Image credit: (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam)
Now comes the hardest part … the waiting.
It’s been 492 days since the last game in the minor leagues, and nobody is certain when the next one will be played.
The coming season will almost assuredly be delayed—the new-look minors aren’t finalized and schedules don’t exist—but there is considerable optimism that teams will get back on the field at affiliates around the country at some point in 2021.
When that happens, certain teams will have a bit more prospect flavor than others. That’s a natural product of some organizations being better than others, but there are clusters of talent within the top systems that should make one or more of their teams particularly interesting to watch once stadium gates re-open for the first time since Sept. 19, 2019.
Until the roster assignments become official, we’re forced to take educated guesses based on our feedback from the Prospect Handbook along with the natural progression of players up their organization’s ladder.
Considering those factors and more, here are the teams we expect to feature at least two members of the 2021 Top 100.
Starting a roster with the game’s No. 1 prospect is excellent enough, but adding one of the organization’s newest prospects in Patino, an 80-grade runner like Brujan and a fireballing lefty with World Series experience like McClanahan could potentially make the Bulls’ roster the best in the minors to open 2021.
Durham already boasts one of the best parks and game-day atmospheres in the country, regardless of who’s on the field. With the potential for four Top 100 prospects to open the year, plus more excellent talent from the No. 1 system in baseball, the stands at the DBAP should be filled to the gills from Opening Day till season’s end.
The Twins have four players in the Top 100, and three of them should start at the team’s new Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul. St. Paul’s CHS Field is just 22 minutes from Target Field, meaning fans can easily pull off a day-night doubleheader of their team’s present and future by seeing both a minor league and major league game on the same day.
Of the Twins’ trio, Lewis has the highest ceiling but the biggest volatility among his outcomes. His tools are extremely loud, but he has had a hard time getting to them consistently. Kirilloff and Larnach each fit the proverbial “professional hitter” mold and could wind up in the middle of a potent Twins’ lineup over the next couple of seasons.
On its own, having the No. 2 prospect in the sport should make going to IronBirds’ games a daily operation, but having Rutschman form a battery with Grayson Rodriguez, one of the highest-upside pitching prospects in the sport, every five days will be appointment viewing.
Adding Kjerstad, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2020 draft, to the lineup will also give fans the opportunity to see the No. 1 and No. 2 picks from the past two seasons together in the same lineup on a near-daily basis.
The Orioles’ system has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years—five Top 100 prospects this season ties the system’s best total—and the group at Aberdeen could be its best group of prospects.
Thomas and Perdomo should give fans in Amarillo a look at some spectacular glovework at a park otherwise known for being extremely offense-friendly. Both players project as plus defenders at up-the-middle positions who should make plenty of contact.
In its first year as a full-season affiliate, Vancouver should open the year with two of the organization’s most heralded infield prospects. Groshans started 2019 strong before a foot injury knocked him out for the year. He showed signs of returning to form in 2020 at the alternate training site. Martin, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, was arguably the most talented player on the board and could jump straight to High-A.
As one of the faster-moving prep draftees in recent memory, Greene zoomed all the way to Low-A West Michigan in 2019. Now, after a year at the alternate training site, Greene should be ready to move to … West Michigan. He should be joined by 2020 No. 1 overall pick Torkelson, who was one of college baseball’s premier brokers for two seasons and change at Arizona State.
With an outstanding season in the Appalachian League in 2019, Alvarez was one of the game’s biggest breakout prospects. He brings a potential mix of offense and defense to a premium position, with projected average or plus tools in every category but speed. Allan is the system’s highest-ranked pitching prospect and was outstanding at the team’s alternate training site. Like Rutschman and Rodriguez, the Alvarez-Allan battery should be appointment viewing every five days.
In Carroll and Robinson, Visalia fans will get to watch two of the highest-upside prospects in Arizona’s system. Carroll was advanced enough in his draft season to reach the college-heavy Northwest League for the last bit of the year and the playoffs. Before Carroll arrived, Robinson had spent the bulk of the season tearing up the level before moving to full-season ball.
Gore is the game’s top-ranked lefthanded-pitching prospect and has been extraordinarily impressive at every stop in his pro career. Every tool on his card projects as plus outside of his curveball, which is a tick lower at above-average. Campusano, who made his big league debut in 2020, should join Gore at Double-A and has the potential to be a backstop with value both offensively and defensively.
The Braves already boast one of the best young outfielders in the game in Ronald Acuna Jr. In the very near future, they’ll have a chance to flank him with a pair of potential impact prospects in Pache (who made his big league debut in 2020 and was part of Atlanta’s postseason run) and Waters, who reached Triple-A in 2019 and spent 2020 at the team’s alternate site.
Pache is an elite defender in center field and one of the most tooled-up prospects in the minors, while Waters has hit well at every stop and projects as an above-average hitter with above-average power.
Rogers was very impressive in the big leagues in the bizarre 2020 season, but he did enter the year with just five starts above High-A. In the event he heads back to the minor leagues, he should pair with Cabrera to form a dynamic duo atop the Jumbo Shrimp rotation. Cabrera was one of the bigger risers from the 2019 season, but a back injury in 2020 kept him from making his big league debut for a team that was wracked by the coronavirus.
After recovering from the coronavirus, Ruiz made an early splash in his big league debut by hitting a home run in his first at-bat. He got just seven more at-bats the rest of the way, which is understandable on a team with Will Smith and Austin Barnes. Gray came to the Dodgers from the Reds and has blossomed into one of the best pitching prospects in the minors. He fronts a three-pitch arsenal with a potentially plus fastball, an above-average slider, a fringe changeup and above-average control.
Beyond Bobby Witt Jr., the bulk of the upper echelon of Kansas City’s system is made up of a large number of polished pitchers from the college ranks. Brady Singer made his mark in the big leagues in 2020, as did lefty Kris Bubic (who will graduate from prospect consideration the moment he gets his first big league out of 2020).
Next up are Lynch and Kowar, who present quite disparate profiles. Lynch is a fireballing lefty who can spin a potentially plus slider as part of a four-pitch mix, whereas Kowar makes his living pairing a fastball and a potentially double-plus changeup.
Bart reached the big leagues in 2020 earlier than scheduled, and it showed. After a quick start, pitchers adjusted and found his holes on the inside of the plate. He’ll have to work on closing those once he gets back to the minor leagues. Ramos also worked on plate discipline this year at the alternate training site and has a potentially well-rounded set of average to above-average tools.
Adell entered 2020 as the No. 3 prospect in the game, reached the major leagues but scuffled on both sides of the ball. Nevertheless, he’ll be 22 years old all season and should have plenty of leash when he returns to the big leagues at some point in 2021. Marsh should get there this season, too, and when he does, fans will be treated to a player with sterling defensive credentials as well as plus speed and the potential to be an average hitter with 55-grade power.
Potential Players: OF Jarred Kelenic (4), RHP Logan Gilbert (35)
Kelenic is one of the best pure hitting prospects in the game, and is one of just eight players in the Top 100 with a future hit tool of 70 or higher. He has plenty of power, too, along with the potential to play center field (although Kyle Lewis might push him to a corner). Gilbert is the best pitching prospect in Seattle’s system and one of the best pitching prospects in the game. His fastball, changeup and curveball each have the chance to be plus, and he shows above-average control of his mix.