Two 2021 Breakout MLB Prospects For Every Farm System
Each year, the Baseball America staff identifies multiple breakout prospects who currently do not rank as Top 10 Prospects in their respective systems. While a lack of minor league games and lost development time last year makes the exercise more challenging entering 2021, there is plenty of meaningful data derived from development work at alternate sites, instructs and early looks this spring.
Find each organization below. To see the Top 100 Prospects in baseball, click here.
AJ Vukovich, 3B – Vukovich was a finalist for Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball award in addition to being one of the top high school baseball players in the nation. With his athleticism, physical 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame, all-fields power and knack for consistently squaring balls up, he has a chance to make a loud pro debut in 2021.
Jake McCarthy, OF – The 2018 supplemental first-rounder struggled with injuries in his full-season debut in 2019. With full health, added strength and some swing adjustments made during quarantine, he was an impact hitter at instructional league and has begun to look like the player expected when the D-backs selected him with the 39th overall pick.
William Woods, RHP — Woods had a rocky debut to his pro career in the Gulf Coast League in 2019, but he has steadily increased his velocity the last two seasons after filling out his 6-foot-3 frame. He’ll need to improve his control, but his mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a hard slider give him a loud two-pitch combination to work with.
Vaughn Grissom, SS — Grissom was scouted often as a prep player thanks to being a teammate of Tigers first-round pick Riley Greene, and he impressed at the Braves’ alternate training site in 2020. Grissom has a solid all-around toolset that could play up with his strong contact ability and feel for the zone. Elevating the ball more frequently will be key.
Jordan Westburg, SS — Westburg is the kind of well-rounded, productive college middle infielder who often ends up carving out a lengthy MLB career. There’s little overwhelming about his game, but his rhythm and timing at the plate, combined with solid defensive skills, means he could move relatively quickly through the Orioles’ system.
Luis Gonzalez, OF — The Orioles no longer ignore Latin America, and Gonzalez is one of the key players in the team’s attempts to re-awaken its international player development pipeline. He’s yet to play an official game, but he has the power to be a productive slugger from a corner outfield spot.
Boston Red Sox
Matthew Lugo, SS — The Red Sox haven’t had much chance to see Lugo hit for power yet—he was an 18-year-old getting his feet under him in 2019 and he missed instructional league with a wrist injury. But it’s in there, and he should start in 2021 to show that he’s a versatile middle infielder with some pop in his bat.
Connor Wong, C — Wong was granted a reprieve of sorts when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts’ trade. Instead of being stuck behind Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, he now has a clear path to a future MLB role as a well-rounded backup catcher who can play around the infield as well.
Yohendrick Pinango, OF — The Venezuelan teenager shows all the traits you want to see from a young hitter. He consistently gets the bat to the ball, makes hard contact, doesn’t strike out and controls the strike zone at a level mature beyond his years. He is set to make his stateside debut in 2021 and has the potential to be the best pure hitter in the Cubs system.
D.J. Herz, LHP — The athletic lefthander saw both his velocity and spin rates jump after he made a delivery adjustment to get more on-line to the plate last year. If he shows he can maintain those gains over a full season, it won’t be long before he’s one the Cubs’ top pitching prospects.
Chicago White Sox
Bryan Ramos, 3B — After impressing in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019, Ramos was again intriguing at instructional league. There are plenty of rough edges to smooth out, but he has the bat speed and athleticism to build on a strong pro debut, even more than a year after the fact.
Jake Burger, 3B — After three missed seasons because of injuries, Burger looked rejuvenated in the Constellation Energy League, at the alternate training site and instructional league. The White Sox rewarded him with a spot on the 40-man roster and still believe he still has the potential to hit for average and power.
Ivan Johnson, 2B — A switch-hitter who has an especially smooth lefthanded swing, Johnson is a pure hitter with solid power potential as well (he cleared the mammoth batter’s eye at the Reds complex in Goodyear in instructional league). Drafted out of Chipola (Fla.) JC in 2019, Johnson could emerge in 2021 if his glove starts to catch up to his bat.
Luis Mey, RHP — Due to the coronavirus shutdown, Mey has had to sit on an 8.39 career ERA for the past 18 months. As soon as games resume, he should quickly cut that ugly ERA down to size. He has a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that will likely touch triple digits one day and a biting, albeit inconsistent slider.
Lenny Torres, RHP — Torres was spectacular in his professional debut in 2018, but he had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and missed 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. He’ll be almost two full years removed from surgery when the minor league season opens and, with a return to full health, his fastball-slider combination can go back to flummoxing hitters.
Angel Martinez, SS — Martinez isn’t the most toolsy of the Indians’ lower-level infielders, but his advanced baseball IQ and maturity make all his tools play up. A switch-hitter with good plate discipline, his hitting ability, intangibles and smooth defensive skills give him a chance to take off.
Ryan Feltner, RHP — The Rockies were thrilled with the work Feltner put in during the pandemic layoff, and it paid off when he was a standout at instructional league. Concerns about command and his ability to be a starter long-term have dogged Feltner, but his performance last fall went a long way toward assuaging those fears. Having a 94-97 mph fastball with an above-average changeup certainly doesn’t hurt.
Gavin Hollowell, RHP — A mechanical adjustment to stand tall and get the most out of his 6-foot-7 frame worked wonders for Holloway, leading to a fantastic debut in Grand Junction in 2019. With a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, his is a straight reliever profile, but he has the mentality and stuff to pitch in high-leverage.
Gage Workman, 3B — Workman was overshadowed by teammates Spencer Torkelson and Alika Williams at Arizona State, but the young infielder is an exceptional defender and has the power to change games with one swing. Add in a lauded competitive makeup, and he should get the most from his considerable abilities.
Colt Keith, 3B — Keith has hit everywhere he’s been and was one of the most tooled up high school players in the 2020 draft class. Many felt the Tigers got a steal nabbing him in the fifth round, and it would surprise no one if he blossoms into a power-hitting third baseman with a rocket arm from the hot corner.
Shawn Dubin, RHP — Signed for $1,000 out of NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) as a 13th-round pick in 2018, Dubin’s fastball has climbed to 92-96 mph and reaches the upper-90s. He backs it up with a plus slider, a solid-average curveball and fringe-average changeup. Dubin needs to tighten his control, but he has the stuff to miss plenty of bats.
Zach Daniels, OF — Daniels has the best combination of athleticism and raw tools in the Astros system. He’s a premium runner with excellent bat speed, big power and a strong arm, but he struggled to hit in games in college, at least until his abbreviated 2020 season with Tennessee. Daniels comes with enormous risk, but he’s a power/speed threat if everything clicks.
Kansas City Royals
Alec Marsh, RHP — Marsh used the downtime during quarantine to get stronger and increased his fastball velocity from 90-94 mph to now bumping 99 mph. Combined with an array of solid secondaries, a cerebral approach to pitching and a durable frame, he has a chance to emerge as the Royals’ next excellent pitching prospect.
Noah Murdock, RHP — The massive 6-foot-8 righthander keeps throwing harder the further he moves away from Tommy John surgery and now sits in the mid 90s with deception. If he can stay healthy and repeat his delivery with his long arms, he’ll quickly ascend the Royals’ system.
Los Angeles Angels
Erik Rivera, LHP/OF — One of many two-way players the Angels are trying to develop, Rivera holds the most promise on the mound. With a fastball up to 95 mph out of a smooth, athletic delivery and an improving breaking ball and changeup, he is quickly emerging as one of the Angels most intriguing young pitchers.
William Holmes, RHP/OF — Formerly known as William English, Holmes is another teenager who was drafted as a two-way player but holds more promise as a pitcher. His fastball has already jumped from 90-95 mph when he was drafted to 93-97 mph with cutting life. Combined with his plus changeup, he has the stuff to overwhelm lower-level hitters if he can throw enough strikes.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex De Jesus, SS/3B — De Jesus impressed greatly in the AZL in 2019 and was the Dodgers’ best hitter at Dominican instructs last year, ahead of other more touted international prospects. With another year of strength gains and physical maturity under his belt, De Jesus has a chance to post some loud offensive numbers in the California League in his full-season debut.
Jimmy Lewis, RHP — The 2019 supplemental second-rounder has yet to pitch in an official pro game due to a bout of shoulder inflammation after he was drafted, but his promise was evident at instructional league last fall. With a polished delivery, three quality pitches, the ability to execute to both sides of the plate and growing stuff, he has a chance to be the Dodgers next homegrown pitching success.
Peyton Burdick, OF — Burdick excelled in his first pro season in 2019 between short-season and Low-A and carried that over to instructional league last fall, where he outperformed many of the Marlins’ more high-profile outfielders. He should make his upper minors debut in 2021 and, with his above-average hitting ability and power, could find himself in Miami by the end of the season.
Kyle Nicolas, RHP — Nicolas rolled through the truncated college season on the strength of a fastball that reaches triple digits and an above-average slider. If he can find a usable third offering between his changeup and curveball, he should have no problem rising through the Marlins system.
Giants Commit To Casey Schmitt At Third Base
The 2020 second-rounder played both ways in college, but the Giants are committed to developing his power as a position player.
Eduardo Garcia, SS — Garcia was a big international signing for the Brewers out of Venezuela in 2018, but he has barely played due to injuries and the coronavirus pandemic. He has the attributes to be a quality defender at shortstop, where he has good body control and a plus arm, but he still needs to prove himself at the plate.
David Hamilton, SS/2B — A knee injury wiped out Hamilton’s junior year at Texas and hurt his draft stock, causing him to fall to the Brewers in the eighth round. Between his health and the pandemic, Hamilton has yet to make his official pro debut, but he hit well last summer playing in the independent Constellation Energy League and again at instructional league. He has the components to get on base at a high clip and use his plus speed while playing somewhere in the middle of the diamond.
Josh Winder, RHP — Winder was one of the most improved prospects in Minnesota’s system during 2020, adding a few ticks of fastball velocity and improving his slider to above-average. With excellent control and an advanced feel for pitching already, he’s a candidate to shoot up the system if he can maintain those gains over a full season.
Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF — Minnesota’s top international signee in 2019 had his professional debut delayed, but he offers exciting offensive upside with a low-maintenance swing, direct bat path and plus raw power. Especially given the Twins’ recent history of international signing success, he’s one to watch in his pro debut in 2021.
New York Mets
Jose Butto, RHP — Butto throws the best changeup in the Mets’ ystem and can run his fastball up to the mid 90s in short bursts. Given the organization’s limited rotation depth in the upper minors, the 23-year-old Butto is a sleeper candidate for big league starts in 2021 and 2022, with an upside of a No. 5 starter.
Jordany Ventura, RHP — The 20-year-old Ventura is one of the Mets’ most promising lower-level pitching prospects. He shows the potential for three pitches, a quick arm, an athletic delivery and has the physical projection to sit higher than his present 91-92 mph in the future. Ventura has no experience above Rookie ball and must develop confidence in his secondaries, but there are a lot of ingredients to work with.
New York Yankees
Ezequiel Duran, 2B — Duran is a powerful middle infielder with high-end bat speed and exit velocities to match. He’s also shown improved pitch recognition and plate discipline, which should help him get to his offensive abilities more consistently.
Kevin Alcantara, OF — Alcantara is one of the most promising, tooled-up players in the Yankees’ system and would have been a pick for a breakout prospect a season ago. He has a chance to stick in center field and a strong, lanky body that reminds some of Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson.
Junior Perez, OF — The A’s were thrilled to land Perez as the player to be named later in the Jorge Mateo trade with the Padres. The 6-foot-1 outfielder turned heads in the Arizona League in 2019 when he hit 11 homers and posted a .283/.345/.572 line over his final 36 games. Perez is a long way away and hasn’t played an official game in more than 18 months, but his power potential gives him a chance to bust out in the California League his full-season debut.
Colin Peluse, RHP — Oakland’s system is short on starting pitchers, but Peluse represents the potential breakthrough it needs. Powerfully built at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Peluse arrived at instructional league last fall showing significant velocity gains, sitting 94-96 and topping out at 98 mph. He has to prove he can hold those velocity gains over a full season, but if he can, he becomes a pitcher to watch.
Erik Miller, LHP — The 2019 fourth-rounder impressed at instructional league last fall, showing a fastball up to 96 mph to go with a slider in the low 80s that has plus potential. The imposing lefthander was invited to big league spring training and should rise quickly after going 1-0, 1.50 mark in 36 innings in 2019.
Kendall Simmons, SS — The athletic middle infielder spent the summer adding muscle to his frame and showed up to instructional league hitting the ball harder than almost anyone. Simmons is only 20 and still needs to work on controlling the strike zone and hitting the ball to all fields, but his potential is exciting.
Mason Martin, 1B — Martin had 35 home runs, 129 RBIs and 68 walks as a 20-year-old across the Class A levels in 2019. The lefthanded hitter shows plus power to all fields that is tempered by a 30% strikeout rate, but he has a prime opportunity to show he can get to his power against upper-level arms in 2021.
Braxton Ashcraft, RHP — The 2018 second-rounder fits the Pirates’ pitcher archetype under former general manager Neal Huntington. Ashcraft is 6-foot-5, athletic and throws his 93-96 mph fastball downhill with plane and sink. If he works his changeup and slider to average or above and irons out his command, he could surface as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
San Diego Padres
Joshua Mears, OF — The chiseled power hitter already posts elite maximum exit velocities and showed an impressive ability to make adjustments in the AZL in 2019. If the broken hamate bone he suffered last summer is completely healed, he has a chance to post huge power numbers in the California League in his full-season debut.
Brayan Medina, RHP — The 18-year-old Venezuelan is a plus athlete who already sits 92-94 mph on his fastball and shows promising spin characteristics on his breaking ball. With his natural athleticism and arm speed, he has a chance to eventually throw 100 mph as he continues to fill out and get stronger.
San Francisco Giants
Casey Schmitt, 3B — Schmitt is a gifted third baseman with a rocket for an arm. He showed plenty of hitting ability and raw power in college, and a tweak made by the Giants to add more loft to his swing could allow his power to come out in 2021.
Camilo Doval, RHP — Doval’s fastball reaches 102 mph and his slider has developed enough to give him an effective pitch in relief. If he can sharpen his command, especially on his fastball, he’ll be in the mix to make his major league debut in 2021.
Levi Stoudt, RHP — Stoudt had Tommy John surgery in his draft year but returned to the mound at instructional league in 2020 showing improved fastball velocity in the 93-97 mph range, up from 91-95 before surgery. With an effective split-changeup in his back pocket and a developing slider, Stoudt has a chance to rise quickly as a starter with his enhanced stuff.
Adam Macko, LHP — Born in Slovakia but raised in Canada, Macko is a potential four-pitch lefthanded starter. The 20-year-old pitches at 90 mph and tops at 94, and he has an array of solid secondaries and an advanced feel to mix and match. His wide repertoire and feel to pitch make him one to watch as he jumps to full-season ball in 2021.
St. Louis Cardinals
Edwin Nunez, RHP — Nunez may go from being a lesser-known prospect to prominent status quickly. The 2020 international signee already touches 100 mph with above-average spin rates. If his inconsistent but hard slider improves, he has the type of stuff that should make quick work of Class A hitters.
Tre Fletcher, OF — Because Fletcher reclassified for the 2019 draft, he won’t turn 20 until just before the 2021 minor league season begins. More raw athlete than baseball player in the past, Fletcher’s plus-plus speed and fast bat give him a chance to take a big step forward in 2021.
Tampa Bay Rays
Greg Jones, SS — The Rays’ 2019 first-round pick had an excellent pro debut, but he’s yet to play full season ball. One of the best athletes in an athletic system, he will get to work on proving he’s a shortstop long-term in 2021.
Taylor Walls, SS — Walls would easily be a top 10 prospect in other systems with his excellent glovework and well-rounded offensive skills. The Rays have the deepest system in baseball and plenty of other shortstop prospects on their depth chart. But Walls is the best defender of them all, and he’s not far away from being ready for the majors.
Evan Carter, OF — The Rangers bucked consensus to draft Carter in the second round in 2020, but the pick looks prescient after he excelled at instructional league. Carter showed good feel to hit, sturdy plate discipline, above-average speed and center field acumen. If the 18-year-old lefthanded hitter adds power as he fills out, he could develop into a regular.
Keithron Moss, 2B — One of a growing number of prospects from the burgeoning talent hotbed that is the Bahamas, Moss hit .308/.425/.442 in 34 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019. The 5-foot-10 switch-hitter blends an intriguing package of power, speed and discipline that should translate to success as he moves to full-season ball in 2021.
Toronto Blue Jays
Estiven Machado, SS — A 2019 international signing from Venezuela, Machado will make his official pro debut in 2021. He’s an athletic, switch-hitting shortstop with a quick, compact swing from both sides of the plate and the defensive actions to stick in the middle of the infield.
Victor Mesia, C — Mesia has continued to trend up since joining the Blue Jays out of Venezuela in their 2019 international signing class. He’s stocky but surprisingly explosive, with a knack for making frequent hard contact. He projects to stick behind the plate, where he moves around well and has at least a solid-average arm.
Israel Pineda, C — Pineda struggled in the South Atlantic League in 2019 and has had issues identifying and driving breaking stuff. He has bat speed, above-average raw power and the ability to drive fastballs, so with a better approach, he could take a step forward offensively.
Daniel Marte, OF — Marte signed during the 2018 international period and quickly showed impressive arm strength, speed and a line-drive swing. After adding 20 pounds in the last two years, he could start tapping into more power in 2021.