Top 10 MLB Prospects Who Popped On Minor League Managers' 2021 Best Tools Ballots
Baseball America asks minor league managers to choose the players with the most impressive scouting tools in their leagues. We call the exercise Best Tools and have been bringing it to you since 1983.
Each year, minor league managers’ choices highlight familiar names as well as novel ones. Mainstream names and up-and-comers. We think Best Tools provides a valuable overview of minor league talent in a given season and that the results hold up over the years.
Some players don’t stick around long enough in a single minor league for a managerial consensus to build around them.
For others, their names appear frequently on the ballots we receive. These are their stories.
1. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
Double-A Northwest Arkansas
Entering the season, Witt was one of just two players in the 2021 Prospect Handbook with five tools graded as 60 or higher on the 20-80 scouting scale. He is the rare player with five plus tools.
After a year marauding Double-A and Triple-A, his name was all over managers’ Best Tools ballots. Even without considering the mountain of surrounding variables, Witt’s season has been exceptional. At press time, he was one of just five players in the minor leagues with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, and he was the only one to do it while playing exclusively at the upper levels.
Moreover, scouts who saw Witt during his early adjustment period still raved about the 21-year-old’s blend of tools and skills. In any year, his output would be astonishing, but when you consider that Witt’s last regular season game prior to this season came in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019, what he’s done becomes even more impressive and is a strong reason.
Witt was drafted second overall in 2019 and has already cemented himself as one of the game’s premier prospects.
2. Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
High-A Hudson Valley
Volpe’s pro debut in 2019 can be best described as incomplete. Drafted 30th overall out of high school that year, he spent part of the season at Rookie-level Pulaski but also missed time while recovering from mononucleosis.
Then came the lost 2020 season. Volpe was not invited to the Yankees’ alternate training site, and the team did not hold a domestic instructional league, meaning any developments he made had to come remotely. Whatever he did, it worked.
From as early as minor league spring training, the 20-year-old Volpe had captured scouts’ attention as a player with a blend of tools and polished skills. His best tools are on the offensive side, where his bat-to-ball skills and burgeoning power potential stick out. Volpe worked hard over the shutdown to get stronger in order to reach the Yankees’ goal of increasing his average exit velocity.
Like Witt, Volpe was also part of the quintet of minor leaguers to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. He had by far the lowest swinging-strike rate of the group.
3. Zac Veen, OF, Rockies
The Rockies drafted Veen ninth overall out of high school in 2020, and he quickly made an impression on evaluators in the Low-A West League.
In addition to winning the Most Exciting Player category, Veen also received votes for Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Best Strike-Zone Judgment, Best Baserunner, Fastest Baserunner, Best Defensive Outfielder and Best Outfield Arm.
In other words, Veen won votes in every category for which he was eligible. The 19-year-old right fielder stands as the easy top prospect in a fallow Rockies system, a designation resoundingly validated by the league’s managers.
4. Shea Langeliers, C, Braves
At Baylor, Langeliers earned plaudits as one of the best defensive catchers in the country. If not for Adley Rutschman, he would have been the best overall catcher in the 2019 draft class. Still, he was drafted ninth overall by Atlanta.
Langeliers has spent 2021 in the Double-A South showing that he’s a lot more than just a catch-and-throw guy. He won the Best Power Prospect category and received votes for Best Batting Prospect as well, though that category ultimately went to Reds shortstop Jose Barrero. What’s most encouraging for the 23-year-old Langeliers’ future is that his home park in Mississippi is the mostsuppressive home run park in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Langeliers predictably got the nod as the Best Defensive Catcher in the league, but also earned the most votes for Most Exciting Player. In a league with players like Barrero, Futures Game MVP Brennen Davis, dynamic Marlins duo Max Meyer and Jake Eder and Reds fireballer Hunter Greene, that’s really saying something.
5. George Kirby, RHP, Mariners
Kirby has been one of the unquestioned biggest breakout pitchers of the season. The whispers started in spring training, when word of 102 mph fastballs started making the rounds.
If Kirby could sustain that uptick in stuff and pair it with his signature command, a reputation that preceded him as the 20th overall pick in 2019 out of Elon, then he would jump quickly into the upper echelon of the game’s best pitching prospects. So far, so good.
Kirby wowed scouts in the High-A West, where he whiffed 52 hitters and walked just eight over 41.2 innings before moving to Double-A Arkansas. The 23-year-old has earned plus or better grades on his fastball, changeup and slider, and just a tick lower on his curveball.
He won the Best Pitching Prospect, Best Fastball and Best Control categories in the High-A West, making him the only pitcher this season to win three categories in one league.
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6. Matt Brash, RHP, Mariners
Quite simply, Matt Brash has a filthy slider. Acquired by the Mariners from the Padres at the 2020 trade deadline, Brash has worked with Seattle’s pitching development group to get the best from his stuff. The results have been outstanding for the native Canadian and 2019 fourth-rounder out of Niagara.
Brash carved in the High-A West with 62 strikeouts in 42.1 innings before moving to Double-A. He had kept the pace in his first test at the upper levels, too.
After the promotion, Brash fanned another 48 over his first 33 Double-A frames. He gets his whiffs with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty, 11-to-5 breaking ball with deep, sharp bite to his glove side. The 23-year-old’s arsenal is accentuated by a deceptive, high-energy delivery with a crossfire arm swing.
7. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
What would a prospect ranking be without the best in the game?
Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oregon State in 2019, got a ton of votes in a ton of categories during his time in the Double-A East League. His victories included Best Batting Prospect and Best Power Prospect, as well as Best Defensive Catcher.
None of this is surprising, considering the success the 23-year-old Rutschman had in his first true full season as a pro. Scouts have seen a switch-hitter with the savvy at the plate to wait for the perfect pitch to crush before unloading. He’s also a strong defender who displays excellent leadership qualities in addition to the tangible elements of the position.
8. Andy Pages, OF, Dodgers
High-A Great Lakes
A high-upside Dodgers prospect? Astonishing.
Pages had been known as a bit of a toolshed, and this year the 20-year-old Cuban has seen a lot of those tools turn into skills. He fits a classic corner-outfield mold, with an extremely strong throwing arm and plenty of power to profile in right field.
Pages got multiple votes as the Best Power Prospect, Best Outfield Arm and Most Exciting Player, and the stat line bears out those votes. He has nine outfield assists on the season, and his 23 home runs were tied with Griffin Conine, who had since been promoted to Double-A, for the most in the High-A Central.
There are still rough edges to polish, but the righthanded-hitting Pages makes plenty of impact on both sides of the ball.
9. Joey Wiemer, OF, Brewers
Wiemer is a big man with a big swing who does big damage when he connects. While with Low-A Carolina, the massive righthanded slugger from the University of Cincinnati became a fast fan favorite who swatted massive home runs and unleashed lightning-bolt throws from the outfield.
Wiemer, a 2020 fourth-rounder, got even hotter once he moved to High-A, where he started by hitting six home runs in his first 12 games with Wisconsin. Despite his long levers and big swing, the 22-year-old Wiemer didn’t strike out at an overly concerning rate, which should lend hope to the idea that he could one day drive balls to the deepest recesses of Milwaukee’s American Family Field.
10. Cade Cavalli, RHP, Nationals
Though he came up behind Bowie’s Grayson Rodriguez for the Best Pitching Prospect in the Double-A Northeast League, Cavalli impressed evaluators enough to take both Best Fastball and Best Breaking Pitch.
Even though the 23-year-old Cavalli’s command and control might be a touch behind Rodriguez’s, his stuff is every bit as loud. He runs his fastball into the upper 90s and his slider projects as a plus pitch as well.
Cavalli’s 151 strikeouts were the most in the minors at press time, and his 17.1% swinging-strike rate put him among the game’s elite as well. That earned him a late-August bump to Triple-A.
By taking the 6-foot-4 Oklahoma Sooner, the Nationals appear to have gotten a steal with the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft.