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2021 High-A Central Top 10 Prospects

Spencer Torkelson Bradkrausefourseam
Spencer Torkelson (Photo by Brad Krause/Four Seam Images)

A lot changed in the minor leagues between the last pitch of 2019 and Opening Day 2021. The entire player development apparatus was overhauled, teams were cut and leagues took on new names and classifications. The former Midwest League became High-A Central, it’s classification changing from Low-A to High-A. The league dropped from 16 teams to 12.

One constant was the high talent level in the league, topped by Spencer Torkelson, the first overall pick in the 2020 draft. Torkelson started slowly but quickly lived up to his billing as an advanced hitter with huge power. He wasn’t the only high-end prospect to spend time in High-A Central.

The Dodgers sent more prospects through the league than any organization. Great Lakes featured four top 10 prospects: third baseman Miguel Vargas, righthander Bobby Miller, outfielder Andy Pages and infielder Eddys Leonard. The Indians placed three prospects in the top 10: righthander Daniel Espino, shortstop Brayan Rocchio and outfielder George Valera.

The league’s name and classification were different, but the talent that crossed through High-A Central made it seem like business as usual.

1. Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, West Michigan (Tigers)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 220. Drafted: Arizona State, 2020 (1st round).

Drafted No. 1 overall in 2020, Torkelson stumbled through the early days of his debut assignment at West Michigan, batting 1-for-16 in his first four games.

“You always knew he just needed time to get settled,” a scout said. “The pedigree was always there, but people forget how hard the jump can be to pro ball, especially right to High-A.”

Torkelson is built for power. He expertly handles the strike zone with advanced barrel control and plus-plus raw power. Light footwork and confident throwing accuracy in the field make Torkelson a capable fit for either infield corner, but given the Tigers’ eventual need to replace Miguel Cabrera, it’s easy to see Torkelson eventually landing at first base.

“You’d never know he struggled now,” the scout added. “He’s built like a big leaguer and now he’s hitting like one.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Spencer Torkelson, 3B/1B, West Michigan (Tigers)1092134111528242832.312.440.569

2. Miguel Vargas, 3B, Great Lakes (Dodgers)
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 205. Signed: Cuba, 2017.

Vargas has gradually turned himself into one of the Dodgers’ best prospects.

“He might have hit as consistently well as any player I saw in High-A this season,” a scout said, “seemingly always producing when needed.”

Vargas advanced to Double-A in mid June and kept up the pace. He hit .319/.380/.526 with a career-high 23 home runs between the two stops.

Defensively, Vargas has received praise for his work ethic at third base, though there are still questions as to whether the Dodgers will hold him there or eventually move him across the field to first base.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Great Lakes (Dodgers)156314911171693240.314.366.532

3. Jordan Walker, 3B. Peoria (Cardinals)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 220. Drafted: HS—Decatur, Ga., 2020 (1st round).

“Big power” is just one of the many accolades applied to Walker, the 21st overall pick in 2020. The 19-year-old required just 27 games at Low-A Palm Beach before joining High-A in late June.

It’s rare for a high school draftee to spend most of his full-season debut in High-A, but it didn’t seem to faze Walker. He hit 317/.388/.548 with 14 homers in 82 games between the two Class A levels.

“He’s impressive,” a scout said. “Big power, with feel for hitting, though he’ll have his struggles versus same-side spin due to over-aggressiveness and longer limbs.”

While Walker’s strikeout rate spiked from 17% to 26% after the promotion to High-A, that didn’t concern scouts. His defense is more of an issue.

“I’m not sold on his third base defense,” a scout said. “(I think) he likely moves to right field at some point.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Jordan Walker, 3B, Peoria (Cardinals)21538651338271562132.302.353.502

4. Bobby Miller, RHP, Great Lakes (Dodgers)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 220. Drafted: Louisville, 2020 (1st round).

Drafted 29th overall in 2020, Miller got his feet wet at the Dodgers’ alternate training site in 2020.

He quickly became a force to be reckoned with in his pro debut with Great Lakes with a potentially plus-plus fastball and a plus slider, complemented by advanced mixing of an above-average curve and changeup.

“He’s one of the next Dodgers’ starting pitchers for years to come, I think,” an opposing High-A Central manager said. “I’m just very impressed with his ability to throw strikes with his fastball and breaking ball at a young age. It’s definitely plus stuff.

“I mean, he’s running (his fastball) up there close to 100 miles an hour as a starting pitcher.”

A 1.91 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 47 innings earned the 22-year-old a jump to Double-A Tulsa, and scouts aren’t expecting Miller’s progress to slow down any time soon.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Bobby Miller, RHP, Great Lakes (Dodgers)221.91141104730161011156.178

5. Andy Pages, OF, Great Lakes (Dodgers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 212. Signed: Cuba, 2018.

The Dodgers’ top two prospects in High-A Central both hail from Cuba. While Miguel Vargas moved to Double-A in June, Pages, who is a year younger, continued to dominate High-A.

“(Pages) is a guy you want in your clubhouse,” a scout said. “He’s a fiercely loyal teammate and doesn’t like to lose.”

“Pages can flat-out hit,” another scout added. “At first glance, he doesn’t look like he should hit with the power he does (he led the league with 31 home runs), but if Andy finds out you doubt him in anything, he’ll work to prove you wrong.”

Pages’ route-running and instincts could help him stick in center field, but his plus-plus arm could be an asset in right.

“He can shut down a team running on him quite a bit,” an opposing High-A Central manager said. “I think he’s one of the better prospects in the league. I’m definitely impressed with him.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Andy Pages, OF, Great Lakes (Dodgers)4289511524131877312663.269.394.547

cardinals-900x635

Jordan Walker: Cardinals 2021 Minor League Player Of The Year

The 2020 first-rounder's easy power could put him in select company among the organization's recent hitting prospects.

6. Daniel Espino, RHP, Lake County (Indians)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 205. Drafted: HS—Statesboro, Ga., 2019 (1st round).

Viewed as one of the most exciting prep arms in the 2019 draft, Espino’s power arsenal has demanded attention for years. He kept his foot on the accelerator in 2021, when he struck out 152 in 91.2 innings at two Class A stops.

“When you hit the league as young as Danny, you deserve some room to figure everything out,” a scout said. “Big heater and a big IQ. If you can start to get a feel for how this works at that age, there’s a place for you. He still has some spotty consistency, but that’s to be expected. Not a red flag in my book.”

Espino mixes a two- and four-seam fastball, and regularly hits triple-digits. His plus-plus fastball complements a pitch mix which also features a plus slider and above-average changeup and curveball. While Espino is still refining some arm action wrinkles, his pure stuff will buy him plenty of time.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Daniel Espino, RHP, Lake County (Indians)264.04101004930232271688.170

7. Brayan Rocchio, SS/2B, Lake County (Indians)
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-10. WT: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2017.

Under normal circumstances, Rocchio’s season would be viewed as outstanding. When you consider that he spent the entire 2020 shutdown in Venezuela, away from any in-person development, his year becomes exemplary.

“He’s probably one of the best defensive players I’ve had a chance to work with in my career,” Lake County manager Greg DiCenzo said. “His situational awareness, maturity and decision-making as a young player is continuing to grow.”

While many switch-hitters tend to lean towards a strength on one side of the plate as opposed to the other, DiCenzo and some scouts see potential for impact on both sides.

With an above-average hit tool, fringe-average power and plus speed, Rocchio has quickly made up for the time he lost in 2020. He advanced to Double-A in late July as a 20-year-old, and between the levels hit .277/.346/.460 with 15 home runs.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Brayan Rocchio, SS/2B, Lake County (Indians)25745681319332065146.265.337.428

8. George Valera, OF, Lake County (Indians)
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-11. WT: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.

After his first few years were marred by injuries, Valera used 2021 to show exactly what he can do when healthy.

“He hasn’t moved quickly, but he’s moving at a pace I like,” one scout said. “One of the things I like about him is that he’s mentally matured. He’s putting in the effort to get better, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Valera’s .910 OPS ranked eighth in the minors among players 20 or younger who batted at least 350 times.

Scouts agree that Valera’s offensive and defensive skills will likely land him in left field, where he has the power to profile.

“He really started to realize that he can positively affect games on the defensive side of the baseball, not just offensively,” an Indians player development member said.

“Offensively, he knows that he can, but I’m not sure if he knew how solid he was as a defensive player, and that he really had the opportunity and will have opportunities to positively influence outcomes on the defensive side.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
George Valera, OF, Lake County (Indians)19945512416435558105.256.430.548

9. Eddys Leonard, 2B/SS/OF, Great Lakes (Dodgers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2017.

Leonard was a relative unknown entering 2021. That’s no longer the case. The 20-year-old impressed all season at both levels of Class A and now appears to be one of the latest additions to the Dodgers’ collection of high-upside prospects.

Leonard blends athleticism and hard contact, which helped him hit .296/.390/.539 with 22 home runs, 29 doubles and 51 walks at a pair of Class A stops. His skills now are impressive enough, but what they could become once he’s done growing is tantalizing.

“I really, really like this kid,” a scout said. “He’s raw, sure, but he gets it and you have to get it early to stick out. He’ll need an intentional eye kept on him, but that’s the type of profile you want to invest in.”

Leonard has a blend of confidence and plate discipline. He’s also gained experience at a variety of defensive spots, having started multiple games for Great Lakes at third base (14), center field (11), second base (10) and shortstop (six). A multi-positional role is likely in his future.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Eddys Leonard, 2B/SS/OF, Great Lakes (Dodgers)1643049102824174231.299.375.530

10. Joey Wiemer, OF, Wisconsin (Brewers)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 215. Drafted: Cincinnati, 2020 (4th round).

If you saw Wiemer early in the season, you saw a big man with a big swing who swung and missed a lot. After ditching a leg kick for a toe tap, he made much more contact and started damaging baseballs like few others in the minors. He closed his time at Low-A with four home runs in as many games, including a pair of extra-inning walk-offs. That stretch earned him a promotion to High-A, where he only continued his rampage.

“He screams raw power,” a scout said. “That’s the profile teams love at the plate, but it’s not to say that the pieces (don’t) still need to come together. Big bodies need time to fit all the moving parts together, but if he connects, watch out.”

Wiemer blasted 14 home runs with Wisconsin, good enough for 17th in High-A Central despite playing just 36 games. He’s not solely one-dimensional, either. Wiemer has an extremely strong arm in right field, and his combination of speed and instincts helped him become one of just three players in the minors to top 20 homers and 30 stolen bases.

“He’s capable of playing center, but I think the odds of him sticking in right field are more of a likely fit. That arm is a thing of beauty,” the scout added.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Joey Wiemer, OF, Wisconsin (Brewers)1283343701433183682.336.428.719

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