Image credit: Jordan Walker (Tom DiPace)
With the minor league season nearly over (all that is left are the playoffs and the extra series tacked on to the end of both Triple-A leagues), it’s time to take a look at the prospects who made names for themselves in 2021.
We’re not talking about players like Riley Greene or Grayson Rodriguez or Bobby Witt Jr., who began the year with high pedigrees and then lived up to the billing. Instead, we’re looking at guys who vaulted from mid-tier prospects or lower—some, frankly, were practically anonymous entering the season—into the conversations for the best prospects in their system, or at least consideration for the forthcoming Top 30s.
Some of these players, like Kansas City’s M.J. Melendez, used 2021 to rebound from slow starts to their career. Others, like Cincinnati’s Elly De La Cruz, tore up the lowest levels of the minor leagues and now sit on the precipice of Top 100 consideration.
Watching the best of the best before they reach the big leagues is only part of the fun of the minor leagues. An even bigger chunk lies in watching players emerge from relative obscurity to join their more celebrated peers.
With that in mind, here are 30 players—one from each organization—who really improved their stock in 2021.
Brandon Pfaadt, RHP
The D-backs are stocked with high-end pitching prospects like Ryne Nelson, Blake Walston and Drey Jameson, just to name a few, but Pfaadt has quietly pitched his way into that mix this season. The righthander’s mix of stuff and pitchability has helped him whiff 155 hitters this year, second in the system behind only Nelson.
Spencer Strider, RHP
From Opening Day, the noise on Strider was loud. The Clemson product chewed through the lower minors with an electric fastball that often reached the upper 90s and made it all the way to Double-A in his professional debut. Strider’s slider is promising, too, but his changeup needs to develop further to help him solidify a spot as a rotation piece.
Jean Pinto, RHP
The top end of Baltimore’s system is loaded—Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez each rank among the game’s 10 best prospects, and DL Hall was on the same track before injury—but Pinto has quietly made a name for himself. The 20-year-old was acquired from the Angels in the Dylan Bundy deal and finished the year with 82 strikeouts in 62.2 innings and produced the best WHIP (0.78) of any pitcher in the system with 60 or more innings pitched.
Nick Yorke, 2B
A surprise selection in the 2020 draft, Yorke has proved the Red Sox’s selection very astute. He’s done nothing but hit all season long at both levels of Class A. He’s shown power, hittability and patience this season, and finished the year as one of just two players with 20-plus doubles, 10-plus homers and a swinging-strike rate below 11%.
D.J. Herz, LHP
In a year to forget for Cubs pitching prospects, Herz has had a marvelous season. He’s led the system in strikeouts, and his 14.44 strikeouts per nine innings was the third-best figure among pitchers who threw 80 or more innings.
Romy Gonzalez, IF
It has been a tough year on the White Sox farm, but Gonzalez has provided one of the season’s best stories. He’s moved to the middle infield and didn’t sacrifice any of his signature power. Gonzalez’s 23 home runs were good enough to finish second in the system in home runs and, more importantly, earn him his first big league callup.
Elly De La Cruz, SS
Quite simply, De La Cruz has been one of the most electrifying prospects in the minors this season. He quickly bullied his way out of the Arizona Complex League and then showed the same mix of explosive tools—with power and speed foremost among them—in Low-A. Relatively anonymous entering the season, De La Cruz has soundly placed his name among the top talents in the minor leagues.
Cleveland’s farm system has been excellent this year, led by standout performances from George Valera, Brayan Rocchio and Daniel Espino. Lavastida also deserves recognition. The 15th-round pick from 2018 has shown contact ability and power (not to mention 16 stolen bases) while ascending from High-A to Triple-A.
Adrian Pinto, 2B
Pinto played up to his scouting report this year in the DSL, where he finished second in the league in wRC+. He led the league in stolen bases (37) while walking nearly twice as often as he struck out. Pinto also led the league in runs (52) and finished second in hits (52).
Manuel Sequera, SS
The obvious riches in the Tigers’ system are Triple-A studs Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, who have each produced befitting of their pedigree. In the Florida Complex League, however, another Detroit dandy might be lurking. Sequera was inked out of Venezuela in 2019 and showed a mature offensive approach with doubles power that could translate into home runs as he ages. So far, so good. Sequera’s 11 longballs led the FCL, and his 40 RBIs were tied for the top spot as well.
Shay Whitcomb, SS
Whitcomb, the Astros’ fifth-round pick in 2020 out of UC San Diego, has quietly been excellent in his first turn as a pro. The 22-year-old is one of just seven players in the Astros’ system to eclipse 100 hits, and he’s one of just 22 players in the minors to record more than 25 doubles and more than 20 home runs.
This one is a slam dunk. Melendez’s 2019 and 2021 seasons could not be more polar opposite. Two years ago, the catcher hit just .163 at High-A. This year, he’s added better than 120 points to each of his triple-slash categories and finished with 38 home runs, the most in the minor leagues, while advancing to Triple-A.
Los Angeles Angels
Brendon Davis, IF
Davis is on his third team after being traded from the Dodgers to the Rangers, then plucked by the Angels in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft in 2020. He moved from High-A all the way to Triple-A by the end of the season, and his 26 home runs were the second-most in the Angels’ system.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Eddys Leonard, SS
Arguably, Leonard has done more this year to raise his own status than any player in the Dodgers’ system. His 22 home runs tied him for fifth in the system, and he finished the season hitting .296. His .929 OPS was second in the system, too, just behind Andy Pages, who also went through a breakout season of his own.
Eury Perez, RHP
In his first professional season, as an 18-year-old, Perez was magnificent. The 6-foot-8 righthander showed uncommon control of his long levers, which led to excellent control for someone his size. His fastball jumped into the mid 90s, and his breaking ball was a fine complement. He is the latest in a long line of high-upside Marlins arms.
Joey Wiemer, OF
Wiemer is a massive specimen of a human who hits the ball with corresponding authority. He started making more contact once he replaced a leg lift with a toe tap, and the power started showing up in spades. He caught fire to finish his tenure in Low-A, then kept it up in the High-A Central, where he swatted 14 homers in 128 at-bats.
Jose Miranda, 2B
If you’d guessed that Miranda would finish the regular minor league season (minus the additional two series added in Triple-A in lieu of playoffs), with the most hits and total bases in the sport, please raise your hand. Miranda’s mark of 279 total bases bested four Top 100 prospects for the overall lead and capped an outstanding year in which he leaped into the upper echelon of Minnesota’s offensive prospects.
New York (NL)
Jose Peroza, 2B
Outside of the big three prospects—Ronny Mauricio, Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty—the Mets’ minor leagues were pretty fallow. Peroza, however, showed improvement over the last time he took the field in 2019. An improved approach has allowed him to get to his power more often, and he plays third base better than some would expect for a player with his build.
New York (AL)
Ken Waldichuk, LHP
There are plenty of candidates here, but we’ll go with Waldichuk, who finished the year with the fourth-most strikeouts in the minor leagues. He comes by his whiffs with a healthy dose of funk in his delivery, and finished the year with the fourth-most punchouts in the Double-A Northeast despite not debuting in the league until June 17.
Jordan Diaz, 3B
Oakland’s system is currently in a bit of a valley, but Diaz has had an excellent season. His wRC+ was tied for third-best in the system, and his 13 home runs were tied for fifth in the organization.
Cristian Hernandez, RHP
Hernandez inked with the Phillies in 2017 but had not pitched in an official game since 2018. With Low-A, Hernandez showed evaluators a low-to-mid-90s fastball as well as a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s changeup. He used that mix to strike out 94 hitters, the second-most in the system, and give scouts the impression that he could one day fit in a rotation.
Matt Fraizer, OF
Fraizer has improved his approach this year, and the result has been a heap more power. He dominated for most of the season with High-A Greensboro, then finished strong at Double-A Altoona in his first test at the upper levels. He finished the year as one of just two players in the minor leagues with 25 or more doubles, five or more triples, 20 or more homers and 15 or more stolen bases.
Jordan Walker, 3B
It’s hard to imagine a much more impressive professional debut than what Walker did in the Low-A Southeast to begin his season. He hit the ball harder than anyone in the league, with a max exit velo of 116.2, the hardest in the league all season. He quickly bashed his way out of the league and showed well at High-A. He might not stick at third base, but his bat should play no matter where he lands.
Euribiel Angeles, 2B
Angeles put himself on the map by making an absurd amount of contact. He had the fourth-most hits in the minors in 2021. He’s not a particularly powerful player, but he has a short swing that should help him continue to have success as he moves up the ladder. In this era of high velocity, a player like Angeles who can make regular contact could be particularly valuable.
Ryan Murphy, RHP
Were it not for a late injury, Murphy might have led all the minor leagues in strikeouts. Instead, he fell three shy of system-mate Carson Ragsdale for the crown. Murphy has no particular knockout pitch, but he throws strikes and commands the zone with aplomb, which has helped him carve hitters at the lower levels of the minors.
Matt Brash, RHP
Entering the season, George Kirby and Emerson Hancock were the twin peaks of the Seattle pitching cachet. Now, Brash is firmly in that mix. The former Padres prospect is the owner of one of the minors’ nastiest sliders, which he used to whiff 142 hitters (second-most in the Seattle system) in just 97.1 innings.
Jonathan Aranda, 3B
The Rays’ player development system has been extraordinary this season. Beyond Wander Franco and Luis Patiño and Shane MccLanahan, they’ve produced a host of prospects who immediately fit into the Top 30 of the system. Aranda finished the year with a .950 OPS, which placed him among the top 10 in the minors in that category. His defensive position long term is not clear, but he should hit enough to find a spot in the big leagues.
Dustin Harris, 1B/3B
Harris was acquired from the A’s in the Mike Minor deal of 2020, and he spent the year making his new organization look very smart. Harris hit from Opening Day until season’s end, and finished the year as the only player in the minors to hit better than .300 with 20 or more doubles, home runs and stolen bases.
Until he broke his thumb, Moreno was one of the most talked-about players in the minors. The precocious backstop showed a strong blend of hittability and power and the defense to be an asset behind the plate. The small sample was enough to vault him from a very interesting prospect all the way to the No. 8 spot on BA’s Top 100.
Mitchell Parker, RHP
The Nationals’ system got much more interesting with the additions of Keibert Ruiz and the since-graduated Josiah Gray, among others at the trade deadline. Before then, Parker had emerged as one of the system’s more intriguing arms. He used a fastball-curveball combination, as well as a splitter and changeup, to whiff 144 hitters, second-best in the system behind top arm Cade Cavalli.