The value of young players in baseball has never been higher. Teams are becoming more reluctant to trade top prospects and the importance of the MLB Draft has grown every year.
With that said, here’s part one of my series where I look at each team’s top hitting and pitching prospect, starting with the American League.
(Players have not yet debuted as of 8/23/20)
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: C Adley Rutschman and RHP Grayson Rodriguez
First round picks in 2018 and 2019 lead the way for the Orioles’ system. Rutschman was the top overall pick in 2019 as a switch-hitting catcher with plus tools across the board with the exception of his speed, but he runs well for a catcher. He’s the best catcher drafted in the last 30 years and is probably already the face of the franchise.
Rodriguez was the 11th pick in 2018 out of high school in Texas and has seen his stock rise since entering pro ball. He throws four pitches with his fastball and slider grading as current plus offerings. His changeup and curveball should develop into major league average. At 6’5” 220, Rodriguez certainly looks the part of a future frontline arm.
Boston Red Sox: 2B Jeter Downs and RHP Bryan Mata
Downs was acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts deal. He’s an up-the-middle player who I think fits better at second base. He flashes a power-speed combination as displayed with a 20-20 season last year. Downs should be an above-average hitter that controls the keystone in Boston for the long-term.
Is it too early to put Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter here? While I think Boston will end up with a Top Two pick in the 2021 Draft and will likely add a Vanderbilt hurler next summer, Mata is the answer for now. The 21-year-old from Venezuela is a ground-ball specialist with a power two-seam fastball and has developed a slider that shows signs of becoming a plus offering. He has a changeup and curveball that need refinement to reach his ceiling as a starter but he has the two-pitch power arsenal teams look for in the back of a bullpen.
New York Yankees: OF Jasson Dominguez and RHP Clarke Schmidt
One of the most hyped international prospects in a long time, Dominguez signed for $5.1 million last July and is such a gifted athlete that he’s already drawn comparisons to Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout. He displays potential plus-plus tools across the board and could become a 40-40 center fielder if everything clicks. Assuming a normal minor league season, Dominguez will make one of the most anticipated pro debuts in quite some time next year.
A 2017 first rounder, Schmidt underwent Tommy John surgery and didn’t debut until late 2018. He seemed to be all the way back last season and could see time in the Bronx this summer thanks to three plus pitches and solid control. He should settle in as a mid-rotation starter in the not too distant future.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS Wander Franco and RHP Shane Baz
Franco is the top prospect in baseball. He’s going to play up the middle and he’s an elite hitter with developing power who doesn’t strike out. He’s got above-average speed with plenty of arm strength to stick at shortstop, at least in the short-term. This is a player who should compete for batting titles and MVPs.
Baz came from the Pirates in the Chris Archer trade. A 2017 first rounder, Baz is the classic high-risk, high-reward prep arm because of electric stuff but sub-par control. He’s primarily fastball-slider with his curveball and changeup as his third and fourth offerings, and he’s now in an organization that’s known for getting the most out of its pitchers.
Toronto Blue Jays: 2B Austin Martin and RHP Simeon Woods Richardson
The fifth overall pick this past June, Martin unexpectedly fell to Toronto who gladly took what was considered to be the best pure hitter in the class. The Vanderbilt product uses his lightning-quick hands and feel for the barrel to square up balls and spray line drives across the field. Drafted as a shortstop, I think he fits best at second base and he could ultimately wind up in center field.
Woods Richardson was acquired from the Mets in the Marcus Stroman trade and I think Toronto came away with a steal. He has a higher floor than most prep arms with an advanced feel to pitch and present plus command. His fastball is in the low-90s but it plays up due to his elite extension. He throw a slider and curveball that are ahead of his changeup and he has the chance to pitch near the top of a rotation.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: 1B Andrew Vaughn and LHP Garrett Crochet
Vaughn won the Golden Spikes Award as a sophomore and was selected third overall last summer despite being an undersized, right-right first baseman. Vaughn is such a good hitter for both average and power that the unique profile doesn’t matter. He’s going to shoot up the White Sox system and join that young, dynamic lineup in a hurry.
Crochet was picked 11th overall this June and could have went higher had there have been a full college season. The White Sox did not shy away and as a 6’6” southpaw with a power fastball-slider combination and a funky arm action, he is very reminiscent of Chris Sale, who they fast-tracked to the big leagues in the bullpen and then let him loose as a starter. Crochet could follow a similar track to the South Side.
Cleveland Indians: SS Tyler Freeman and RHP Daniel Espino
This was a tough call for me but I went with Freeman over Nolan Jones because he can play up the middle. I think this is at least the short-term replacement for Francisco Lindor until Brayan Rocchio pushes him over to second. He has elite bat-to-ball skills and has a high baseball IQ which makes up for his average speed on the bases and in the field. Not the highest ceiling, but a very high floor as a solid everyday player.
Espino has electric stuff and is rather polished for a high school arm. The 2019 first rounder has a four pitch mix highlighted by an upper 90s fastball and a power slider. Some scouts don’t love his long arm action and there’s not a lot of physical projection remaining, but the present stuff is plenty good enough. His command will determine his ceiling.
Detroit Tigers: 1B Spencer Torkelson and RHP Matt Manning
The top overall pick in June, Torkelson is considered to be the best offensive prospect drafted in nearly two decades and should be quick to the big leagues with the ability to hit for plus average and power. He was drafted as a third baseman but he played first at Arizona State and that’s where he’s comfortable at. The bat is going to carry him regardless where he plays.
With Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal recently making their debuts, Manning is the next man up and he’s no slouch himself. The 6’6” right hander was the ninth pick in 2016 has three above average pitches with a fastball that touches 97, a curveball that has sharp, breaking action and a changeup that continues to improve. He still has room to grow into his body and there could more untapped potential in what could become a frontline starter.
Kansas City Royals: SS Bobby Witt Jr. and LHP Asa Lacy
Witt is everything a team looks for in a top prospect. The second pick in 2019 was considered to be the best shortstop prospect drafted in three decades thanks to his elite tools across the board and plus-plus makeup. Witt should become the face of the Royals very soon as a five-tool superstar shortstop.
Lacy was considered to be the top arm in this summer’s draft and the Royals were thrilled to see him on the board at No. 4. A 6’4” southpaw with three potential plus-plus offerings with his fastball, slider and changeup, the only question with Lacy will be his command, which can be an issue if he doesn’t get hitters to chase out of the strike zone like he did in college. But a lefty with that build and arsenal are rare to find, and he instantly becomes the top arm in a Kansas City system chock-full of them.
Minnesota Twins: SS Royce Lewis and RHP Jhoan Duran
The top overall pick in 2017, Lewis reached Double-A last year before winning the Arizona Fall League MVP. He has a high leg kick that can disrupt his timing at the plate, but when he’s right he makes consistent contact and should develop more power as he continues to fill out. He has plus-plus speed that he uses in the field and on the bases. Drafted as a shortstop, he’s played other positions in pro ball and the versatility should help him crack what is a deep Twins lineup relatively soon.
Duran came from Arizona in the Eduardo Escobar deal and features a power fastball that often reaches triple digits and sits in the high 90s. His breaking ball, a low 90s splitter, dives off the table and induces a lot of ground balls. He’s improved the curveball to the point where he has a chance to stick in the rotation.
American League West
Anaheim Angels: OF Brandon Marsh and LHP Reid Detmers
With Jo Adell getting called up, Marsh takes over as the top offensive prospect in the Angels’ system. The 2016 second rounder might not be too far behind as a left-handed hitter that improved his approach, leading to a big second half and Arizona Fall League. He’s a good athlete with plus speed that can stick in center field, but he has a plus arm that will play well in an outfield corner.
Detmers made perfect sense for the Angels, who selected him tenth overall in June. He’s a southpaw who is praised for his pitchability, strong off-speed stuff and plus command. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he commands it well and his curveball is his best offering. He shouldn’t need too much seasoning before giving the Angels a much-needed mid-rotation starter.
Houston Astros: SS Freudis Nova and RHP Alex Santos
Nova was signed in July 2016 for $1.2 million and has tools galore, especially in the field. He has a plus-plus arm that can made all the throws from shortstop. He’s lost a step but still has good speed and can play anywhere up the middle or third base. He’s got some swing and miss to his game but displays plus raw power when he makes contact.
The Astros didn’t pick until 72 overall this June, but they got a good one in Santos. The Bronx, NY prep hurler has a mid 90s fastball with good riding life up in the zone and flashes a plus curveball that sits in the upper 70s. He has a feel for a changeup and has an ideal pitcher’s body that can make scouts envision a future mid-rotation starter.
Oakland A’s: SS Robert Puason and RHP Daulton Jeffries
Puason was a big international ticket last July, signing for $5.1 million. He oozes upside with a wiry 6’3” frame that has tons of athleticism and physical projection. He’s a definite shortstop who can really run, throw and defend up the middle. A switch-hitter, he has a line drive swing and should grow into more power as he matures.
With Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk in the majors, Jeffries is the next man up. He’s dealt with adversity as Tommy John surgery kept him off the mound for nearly two seasons, but he’s performed when healthy. He has great command, as evidenced by his nine walks in 73 innings last summer. He doesn’t have “wow” stuff, but he’s got the arsenal and command you look for in a big league starter.
Seattle Mariners: OF Jarred Kelenic and RHP Emerson Hancock
Seattle fleeced the Mets when they acquired Kelenic, who has rocketed up the Mariners’ system in his first pro season last summer. He has an excellent approach at the plate with a sweet left-handed swing that uses the entire field. He barrels the ball up consistently and is showing a good amount of in-game power already. He’s a plus runner that can impact the game on the bases and he should be able to remain in center field, but he has a plus arm should he need to move to a corner. Kelenic is a very well-rounded player that the Mariners hope to build their franchise around.
I believe Hancock was the best pitcher in this summer’s draft. He’s got four potential plus offerings but his command is much farther ahead than Lacy’s and while I’d take the lefty all things equal, I think Hancock’s command and mechanics are a lot better. Seattle got a steal at No. 6 and they can add him atop the solid college pitching depth they’ve drafted the past three years.
Texas Rangers: 3B Josh Jung and RHP Hans Crouse
The ninth pick in the 2019 Draft, Jung was one of the more advanced college bats in the class. He’s going to hit for average and power and is athletic enough where he should be able to stick at third base, at least in the short term.
Crouse was one of the more electric prep arms in the 2017 Draft and he’s quickly emerged as the top arm in the Rangers’ system. His fastball and slider are both plus pitches. The fastball sits in the mid 90s and touches 99 while the slider has sharp break. His curveball and changeup are behind the other two offerings. He’s had some difficulty staying healthy and there is a lot of moving parts in his delivery, but he definitely has the highest ceiling out of any pitcher in this system.
(Cover Photo: Allie Goulding/Tampa Bay Times)