On Sept. 17, 2019, Sacramento topped Memphis in the Triple-A National Championship Game.
Little did anyone know, that game would be the last between affiliated minor league teams for 595 days.
The coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 season, and a lot more has happened in the interim. The Dodgers won the World Series after a 60-game sprint of a season. The minor leagues were slashed from 160 to 120 teams, with the short-season and Rookie-advanced classifications eliminated entirely.
Big league teams began playing seven-inning games in doubleheaders. The National League tried the DH for a season. Extra-inning games began with a runner on second base. Minor league teams used their ballparks as golf courses, restaurants and Airbnb properties.
But now there’s sunshine, green grass and white lines at the end of the tunnel. Opening Day across the minor leagues is slated for May 4, when many prospects will get their first chance to play in a competitive atmosphere in nearly a year and a half.
While the simple return of the game is exciting enough, there are plenty of prospects we at Baseball America will be especially intrigued to watch. We chose one player we are excited to watch from each organization.
Corbin Carroll, OF
A tightly wound package of athleticism and hitting ability, Carroll has drawn raves since the day he joined the organization. He made it all the way to the college-heavy Northwest League in his first pro season and was brought to the alternate training site to make sure he got development in 2020 even without a minor league season.
Michael Harris, OF
After Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, Harris might be the next in the line of exciting Braves outfield prospects. Harris has a two-way background but was drafted as a hitter and made a lot of noise in his pro debut in 2019. He impressed Braves brass at the alternate site in 2020 and could be one of the biggest risers of the season.
Gunnar Henderson, SS
Adley Rutschman draws most of the press in this system, but Baltimore’s second-rounder in 2019 is deserving of your attention as well. The Orioles tweaked Henderson’s hitting mechanics at the alternate site, which allowed him to take more quality at-bats against advanced arms. At his best, he could stick at shortstop and show five average or better tools across the board.
Boston Red Sox
Jarren Duran, OF
One of the biggest questions surrounding Duran was whether he would ever hit for much power. Swing changes made at the alternate site seemed to help him tap into his strength, and he showed plenty of sock in the Puerto Rican League last offseason and again in spring training, where he combined for 16 home runs in 149 plate appearances. If that power real, then look out.
Brennen Davis, OF
Davis was one of the most intriguing prospects heading into the 2020 season and has only kept our interest throughout the shutdown. He’s got athleticism and a mixture of average-to-plus tools but a very limited track record thanks to an injury-shortened 2019. Still, the Cubs liked him enough to bring him to their alternate site in 2020 and were pleased with the results against more advanced arms.
Chicago White Sox
Bryan Ramos, 3B
The history of Cuban players and the White Sox stretches from Minnie Miñoso through Alexei Ramirez and Jose Contreras and continues to this day with Jose Abreu and Luis Robert. Ramos was excellent in the Dominican Summer League in 2019. There are plenty of rough edges to polish—especially when it comes to pitch-recognition—but the payoff could be worth the wait.
Rece Hinds, 3B
Hinds has a set of extraordinarily loud tools, including potentially double-plus power and arm strength—but injuries and the pandemic have limited him to just three official games in Rookie ball since being drafted in 2019. Reds officials were excited about his development in 2020, including laying off more breaking balls, which could help him tap into his raw gifts.
George Valera, OF
Valera has some of the highest upside in Cleveland’s system, but even before the pandemic, injuries had kept him from more than flashes of potential. Even so, Valera has shown tools befitting a player who could hit for average and power as he matures, along with the chance to be an average defender in a corner. His disciplined hitting approach stands out for a 20-year-old with limited pro experience.
Zac Veen, OF
Veen was the ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft and has yet to make his official pro debut. He was lauded for his mix of athleticism as well as his plate discipline and raw power. He has enough thump to profile in an outfield corner. Veen had been gaining steam last spring before the season shut down. Now we get to see him pick up where he left off.
Riley Greene, OF
Greene is one of the highest-upside prospects in the game. He made it all the way to Low-A after being drafted out of high school, then put together a pair of excellent spring training stints in 2020 and 2021. He has a chance to be a plus hitter with above-average power, which should be more than enough to help him anchor the Tigers’ lineup with Spencer Torkelson.
Colin Barber, OF
Barber got an above-slot deal in the fourth round of the 2019 draft and showed well in his brief pro debut. He spent time in an independent league in 2020 and was the youngest player at Houston’s alternate site. He’s not the highest-upside prospect on this list, but Houston has shown it believes in him with its checkbook and actions.
Kansas City Royals
Bobby Witt Jr., SS
Witt had a great spring training for someone who had never played an official game above Rookie ball. The performance shouldn’t be that surprising, given that he’s the only infielder in the 2021 Prospect Handbook with all five tools graded as plus or better. This spring, he looked every bit of future superstar.
Los Angeles Angels
Jordyn Adams, OF
Adams had a two-sport background and was headed to North Carolina to play football and baseball before being drafted 17th overall in 2018. As a pro, he’s begun to capitalize on his enviable upside. His speed and defense wowed evaluators at the Angels’ alternate site, and he’s shown an impressive ability to manage the strike zone as well.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Michael Busch, 2B
Busch was one of the stars of instructional league after spending the fall lashing balls around the diamond with authority. He was a first baseman and left fielder at North Carolina but is trying second base as a pro. No matter where Busch lands, his bat—which should produce average and power—will be his carrying tool. He looks like another Dodgers scouting success.
Max Meyer, RHP
Meyer was a two-way player at Minnesota and is extremely athletic on the mound. His fastball and slider each grade as potential double-plus pitches, and the latter was ranked as the best slider in the 2020 draft class. Drafted third overall last June, Meyer was the first pitcher selected in 2020 and could move quickly through the minors to join Miami’s talented young rotation.
Garrett Mitchell, OF
Mitchell was one of the toolsiest players available in the 2020 draft, but he dropped to No. 20 overall because of questions surrounding his ability to hit and his Type 1 diabetes. He has above-
average or better tools across the board, including elite speed and plus defense. He gave Brewers fans a taste of his game-changing ability in spring training by hitting .367 with three steals.
Jordan Balazovic, RHP
The Twins’ system is one baseball’s most intriguing, and Balazovic is one of its better arms. The 22-year-old Canadian was a participant in the 2019 Futures Game and is ready for the upper levels of the minors. None of Balazovic’s pitches projects as plus, but none is below-average, either. He projects to have 55-grade control as well and could settle in as a mid-rotation starter.
New York Mets
Alvarez would have been high on this list in 2020, having come off of a dynamic campaign in the Appalachian League as a 17-year-old. Instead, he spent the summer impressing teammates and evaluators as one of the best players at the Mets’ alternate site. He’s got the potential for standout offense and defense and should stick behind the plate—and in the middle of the batting order.
New York Yankees
Jasson Dominguez, OF
Perhaps the most hyped prospect in baseball, Dominguez had fans ready to burst waiting for his debut in 2020. Along with Bobby Witt Jr., he’s one of just two players for whom all five tools grade as plus or better, including potentially double-plus power and speed. He has twice ranked as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect despite never playing a pro game.
Soderstrom was Oakland’s first-round pick in 2020 and immediately made an impression on his older teammates at the alternate site by hitting three home runs in his first week. Whether he’ll stick behind the plate is a question, but Soderstrom’s potentially plus hitting and power tools will make him an asset no matter his defensive home.
Mick Abel, RHP
The Phillies’ first-rounder last June, Abel immediately jumped near the front of the system’s pitching prospects. He didn’t get to pitch at all during his senior year of high school because of the pandemic, but his four-pitch mix—which includes 60-grade fastball and slider and above-average control—already helped him secure a spot in the Top 100 Prospects.
Quinn Priester, RHP
If the Dodgers’ Michael Busch was the most impressive hitter in instructional league, then Priester was the most impressive pitcher. The righthander showed jaw-dropping stuff, including an upper-90s fastball and a hammer curveball—at the alternate site and on the backfields in Florida. He now ranks as the best arm in a stacked Pirates system.
San Diego Padres
CJ Abrams, SS
Abrams was excellent this spring at big league camp and, like the Tigers’ Riley Greene, made it to Low-A in his first season after being drafted out of high school. He’s a dynamic player with elite speed and potentially double-plus hitting ability as well as the potential to stick up the middle. That combination should make him a force at the top of a lineup.
San Francisco Giants
Luis Matos, OF
Matos dominated in his 2019 pro debut, then impressed evaluators further in instructional league after being stuck in Arizona during the pandemic. The center fielder shows the potential for above-average tools across the board. He and Marco Luciano were signed in the same class, and each has the potential to make an impact in San Francisco.
George Kirby, RHP
Kirby made his name as an amateur as a player with outstanding control and command of an interesting arsenal. Now, his stuff has taken a step forward—his fastball was up to 99 mph at the alternate site—and his stellar control remains intact. In fact, the next professional walk he allows will be the first. Kirby has “breakout” written all over him.
St. Louis Cardinals
Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B
Gorman has long been interesting because of his immense power. But now the most intriguing part of his game could be his defense. With Nolan Arenado now in the fold in St. Louis, Gorman will switch from third base to second base. If he can make that move successfully, his potent bat will make him even more valuable at the keystone.
Tampa Bay Rays
Wander Franco, SS
Franco would have had a chance to make his big league debut in 2020 if it had been a typical year. Even so, he was on the taxi squad throughout the playoffs and remains the top prospect in the game. Franco has a tantalizing mix of tools and has a chance to be an 80-grade hitter who can switch-hit, hit for power and stick up the middle. His time in Tampa Bay should come this season.
Evan Carter, OF
The Rangers stunned the industry in 2020 by taking Carter with their second-round pick out of high school in Tennessee. Texas scouts saw an athletic center fielder with power, speed and strike-zone discipline, and he shined at instructional league. The Rangers see projectability and a potential five-tool player in Carter, which would constitute a draft steal.
Toronto Blue Jays
Jordan Groshans, SS
Groshans was primed to jump back on the map in 2020 after missing most of 2019 with a foot injury. Instead, the pandemic happened. Groshans led all Blue Jays players in home runs at Toronto’s alternate site, which suggests the 2018 first-rounder still projects as an impact hitter. The Blue Jays are full of high-upside infield prospects, with Groshans near the top of the heap.
Cade Cavalli, RHP
The Nationals’ system is led by a pair of hard-throwing righthanders in Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge, who were the team’s first-rounders in each of the last two drafts. Cavalli, taken out of Oklahoma, fronts his mix with a double-plus fastball and potentially plus slider. Cavalli’s curveball and changeup each project as above-average, giving him an exciting four-pitch repertoire.