Wander Franco and the 10 Uber-Prospects Who Will Be Next to Take MLB by StormMay 29, 2021
Wander Franco and the 10 Uber-Prospects Who Will Be Next to Take MLB by Storm
One of the most exciting parts of any MLB season is the arrival of some of the game's top prospects who represent the next generation of stars.
The Seattle Mariners' Jarred Kelenic has already gotten the call this year after starting the season as a consensus top-10 prospect, and there are plenty more highly regarded young players set to take the league by storm.
Ahead we've highlighted 10 players who occupy spots on Bleacher Report's updated Top 100 prospect list and are poised to make their debuts.
The focus was on those who have not yet debuted, so the Miami Marlins' Sixto Sanchez and Jesus Sanchez, the San Francisco Giants' Joey Bart, the New York Yankees' Deivi Garcia, the Mariners' Taylor Trammell and the Los Angeles Angels' Jo Adell were not part of the conversation.
These players were selected based on their developmental tracks, production and paths to playing time in the big leagues.
CF Jarren Duran, Boston Red Sox
B/R Prospect Rank: 96
The Boston Red Sox selected Jarren Duran in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, and it did not take him long to look like one of the steals of that class.
He hit .357/.394/.516 with 28 extra-base hits and 24 steals in 67 games between Low-A and Single-A that year, he moved into the upper tier of position players in the Boston system with an equally impressive first full season in the organization in 2019 (132 G, .303/.367/.408, 37 XBH, 46 SB).
Since they drafted Duran, the Red Sox have traded Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and let Jackie Bradley Jr. walk in free agency, leaving a far clearer path to a long-term spot in the outfield.
The 24-year-old was hitting .278/.366/.625 with seven home runs in 18 games for Triple-A Worcester before taking a leave to join Team USA for the Olympic qualifying tournament.
The tournament runs from Monday to June 5, and Durran could get the call shortly after he returns to Triple-A.
RHP Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
B/R Prospect Rank: 78
The Minnesota Twins rotation has tallied just 13 quality starts in 49 games and ranks 20th in the majors with a 4.39 ERA that has been propped up by the contributions of Jose Berrios (10 GS, 3.67 ERA) and Michael Pineda (8 GS, 2.62 ERA).
Eight pitchers have already started at least one game, and that number will almost certainly grow as the Twins continue to work toward righting the ship after a disastrous start.
Jhoan Duran stands as the best pitching prospect in the system and arguably the most MLB-ready option among the team's upper-level arms.
The 23-year-old allowed just one hit while striking out eight in four scoreless innings in his most recent start for Triple-A St. Paul, and he piled up 136 strikeouts in 115 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2019.
With a 70-grade fastball that regularly touches triple digits, a lethal splitter, a curveball that has developed into a viable third offering and a 6'5", 230-pound frame, Duran checks all the boxes to make an immediate impact.
SS Tyler Freeman, Cleveland
B/R Prospect Rank: 74
Despite the fact that Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario were the centerpieces of the return package in the deal in which the New York Mets acquired Francisco Lindor, there's still a chance neither of them is Cleveland's shortstop of the future.
That title may belong to Tyler Freeman.
The 22-year-old is a .323/.384/.447 hitter in 1,073 plate appearances in the minors since he was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, and he has a .958 OPS through 18 games this year in his first taste of Double-A.
Freeman's only standout skill is a 60-grade hit tool, but he is rock solid across the board with the defensive chops to stick at shortstop, and there's enough meat on the bone at the plate for him to make an impact even if he maxes out at 15 home runs per year.
Unless Gimenez gets hot at Triple-A Columbus or Rosario figures things out in the majors, expect Freeman to get his chance before the season comes to a close.
LHP Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds
B/R Prospect Rank: 70
The first pitcher chosen in the 2019 draft, at No. 7 overall, Nick Lodolo joined the Cincinnati Reds organization as one of the most polished collegiate pitchers in years.
The 6'6", 205-pound left-hander opted against signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates as the No. 41 pick in the 2016 draft and boosted his stock considerably with a stellar junior season at TCU in 2019.
He kept rolling in his pro debut with a 2.45 ERA and a pristine 30-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18.1 innings between rookie ball and Single-A, and he was moved aggressively up the ladder to Double-A on this side of the canceled 2020 season.
With three above-average pitches and 60-grade control, he has been a man among boys through his first four starts, posting a 0.40 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in 22.2 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .167 batting average.
The 23-year-old is polished enough to skip Triple-A, and it's not out of the question that he will debut before the All-Star break.
LHP Matthew Liberatore, St. Louis Cardinals
B/R Prospect Rank: 48
There is still time for Matthew Liberatore to even the scales on the trade in which the St. Louis Cardinals sent Randy Arozarena to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The No. 16 pick in the 2018 draft and the second left-hander chosen after San Diego Padres rookie Ryan Weathers, Liberatore offered one of the highest ceilings in the class thanks to a projectable 6'4" frame and a strong foundation of pitchability.
"The final product could be that of a front-of-the-rotation starter who could still provide considerable floor value even if he's unable to reach his ceiling," according to MLB.com.
The Rays brought him along slowly in his full-season debut in 2019, and he finished with a 3.10 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 78.1 innings for Single-A Bowling Green.
After gaining valuable experience at St. Louis' alternate site last year, he was sent to Triple-A Memphis to begin this season. Despite some bumps in the road (5.48 ERA in four starts), the fact that he skipped Double-A is a good indication the Cardinals plan to call him up in 2021.
IF/OF Vidal Brujan, Tampa Bay Rays
B/R Prospect Rank: 33
There's a good chance Wander Franco won't be the next top prospect who gets the call from the Tampa Bay Rays.
The speedy Vidal Brujan is raking at Triple-A Durham with a .321/.415/.617 line that includes seven home runs and nine steals in 20 games.
The 23-year-old has a dynamic top-of-the-order skill set with a 60-grade hit tool and 70-grade speed, and he is showing newfound power after homering just 19 times in 1,782 plate appearances in his first five minor league seasons.
After playing primarily second base prior to this season, Brujan has spent time in the outfield, and that could help expedite his arrival in the majors with Brandon Lowe entrenched at the keystone. Brujan has also played third base and could fill a super-utility role in the big leagues.
With his speed, he could develop into an above-average defender in center field, where incumbent Kevin Kiermaier's offensive game has bottomed out with a 66 OPS+.
OF Heliot Ramos, San Francisco Giants
B/R Prospect Rank: 22
Heliot Ramos' loud raw tools helped make him the No. 19 pick in the 2017 draft, but his prospect stock dropped when he hit a lackluster .245/.313/.396 with a 25.4 percent strikeout rate at Single-A Augusta in his full-season debut.
He rebounded in a big way in 2019, hitting .290/.369/.481 with 41 extra-base hits while raising his walk rate from 6.5 to 9.5 percent in 102 games between High-A and Double-A. He earned a late promotion to Double-A Richmond before his 20th birthday, and that's where he began this season.
The 21-year-old is hitting .297/.388/.500 with six doubles, three home runs and 12 RBI in 19 games, and he has developed into a capable center fielder.
His best fit may be right field, where his strong arm and power potential match the prototypical profile, and the Giants have a wealth of outfield talent behind him in the pipeline—headlined by Alexander Canario, Luis Matos and 2019 No. 10 pick Hunter Bishop.
Alex Dickerson's slow start (88 OPS+, .225/.283/.378) could open the door for Ramos to join the surprise contender in San Francisco.
C Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
B/R Prospect Rank: 6
The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft and a potential future face of the Baltimore Orioles, catcher Adley Rutschman has a chance to be a generational talent.
The switch-hitter posted an absurd .411/.575/.751 line with 17 home runs and 58 RBI in 57 games during his junior season at Oregon State, tallying twice as many walks (76) as strikeouts (38) in the process.
Despite a forgettable 37-game professional debut (.254/.351/.423, 4 HR, 26 RBI), Rutschman still began this season as a consensus top-10 prospect thanks to his rare two-way skills at catcher.
The 23-year-old is hitting .246/.441/.464 with three doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI in 20 games at Double-A Bowie, and the incumbent duo of Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco is not going to stand in his way once he's deemed ready.
It's another rebuilding year for the O's, so Rutschman won't be rushed to the majors, but he's going to force his way into the picture before the season is over.
LHP MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres
B/R Prospect Rank: 5
The San Diego Padres are in no hurry to get MacKenzie Gore to the big leagues.
With the lowest team ERA (2.60) and starting rotation ERA (2.67) in baseball, the Padres have the luxury of keeping one of baseball's elite pitching prospects waiting in the wings until a spot opens up for him.
The left-hander posted a 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 135 strikeouts in 101 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2019, and he played that entire season at the age of 20.
He has allowed 20 hits and 10 walks in 16.2 innings at Triple-A El Paso to open the year, but he's too talented for that to be anything more than a hiccup.
All signs point to a future at the top of the MLB rotation, and it's only a matter of time before Gore—with four plus pitches, smooth mechanics and a deceptive leg kick—will be baffling big league hitters.
SS Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
B/R Prospect Rank: 1
The Tampa Bay Rays' trade of Willy Adames to the Milwaukee Brewers looked like it might clear a path for baseball's consensus No. 1 prospect in Wander Franco.
Instead, Taylor Walls got the call, and he's hitting .278 with a .409 on-base percentage and two doubles in 22 plate appearances. The 24-year-old is a solid prospect in his own right, and as long as he is producing, there's no reason to rush Franco to the majors.
That said, his arrival this season is inevitable.
The 20-year-old is hitting .277/.351/.494 with 10 extra-base hits in 94 plate appearances after skipping Double-A and being assigned to Triple-A Durham from the Rays' alternate site.
With the potential to be "the top switch-hitter of his generation," according to MLB.com, Franco has a top-of-the-scale 80-grade hit tool and 60-grade power—and his arrival in the majors is among the most anticipated in recent memory.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and accurate through Thursday's games.