MLB Scouts Identify 25 Players Turning Heads At 2021 Spring Training
Every year there are players who stand out in spring training. Often, it’s a blip that means little. Other times, however, it’s a sign of real improvement and a precursor to a standout season.
The most recent prominent example came in 2018, when Max Muncy arrived at Dodgers camp as a non-roster invitee and quickly had team officials and opposing scouts buzzing. In a matter of months, he was batting in the middle of the Dodgers lineup and was one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.
In recent years, Baseball America has surveyed scouts watching spring training on which players they think are headed for standout seasons based on what they’re seeing. In 2019, David Fletcher, Brandon Lowe, Sandy Alcantara, Domingo German and Chris Paddack were among the players scouts identified before they went on to breakout seasons. In 2020, Brandon Nimmo, Zac Gallen, Tony Gonsolin, James Karinchak and Tyler Matzek all received mentions and made good on those predictions, even after a more than four-month gap between when camps shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic and Opening Day.
With spring training now a little more than halfway over, here are 25 players that scouts cited as having caught their attention in Arizona and Florida this year. Some are established major leaguers aiming for bounceback seasons, others are young big leaguers looking for a breakthrough and others are prospects primed to raise their stock significantly in 2021.
All scouts are employed by MLB clubs and were granted anonymity in order to speak freely. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
CJ Abrams, SS, Padres
The sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Abrams hit .401 in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his pro debut and starred at the alternate training site and instructional league last year. He has appeared in 14 of the Padres’ first 16 games this spring and hit a grand slam against the Brewers on Monday.
Scout’s Take: “Abrams looks every bit the part. He’s a special type of player. He’s a special type of athlete. He’s not ready to hit big league pitching yet but he’s such a premium athlete. He has average game power in him at maturity, he’s going to be in the middle of the diamond and he’s going to be one of the fastest runners in the game. He’s not scared by the bright lights. I know it’s spring training but a lot of those guys, their heart is pounding too quick because they’re on the same field as the stars. Not him. He’s gotten better defensively at shortstop, he’s got the range for it, but I don’t think that arm works best there. It’s either second base and center, and I personally would like to see him in center where his legs can play.”
Akil Baddoo, OF, Tigers
The Tigers selected Baddoo from the Twins in the Rule 5 draft in December and have given him considerable playing time this spring. He has made the most of the opportunity, going 9-for-23 (.391) with three home runs, seven RBIs and more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) through his first 12 games.
Scout’s Take: “I can see him sneaking into a regular role with them. They’re in love with him. JaCoby Jones might not see a lot of playing time if he struggles out of the gate. He’s got power, he plays a good outfield, he can do some things. It’s good raw power, plus at least, and he can run. He plays with some energy, takes quality at-bats. The hardest tool we have is the hit tool and how much power is he going to get to? If he can get to 50 game power, and I think he can, that could make him an everyday player.”
Isan Diaz, 2B, Marlins
Diaz initially opted out of last season following the Marlins’ Covid-19 outbreak, but he returned in September and appeared in seven games total during the season. One of four players the Marlins acquired from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade, Diaz has struggled so far in his major league career with a .174/.251/.294 slash line in 56 career games.
Scout’s Take: “I think he’s figuring it out. He just needs a chance to get acclimated at the major league level. Before he could be very inconsistent in terms of whether he stayed within himself in (an) at-bat or not. And that happens to young players, especially smaller guys. They’re going to get challenged and jammed and sometimes they feel like they have to pop a home run to kind of get the pitchers to back off and respect them. He’s done some things now where he’s showing he’s ready to just have good quality at-bats over and over. Just hit the ball where it’s pitched and not try and do too much.”
Zach Eflin, RHP, Phillies
Eflin has progressively lowered his ERA each year since 2017 and had his best season last year. He went 4-2, 3.97 in 11 appearances (10 starts) and set new career bests in ERA, WHIP (1.271) and K/9 (10.7). The 26-year-old has pitched six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and no walks over his first two starts this spring.
Scout’s Take: “I think he may finally be doing what we’ve expected from him. He’s really been that fringy fifth starter for a long time and you were wondering if he gets to the No. 3 or 4. Last year it looked like he was trending in the right direction, and this spring it’s looking good. He’s working fast. He’s getting early-count outs. He’s throwing quality strikes on both sides of the plate. His command of the whole zone is really good right now. That’s the big key. The command has really come along and he’s pitching with a little bit more confidence. He’s going after hitters earlier in the count and trying to put them away earlier. Or letting them get themselves out early in the count. I think that’s been the most impressive part, because you’d see him nibble from time to time the last couple years.”
Austin Gomber, LHP, Rockies
Gomber was the top player the Rockies acquired from the Cardinals in the trade for Nolan Arenado. Given a chance to compete for the fifth spot in Colorado’s rotation, the 27-year-old lefthander has pitched seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and two walks over his first three starts this spring.
Scout’s Take: “He’s been impressive. He’s pretty squarely in that No. 5 starter spot. He’s firmly separated himself as a better option than the other guys competing for it. He’s commanding four pitches. The slider plays, he’s got good feel for the curveball, he’s got the changeup in there and his fastball has been firm and he’s locating it in, down and out. He has some deception out there from the left side. It’s four pitches that are good across the board and the tempo is really good. He’s right there with (Kyle) Freeland as one of the better lefties right now in the organization. He’s the main guy there that’s going to take a step forward.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays
Guerrero has worked to shed weight since the start of last season and said at the start of camp he’s lost 42 pounds. He finished last season strong as his weight dropped and is 9-for-17 with four extra-base hits to start Grapefruit League play.
Scout’s Take: “He’s stinging the ball. He crushed one the other day. At first base he made two really nice plays around the bag. He’s more athletic now than you would expect. In terms of him getting more athletic and losing some weight, that was obviously a priority for them this offseason. His swing is a little more loose and he’s able to get it through the zone a little bit better than what he’s been. He had some trouble with the weight gain and some of the looseness and the athleticism in his swing last year. It’s still big pop. We forget he’s 22. I think he’s going to have a big year. Especially with the lineup he’s in, you can’t pitch around anybody.”
Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners
An all-star in 2018, Haniger played only 63 games in 2019 after he suffered a ruptured testicle and missed all of 2020 after suffering a torn muscle in his core/groin area and a herniated disk in his back. He returned to the field this spring for his first live games since June 2019.
Scout’s Take: “He looks really good. He’s moving around well. He’s playing hard, He’s swinging the bat well. He’s playing good defense. It’s nice to see him healthy and moving around without a limp or any restrictions or hesitations. I think he’ll be an impact guy. He has a chance to get back to the all-star level we saw. A lot of teams are going to be calling and trying to get him at the trade deadline.”
Jonathan India, 2B, Reds
The fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft, India hit .259/.365/.411 as he climbed to Double-A in his first full season but consistently received poor reviews from opposing scouts. He spent 2020 at the Reds’ alternate training site and re-emerged this spring as one of the top hitters in Reds’ camp.
Scout’s Take: “Before I always thought he played kind of pretty, so to speak. Flash over substance. And that seems to have gone away a little bit. He’s making better contact. He’s hitting the baseball harder. He’s having better ABs and he’s playing well consistently. He’s still a tough profile. He’s not a corner guy offensively and he’s probably not a middle guy defensively. He’s going to have to hit and be that offensive utility who plays second and third and moves around the diamond. But he’s been a nice surprise. The past criticisms weren’t unfair. He didn’t really do much to show otherwise honestly. Now he is. He’s been the one guy who has stood out in Reds camp.”
Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP, Yankees
Loaisiga has long flashed electric stuff but struggled to stay healthy, including shoulder injuries in 2018 and 2019 and an unspecified condition that sent him to the injured list in 2020. He has thrown 8.1 scoreless innings over four appearances this spring with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Scout’s Take: “I saw him at instructs right when he came back from injury a few years ago and thought he was going to be a solid big league reliever. Now I think he may squeeze into an all-star at some point. He’s showing three plus pitches right now. The fastball, not only is it velocity, he’s got some extra life to it at the end. The curveball is a 55 on some days but when he has it, it can go to a 70. His changeup is a 60 and all this spring that’s been pretty consistent for him. The control may be a little bit too erratic, but I do like it. If he can stay healthy he’s going to be a huge multi-inning weapon for them.”
Gavin Lux, 2B, Dodgers
The 2019 Minor League Player of the Year, Lux hit .175/.246/.349 in 19 games with the Dodgers last season and spent much of the year at the alternate training site. He made some swing adjustments in the offseason and is off to a hot start in Cactus League play, going 10-for-24 (.417) with seven runs scored through nine games.
Scout’s Take: “He’s going to hit. I’m not too worried about him long term. I think the expectations just got super, super high. There are some holes. There’s some exposure away, there’s some maintenance to the swing. But he’s shown me some quality at-bats, he has an aggressive swing and he’s got power for his size. He’s really strong. He does have some timing stuff with his swing and those are the guys that had a rough go last year, the timing guys. I see him as a really solid everyday player.”
Alek Manoah, RHP, Blue Jays
The 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Manoah spent last year at the alternate training site and has been one of the most talked about pitching prospects in any camp this spring. He struck out four Yankees over two scoreless innings in his first outing, then struck out seven Yankees big leaguers in a row while tossing three perfect innings in his second outing.
Scout’s Take: “He was 96-97 in the shorter outing blowing guys down and then I got to see him go over three innings. It was 93-96, last inning more 95-96 letting it eat, just painting both sides of the plate. Easy, heavy life with a well above-average slider that he put anywhere he wanted. His mound presence, the way he handles himself on the mound, it was really impressive. He looks like he belongs there. I could see this guy contributing for them in 2021 just based off of what we’ve seen so far this spring. It would be need-based, but if they’re in the stretch run you could see him being a weapon with that fastball-slider combo. It was really, really impressive.”
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians
McKenzie made his major league debut in 2020 and went 2-1, 3.24 with 49 strikeouts and nine walks in 33.1 innings. The Indians No. 1 prospect, he entered this spring competing for one of two open rotation spots behind Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale.
Scout’s Take: “He’s throwing the ball very well. He has a mound presence that’s ahead of his experience. He seems very comfortable within himself and executing pitches and not overly stressing being in competition for a rotation spot. He’s handled himself very well. We see a lot of young guys come up and try to overthrow. This guy can really pitch and it really stands out.”
Adrian Morejon, LHP, Padres
Morejon settled in as a spot starter/long reliever for the Padres last year and pitched to a 4.66 ERA with 25 strikeouts and four walks in 19.1 innings. With Dinelson Lamet uncertain to be ready for Opening Day, he’s competing for a chance to fill a rotation spot early in the season.
Scout’s Take: “He’s coming around. His last start was really good. It’s a matter of strikes with him and fastball command, but his last start was really positive. He’s able to throw the changeup for strikes, the curveball for strikes and get outs with all three of his pitches. When he’s able to do that his 97 plays even better. I think whether he can be a true starter is still to be determined. He’s going to have to repeat it 3-4 times in a row which has been his issue in the past, but at this point I think it’s just a matter of things slowing down for him. If he can take that breath and slow the game down and say all ‘I gotta do is throw a strike with my curveball, then I know I can throw the 97 right by him’. I don’t think he’s there yet, but I think he’s going in the right direction.”
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals
O’Neill hit .173/.261/.369 last season and didn’t receive an at-bat in the Cardinals playoff series against the Padres. He’s come out hot this spring, going 12 for 24 with three doubles and two home runs through nine games.
Scout’s Take: “A little bit towards the end of last year I saw him driving the ball to the opposite field more and that’s what he’s doing now. He’s driving fastballs oppo and he’s still on breaking balls. In the past he’s been more pull-oriented and really scuffled with secondaries. I still don’t love his swing path. It’s loopy and susceptible to swings and misses. But if he maintains this approach, then he’s got a chance to be on more pitches and hit home runs and be a productive hitter.”
Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, Angels
Ohtani’s two-way exploits won him AL Rookie of the Year in 2018 and he remained a dangerous hitter in 2019 even as he was kept off the mound recovering from Tommy John surgery. But he made it through only 1.2 innings on the mound last year before suffering a flexor strain and hit .190/.291/.366, leading him to revamp his offseason regimen. Ohtani has come out this spring hitting mammoth home runs, including three in the last two days, while touching 100 mph on the mound.
Scout’s Take: “Everyone has been talking about what he’s doing on the mound. What he’s doing in the box right now is way more impressive. I have no issues saying he could hit 35 home runs and hit .280 if he gets enough at-bats, and that’s the big question. They’re going to work him every sixth day on the mound and they’re going to have to balance that and I don’t think he’s going to get the at-bats to reach what heights he has as a ceiling offensively this year. I get it. He throws 100 with a nasty split and he’s got a good slider, but for me, I’ll take the at-bats for long-term value as opposed to what he does on the mound. It’s frontline stuff but he’s probably a mid-rotation arm because I don’t know if the control is there to get through a lineup more than twice. And then there is that factor of he does it easy on the mound, but his pitch mix, as we’ve seen, can cause some trouble—the splitter, throwing a lot of sliders. So that’s kind of why I temper that back a little bit. The fallback here is if he agrees he won’t pitch anymore, he’s athletic enough to play center field easily. I would love to see that guy in center field or right field.”
Johan Oviedo, RHP, Cardinals
Oviedo made his major league debut last year when the Cardinals Covid-19 outbreak thinned their pitching staff and went 0-3, 5.47 in five starts. He enters this season as the Cardinals No. 10 prospect and is expected to contribute to the big league club once again.
Scout’s take: “He looks really good. Much improved slider. Velo is what it was before, 94-97 like last year, but the slider is way better. Harder, sharper, like a real slider. I think he’s ready to make a big jump. We still need to see if he can repeat it for five innings, or seven innings, but he’s better.”
Fantasy: FAAB Targets For Week 12
A look at some of the hottest players over the last three weeks who are looking to ride their current momentum into the second half of the season.
David Peterson, LHP, Mets
Peterson made his major league debut last year and settled in as the Mets’ most reliable starter behind Jacob deGrom, going 6-2, 3.44 in 10 appearances. He has made two starts this spring and given up three runs in six innings.
Scout’s Take: “I’ve always been a little pessimistic on him, and I don’t want to get too ahead of myself because it’s just spring training, but his fastball has a little bit more power. If he can pitch with a fastball that has more power, then we’re talking about a guy who can actually be a big-league starter long term. This spring he’s putting his fastball by guys, which I’d never seen him do. It was 92-94, which is what it was last year, but it was the life on the fastball. Because I’ve seen him 92 with no life, and he doesn’t get a lot of angle really and he doesn’t have great command, so a lot of times he’d be in the middle of the zone getting whacked. But if there’s just a little more power and life on that thing and he can sneak it by guys, it’s a game-changer for him. He’s my tentative pick to click.”
Ryan Pepiot, RHP, Dodgers
The Dodgers No. 8 prospect, Pepiot impressed at summer camp last year and remained one of the organization’s top pitchers at the alternate training site. He’s made two appearances for the Dodgers this spring, tossing a scoreless inning of relief in his first outing before giving up two runs in one inning of work in his second outing.
Scout’s Take: “He’s got a chance to be good. He didn’t have success the day I saw him because he fell in love with his changeup a little too much. Instead of trusting his fastball he kind of fell in love with the change and got cute and big league hitters took advantage of that. But he’s got a nice package overall to work with. It was 94-96, low effort, easy, disguised his change well. That’s the pitch he really has confidence in, almost too much. That’s just youthful stuff. He’ll learn from that. He’s easy to like.”
Nick Pratto, 1B, Royals
The 14th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Pratto slumped to a .191/.278/.310 slash line at High-A Wilmington in 2019. He spent 2020 overhauling his swing at the Royals alternate training site and has opened Cactus League play 7 for 16 with three doubles and three home runs in 14 games.
Scout’s Take: “He made some adjustments at the alternate site and he looks really good. He’s got his swing shortened, he’s shortened up his load and just smoothed out his whole operation. They’ve done a really good job there. For me his stock is going up because he’s showing me that he can get to power against some quality arms out here. He’s always had feel to hit, there were just some issues in the swing that needed to be cleaned up. He’s just getting himself in a hitting position earlier. He has the bat speed, has the quickness in his hands. Now that he’s improved the operation of his swing, I think there’s some upside there.”
Joc Pederson, OF, Cubs
Pederson has long mashed righthanders but struggled against lefthanders and thus been limited to a platoon role. After hitting .190/.285/.397 for the Dodgers last season, the 28-year-old signed with the Cubs as a free agent because they offered him a chance to show he could hit lefties and be an everyday player.
Scout’s Take: “He’s playing on another freaking planet right now. Home runs, doubles, bunting against the shift; he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and rightfully so. He hasn’t had success against lefthanders, but he’s had competitive at-bats against lefthanders. If you want to hit lefthanded pitching, you have to face lefthanded pitching and he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to do that. And when he has, it’s been such a one-off where he hasn’t really had the opportunity to compete. Is he going to hammer lefties to begin with? Probably not. But I think that with more at-bats and with confidence, I think he’s going to compete against lefthanded pitching and take those at-bats every day. He’s playing hard, he’s running hard, his defense has been very good. I’d be shocked if he didn’t have a big year.”
Victor Robles, OF, Nationals
Robles has hit just .250/.320/.407 in the major leagues and regressed defensively last season, largely due to the 15 pounds he added in an effort to bulk up and be a more dangerous hitter. Still only 23, he dropped the extra weight and arrived in camp showing better plate discipline after he had 53 strikeouts and just nine walks in 52 games last season.
Scout’s Take: “I always thought he was a little overrated. Like when he and Ronald Acuña were coming through the Arizona Fall League together and people were comparing them, I never thought he was a dynamic, Acuña-type player. But now people are kind of too down on him. He’s really good. I think he’s figured out how to stay within himself yet keep pitchers honest a little bit. Like a lot of young players he got pounded in and got out of his comfort zone. Now it looks like he’s gotten it with the approach and knowing what he can hit and what to let go by. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a really good, solid season and does a lot of things well.”
Patrick Sandoval, LHP, Angels
Sandoval struggled to a 5.33 ERA in his first 19 career appearances (15 starts), with his fastball notably getting hit hard in each of his first two years in the majors. He didn’t allow a run in his first three appearances this spring before allowing three runs in two innings in his most recent outing.
Scout’s Take: “He could be one to click this year. He’s got a new slider that’s more of a firm cutter that’s been anywhere from 87-90 mph, and that’s allowing his fastball to work better north-south. He can attack you with his nasty changeup, then come at you with this hard cutter with angle and then elevate the fastball. He has some intangibles that I’m seeing and the pitch mix is really good. With how he hides the ball and the effort that it takes to repeat that delivery, I think there’s always going to be some strike-throwing concerns. But the stuff is just so good and I think he’s turned a little bit of a corner.”
Jairo Solis, RHP, Astros
Solis hasn’t pitched in an official game since 2018 with Low-A Quad Cities. He missed all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery and had his return delayed in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, but he showed enough at instructional league that the Astros added him to the 40-man roster after the season.
Scouts Take: “He impressed people at instructs and he impressed me in spring training. If you look at the track record and numbers, they don’t really tell you this guy can be a pretty good starter and relatively soon for a guy who pitched in A-ball last. He showed me the stuff you need for a starter. The delivery, the body. The three pitches are all good. It’s a solid mid-90s fastball, feel for a change, a good breaking ball and command. For a guy that hadn’t pitched much it was pretty clean, pretty polished. He can get a little more physical with his body but it’s a projectable sort of body. As some of their older pitchers retire or their contracts expire these next two years, he’ll be in their rotation.”
Logan Webb, RHP, Giants
Webb is 5-7, 5.36 in 21 appearances (19 starts) over his first two seasons in the majors, with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs both getting hit hard in particular. He entered spring training looking to keep ahold of his rotation spot and has thrown six scoreless innings with two hits allowed, one walk and 10 strikeouts over three appearances.
Scout’s Take: “He’s showing me more confidence in the changeup. It feels like he’s using the changeup 50 percent of the time and it’s been plus to plus-plus. He’s getting hitters from both sides of the plate out. He’s got enough action at the bottom of the zone. That’s actually helping open up his fastball a little more. It’s been a really strong spring. He’s competed. He hasn’t shown any issues facing good big league hitters. I know it’s spring training but if you’re able to do that with your changeup, that to me is a very good sign.”
Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
No player has received more fanfare than Witt this spring, who has yet to play above the Rookie-level Arizona League but has demonstrated immense power, speed and defensive ability in the Cactus League. General manager Dayton Moore said on a radio show Tuesday the Royals would be “open-minded” about Witt making the Opening Day roster, while also cautioning there are still two weeks of camp left.
Scout’s Take: “He’s a true five-tool, do-everything type of player who plays with incredible confidence and ferocity for his age. It’s not a false hustle. He plays the game hard. He showed up in camp as a 20-year-old and he’s doing everything he’s supposed to do. You’d never think he was only 20 if you watched him play. He can play short for me, he can get to power, he can take a walk. He’s just a complete player. He’s a special player. As far as the big leagues, I think talent-wise he could compete in the big leagues, which is kind of amazing to say, but it wouldn’t be the right thing for his development. Big league pitchers would find a way to beat him and beat him up. And with him, you’re not talking about what he can do in 2021. He could probably go to Double-A right now. As far as the majors, I do think you could see him later in the year, but that’s going to depend on what’s best for him and if they want to start the clock.”