’21.
6. Marco Luciano, SS, San Francisco. Luciano had an electric pro debut as a 17 year old in 2019 (.302 average with 10 HRs and nine SBs in 179 at-bats between Rookie ball and Low-A) and then spent ’20 as the youngest player at the Giants’ alternate training site. He’s a long way from the majors, but he’s flashing elite talent, featuring electric bat speed and prodigious power. He’ll need to keep improving to stay at shortstop, but he’s shown a good work ethic and has the raw tools to stick at the six.
7. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego. Gore was probably the best pitcher in the minors in 2019 (1.69 ERA, 135/28 K/BB and just 56 hits allowed in 101 innings between High-A and Double-A) but reportedly showed inconsistent mechanics during his time at the alternate training site in ’20. At his best, Gore has good command of four pitches (plus low-to-mid-90s fastball, plus curve, above-average slider, and solid changeup). He mixes his pitches well, attacks hitters, and shows the poise of a front-line starter. The Padres’ stacked rotation means that there’s no need to rush Gore to the majors. However, if he can maintain the consistency of his delivery, he profiles as a No. 1 starter and could make his big-league debut in late ’21.
8. CJ Abrams, SS, San Diego. Abrams had a stellar pro debut in 2019 (.393 average and .647 slugging with more stolen bases (15) than strikeouts (14) in 150 at-bats between Rookie ball and Low-A) and then got in significant development work against older competition at the alternate training site in ’20. Abrams’ package of plate discipline, contact ability, emerging power, and plus speed make him one of the highest-upside prospects in the minors. He’ll almost certainly spend all of ’21 in the minors (barring a trade), but he has the makings of an All-Star shortstop or second baseman at the big-league level.
9. Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox. Kopech missed the 2019 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery, then opted out of the 2020 campaign. Kopech has been dominant at every level as a pro and was overpowering in ’18 during his first three big-league starts before falling victim to injury in his last outing. When healthy, Kopech dominated hitters with an upper-90s fastball and plus slider. In ’18, Kopech had tightened his command and was learning how to attack hitters. Health and potential rust raise questions about his future, but if he return to his pre-injury form, Kopech has the makings of a No. 1 starter.
10. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Chicago White Sox. Madrigal made his big-league debut in 2020 and performed as advertised (.340 average in 103 at-bats). A separated shoulder, which required offseason surgery, will keep him out until possibly April or May. When healthy, Madrigal displays elite contact skills and plus speed. He won’t hit for any power, but he could compete for a batting title while stealing 20-plus bags per season and playing plus defense at second base.
11. Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta. Anderson was a revelation during a late-season six-start stint with the Braves (1.95 ERA with 41 strikeouts and just 21 hits allowed in 32 innings) and should open the 2021 campaign in the Atlanta rotation. Anderson has a plus change that was virtually unhittable last season, a plus mid-90s fastball, and a solid change. If he can continue to improve his command, he has the stuff to be a No. 2 starter.
12. Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, Detroit. Torkelson was drafted first overall in 2020 and spent the summer at the alternate training site. A polished hitter with excellent plate discipline and plus-plus power, Torkelson profiles as a middle-of-the-order force with 30-plus HR potential in the majors. His defensive home is a question, though. If he can play third as the Tigers hope, his value increases, but even if he is relegated to first, he still has the bat to be an above-average first baseman.
13. Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto. Pearson had a breakout year in 2019 (2.30 ERA with a 119/27 K/BB and just 63 hits allowed in 101.2 IP between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A), but his command deserted him and he was shut down with elbow soreness in ’20 during a rough five-game big-league debut. At his best, Pearson shows good control of an excellent high-90s fastball, a plus slider, and a solid change. His health history is a concern and his sudden loss of command in ’20 is worrisome, but he still profiles as at least a No. 2 starter in the majors. He’ll get another shot at big-league success as a staple in the Jays’ rotation this season.
14. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh. Hayes has always been a plus defender, but his offense was limited by his failure to fully use his lower half in his swing. This season he adjusted his balance and finally started to incorporate his hips, leading to a breakout performance during a brief big-league call-up (.376 average with five home runs in 85 at-bats). Hayes approach needs work and he’s still gaining consistency with his new mechanics but he now looks like a guy who could hit .275 with 25 home runs over a full season. He’ll get the chance to show what he can do as the Pirates starting third baseman in 2021.
15. Jasson Dominguez, OF, New York Yankees. Dominguez is just 18 and hasn’t yet played pro ball in the U.S., but he has as much potential as anyone in the game. A switch-hitting center field with plus power and plus speed, Dominguez already has a polished swing path that produces outstanding bat speed from both sides of the plate. He’s a long way from the majors, but he has the tools to be a 30-30 guy.
16. Luis Patino, RHP, Tampa Bay. Patino put up big numbers in 2019 as a 19 year old (2.57 ERA, 123/38 K/BB and only 69 hits allowed in 94.2 innings mostly at High-A), then had a bumpy big-league debut as a reliever before being traded to the Rays in the offseason. In ’20, Patino’s normally solid command deserted him, as he walked 14 in just 17 innings. The Rays are looking to him to pitch at the back end of their rotation in ’21 and Patino should right the ship under Tampa’s excellent pitching development program. At his best, Patino has electric stuff, featuring an upper-90’s heater, a sharp slider, and a decent changeup. If Patino can recover his command and find more consistency with his slider, he has all the makings of a No. 2 starter.
17. Spencer Howard, RHP, Philadelphia. Howard was great in 2019 (2.03 ERA with a 94/16 K/BB and only 43 hits allowed in 71 innings over three levels) but then struggled in six big-league starts last season. At his best, Howard has elite stuff including a mid-to-high-90s fastball, a plus change, and a plus breaking ball. In his big-league starts, his fastball was solid but he didn’t command it in the zone and his change, which usually features good sink, was flat and got clobbered. If he can maintain his normal stuff and improve his command, he has the potential to be a No. 2 starter and should be a mainstay in the Phillies rotation this season.
18. Luis Campusano, C, San Diego. Campusano received a surprise call-up in 2020 and wasted no time making an impression, homering in his first contest. A wrist sprain then shelved him for the rest of the season, but he should be good to go for ’21. The Padres’ acquisition of Austin Nola means that Campusano will probably spend this season in the minors, but he has the potential to be an All-Star caliber backstop. Campusano was the High-A California League co-MVP in ’19. With great balance and leverage, plus bat speed, and excellent plate discipline, Campusano has the tools to hit close to .300, post a high OBP, and slug 20-plus homers in the majors.
19. Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit .Mize was outstanding in 2019 (2.55 ERA, 106/23 K/BB and just 80 hits allowed in 109.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A) but then struggled in seven big-league starts in ’20. Mize has three plus pitches (nasty splitter, mid-90s fastball, and sharp slider), but his stuff was flat, with merely average movement and spin. At his best, he shows excellent command, a repeatable delivery, and an ability to mix pitches. If he can regain his sharpness and reassert his command, Mize has the potential to be a frontline starter, but his disappointing debut cast some doubt on his ultimate upside.
20. Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis. Carlson had a breakout 2019 campaign (.292 average and .372 on-base percentage with 26 HRs and 20 SBs in a season spent mostly at Double-A) and then struggled in an initial big-league cameo before being demoted and eventually turning things around after a second promotion. His hot finish should make him the favorite to start in left field for St. Louis this season. The switch-hitting Carlson has a bit more power from the left side, but he shows good bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination from both sides. With solid pitch recognition and plus raw power, Carlson has the potential to hit .275 with 20-plus home runs over a full season in the bigs.
21. Matt Manning, RHP, Detroit. Manning was outstanding at Double-A in 2019 (2.56 ERA and 148/38 K/BB in 133.2 innings) but was reportedly shut down with fatigue in ’20 after spending part of the summer at the alternate training site. Despite his age (23) and pro success, he’s still very much a work in progress. The lanky righthander has an electric mid-90s fastball, a plus curve, and a developing change. He also mixes in a slider and shows good control but his stuff can be inconsistent. The Tigers have no reason to rush him to the majors and should give him the chance to refine his stuff and improve his consistency in the minors this season. Long-term, he has the tools to be a No. 2 starter.
22. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, Chicago White Sox. Vaughn had a modest pro debut in 2019 (.278 with six HRs in 205 at-bats in Rookie ball, Low-A, and High-A) but impressed at the alternate training site last season while showing he could handle advanced pitching. Vaughn also gained some experience at third base and in the outfield, which could open up more avenues to the bigs for him in ’21. Overall, Vaughn is a polished hitter with a compact stroke and good plate discipline. He should hit for a decent average and draw plenty of walks. If he can better use his lower body to create leverage and loft in his swing, he has the bat speed to hit for above-average power.
23. Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland. McKenzie has always had good stuff, but he had a hard time staying healthy and his slight frame raised questions about his long-term role. McKenzie quieted the critics in 2020 with an eye-opening big-league debut (3.24 ERA and 42 strikeouts and a .179 BAA in 33 innings). McKenzie now enters the season with a chance to stick in the Cleveland rotation. The slender righthander has above-average command of four pitches: High-spin low-90s fastball, plus curve, improved slider, and solid change. If he can stay healthy, he has the stuff to be a No. 2 starter.
24. Joey Bart, C, San Francisco. Bart had a rough big-league debut in 2020 (.233 and no HRs in 103 at bats), but he’ll probably get more minor league development time in ’21 and still projects as an above-average big-league backstop. Bart is an above-average defender and has shown a good work ethic as a pro. He was off-balance at the plate in ’20 which resulted in weak contact against fastballs. He also chased breaking balls at a high rate, leading to an elevated strike out total. If he can settle down and regain his balance, there’s no reason he can’t eventually hit for a solid average while clubbing 25-plus home runs over a full season.
25. Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle. Gilbert had an excellent 2019 (2.13 ERA and 165/33 K/BB in 135 innings combined between Low-A, High-A, and Double-A), then impressed at the team’s alternate training site last year. Going into ’20, Gilbert already had good command of a polished four-pitch repertoire (mid-90s fastball, solid slider, plus curve, improved change) but reportedly made strides with both command and stuff and now profiles as No. 2 starter. Gilbert will probably begin the season in the minors but should be in line for a big-league call-up by midseason.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: 2021 Fantasy Baseball Cheat Sheet
26. Daniel Lynch, LHP, Kansas City. Lynch was a solid prospect in college, but he’s developed into one of the best lefthanded pitching prospects in baseball. He performed well in 2019 (3.10 ERA in 15 starts at High-A) and then wowed at the alternate training site in ’20. Lynch now sports an impressive four-pitch mix featuring a dynamic mid-90s fastball and a plus slider. He’ll probably open the season in Double-A and could compete for a big-league rotation spot by mid-season. Long-term, he now projects as a No. 2 starter.
27. Randy Arozarena, OF, Tampa Bay. Arozarena was a postseason force during the Rays’ World Series run and now looks like a budding star. His electric bat speed produces elite exit velocity, and his good balance and direct swing path provide the leverage for his plus raw power. He’ll need to show he can hit breaking balls more consistently, but he already has the tools to hit .270 with 25-plus home runs. If can continue to improve against benders, he could be even better.
28. Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers. Ruiz was on the fast track to the bigs when he had a forgettable 2019 campaign and was overtaken on the Dodgers’ depth chart by Will Smith. He then spent the majority of ’20 at the alternate site and got a brief big-league cameo in which he belted a home run in his first at-bat. The lost season may have been a blessing in disguise for Ruiz, who was able to refine his hitting mechanics with L.A.’s first-rate hitting coaches while also working to improve his fringy defensive skills. Ruiz may not get an opportunity in L.A., but he should eventually be a major-league regular whose excellent plate discipline and good hand-eye coordination should allow him to hit for average and get on base at a high clip. If he can improve his defense and improve his currently average power, he could be an All-Star.
29. Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona. Carroll had a good pro debut in 2019 after being selected in the first round (.299/.409/.487 with 18 stolen bases in 154 at-bats between Rookie ball and Low-A) and then opened eyes at the alternate training site in ’20. Just 20, Carroll already has good plate discipline and emerging power. With plus speed and good defensive chops in center field, Carroll has all the tools to be an above-average big leaguer. He’ll probably begin the season at High-A, but he eventually could be a 20-20 guy who hits for average in the bigs.
30. Deivi Garcia, RHP, New York Yankees. Garcia made his big-league debut last year, and at 21, he enters the season with a shot to stick in the Yankees rotation this year. Garcia has a four-pitch mix, including a plus curve, a lively low 90s fastball, a solid change and a developing slider. Garcia’s curve wasn’t that sharp during his six major league starts, but his fastball was an effective weapon. If he can regain the normal bite on his curve while continuing to refine his changeup and improve his command, he has the potential to be a No. 2 or 3 starter.
31. Alex Kirilloff, OF, Minnesota. Kirilloff has battled injuries throughout his pro career, but when healthy he’s a polished hitter with above-average power. He made his big-league debut in the 2020 postseason and will compete for a starting outfield spot in ’21. Kirilloff shows good pitch recognition and the bat speed to handle plus velocity. His smooth swing path and great balance allow him to drive the ball to all fields. Long-term, he has the potential to hit for average and stroke 20-plus HRs while playing a solid corner outfield in the bigs.
32. Francisco Alvarez, C, New York Mets. Just 19, Alvarez is already an advanced hitter with the potential to be an offensive force. In 2019, he hit .312 with seven home runs in 157 at-bats at Rookie ball and then performed well against much older competition at the alternate training site. He needs to improve defensively to stick at catcher, but he has the tools to be the rare backstop to hit for both average and power in the bigs.
33. Emerson Hancock, RHP, Seattle. Hancock was drafted sixth overall in 2020 and saw limited action at the alternate training site. Hancock isn’t a finished product – his fastball can be flat, he could improve his command, and his breaking stuff isn’t always consistent – but he has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter. Hancock has solid command of a four-pitch mix, runs his fastball up to the high 90s, and gets good extension which allows his stuff to jump on hitters. He’ll almost certainly spend all of ’21 in the minors, but given Seattle’s excellent pitching development program, he could be fronting the Mariners rotation as early as ’22.
34. Royce Lewis, SS, Minnesota. Lewis has seen his star fade since being drafted first overall in 2017. He remains a top prospect, but inconsistencies in his swing have raised questions about his ability to hit advanced pitching. Lewis doesn’t always control his lower body, which makes it hard for him to adjust to different pitch speeds. At his best, he shows plus bat speed and average power (in ’19 he hit .353 and won the MVP award in the Arizona Fall League). Lewis is also a plus runner who should swipe 20-plus bags a year and play above-average defense at shortstop. He got valuable developmental work at the alternate training site in ’20 and should open the season at Double-A. Just 21, Lewis has plenty of time to reach his potential as an above-average big-league shortstop who will hit for average and moderate power.
35. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore. Rodriguez had a stellar 2019 campaign (2.68 ERA, 129/36 K/BB and just 57 hits allowed in 94 innings at Low-A) and then spent ’20 at the alternate training site, where he gained experience against advanced hitters. With solid command of a plus mid-90s fastball, above-average change, and decent slider, Rodriguez could be a No. 2 or 3 starter. He’ll probably open the season at High-A and will likely spend all of ’21 in the minors.
36. Asa Lacy, LHP, Kansas City. Lacy was drafted fourth overall in 2020 and saw time at the alternate training site. A polished college hurler with a smooth, repeatable delivery and an excellent four-pitch mix, Lacy has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. His mid-90s fastball and sharp slider are his best weapons, and his pitches seem to tunnel well. He’ll make his pro debut in ’21 and could move quickly given his advanced stuff and overall polish.
37. Riley Greene, OF, Detroit. Greene had a solid pro debut in 2019 after being drafted fifth overall. He spent ’20 at the alternate training site and should open this season at High-A. Green is still a work in progress, but he flashes plus bat speed and above-average power. He’ll need to show he can handle advanced pitching and continue to refine his approach, but he has the tools to be an above-average corner outfielder who hits for average and some power.
38. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston. Whitley has been inconsistent as a pro and was shut down with arm soreness at the alternate training site last summer. At his best, Whitley shows elite potential, featuring a lively mid-90s fastball, plus curve, and solid command. At other times, his delivery has looked out of snyc and his stuff has been average. If he can show greater consistency, he has the stuff to be a front-line starter. Already 23, if Whitley can make progress in 2021 he could find himself in the Houston rotation before the year is over.
39. Cristian Pache, OF, Atlanta. Pache made a brief big-league debut in late 2020 and quickly showed that he is already one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. At 22, he’s now poised to open the season in the Braves regular lineup. Although he’s already an elite defender, Pache is still a work in progress offensively. He has good bat speed and solid raw power, but he sometimes loses his balance at the plate and doesn’t have a consistent swing path. If he can continue to improve his plate discipline and refine his swing mechanics, he has the strength and bat speed to hit for average and moderate power in the majors.
40. Max Meyer, RHP, Miami. Meyer was selected third overall in the 2020 draft and made a brief appearance at the alternate training site. Meyer has yet to throw an official pro pitch, but he’s already an advanced pitcher with a smooth delivery and above-average command of three pitches (a devastating plus slider, an explosive high 90s fastball, and a developing change). His stuff profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter, and if his change improves, he could even be a No. 1.
41. Tarik Skubal, LHP, Detroit. Skubal had a breakout 2019 (2.42 ERA, 179/37 K/BB and just 87 hits allowed in 122 innings split between High-A and Double-A) but suffered an underwhelming big-league debut in ’20 (5.63 ERA in 32 innings). Despite his struggles, he still showed flashes of his potential as a No. 3 starter. His slider and changeup missed bats and he sat mid-90s with his high-spin fastball. If he can tighten his command and refine his curve, he should be effective pitching in the middle of the Tigers’ rotation in ’21.
42. Matthew Liberatore, LHP, St. Louis. Liberatore had a solid showing at Low-A in 2019 (3.10 ERA and just two HRs allowed in 78 innings) and then impressed club officials with his development at the alternate training site in ’20. Liberatore’s best pitch is a plus curve, but his fastball has improved and shows riding life in the low-to-mid 90s. Despite his age (21), he’s already a polished hurler who mixes his pitches well, shows good command, and avoids hard contact. He’ll probably open the season at High-A and won’t be in the majors anytime soon, but he has a good chance of reaching his potential as a No. 3 starter.
43. Nick Gonzales, SS, Pittsburgh. Despite being drafted seventh overall in 2020, Gonzales doesn’t get the hype of some other recent college middle infield draftees but he has the potential to hit for average, show above average power, and steal 15-plus bags in the bigs. Gonzales has a compact swing and great balance, which produce plus bat speed and an ability to hit to all fields. Defensively he saw time at both shortstop and second, but he profiles better at the keystone. He’ll probably spend all of ’21 in the minors, but his polished bat could get him to the majors in early ’22.
44. Dane Dunning, RHP, Texas. Dunning had a good big-league debut in 2020 (3.97 ERA, 35 strikeouts and .197 BAA in 34 innings) before being traded to Texas in the offseason. He’ll open this year as a candidate for a rotation spot with the Rangers and has the potential to be a No. 3 starter. Dunning is mostly a sinker/slider guy who mixes in a fringy four-seamer and average change, but the sinker/slider is good enough that even if his other pitches don’t develop, he should be a successful big-league starter.
45. Jordan Groshans, SS, Toronto. Groshans lost most of 2019 to injury but hit well when he was healthy, then impressed at the alternate training site where he eased doubts about his ability to stick at shortstop. Groshans has plus power and the swing path to hit for average. He shows solid plate discipline and the ability to make adjustments at the plate. He’ll need to stay healthy and become more consistent with his balance and approach, but he has the potential to be an above-average offensive shortstop.
46. Drew Waters, OF, Atlanta. Waters won the Double-A Southern League batting title and MVP in 2019, then spent last season at the alternate training site. The switch-hitting Waters has above-average raw power from both sides of the plate, but he’ll need to improve his pitch recognition to hit for average in the bigs. He reportedly worked on his plate discipline and approach this season, and he’s shown the ability to make adjustments as a pro. He’ll likely begin the season at Triple-A, where he’ll work to show that he can make enough contact to reach his ceiling as a power-speed threat in the bigs.
47. Edward Cabrera, RHP, Miami. Cabrera can reach triple digits with his fastball, but unlike most young flamethrowers he also has solid command and a three-pitch mix. He had a breakout year in 2019 (2.23 ERA and 116/31 K/BB in 97 innings between High-A and Double-A) but dealt with injuries at the alternate training site and didn’t see any big-league time in ’20. If he can stay healthy and continue to improve his change, Cabrera could make the Miami rotation sometime this season and eventually could be a No. 3 starter.
48. Garrett Crochet, LHP, Chicago White Sox. Crochet debuted as a big-league reliever only months after being drafted 11th overall, then wowed with a triple-digit fastball that he used to strike out eight and walk none in six scoreless innings. He was shut down with forearm tightness but should be healthy this spring. Crochet is a bit of a wild card because right now he’s mostly a two-pitch guy (fastball/slider) who has not proven that he can start as a professional. However, triple-digit, left-handed fastballs don’t grow on trees, and so far no big leaguer has shown that he can hit Crochet’s fastball. Is he a No. 1 starter or a late-inning reliever? Either way, if he stays healthy, he could quickly be back in Chicago.
49. Ryan Mountcastle, OF, Baltimore. I’ve seen Mountcastle numerous times over the years, and I’ve always liked him as a prospect more than I feel I should. He swings at too many pitches and isn’t a good defender, but he has a great swing path and excellent balance which produces plus bat speed and consistent hard contact. Now that he’s shown what he can do at the big-league level (.333 and five home runs in 126 at-bats), it’s time to give in and put him on my Top 50. He can be a little too much on his front foot sometimes, which saps his power, but he has the skills to hit for a decent average and solid power despite his free-swinging ways. If he can be more selective and stay back a little more, he could even be an elite hitter.
50. A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland. In 2019 Puk pitched well out of the Oakland bullpen during a late-season call-up (3.18 ERA, 13/5 K/BB in 11.1 innings), but he missed ’20 with a shoulder strain that required offseason surgery. When healthy, Puk has shown electric stuff, including a high 90s fastball and a plus slider. On stuff alone, he’s an elite prospect. The problem is, he hasn’t been healthy, and shoulder surgeries tend to be harder to overcome than elbow issues (which he’s also had). Oakland will likely treat him cautiously this spring, but, if healthy, he’ll definitely play a big-league role, either as a mid-rotation guy or a late-inning reliever. Long term, If he can regain his pre-injury form, Puk profiles as a No. 2 starter.