A few weeks ago, I ran into a white-haired “scientist” trying to sell me a souped-up DeLorean. He was on the run from some Libyans, he said, and figured his best move was to cover his tracks. Said the car could travel through time but had just enough gigawatt juice left for one round trip.
I didn’t have much scratch on hand so had to trade my own car in the exchange but figured, hey, let’s go back and fix this Corona thing.
Then I remembered the butterflies. What if I made it worse? Who would I even talk to? So many Ashton Kutcher-esque variables.
If you’re reading this in quarantine, you know I chickened out. Flashed forward instead to next March and watched baseball. In this article, I’ll discuss what I saw and how I built the 2021 top 100 I posted on Wednesday.
|32||Bobby Witt Jr.||SS||KC||2023|
One of my big takeaways from this: the future is tricky. If you thought it was weird when Michael J. Fox almost hooked up with his mom, imagine him flashing forward and meeting his granddaughter. Something about that feels a little less wacky go lucky, no?
Estimated times of arrival didn’t even help much, given how long it takes a pitcher to log 50 innings. Hitters are a little easier, but it’s still commonplace for a guy like Mike Trout to debut one year, play 46 games and remain prospect eligible the next.
In that light, players like Cristian Pache and Drew Waters are tough to peg in part because the Braves are deep and good. Pache could graduate on service days for defense, but neither seems an easy bet to get 130 at bats.
Luis Patiño and Jeter Downs should be ready for the jump this year but are dependent on their clubs staying in the race enough to risk a prime age season. Even if that happens, I have a hard time seeing either get much 2020 run without a wave of injuries, which, I hate to say, seems like an inevitability as everyone tries to ramp up again and play real games after this unique cool down.
Edward Cabrera and Monte Harrison would be near locks to burn through their eligibility any other season. As is, they get a little bump for Spring Training 2021 proximity (and/or coffee cups well drunk).
Note about Skubal: he was a must get for me this draft season despite a lot of reasons to not expect much this year. I’ve always been higher than the field on him but realized during draft season that I like him as much as any pitching prospect. Mostly, I realized the idea of missing out on him causes me anxiety, while I don’t mind missing out on the Dusin Mays and Brendan McKays of the world.
MacKenzie Gore was among the closest calls. Maybe he won’t cross the 50 inning mark, but for the purposes of this exercise, I decided it was best to graduate him—in part because you have a pretty good feel for his value of you’re reading this, so it doesn’t help much to drop him into the top ten and in part because if he falls short, I think it’ll be a 40-plus innings case like Mitch Keller or McKay.
Yoelqui Cespedes could make more money in Japan than he can through the international portal but has been declared a free agent eligible to sign in the states and belongs on the list until we know more.
Oscar Colas is an enigma, and I don’t feel great about my ranking. I hope he’s not developed as a two-way player because I think he’s more valuable to our game with the bat. I have zero confidence in my read on him or Céspedes, but I think Colas looks like a monster at the plate.
Tomoyuki Sugano might be posted for his age 31 season. He’d been Japan’s best pitcher before a down year in 2019 and would find himself safely in Lindblom land if posted.
Angel Martinez would’ve made the list in a normal season, but the backlog blocks him.
I had omitted Heston Kjerstad despite his incredible start to the season, but Harley Earl–an expert in Arkansas baseball–convinced me to include him. Thanks Harley!
Part of why I left Kjerstad off was I felt weird about bumping over Hunter Bishop–an elite prospect in the 2019 class. During the week, I decided Bishop might actually play less baseball than Kjerstad in 2020 and that Kjerstad is not (yet) confined to the lefty-bat purgatory that is San Francisco. Bishop still has enticing power-speed upside, but the next lefty to conquer that part will be the first since Bonds. (It might’ve been young Yaz if we’d played 2020 with the juicies).
Before we part, I’ve copied and pasted some of the Reddit conversation around this piece because a few questions were recurring and should be logged here.
Q: I find it hard to find information on when to expect Japanese players to make the move to the MLB. What makes you confident that Yamada will be coming over and playing in the MLB for 2021?
A: Some of it is CBA speculation. Some is Tsutsugo and Akiyama piggyback. Ohtani, too. But Yoshi was the first player posted by the Bay Stars. Feels like a golden age of posting might be underway in part because of the percentage of earnings clause that allows Japanese teams to ring the register year after year if they post a prime-age player.
It’s a little Mookie adjacent, too.
If the player is going to leave when he reaches international free agency after 9 years (age 27-28), and the organization is going to get nothing in return, the business side likes the idea of selling him after 7 or 8 years and setting themselves up to get paid for several seasons.
Going forward, I think it will always be in our best interest to plan for the possibility that truly elite talents like Yamada and Suzuki will be posted. If it doesn’t happen, so bet it, but at least you won’t have traded away a supplemental pick without realizing it could become an immediate MLB regular with instant All-Star potential.
Q: You don’t like Witt Jr I guess?
A: Partly I think it’s gonna be a crazy loaded list. The backlog is going to push some very good players lower on lists than their fan bases would like.
But I would like to see strong results for a high school guy with some swing and miss before I start leaping him above closer guys with similar traits like Jazz and Jeter.
Q: Where are all the young pitchers? (I got questions about Espino, Liberatore, Rodriguez, and more.)
A: If anyone’s hurt the worst by this dead period, I think it’s low-level arms. They tend to climb the ladder along with their innings counts, and a season where nobody tops 100 frames could be devastating to pitchers’ timelines.
And I don’t want to be Chicken Little here, but we might see a rough stretch of injuries if pitchers aren’t very careful about how they handle this period and the ramp up before the season and the season itself. What does it look like to be careful with a young pitcher? Nobody really knows, which isn’t great. Some will throw a lot. Some will throw very little. All feel riskier to me today than they did during the off-season, and they’ve always been risky bets in my eyes.
Thanks for reading! Stay safe out there!
You could follow me @theprospectitch on Twitter if you’re curious.
Hi Itch. Sorry for the late question but…
I am in an 11 team points league we may keep 10 players forever with no penalty (sort of a modified Dynasty format). Typically 100 – 105 players are kept annually.
We are heading into the 20th round of an off-line slow draft. So far, I have a good, competetive team. I’d like to compete now (this year), but as I sit two picks away from my 20th player, Wander Franco is still available. I think Incould squeeze hime into one of my 10 keeper slots ( I have Trout, Story, Alonso, Moncado, Stanton, Vladdy, Abreu, Strasburg, Glasnow and Luzardo)
If he falls to me, should I pull the trigger on Franco?? Thoughts?
Love seeing Yamada, Suzuki, and Kim on this list. Selected them as my last 3 reserve/bench picks and hope they go to an eligible team in the Keeper league im in (AL + CHC STL CIN MIL).
Do you envision Kim being an above average MI or maybe even higher in an OBP league?
Hey, my league is converting from a keeper to dynasty during the covid hiatus and I get first pick in the draft. 14 teams, h2h points league, 5 keepers, so 70 players have been kept. My five keepers are J.D. Martinez, Arenado, Meadows, Correa and Luis Castillo.
The top remaining hitters are bogaerts, rendon, rizzo, machado. On the pitching side the only one that tempts me is max scherzer. But here’s where I’m really hung up, Wander Franco is also out there for the taking. I doubt he’d make it back to me 28 picks later, but would it be worth taking him over more established guys? What would you do?
Seems like a good time to make that switch and a great time to snatch up Wander before valuations start shifting. Might be hard in the moment to him over Bogaerts or Rendon, but I’d be all about locking Wander in for the full run of his career.
In a h2h dynasty league, who do you prefer more long term? Corbin Caroll or Noelvi Marte?
My current crop of prospects on my dynasty team are: Julio Rodriguez (2), Vidal Brujan (5), Luis Patino (23), Jose Garcia (34), Jordan Groshans (53), Robert Puason (54), Brent Honeywell (83) and Ivan Hererra (UR).
I feel that’s a pretty strong group. What says you, Itch?
Agreed: too strong! . . . <- reference to a movie I had to look up:
Has Zack Galifianakis, Will Ferrell, Jason Sudeikis—not amazing, but I’d watch it for a dumb laugh now if I had it.
Haha! Now I gotta watch it.
Hey, by the way, I see the nod you gave to Heston Kjerstad!! Smart move. That young man has a bat that plays!!
Sup Itch, been watching the WBC replay today. It’s a crime we haven’t been able to see Sugano stateside sooner. I’m looking forward to having shared of Yamada everywhere next year.
So with the lower level arms being hurt by this, does this boost polished college arms like Kirby and Lodolo?
Sounds like a party, Coolwhip! Good thinkin! Totally agreed on all WBC-related counts.
And I think that’s right—these lost innings can’t really be made up. Young arms will still make leaps, but I’m thinking of a guy like Brailyn Marquez, who was able to find repetition in his delivery in summer and then hold that evolution across a couple months of season.
If someone’s good enough to make a real skills gain in a compressed season, they won’t have much time to lock in that muscle memory in game action.
Tough spot on both sides, and pitchers get fewer live reps as is.
I was a little surprised Sherten Apostel did not make the list?
Also, I know he has a questionable hit tool, but I am surprised Josh Lowe does not get more attention on these lists?
Yeah I’m not real big into Apostel, compared to the hype.
Same for Lowe.
They’re both interesting; I’m just not in step with the market.
I drafted marte earlier this year. Do you think he has the tools and upside to move even higher than you have him ranked? Dominguez was the prize of my draft. He didn’t make it to me so I was looking for upside for 2022 or so. I passed on oneil cruz because i was more intrigued with finding sb. Do you think marte sticks at ss and do you think marte has more upside than cruz?
The rankings for cruz are also kind of all over the place. Probably due to his height and how that will translate
Marte could definitely land higher than I have him here, in part because he’s already generated quite a bit of hype, and it’ll only get louder if he and Julio hit the ground running in 2020.
Cruz might have the highest topside in the minors. Higher than Marte imo.
Also, I had my draft in H2H. I have a few potential guys I hope breakout. Any sleeper/breakout potential on Jake Bauer, Lewis Brinson, Ramiel Tapia based on spring training.
Everyone seems to be praised this spring for a swing change….ect
Bauer has a nice power/speed combo but anything suggest he puts it together?
Brinson……..like every spring, he does good but then the season begins.
Tapia……playing time is a question, but is the talent there?
I’ve always liked Tapia and believe he’ll have a good fantasy year at some point.
Not a Bauer believer. Bat-to-ball talent determines the ultimate fate of almost every big leaguer, and we’ve seen a lot of him not have the baseline hand-eye he’ll need to succeed.
Brinson is somewhere in between, but I think he’s closer to Jake than Raimel in that he just might not have the hands to hit.
Ji-Hwan Bae. I see him pop up a few times in lists. a top 100 player but what is his comparison?
I see him being only an SB guy so are we talking like 5hr, 30 sb as his potential? IS he better than Taylor Wall from TB?
I’m not real big on comparisons in part bc the best comp for Bae’s topside is probably Ichiro or prime Dee Gordon, which is ridiculous, but it’s not easy to find opposite field approaches with plus plus speed and hit.
The variance comes a bit down to him being unique player that looks unique in the box, so it’s harder to evaluate. Some is due to off-field stuff that has kept him under the radar.
Some are assuming he won’t access power due to the approach.
I think his performance last year after a long layoff is among the most impressive outcomes of 2019, so I’m not about to disregard anything about his talent.
I doubt he gets to much home run power in 2020, but that doesn’t mean he’s forever locked into the approach he used as a rusty player against older pitchers.
I do think he’s better than Walls, upside-wise, but that’s not a knock on Taylor, who’d be more interesting in a different situation.
If you were to re-rank your 2020 prospects, would Hedbert Perez now be ahead of Aaron Bracho?
That’s a tough one.
I think I’d move Bracho for Perez due to Herbert’s five category topside, but I’d love to have both if possible.
Oh and in OBP I’ll take Bracho.
I think he’ll be elite in that category, which makes him extremely good or more in four categories, and that bridges the topside gap for me.
Best-case scenario do you think Vaughn could make a Bellinger-like jump in a couple of years?
Bellinger is pretty close to top of the scale in power and athleticism, and I don’t see Vaughn in that light.
I do think he’s got a better baseline hit tool though and plenty of power to make a big splashy leap like Cody B did as a rookie.
I was laughed at for taking CJ fourth pick in my dynasty draft two weeks ago. Then I took Carrol, Skubal.
Good to know I’ll be laughing last soon.
Thanks for the hard work.
Go get one of those new Deloreans. We should all get a taste of the future.
Dang, that’s a sweet draft!!
And a very enticing vehicle . . . I mean Grrreat Scott!!