Predicting Every MLB Team's Breakout Prospect in 2021
Each new MLB season brings a fresh wave of up-and-coming prospects to the big leagues. Behind that group comes an influx of new top-tier prospect talent thanks to breakout performances across the minor league landscape.
It's that second group we're going to focus on today.
Here, we've highlighted one potential breakout prospect for all 30 MLB franchises. We're focusing on players who do not currently rank among Bleacher Report's Top 100 prospects, but ones who could crack that list before the 2021 season is over.
Players were chosen based on a combination of previous production, long-term expectations, physical tools and early 2021 performance.
Who will be next to take the prospect world by storm?
Baltimore Orioles: SS Gunnar Henderson (Age: 19)
Signed to an above-slot $2.3 million bonus as a second-round pick in 2019, Henderson has drawn comparisons to Corey Seager thanks to his strong frame and significant offensive upside. He may ultimately fit better at third base, but his bat should play anywhere. Through 12 games at Single-A, he's hitting .327/.404/.653 with four home runs and 17 RBI.
Boston Red Sox: OF Gilberto Jimenez (Age: 20)
Jimenez won the New York-Penn League batting title when he hit .359 with 17 extra-base hits and 14 steals in 59 games for Low-A Lowell in 2019. Speed is his biggest current weapon, but he also has the makings of an above-average hit tool and the glove to stick in center field, where he will be an asset defensively.
New York Yankees: SS Oswald Peraza (Age: 20)
In a Yankees system loaded with high-ceiling, low-level talent, Peraza has a chance to be the first to break through and emerge as a bona fide top prospect. Signed for $175,000 in 2016 and added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, he could have four above-average tools along with the defensive tools to stick at shortstop and a top-of-the-order offensive game. The 20-year-old has five home runs and nine steals in 14 games at High-A Hudson Valley to start the year.
Tampa Bay Rays: C Blake Hunt (Age: 22)
Acquired from San Diego in the Blake Snell blockbuster, Hunt is a standout defensive catcher despite his big 6'3", 215-pound frame with a 60-grade arm that ranks as his best tool. He has loud, raw power that is just now starting to show up in games and a sound enough approach at the plate to believe he can be an everyday catcher. He is already the top catching prospect in the Tampa Bay system, and he could quickly rise up the prospect rankings with a strong High-A debut.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Adam Kloffenstein (Age: 20)
With a durable 6'5", 243-pound frame and a four-pitch arsenal that grades out as above average across the board, Kloffenstein has an extremely high floor with an excellent chance to develop into at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. He gained some unique indy ball experience against older competition last summer when he was left off Toronto's alternate site roster, which could serve as a catalyst for a 2021 breakout.
Chicago White Sox: RHP Matthew Thompson (Age: 20)
The White Sox inked Thompson to an above-slot $2.1 million bonus as a second-round pick in 2019, and he's still more projection than polish at this point with a lanky 6'3", 195-pound frame and inconsistent secondary stuff. With that said, his elite athleticism and impressive raw stuff give him significant breakout potential, and he could take off after gaining valuable experience at the alternate site last year.
Cleveland: RHP Daniel Espino (Age: 20)
With a 70-grade fastball that touches 100 mph and a wipeout slider, Espino had arguably the best pure stuff in the entire 2019 draft class. There is some effort in his delivery and his command has been spotty, which gives him more reliever risk than most top pitching prospects. With that said, he still has top-of-the-rotation upside with a closer floor.
Detroit Tigers: C Dillon Dingler (Age: 22)
A rare athlete at the catcher position who played center field as a freshman at Ohio State, Dingler fell into the Tigers' lap at No. 38 overall last year after many expected him to be a first-round pick. His lack of catching experience could mean he moves a bit slower up the organizational ladder than most top college bats, but he has the potential to be a two-way standout and the catcher of the future in Detroit.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Jonathan Bowlan (Age: 24)
The Royals took four pitchers in the first round of the 2018 draft—Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic—and that group has largely overshadowed Bowlan, whom they took in the second round of that same draft class. A big 6'6" right-hander with three quality pitches and workhorse potential, Bowlan has a 1.65 ERA and a 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.1 innings at Double-A to begin the year.
Minnesota Twins: OF Misael Urbina (Age: 19)
Signed for $2.75 million out of Venezuela as one of the top prospects in the 2018 international class, Urbina hit .279/.382/.443 with 21 extra-base hits, 19 steals and more walks (23) than strikeouts (14) in 50 games in the Dominican Summer League in 2019. His stateside debut was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he's off to a nice start at Single-A Fort Myers with a .308 average and .419 on-base percentage through his first eight games.
Houston Astros: RHP Alex Santos (Age: 19)
A wild card of sorts in the 2020 draft, Santos did not pitch at all during his senior season when spring sports were canceled before they started at his New York high school. His projectable 6'4", 194-pound frame and smooth mechanics were enough to earn him a $1.25 million bonus as the No. 72 overall pick, and his combination of present stuff and projection give him one of the highest ceilings in the Houston system.
Los Angeles Angels: SS Kyren Paris (Age: 19)
Paris has been lauded for both his exciting raw tools and his "off-the-charts work ethic" since the Angels selected him in the second round of the 2019 draft. The youngest player at the team's alternate site last year, he won't turn 20 until after the 2021 season. He has a .406 on-base percentage and 10 steals in 13 games at Single-A Inland Empire to kick off the year.
Oakland Athletics: SS Nick Allen (Age: 22)
The best defensive shortstop in the 2017 draft, Allen slipped to the third round due to his undersized 5'8" frame that raised questions about his offensive upside. The A's saw enough to give him an above-slot $2 million bonus, and he quietly raised his OPS from .603 at Single-A in 2018 to .797 at High-A in 2019. With a .327 average and .413 on-base percentage in 14 games at Double-A to open the season, he's looking more and more like Oakland's shortstop of the future.
Seattle Mariners: LHP Brandon Williamson (Age: 23)
A second-round pick in 2019 after pitching in the shadow of Nick Lodolo at TCU, Williamson struck out 25 of the 61 batters he faced in his pro debut. The 6'6" left-hander has a lively mid-90s fastball with a plus curveball and an improving changeup. He has piled up 17 strikeouts while allowing only three hits in eight scoreless innings at High-A Everett to start the 2021 season.
Texas Rangers: RHP Cole Winn (Age: 21)
The power stuff and impressive overall polish that made Winn the No. 15 overall pick in the 2018 draft are still present, even if his prospect stock took a hit with a lackluster pro debut in 2019 during which he posted a 4.46 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 5.1 BB/9 walk rate. The 6'2" right-hander has made some adjustments to his delivery, and he now has a 0.93 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 9.2 innings at Double-A Frisco through his first two starts.
Atlanta Braves: OF Michael Harris (Age: 20)
A two-way prospect in high school whom some scouts preferred as a pitcher, Harris hit well enough in rookie ball after going in the third round of the 2019 draft to earn an aggressive promotion to Single-A. After impressing at the team's alternate site in 2020, he's hitting .358/.393/.528 with three doubles and two home runs in 13 games at High-A Rome. His arrow is pointing straight up.
Miami Marlins: RHP Kyle Nicolas (Age: 22)
The No. 61 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Nicolas took a significant step forward during an abridged junior season at Ball State. The 6'4" righty has a 70-grade fastball that touches 100 mph and a power slider, giving him a high floor as a power arm out of the bullpen. He was aggressively sent to High-A Beloit to begin his pro career, and he has a 1.74 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 10.1 innings over his first two starts. He would move quickly as a reliever, but he'll continue to be developed as a starter for now .
New York Mets: RHP Junior Santos (Age: 19)
A 6'7" right-hander who uses his height well, Santos signed for $275,000 in 2017 out of the Dominican Republic. His 60-grade fastball sits in the mid-90s and he has shown flashes of a quality slider and changeup, but his secondary stuff is still a work in progress. In a top-heavy Mets system, he has a chance to make some noise in his full-season debut.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Yhoswar Garcia (Age: 19)
Signed for $2.5 million last March, Garcia has been delayed in beginning his pro career after issues surrounding his reported age kept him from signing in 2019. With a 55-hit/50-power offensive profile, good wheels and a quality glove in center field, he could be one of the out-of-nowhere prospect standouts of 2021.
Washington Nationals: RHP Cole Henry (Age: 21)
Don't be surprised if Henry quickly climbs to the top of a thin Nationals farm system. A second-round pick in the 2020 draft out of LSU, he doesn't have the same power stuff as Jackson Rutledge or Cade Cavalli, but he's a more polished all-around pitcher, and his mid-90s fastball and plus curveball are both MLB-caliber weapons. With a 2.81 ERA and a 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 innings at High-A Wilmington, his stock is already on the rise.
Chicago Cubs: 2B Chase Strumpf (Age: 23)
After hitting .363/.475/.633 with 23 doubles and 12 home runs as a sophomore at UCLA, Strumpf took a step backward as a junior and wound up slipping to the second round of the 2019 draft. His limited defensive profile puts a bit more pressure on his bat, but with a 55-hit/50-power toolbox, he has the potential to be an offensive standout. He's hitting .409/.481/.545 with three doubles in six games at High-A South Bend.
Cincinnati Reds: 3B Rece Hinds (Age: 20)
With a strong 6'4", 215-pound frame and "off-the-charts raw power," it's easy to envision Hinds developing into a middle-of-the-order force. He gained valuable experience at the team's alternate site last year and showed some improvement in his pitch recognition skills. He has two doubles and three home runs in his first 10 games at Single-A, but he's also hitting only .209 with 13 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances. He's the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect, but he has already shown signs of figuring it out.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Hedbert Perez (Age: 18)
Signed for $700,000 in July 2019, Perez turned heads with an impressive round of batting practice at Miller Park shortly after signing before heading off to the instructional league. He has yet to play his first official professional game, but he cut his teeth at the team's alternate site last year, and his 2021 debut is among the most anticipated this side of Jasson Dominguez. Don't be shocked if he's the consensus top prospect in the Milwaukee system by midseason.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Tahnaj Thomas (Age: 21)
An infielder when he was signed out of the Bahamas in 2016, Thomas went from Cleveland to Pittsburgh in the Jordan Luplow-for-Erik Gonzalez swap prior to the 2019 season. The 6'4" right-hander posted a 3.17 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 48.1 innings in rookie ball in his first season in the Pittsburgh organization, touching triple digits with his fastball and showing better pitchability than expected. With a 2.25 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 12 innings at High-A to open the year, he looks poised to take off with more experience on the mound.
St. Louis Cardinals: 3B Jordan Walker (Age: 18)
The No. 21 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Walker had arguably the best raw power in the draft class outside of No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson. With a strong 6'5", 220-pound frame and a smooth swing that creates natural loft, he has huge power potential. His ability to recognize break and limit strikeouts will determine his ultimate ceiling, but he could crush lower-level pitching in 2021.
Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Wilderd Patino (Age: 19)
Patino made his stateside debut at the age of 17 in 2019 and hit .319/.378/.447 with 11 extra-base hits and 14 steals in 40 games. His 27.9 percent strikeout rate in rookie ball raises some eyebrows, but he has the raw tools and approach to improve his contact skills in the years to come. It's going to take some time for him to develop, but he has Top 100 prospect upside.
Colorado Rockies: OF Brenton Doyle (Age: 23)
A fourth-round pick who hit .392/.502/.758 with 36 extra-base hits and 19 steals in 52 games at D-ll Shepherd University as a junior, Doyle had one of the most productive debuts of any 2019 draft pick. In 51 games of rookie ball, he hit .383/.477/.611 with 11 doubles, eight home runs and 17 steals in 20 attempts. He'll need to prove himself against better combination, but his mix of power and speed is exciting.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Clayton Beeter (Age: 22)
Plagued by arm issues during his collegiate career, Beeter flew up draft boards when he posted a 2.14 ERA with a 33-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 innings while showing electric stuff before his junior season was cut short by the pandemic. He has three 60-grade pitches, including a fastball that touches 98 mph and a high-spin curveball, and he could quickly emerge as one of the biggest values of the 2020 draft after going No. 66 overall.
San Diego Padres: OF Joshua Mears (Age: 20)
A late riser leading up to the 2019 draft who ended up going No. 48 overall, Mears stands out for his tremendous raw power. He hit .253/.354/.440 with seven home runs in 43 games after signing, showcasing better-than-expected contact skills, but it's going to take him time to develop. The end result could be a "run-producing right fielder in the Nelson Cruz mold," according to MLB.com, which makes him one to watch in a deep San Diego system.
San Francisco Giants: LHP Kyle Harrison (Age: 19)
The Giants gave Harrison a $2,497,500 signing bonus as a third-round pick last year, roughly the slot value of the No. 28 overall pick. One of the most polished prep arms in the draft class, he was up to 97 mph with his fastball in instructional league, and that uptick in velocity only raises his ceiling. With 14 strikeouts in 5.1 innings at Single-A San Jose to begin the year, he appears to be on the fast track to the majors.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Wednesday's games.