Picks to Click: Who I Expect to Make the 2021 Top 100

When publishing prospect lists — in particular, the top 100 — I am frequently asked who, among the players excluded from this year’s version, might have the best chance of appearing on next year’s version. Whose stock am I buying? This post represents my best attempt to answer all of those questions at once.

This is the third year of this exercise, and last year Kiley and I instituted some rules. First, none of the players you see below will have ever been a 50 FV or better in any of our write-ups or rankings. So while I think Corbin Martin will return from Tommy John and become a 50 FV again later next year, I’m not allowed to include him here (although I just sorta did). The second rule is that I am forbidden from using players who have ever been on this list before, which means no Gilberto Celestino (on the list two years ago) or Lenny Torres (who was on last year’s) even though they might soon be 50s. McDaniel and I were right about 18 of the 63 players we picked the first year, about a 29% hit rate, and we were right about 16 of the 55 players on last year’s list, which is also 29%. Two years still isn’t long enough to know whether that’s good or not, but it does appear as though a baseline is being established.

At the end of the piece, I have a list of potential high-leverage relievers who might debut this year, because readers seem to dig that category. These are not part of the 50+ FV forecasting; it’s just a way to point an arrow at guys I like who might have real big league impact in a smaller role very soon.

I’ve separated the players into groups or “types” to make the list a little more digestible and to give you some idea of the demographics I think pop-up guys come from, which could help you identify some of your own with The Board (with The Board, through The Board, in The Board). For players whose orgs I’ve already covered this offseason, there is a link to the applicable team list where you can find a full scouting report on that player. I touch briefly on the rest of the names in this post. If you want to peek at the previous lists, here is Year 1, and here is Year 2.

Teenage Pitchers
Blake Walston, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (full report)
Daniel Espino, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Matthew Allan, RHP, New York Mets (full report)
Ronny Henriquez, RHP, Texas Rangers
William Holmes, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Jairo Solis, RHP, Houston Astros (full report)

You probably know about Espino, who has been famous since his heater was touching 99 when he was a high school underclassman. He was brought along slowly last year; he didn’t get underway until July and only threw a couple innings at a time until mid-August, when the Indians gave him about 70 pitches worth of leash. He was 97-97, touching 98, and both breaking balls are plus. The arm action is long, but I’m way in on the stuff. Henriquez has one of the fastest arms in the minors. He’s only 5-foot-10 but sits in the mid-90s and his split is good. I’m confident he’ll locate the slurve well enough that it, too, is effective. Holmes is a two-way prospect whose light seemed to be switching on late in the year. He’ll touch 96 and show you an above-average change and breaking ball.

Vertical Movement on the Fastball
Joey Wentz, LHP, Detroit Tigers (full report)
Joey Cantillo, LHP, San Diego Padres
Michael Baumann, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (full report)
Angel Macuare, RHP, Houston Astros (full report)
Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals

This concept is explained further in this piece, which also features a report on Cantillo. Cox has a low-90s fastball, an above-average curveball, and an average changeup. He has better control, especially to his glove side, than a lot of funky, vertical slot guys.

Players My Sources Like
Braden Shewmake, SS, Atlanta Braves (full report)
Adam Hall, SS, Baltimore Orioles (full report)
Taylor Walls, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Hunter Brown, RHP, Houston Astros (full report)
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jake Cronenworth, SS, San Diego Padres
Braxton Garrett, LHP, Miami Marlins (full report)

Walls has terrific control of the strike zone. Not only does he lay off pitches out of the zone but he rarely swings and misses at pitches in the zone, and he’s going to play up the middle. Bae is fairly similar. He doesn’t have power right now but he’s very, very fast. Cronenworth might be the best 26th man in baseball. He can play all over the place, he can pitch, he has average power, and he’s also tough to beat in the zone.

Strike-Throwing No. 4 Types
George Kirby, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Thad Ward, RHP, Boston Red Sox (full report)
Cody Bolton, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Daulton Jefferies, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Zack Thompson, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)

Kirby is a high-ratio strike thrower who is now in an org that is suddenly very good at developing pitchers. Bolton has a really nasty slider and a sinker that touches 97. He threw nearly 60% of his fastballs in the zone last year. Jefferies has an impact changeup and plus command, he’s just never been healthy for very long. Thompson’s fastball lacks spin but his changeup and breaking stuff are great, and the Cardinals push college arms to the upper levels quickly, so he might see Double-A next year.

Dudes with Big Juice
Luis Toribio, 3B, San Francisco Giants (full report)
Andy Pages, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Peyton Burdick, RF, Miami Marlins (full report)
Canaan Smith, LF, New York Yankees
Jerar Encarnacion, RF, Miami Marlins (full report)
Michael Busch, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

These are players with big raw power. It’s unclear whether Pages will be traded to the Angels or not, but his report is here. Smith runs deep counts and he can run, too. If he lifts the ball more often he’ll really break out. Some teams considered Busch in the top 10 of last year’s draft (at a discount) and a lot of his placement here depends on his ability to play a passable, shift-aided second base, which he was not doing in the Arizona Fall League.

What They Look Like
Luis Matos, CF, San Francisco Giants (full report)
Junior Sanquintin, SS, Cleveland Indians
Reggie Preciado, SS, San Diego Padres
Robert Puason, SS, Oakland Athletics
Greg Jones, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Maikol Escotto, SS, New York Yankees
Ryder Green, OF, New York Yankees
Erick Peña, CF, Kansas City Royals
Alexander Ramirez, RF, Los Angeles Angels

This is the group purely for tools and body-based scouting. Sanquintin, Preciado, and Puason are all switch-hitting shortstops with big frames, the same as Ronny Mauricio was at the same age. Greg Jones is the oldest player on this list but also the fastest. Escotto, Green, and Peña are all more mature. Escotto and Green are more physical with present power, and Peña might be the most polished player from his July 2 class. Ramirez has a huge, projectable frame and already has considerable power.

Francisco Alvarez, New York Mets (full report)
Cal Raleigh, Seattle Mariners
Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays
Mario Feliciano, Milwaukee Brewers
Diego Cartaya, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ryan Jeffers, Minnesota Twins (full report)
Gabriel Moreno, Toronto Blue Jays
Rafael Marchan, Philadelphia Phillies

I didn’t feel comfortable sticking Alvarez on the 100 just yet. He’d have been several more levels away from the bigs than anyone else on the list, and the rate of teenage catcher attrition is really scary. I thought pricing in the risk properly meant keeping him off. Kirk, Raleigh, and Jeffers are all bigger guys who don’t always cut the defensive mustard for scouts, though some of them have good framing metrics (Jeffers, Raleigh). Feliciano has the best current contact quality of this group but strikes out a lot. Cartaya has the biggest ceiling here. He’s built like Salvador Perez, which scares some scouts because it’s hard to stay behind the plate at that size, but if he can, the game management and arm strength might make him an impact defender. That’s pretty extreme variance. Moreno and Marchan are athletic, contact-oriented hitters.

High-Leverage Relievers
Enoli Paredes, RHP, Houston Astros (full report)
Cristian Javier, RHP, Houston Astros (full report)
Bryan Mata, RHP, Boston Red Sox (full report)
Junior Fernandez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (full report)
Hector Yan, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
Peter Fairbanks, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Alex Vesia, LHP, Miami Marlins (full report)
Ashton Goudeau, RHP, Colorado Rockies (full report)

Yan is a lefty version of Freddy Peralta. He creates tough angle on hitters and lives off his fastball. Fairbanks’ stuff is a lot like Nick Anderson’s, but his control has made him tougher to roster.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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4 years ago

So in Taylor Walls the Rays have a switch-hitting shortstop from a strong DIv I school who has an elite batting eye and a high floor on all aspects of his game.

With Adames and soon Franco blocking his way at SS, maybe he’ll end up becoming a plus defender shuttling between 2B and RF once he reaches the majors…..

4 years ago
Reply to  tz

Add in Greg Jones and Xavier Edwards, the Rays look like a SS factory. Padres with Cronenworth and Preciado also a blooming garden of SS’s.

4 years ago
Reply to  Shalesh

Edwards is not a shortstop.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
4 years ago
Reply to  realitypolice

And Cronenworth is a 26-year-old drafted out of college back in 2015, who’s yet to take an MLB at-bat. Maybe I’m just being mean, but his breakout 2019 season looks like a probable juiceball fluke to my eyes. We’ll see.

Or to put it another way, 12 months ago Cronenworth was (according to Kilic McLongendaniel) not even worthy of a dismal 35+ prospect ranking. He wasn’t even mentioned among the numerous “others of note” for Tampa, and now he “might be the best 26th man in baseball”? It’s a bit hard to believe that anyone could’ve been THAT far off in their previous estimation of his talent.

4 years ago

Don’t forget to account for the pro-Rays bias, so that means he wasn’t a 30. I am going to go ahead and say that providing very low level RP innings, below average defense and mediocre pinch hitting is not actually valuable… unless the goal is actually to have a 20 man roster.

4 years ago
Reply to  realitypolice

He played 65 games there the last two seasons. He’s playing more 2B now, but it’s not wrong to call him a SS. Good chance he ends up in a utility role with Tampa.

4 years ago
Reply to  Stevil

Why would you want a guy playing SS that isn’t great at it?

4 years ago
Reply to  realitypolice

lol the negative vote on that. I don’t think anyone is really entertaining him as a SS

4 years ago
Reply to  tz

Yeah, I’d expect to see Walls in 2021 as soon as he hits whatever service-time-manipulation milestone that Rays have targeted, since he’ll be on the 40 man at that point. Probably splitting time with Brandon Lowe at 2B, and then sliding over somewhere else to take over for a right-handed player somewhere else (Adames, Arozarena). That is, unless Franco and Brujan–both switch hitters–hit the majors around the same time or earlier and perform, in which case who knows what’s going to happen.

That’s before we get to Lucius Fox (another switch hitter), and Greg Jones ans Xavier Edwards (two guys who are both switch hitters and whose positions are nominally in the middle infield, but whose ultimate homes are unclear and might play multiple positions), and Tyler Frank (another possible righty 2nd baseman). I’d say that Jones and Edwards could be fits in center field, but Josh Lowe is also hanging out there too, so probably we’re looking at another platoon situation. I don’t know exactly what the future holds here, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Margot and/or Kiermaier gone and one of these guys moved to CF full time.

Some of these guys will bust, but this is the first time in a while where it looks like prospects are blocking other prospects who are being blocked by major leaguers. It’s an embarrassment of riches in the middle infield.

Sonny Lmember
4 years ago
Reply to  tz

By the time those guys are ready to contribute in Tampa the team will be running a positionless, NBA style defense with hyper shifting, 2 OF looks, where five or six fielders are essentially SS capable who roam the field. Gonna be great!

4 years ago
Reply to  tz

The Dodgers should show you that above average talent being blocked is in practice nearly impossible

4 years ago
Reply to  tz

Walls plays great defense which can only help him. I can’t think of any tools that he has which are below average except power, and even that could end up average.