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A reminder: This is NOT a ranking of overall prospects; this is only based on potential production for 2021. Also, a reminder that this is only a list of players who are currently in the minors. And finally, this is a list that obviously has fantasy considerations.
Those caveats out of the way, here’s a look at the top 10 prospects for the 2021 season.
1. Wander Franco, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
2021 stats: 5 G, .304/.385/.696, 2 HR, 1 SB, 2 BB, 4 SO at Triple-A Arkansas.
Yep, there’s a new name in the top spot. It’s a bit weird to be talking about moving someone like Franco “up,” but his strong start in Triple-A along with the positional value he provides in the middle infield is enough to justify this, with all due respect to the name he usurps. The “risk” here is that we really don’t know when the Rays are going to call Franco up, but he’s the best prospect in baseball by a large margin, and now appears to be on the cusp of being an MLB player.
2. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Seattle Mariners
2021 stats: 4 G, .444/.500/.778, 2 HR, 2 SB, 2 BB, 4 SO at Triple-A Tacoma.
Yep, you’re seeing a player who put up those numbers in his first weekend (and a little more) move down a spot. That’s how good Franco is, and really, this should be a tie; I’m just legally obligated to rank someone first and someone second. I don’t like it any more than you do. Kelenic is awesome, the Mariners are getting no offensive production, and it’s hard to imagine that he’s not up in the next couple of weeks as long as he’s healthy. The tiebreaker here is that Franco is a shortstop and Kelenic is an outfielder. Sorry, Jarred.
3. Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2021 stats: 1 G, 5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 0 BB, 5 SO at Triple-A Tacoma.
Kelenic is not the only fun player that folks in Tacoma get to watch right now. Gilbert’s debut was against MacKenzie Gore -- more on that later -- and it was Gilbert who was the most impressive; allowing just four hits against a good El Paso lineup. The Mariners rotation is the furthest thing from elite, and Erik Swanson has started two games over the last week as a “bulk” arm. If Gilbert impresses in his next Triple-A outing, you should be ready to add him, if you haven’t already.
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4. Vidal Brujan, INF/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
2021 stats: 6 G, .455/.571/1.000, 4 HR, 1 SB, 6 BB, 3 SO at Triple-A Durham.
The top four prospects on my list are on two rosters. Be fun to see these two teams play each other, huh? Anyway, Bruján has started scorching hot, and while no one should expect him to keep up a 108-homer pace (in a 162 game season), this is one of the best prospects in baseball. While his most natural position is second base, the Rays have been having the 23-year-old play in the outfield and at the keystone, and that versatility is something fantasy managers should be keeping a close eye on. Bruján has double-plus speed and has piled up steals in the minors, and has a plus hit tool from both sides of the plate. The fantasy upside for 2021 and beyond is substantial.
5. Deivi Garcia, RHP, New York Yankees
2021 stats: 1 G, 3.1 IP, 13.50 ERA, 7 BB, 30 SO at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre; 1 G, 4 IP, 4.50 ERA, 3 BB, 4 SO at New York (AL).
García wasn’t great in his 2021 season debut with the Yankees, but he was Greg Maddux compared to his struggles on Thursday. He allowed five runs before being pulled, and you can see how much he struggled to throw strikes in the contest. He also still was able to miss some bats, however, and it’s hard to take one bad start too seriously early in the year. García will have to be better going forward -- obvious point is obvious -- but there’s still plenty of reasons to believe he’ll have some fantasy success this summer.
6. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres
2021 stats: 1 G, 4 IP, 6.75 ERA, 3 BB, 3 SO at Triple-A El Paso.
Gore wasn’t terrible in his start against the Rainiers and Gilbert, but it was far from dominant. The biggest concern here is that the 22-year-old struggled to locate his stuff, and while his arsenal is one of the reasons he’s considered the best pitching prospect in baseball, the ability to locate it is a huge selling point. Since the summer of 2020, the reports of the command have been inconsistent at best with many pointing out some mechanical issues with his leg kick. Gore is still worth keeping an eye on and then some, but it’d be a mistake to assume he’s coming up before the end of the month right now.
7. Jarren Duran, OF, Boston Red Sox
2021 stats: 6 G, .261/.346/.391, 1 HR, 0 SB, 3 BB, 9 SO at Triple-A Worcester.
Let me first say that it’s very weird to be typing Triple-A Worcester after typing Triple-A Pawtucket for so many years. After going hitless in his first three games, Duran had back-to-back three-hit games before going hitless on Sunday. The 24-year-old hasn’t stolen a base, but after swiping 70 bases in 2018 and 2019, it seems unlikely that he’s going to stop running now. The Red Sox have been one of the best teams in baseball despite middling production in the outfield, and Duran seems likely to get an opportunity if the hits keep falling in Worcester. That opportunity can help the Red Sox and fantasy managers.
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8. Josiah Gray, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2021 stats: 1 G, 5 IP, 3.60 ERA, 2 BB, 10 SO at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Our second newcomer to the list. Gray, 23, allowed just two runs in his first Triple-A start while showing off his swing-and-miss arsenal. The 72nd pick of the 2018 draft, Gray has two out pitches in his fastball and slider, and he will mix in a curve along with a change that can keep hitters honest, as well. The depth of starters in the Los Angeles system made it seem unlikely that Gray would make his debut in 2021, but there now appears to be an opportunity for him to make starts in La La Land this summer. Could be something here.
9. Heliot Ramos, OF, San Francisco Giants
2019 stats: 6 G, .429/.520/.857, 2 HR, 2 SB, 4 BB, 6 SO at Double-A Richmond.
It was disappointing to see Ramos not begin the year in Triple-A. It has not been disappointing to see how well he’s handled Double-A pitching. The ball jumps off of his right-handed bat, and the 21-year-old has also shown off his above-average speed with a couple of steals for good measure. This is a long-term play -- even for 2021 -- but those who are patient/can afford to wait have a chance to have a significant producer in Ramos when he gets the call over the summer.
10. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Miami Marlins
2020 stats: 20 G, 39 IP, 3.46 ERA, 3 HR, 11 BB, 33 SO at Miami.
We finally have a bit of clarity on Sanchez’s situation. It’s not the best news -- nor the worst -- but it’s clarity. Sánchez has progressed to throwing from 105 feet away, and is now targeting a return at some point in June. It would be much easier to justify hanging onto the 22-year-old if he was on an injured list, but the Marlins didn’t have to do that to begin the year, so, you cannot. Still, fantasy managers saw what Sánchez is capable of last year, and assuming good health, he has a chance to be one of the best young starters in baseball. It’s just worth pointing out that it’s a pretty big if.
N/A: Jo Adell, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2021 stats: 4 G, .235/.316/.529, 1 HR, 1 SB, 2 BB, 7 SO at Triple-A Salt Lake.
By MLB definition, Jo Adell played in too many games to still be considered a prospect or rookie. By every other definition, however, Adell is absolutely a prospect, and I wanted to make sure fantasy managers are cognizant of him. Yes, he struggled in 2020 when he wasn’t ready. I saw some flashes of brilliance -- scant, but flashes -- even in it, and this is still one of the most talented young outfielders in baseball. Do not give up on Adell. It would be insane to do so based on the small sample of last year.
Next in line: Jeter Downs, INF, Boston Red Sox; Drew Waters, OF, Atlanta Braves; Bobby Witt Jr., INF, Kansas City Royals; Matt Manning, RHP, Detroit Tigers; Matthew Liberatore, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals