I don’t have some big introductory explanation here. I trust you grasp the premise and intend to skip this paragraph, but if I still have your eyes for the moment, I’ll say I imagine a start-up build for a 15-team, 2-catcher dynasty league when parsing through the lists and try to explain when a player’s value varies based on settings. If you’re in a contention window, your rankings should look a bit different than they’d look on the front end of a rebuild. I’ll flag some players along the way for whom the disparity in value can get especially large from build to build.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to the Top 10 Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball.
And here’s one for the Top 25 Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball.
Prospect lists this season are somewhat reflective of each organization’s ability to publicize its own talent. Seattle has a knack for this, even turning some of that responsibility (and a YouTube show) over to Julio Rodriguez. That said, Marte’s ascent is mostly a result of his own extreme physical gifts as a plus athlete across the board who showed he could hang with near-majors pitching at the training site after some early scuffles. This winter might be the last chance to acquire him at anything less than top-20-prospect pricing.
What to do with Oneil Cruz?
We don’t have all the details from a car accident this off-season that ended the lives of three humans. Seems like he’s clear according to the Pirates and the law, but even in a pure baseball sense, he presents a unique puzzle. He’s a little taller than 6’6” yet dynamic enough athletically to play shortstop and go to the opposite field with a natural-looking flick of the wrists that makes him much harder to strike out than someone so big can be. His regular swings are often beautiful and tremendous in the potential for destroying baseballs. He’s reportedly coming to spring camp but could still be facing some kind of suspension from Major League Baseball, and he’s so incredibly talented he has to remain high on the list. I don’t want to soapbox or presume anything, but Cruz has a lot of work to do as a baseball player, and I hope he can find a healthy balance moving forward.
Drafted in the second round of 2018, Davis bulked up a bit during his first off-season as a professional but maintained his plus-plus athleticism and found himself blasting opposite-field home runs and slashing .305/.381/.525 in the Midwest League, where he was 2.2 years younger than the average player. I think he’ll keep most of his speed as he grows into his man strength, and he’s already demonstrated an adeptness for minor adjustments to help get the barrel through the zone. I’m bullish on his future.
Toronto picked up some windfall profit when Baltimore reached down the board to save money on their second overall pick, pushing some evaluators’ top overall player, Austin Martin, down to fifth after Miami and Kansas City preferred pitchers Max Meyer and Asa Lacy. I’m not quite that high on Toronto’s top pick but do think he was a nice value for them at the five spot. His draft stock was volatile mostly because his defensive home is unsettled. He’s a good enough athlete to play up the middle, but his struggles with accuracy as a thrower have bounced him around the field a bit. I think this issue is among baseball’s toughest to fix. Toronto might try him at shortstop because he’s got good hands, but he might follow his college path to third and then centerfield if he can’t find something that works. An underrated aspect of baseball is just how accurate infielders have to be on throws, and if Martin has just area code accuracy, he won’t play on the dirt. Doesn’t much matter for our purposes, where we care much more about his elite plate skills, plus-plus hit, plus run and average power.
30. SS Tyler Freeman | Cleveland | 21 | A+ | 2021
Few prospects improved their stock during the pandemic. I was going to finish that sentence with “more than Tyler Freeman” but realized mid-flow that it was truer without the tag. Cleveland has better publicly available prospect coverage than just about anyone, and nobody benefited more from our behind-the-curtain access than Freeman because we saw him working extremely hard in several videos throughout the season and then saw him putting that added strength into practice on the field. Simply put, this guy is trying to hit homeruns. All day every day from the looks of it. His stat page is that of a contact-oriented base-stealer, but he’s on track to be something different, and I’m here for it. I’ve been kind of low on Freeman, I think, comparatively, but I really want to see what he looks like in 2021 and will seek to pick up a share or two in anticipation of a little value bump when we see the more muscular version in games.
The #1 overall selection in the 2017 draft, Royce Lewis has been a dynasty Sell for me since he entered the professional ranks. At first this occurred because of the incredible returns I saw him bring despite being several years from helping anyone win. A couple years into his career, he remains a sell for me because he hasn’t figured out how to hit, and I’m afraid it could get brutal when he makes the majors and has to face pitchers who can exploit his myriad weaknesses. I don’t know why he started kicking his leg up like a Rockette before every pitch, but I suspect that’s not helping. He won MVP of the 2019 Fall League as evidence that he can make it work in bursts and might be able to streak his way to decent season stat lines, but the ride will be turbulent.
Maybe I’ve got the pulse of this wrong, but the current price to acquire the Larnach Monster seems right according to my totally unscientific peak into the echo chamber. He’s like a lot of prospects in that he’s resigned to a corner spot, where his plus hit, plus power, plus patience profile is common, which gets punished on most public-facing prospect lists. We’re just doing fantasy here, and while it’s sometimes difficult to sift through the sound and fury, Larnach is an essential and fairly simple case study. His only red flag so far is 27.6 K rate in 43 games at AA. He produced a 148 wRC+ with a .295/.387/.455 triple slash despite the strikeout issue, which brought along a 12.2 percent walk rate.
Some hitters get worse as the game wears them down. Pitchers discover and exploit tendencies. It’s a lot of people’s career to stop you from doing yours. I think Larnach will thrive in this high-intensity setting. Kind of a gut feel thing, but his plate skills, swing mechanics and barrel control give me confidence.
An under-reported side effect of Covid is how many times I’ve wound up writing about the same prospects. Feel like I’ve been talking about Skooby since the mystery machine first gassed up. He’s still a smooth, long-striding lefty with a true-spin four-seamer that plays well atop the zone, a change up he can bury for whiffs, and a curveball he can drop in for strikes, and a slider he can back foot to righties and erase lefties. He’s a buy for me if his team is dissuaded by his fairly bland stats across 32 innings.
The season did not play out as planned for Nate Pearson, but we could say that about everyone, so I think his injury riddled campaign sort of flew under the radar. High velocity pitchers get hurt, so Pearson’s continued inability to stay on the mound would be a huge red flag in a normal off-season. In a Pandemic, it just blends in with all the other despair. I was high on life and Pearson last off-season, but now I wonder how much impact a guy can make coming off an 18-inning season. I mean I still want a guy who can throw 102 miles per hour for an inning. I just don’t want it to cost me a guy who can throw 102+ innings.
Veen is the rare plus-everything type. An uppercut lefty with tremendous explosion, his max-barrel speed of 78.107 mph landed him in the 96th percentile, according to perfectgame.org.
He’s an easy top five pick in first-year-player drafts this winter if you believe he’s good enough to overcome his circumstances, and he is perhaps the highest-upside piece in this year’s amateur draft. On a related note, I think the Rockies need to go the other way with their minor league affiliates, if possible. Most exist in wild offensive environments, except for AA Hartford which skews heavily toward pitching, so they don’t have any neutral home fields on the way up and then they get dropped into Coors. Well, they don’t get dropped in because this front office has little confidence in their own. No offense to Matt Kemp, but it’s a little much to be giving him at bats in a lost season while your young players ride the pine. I only travel this tangent to worry over the main reason to pass on Veen this draft season. I’d still like to have him on all my teams, but it’s weird to be rooting for a front office to get its walking papers.
A 6.99 ERA does not look nice on a baseball card. I was a little worried about Mize’s base level athleticism last year as well as his straightforward delivery. In other words, he’s not an exceptional athlete among big league peers, and his delivery is easy to time and track from the batter’s box. His stuff was so sharp during college that hitters still didn’t stand a chance, and the low minor league bats reacted the same way. We’ll soon see if he can execute consistently against the best in the world, and I’d be happy to have a discounted share or two, but I’m more skeptical than psyched.
Drafted 5th overall out of high school in 2019, Greene is a 6’3” 200 lb lefty who the Tigers jumped straight to the Gulf Coast League, where he dominated for nine games and got promoted again. He held his own for 24 games in the New York Penn League .295/.380/.386 and got promoted to a third level in his draft season—an uncommon path to say the least. Water met its level for Greene in his 24 Midwest League games (.219/.278/.344), but he spent all of 2020 at the training site and remains an incredibly promising, plus hit plus power bat with a chance to stay in centerfield. He’s become increasingly rare for his age-to-level head start given the lost year around the minors.
Marquez has risen in most rankings thanks to his 102 mile per hour fastball from a three-quarters arm slot, but it will be his off-speed that ultimately determines whether his fate is front-end starter or back-end reliever. He’s currently featuring a changeup and hard slider, both of which pair well with his fastball. If he can locate them down and out of the zone, he’ll be a nightmare. I’d like to see him add a cutter and better repeat his delivery from a more stable base, but it feels like nit-picking to worry over these aspects of a young lefty with his arm talent.
Checking in at 126 at bats in 2020, Mountcastle barely qualifies for the list by that metric and just slips under the wonk-tastic guidelines MLB has set for 2021 rookie eligibility, having been promoted one week after the August 14 cut-off date. In a world of Wanders and Kelenics and J-Rods, the Count of Mountcastle makes a smart bet for the next AL Rookie of the Year award. I ranked him third on this list last year but was skeptical of his ability to succeed against top-end spin given his propensity to swing at everything. That tendency changed this year, and Mountcastle started hunting pitches he could damage and laying off those he couldn’t. It’s a small sample size, but it’s the only one we’ve got, and his final line of .333/.386/.492 with a 139 wRC+ was much better than anyone would’ve projected. This Baltimore front office has good coaches and strategies in place, and going forward, I think we’re more likely to see a player closer to the 2020 version with a 7.9 percent walk rate than the 4.3 percent we saw in 2019.
Francisco Alvarez is fun. He’s a fleet-footed catcher with an outstanding swing. Loft and bat speed are not issues. Whatever issues Alvarez might need to solve to make his way up the chain remain a mystery. He’s plus or better at everything baseball, and he’s climbing prospect lists faster than you can say Bobby Bonilla.
A plus-plus defender in centerfield, Cristian Pache will have a long time to learn how to hit big league pitching. Even if he struggles his first few years, his defense should keep him in the lineup. That’s the party line anyway–a story that’s floated Pache’s dynasty value since he stole 32 bases in 2017 against single-A batteries. He’s always been young for his level, so the believers see a lot of topside behind his solid .278/.340/.474 slashline as a 20-year-old in AA. That’s fair. He could certainly be much better than I think he’ll be, which is basically average from a fantasy perspective, about .270 with about 20 homers and ten steals. That player has value in our game, no doubt, but you’ve been able to trade him for big leaguers with better numbers than that the past two years, and you probably wouldn’t have regretted it.
42. OF Erick Peña | Kansas City Royals | 18 | NA | 2025
A 6’3” 180 lb wide receiver type athlete who seems likely to remain in centerfield, Peña will bring elite bat speed and athleticism to his first pro opportunity to generate a stat line in 2021. He’s near the top of a group of buy-now dynasty talents who haven’t hit the stateside circuit. Perhaps you could acquire Jasson Dominguez or Robert Puason in a trade today, but I think you’re better off checking in on the Erick Peña shareholder in your league because the price could be very reasonable for a 2019 FYPD first-rounder. The Cubs are seeking to exploit precisely this pandemic loophole by trading Yu Darvish for three players who’ve yet to debut, and Peña presents you the opportunity to buy a ticket to that party without selling a top-five pitcher.
At 3.5 million, Martinez netted the second highest bonus of his international class, behind only Victor Victor Mesa, who often brings to my mind that theme song from “Sister Sister.” Toronto sent Martinez straight to the Gulf Coast League in 2019, slipping the international circuit altogether to challenge O-Mart in a league where he was 2.5 years younger than the average player. The gamble paid off, as Martinez posted a 150 wRC+ and invited the club to push him again in 2021, where I suspect he’ll open in whatever looks like low A these days.
He’s fast. Maybe an 80, depending how his 5’11” 160 lb frame fills out. He’s also kind of a slap hitter. That’s fine for now, as he still turns on the occasional pitch and will likely trade some contact for power as he ages. With a slash line of .359/.393/.470 (wRC+ 158) as an 18-year-old in Low A, he’s got a little contact to give. Then again, he’s a switch hitter, which tends to take a little longer. By which I mean as one learns the perfect moments to fire and finds the feel for his max-out swing and when to employ that slightly different but considerably more violent and fearless stroke, he gains a level. A switch hitter is very unlikely to find this level from each side at the same time.
For whatever reason (Yankees?), Jasson Dominguez was the first amateur international teenager to garner top-pick type publicity. No offense to his considerable gifts, but that shine was built largely by previous seasons making clear just how valuable these prospects have become. While that rising tide lifted all boats last off-season, this year’s international crop has taken a backseat to draftees. Makes no sense to me. Sure, we have less info about these youngsters, but it’s not like we have a whole lot to go on for all the draft picks, either.
I think Wilman Diaz winds up the best hitter in his international class thanks to elite hands. Preternaturally adjusts bat path to barrel pitches all over the hitting zone. Looks like he’ll navigate top-end velocity as well as any international signing in years. Headed to a top-level development team poised to maximize his talent.
I’m tempted to quote Hobbs again here because I know he’s a big believer in Meyer, a former shortstop with perhaps the best stuff in the 2020 pitcher class. MLB pipeline’s Jim Callis called Meyer the best athlete in the whole draft, and many thought his elite fastball/slider combination would lead Miami to bring him straight to the show. It seems clearer now that they’ll be careful about developing him as a starter, which sounds good to me, given the successes we’ve seen from Gary Denbo and his crew in South Beach.
Kirby moonlights as part of a cartoon fight club death cult but aside from that seems about as safe as young pitchers come. Double-plus command is the carrying tool, activating Kirby’s attacks in all parts of the strike zone and even extending the plate like an aged Atlanta arm from the 1990s as he gains the benefit of the doubt never waking anyone. Can he maintain his training site heat deep into games? Time will tell, but if we see Kirby shoving high nineties in the middle innings early this year, he’ll jump up prospect lists and float his way to Seattle by midsummer.
Boston selected Kopech 33rd overall in 2014 and developed him through 2016, a season he finished by striking out 82 High A hitters in 52 innings (40 percent of batters faced). The Sox were able to flip the 20-year-old Kopech along with Yoan Moncada for Chris Sale, without whom Boston probably doesn’t win the 2018 World Series. From a fantasy standpoint, that didn’t help us at all, of course, but it was ideal outcome for Boston. (I prefer to avoid thoughts of Jose Fernandez due to the sadness, but he’s the real ideal outcome, sadness notwithstanding).
Anyway, we’ve been hype and ready to see Kopech for quite some time, but I think he was wise to sit out 2020. A Tommy John returnee on that wild COVID ride seems like a recipe for trouble. Trouble everywhere anyway I suppose, but I think it enhances his appeal headed into 2021, even if we’d feel a little more confident investing if we’d seen him hit 100 just once. He seemed to find some command just before the elbow popped, and it really all comes down to whether or not he can find it again. Pitching is a mental marathon. Kopech is a uniquely risky play in many ways (he got married and divorced in 2020) but well worth a flier in just about every redraft and dynasty league.
I could say this in every profile: 2020 was bad for everybody. Casas needs at bats as a high school draftee (first round, 26th overall in 2018) with fewer than 500 plate appearances as he enters 2021 at age 21. He’s 6’4” 238 lbs, stands tall in the box and manages the strike zone well. His 23.5 percent K rate as a tall 19-year-old in A ball is impressive when paired with his 11.8 percent walk rate in that first full pro season. The dream outcome here manifests in a plus hit corner infielder with plus-plus power.
Listed at 6’6” 190 lbs, Lynch evokes memories of other string bean lefties and backs up the aesthetics with a dynamic arsenal in support of a high-90’s fastball. What his pitch mix looks like in 2021 might be something of a mystery as Lynch spent 2020 focused on developing a reportedly double-plus change-up. He probably only needs fastball, slider change but still has a cutter and curve in his repertoire. I’m eager to see which will work best against MLB bats and which offering he’ll lean into when the going gets tough. Lynch was likely ready for the big league jump this year and should have a chance to graduate (50+ MLB innings) in 2021.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.