Each MLB Team's Breakout Prospect Turning Heads in 2021

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2021

Each MLB Team's Breakout Prospect Turning Heads in 2021

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The beauty of MLB prospect rankings is how wrong they often turn out.

    Just like any top prospect can fail to live up to the hype, players outside the high-end conversation can also raise their future profile.

    The latter group is who we're focusing on.

    Ahead we have selected one breakout prospect from each of the 30 MLB organizations, with the focus being on players who were well removed from top prospect lists at the start of the season.

    Each player's organizational rank at the beginning of the 2021 campaign, according to Baseball America, is included for context.

    Let's get to it.

AL East

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    Brayan Bello
    Brayan BelloRob Tringali/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: SS Jordan Westburg (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: 11

    Despite going No. 30 in the 2020 draft, Westburg ranked outside the top 10 prospects in the Baltimore organization at the onset of his pro career. That has quickly changed thanks to a .313/.421/.514 line that includes 20 doubles, 11 home runs, 65 RBI and 14 steals between Single-A and High-A. Can he stick at shortstop long term with a big 6'3", 203-pound frame?


    Boston Red Sox: RHP Brayan Bello (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: 20

    With a 3.82 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 70.2 innings between High-A and Double-A, Bello has been one of the breakout pitching prospects of 2021. He has three quality pitches and good command, with some physical projection remaining in his 6'1", 170-pound frame. Signed for just $28,000 in 2017, he has already exceeded expectations.


    New York Yankees: SS Anthony Volpe (Age: 20)

    Preseason Rank: 14

    Volpe was an advanced hitter with a hit tool-over-power offensive profile and solid defensive skills at shortstop when he was selected No. 30 in the 2019 draft. After a forgettable pro debut, he has taken a massive step forward this season with a .306/.441/.616 line that includes 27 doubles, 18 home runs, 66 RBI and 26 steals in 32 attempts between Single-A and High-A. There's a case to be made that he's the No. 2 prospect in the Yankees system behind Jasson Dominguez.


    Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Taj Bradley (Age: 20)

    Preseason Rank: 21

    A fifth-round pick and above-slot signing in 2018, Bradley had not yet pitched above rookie ball entering the 2021 season. With a heavy mid-90s fastball and quality breaking stuff, he has been a revelation in his first taste of full-season ball. The 6'2" right-hander is 10-3 with a 1.63 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and an 85-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71.2 innings between Single-A and High-A.


    Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Sem Robberse (Age: 19)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    A native of the Netherlands with a "self-taught" skill set on the mound, per MLB.com, Robberse began the season as a bit of an unknown. His fastball velocity has already ticked up, and there's room for further growth. With his 3.90 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 57.2 innings at Single-A, the early returns have been promising for a player still finding his footing on the baseball diamond.

AL Central

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    Jose Miranda
    Jose MirandaIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: SS Jose Rodriguez (Age: 20)

    Preseason Rank: 28

    A well-rounded prospect without a carrying tool, Rodriguez signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. In his first taste of Single-A ball this year, he's hitting .284/.327/.458 and showing more extra-base pop than expected with 22 doubles and 10 home runs in 371 plate appearances. He may fit best in a super-utility role, but his stock is trending up.


    Cleveland: SS Angel Martinez (Age: 19)

    Preseason Rank: 29

    The son of former MLB catcher Sandy Martinez—who memorably caught Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game—Angel is a toolsy, switch-hitting middle infielder. Assigned to Single-A Lynchburg this year for his first action stateside, he is holding his own with a .737 OPS and 28 extra-base hits in 71 games. In a system loaded with middle infield talent, he is just scratching the surface of his potential.


    Detroit Tigers: SS Ryan Kreidler (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    A shortstop at UCLA, where he hit .300/.370/.502 with nine home runs and 45 RBI as a junior, Kreidler was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. Despite middling numbers at Low-A in his pro debut, he was sent to Double-A for the 2021 season and has responded with a .747 OPS while tallying 14 doubles, 14 home runs and 60 runs scored. Added strength has helped him tap into more of his raw power.


    Kansas City Royals: 1B Nick Pratto (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: 10

    The No. 14 pick in the 2017 draft, Pratto saw his prospect star fade considerably when he hit .191 with a .588 OPS and a 34.7 percent strikeout rate at High-A in 2019. He used 2020 to rebuild his swing, and the results have been eye-opening. The 22-year-old is hitting .277/.399/.603 with 22 doubles and 21 home runs in 80 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and he has slashed his strikeout rate to 27.9 percent.


    Minnesota Twins: IF Jose Miranda (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    Viewed more as an organizational depth player than a future impact performer before this season, Miranda has exploded for a .339/.402/.593 line that includes 20 doubles, 23 home runs and 65 RBI in 84 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He has split his time between first base, second base and third base this season, and that versatility should help expedite his arrival to the majors.

AL West

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    Davis Daniel
    Davis DanielRalph Freso/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: OF Alex McKenna (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    McKenna has added strength to his 6'2" frame since he was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft out of Cal Poly, and his power is showing up more. After spending last year playing indy ball, he's hitting .289/.381/.577 with 10 doubles, 14 home runs and 34 RBI in 51 games between High-A and Double-A, and he has the defensive tools to stick in center field.


    Los Angeles Angels: RHP Davis Daniel (Age: 24)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    Signed to a below-slot deal in 2019 after his junior season was cut short by Tommy John surgery, Daniel is shaping up to be a steal for the Angels. The right-hander is on the older end of the prospect scale, but in a pitching-thin system, his 2.47 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 100 strikeouts in 73 innings between High-A and Double-A are standing out.


    Oakland Athletics: OF Jake Suddleson (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    Signed as an undrafted senior out of Harvard last summer, Suddleson was recently highlighted by Chris Hilburn-Trenkle of Baseball America as one of the prospects who has raised his stock the most in 2021. He has already reached Double-A in his pro debut, and he's hitting .275/.356/.457 with 25 extra-base hits in 71 games on the year.


    Seattle Mariners: RHP Matt Brash (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    Brash was a fourth-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2019 after he piled up 121 strikeouts in 85.1 innings during his junior season at Niagara University. Acquired for reliever Taylor Williams last year, he has picked up right where he left off with his new organization. The 6'1" right-hander has a 2.43 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 63 innings between High-A and Double-A, though he'll need to continue refining his secondary stuff to stick as a starter.


    Texas Rangers: OF Evan Carter (Age: 18)

    Preseason Rank: 18

    One of the more surprising early reaches in the 2020 draft, Carter was selected No. 50 overall on the strength of his "five-tool upside," as described by MLB.com, despite limited scouting exposure on the showcase circuit. He is still a developmental project, but he's shown an advanced approach at Single-A with an .825 OPS and more walks (34) than strikeouts (28). Once his power starts showing up in games, his stock could soar. The 18-year-old is sidelined with a stress fracture in his back, but he should return before the 2021 season is over.

NL East

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    Jake Eder
    Jake EderDustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: RHP Spencer Strider (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    A fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2020, Strider touched 99 mph with his fastball at the alternate site last year while showing a good changeup and a hard curveball with swing-and-miss potential. He has struck out 110 of the 269 batters he has faced over three minor league levels this year, logging a 3.64 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 15.4 K/9 in 64.1 innings. He'll continue to be developed as a starter for now, but he also has a high floor as a late-inning reliever.


    Miami Marlins: LHP Jake Eder (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: 30

    A highly regarded prep prospect who slipped in the 2017 draft because of his strong commitment to Vanderbilt, Eder never lived up to his full potential on campus because of a limited role and spotty control. The Marlins took a chance with an above-slot deal in the fourth round in 2020, and he has been lights out at Double-A this year. The 6'4" southpaw has a 1.86 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 95 strikeouts in 67.2 innings. With a fastball that touches 97 mph, a plus curveball and improving command, he is yet another promising young arm in a stacked Miami system.


    New York Mets: OF Carlos Cortes (Age: 24)

    Preseason Rank: 29

    After a solid season at High-A in 2019, Cortes has shown significantly more power at Double-A this year, raising his slugging percentage from .397 to .517 while tallying 25 doubles, 13 home runs and 53 RBI in 68 games. He has a limited defensive profile, despite the rare trait of being ambidextrous, so he'll go as far as his bat carries him.

    Shoutout to Tylor Megill, who began the season as the No. 28 prospect in the Mets system. The right-hander has posted a 3.20 ERA in 45 innings in the big league rotation.


    Philadelphia Phillies: C Logan O'Hoppe (Age: 21)

    Preseason Rank: 17

    A 23rd-round pick in 2018 who hit .216 with a .673 OPS at Low-A in 2019, O'Hoppe has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Playing at High-A Jersey Shore, he's hitting .270/.329/.471 with 16 doubles, 13 home runs and 42 RBI, and he's thrown out 32 percent of base stealers for good measure.

    "O'Hoppe draws rave reviews for his work ethic, makeup, leadership and ability to call a game behind the plate," per Baseball America.


    Washington Nationals: RHP Aldo Ramirez (Age: 20)

    Preseason Rank: 25 (Red Sox system)

    Acquired in a one-for-one deal that sent Kyle Schwarber to the Boston Red Sox, Ramirez has a 2.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in 31 innings at Single-A this year. With advanced pitchability and three quality offerings, he has a great chance of sticking as a starter and moving quickly through the minor leagues. Unfortunately, he has been sidelined since June with elbow tendinitis, but it's been a breakout season nonetheless.

NL Central

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    Joe Gray Jr.
    Joe Gray Jr.Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: LHP DJ Herz (Age: 20)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    Brailyn Marquez gets the bulk of the attention among Cubs pitching prospects, but the organization has another hard-throwing lefty shooting up prospect lists in Herz. An eighth-round pick in 2019, he has 84 strikeouts in 52.1 innings at Single-A Myrtle Beach this season, posting a 3.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. With his 60-grade fastball that touches 95 mph, a wipeout slider and room for more projection in his 6'2", 175-pound frame, the future is bright.


    Cincinnati Reds: RHP Graham Ashcraft (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: 30

    The Cincinnati farm system is thin on quality pitching behind the duo of Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, but Ashcraft is quickly pitching his way up the organizational list. The 6'2", 240-pound right-hander was a sixth-round pick in 2019, and in his first full professional season he's gone 10-4 with a 2.76 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 106 strikeouts in 88 innings between High-A and Double-A. The development of his changeup alongside a mid-90s fastball and plus slider will determine if he sticks as a starter.


    Milwaukee Brewers: OF Joe Gray Jr. (Age: 21)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    A second-round pick in 2018, Gray hit .171 with a 26.9 percent strikeout rate in 55 rookie-ball games over his first two seasons. That knocked him out of the prospect picture entirely, but he has rebounded with a .272/.380/.561 line that includes 19 doubles, 16 home runs, 77 RBI and 16 steals in 80 games between Single-A and High-A. He'll always have a fair amount of swing-and-miss, but he's toolsy enough to make an impact without a high batting average.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Michael Burrows (Age: 21)

    Preseason Rank: 24

    The Pirates have a good track record of unearthing late-round pitching gems. Burrows is shaping up to be their latest find as an 11th-round pick in 2018. The 6'2", 183-pound right-hander has a 2.25 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and a 63-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 innings at High-A. Improved command and a better feel for his changeup have allowed him to evolve this year.


    St. Louis Cardinals: OF Alec Burleson (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: 26

    A two-way standout at East Carolina, Burleson has turned his focus to hitting after the Cardinals selected him in the second round of the 2020 draft. With a smooth left-handed swing and plus raw power, he is rocketing through the minor league ranks, hitting .293/.340/.497 with 12 doubles, 18 home runs and 55 RBI while reaching Triple-A in his pro debut. All of his value will come from his bat, but he should be ready soon.

NL West

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    Ryan Pepiot
    Ryan PepiotAbbie Parr/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Ryne Nelson (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: 16

    Used primarily as a reliever at Oregon, where he touched triple digits with his fastball, the 6'3", 184-pound Nelson has the four-pitch arsenal and durable frame to succeed as a starter. That's how the D-backs are developing him, and the early returns have been encouraging. In 15 starts between High-A and Double-A, he has a 2.87 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 112 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. He could wind up a middle-of-the-rotation starter, with closer potential if he shifts back to the bullpen.


    Colorado Rockies: SS Ezequiel Tovar (Age: 20)

    Preseason Rank: 27

    MLB.com described Tovar as a "defensive wizard" at shortstop with a 65-grade glove and 60-grade arm, and he doesn't need to be more than an average offensive player to be an everyday major league shortstop. He is showing the potential for more than that this season with a .301/.340/.491 line that includes 22 doubles, 11 home runs and 22 steals in 78 games between Single-A and High-A. He could make his way onto leaguewide top-100 lists before long.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Ryan Pepiot (Age: 23)

    Preseason Rank: 8

    Ranked among the "Next 50" prospects in Bleacher Report's most recent Top 100 prospect update, Pepiot became the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Dodgers system after they traded Josiah Gray to the Washington Nationals at the deadline. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, two quality breaking pitches and a lethal 70-grade changeup that is among the best in MiLB, he has 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings in the upper levels of the minors while limiting opponents to a .168 average.


    San Diego Padres: 2B Euribiel Angeles (Age: 19)

    Preseason Rank: NR

    After impressing in his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, Angeles has been even better this year at Single-A with a .345/.399/.472 line that includes 27 extra-base hits and 15 steals in 74 games. He's never going to be a power threat, but his hit tool is the real deal, and he has shown some defensive versatility on the infield. He's one to watch in a deep San Diego system.


    San Francisco Giants: C Ricardo Genoves (Age: 22)

    Preseason Rank: 25

    Most organizations are lucky to have one potential future MLB catcher in the farm system. The Giants have two high-profile backstops in Joey Bart and 2020 first-round pick Patrick Bailey, and it's looking like they might have a third in Genoves. A defensive-minded backstop at the start of his pro career who does a great job controlling the running game with a plus arm, Genoves has exceeded expectations at the plate. He has a .275/.378/.454 line with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 42 RBI in 75 games this year between Single-A and High-A.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, and accurate through Wednesday's games.