MLB Scouts Identify 28 Prospects Turning Heads Entering 2021 Minor League Season
Welcome to Opening Day. After more than 600 days, prospects will suit up in games for minor league affiliates from coast to coast. For the last month or so after big league spring training, prospects have had their own spring training going on in Arizona and Florida.
This is also the first time many prospects have gotten on the field in front of their team’s coaches and scouts, as well as scouts from other teams, since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last March.
Over the last few weeks, Baseball America has spoken to scouts watching the games in Arizona and Florida (with a little bit of alternate training sites mixed in, too) to get a sense of which players have stood out in the weeks leading up to the season.
Here’s what they said.
Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets
Continuing the run of catchers, Alvarez has absolutely looked the part of the Mets’ top prospect. Scouts saw impact potential on both sides of the ball, including the ability to hit for both average and power and a strong, accurate throwing arm behind the plate. Moreover, despite his youth, Alvarez showed leadership skills and played with obvious energy and joy.
Brayan Bello, RHP, Red Sox
Deeper down in Boston’s system is Bello, a righthander the club signed from the Dominican Republic in 2016. He struggled in 2019 at Low-A but still showed enticing raw ingredients despite somewhat disappointing numbers.
This spring, scouts continue to be encouraged by a three-pitch mix fronted by an upper-90s fastball, a hard slider and a promising changeup. He should move to High-A this year and still has a chance to wind up a starter.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Mets
New York’s first-rounder from the most recent draft has continued to show the shutdown defense that was one of his signatures as an amateur. Some scouts have even gone as high as saying he can be a 70-grade defender in center field when he reaches the big leagues. At the plate, he has feel to hit to all fields and the kind of line-drive approach geared toward the top or bottom of a lineup.
Reid Detmers, LHP, Angels
At Louisville, Detmers looked the part of a polished pitcher who could zoom to the big leagues. This spring, scouts have noted that he looks nearly big league ready. His low-90s fastball played up because of the way he commanded and controlled his arsenal. His curveball—a signature pitch in college—continued to show plus, while his slider was intriguing as well. Detmers also throws a changeup, but he didn’t use it terribly often in games. His stuff and polished mound presence makes scouts believe he could find himself in the big leagues fairly soon.
Ezequiel Duran, 2B, Yankees
Long a favorite of scouts who saw him in the New York-Penn League, Duran continued to impress this spring. More important, he showed development in his weaker areas from 2019. Duran looked more selective in the zone and did a better job laying off pitches out of the zone. Even his takes looked more convicted, as if he picked up the pitch earlier out of the pitcher’s hand. If this trend continues, his big raw power will play up even further.
Jesse Franklin, OF, Braves
Atlanta’s 2020 third-rounder out of Michigan, Franklin impressed scouts on the back fields by hitting a variety of pitches and showing a dynamic swing with big bat speed that consistently got the barrel to the ball on time. He also showed the athleticism necessary to play center field while also making some outstanding plays in right field.
Dax Fulton, LHP, Marlins
The Marlins went exclusively with pitchers in their 2020 draft, and Fulton was one of their most intriguing selections. The lefthander is coming off of Tommy John surgery and will begin his first pro season at Low-A Jupiter. In the spring, he showed a low-90s fastball with a 77-80 mph curveball with a loose, easy arm action. There’s room on the body to take more strength. If that happens, his stuff might continue to play up. Even in the early stages of getting back on the mound, scouts projected him as a big league starter.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
At the alternate site, Gore continued to show the mechanical struggles that have hampered his command and kept him out of the big leagues. Specifically, he has issues consistently getting over his front side because of the complexity of the hand pump and extremely high leg kick in his delivery. Both of those factors cause his control and command to suffer and the quality of his stuff to go backward.
Out of the stretch, when he has to tone down his delivery somewhat, the quality of his arsenal improves and he finds the good parts of the strike zone more often. Assigned to Triple-A El Paso, which plays in the hitter-friendly Triple-A West, Gore’s command will be tested early and often.
Seth Gray, 3B, Twins
Gray, Minnesota’s 2019 fourth-rounder out of Wright State, showed a simple, compact swing and a strong, compact frame. Those traits led evaluators to believe Gray will hit for both average and power as he matures. Defensively, he showed solid footwork and a plus, accurate arm at third base, even when throwing on the run.
Jay Groome, LHP, Red Sox
Groome’s road back has been long. Tommy John surgery cost him most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and he spent 2020 at the alternate training site. This year, he’ll finally get the chance to get back on the mound in an affiliated game.
Behind the scenes, Groome, still just 22, used an easy delivery to command a lively, 90-94 mph fastball to both sides of the plate. His signature curveball showed two-plane break and plus potential, and he also showed a cutter-slider type of pitch to help neutralize righthanders.
On the backfields, Groome showed enough for scouts to pencil him in as a pitcher with the potential to settle in the middle or at the back of a rotation.
Michael Harris, OF, Braves
One of the hottest names in Atlanta camp is Harris, who impressed in big league camp as well. The Braves’ third-round pick from 2019 out of high school in DeKalb, Ga., Harris has long displayed the kind of explosive athleticism associated with high-end talent. As a pro, he’s shown a physical, mature body that has helped him scald line drives all over the diamond.
Perhaps more impressively, Harris has also shown scouts the ability to move the barrel around the zone to get to different pitches in different sectors. He has a simple swing with a slightly lengthy hand load and, like many players, needs to become a little more selective but already shows the ability to recognize pitches early out of the hand.
In the outfield, he shows plus speed and a natural ability to play center field.
Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants
The Giants spent roughly $2.5 million in the third round of last year’s draft to buy Harrison out of his commitment to UCLA. So far, the investment is looking wise. Harrison impressed immediately at instructional league and has continued that trend in spring training.
The lefthander’s fastball has sat in the mid 90s this spring and bumped as high as 98 mph with riding life through the strike zone. His slider has shown plus potential as well, giving him two weapons. Next up will be the development of his changeup, which scouts haven’t seen him throw much at all this spring.
Robert Hassell, OF, Padres
So far, the crop of high school first-rounders from the 2020 draft has looked excellent, and Hassell is no exception. The eighth overall selection, Hassell in spring training showed hitterish traits with hints of power to come. Specifically, his short, quick swing got the bat into the zone quickly and stayed on plane for a long time. Scouts who saw Hassell believe he has the chance to be a plus hitter with average power. In the outfield, he could be an average center fielder or a plus defender in either corner.
Ethan Hearn, C, Cubs
Hearn was the Cubs’ sixth-round pick in 2019 out of high school in Alabama. He scuffled in his first test of pro ball at the Rookie-level Arizona League, then missed out on key reps during the canceled 2020 season. Hearn impressed scouts this spring by showing up bigger and stronger than he looked in 2019, and also by the way he played defense and managed a pitching staff. He also showed a line-drive stroke that could produce a fair amount of power because of Hearn’s natural strength.
Gunnar Henderson, SS/3B, Orioles
Henderson, one of the newest entrants into BA’s Top 100 Prospects list, opened eyes on the backfields in Sarasota. Playing a decent amount of third base in addition to shortstop, Henderson showed an arm that could grade as high as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He’s both physical and athletic, and has begun to consistently show the power required if he has to move off of shortstop.
Seth Johnson, RHP, Rays
Johnson was a bit of a project from the beginning due to a lack of experience pitching while at Campbell. He popped on radars during the fall before his junior year and impressed enough to be taken by Tampa Bay in the supplemental first round.
This spring, Johnson continued to show the combination of stuff and athleticism that gives him considerable upside. He pitched with a mid-90s fastball that peaked at 98 mph, and he showed the ability to command the pitch in the strike zone and elevate it when necessary. He backed up the fastball with a curveball he can land for strikes, a sinking changeup and slider that works as a finisher-type pitch.
Blaze Jordan, 1B, Red Sox
Jordan, whom the Red Sox selected with their third-round pick in 2020, unquestionably has power. His raw juice created plenty of buzz as an amateur and will likely be the subject of much discussion throughout his career.
At his first spring training, Jordan showed scouts that he can absolutely crush a fastball with his outstanding raw strength. To unlock his true potential, he needs to get better when it comes to recognizing spin.
Defensively, he looked at third base like a player who will have to move back to first base. Even so, he has enough potential thump in his bat to profile as a regular at the position.
Landon Knack, RHP, Dodgers
Knack put up eye-popping numbers at East Tennessee State, then was drafted in the fourth round by Los Angeles. In his first spring training, Knack has opened eyes. He worked with a 91-95 mph fastball, and proved adept at reaching back for the higher end of that range when necessary while sitting around 92 mph. His signature offspeed was a changeup that consistently showed plus and flashed at 70-grade, his slider flashed plus as well and his curveball looked average. Add the deception created by a glove flip in his delivery, and Knack had the look of a mid-rotation starter.
Luis Matos, OF, Giants
The reports on Matos coming out of instructional league were loud, and not much has changed this spring. There are some rough edges to polish, but the tools are there for Matos to be an impact player in the big leagues. Specifically, he’s shown more adjustability in his whippy, explosive swing this spring. When he makes contact, the ball will go a long way. Like any 18-year-old, he does have to refine his pitch-recognition and selectivity skills. He needs to improve his routes and jumps in center field as well, but shows flashes of a player who can stick at the position.
Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers
The Dodgers took Miller, a Louisville alum, with their first-round pick in 2020 and brought him to both the alternate training site and instructional league. In spring training, Miller’s body in particular has drawn raves. His muscular physique has helped him pump 94-97 mph four- and two-seam fastballs as well as nasty sliders with two-plane break.
As far as Miller’s path to starting is concerned, there are questions. In particular, he needs to improve the shape of one or both of his curveball and his changeup. Both pitches flash at least average potential, but neither shows consistency. Scouts also see the possibility of stiffer mechanics inhibiting his ability to throw quality strikes.
Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP, Pirates
The Pirates plucked Mlodzinski out of South Carolina with their supplemental first-round pick (No. 31 overall) in 2020. Entering pro ball, one of his biggest developmental goals involved finding a consistent go-to offspeed pitch to back up his heavy, 94-98 mph fastball.
Evaluators came away impressed with both his slider, which clocked in around 90 mph, and his changeup, which showed the kind of hard diving action associated with a splitter. Even within the window of spring training, Mlodzinski showed the ability to quickly adjust.
Bo Naylor, C, Indians
Naylor, the brother of Indians outfielder Josh Naylor, has looked tremendous this spring. Scouts noticed consistent hard contact, as well as exceptional athleticism behind the plate to the point where he could easily move off catcher and not look out of place at another up-the-middle position if needed. He was assigned to Double-A Akron to begin the year.
Nasim Nuñez, SS, Marlins
Nuñez, whom the Marlins selected with their second-round pick in 2019, showed an exciting package of tools in a smaller frame. Specifically, scouts saw plus athleticism and quick-twitch ability to allow him to be an up-the-middle defender with a plus arm. If he reaches his ceiling, he has the offensive skills to hit toward the top of an order.
Andy Pages, OF, Dodgers
Pages has the makings of a player who can make an impact, but there’s a long way to get there. Specifically, he can absolutely hammer fastballs. Pages hit a pair of home runs on mid-to-upper-90s heaters that each went an estimated 450-plus feet.
Now, he’s got to learn to handle anything offspeed. He didn’t show promise in that regard on the backfields, but his bigger concern is on the bases, where he frequently gets into trouble thanks to overaggression and lack of instincts. He shows a plus arm in the outfield, but has a long way to go when it comes to refining his routes and jumps.
Tyler Soderstrom, C, A’s
Soderstrom, Oakland’s first-round pick from 2020, made an immediate impression on his new teammates when he arrived at the alternate training site. Seeing him after his first offseason as a pro, scouts have noted that Soderstrom looks bigger and stronger.
He looks confident in the box and shows signs of being a player who could hit for both average and power. Perhaps more exciting, evaluators have been encouraged by what they’ve seen from Soderstrom behind the plate.
Specifically, he looks more mobile and his hands have improved. There’s little doubt about whether he’ll hit, but if Soderstrom can stick behind the plate his stock will rise significantly.
Tahnaj Thomas, RHP, Pirates
All of a sudden, the Pirates’ system is bursting with high-end arm talent (and will be even more so if they select Vanderbilt righthander Jack Leiter with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft) thanks to early draft selections and trades of Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell.
Thomas was acquired before the most recent wave, coming over in 2018 from Cleveland as part of the Jordan Luplow deal. Thomas is a well-built righthander at a listed 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, and he brings the heat. Scouts saw him run his fastball up to 97 mph during spring training, and he paired the pitch with a slurvy slider in the 80-82 and a diving changeup in the upper 80s.
The development of the breaking ball will be the biggest key for Thomas. If he can shape it into a true slider, he’ll have a better chance as a starter. If not, he could still make an impact in relief.
Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
New York’s 2019 first-rounder out of Delbarton (N.J.) High didn’t get a chance to show much during his first season as a pro. He contracted mononucleosis after turning pro and was limited to just 34 games at Rookie-level Pulaski. The Yankees did not hold a domestic instructional league and Volpe was not invited to the team’s alternate training site, meaning he did his development at home.
In minor league spring training, the results have been excellent. There, scouts saw a player with a lot of winning attributes, including solid footwork and instincts and a chance to stick at shortstop. At the plate, Volpe showed a low-maintenance swing geared for plenty of line-drive contact and doubles power to the gaps.
Austin Wells, C, Yankees
Wells was in a similar boat as Volpe because he had not gotten a chance to get in front of pro coaches since being drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft. Wells, whom the Yankees also selected out of high school in 2018, showed scouts a loose, easy swing and an advanced sense of the strike zone.
Combined, those elements should allow him to hit for average and power. Evaluators are less convinced in Wells’ ability to stick behind the plate, noting that he struggles with lateral movement and has a below-average throwing arm.
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KEEP AN EYE ON
— Yankees infielder Oswaldo Cabrera, signed out of the D.R. in 2015, has come to camp looking stronger at the plate and more graceful at shortstop. Still just 22, he could be a riser this year.
— Sticking with the Yankees, righthander Stephen Ridings, signed by New York in January, has touched 100 mph in minor league camp. The breaking ball has a long way to go, however.
— Rays righthander Joe Ryan still has the “invisible” fastball which has become his signature. The pitch was so good, in fact, that it even got Wander Franco, the top prospect in the game, to swing through it multiple times, including one “sword” swing.
— Mets righty Robert Dominguez has opened eyes in spring training with a fastball up to 97 mph, as well as a solid breaking ball and changeup. Some scouts even have him pegged as the organization’s second-best pitching prospect, behind only Matt Allan.
— Pirates catching prospect Endy Rodriguez, acquired from the Mets in the deal that sent Joe Musgrove to San Diego, has drawn positive early reviews for his high-energy defense, ability to handle high-velocity fastballs and strong throwing arm.
— Giants outfielder Alexander Canario has looked no worse for wear after offseason shoulder surgery. He’s taking strong, powerful cuts and producing the corresponding hard contact. He still needs to be more selective, but the elements of a classic mashing corner outfielder are present.
— Pirates No. 3 prospect Nick Gonzales continues to show the same type of hitterish traits he displayed at New Mexico State. He showed a short, quick swing capable of producing line drives to all sectors of the park. He was average-looking at second base.
— Sticking with Pirates infielders, there’s plenty to like about shortstop Liover Peguero, but multiple scouts noted that he needed to improve his internal clock in the field.
— Also with Pittsburgh, outfielder Sergio Campana has opened eyes thanks to a burgeoning combination of power and speed. He’s got plus range in the outfield and an average arm in the outfield as well.
— Braves righthander Spencer Strider displayed a mid-90s fastball that peaked at 98 mph and paired it with an average, downer curveball in the low 80s which could be improved with stronger bite. He also gets a bit of deception because he hides the ball well during his delivery.
— Atlanta first base prospect Bryce Ball titillated fans in 2019 with big power, and scouts this spring continued to praise Ball’s simple swing and quiet approach at the plate. That said, they’d like to see him improve his direction to the ball in order to close holes on the outer half of the plate.
— Angels shortstop Kyren Paris has opened eyes both internally and externally. He came to camp this year looking twitchier and with a short, powerful swing that should make him a very intriguing player at Low-A Inland Empire.
— Cubs shortstop prospect Ed Howard IV, the team’s first-rounder out of high school in Illinois in 2020, came into camp notably stronger and has been extremely impressive at shortstop.
— Add the Brewers’ Lucas Erceg to the list of players trying their hand at becoming a two-way talent. He’s been on the mound in spring training and has shown a fastball up to 97 mph in games. He was a two-way player in college as well but has been exclusively a hitter in pro ball.
— Orioles righthander Kyle Bradish, part of the return from the Angels for Dylan Bundy, showed a 92-96 mph fastball with unique movement through the zone that helps it play better than its radar gun reading. Add his downer, 80-82 mph curveball, and you have a pitcher perfectly designed for the north-south strategy prevalent in today’s game.
— Scouts who saw Marlins lefthander Jake Eder early in camp noted a 92-95 mph fastball, a pretty good slider and a few changeups sprinkled into the mix.