Time to talk about prospects. Today we will break down the prospects who will begin the season in the minors you should be targeting as either a late round flier or a mid season pickup. This list will exclude any players that have already seen MLB playing time, such as Alex Kiriloff (who I foolishly attempted to include in an earlier draft), McKenzie Gore, or Jo Adell. Also, it must be stated that this is directed towards redraft and shallow keeper leagues; in deeper keeper or dynasty leagues most of these players are likely already spoken for. It must also be clarified that this is aimed exclusively at the 2021 season. We don’t care how awesome Marco Luciano is because he will not be playing for the Giants in 2021. So now that we are all acquainted with the rules of this piece, let us delve into the list that you have so patiently waited for.
Nothing is a sure thing in sports, but these are the players getting called up sooner rather than later this year that would truly shock us if they didn’t perform at a high level immediately. Thus, the Sure Thing tier.
Wander Franco: June
If you have been Wandering (don’t worry it gets worse) about how good Wander Franco is going to be, then let me be the first to tell you to Wander no more. Franco is going to be a stud. He is the 4th player ever to be ranked as the number 1 prospect in consecutive years. The other 3 are Andruw Jones, Joe Mauer, and Bryce Harper. All of those guys ended up being pretty good. Franco hits for power, average, can see the strike zone, and can steal some bases. So that just leaves me Wandering how many leagues he is going to win this year.
Jarred Kelenic: May
Kelenic is the future of the Mariners organization. He is a fast enough centerfielder that is developing into a premiere power hitter. Across three levels in the minors in 2019, he went 20-20. Kelenic can take walks and shouldn’t strike out more than 25% of the time. Kelenic is going to be a super star. It’s just a matter of how many at bats it takes for that to come to fruition.
MacKenzie Gore: June
We thought Gore might’ve gotten the call at some point last year, and then he didn’t. Then it looked like he might start the year with the Padres, and then they traded for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove. So now it looks like Gore is going to have to wait a couple months before he gets his chance. Across three levels in the minors, Gore had 2.56 era, a 1.005 whip, and a 12 K/9. So when he does finally get the call, we fully expect him to answer with authority.
Andrew Vaughn: June/July
In his final year in college, Vaughn batted .374 with a .539 obp and a .704 slg. I understand that those are college numbers and that they don’t translate perfectly to the majors, but those are absurd numbers. He projects to be a miserable defender and thus most likely a DH, which is fine by me. I believe Vaughn will be the second coming of Prince Fielder. High average with a lot of power and a great eye for balls and strikes.
The Adley Rutschman/Julio Rodriguez tier is a weird one because it only includes two players. This is because both Rodriguez and Rutchsman are in a weird spot. We don’t know when they are going to get the call, but we do know that when they do, they should be awesome.
Adley Rutschman: August/September
It’s hard to gauge prospects in baseball. It’s also hard to predict how catchers will adapt to MLB workloads. Thus, it is almost asinine to try and predict which catching prospects will have the most impact, particularly with their bat. Rutschman makes it pretty easy. The 23 year old absolutely raked in college, and he settled in very nicely in Single A in 2019 and it was hoped that he was going to make an appearance in the Covid season. He still might not come up this year, but he very well could, and if he does, he should immediately be one of the highest ceiling options at a laughably shallow position.
Julio Rodriguez: August/September
Top prospects are like Oreos: it’s widely accepted that they’re awesome, but everyone has their own way of eating them that they enjoy. If Kelenic is the Mariners’ traditional “dunk the cookie in the milk” prospect, then Rodriguez is their Double Stuft Oreo that they deconstruct, eat the icing out of the middle, then dunk each individual cookie for maximum enjoyment. Kelenic is an instant impact guy who is ready to play tomorrow, but Rodriguez has arguably more raw skill. We haven’t seen all the tools click at the same time in the minors yet, but so far he doesn’t strike out, takes walks, hits bombs, and has great speed for his size. He’s only 20, but Rodriguez has shown all the abilities that will make him an immediate contributor in some capacity when he gets the call, and a multi-category stud for years to come. Which could very well be just in time for a fantasy playoff push this year.
This is the Watch and Learn tier. These are guys who should get called up in time to actually contribute to your fantasy team, but may not light up the box score for you immediately.
Josh Jung: May
If fundamentally sound baseball gets you all hot and bothered, then you may need to take a seat. Josh Jung is about as vanilla as it gets. He is a turkey sandwich on white bread with mayo. His prospect grades almost have him as a straight 55 across the board. He has a good eye for balls and strikes, plays good defense, and knows how to barrel the ball. He likely won’t ever hit 30 home runs and he shouldn’t steal 20 bases, so for fantasy purposes, you are just hoping for playing time. Jung is so fundamentally sound that he will play every day right up until the Rangers find someone better, and that for sure won’t happen in 2021.
Matt Manning: May
Manning is a very high risk/high reward pitcher. He has the pitches and the upside to be a front end starter with a dominant strikeout rate, but like so many guys before him that can touch 100 on the radar gun, he has trouble finding the strike zone at times. He seemed to get this problem under control in 2019 while in double A, but the tigers also refused to call him up last year, so I’m not convinced that they think he is ready for big league bats. If you find yourself owning him in 2021, be careful. He is a matchup play until he proves otherwise.
Jeter Downs: May
Out with the old and in with the new. We lost Derek Jeter so that Jeter Downs could rise from the ashes and lead the MLB into a new golden era of care packages for single celebrities. The recent departure of Andrew Benintendi has left more than one hole in Boston to be filled; now the only thing standing in the way of Jeter Downs having a full time job and a mysterious downtown loft where women must check their phone at the door is Kiki Hernandez… So you can expect Jeter to come sooner rather than later, and when he does he will bring with him a great eye for balls and strikes and deceptively potent power. Expect him to score early and often in 2021 and beyond.
Forrest Whitley: June
Put away your score sheets and bust out the poker chips, because Whitley is one of the largest gambles in professional baseball. He’s been at the top of prospect lists for years, and he has the ability to be one of the best pitchers immediately after getting the call, but off the field issues have kept him from fulfilling his potential. You could make a case that he will win a Cy Young or never throw a big league pitch, and both have more than enough evidence to seem legitimate. Whitley will print K’s like a Kinko’s if he ever gets to the MLB, he just has to stop striking himself out first.
Drew Waters: August
Between the signing of Marcell Ozuna and the news that the NL will not have a DH in 2021, it’s tough to find playing time in Atlanta right now. So now two of the outfield spots are very securely held by Ozuna and Ronald Acuna. This does not mean that it’s impossible for Waters to find playing time in 2021 though. The Braves currently project to start Christian Pache, who is a god tier level defensive outfielder but is a downright liability with the bat. Waters could steal that spot from Pache with his very aggressive plate approach and above average power. I’m concerned that Waters’ strikeout rate will be north of 30% in the majors, but Pache could be worse so only time will tell.
Logan Gilbert: July
Logan Gilbert sounds like an accountant. Logan Gilbert is not an accountant however, opting instead to be a badass. The 6’6” behemoth is the first pitcher taken in the first round from the sneaky baseball factory, Stetson University (some guys named Kluber and DeGrom played there… maybe you know of them). He might be our third Mariner on this list, but you could argue he’s the most sure thing in their farm system. Gilbert has only been in the minor leagues for a short time, but he has absolutely dominated across three levels, sporting a 11.0 K/9 to go with his 2.13 ERA and .95 WHIP. He is a former college pitcher and 23 years old, so the Mariners could bring him up mid season if their young team shows a little spunk early. If they do, he should be an immediate pickup in your league.
Vidal Brujan: August
Every Paul Simon needs an Art Garfunkel. A multi/uber-talented, known quantity counterpart to the meteoric frontman who can’t help but steal the show. That’s what Vidal Brujan is to Wander Franco and the Rays: he is a high average hitter, excellent middle infielder, and can absolutely boogie around the bases. He won’t deliver much in the power department, but he should make an immediate impact in the average and steals departments, as well as provide daily at bats due to his excellent glove work. Fun fact: Simon has said that Garfunkel is the better musician of the two. Just a fun fact. Nothing more.
Trevor Larnach: June
If you have read any of our work up to this point, you know that a prospect’s name is the most important thing to look at when projecting their future production, and boy oh boy do I have a name for you today. I’m not sure how Trevor’s parents pronounce his last name but for the purposes of DraftID it’s Lar-Knock. Imagine the joyous future in which the Twins play by play guy goes bananas about how Trevor has Larknocked another one into orbit above Target Field? This is the future I see, and that’s why Larnach is going to be an absurdly fun player to own. With a 6’4 224 frame, you can expect that once he gets adjusted to the major league level he will be blasting lasers to an outfield seat near you. Larnach can take a walk and has the skills to be a 280+ hitter with 40+ bomb potential. So if you are trying to Larnach your draft out of the park, then you must keep a close eye on this Trevor.
Taylor Trammell: August
Taylor Trammell was just outside the top 10 overall prospects entering the 2019 season, but with the added expectations came a collapse. Just about every single stat of his, that you care about, declined in a major way the moment he jumped to double A. Then, to add insult to injury, he was traded twice before ending up on the Mariners where, if you read up higher on the list, there are a couple of very good outfield prospects already waiting for their shot. Trammell has the size and most certainly the athleticism to make some magic happen when he gets his chance. I’m just concerned that he has too many holes in his swing and that he won’t get enough time to work through those problems in the majors.
These guys are in your 2022 Sleepers tier. These are the guys that you keep your eye on in September, when the bottom of your league has moved onto football, so that you can snag the ones that popped before your idiot friends even know they exist.
Josiah Gray: September
The Dodgers love messing with their pitchers during the season, and that could be good or bad for Josiah Gray, but we won’t know until it happens. That makes him very much a late season dart throw, because he could come up and throw in relief for 2 games and go back down. Or he could be a better version of 2020 Tony Gonsolin. Gray has been downright dominant in 2 years of minor league play, posting a 2.76 ERA, .96 WHIP, and a 10.2 K/9. With those numbers, even if he comes up in relief, he could go 6 up 6 down with 4 strikeouts. If he pitches at all you want to own him.
Edward Cabrera: August
I know what you are thinking: Edward Cabrera isn’t a great prospect name. I’m aware of that, but I’m cautiously optimistic that he can overcome the name with a ridiculous 6’5 215 frame. The dude has a monster fastball and, coming into last season, was getting hype as being the best Marlins pitcher. Yes, people were aware that Sixto Sanchez is also a Marlin pitcher. If Edward can get a catchy nickname or start going by his middle name, Brany, he could really explode onto the scene in 2021.
Seth Beer: September
Now this is a name to write home about. Seth Beer is the literal definition of a short strong name to craft your fantasy team name around. Beer projects as a power hitter with low averages but he has always hit for average in the minors (and was downright dominant at Clemson) so there is a real possibility that he will be the superstar that his name demands he should be. Before we move onto the next guy, I want everyone to close their eyes and imagine a future where Seth Beer comes up to the plate and the crowd in Arizona starts chanting, “Beer! Beer! Beer!”. This is a future I want to live in.
Nolan Jones: September
What happens to hockey players when they finally get so injured they can’t play anymore? Apparently they switch to baseball and develop into future superstars. Jones has stupid power and an incredbly patient plate approach. So expect him to have a high strikeout rate and a very nice walk rate. You know what this means? We are looking at the next iteration of the three true outcomes batter. So keep your eye on him, because as soon as the Indians trade Jose Ramirez for 2024 prospects the only thing holding back Jones will be service time manipulation.
Jordan Balazovic: September
Balazovic sounds like the ringmaster of a circus, and that isn’t totally inaccurate. Jordan is a very deceptive Canadian pitcher. At this point in time, his value comes from his + fastball and a sneaky release that makes it difficult for batters to track his pitches. He pounds the zone and induces boatloads of weak contact. He also has a slider and a changeup that through his years in the minors have continuously developed into the point where it’s easy to project them as being plus pitches in the future. Keep an eye out, because it wouldn’t shock me if Balazovic produces immediately when he gets the call.
Jarren Duran: September
Always fun to see a white guy with a 70 speed grade. Duran doesn’t hit dingers or take walks but he makes enough contact to get on base and may qualify for a felony with the amount of bases he will steal. Even though he has silly speed, he isn’t a great fielder, and that could hold him down in the minors longer than a player of his skill level normally would be. The Red Sox are in need of outfielders, so it is possible that, if he shows improvement defensively, he could find his way up sooner rather than later.
Brandon Marsh: September
Marsh is a solid player that should fill out the final spot in the Angels outfield alongside Jo Adell and Mike Trout. Marsh does everything well and gets on base at a great clip due to a high walk rate. He has the potential to hit for power, but has struggled to do so in the minors. Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler are the guys blocking him at the moment, but both are well past their primes, so we should expect Marsh to have a firm hold on one of those jobs by the start of the 2022 season.
One for the road. This is the player that we stumbled upon while researching this article that wowed us the most.
Oneil Cruz: 2022
One of the things we were excited about when we started this writing endeavor was falling in love with some of tomorrow’s studs even before they become today’s hype beasts. O’Neil Cruz is the first of those guys we’ve found. He’s the 27th overall prospect in baseball, so you could argue we aren’t being too incredibly bold with this, but just let me finish. Cruz is 6’7”. 6’7’! He can fly too, with a 60 grade speed, and he has a developing power tool as he grows into his relatively gangly frame. He probably won’t come up this year, but he will be appointment viewing when he does. Biggest guy on the field swiping bags early and hitting it literally out of the park as he ages? I’m getting excited just thinking about it. O’Neil Cruz is an electric factory in the making.