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MLB Prospects With The Best Scouting Tools Entering 2021

After more than 18 months on hiatus, minor league baseball is set to make its long-awaited return.

The 2021 minor league season officially begins Tuesday. Every league will be in action except for Triple-A West, which opens on May 6.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, leaving most minor leaguers without a place to play. While some prospects were brought to alternate training sites and others were invited to instructional league, the majority were left to work out on their own or find ways to keep their skills sharp.

When New Hampshire-Portland and Bowie-Altoona open the season at 6 pm ET in a pair of Double-A matchups, they will mark the first minor league games since Sept. 17, 2019, when Sacramento beat Columbus in the Triple-A National Championship.

As minor league baseball gets set to return, here are the players with the best tools in the minors. Since this is a look at the minors only, players with prospect eligibility who are in the majors such as Alex Kirilloff (hit), Cristian Pache (outfield defense) and Shane McClanahan (fastball) were not included.

Selections were made by Baseball America staff with input from professional scouting directors.

Best Hitter  

  1. Wander Franco, Rays
  2. CJ Abrams, Padres
  3. Jarred Kelenic, Mariners
  4. Tyler Freeman, Indians
  5. Michael Busch, Dodgers

Franco remains the clear-cut best hitter in the minors and is followed by two other precocious young talents in Abrams and Kelenic. Freeman is a career .319 hitter lauded for his pure hitting ability and Busch has earned raves since instructional league last fall. Rays infielder Vidal Brujan, Pirates infielder Nick Gonzales, Blue Jays infielder/outfielder Austin Martin and D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll lead the next group of players who finished just outside the top five.

Best Power  

  1. Spencer Torkelson, Tigers
  2. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
  3. Marco Luciano, Giants
  4. Adley Rutschman, Orioles
  5. Jo Adell, Angels

Torkelson’s elite power earns comparisons to some of the game’s greatest sluggers and was the primary reason he was drafted No. 1 overall last year. Rodriguez and Luciano have yet to play above the Class A levels, but their prodigious power at a young age provides a glimpse of their immense potential. Others in consideration included Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz, Cardinals third baseman Nolan Gorman, D-backs outfielder Kristian Robinson and Mariners shortstop Noelvi Marte. Giants outfielder Jaylin Davis, Pirates first baseman Mason Martin and Indians first baseman Bobby Bradley all possess big power as well and finished among the minor league home run leaders in 2019.

Best Speed  

  1. CJ Abrams, Padres
  2. Vidal Brujan, Rays
  3. Jordyn Adams, Angels
  4. Garrett Mitchell, Brewers
  5. Jarren Duran, Red Sox

Abrams, Brujan and Adams frequently clock 80-grade run times on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and are among the fastest players at any level of baseball. Mitchell and Duran have flashed 80 times at their best and recent Mariners international signee Luis Bolivar is another elite runner who received consideration. Athletics outfielder Buddy Reed, D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll, Rays infielder Xavier Edwards, Braves outfielder Justin Dean, Blue Jays outfielder Reggie Pruitt, Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh and Mets outfielders Pete Crow-Armstrong and Johneshwy Fargas all boast plus-plus speed and headline the next group of players.

Best Defensive Catcher  

  1. Drew Romo, Rockies
  2. Rafael Marchan, Phillies
  3. Jake Rogers, Tigers
  4. Shea Langeliers, Braves
  5. Patrick Bailey, Giants

Teams considered Romo arguably the best defensive catcher to come through the draft in years and believe he’s a potential Gold Glove winner despite the fact he has yet to play a professional game. Marchan and Rogers have already reached the majors on the strength of their superb defensive ability and Bailey and Langeliers are two recent draftees who were seen as the best defenders in their respective college classes. The Orioles' Adley Rutschman, Twins’ Ben Rortvedt, Marlins’ Will Banfield and Brewers’ Payton Henry lead the next group of highly-regarded defensive backstops.

Best Defensive Infielder    

  1. Nick Allen, Athletics
  2. Jose Garcia, Reds
  3. Gabriel Arias, Indians
  4. Geraldo Perdomo, D-backs
  5. Anderson Tejeda, Rangers

Allen remains the standard-bearer for defensive excellence with his slick glovework, elite instincts and plus, accurate arm at shortstop. Garcia’s defense pushed him to the majors last year and Tejeda and Perdomo have made their debuts on the strength of their defense as well. Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña and Cubs shortstop Ed Howard are two more top-tier defenders who have the potential to be standout shortstops for years to come.

Best Defensive Outfielder  

  1. Pete Crow-Armstrong, Mets
  2. Buddy Reed, Athletics
  3. Jeren Kendall, Dodgers
  4. Alek Thomas, D-backs
  5. Mike Siani, Reds

With Cristian Pache and Leody Taveras in the majors, Crow-Armstrong takes over as the best defensive outfielder in the minors. His plus-plus speed, above-average arm strength and uncanny instincts give him Gold Glove potential in center field. Reed and Kendall face questions as hitters, but their defense is unimpeachable with their plus-plus speed and athleticism that allows them to frequently make highlight-reel plays in the outfield. Thomas and Siani are two more standout center fielders who have impressed in the lower levels in the minors, while the Brewers’ Garrett Mitchell and Angels’ Brandon Marsh lead the next group as plus defenders with plus or better arms in center field.

Best Fastball  

  1. Nate Pearson, Blue Jays
  2. Brailyn Marquez, Cubs
  3. Luis Medina, Yankees
  4. Jackson Rutledge, Nationals
  5. Hunter Greene, Reds

Just as there has been a huge uptick in velocity in the majors, the number of prospects with 70- or 80-grade fastballs on the 20-to-80 scouting scale keeps getting larger every year. Pearson, who was optioned to the minors after being activated from the injured list, boasts a fastball that has touched 104 mph in a game to take top honors. Orioles RHP Grayson Rodriguez, Royals LHP Daniel Lynch, Twins RHP Jhoan Duran, Pirates RHP Tahnaj Thomas, Marlins RHPs Max Meyer and Edward Cabrera, Indians RHP Daniel Espino, White Sox RHP Jared Kelley, Dodgers RHP Bobby Miller, Rays RHP Shane Baz and D-backs RHP Conor Grammes all have potential plus-plus fastballs and were among many others in consideration. Rays LHP Shane McClanahan and RHP Luis Patiño were set to make the list before they were promoted to the majors.

Nick Allen Eddiekelly

Baseball America Prospect Report — July 16, 2021

Jose De La Cruz, Nick Allen are among the top prospect performers.

Best Breaking Ball   

  1. Max Meyer, Marlins (SL)
  2. Simeon Woods Richardson, Blue Jays (CB)
  3. Shane Baz, Rays (SL)
  4. Matt Manning, Tigers (CB)
  5. Asa Lacy, Royals (SL)

Some evaluators felt Meyer’s slider was among the best breaking balls they had ever scouted leading up to last year’s draft. With elite velocity at 92-93 mph, exceptional movement and depth and his impressive command of the pitch, some feel it’s an 80-grade breaking ball on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. No one else quite has a breaking ball of that caliber, but there are plenty of other excellent ones. Woods Richardson, Manning, the Angels’ Reid Detmers, the Mets’ Thomas Szapucki and the Yankees’ Luis Medina all have curveballs that grade plus or better, while Baz, Lacy and the Phillies’ Francisco Morales all have sliders that earn plus-plus grades.

Best Changeup  

  1. Jackson Kowar, Royals
  2. Ryan Pepiot, Dodgers
  3. Alexander Vizcaino, Yankees
  4. Emerson Hancock, Mariners
  5. Joey Cantillo, Indians

Kowar’s changeup has been his calling card since college and has quickly emerged as a bonafide 70-grade pitch that is the best in the minors. Pepiot’s isn’t far behind and has a chance to be equally as good or better as he gains more experience. Vizcaino’s changeup also earns 70 grades, while Hancock had the best changeup in the 2020 draft class as a potential plus pitch. Cantillo owns the best changeup among lefthanders.

Best Control    

  1. Daulton Jefferies, Athletics
  2. George Kirby, Mariners
  3. Bailey Ober, Twins
  4. Dylan File, Brewers
  5. Paul Richan, Tigers

Jefferies issued just nine walks in 79 innings in 2019 and made his major league debut last year on the strength of that elite control. Kirby’s 70-grade control has been apparent since college and Ober matched Jefferies’ 1.03 BB/9 rate in 2019. Richan, File, the Mariners’ Darren McCaughan and the Royals’ Jonathan Bowlan all averaged less than 1.5 BB/9 in 2019 and are among the best strike-throwers in the minors.

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