Each Team's Top Prospect Who Will Make the Biggest MLB Impact in 2021

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 6, 2021

Each Team's Top Prospect Who Will Make the Biggest MLB Impact in 2021

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    All aboard the Randy Arozarena hype train.
    All aboard the Randy Arozarena hype train.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    There's a new Major League Baseball season on the horizon, which means scores of prospects will soon have hopes of fulfilling their major league dreams.

    As for which young players will actually get to do so, we have some ideas.

    We've identified one prospect for each MLB team who figures to make an impact in The Show in 2021. The list largely consists of top-100 prospects who've already reached the majors, including some who already have jobs lined up. Otherwise, we considered nearly MLB-ready players who could rise to the top.

    We'll proceed in alphabetical order by city.

Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Corbin Martin

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: NR

    Highest Level: MLB

    The Arizona Diamondbacks have a pretty good farm system—No. 10 in our rankings—but the catch is that their most exciting prospects are on the young side and therefore not quite ready for the big time.

    Of the few exceptions, Corbin Martin stands out.

    The D-backs acquired Martin in the Zack Greinke trade in July 2019, at which point the 25-year-old was only a few weeks removed from Tommy John surgery. As a result of that, it's been nearly two full years since he last pitched in a competitive game.

    On the plus side, Martin flashed a 95.3 mph fastball with a curveball, slider and changeup in five appearances with Houston in 2019. Assuming that stuff is still there, he might run with whatever opportunity he gets.

Atlanta: RHP Ian Anderson

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 2

    Highest Level: MLB

    In the person of Cristian Pache, Atlanta has a rookie who could be the second coming of Andruw Jones in center field.

    It should come as no surprise, however, that the spotlight is on Ian Anderson.

    Atlanta selected the 22-year-old with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft, and he's been a regular on top-100 lists ever since. He's now uniformly found near the top of said lists after posting a 1.59 ERA in 10 regular-season and postseason starts with Atlanta in 2020.

    With the help of his fastball, curveball and changeup, Anderson also compiled 65 strikeouts and allowed 24 walks and only three barrels in 51 innings. With more of that, he can make a run at the National League Rookie of the Year and maybe even the NL Cy Young Award.

Baltimore Orioles: 1B/OF Ryan Mountcastle

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 88

    Highest Level: MLB

    This should be the year the Baltimore Orioles call up young catcher Adley Rutschman, whose impressive two-way skill set should make him baseball's next great catcher.

    But in the meantime, Ryan Mountcastle is the rookie to watch.

    The 24-year-old had a darn good season at Triple-A in 2019, going off for a .312/.344/.527 line with 25 home runs. He didn't miss a beat in the majors last year, hitting .333/.386/.492 with five homers in 35 games.

    Because Mountcastle's peripherals weren't as eye-popping as his results, he still has some convincing to do. The O's are nonetheless slated to play him on an everyday basis, and he'll be an American League Rookie of the Year candidate if he picks up where he left off.

Boston Red Sox: 2B Jeter Downs

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 57

    Highest Level: AA

    The Boston Red Sox featured not one but two exciting players who made their debuts in 2020. Slugger Bobby Dalbec cranked eight home runs in 23 games, and right-hander Tanner Houck had a 0.53 ERA in three starts.

    But since Dalbec also posted an unsustainable 42.4 strikeout percentage and Houck doesn't have an out pitch for left-handed batters, our eye is on Boston's No. 1 prospect: Jeter Downs.

    Sure, he's only made it as far as Double-A. But he showed off his well-rounded talent in the year that he did, hitting .276/.362/.526 with 24 homers and 24 stolen bases in 2019.

    Downs, 22, already has a fan in manager Alex Cora. And because the club lacks a de facto regular at second base, there's a clear opening he might fill in the not too distant future.

Chicago Cubs: RHP Adbert Alzolay

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: NR

    Highest Level: MLB

    The Chicago Cubs' best prospect is Brailyn Marquez, a rare left-hander who can near 100 mph with his fastball.

    But since Marquez still has some development standing between him and a steady job in the majors, expect Adbert Alzolay to have a bigger presence this season.

    The 26-year-old has played in the majors in each of the last two seasons, though the second was certainly a better experience than the first. He handled 21.1 innings in 2020 and allowed only 12 hits with 29 strikeouts.

    In the process, Alzolay showcased his new sinker and a nasty slider. Those weapons could be his avenue to regular work as a late-inning reliever—if not as a starter.

Chicago White Sox: 2B Nick Madrigal

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 40

    Highest Level: MLB

    This is where things get tough, as the Chicago White Sox have at least four prospects who could make significant contributions.

    But with all respect to right-hander Michael Kopech, left-hander Garrett Crochet and first baseman Andrew Vaughn, Nick Madrigal is the best bet to play at a star-caliber level this year.

    Though Madrigal has little to no power, he lived up to his reputation as a throwback hitter by racking up a .340 average and only seven strikeouts in 29 games in 2020. To boot, he did so with only one healthy shoulder.

    Because Madrigal, 24, is also a plus runner and defender, he could hit over .300 with 30-odd stolen bases while playing Gold Glove defense at second base.

Cincinnati Reds: C Tyler Stephenson

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 89

    Highest Level: MLB

    Because the Cincinnati Reds never followed through on their desire to add a star shortstop, the position could be Jose Garcia's before long.

    Yet Garcia is only 22 and had only gone as far as High-A before the Reds called him up last year. So, we'll side with Tyler Stephenson instead.

    He's been in the Reds system since they chose him 11th in the 2015 draft, but injuries delayed his major league debut until July. Though he played only eight games, he made an impression by launching two homers, including a walk-off.

    Now Stephenson, 24, is set to back up Gold Glover Tucker Barnhart. If the former's bat continues to play, he might even nab the starting job.

Cleveland: RHP Triston McKenzie

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 72

    Highest Level: MLB

    If Cleveland has any hope for life after Francisco Lindor, it's wrapped up in a starting rotation that's pretty good even after reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber.

    That's a compliment to Triston McKenzie, among others.

    The 23-year-old first started showing up in top-100 lists in 2017, but then his trajectory took a dramatic turn for the worse as he missed time with a forearm injury in 2018 and all of 2019 with a strained back.

    Finally healthy, McKenzie debuted last year and displayed a mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking stuff as he compiled a 3.24 ERA in eight outings. Now he has a starting job in hand, which could be his ticket to the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Colorado Rockies: 3B Colton Welker

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: NR

    Highest Level: AA

    Buckle up, Colorado Rockies fans. Between its dismal major league roster and its lousy farm system, the club is in for a bumpy ride over the next few years.

    Even Colorado's best prospects might not reach the majors in 2021. Outfielder Zac Veen is less than a year removed from getting drafted ninth, while left-hander Ryan Rolison has advanced only as far as High-A.

    If we must shrug and pick somebody to emerge from the farm system, we'll go with Colton Welker.

    It's been a while since the 23-year-old had some helium (2016-18), yet we still have him rated as Colorado's No. 5 prospect. And with Nolan Arenado out of the picture, he has a path to playing time at the hot corner.

Detroit Tigers: RHP Casey Mize

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 9

    Highest Level: MLB

    The best prospect in the Detroit Tigers system is third baseman Spencer Torkelson, who might not be far off from the majors even though he was the team's No. 1 pick just last year.

    In the meantime, let's not forget about Detroit's No. 1 pick from 2018: Casey Mize.

    The 23-year-old had made only 26 starts in the minors by the time the Tigers called him up in August. His inexperience showed as he got knocked around for a 6.99 ERA in seven starts.

    Mize's splitter, however, was as advertised. Because he also boasts a quality slider and a fastball that got up to 96.4 mph, last year shouldn't obscure the reality that he has the goods to be an ace in the rotation in the near future.

Houston Astros: RHP Forrest Whitley

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 23

    Highest Level: AAA

    It was bound to happen after so many years at the top of MLB's power structure, but the Houston Astros farm system is now one of the league's worst.

    It's not all bad, though. And especially not if Forrest Whitley can get back on track.

    He entered 2019 as a consensus top-10 prospect on account of his 6'7" frame and tantalizing five-pitch mix. But courtesy of shoulder and arm injuries and a 50-game suspension, his stock has cratered since then.

    The good news is that Whitley's fastball was up to 99 mph with great spin when he pitched at Houston's alternate site in 2020. If he gets back his control (which was absent in 2019), he could join the rotation.

Kansas City Royals: RHP Jackson Kowar

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 81

    Highest Level: AA

    It'll be a while before shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. or left-hander Asa Lacy emerge from the Kansas City Royals farm system, but the club should debut two prized pitchers in 2021.

    They are lefty Daniel Lynch and righty Jackson Kowar. Working in Lynch's favor is that he's the more talented of the two. Working in Jackson's favor, however, is that he's more advanced.

    Whereas Lynch has reached only High-A, Kowar made 13 starts at Double-A as he was racking up a 3.52 ERA in the minors in 2019. At work there was his solid fastball and his more than solid changeup.

    The Royals would probably prefer that Kowar, 24, establish a consistent third offering before they call him up. But even if he doesn't, their rotation doesn't have enough depth to keep him out for long.

Los Angeles Angels: OF Brandon Marsh

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 83

    Highest Level: AA

    The last time the Los Angeles Angels inserted a top prospect into right field was just last year, and it didn't go well. In 38 games, Jo Adell had only 20 hits to go with 55 strikeouts.

    Maybe Brandon Marsh will have better luck.

    Before spending 2020 at the Angels' alternate site, the 23-year-old had an excellent year in 2019. He hit .300/.383/.428 in 96 games at Double-A and kept it up by going 22-for-67 with eight extra-base hits in 19 games in the Arizona Fall League.

    Marsh doesn't have Adell's ceiling, but his profile is that of a high-floor player at the plate and in the field. He should get a call if Dexter Fowler gets injured or can't hack it.

Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Josiah Gray

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 51

    Highest Level: AA

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are MLB's powerhouse in part because they can afford as many veterans as they want but arguably more so because of their seemingly never-ending supply of homegrown stars.

    There's more coming, including Josiah Gray.

    Acquired along with Jeter Downs from the Cincinnati Reds in December 2018, Gray put himself on the map in 2019 as he posted a 2.28 ERA with 147 strikeouts and only 31 walks in 130 innings across three levels of the minors.

    Though his fastball can reach the high 90s, the totality of Gray's skill set stands out more than any one pitch. That plus the way the Dodgers spread innings around bode well for the 23-year-old.

Miami Marlins: RHP Sixto Sanchez

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 4

    Highest Level: MLB

    The Miami Marlins farm system is loaded with six top-100 talents, but there's little question who is the best.

    His name, appropriately, is Sixto Sanchez.

    The 22-year-old was Miami's big prize in the trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to the Philadelphia Phillies in February 2019, and it took no time for him to get comfortable in the majors after he was called up in August. He put up a 3.64 ERA in nine regular-season and postseason outings.

    Though Sanchez had only 41 strikeouts in 47 innings, anyone who can hit 100.8 mph with their fastball is bound to get their share of punchouts. And with a spot in the rotation in hand, he won't have to wait.

Milwaukee Brewers: OF Corey Ray

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: NR

    Highest Level: AAA

    The Milwaukee Brewers don't have a good farm system. It's also too soon to expect anything of their one and only top-100 prospect, outfielder Garrett Mitchell.

    Regarding which prospects might contribute in 2021, there are slim pickings there as well. So it's with another shrug that we go back to the Corey Ray well.

    The Brewers had high hopes for the 26-year-old when they drafted him fifth in 2016, but his minor league career can be charitably described as a mixed bag. In 2018, for example, he had 27 home runs and 37 stolen bases...but also 176 strikeouts in 135 games.

    But if an injury occurs, Milwaukee might see nothing to lose in calling up Ray and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

Minnesota Twins: LF Alex Kirilloff

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 24

    Highest Level: MLB

    The Minnesota Twins got some bad news in February when their No. 1 prospect, shortstop Royce Lewis, was found to have a torn ACL upon reporting to camp.

    Fortunately for the Twins, they have two other promising offensive prospects in outfielders Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach. And after debuting in last year's playoffs, the former is already slotted in to left field.

    The 23-year-old had a rough year in 2019, missing time with injuries and posting a good-not-great .283/.343/.413 line at Double-A. The year before, however, he had busted out with a .348/.392/.578 line and 20 home runs at Single-A and High-A.

    Those numbers speak to Kirilloff's outstanding hit tool and above-average power potential. He could make a run at the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

New York Mets: RHP Franklyn Kilome

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: NR

    Highest Level: MLB

    Even after trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, the New York Mets still have a respectable farm system.

    At least as far as 2021 is concerned, one caveat is that New York's seven best prospects are all 21 or younger and not especially close to the majors. Another is that the Mets are so loaded at the major league level that there might not be many opportunities for prospects to break in.

    Yet holes tend to open up in bullpens, and that could be good news for Franklyn Kilome. In a four-game cameo last year, the 25-year-old demonstrated a fastball that reached 97.4 mph and solid curveball.

    Though Kilome's control can come and go (mostly go), his weapons might nonetheless be useful in the middle or late innings.

New York Yankees: RHP Deivi Garcia

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 63

    Highest Level: MLB

    Outfielder Jasson Dominguez, who's drawn comparisons to Mike Trout and Mickey Mantle, probably will be a star for the New York Yankees one day.

    Of course, Dominguez is only 18, and his next minor league game will also be his first. So for now, Yankees fans should focus their high hopes on Deivi Garcia.

    The 21-year-old opened eyes in 2019 when he whiffed 165 batters in 111.1 innings across three levels of the minors. He also had his moments in the majors last year, particularly when he debuted Aug. 30 with six one-run innings.

    At 5'9", 163 pounds, Garcia doesn't have the stature to be a workhorse ace. But with a fastball that touches 96 mph and three solid secondary pitches, he can be a dependable five-inning guy as soon as this season.

Oakland Athletics: LHP A.J. Puk

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 76

    Highest Level: MLB

    The Oakland Athletics have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. But with their roster diminished by free agency and their farm system lacking, the near future is looking iffy.

    The A's can nonetheless pin some hope for 2021 on two homegrown southpaws: Jesus Luzardo, who's already in the rotation, and their No. 1 prospect, A.J. Puk.

    Because of Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery, the 25-year-old didn't appear on the mound in 2018 or 2020. That naturally raises questions about whether he's cut out for the heavy workload of a starter.

    The stuff, though, is there. Puk touched 100 mph with his fastball in 2019 and has a devastating slider to boot. At the least, those two pitches could make him a deadly multi-inning relief ace.

Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Spencer Howard

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 35

    Highest Level: MLB

    The Philadelphia Phillies entered 2020 with third baseman Alec Bohm and right-hander Spencer Howard atop their prospect rankings. The former made good on the hype by hitting .338 in 44 games.

    Now it's Howard's turn.

    In fairness, the 24-year-old had a good excuse for the 5.92 ERA he posted in six starts last season. Courtesy of inflammation in his rotator cuff, his shoulder was never 100 percent healthy.

    Despite his results, that makes it all the more impressive that Howard got his fastball up to 97 mph last year. With a slider, curveball and changeup also in his repertoire, he has the goods to stick if a spot opens up in the rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 5

    Highest Level: MLB

    Though they lost a league-worst 41 games in 2020, the Pittsburgh Pirates got a glimmer of hope in September when Ke'Bryan Hayes arrived.

    In 24 games, Hayes was a dynamic offensive threat with a .376/.442/.682 slash line and 14 extra-base hits, including five long balls. And it was legit, as his underlying metrics included a hard-hit rate of 55.4 percent.

    The heck of it was that Hayes wasn't regarded as a top-tier hitter as he was coming up through Pittsburgh's system. He was more known as an elite defender with Gold Glove upside.

    In any case, there's seemingly no reason why Hayes can't excel on both sides of the ball going forward. Strictly concerning the 2021 season, he's arguably the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year.

San Diego Padres: LHP MacKenzie Gore

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 6

    Highest Level: AA

    Many things went right for the San Diego Padres as they went 37-23 and snapped a 14-year playoff drought last season.

    There was one weird part, however: Despite expectations that MacKenzie Gore would debut at some point, he never did.

    The story goes that Gore, 22, was rusty when he arrived to the alternate site and never really got up to speed. Rather than put him in the middle of a pennant race, the Padres arguably did the right thing by giving him the year off from competitive play.

    All the same, the 1.69 ERA that Gore posted in 2019 underscores what he's capable of doing with his excellent four-pitch mix and plus control. Barring any additional rust, he should be ready for the spotlight in San Diego in the near future.

San Francisco Giants: C Joey Bart

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 13

    Highest Level: MLB

    There was an awful lot of pressure on San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to call up Joey Bart early last season, but he initially resisted out of a fear of rushing the young catcher.

    As it turned out, Zaidi was right to have reservations.

    Though Bart, 24, eventually did get the call on August 20, he failed to hit the ground running, as he hit just .233/.288/.320 in 33 games. Most notably, he whiffed 41 times and didn't hit even one home run.

    Still, that experience likely won't bar Bart from further major league action in 2021. Nor will it doom his major league career, as his power and defensive aptitude remain qualities that most catchers would love to have.

Seattle Mariners: OF Jarred Kelenic

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 10

    Highest Level: AA

    Kyle Lewis is fresh off winning the AL Rookie of the Year, and he's soon going to have some young company in the Seattle Mariners outfield. The club's three best prospects are all outfielders.

    Without question, the most talented of that trio is Jarred Kelenic. Likewise, he's the most MLB-ready of the three.

    Indeed, Kelenic has a gripe about the Mariners manipulating his service time. By all rights, he should have gotten the call to the majors last season in the wake of his stellar performance—.291/.364/.540 with 23 homers and 20 steals—in the minors in 2019.

    Regardless, there's a less than subtle opening for Kelenic in Seattle's left field. Once he fills it, his above-average hit, power and speed tools could quickly carry him to stardom.

St. Louis Cardinals: RF Dylan Carlson

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 8

    Highest Level: MLB

    After hitting an MLB-low 51 home runs in 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals boosted their power supply in a big way when they traded for Nolan Arenado in February.

    Still, don't underestimate what Dylan Carlson could mean to said power supply.

    After breaking out with a .292/.372/.542 line, 26 homers and 20 steals at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, Carlson initially struggled after joining the Cardinals last August. His first 23 games yielded only 12 hits and a ticket back to the alternate site.

    But upon his return in September, the 22-year-old adjusted and went 10-for-36 with seven extra-base hits. The Cardinals' everyday right field job is understandably his, so all he has to do now is keep it up.

Tampa Bay Rays: LF Randy Arozarena

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 3

    Highest Level: MLB

    In shortstop Wander Franco, the Tampa Bay Rays have baseball's No. 1 prospect and a surefire future superstar. To wit, the power that he showed on this swing isn't even his best tool.

    Alas, Franco is only 20, and he's yet to play above the High-A level. So while the Rays wait for him, they'll have to make do with enjoying Randy Arozarena.

    They certainly enjoyed what they got out of the 26-year-old in 2020. He played in 43 games between the regular season and the postseason and demolished the ball to the tune of a .333/.406/.745 line and 17 homers.

    Through it all, Arozarena achieved elite marks for exit velocity, hard-hit rate and sprint speed. As Tampa Bay's everyday left fielder, he's surely the favorite for the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year.

Texas Rangers: RHP Dane Dunning

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 70

    Highest Level: MLB

    Following their 22-38 effort in 2020, the Texas Rangers are likely in for a rough 2021.

    Yet the silver lining for Texas is that its farm system is suddenly in good shape, in no small part thanks to the acquisition of Dane Dunning in the deal that sent Lance Lynn to the Chicago White Sox.

    After missing all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Dunning made seven appearances last season and put up a solid 3.97 ERA. His fastball got as high as 97 mph, and he got plenty of whiffs on his hard-biting slider.

    Dunning, 26, throws three other pitches in addition to those two. So if nothing else, he should keep hitters guessing in his first full season in the Rangers rotation.

Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson

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    Tommy Gilligan/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: 14

    Highest Level: MLB

    With young talent all around newcomer George Springer, the Toronto Blue Jays are set to have one of baseball's most exciting offenses in 2021.

    In Nate Pearson, they might also have a fitting No. 2 for staff ace Hyun Jin Ryu.

    Even before he debuted last July, Pearson was already a legend for his fastball. He had previously touched 104 mph in a game and 105 mph in a side session. Sure enough, he got as high as 102 mph in his first taste of the majors last year.

    Though Pearson's debut season was otherwise marred by a flexor strain, the 24-year-old is healthy now and slated to begin the year in Toronto's rotation. Between his fastball and his filthy slider, he has at least two things that should keep him there.

Washington Nationals: LHP Seth Romero

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    Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    Top 100 Rank: NR

    Highest Level: MLB

    As per usual, the Washington Nationals are heading into 2021 with a good-looking major league roster. We especially like Juan Soto, because, well, who doesn't?

    Less good-looking, however, is Washington's farm system. It's the worst in baseball, in part because it doesn't feature even one top-100 prospect. It doesn't help that it's also short on MLB-ready talent.

    Still...at least there's Seth Romero?

    The 24-year-old comes with some behavioral baggage (see here and here), and he only got as high as 93 mph in three appearances with Washington last year before he broke his right hand. But at least in theory, he may yet display the high-90s heater that made him a first-round pick in 2017.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


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