Every MLB Team's Most Impressive Prospect in 2021

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2021

Every MLB Team's Most Impressive Prospect in 2021

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    Diamond Images/Getty Images

    As the 2021 MiLB season winds to a close, now is the perfect time to take a look at some of the top performers from across the minor league ranks this year.

    From top prospects like Grayson Rodriguez, Riley Greene and Francisco Alvarez living up to the hype, to lesser-known prospects making a name for themselves with big statistical seasons, standout performers come in all shapes and sizes.

    The goal here was to identify each team's most impressive prospect based solely on their 2021 production. Future potential, past performance and prospect rankings did not factor into this.

    Not all of these guys offer the same type of long-term ceiling, but in 2021, they were among the best players in minor league baseball.

AL East

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    Gabriel Moreno
    Gabriel MorenoDouglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: RHP Grayson Rodriguez

    In his age-21 season, Rodriguez emerged as baseball's consensus top pitching prospect. The 6'5", 220-pound right-hander went 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 161 strikeouts in 103 innings between High-A and Double-A. He walked only 27 batters and limited opponents to a .159 batting average. Catcher Adley Rutschman has also solidified his standing as a future star with a stellar campaign in the upper minors.

          

    Boston Red Sox: 2B Nick Yorke

    Yorke was ranked No. 96 on Baseball America's Top 500 draft prospects list entering the 2020 draft, so it looked like a reach when the Red Sox took him 17th overall. The 19-year-old has quickly silenced the critics, hitting .325/.412/.516 with 20 doubles, 14 home runs and 62 RBI between Single-A and High-A in his pro debut. He now has the best pure hit tool in the Boston system.

         

    New York Yankees: SS Anthony Volpe

    Nothing grabs prospect headlines quite like a breakout in the Yankees farm system. Volpe, 20, hit an impressive .294/.423/.604 with 35 doubles, 27 home runs and 33 steals in 109 games between Single-A and High-A. The No. 30 overall pick in the 2019 draft now looks like the future at shortstop. Tip of the cap to pitchers Ken Waldichuk and Hayden Wesneski on terrific seasons as well.

          

    Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Taj Bradley

    The Rays do a better job developing pitching talent than any other organizations, and they've uncovered more than a few diamonds in the rough over the years. A fifth-round pick in 2018, Bradley's velocity ticked up this year, and the results were eye-opening. The 6'2" right-hander went 12-3 with a 1.83 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 123 strikeouts in 103.1 innings between Single-A and High-A, and he won't turn 21 until next March.

          

    Toronto Blue Jays: C Gabriel Moreno

    Moreno played only 32 games before he suffered a fractured thumb in June that cost him nearly three months, but he hit .373/.441/.651 with 18 extra-base hits in 145 plate appearances at Double-A prior to the injury. The 21-year-old has the tools to be a two-way star, and he could be in Toronto by next season despite the time he's missed this year.

AL Central

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    Riley Greene
    Riley GreeneRob Tringali/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: IF Romy Gonzalez

    An 18th-round pick out of the University of Miami in 2018, Gonzalez hit a forgettable .244/.329/.364 with four home runs in 405 plate appearances in his full-season debut the following year. He made the leap to Double-A to begin the 2021 season and responded by hitting .282/.362/.524 with 23 home runs and 24 steals in the upper minors to earn a 10-game cup of coffee with the White Sox in September.

         

    Cleveland: 1B/3B Jhonkensy Noel

    Noel hit .340/.390/.615 with 14 doubles, 19 home runs and 66 RBI in only 70 games split over three low-level stops in the Cleveland system. The 20-year-old has a risky profile as a right-handed-hitting first baseman, but his bat will play if he can build off his breakout 2021 campaign. Pitchers Daniel Espino (3.73 ERA, 152 K, 91.2 IP) and Logan Allen (2.26 ERA, 143 K, 111.1 IP) also deserve a nod.

         

    Detroit Tigers: OF Riley Greene

    While Spencer Torkelson had a huge pro debut, posting a .936 OPS with 29 home runs and 90 RBI in 117 games while reaching Triple-A, Greene was Detroit's most impressive prospect in 2021. A year younger than Torkelson, Greene also climbed the ladder to Triple-A while hitting .297/.381/.524 with 23 doubles, eight triples, 23 home runs, 82 RBI, 91 runs scored and 15 steals in 16 attempts.

           

    Kansas City Royals: C MJ Melendez

    The Royals system was home to three of the four highest home run totals in the minors this year, with MJ Melendez (41), Nick Pratto (34) and Bobby Witt Jr. (33) joining Marlins prospect Griffin Conine (36) at the top of the leaderboard. After hitting .163 with a 39.4 percent strikeout rate in 2019, Melendez batted .288/.386/.634 with 65 extra-base hits and a far more palatable 21.6 percent strikeout rate this year.

           

    Minnesota Twins: IF Jose Miranda

    Entering the 2021 season, Miranda had 36 home runs in 1,495 plate appearances spanning four minor league seasons, and he looked more like organizational depth than a future impact player. But the 23-year-old took his game to another level this year, hitting .347/.403/.574 with 31 doubles, 29 home runs and 93 RBI in 123 games while playing all over the infield.

AL West

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    Tyler Soderstrom
    Tyler SoderstromMary DeCicco/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: C/1B Yainer Diaz

    Acquired at the deadline in the deal that sent Myles Straw to Cleveland, Diaz hit .324/.362/.527 with 25 doubles, 17 home runs and 90 RBI in 98 games in 2021. The 23-year-old is a work in progress defensively behind the plate, and a move to first base would put more pressure on his bat, but a polished hit tool and big raw power give him exciting offensive upside.

         

    Los Angeles Angels: LHP Ryan Smith

    Smith led a pitching-starved Angels system in innings pitched (125.1) and strikeouts (147) while posting a 4.38 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 22 starts over four minor league levels. The 24-year-old is an undersized 5'11" lefty with average stuff, but improved command and pitchability could continue to make him an overachiever in the rotation.

           

    Oakland Athletics: C Tyler Soderstrom

    Viewed by some as the best pure hitter in the 2020 draft class, Soderstrom backed up the hype in his pro debut. The 19-year-old hit .306/.390/.568 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs and 49 RBI in 57 games at Single-A, skipping rookie ball entirely after spending last summer at Oakland's alternate site. The biggest question right now is whether his bat will move so quickly that he doesn't have time to fully develop defensively.

         

    Seattle Mariners: RHP Matt Brash

    With a .347/.441/.560 line and 34 extra-base hits in 74 games between High-A and Double-A, not to mention a stint with the Dominican Republic team in the Olympics, outfielder Julio Rodriguez would have been a perfectly justifiable pick here. Instead, we're going with Brash who posted a 2.31 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 142 strikeouts in 97.1 innings as one of the most overpowering pitchers in all of the minors.

           

    Texas Rangers: 1B/3B Dustin Harris

    Acquired in the deal that sent Mike Minor to Oakland last summer, Harris hit .327/.401/.542 with 21 doubles, 20 home runs and 85 RBI in 110 games between Single-A and High-A in his first year in the Texas organization. Originally drafted as a first baseman, he has started to see more time at third base and has the quickness to stick there. The 22-year-old has also swiped 25 bases in 27 attempts.

NL East

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    Cade Cavalli
    Cade CavalliDustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: RHP Bryce Elder

    Signed to an above-slot $850,000 deal as a fifth-round pick in 2020, Elder has quickly made that look like a smart investment by the Braves. The strong 6'2", 220-pound right-hander reached Triple-A in his pro debut and went a combined 11-5 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 155 strikeouts in 137.2 innings over three minor league levels. With four quality pitches and good command, he could debut in the majors next season.

         

    Miami Marlins: RHP Eury Perez

    The Marlins are loaded with controllable pitching, and there's more on the way. Flamethrower Max Meyer, Jake Eder and Kyle Nicolas are all deserving of a mention for their work in 2021, but the towering 6'8" Perez earns top honors. Signed for $200,000 in 2019, he made his pro debut at Single-A this year and logged a 1.96 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 108 strikeouts in 78 innings while showcasing an upper-90s fastball and smooth mechanics despite his large frame.

           

    New York Mets: C Francisco Alvarez

    After teasing his tremendous offensive potential with a stellar rookie-ball debut in 2019, Alvarez cemented his standing as one of baseball's top catching prospects in his first full-season action. The 19-year-old hit .272/.388/.554 with 18 doubles, 24 home runs and 70 RBI in 99 games, and he added a home run in the Futures Game for good measure.

          

    Philadelphia Phillies: SS Bryson Stott

    The first college middle infielder taken in the 2019 draft at No. 14 overall, Stott is on the fast track to being the shortstop of the future in Philadelphia. The 23-year-old hit .306/.398/.500 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs and 10 steals in 108 games, closing out the year with six games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. With no question about his defensive tools at shortstop, he's the heir apparent to Didi Gregorius.

          

    Washington Nationals: RHP Cade Cavalli

    The minor league strikeout leader with 175 punchouts in 123.1 innings, Cavalli is already looking like a steal after going No. 22 overall in the 2020 draft. The 6'4", 230-pound right-hander touches 99 mph with his fastball and backs it with a 60-grade curveball and a slider and changeup that also flash plus. He has ace potential, and it was on full display in 2021.

NL Central

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    Roansy Contreras
    Roansy ContrerasJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: LHP DJ Herz

    Herz racked up 131 strikeouts in 81.2 innings between Single-A and High-A, good for 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings. That trailed only Cleveland's Daniel Espino (14.9) and Atlanta's Spencer Strider (14.6) among all pitching prospects who worked at least 80 innings. With a mid-90s fastball, electric slider and improving command, his arrow is pointing straight up heading into 2022.

         

    Cincinnati Reds: RHP Hunter Greene

    Before Greene made his 2021 debut, he had not pitched since July 26, 2018. With Tommy John surgery in the rearview, he quickly shook off the rust and reclaimed his status as one of the most dynamic pitching prospects in baseball. Still only 22 years old, he logged a 3.30 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 139 strikeouts in 106.1 innings, and he touched 104 mph with his fastball in his Triple-A debut. He could take the majors by storm in 2022.

          

    Milwaukee Brewers: OF Joey Wiemer

    Despite Wiemer's inconsistent production at the University of Cincinnati, the Brewers selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 draft in hopes of unlocking his tremendous raw power. The 22-year-old hit .295/.403/.556 with 27 home runs and 30 steals in his pro debut, and his production actually improved after he was promoted to High-A in August. Can he make consistent contact against upper-level pitching?

         

    Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Roansy Contreras

    Part of the four-player package the Yankees used to acquire Jameson Taillon during the offseason, Contreras emerged as the best pitching prospect in the Pittsburgh system not named Quinn Priester. The 21-year-old sits in the mid-90s with a high-spin fastball and backs it with a terrific changeup. He posted a 3.41 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 58 innings in the minors before making his MLB debut with three scoreless innings against the Cubs on Wednesday.

          

    St. Louis Cardinals: 3B Jordan Walker

    With a 6'5", 220-pound frame, Walker didn't look like the average prep slugger when the Cardinals took him No. 21 overall in the 2020 draft. His light-tower power has been on full display in his pro debut, but he's also shown a better-than-expected hit tool. He batted .317/.388/.548 with 25 doubles and 14 home runs in 82 games between Single-A and High-A while also posting a manageable 23.8 percent strikeout rate.

NL West

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    Andy Pages
    Andy PagesJennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Brandon Pfaadt

    A fifth-round pick out of D-ll Bellarmine in 2020, Pfaadt turned heads this year with a 160-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131.2 innings spanning three minor league levels. The 6'4", 220-pound right-hander has a mid-90s fastball and improving off-speed stuff. With his size, command and pitchability, he looks like a future starter.

         

    Colorado Rockies: RHP Ryan Feltner

    After going in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, Feltner logged a 5.07 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 119 innings at Single-A in 2019. But after cleaning up his mechanics in the instructional league last fall, he looked like a different pitcher this season en route to a 2.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 112.2 innings to earn a September call-up. The 25-year-old could battle for a rotation spot next spring.

         

    Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Andy Pages

    Pages announced himself to the prospect world when he slugged 22 doubles and 19 home runs in 63 games in rookie ball in 2019, and he picked up right where he left off at High-A Great Lakes this year. The 20-year-old hit .265/.394/.539 with 25 doubles, 31 home runs and 88 RBI in 120 games. Although he struck out 132 times, he also tallied 77 walks and had a terrific 14.3 percent walk rate.

         

    San Diego Padres: LHP Ethan Elliott

    Elliott has a unique profile with a below-average fastball that is propped up by a 60-grade changeup, a plus slider and terrific command. The 24-year-old southpaw posted a 3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and an 87-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70.2 innings. Can the 2019 10th-round pick continue to exceed expectations?

          

    San Francisco Giants: OF Jairo Pomares

    Pitchers Carson Ragsdale (167 K, 113.2 IP) and Ryan Murphy (164 K, 107.1 IP) ranked second and third in the minor leagues in strikeouts, respectively, so they have to be mentioned among the Giants' most impressive prospects. With that said, there's no ignoring Pomares, who hit .334/.378/.629 with 27 doubles and 20 home runs in only 77 games. The 21-year-old is part of a dynamic collection of recent international signings rising the ranks in the San Francisco system.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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