Preseason Breakout MLB Prospect Team For 2021

Acquiring prospects before they go mainstream is a key to dynasty league sustainability.

Each season, a number of prospects graduate into big leaguers or lose value with substandard minor league performance. New breakouts rise to take their place as Top 100 Prospects.

Members of the following breakout prospect team are positioned to do just that. None ranked as preseason Top 100 Prospects, but all are candidates to join the club with strong 2021 seasons. Prospects who made major league Opening Day rosters, such as Kyle Isbel, Jonathan India or Chas McCormick, were not considered.

Every member of this breakout prospect team lost game repetitions in 2020 when the pandemic canceled the minor league season. That doesn’t mean all player development was halted. Read on to learn how these prospects met the challenge of a challenging 2020 and why you should be paying attention in 2021 dynasty leagues.

C Gabriel Moreno, Blue Jays
Double-A New Hampshire • Age: 21

The Venezuelan catcher burst on the prospect scene in 2018 by compiling a .970 OPS at a pair of Rookie-level stops. He kept raking in the Midwest League in 2019 and popped on Phil Goyette’s ranking of hitters with the highest estimated barrel rates at Low-A that season. Moreno drew praise for his hitting acumen at the Blue Jays’ alternate training site in 2020 and then wrapped the year by hitting .373/.471/.508 with more walks than strikeouts in 18 games in the Venezuelan League. 

1B Nick Pratto, Royals
Double-A Northwest Arkansas • Age: 22

Drafted 14th overall in 2017, Pratto advanced to High-A Wilmington in 2019 but fell on his face in the Carolina League with a .191/.278/.310 batting line that was one of the worst among minor league regulars. Pratto effectively hit reset in 2020 at the alternate training site and instructional league, using the time to create a more efficient hitting path that allows him to get his bat in the zone sooner. The results and scouting reports from spring training this year indicate success. Pratto hit .345 with four home runs in 29 at-bats and showed a willingness to work counts and use all fields. 

2B Chase Strumpf, Cubs
High-A South Bend • Age: 23

The Cubs viewed Strumpf as a top five college hitter heading into the 2019 season and stuck with him even after a flat junior year at UCLA. Chicago drafted him late in the second round that year and watched him turn in a successful pro debut in which he touched Low-A. Strumpf worked out on his own last season, independent of the alternate training site, and showed up to instructional league looking a lot like the hitter the Cubs first fell in love with. Especially notable were Strumpf’s swing decisions and opposite-field power. He also saw time at third base, adding the type of versatility that has marked past young Cubs hitters like Kris Bryant, Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner

3B Rece Hinds, Reds
Low-A Daytona • Age: 20

Power. Bat speed. Exit velocity. Hinds has all three attributes but faced questions about how much he would hit when drafted in the second round in 2019. A quad injury limited his pro debut to three games, so his official track record is virtually nonexistent. But the way Hinds performed at the alternate site and instructional league last year, especially in terms of identifying breaking pitches and reducing his chase rate, indicate that a breakout could be imminent. The quality of Hinds’ plus-plus raw power will go a long way if paired with the requisite quantity of balls in play. 

SS Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
Low-A Delmarva • Age: 19

Drafted at the top of the second round in 2019, Henderson turned in an average debut in the Gulf Coast League but didn’t get a chance to build on it with the canceled minor league season in 2020. Scouts who have seen him at instructional league last year and minor league spring training this year report that Henderson’s power is real. He is a strong, athletic infielder with the chance to hit for impact power from the left side, which will be crucial if he slides to third base.

OF Michael Harris, Braves
High-A Rome • Age: 20

Harris is a switch-hitting outfielder who hit his way out of the Gulf Coast League in his 2019 pro debut after being drafted in the third round that year. He played 22 games in Low-A as an 18-year-old, making him the same age as international signees like Julio Rodriguez and Ronny Mauricio. Harris could be the ultimate buy-low five-tool prospect because he does so many things well. He has an intriguing blend of hitting ability, power, speed and discipline that could give him major prospect helium this year

OF Johan Rojas, Phillies
Low-A Clearwater • Age: 20

Rojas was one of just nine hitters age 20 or younger to bat 20 or more times in big league spring training games. That list is a veritable who’s who of elite prospects—it includes Wander Franco, Julio Rodriguez, CJ Abrams, Marco Luciano and Riley Greene—and then there’s Rojas and Michael Harris (above). The Phillies see a lot to like about Rojas, from his glove in center field to his speed to his aptitude to the high-end exit velocities he flashed at instructional league last fall. The shape of his offensive production is still to be determined, but he has a lot of raw ingredients to work with.

OF Peyton Burdick, Marlins
Double-A Pensacola • Age: 24

Only Triple-A sluggers Ty France and Kevin Cron outproduced Burdick in 2019, according to the index metric wRC+, among minor league batters with at least 300 plate appearances. Burdick’s exploits went largely unnoticed because he was a 22-year-old Wright State redhirt junior and third-round pick who dominated the Low-A Midwest League. But his natural hitting ability, discipline, enhanced strength and go-getter intensity have caught the attention of scouts. Burdick has a lot to prove in the high minors this season because he’s already 24, but don’t bet against him.

SP Cade Cavalli, Nationals
High-A Wilmington • Age: 22

The Nationals drafted Cavalli 22nd overall out of Oklahoma last year and can’t wait to see him in game action. Not only was Washington deprived of his official pro debut because of the pandemic, but they also saw just four Big 12 Conference starts in 2020 before the shutdown. But the sharply improved control Cavalli showed in those four college starts, combined with the strong impression he made at the alternate training site—mid-90s fastball, outstanding changeup, sharp slider and curveball with improving 12-to-6 action—have him positioned to make a big jump.

SP Alec Marsh, Royals
Double-A Northwest Arkansas • Age: 22

Marsh gained helium throughout his junior year at Arizona State in 2019 and landed with the Royals in the supplemental second round. He logged 33 innings in the Pioneer League that year, where he showcased a four-pitch mix and strong control, but then 2020 happened. Marsh’s official record last year consisted of three appearances in the independent Constellation Energy League, but he made a ton of progress behind the scenes. Most notably, Marsh boosted his average velocity several ticks. The Royals say he now sits mid 90s and has added oomph to his slider and better 12-to-6 shape to his curveball. Pitching prospects are volatile, but Marsh has enough positive attributes, including high marks for competitiveness and preparation, that he’s well worth the risk. 

SP Hunter Brown, Astros
Double-A Corpus Christi • Age: 22

Brown is a classic example of a pitcher with big stuff coming from a small school. The Astros pounced on the Division II Wayne State righthander in the fifth round in 2019 and watched him play to his strengths (and weaknesses) at short-season Tri-City. Brown struck out 33 in 23.2 innings while allowing just 13 hits—but he also walked 18 batters with poor control. Houston has work to do to get Brown’s control and command near average, but the payoff is immense if it all clicks. He pitches in the mid-to-high 90s with a full complement of power secondaries, including a 12-to-6 curveball, hard slider and changeup. Brown could struggle to develop the feel to start, but if moved to the bullpen his pure stuff is closer-worthy.

SP Kyle Harrison, Giants
Low-A San Jose • Age: 19

The Giants have developed a reputation for developing big league pitchers into their best selves. Harrison could give them a similar success story in the minor leagues. San Francisco drafted Harrison in the third round in 2020 and went well over slot to sign him. He quickly emerged as not only the organization’s best draft value but also its top pitching prospect in a hitter-heavy system. Harrison bulked up his body and velocity after signing. By spring training this year he was touching 98 mph and sitting mid 90s with riding action from a lower arm slot. It’s a tough look for opposing batters, who also must contend with his improving slider. While Harrison is largely a two-pitch pitcher, he has plenty of time to add polish as he climbs the ladder. 

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