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.