2021 Triple-A West Top 10 Prospects

Image credit: Jo Adell (Photo by Eddie Kelly)

Triple-A West got a significant makeover as part of MLB’s restructuring of the minor leagues. Formerly known as the Pacific Coast League, the league dropped from 16 teams to 10.

Iowa, Memphis, Nashville and Omaha—all members of the PCL since 1998—moved to the more geographically convenient Triple-A East. San Antonio dropped down to Double-A, as did New Orleans when it relocated to Wichita. Fresno, which had been in the PCL since 1998, dropped to Low-A and was replaced by Sugar Land, a former independent league team that moved to the ranks of the affiliated.

The reduction in teams meant a reduction in players, and thus a reduction of talent relative to previous seasons. Standouts such as Tacoma outfielder Jarred Kelenic and Oklahoma City catcher Keibert Ruiz ensured the league still had headliners, but the talent dropped off considerably beyond the top tier of prospects. Salt Lake outfielder Brandon Marsh and Tacoma righthander Logan Gilbert headline the players who weren’t in the league long enough to qualify for our ranking.

1. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Tacoma (Mariners)
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—Waukesha, Wis., 2018 (1st round, Mets).

Kelenic received his first big league callup after just six games but returned to Tacoma in early June. He spent another month with the Rainiers and posted a 1.088 OPS to earn another callup to Seattle after the all-star break.

Though Kelenic struggled initially in the majors, he flashed immense physical ability with Tacoma. He showed a tight, compact swing with above-average power, ably played all three outfield positions and impacted games with his aggressive baserunning. He recorded a hit in 23 of 30 games, including 19 extra-base hits.

“He’s a complete, a five-tool player,” former El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “Eventually he’s going to be one of the best outfielders in the game, period.”

Kelenic started pressing and snowballed during his first MLB stint, but he showed growth upon his return to Tacoma. He carried that into his second stint in the majors, where he overcame another slow start and progressively improved each month.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Tacoma (Mariners) 125 29 40 9 1 9 28 15 22 6 1 .320 .392 .624


2. Keibert Ruiz, C, Oklahoma City (Dodgers)
Age: 23. B-T: B-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 225. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.

Ruiz improved his swing path and pitch selection in the offseason and hit for newfound power at Oklahoma City. He hit a career-high 16 home runs in 52 games while maintaining his plus hitting ability. The Nationals acquired him from the Dodgers as the top prospect in the deadline deal for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.

Ruiz added that power without sacrificing his elite strike-zone discipline and had nearly as many walks (23) as strikeouts (27) before the trade. He also improved his righthanded swing, making him a more balanced switch-hitter with few weaknesses.

“We had no answer,” Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey said. “With all the advance information, the data, shifts, how to attack him on the mound, none of it worked. He found a way to really do damage.”

Ruiz’s receiving, throwing and game-calling continued improving and he grew into a consistently strong pitch-framer this year. He is on track to be an average defender in time.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Keibert Ruiz, C, Oklahoma City (Dodgers) 206 39 64 18 0 16 45 23 27 0 0 .311 .381 .631


3. Jo Adell, OF, Salt Lake (Angels)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 215. Drafted: HS—Louisville, 2017 (1st round).

Adell started slowly at Salt Lake but improved each month to earn a callup to Anaheim in early August. Even with early strikeout issues, he led Triple-A West in runs (57), extra-base hits (44) and total bases (184) and ranked second in hits (90) and homers (23) when called up.

Managers voted him the league’s best power prospect and most exciting player in Best Tools balloting.

“What stood out the most . . . was his ability to turn on a ball and keep it true to the pull side (and) also use the whole field through the middle and then opposite-field power,” Round Rock manager Kenny Holmberg said. “He can hit them over the fence, foul pole to foul pole.”

Adell’s growth left an impression beyond his tools. He stopped chasing fastballs in and sliders away as the year went on, leading to both higher averages and a reduced strikeout rate each successive month. His routes, first step and throwing accuracy all progressed to the point he is now a confident, aggressive defender in both outfield corners.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Jo Adell, OF, Salt Lake (Angels) 311 57 90 17 4 23 69 22 99 8 2 .289 .342 .592


4. Josh Jung, 3B, Round Rock (Rangers)
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 214. Drafted: Texas Tech, 2019 (1st round)

Jung earned a promotion to Round Rock in late August and quickly became one of the league’s most dangerous hitters. He notched 23 extra-base hits in 35 games despite a pitcher-friendly home park.

Jung showed exceptional strike-zone awareness, a polished, direct swing and the ability to hit pitches in any part of the zone. He primarily drove balls back up the middle or the opposite way into the right-center gap, but he made adjustments as the year went on and began pulling balls with authority. He punished fastballs and wasn’t fazed by velocity.

Jung is occasionally a clunky defender at third base, but he anticipates well and converts routine plays. He is a hard worker who occasionally has to be pulled back so he doesn’t overdo it.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Josh Jung, 3B, Round Rock (Rangers) 135 29 47 14 0 9 21 18 34 0 0 .348 .436 .652


5. Alek Thomas, OF, Reno (D-backs)
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. HT: 5-11. WT: 175. Drafted: HS—Chicago, 2018 (2nd round).

Thomas received a promotion to Triple-A in mid August and tore up the league over the final six weeks. His .369 batting average and 1.091 OPS were both second-highest in the league from the time he joined. 

While Thomas’ numbers were aided by the high elevation of Reno, he still showed promising traits even in that context. He demonstrated a balanced, confident approach, used his hands well in his swing and drove the ball from line-to-line. He barreled both fastballs and breaking balls and used his plus-plus speed to fly around the bases.

“He’s obviously super fast,” Salt Lake manager Lou Marson said. “He kind of hits balls on the ground and runs. With his speed, that might work for him.”

Thomas’ home run spike was a product of Reno, but he should continue to rack up extra-base hits with his speed and contact skills. He is a smooth, rangy defender in center field who projects to stay at the position.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Alek Thomas, OF, Reno (D-backs) 149 32 55 11 4 8 18 15 34 5 4 .369 .434 .658


6. Luis Campusano, C, El Paso (Padres)
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 232. Drafted: HS—Cross Creek, Ga., 2017 (2nd round).

Campusano started the year in San Diego and took time to round into form after he was sent down to El Paso in May. But he recovered to hit .320/.386/.613 from June 1 until Aug. 30, when he suffered a strained oblique.

Campusano stayed in the strike zone, swung hard and punished mistakes throughout the summer. He did damage at home (1.000 OPS) and on the road (.832 OPS), crushed all types of pitches—especially fastballs and changeups—and did so while facing older pitchers almost exclusively.

“He’s a force,” Albuquerque manager Warren Shaeffer said. “When his spot comes up in the lineup, you have to do something about it.”

Campusano’s defense remains behind his offense, but he has the physical skills become average with more development. His cost his pitchers strikes with inconsistent receiving and threw out just 22% of basestealers. He did improve his overall game management skills.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Luis Campusano, C, El Paso (Padres) 326 47 86 21 3 15 45 27 66 1 0 .295 .365 .541


7. Joey Bart, C, Sacramento (Giants)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 238. Drafted: Georgia Tech, 2018 (1st round).

Bart shook off his rough MLB debut last year to post a solid first full season at Triple-A. He missed time in May with a groin strain and was out most of August with a quad strain, but he performed on both sides of the ball when healthy.

Bart earned solid reviews as a receiver, blocked well and threw out 33% of basestealers. At the plate he showed plus power to all fields, tightened the holes in his swing and did a better job taking advantage of mistakes. He ranked among the league leaders in batting average and OPS before his quad strain slowed him at the end of the year.

“He’s better than what I had heard defensively,” Salt Lake manager Lou Marson said, “and he’s going to drive some balls.”

Bart is still prone to chasing sliders down and away and needs to improve his plate discipline. His main tasks behind the plate are to improve his energy level and body language.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Joey Bart, C, Sacramento (Giants) 252 37 74 15 0 10 46 21 82 0 0 .294 .358 .472


8. Jake Meyers, OF, Sugar Land (Astros)
Age: 25. B-T: R-L. HT: 6-0. WT: 200. Drafted: Nebraska-Omaha, 2017 (13th round)

Meyers had a breakout year at Sugar Land and was called up by the Astros to be their starting center fielder in August. Long a good athlete who had speed, strength and plus defensive ability in center field, Meyers improved his approach to make better swing decisions and exploded offensively.

Meyers led the league in batting average (.343), ranked second in total bases (162) and was third in OPS (1.006) at the time of his promotion. Managers voted him the league’s best hitting prospect and best defensive outfielder in Best Tools voting.

“He was by far the most consistent player that we saw,” Round Rock manager Kenny Holmberg said. “He could beat you in a number of ways. He can run, he’s got some pop, makes contact, he was a tough two-strike hitter, he controlled the strike zone, he catches fly balls, hits the cutoff man. He’s very fundamentally sound. Just a winning type of player.”

Meyers’ swing length and bat path cause some concern he’ll struggle against righthanders and be more of a platoon outfielder. He projects to be a steady major leaguer regardless.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Jake Meyers, OF, Sugar Land (Astros) 304 52 93 17 2 16 51 25 59 10 3 .343 .408 .598


9. Cal Raleigh, C, Tacoma (Mariners)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 215. Drafted: Florida State, 2018 (3rd round).

Raleigh was the most well-rounded catcher in a league that included Keibert Ruiz, Luis Campusano and Joey Bart. He ranked sixth in the league batting average (.324) and eighth in OPS (.985) when got called up on July 11 and drew plaudits for his receiving, game-calling and arm strength.

The switch-hitter had few holes in his swing from either side of the plate, stayed in the strike zone and was a durable, reliable defender behind the plate. He received votes for best batting prospect, best defensive catcher and most exciting player from league managers.

“He’s going to be their main guy for many years,” former El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “Not only is he an offensive switch-hitting catcher, but also his ability to catch and throw. I liked the way he handled the pitching and handled the game. I liked what I saw.”

Raleigh is an early-count swinger whose ambush approach was exploited in the majors. Improving that is his next step toward becoming the Mariners’ regular catcher.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Cal Raleigh, C, Tacoma (Mariners) 176 34 57 21 1 9 36 14 25 3 2 .324 .377 .608


10. Bryan De La Cruz, OF, Sugar Land (Astros)
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-2. WT: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2013.

De la Cruz returned from the coronavirus shutdown significantly stronger and made swing adjustments to get the ball in the air more. The result was new career highs in batting average (.324), slugging percentage (.518) and homers (12) before the Astros dealt him to the Marlins for Yimi Garcia at the trade deadline.

De la Cruz immediately seized a starting job in Miami and hit .296/.356/.427 in his 58 games while starting at all three outfield positions.

“When he would come up, I just put my head down because we couldn’t get the guy out,” Round Rock manager Kenny Holmberg said. “It was damage, extra-base hits, big-time production. You just kind of scratch your head and ask yourself, ‘Is anybody else in this league getting this guy out?’ ”

De la Cruz is an above-average runner with a plus arm and can play all three outfield positions. Some see him as a future fourth outfielder, but his offensive gains give him a chance to remain a starter.

Player, Pos, Team (Org) AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
Bryan De La Cruz, OF, Sugar Land (Astros) 272 48 88 17 0 12 50 17 59 2 4 .324 .362 .518


Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone