The first half of 2021 saw a continued influx of rookie talent into the big leagues. The twin challenges of service time manipulation and last year’s lost minor league season seemingly did little to impede the flow of prospect talent. As of the July 16 start of the season’s second half, 19 of the preseason Top 50 prospect rankings have either surpassed the threshold for rookie eligibility (50 IP for pitchers, 130 at-bats for position players, or 45 total days on an active big-league roster not including September) or are on an active big-league roster — and fantasy baseball owners in all types of leagues are taking notice.
The compressed minor league system, improved player development programs, and the financial pressures that compel many clubs, especially small-market teams, to “use or lose” their young talent are likely to continue to push clubs to aggressively promote top prospects.
The second half of the season might not see quite the same number of top prospects making their big-league debuts, but there are at least 10 guys on the current Top 50 who should see major league action before 2021 is over. Many of the rest will compete for big-league roster spots in spring training next year.
Two players who probably won’t make it to the majors until late 2022 at the earliest are recent draftees Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. While neither has officially signed, the chances of either not reaching a deal and returning to college is extremely remote. There are other ’21 draftees with lots of upside who could grace future Top 50 lists, but Leiter and Rocker are the only two whose talent merits inclusion without the benefit of any track record in pro ball.
Updated 2021 MLB Top Prospects: Rookies, sleepers to know in fantasy baseball
- Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore
- Bobby Witt, SS, Kansas City
- Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, Detroit
- CJ Abrams, SS, San Diego
- Julio Rodriguez, OF, Seattle
- Marco Luciano, SS, San Francisco
- Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Miami
- Jasson Dominguez, OF, New York Yankees
- Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore
- Shane Baz, RHP, Tampa Bay
- Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Francisco Alvarez, C, New York Mets
- Nick Lodolo, LHP, Cincinnati
- Luis Patino, RHP, Tampa Bay
- Riley Greene, OF, Detroit
- Reid Detmers, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
- Joey Bart, C, San Francisco
- Jack Leiter, RHP, Texas
- Luis Campusano, C, San Diego
- Max Meyer, RHP, Miami
- Emerson Hancock, RHP, Seattle
- Kumar Rocker, RHP, New York Mets
- Nolan Gorman, 3B, St. Louis
- Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona
- Gabriel Moreno, C, Toronto
- Hunter Greene, RHP, Cincinnati
- Noelvi Marte, SS, Seattle
- Cade Cavalli, RHP, Washington
- D.L. Hall. LHP, Baltimore
- Brett Baty, 3B, New York Mets
- Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto
- Nick Gonzales, SS, Pittsburgh
- Edward Cabrera, RHP, Miami
- Oneil Cruz, SS, Pittsburgh
- Garrett Mitchell, OF, Milwaukee
- George Kirby, RHP, Seattle
- Xavier Edwards, 2B, Tampa Bay
- Josh Jung, 3B, Texas
- Asa Lacy, LHP, Kansas City
- Anthony Volpe, SS, New York Yankees
- Michael Harris, OF, Atlanta
- Matthew Liberatore, LHP, St. Louis
- Tyler Freeman, SS, Cleveland
- Drew Waters, OF, Atlanta
- Jordan Groshans, SS, Toronto
- MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego
- Jose Barrero, SS, Cincinnati
- Robert Hassell, OF, San Diego
- Tyler Soderstrom, C, Oakland
- Cristian Pache, OF, Atlanta
Bobby Witt, SS, Kansas City (No. 2). I’ve been slow to get on the Bobby Witt bandwagon, but after seeing him in person at the Futures Game in Denver, I’m now all in. Witt showed electric bat speed and increased strength which should allow him to hit for plus power. He wowed in batting practice and hit two rockets off plus velocity during the game itself. His swing path is incredibly efficient and he should hit for average against advanced pitching as he gains experience.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore (9). Probably no pitching prospect has seen their stock rise as much this season as Rodriguez. He had an excellent 2019 campaign at Low-A, but he has exploded this year with a dominant performance in High-A and Double-A. Rodriguez’s mid-90s fastball has gotten more explosive, his command has improved, his three pitch mix is carving up good hitters and he’s looking more like a frontline guy than the No. 2 or 3 starter that he appeared to be two years ago.
Shane Baz, RHP, Tampa Bay (10). Baz has tightened up his delivery and has begun to harness his power stuff. He’s gone from a back-end starter to someone who could be a No. 2. His mid-90s fastball looked electric when I saw him at the Futures Game. His slider was plus and his change was average to above average. With three legitimate weapons, much improved command, and a growing track record of success against advanced hitters, he’s on the cusp of the majors.
Francisco Alvarez, C, New York Mets (12). Alvarez had a breakout 2019 and continued to perform in 2021. Alvarez has incredible bat speed and tremendous power, but he can overswing and lose his bat path. When he’s at his best he has good pitch recognition and uses a compact swing to make consistent contact. He’s still a long way from the majors, but he has serious upside and has the potential to hit for both average and power.
Nick Lodolo, LHP, Cincinnati (13). Lodolo has gone from a polished college guy with average stuff to someone who now projects as a No. 2 starter. Lodolo has always has good command but his fastball now sits in the mid 90’s and had great movement when I saw him at the Futures Game. His slider flashes plus and his change has become an above-average weapon. With three pitches and great command, Lodolo could be pitching at the front of the Reds rotation before too long.
Riley Greene, OF Detroit (15). Greene was athletic but raw in his 2019 pro debut, but he’s added a lot of polish since then even though he’s still just 20. He’s still not fully tapping into his lower half to generate power, but his swing mechanics are better, his bat speed is plus, and he has excellent hand-eye coordination. He’ll need to continue to work on his pitch recognition but he’s starting to look like the all-star the Tigers were hoping for when they drafted him.
Reid Detmers, LHP, Los Angeles Angels (16). Detmers has made quite the impression in his first pro season (3.60 ERA and 90/17 K/BB in 50 innings while leap-frogging levels and beginning his pro career in Double-A). Detmers has a polished four-pitch mix including a low-to-mid-90s fastball. He commands well and sets up hitters. An improved slider to go with his plus curve and solid change make him a potential No. 2 or 3 starter.
Hunter Greene, RHP, Cincinnati (26). Greene went from top prospect to Tommy John to afterthought all before he turned 20. Now, still shy of his 21st birthday, Greene has begun to harness his triple-digit heat and put up dominant numbers at Double-A. He hasn’t had the same success at Triple-A, but he’s now starting to look like the front-line starter that everyone expected when he was drafted second overall in 2017.
Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto (31). Pearson had a breakout season in 2019 but injuries have slowed him since. When he’s healthy, Pearson has good command of an overpowering fastball that reaches triple digits, a plus slider, and a solid change. He should be at least a No. 2 starter in the majors but repeated injuries have clouded his future.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP, St. Louis (42). In 2019, Liberatore flashed lots of upside as a future No. 3 starter. Two years later his stuff hasn’t improved, and he’s struggled against advanced hitters. He’s still just 21, but he’ll need to sharpen his change or add weapons to reach his potential.
Drew Waters, OF, Atlanta (44). Waters won the Double-A Southern League batting title and MVP in 2019, but he’s struggled this season at Triple-A. When I saw him in person during All-Star weekend he looked like his balance was out of sync, he was getting too wide in his stance, and he was losing the leverage in his swing. When he’s balanced and in sync, the switch-hitting Waters has above-average raw power from both sides of the plate. If he can regain the balance in his swing and improve his pitch recognition, he still has a lot of upside, but his struggles against advanced pitching raise questions about his future.
Jordan Groshans, SS, Toronto (45). In 2019, Groshans looked look an advanced hitter with plus power potential and a solid overall skillset. This season it doesn’t appear as though Groshans has developed much since then. He isn’t tapping into his power in games, and he’s looking more average than plus across the board. He still has time to develop but it looks like he’s stalled a bit.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego (46). On pure stuff, Gore could be a top-10 prospect. He was dominant in 2019, then lost control of his delivery and hasn’t been able to get himself in sync since. Blisters have also been a persistent problem. When he’s right, he has four pitches, good command, and profiles as a front-line starter. If he can regain the consistency of his delivery he’ll jump back up this list.
Cristian Pache, OF, Atlanta (50). He was brutally overmatched in his big-league debut and hasn’t played well at Triple-A. He’s still an elite center fielder, which means he’ll get lost of chances to improve his offense. Also, he’s just 22 and has the physical tools to be an above-average hitter. In January I wrote that he’d need to improve his plate discipline and refine his swing mechanics. Until he makes progress in those two areas, he’ll struggle.
Graduated (Currently in the majors and/or exceeded rookie eligibility)
- Wander Franco, SS, Tampa Bay (1)
- Jared Kelenic, OF, Seattle (5)
- Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox (9)
- Nick Madrigal, 2B, Chicago White Sox (10)
- Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta (11)
- Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh (14)
- Spencer Howard, RHP, Philadelphia (17)
- Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit (19)
- Dylan Carlson, OF, St. (20)
- Matt Manning, RHP, Detroit (21)
- Andrew Vaughn, 1B, Chicago White Sox (22)
- Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland (23)
- Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle (25)
- Randy Arozarena, OF, Tampa Bay (27)
- Alex Kirilloff, OF, Minnesota (31)
- Tarik Skubal, LHP, Detroit (41)
- Dane Dunning, RHP, Texas (44)
- Garrett Crochet, LHP, Chicago White Sox (48)
- Ryan Mountcastle, OF, Baltimore (49)
Daniel Lynch, LHP, Kansas City (26). A rough big-league debut seems to have shaken his confidence.
Deivi Garcia, RHP, New York Yankees (30). His stuff regressed, and he’s struggled both in the majors and at Triple-A.
Royce Lewis, SS, Minnesota (34). A torn ACL and no track record of success in the high minors leaves him with a lot to prove in 2022.
Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston (38). Tommy John surgery clouds his future.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland (50). Injuries have left Puk with diminished stuff and shaky control.