What may be the most anticipated Minor League season ever opens on Tuesday. After the cancellation of the 2020 schedule, 120 teams at four levels and the vast majority of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects will get back to playing games that count next week.
We’ve been tasked to come up with one prospect from each organization whom we’re excited to see play this year, to which our response was: Just one? We could name 300 players whose return to the diamond thrills us, but we’ve somehow managed to limit it to 30.
Blue Jays: Jordan Groshans, SS (No. 3/MLB No. 39)
A foot injury suffered in his first full season and last year’s canceled campaign means we haven’t seen Groshans on a Minor League field since May 13, 2019 with Class A Lansing. He’ll open this season at Double-A New Hampshire, where he’ll show off plus bat speed that could result in a solid average and above-average power. The Jays want to keep Groshans at short as long as they can, but as he gets closer to Bo Bichette’s shadow, expect him to see more third base.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
Who else could it be? The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft has just 130 official pro at-bats under his belt and simply needs to go out and play. He’s been the talk of wherever he’s been, whether it’s alternate camp last year or Spring Training this year. Now he just needs to harness his talent and show just how quickly he can get to Baltimore.
Rays: Wander Franco, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 1)
Let’s not tie ourselves into a pretzel by trying to avoid the game’s top overall prospect. Franco owns an 80-grade hit tool for a reason, and it should be fun to watch how he can follow up his .327/.398/.487 line and 35/56 K/BB ratio from 2019 when he reaches the upper Minors for the first time at Triple-A Durham. Specifically watch out for the switch-hitter’s power progression. Franco could be a plus slugger in time, and how well that tool develops could determine how quickly the 20-year-old reaches the Majors this summer.
Red Sox: Jarren Duran, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 99)
Duran already was the fastest player and best athlete in Boston’s system before making some swing changes last summer to add power, which translated into him starring in winter ball and the Grapefruit League. If the 2018 seventh-round pick from Long Beach State can keep that momentum going, he could provide a boost to a contending big league team that needs more outfield production.
Yankees: Jasson Dominguez, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 28)
You know the drill … Dominguez has yet to make his pro debut but we’re compelled to remind you that he draws comparisons to some of the best athletes in baseball history, such as Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout. Signed for $5.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, he has the potential for well-above-average tools across the board.
Indians: Bo Naylor, C (No. 3/MLB No. 100)
Bo and his brother Josh (acquired by the Indians last summer in the Mike Clevinger trade) are the only Canadian siblings to both become first-round picks, with Josh going No. 12 overall in 2015 and Bo going No. 29 overall three years later. Both have powerful bats, but Bo is a superior hitter with much more defensive value as a quality receiver with solid arm strength.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1/MLB No. 7)
Witt didn’t look like he was only two years removed from high school this spring, when he hit .289/.325/.526 with three homers (including a 484-foot blast) over 14 games in the Cactus League. The Royals agreed, first sending the 20-year-old to the 2021 alternate site and next to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Witt’s plus power already plays against upper-level arms – thanks to additional experience gained at last year’s alt site – and the hit tool will remain a focus, though that projects as plus as well. Given Witt’s climb thus far, a 2021 Major League debut isn’t out of the question, so catch him while you can in the Minors.
Tigers: Riley Greene, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 18)
Sure, we could go with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson here, but the anticipation to see Greene in an upper-level environment has gone on long enough. The 2019 first-rounder has shown advanced offensive tools from the left side at every stop – Major League Spring Training, last year’s alternate site, three Minor League clubs – and he’ll take that promising bat next to Double-A Erie. A .300 average and .500 slugging percentage aren’t out of the realm of possibility for the outfielder, who will play this entire season at only age 20.
Twins: Jhoan Duran, RHP (No. 5/MLB No. 91)
This isn’t just another opportunity to use the term “splinker” in a story, though seeing Duran throw his nasty splitter-sinker hybrid pitch at the upper levels sure will be fun. He’s thrown extremely well in Minor League spring training and it’s easy to envision a scenario where he pitches well enough to help the Twins in a playoff hunt down the stretch.
White Sox: Yoelqui Céspedes, OF (No. 5)
Once Andrew Vaughn graduates from rookie status in a couple of weeks, Céspedes will become Chicago’s top position prospect, though some scouts outside the organization have questions about his bat. The younger brother of Yoenis Céspedes and MLB Pipeline’s top-rated player in the 2020-21 international class, the Cuban is a potential 20-20 player who may be able to stick in center field and has a plus-plus arm that definitely would fit in right field.
A’s: Tyler Soderstrom, C (No. 1/MLB No. 94)
The A’s first-round pick from 2020 has yet to play a game, but the high schooler has made good impressions against much older competition at last year’s alternate site and in big league camp this spring. His advanced bat should let him move quickly and the A’s player development staff is excited about how much improvement he’s already shown behind the plate.
Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF (No. 3)
The last time we saw Adams, one of the best athletes in all of Minor League Baseball, officially, he was showing a more advanced feel to hit to go along with his 80-grade speed in A ball in 2019. He’s reportedly added a lot of strength with power starting to show up while also developing into a plus center fielder defensively.
Astros: Pedro Leon, OF/SS (No. 2)
After signing in January for $4 million, the largest bonus in the 2020-21 international class, Leon will begin his pro career in Double-A and get a lot of action at shortstop after looking surprisingly good there this spring. The Cuban defector offers well-above-average raw power to go with the best speed (70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and arm strength (80) in the organization.
Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 5)
It’s not that we aren’t excited to see Jarred Kelenic, who should start knocking on the big league door. It’s just that we’ve seen less of J-Rod, who only has 17 official games above Low A ball. After impressing everyone in big league camp this spring, watching the high-energy Rodríguez trying to force the Mariners’ hand and move him up will be one of the most fun things we do this year.
Rangers: Cole Winn, OF (No. 3)
The most polished high school right-hander in the 2018 Draft, Winn went 15th overall and made significant strides down the stretch when he made his pro debut the next year in Low A. Making the jump to Double-A this season, he possesses a solid four-pitch mix and could advance quickly in an organization that needs pitching.
Braves: Drew Waters, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 30)
Waters has all five tools at his disposal, with his approach at the plate in the past the only thing that’s remotely held him back. That’s a weird thing to say given he reached Triple-A at age 20. The talented outfielder focused on that approach at the alternate site last year and if he can cut down his strikeout rate a bit in 2021, he should make enough noise to join Cristian Pache and Ronald Acuña Jr. in Atlanta soon enough.
Marlins: Max Meyer, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 24)
The first pitcher selected in the 2020 Draft, Meyer matched Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as the highest pick in University of Minnesota history by going No. 3 overall and signed for a franchise-record $6.7 million. He may begin his pro career in Double-A, armed with a mid-90s fastball, a wipeout slider and a fading changeup.
Mets: Matt Allan, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 66)
The Mets invested heavily (i.e. a $2.5 million signing bonus) in getting Allan with their third-round pick in 2019, and mostly behind closed doors, the 6-foot-3 right-hander has spent the last two years backing up why he’s the organization’s top pitching prospect. His fastball and curveball have long been plus pitches, but the development on his changeup has given him a third weapon that he’ll unleash on batters beginning at High-A Brooklyn this spring.
Nationals: Jackson Rutledge, RHP (No. 2)
At a listed 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, Rutledge is going to stand out physically on any field he takes. The stuff has the same effect. The 2019 17th overall pick can touch the upper-90s with good spin on his heater and also features a plus slider. He’ll also mix in a curveball and changeup for different looks, and it’s the full arsenal that could lead to some impressive starts. We just haven’t seen it above Low A yet, but that time will come starting next week.
Phillies: Mick Abel, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 67)
So far, all we have are reports on Abel during instructional league play. But those reports of his electric stuff are more than enough to whet the appetites to see what he can do in his first full year of pro ball. His combination of stuff and feel for pitching is why he was the first high school pitcher taken in the 2020 Draft, No. 15 overall, and now we’ll get to see how it plays against pro competition.
Brewers: Aaron Ashby, LHP (No. 7)
There are better prospects in the Milwaukee pipeline, including better left-handed pitchers. But Ashby’s starts can be awfully entertaining as the southpaw showed this spring when he played around with timing in a manner similar to Marcus Stroman. Ashby’s bread-and-butter is his plus-plus slider that gets plenty of swings-and-misses. (He fanned 135 in 126 innings in 2019.) If you’re able to see an Ashby start either online or in person, you won’t want to miss it.
Cardinals: Nolan Gorman, 3B (No. 2/MLB No. 33)
Acquiring an All-Star third baseman in Nolan Arenado only put Gorman under more of a microscope. The left-handed slugger’s tremendous raw power is always going to make him exciting to watch, and now his defensive path will make for an interesting follow as well. The 2018 19th overall pick saw some brief time at second base in the spring and should be more in the mix there during the regular season. Finding any way to add his pop to the lineup should be a tantalizing process for St. Louis.
Cubs: Ed Howard, SS (No. 5)
Six years after leading Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team to the 2014 Little League World Series finals, Howard became just the third Windy City-area product taken in the first round by the Cubs. The best true shortstop in the 2020 Draft, he’s advanced enough offensively and defensively to make his pro debut in Low A this spring.
Pirates: Quinn Priester, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 44)
The Pirates’ top pick in the 2019 Draft threw well enough during his brief pro debut after signing. But it was really news of how he pitched at the Pirates’ alternate site last summer and then during instructional league play, when scouts from other teams saw, and raved about him, that his profile took a huge leap forward. Yes, he was a high school draftee, but he could be the type who moves more quickly than most prep arms.
Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 62)
We haven’t seen him pitch in the regular season since 2018, before his Tommy John surgery, though that Futures Game performance is still firmly in our memory banks. News of him hitting triple digits this spring with better command and secondary stuff has us very excited to see the former No. 2 overall pick climb the Reds’ ladder.
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 40)
Carroll climbed past some talented prospects in their own rights in Kristian Robinson, Geraldo Perdomo and Alek Thomas to claim his spot as Arizona’s top young talent because of his work at last year’s alternate site. Now, it’s time to put that work on display in the Minors. The 2019 16th overall pick is a plus-plus runner capable of covering tons of ground in the outfield. He also should be a plus hitter from the left side and could be an ideal leadoff hitter in the Majors. At 20 years old, it’s a wonder what he could do against more age-appropriate competition in 2021.
Dodgers: Michael Busch, 2B (No. 3/MLB No. 93)
Though Busch has played just 10 pro games since the Dodgers made him the 31st overall pick in 2019, the University of North Carolina product wowed evaluators inside and outside of the organization during instructional league last fall. He came out of the Draft with an impressive combination of hitting ability, power and patience, and he used his pandemic downtime to improve his quickness and arm strength, enhancing his chances of staying at second base.
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
Luciano gave a glimpse of his massive upside by batting .302/.417/.564 while reaching short-season ball at age 17 during his 2019 pro debut. Signed for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, he has some of the best bat speed and raw power in the Minors, and he also stands out with his hitting ability and baseball IQ.
Padres: CJ Abrams, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 8)
There aren’t many prospects more tooled-up than Abrams is entering his age-20 season. The 2019 sixth overall pick is a legit 80-grade runner who can wreak havoc on the bases. His bat from the left side remains plus, and since entering pro ball, he has added enough strength to be at least an average power hitter. With Fernando Tatis Jr. locked into place for the long haul in San Diego, Abrams might need to look at other positions, like he did with second base this spring. But he’s plenty electric enough to bring excitement to any spot on the diamond.
Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 46)
Like with all of the 2020 Draft class, Veen has yet to play a real game. The second high school hitter taken last June, Veen has an exciting combination of feel for hitting and raw power potential coming from a long and lean frame. There have been some Cody Bellinger comps and now we’ll get to see how he measures up.