Every MLB Team's Most Untouchable Prospect This Offseason
At least until teams breathe life into the generally inert free-agent market, trades figure to dominate the headlines for Major League Baseball's 2020-21 offseason.
However, some of the league's up-and-coming stars probably aren't going anywhere.
With help from our rankings of baseball's top 100 prospects, we've highlighted each team's most untouchable prospect in trade talks. For the most part, these are young players who are already locked into major league jobs or looking to earn them in the near future. In other cases, they're elite prospects whose parent clubs won't be buying in trades.
We'll proceed in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Kristian Robinson
B/R Rank: 22
After sinking to last place in the National League West in 2020, the Arizona Diamondbacks are in a bit of a no man's land regarding their immediate future.
If they want to force their way back into contention, their farm system has more than enough depth for blockbuster trades. Or they could try a less audacious approach, loading up on short-term contracts that wouldn't bog down their books and could be moved should things go south again in 2021.
Either way, Kristian Robinson is probably safe.
By way of his power and speed—i.e., 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases as a mere 18-year-old in the low minors in 2019—the 20-year-old looks like the most promising prospect in Arizona's deep system. And despite his youth, he could make his debut as soon as next season.
Atlanta: RHP Ian Anderson
B/R Rank: 2
With Marcell Ozuna, Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall now out of the picture, the path is clear for Cristian Pache and Drew Waters to become fixtures in Atlanta's outfield next season.
We have Pache and Waters ranked as MLB's Nos. 7 and 21 prospects, respectively. Pache is a speedster who could be a regular Gold Glove winner in center field. Waters is a promising switch-hitter with good speed in his own right.
However, neither is quite as untouchable as Ian Anderson.
The 22-year-old right-hander broke into Atlanta's rotation in August and put up a 1.95 ERA in six regular-season starts, followed by a 0.96 ERA in four playoff outings. Along with Mike Soroka and Max Fried, he's set to be part of a dangerous rotation trio in 2021.
Baltimore Orioles: C Adley Rutschman
B/R Rank: 11
Sure, teams can ask the Baltimore Orioles about Adley Rutschman this winter. But they'd be wasting their breath.
After losing 223 games across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, it qualified as progress that the Orioles won even 42 percent of their games in 2020. Their rebuild clearly needs more work, which means they won't be buying in blockbusters anytime soon.
When the O's inevitably are ready to do so again, Rutschman will surely have already established himself as their franchise catcher.
The 22-year-old has been ticketed for this role ever since Baltimore chose him with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, and he should at least get his first call to the majors in 2021. After that, the switch-hitter's power and defensive acumen will hopefully pave his way to stardom.
Boston Red Sox: SS/2B Jeter Downs
B/R Rank: 57
The most MLB-ready of the Boston Red Sox's prospects would seem to be slugger Bobby Dalbec, who's fresh off slamming eight home runs in 23 games with the big club in 2020.
Yet it's not impossible to imagine Dalbec moving in a trade. That would be the case of the Red Sox selling high on him before his swing-and-miss issues—he struck out in 39 of 80 at-bats with Boston this year—reverse his rising stock.
Jeter Downs, on the other hand, almost certainly isn't going anywhere.
Acquired as part of the Mookie Betts-David Price trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in February, Downs is now Boston's highest-rated talent. After initially breaking out with 24 homers and 24 steals in the minors in 2019, the 22-year-old could cement himself as Boston's everyday second baseman as soon as 2021.
Chicago Cubs: LHP Brailyn Marquez
B/R Rank: 90
If the Chicago Cubs make a blockbuster trade this winter, it's likely to involve sending a big-name player out of town.
Kris Bryant, who was the NL MVP just four years ago, is the top candidate to go. If not him, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks or even Yu Darvish could be moved as part of the Cubs' effort to shake things up.
Yet it can be taken for granted that the Cubs won't be moving any of their top prospects, including left-hander Brailyn Marquez.
The 21-year-old must improve on his control if he wants to become a mainstay in the Cubs rotation. But he definitely has the fastball for the job, as he touched 100 mph during his debut on the final day of the 2020 season.
Chicago White Sox: RHP Michael Kopech
B/R Rank: 25
The Chicago White Sox have already moved a well-regarded prospect, sending right-hander Dane Dunning to the Texas Rangers for ace Lance Lynn on Tuesday.
Out of the top prospects Chicago has left, infielders Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal and pitchers Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet will be the hardest for other teams to acquire. All four are looking to make an impact on the South Side in 2021.
Kopech, however, is perhaps the most untouchable of the four.
Though his trade value is a tad uncertain after he opted out of the 2020 season, the 24-year-old is nonetheless one of the top right-handed prospects in baseball. And with his Tommy John operation now more than two years in the rearview, he's in the clear to ride his high-octane fastball to stardom.
Cincinnati Reds: LHP Nick Lodolo
B/R Rank: 45
This doesn't necessarily mean the Reds are interested in a full-on rebuild. But after its return to the playoffs in 2020 concluded with a scoreless sweep at Atlanta's hands in the Wild Card Round, the club is clearly interested in retooling.
It's therefore unlikely that the Reds will be moving any of their top prospects, including Nick Lodolo.
Though the 22-year-old didn't appear in the majors in 2020, he made an impression by striking out 30 batters and walking nobody in his first 18.1 minor league innings in 2019. He's a candidate to establish himself in Cincinnati's rotation next season.
Cleveland: 3B Nolan Jones
B/R Rank: 36
Like the Cubs and Reds, Cleveland is most likely to send a star player out of town if it makes any blockbuster deals this winter.
Obviously, we're talking about Francisco Lindor. With his free agency looming after 2021, indications are that Cleveland will deal him now in lieu of waiting to see what next season brings. If and when Lindor moves, a nice package of talent will come back the other way.
In the meantime, Nolan Jones is unquestionably the best prospect Cleveland has right now.
Unlike right-hander Triston McKenzie, Jones isn't a candidate to open 2021 on the big club's roster. But with a stellar .409 OBP already after four seasons, the 22-year-old doesn't have much left to prove in the minors.
Colorado Rockies: OF Zac Veen
B/R Rank: 52
After consecutive fourth-place finishes in the NL West, the Colorado Rockies need a rebuild.
If the Rockies had their way, the first step would involve trading Nolan Arenado and what's left of his $260 million contract. Failing that, they might move Trevor Story before free agency calls his name next winter.
Whatever the case, Colorado badly needs to add prospects to a system in which Zac Veen is the only standout talent.
Because there was no minor league season in 2020, the Rockies have yet to see what Veen can do after taking him with the No. 9 pick in June's draft. But assuming he fills out his 6'4", 190-pound frame, the 19-year-old outfielder could bring both hitting acumen and plus power to the Rockies' everyday lineup.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Casey Mize
B/R Rank: 9
The Detroit Tigers were over .500 as late as September 1, but their late fade landed them in last place in the American League Central for the fourth time in six years.
All of the Tigers' top prospects are absolutely off the table for now, so the only hard part for us was choosing which one of them is the most untouchable.
There's an argument for slugging third baseman Spencer Torkelson. He just went to Detroit with the first pick of the 2020 draft, and he's now the No. 17 prospect in baseball.
We have Casey Mize rated more highly, however, because he has No. 1 upside even after posting a 6.99 ERA in his first seven starts for Detroit. We specifically love his devastating splitter.
Houston Astros: RHP Forrest Whitley
B/R Rank: 23
Forrest Whitley is the only top-100 prospect the Houston Astros have right now, so trading him probably isn't something the club wants to do.
However, this is not to say that it absolutely won't do it. The Astros could turn to the trade market for impact outfielders if they lose George Springer or Michael Brantley to free agency. Or, they might seek a No. 1 starter to account for Justin Verlander's Tommy John surgery.
But if the right opportunity never presents itself, keeping Whitley is certainly Houston's best play.
Because he's struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness (7.99 ERA across four levels of minor league ball in 2019) over the last two years, the 23-year-old's stock isn't what it once was. But between his 6'7", 238-pound frame and electric repertoire, Whitley's upside is still as high as that of any other pitching prospect.
Kansas City Royals: SS Bobby Witt Jr.
B/R Rank: 19
The Kansas City Royals are taking a novel approach to rebuilding in that they're trying to both grow their farm system and compete at the major league level.
The latter effort has already seen the Royals spend nearly $40 million to sign Mike Minor, Carlos Santana and Michael A. Taylor off the free-agent market. Perhaps they'll also make use of the trade market.
But if they do, it'll surely be in such a way that they don't move top prospects such as Bobby Witt Jr.
The Royals nabbed the 20-year-old with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft. The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season didn't exactly help his development, yet for now he's still on track to become a five-tool threat at shortstop in the near future.
Los Angeles Angels: LHP Reid Detmers
B/R Rank: 98
In case you're wondering, Jo Adell no longer qualifies as a prospect after playing in 38 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 2020.
With that being the case, we now have speedy outfielder Brandon Marsh ranked as the club's best talent and No. 83 prospect in all of baseball. But because he's looking up at an outfield featuring Adell, Mike Trout and Justin Upton, the Angels might actually be willing to move Marsh in a trade.
Reid Detmers? Maybe not so much.
The Angels have barely gotten to know the 21-year-old southpaw since taking him with the No. 10 pick in the 2020 draft. They can hope, however, that his excellent curveball will forge a path to their rotation as soon as 2022.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Josiah Gray
B/R Rank: 51
After they finally snapped a 31-year championship drought in October, the Los Angeles Dodgers probably don't have any untouchables as they prepare for another World Series run in 2021.
Indeed, the club has been linked to big-name targets such as Nolan Arenado (here) and Francisco Lindor (here). There might be more smoke than fire there for now, but Manny Machado and Mookie Betts can vouch that the Dodgers aren't exactly afraid of blockbusters.
So, the question here is which player the Dodgers would rather not part with. As their top prospect, Josiah Gray presents the most obvious answer.
Though the 22-year-old missed out on all the fun the Dodgers had in 2020, he should at least make his debut in 2021. From there, his excellent fastball-slider combination could make him a star.
Miami Marlins: RHP Sixto Sanchez
B/R Rank: 4
The Miami Marlins selling high on an up-and-coming pitcher? It's happened before.
Though both were in the midst of promising rookie seasons in 2019, the Marlins sent Zac Gallen to the Arizona Diamondbacks (here) and Nick Anderson (here) to the Tampa Bay Rays in separate deals ahead of the trade deadline.
Of course, this was before the Marlins returned to the playoffs in 2020. Among the key contributors to that effort was Sixto Sanchez, who's about as untouchable as prospects get.
Though he only made seven starts this year, he still earned NL Rookie of the Year votes by way of his 3.46 ERA. With a triple-digit fastball and other nasty pitches at his disposal, the 22-year-old may not be far off from chasing Cy Young Awards.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Garrett Mitchell
B/R Rank: 87
The Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs despite finishing under .500 in 2020. Now there's a power vacuum in the NL Central that might allow for an easy road to the top of the division in 2021.
To this end, the Brewers will almost certainly address an offense that finished fourth from the bottom in runs per game this past season. Yet the club will probably stick to free-agent solutions, as its farm system doesn't have much to offer in terms of trade chips.
Especially if Garrett Mitchell is off the table.
The Brew Crew took the speedy 22-year-old with the No. 20 pick in this year's draft, and his timeline could allow him to take over for Lorenzo Cain in center field after his deal ends in 2022.
Minnesota Twins: OF Alex Kirilloff
B/R Rank: 24
Though the Minnesota Twins are the two-time defending AL Central champions, their grip on the division is tenuous.
Their list of free agents includes slugger Nelson Cruz and a handful of pitchers. And since the club's projected payroll for next season is only about $30 million from matching its 2020 payroll, its preference might be to fill some of its needs with relatively low-cost stars from the trade market.
If so, the Twins have five top-100 prospects they might trade. But while shortstop Royce Lewis (No. 16) ranks higher, we're thinking Minnesota will be more loath to part with Alex Kirilloff.
Whereas Lewis doesn't have a clear path to playing time in the Twins infield, the 23-year-old Kirilloff could take over for the recently non-tendered Eddie Rosario in left field.
New York Mets: C Francisco Alvarez
B/R Rank: 93
With deep-pocketed owner Steve Cohen now signing the checks and calling the shots, the New York Mets figure to make more noise on the offseason market than any other team.
Their work will likely be focused in free agency, where Trevor Bauer and George Springer loom as ideal solutions for major needs. Yet the Mets might also consider some blockbuster trades, as what well-regarded prospects they do have aren't exactly major league-ready.
That includes both shortstop Ronny Mauricio and catcher Francisco Alvarez, but the Mets might need a little more convincing to part with the latter.
In defensive wiz Andres Gimenez, the Mets might already have their franchise shortstop. Between his above-average hitting and defensive tools, the 19-year-old Alvarez might one day become their franchise catcher.
New York Yankees: OF Jasson Dominguez
B/R Rank: 43
Though the Mets are poised for a power play, don't count out the other New York team for impact moves of its own.
The Yankees are, after all, the Yankees. And right now they would seem to have as much as $75 million to add to their 2021 payroll, not to mention three top-100 prospects to dangle in trade talks.
But while right-handers Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia might actually be attainable for other teams, the Yankees surely aren't going to part with Jasson Dominguez.
He was MLB.com's No. 1 international prospect when the Yankees signed him in July 2019, and he's still only 17 years old. He's said to have extraordinary tools, and the team is surely looking forward to him showing them off in the minors for the first time next season.
Oakland Athletics: LHP A.J. Puk
B/R Rank: 76
Sans shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks, the Oakland Athletics are currently missing two key pieces from their recent run of success.
These being the A's, they'll surely fill these holes and others while spending as little money as possible. Trading top prospects also isn't typically their thing, so don't count on any blockbuster deals.
That's one reason A.J. Puk is likely staying put, anyway.
Puk, 25, had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and more recently had shoulder surgery in September. The A's would thus be selling low on him if they traded him, so they might as well keep him and see if his nasty fastball and breaking ball can make him a star as either a starter or reliever.
Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Spencer Howard
B/R Rank: 35
Even though he stepped down as general manager over two months ago, the Philadelphia Phillies have yet to hire a replacement for Matt Klentak. That makes their offseason hard to predict.
Whatever the case, we feel fairly confident in saying Spencer Howard won't be traded this winter.
To be fair, the 24-year-old didn't impress in his first taste of major league action in 2020. He made six starts and pitched to a 5.92 ERA, with six home runs allowed in 24.1 innings. He also missed time with shoulder stiffness.
Howard did, however, show off a fastball that sat at 94.1 mph and touched 97 mph. The Phillies also frankly need him and his heater in their rotation, which is mighty thin after aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes
B/R Rank: 5
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 93 games in 2019 and then went a league-worst 19-41 in 2020. So if they make any trades this winter, they'll likely exclusively involve veterans leaving town.
Which is to say other teams shouldn't bother asking the Pirates about their top prospects. Least of all, Ke'Bryan Hayes.
The 23-year-old was well regarded even before 2020. Now, he comes off as a truly elite prospect after his 24 games with the Pirates, wherein he racked up a 1.124 OPS and as much WAR as Anthony Rendon.
The sharp defense that Hayes played at the hot corner was no great surprise, but he did open eyes by hitting the ball at a top-notch average of 92.8 mph. Small sample size and all, this is still exciting stuff.
San Diego Padres: LHP MacKenzie Gore
B/R Rank: 6
Sans Garrett Richards, who's a free agent, and Mike Clevinger, who's recovering from Tommy John surgery, the San Diego Padres need to add at least one top-of-the-rotation starter this winter.
But apart from Trevor Bauer, pickings are slim on the open market. And while the Padres could just sign Bauer, they might be reluctant to add yet another eight-figure salary to their books.
San Diego may thus be most likely to acquire an ace via the trade market. Or, it could just place its bets on top prospects like Luis Patino and especially MacKenzie Gore.
The 21-year-old is on track to debut early next season. He needs to establish more consistency with his secondary offerings, yet the 1.69 ERA he posted in the minors in 2019 speaks to his huge potential.
San Francisco Giants: C Joey Bart
B/R Rank: 13
The San Francisco Giants have been a pleasant surprise in each of the last two seasons, the latter of which saw them nearly qualify for the playoffs.
If the Giants want to make a proper push for the postseason in 2021, it could involve throwing their weight around in free agency. Because while their books look a tad steep for next season, only Evan Longoria is guaranteed any money in 2022.
The Giants will not, however, be moving any of their top prospects in trades. Especially not 2018 second overall pick Joey Bart.
The 23-year-old was humbled by his first MLB experience in 2020, posting just a .609 OPS in 33 games. Yet he remains the Giants' heir apparent to Buster Posey at catcher, from where he'll offer steady defense and a powerful bat.
Seattle Mariners: OF Jarred Kelenic
B/R Rank: 10
Led by AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, the Seattle Mariners beat expectations to finish 2020 with a respectable 27-33 record.
With their 2021 payroll projected at just $75 million, the Mariners could load up on free agents with a goal of finally snapping their 19-year playoff drought in 2021. Or, they could just sit back and wait for their deep farm system to bear more fruit.
Either way, Jarred Kelenic will be a Mariner next season.
After dominating the minors with a .904 OPS, 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2019, the 21-year-old perhaps should have been a Mariner this season. But no matter, as he'll have a shot at becoming Seattle's second straight Rookie of the Year winner when he arrives in 2021.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Dylan Carlson
B/R Rank: 8
The St. Louis Cardinals didn't exactly have their offense to thank for their postseason berths in 2019 or 2020, as it was below average both years.
After hitting an MLB-low 51 home runs this year, power is clearly what the Cardinals need most. With their budget tight, they might look to find some on the trade market rather than mess around in free agency.
Alternatively, the Cardinals could pin their hopes on Dylan Carlson realizing his offensive upside in 2021.
The 22-year-old was a dynamic threat in the minors in 2019, racking up a .914 OPS with 26 homers and 20 steals. Though he mostly struggled in the majors in 2020, the switch-hitter at least finished strong with 10 hits (including seven for extra bases) in his last 11 games.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS Wander Franco
B/R Rank: 1
Even after going to the World Series in 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays are reportedly open to trading 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
Not ideal, but also not surprising. The Rays operate on a tight budget in the best of times, and 2020 was, of course, the worst of times. Trading Snell presents a chance to save $41 million through 2023.
However, the club will certainly not be trading any of its nine (yes, nine) top-100 prospects. At the very top of that list is the best of them all: Wander Franco.
Franco was only 18 during the 2019 minor league season, yet he still hit .327 with 21 more walks than strikeouts. That was a taste of his 80-grade hitting tool, which should be glimpsed in the majors next season.
Texas Rangers: 3B Josh Jung
B/R Rank: 69
Last week's trade of ace right-hander Lance Lynn sealed the deal: The Texas Rangers are rebuilding now.
This is the right call after what happened in 2020, during which the Rangers won 10 of their first 19 games before losing 29 of their last 41. The Lynn trade is a good start, as newcomer Dane Dunning (No. 70) upped Texas' collection of top-100 prospects to three.
Not one member of that trio is likely to be traded this offseason. Not Dunning. Not Sam Huff. And especially not Josh Jung.
The Rangers chose the 22-year-old with the No. 8 pick in the 2019 draft and then promptly watched him hit .316 in his first 44 minor league games. He might take over at the hot corner for the Rangers as soon as next season.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson
B/R Rank: 14
The Toronto Blue Jays broke out of their rebuild and made the playoffs in 2020. Now all they have to do is dig in their heels.
Whether they concern him or other stars, the Jays might not have any true untouchables in trade talks. But out of their prospects, Nate Pearson comes the closest to fitting the bill.
Though he was hit hard in his first five outings for Toronto in 2020, the 24-year-old is slated for the big club's rotation in 2021. As long as he maintains his tremendous heater, he has at least one tool to help him take advantage of the opportunity.
Washington Nationals: RHP Jackson Rutledge
B/R Rank: Not Ranked
After winning the World Series in 2019, the Washington Nationals lost Anthony Rendon to free agency and took still more lumps en route to a losing record in 2020.
The Nationals should arguably rebuild, but every indication is that they would much prefer to return to contention in 2021. Some big additions are on the table, up to and including Kris Bryant.
Since Washington's farm system is already one of MLB's worst, the club might not be dead set against trading any of its prospects. Jackson Rutledge is simply the most untouchable by default.
The 21-year-old has only been with the Nats since 2019, when they took him with the No. 17 pick in the draft. Yet he and his electric fastball-slider combination could debut in the majors next season.