19 MLB Prospects Who Impressed Scouts At Instructional League In 2020
Teams have increasingly eschewed instructional league in recent years, reasoning their minor leaguers receive a greater benefit from rest or skill development rather than additional games after they’ve already completed a full season.
That trend was upended in 2020. With the minor league season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and only a small percentage of minor leaguers invited to alternate training sites, instructional league marked the only opportunity for most minor leaguers to receive in-person instruction and play actual, formalized games this year. As such, most teams—but not all—sent large numbers of prospects to their spring training sites in Arizona and Florida and played schedules of varying lengths throughout the fall.
Instructional league also marked the first time this year scouts were allowed to see professional players in person. Major League Baseball banned scouts from major league stadiums and alternate training sites in 2020 as part of health and safety protocols.
With teams playing actual games against each other and scouts in the stands, instructional league resembled the closest thing to a minor league season in 2020. That said, evaluating player performance was particularly difficult.
For one, it was an incomplete look. Two teams, the Yankees and Cardinals, did not participate in instructional league. The Braves held camp in Gwinnett, Ga. and did not play games against other teams. Some teams, including the Twins, Phillies and Giants, did not allow opposing scouts into their facilities (although scouts could watch the Giants when they faced other teams on the road).
For the players evaluators did get an extended look at, there were more factors than usual to consider. Many players, understandably, were not up to game speed after months away from a professional setting. The pitchers were generally ahead of the hitters. The age and experience level of the players varied widely, from 17-year-old international signees yet to play a professional game to players in their mid-20s with Double-A and Triple-A experience.
Still, even in that context, some players stood out.
With the final instructional league games wrapping up last week, here are the players that scouts, coaches and front office officials identified as the top performers this fall.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Matt Allan, RHP, Mets
Allan took a leap in his second year and jumped out to evaluators as one of the best pitchers in Florida. He flashed three plus pitches consistently with a lively 92-96 mph fastball, hammer curveball and improving changeup. Allan’s command is still a work in progress, but his stuff made a lasting impression.
Aaron Ashby, LHP, Brewers
Ashby arrived late to the alternate site and scuffled, but he rounded into form at instructs and earned plaudits as the Brewers’ top pitcher in camp. He showed a fastball up to 95 mph, earned plus grades on both of his breaking balls and threw enough strikes for evaluators to project an impact lefthander who could move quickly in 2021.
Peyton Burdick, OF, Marlins
Burdick stood out in a Marlins outfield group that included J.J. Bleday, Kameron Misner, Connor Scott, Griffin Conine and Victor Victor Mesa. After an excellent pro debut last year, the Wright State product got stronger and showed an impressive combination of power and natural feel for hitting. Evaluators noted he faces profile challenges as a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, but expressed confidence he’ll hit enough to be a solid everyday player.
Michael Busch, 2B, Dodgers
Busch earned universal reviews as the top hitter in Arizona. He took high quality at-bats, turned around upper-90s velocity and showed home run power to center field and both gaps. His balance, bat speed, hand-eye coordination and strike-zone discipline all drew high praise. Evaluators were split on Busch’s defense at second base, but he earned consistent grades as a plus hitter with plus power.
Rece Hinds, OF, Reds
Hinds was the star of instructs for the Reds, hitting gargantuan home runs that resembled blasts from some of MLB’s top sluggers. Most importantly, Hinds showed a vastly improved ability to make contact and cut down on his swings and misses, giving him a chance to get to his power at the plate while his plus athleticism flourished in the field.
Seth Johnson, RHP, Rays
Johnson was the most commonly cited standout in a talented group of Rays' pitchers. After impressing in his pro debut last year, he made significant strength gains and showed a fastball up to 99 mph with a wipeout slider that earned above-average to plus grades.
Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers
Like Busch, Jung impressed offensively in Arizona and drew consensus reviews as a plus hitter with plus power. His defense received less favorable appraisals, but his bat was enough for evaluators to project an impact player.
Jared Kelley, RHP, White Sox
The White Sox’s second-rounder made an immediate impression in Arizona. He flashed three plus pitches, including a fastball up to 97 mph, to go with signs of command, a sound delivery and impressive poise for his age. Kelley got noticeably heavier between the spring and fall and evaluators noted they would be concerned if he got any bigger, but for now it’s not an issue.
Justin Martinez, RHP, D-backs
Outfielders Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas received positive reviews, but Martinez was often the first name evaluators brought up from D-backs camp. The 19-year-old righthander showed a fastball up to 97 mph, a breaking ball with solid depth and deception that helped his stuff play up.
Helcris Olivarez, LHP, Rockies
Olivarez jumped on the scouting radar last year and took another step forward during instructs. He showed a fastball up to 97 mph, an improved changeup and better control, continuing an upward trend that has evaluators intrigued to see what comes next.
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Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros
Pena is primarily known for his defense at shortstop, but he arrived at instructs significantly stronger and started to gain believers in his bat. He showed average raw power and the ability to turn around good fastballs, developments that bode well for him to hit enough with the defense he provides.
Quinn Priester, RHP, Pirates
Priester blossomed from a projectable righthander with a low-90s fastball into a physical force who sat 96 mph and touched 99 mph this year. His curveball added power to become a borderline 70-grade pitch as well, and he did it all without sacrificing his advanced strike-throwing ability. Evaluators considered him arguably the top pitcher in Florida and didn’t hesitate to put front-of-the-rotation projections on him.
Cal Raleigh, C, Mariners
The burly Raleigh got even bigger, shortened his swing and made some of the most consistent hard contact of any player in Arizona. The switch-hitter was extremely aggressive—frequently swinging at the first pitch—and did almost all his damage from the left side. Evaluators registered concerns about his size and righthanded swing, but the impact he made from the left side had them buzzing.
Chris Rodriguez, RHP, Angels
Rodriguez showed some of the best stuff of any pitcher in Arizona. His fastball sat 94-96 mph with sinking, tailing life and he commanded three secondary pitches that all drew plus grades from evaluators. His slider, in particular, jumped forward to become the best pitch in his arsenal. Most important, Rodriguez was durable. After being beset by injuries throughout his career, Rodriguez handled a normal workload and didn’t miss any time while maintaining premium stuff throughout.
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
Rutschman refined his swing at the alternate site over the summer and showed off the finished product in instructs. He showed the ability to hit for power, hit for average and played at least above-average defense behind the plate. Beyond his tools, Rutschman’s polish stood out prominently—evaluators opined he was not only ready for the major leagues, but that he would be one of MLB’s best catchers immediately.
Gregory Santos, RHP, Giants
A starter throughout his minor league career, Santos pitched in relief during instructional league and blew hitters away in one-inning stints. His fastball touched 100 mph, his hard slider drew positive reviews and he showed an improved feel for throwing strikes, especially pitching out of the stretch. Multiple evaluators cited him as one of the most eye-opening pitchers in Arizona, while simultaneously noting the bullpen is where he belongs moving forward.
Tyler Soderstrom, C, Athletics
Soderstrom wowed A’s officials as a hitter at the alternate site and generated the same buzz among scouts at instructs. He showed power, feel for contact and an advanced approach, continuing a growing sense the A’s got a steal at the 26th overall pick.
Chase Strumpf, 2B, Cubs
Strumpf began showing opposite-field home run power during instructs while maintaining the calm, controlled approach extolled by scouts since he was drafted. He led all Cubs' hitters in hits, runs, home runs and OPS and showed just enough defensive ability to solidify his longstanding projection as a potential bat-first, everyday second baseman.
Mason Thompson, RHP, Padres
The oft-injured Thompson pitched in relief during instructs and dominated righthanded batters in one- and two-inning stints. His fastball sat 94-98 mph, his slider flashed plus at 88-90 mph and he commanded both pitches to the outer half of the plate. He struggled to command the inner half and lefties saw him well, but his fastball and slider combination overwhelmed righties and resulted in dominant, efficient outings.