Each MLB Team's Prospect Turning Heads Right Now in MiLB
Contrary to 2020, there's actually a minor league baseball season happening in 2021. Naturally, quite a few prospects are using it as an opportunity to get noticed.
We thought we'd take a closer look at one for each of MLB's 30 teams.
In picking one prospect who's turning heads in the minors, we prioritized players who ranked among clubs' top 10 talents at the outset of the MiLB season in May. Yet there were also cases wherein we went way off the board to shine a light on fast-rising prospects.
Either way, only one thing barred players from making the cut: They can't have appeared in the majors in prior seasons or in 2021.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: C Adley Rutschman (Preseason Team Rank: No. 1)
Team(s): AA Bowie Baysox
Key Stats: 31 G, 143 PA, 9 HR, 0 SB, .295 AVG, .441 OBP, .580 SLG
In 2019, the Orioles chose Adley Rutschman out of Oregon State—for which he had a 1.032 OPS in three seasons—with the No. 1 pick in the draft with hopes that he would become MLB's next great superstar behind the plate.
Even after a lost year of development, the 23-year-old is indeed on that track. He's shown an advanced approach by drawing as many walks (27) as strikeouts, and much of his power has come lately, as he's launched six homers since May 23. It may not be long before he's seen in Baltimore.
Boston Red Sox: CF Jarren Duran (No. 3)
Team(s): AAA Worcester Red Sox
Key Stats: 21 G, 99 PA, 8 HR, 5 SB, .259 AVG, .364 OBP, .600 SLG
As noted by Matt Collins of Over the Monster, the reputation of the Red Sox farm system has dramatically improved as several key prospects have gotten off to hot starts in the minors. That group includes first baseman Triston Casas, who's hitting .329 with a .940 OPS for Double-A Portland.
Yet nobody's stock is soaring like Jarren Duran's. The Red Sox knew that the 24-year-old could run, but his power was more of a question mark. Not so much now that he's already matched his home run total from his first two seasons, so he's understandably on the radar for a big league promotion.
New York Yankees: LHP Ken Waldichuk (NR)
Team(s): A+ Hudson Valley Renegades
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 24.2 IP, 11 H (0 HR), 45 K, 10 BB, 0.00 ERA
Certainly the biggest name in the Yankees farm system belongs to 18-year-old outfielder Jasson Dominguez, whose comps include Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle and Bo Jackson. But until he actually gets assigned to a minor league affiliate, there isn't much to report.
Instead, now's a good time to get familiar with Ken Waldichuk. He was a fifth-round pick in 2019, but now he's mowing 'em down with the help of a mid-90s heater and two good breaking balls. A call-up this year might not be realistic, but the 23-year-old could break in next year.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS Wander Franco (No. 1)
Team(s): AAA Durham Bulls
Key Stats: 30 G, 139 PA, 7 HR, 4 SB, .312 AVG, .374 OBP, .584 SLG
Do the Rays have prospects who are having better seasons than uber-shortstop Wander Franco? Why, yes. Outfielder Josh Lowe, for example, has a 1.048 OPS and nine long balls for Triple-A Durham.
Franco is the guy everyone wants to hear about, however, and he's red-hot with a 1.260 OPS and three homers through eight games this month. With Willy Adames no longer in his way, the 20-year-old has a clear path to playing time in Tampa in the near future.
Toronto Blue Jays: C Gabriel Moreno (No. 7)
Team(s): AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Key Stats: 22 G, 100 PA, 4 HR, 1 SB, .375 AVG, .430 OBP, .602 SLG
A couple of weeks ago, this spot would have been dedicated to Alek Manoah on account of what he'd done through three starts with Triple-A Buffalo. In 18 innings, the 23-year-old right-hander allowed just one run on seven hits and three walks with 27 strikeouts.
But since Manoah is now in the big leagues, Gabriel Moreno sticks out the most. Much like Jays shortstop Bo Bichette, Moreno is an aggressive swinger who makes up for infrequent walks with frequent loud contact. It wouldn't be a shock if the 21-year-old is in the majors by September.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: RF Micker Adolfo (Preseason Team Rank: No. 9)
Team(s): AA Birmingham Barons
Key Stats: 28 G, 118 PA, 7 HR, 0 SB, .223 AVG, .322 OBP, .476 SLG
Whereas the White Sox's top prospects included slugger Andrew Vaughn and pitchers Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet at the outset, all three are already with the big club.
The quality of the Chicago system has dipped accordingly, but it still has an intriguing slugging prospect in Micker Adolfo. Though the 24-year-old has major swing-and-miss issues, his raw power could pave his way to an outfield that's missing Eloy Jimenez (left pectoral) and Luis Robert (right hip flexor).
Cleveland: SS Tyler Freeman (No. 2)
Team(s): AA Akron RubberDucks
Key Stats: 26 G, 118 PA, 1 HR, 4 SB, .333 AVG, .390 OBP, .444 SLG
Cleveland has become known for its knack for developing pitchers, and it now looks as if Xzavion Curry could be its next great success story. He has a 0.89 ERA in six outings—and has already been bumped up from Single-A to High-A.
Closer to both the top of Cleveland's prospect list and the big leagues, however, is Tyler Freeman. The 22-year-old is likely never going to be a power threat, but his bat-to-ball skills—he has only 13 strikeouts—should allow him to stick when he reaches the majors this year or in early 2022.
Detroit Tigers: 3B Spencer Torkelson (No. 1)
Team(s): A+ West Michigan Whitecaps
Key Stats: 28 G, 128 PA, 4 HR, 3 SB, .286 AVG, .438 OBP, .490 SLG
Though hurlers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have settled in as cornerstones in their rotation, the Tigers badly need some young hitters to do the same in their lineup. To this end, it's so far, so good in the first pro season for 2020 No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson.
In striking out only three more times (27) than he's walked, the 21-year-old has hardly been overwhelmed by professional pitching. And while his power was disappointing at first, he's launched four homers and collected six doubles since May 22. He's thus on track to debut next season.
Kansas City Royals: 1B Nick Pratto (NR)
Team(s): AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Key Stats: 30 G, 135 PA, 10 HR, 5 SB, .317 AVG, .459 OBP, .692 SLG
The Royals have every reason to be excited about 20-year-old shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Even after costing himself a home run by supposedly missing home plate Tuesday, he has 10 long balls in 30 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
But lest anyone think Witt is the Royals' hottest prospect at that level, Nick Pratto is easily trumping Witt's overall line of .256/.336/.529. As he's also a standout defender at first base, the 22-year-old might be able to wrest the position from Carlos Santana before the veteran's contract expires next year.
Minnesota Twins: 3B Jose Miranda (NR)
Team(s): AA Wichita Wind Surge
Key Stats: 33 G, 150 PA, 7 HR, 2 SB, .305 AVG, .380 OBP, .511 SLG
Though the Twins are having a shockingly disappointing season, things could be worse down on the farm. Take, for example, how 24-year-old righty Josh Winder has a 2.27 ERA and 43-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven starts for Double-A Wichita.
Jose Miranda is also standing out for Wichita. True to his usual contact-hitting form, he's struck out only 17 times. Yet he's showing off more power, including with a 481-foot blast for a walk-off last Friday. The 22-year-old clearly wants to be in the big leagues sooner rather than later.
American League West
Houston Astros: RHP Brett Conine (Preseason Team Rank: NR)
Team(s): AAA Sugar Land Skeeters
Key Stats: 5 G, 4 GS, 24.0 IP, 18 H (2 HR), 21 K, 8 BB, 1.88 ERA
Especially now that Framber Valdez is back from a broken left ring finger, the Astros don't really need help in their starting rotation. But should a need arise, they're going to have to take a good, long look at the 24-year-old Brett Conine.
After putting up a stellar 0.95 ERA in four games in May, Conine was tabbed as the Triple-A West Pitcher of the Month. The catch is that he isn't much of a strikeout artist, but he makes up for that with steady command and a talent for inducing ground balls.
Los Angeles Angels: LHP Ryan Smith (NR)
Team(s): A Inland Empire 66ers
Key Stats: 5 G, 4 GS, 27.2 IP, 14 H (2 HR), 44 K, 7 BB, 1.63 ERA
It's a new year, but for the Angels it's the same ol' story. They have enough hitting, but a starting rotation with a 4.90 ERA is keeping them from rising up the American League West ranks.
Because he's only 23 and still several levels away from the majors, it'll be a while before Ryan Smith can help. Yet if his performance is any indication, the live-armed southpaw—he can get his fastball into the mid-90s—has designs on being the best pitcher to come out of Princeton since Chris Young in 2000.
Oakland Athletics: 1B/3B Jonah Bride (NR)
Team(s): AA Midland RockHounds
Key Stats: 23 G, 99 PA, 5 HR, 1 SB, .333 AVG, .444 OBP, .580 SLG
With Matt Chapman and Matt Olson at third and first base, the Athletics won't need help at the corners any time soon. But it would be a familiar story if Oakland trades either one for payroll purposes, so now's a good time to get to know the next man up: Jonah Bride.
The 25-year-old didn't hit much in his first two minor league seasons after he was picked in the 23rd round of the 2018 draft. He's changing that with Midland, and manager Bobby Crosby (the 2004 American League Rookie of the Year for the A's) said Bride has a knack for finding the barrel.
Seattle Mariners: RF Julio Rodriguez (No. 2)
Team(s): A+ Everett AquaSox
Key Stats: 23 G, 109 PA, 6 HR, 5 SB, .344 AVG, .422 OBP, .625 SLG
There was a great deal of hubbub when the Mariners called up 21-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic for his major league debut in May. But then he went just 8-for-83 in 23 games to earn a ticket back to the minors.
When his time comes, the 20-year-old Julio Rodriguez may have better luck. He has displayed his prodigious power not just for Everett but also in his side gig for the Dominican Republic's Olympic team. He should break in early in 2022.
Texas Rangers: RHP Cole Winn (No. 6)
Team(s): AA Frisco RoughRiders
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 31.1 IP, 13 H (4 HR), 37 K, 14 BB, 2.87 ERA
The Rangers haven't had much success this year, and they will become even less talented if notables Kyle Gibson and Joey Gallo leave town ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.
But as far as silver linings go, the season Cole Winn is having will do. Even after getting roughed up on Tuesday, the 21-year-old has nonetheless been impressive by way of his swing-and-miss stuff. He should be in line for a major league promotion by early 2022.
National League East
Atlanta: C Shea Langeliers (Preseason Team Rank: No. 4)
Team(s): AA Mississippi
Key Stats: 27 G, 107 PA, 8 HR, 0 SB, .258 AVG, .383 OBP, .584 SLG
With the 23-year-old William Contreras in the big leagues and working on an .837 OPS, Atlanta seems to have its catcher of the future already in place. But even if it's not this year, Shea Langeliers isn't far from pushing Contreras for playing time.
The fellow 23-year-old was already regarded as an elite defender coming into the year, and now he's standing out offensively with already four times as many homers as he hit in 54 games for Single-A Rome in 2019. Notably, just last week he had three homers in a four-hit game June 2.
Miami Marlins: LHP Jake Eder (NR)
Team(s): AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 29.2 IP, 12 H (1 HR), 50 K, 12 BB, 0.61 ERA
It's not that we don't see 23-year-old right fielder Jesus Sanchez, who's been dynamite to the tune of a 1.025 OPS and eight homers at Triple-A Jacksonville. But even if he's yet to get a call to the majors this season, he did last year.
Besides, Jake Eder is well deserving of props in his own right. He's touched 97 mph with his fastball as he's racked up strikeout after strikeout, and he's fresh off throwing five perfect innings Sunday. The 22-year-old thus already looks like a steal after Miami picked him in the fourth round of the 2020 draft.
New York Mets: 3B Brett Baty (No. 4)
Team(s): A+ Brooklyn Cyclones
Key Stats: 27 G, 112 PA, 5 HR, 2 SB, .355 AVG, .455 OBP, .602 SLG
Even though he's still only 19, catcher Francisco Alvarez needed just 15 games with Single-A St. Lucie to earn a promotion to High-A Brooklyn. All he did in those 15 games was hit .417 with seven extra-base hits.
But while Alvarez has slowed down in 13 games with Brooklyn, teammate Brett Baty has kept right on hitting. The 21-year-old was good enough as he hit .317 in May, but now his power is alive and well in June. All five of his homers have come during this month, in which he also has a stellar 1.548 OPS.
Philadelphia Phillies: SS Bryson Stott (No. 4)
Team(s): A+ Jersey Shore BlueClaws and AA Reading Fightin Phils
Key Stats: 31 G, 133 PA, 7 HR, 3 SB, .287 AVG, .451 OBP, .545 SLG
The Phillies' Didi Gregorius is signed through next season, yet his grip on shortstop perhaps isn't as tight as it should be. After a strong 2020 season, the 31-year-old hasn't even been a replacement-level player.
This could bode well for Bryson Stott, who's picked up where he left off from his strong pro debut in 2019. Notably, his batting line with Reading (.286/.447/.536) nearly mirrors the one he had with Jersey Shore (.288/.453/.548). Come early 2022, he'll be knocking on the door to The Show.
Washington Nationals: RHP Cade Cavalli (No. 1)
Team(s): A+ Wilmington Blue Rocks
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 33.2 IP, 24 H (1 HR), 56 K, 10 BB, 2.14 ERA
The longer the Nationals struggle to get on track, the more likely it is that they'll have to cut their losses by trading Max Scherzer and others ahead of the deadline.
But, hey, at least Cade Cavalli is looking like the real deal just a year after the Nats selected him with the No. 22 pick in the 2020 draft. He's had little trouble dominating with his blazing fastball, as he's struck out at least 11 batters in half his starts. Accordingly, he's already made a huge leap up Baseball America's top 100.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: RHP Peyton Remy (Preseason Team Rank: NR)
Team(s): A+ South Bend Cubs and AA Tennessee Smokies
Key Stats: 7 G, 7 GS, 36.0 IP, 30 H (6 HR), 37 K, 12 BB, 3.25 ERA
The Cubs don't have a particularly strong farm system, and right now there isn't a whole lot to report on their best prospects. Center fielder Brennen Davis, in particular, started late after getting hit in the head in late April and is now cool at Double-A after dominating at High-A.
By contrast, the 24-year-old Peyton Remy debuted for Tennessee by allowing only one unearned run alongside two hits and a walk June 3. If he can cut down on the home runs, he might find himself in the big leagues next season.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Hunter Greene (No. 2)
Team(s): AA Chattanooga Lookouts
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 35.0 IP, 25 H (2 HR), 51 K, 10 BB, 2.31 ERA
Hunter Greene was both a shortstop and a pitcher when the Reds made him the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft, but he ditched the latter position to focus solely on pitching just a few months later. Following a strong 2018 season, his progress was halted by Tommy John surgery in April 2019.
Now the 21-year-old is back and better than ever. After hitting 105 mph in an April outing, he has regularly hit 100 mph as he's dominated for Chattanooga this season. He might not make the majors this year, but he could rise to the top of the Cincinnati rotation as soon as 2022.
Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Ethan Small (No. 4)
Team(s): AA Biloxi Shuckers
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 27.2 IP, 18 H (1 HR), 46 K, 19 BB, 2.60 ERA
Less than a year after the Brewers chose him with the No. 20 pick in the 2020 draft, center fielder Garrett Mitchell has started hot with a 1.194 OPS for High-A Wisconsin. The catch? He's only played 10 games after straining his left knee in May.
Thus, this is a time to appreciate what the 24-year-old Ethan Small has done this season. He doesn't throw as hard as his strikeout total indicates, but he makes up for it with killer deception. If he stays on this pace, he could crack the big leagues before the end of the season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Roansy Contreras (NR)
Team(s): AA Altoona Curve
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 33.0 IP, 21 H (1 HR), 47 K, 8 BB, 2.18 ERA
The Pirates have had a rough couple of seasons, but the bright side is that they have baseball's No. 9 farm system. And that was before Roansy Contreras took his game to a whole 'nother level.
Whereas he used to peak in the mid-90s, this year his fastball is sitting in the 96-ph mph range as he's blown away the opposition for Altoona. He was a candidate for a 2022 promotion, but at this rate he might force his way into the Pittsburgh bullpen this year.
St. Louis Cardinals: 3B Nolan Gorman (No. 1)
Team(s): AA Springfield Cardinals
Key Stats: 31 G, 138 PA, 5 HR, 3 SB, .309 AVG, .384 OBP, .463 SLG
The Cardinals already have a pretty good third baseman named Nolan, so it makes sense that top prospect Nolan Gorman is getting time at second base for Springfield. Perhaps that change is why he started with a relatively cool .775 OPS in May.
Whatever the case, the 21-year-old has figured things out in June. He's 15-for-39 through eight games with the same number of strikeouts (four) as walks and two home runs. Assuming he isn't used as trade bait, he might share the St. Louis infield with Nolan Arenado by early 2022.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Brandon Pfaadt (Preseason Team Rank: NR)
Team(s): A Visalia Rawhide
Key Stats: 5 G, 5 GS, 27.1 IP, 18 H (3 HR), 40 K, 5 BB, 2.96 ERA
As baseball's second-losingest team since the start of last season, the Diamondbacks are clearly in a position to rebuild. But whatever rebuild they carry out could be a short one, as they came into this year with MLB's No. 11 farm system.
Though Brandon Pfaadt didn't figure into that equation, he arguably does now. With a fastball that can get up to 96 mph, he's been particularly good lately in allowing only two earned runs over 12.1 innings in his last two starts.
Colorado Rockies: LHP Sam Weatherly (NR)
Team(s): A Fresno Grizzlies
Key Stats: 6 G, 6 GS, 26.1 IP, 20 H (3 HR), 46 K, 15 BB, 4.10 ERA
Speaking of 2020 draftees who came into this year more off the radar than on it, Sam Weatherly didn't even crack the top 10 in a lousy Rockies system. These days, however, he's rising fast.
Though the 22-year-old has only a 4.10 ERA, he's notched double-digit strikeouts in three of his six starts. That's solid proof that his stuff—up to and including his wipeout slider—will play in the majors, so all he really needs to do between now and then is sharpen his control.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 2B Michael Busch (No. 3)
Team(s): AA Tulsa Drillers
Key Stats: 26 G, 121 PA, 6 HR, 1 SB, .253 AVG, .388 OBP, .505 SLG
With Corey Seager set to be a free agent this offseason, there's some uncertainty in the middle of the Dodgers infield. Yet there is a scenario in which Los Angeles stays in-house to address said uncertainty by moving Gavin Lux to shortstop and inserting Michael Busch at second base.
Even though he's only two years removed from being drafted, Busch is doing his part to accelerate his timeline. He's specifically shown off good power (i.e., 13 extra-base hits) and patience (i.e., 18 walks), so he's already operating like a typical Dodger on at least two fronts.
San Diego Padres: LHP Ethan Elliott (NR)
Team(s): A+ Fort Wayne TinCaps
Key Stats: 7 G, 7 GS, 35.2 IP, 22 H (7 HR), 52 K, 7 BB, 2.02 ERA
In the person of the 22-year-old MacKenzie Gore, the Padres might just have the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Or so they say, anyway. In actuality, Gore has undercut that reputation with a slow start for Triple-A El Paso.
Meanwhile, less heralded lefty Ethan Elliott has been a revelation. Though the 24-year-old has had issues with the long ball and undoubtedly peaked with a 13-strikeout effort May 16, he's doing just fine despite his modest 88-91 mph fastball. If he adds more velocity, watch out.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Caleb Kilian (NR)
Team(s): A+ Eugene Emeralds and AA Richmond Flying Squirrels
Key Stats: 7 G, 7 GS, 37.2 IP, 25 H (0 HR), 42 K, 4 BB, 1.67 ERA
As if the Giants weren't already living a charmed enough life, their surprising first-place team also has one of baseball's five best farm systems. And we rated it as such before Caleb Kilian started breaking out in just his second professional season.
The 24-year-old can hike his fastball into the high 90s, yet his command has stood out with only four walks. One catch is that his strikeouts have dried up at Double-A, where he has only 10 in 16 innings. Nonetheless, he's on a fast track and could reach the majors in 2022.