Everybody's trying to find the next Ronald Acuña and Luis Robert before they are a thing. I know I am. I'm no prospect guru and won't pretend to be one, but to be an effective Fantasy baseball manager, you have to be in the know when it comes to these top guys. While I don't have the ability to watch or scout these players myself, I rely on a bunch of others who do, so I'd like to imagine I have a pretty good grasp on prospects, at least the ones who are ready to make an impact in 2021.
For today's exercise, I'll be focusing on the top-10 prospects I believe can have an impact in 2021 re-draft leagues and hey, if you have any of these players in dynasty or keeper leagues, get hyped! The prospects I included below have absolutely no MLB experience, so that's why you won't find names like Sixto Sanchez and Ian Anderson on this list. I just wanted to focus on those prospects we haven't seen yet. Also, just because I didn't include the likes of Julio Rodriguez or Spencer Torkelson, doesn't mean I don't like those guys. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I am enamored with both. I just don't think either will have a major impact in 2021.
One look at Wander Franco and it's hard to believe he's just 19 years old. He is far and away the most complete prospect in baseball and should be ready to make an impact in the majors sometime early in the season, let's say a May or June call-up. It's hard to compare anybody to Juan Soto, but those are the vibes I'm getting from Franco except he offers even more speed. You're looking at an 80-grade hit tool, with fantastic plate discipline. The last time we saw him was in High-A ball in 2019, where he managed an 11.7% walk rate to go along with a 6.7% strikeout rate. You read that right… 6.7%! Depending on the news we get in the offseason, I can see Franco settling in around 150 ADP with the chance to climb even higher.
You might want to skip ahead to the next prospect, Mets fans. This one hurts. You've heard the name and seen all the videos, but it sure seems like Jarred Kelenic is ready for his opportunity. Heck, there was even talk he could sneak onto the 2020 roster, but it just didn't make sense given the Mariners' current organizational timeline. Like Franco, you have to consider that Kelenic has accomplished what he has at such a young age. Being this good this young usually means good things for prospects. Kelenic just hit 23 home runs with 20 steals in his age 20 season. That's bonkers. I'm thinking Kelenic can make an Austin Meadows type impact with a few more steals. I would expect a similar ADP to Franco in that 150 range.
Many Fantasy managers, myself included, held MacKenzie Gore all season hoping he would get the call. Instead, the Padres opted for fellow prospect Luis Patiño, and that was because they needed a reliever and wanted to keep Gore on a starter's routine. With Gore, you have a former third overall pick who projects four plus pitches. Think about that. With most pitching prospects, you hope for two plus pitches and an adequate third. Gore projects to have four of those. Also, I realize it's hard to put a prospect of this stature in the Opening Day rotation for 2021 considering he just missed a year of development, but the Padres might be dealing with major injuries to Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger. They might not have a choice. I would expect Gore to be one of the first pitching prospects drafted in re-draft leagues in 2021.
He'll likely need more time in the minors considering he's played just 55 games there, but when the White Sox drafted Andrew Vaughn third overall in 2019, they envisioned him contributing sooner rather than later. With Vaughn, you're looking at a legitimate hit tool coupled with power and plus plate discipline. Imagine Anthony Rizzo from the right side of the plate. The White Sox are clearly ready to compete right now, and I think Vaughn helps them do just that. The soon-to-be 38-year old Edwin Encarnacion has a $12 million club option for 2021, which could easily not be picked up with the hope that Vaughn joins the White Sox as either their first baseman or designated hitter early in the season.
TETSUTO YAMADA, 2B, JPCL
2019 STATS: .271, 102 RUNS, 35 HR, 98 RBI, 33 SB
I'd be lying if I said I consumed Japanese baseball, but I keep hearing about this guy Tetsuto Yamada, and I think the upside is potentially massive if he gets posted by the Yakult Swallows. In Yamada you have a potential five-category second baseman who has been referred to as the "Mike Trout of Japan". The numbers back it up, too. From 2014-2019, Yamada's average season was a .298 batting average with 33 home runs and 26 steals. He actually put together three 30-30 seasons during this span. Of course this all depends on whether Yamada is posted, but it seems like he's keeping his options open.
While it is worrisome Matt Manning was shut down with a slight forearm strain this past August, he should make his debut in 2021 (assuming health). The Tigers have clearly moved into development mode, calling up top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal during the abbreviated season. Some might argue Manning is the best of the three. With Manning, you're looking at a mid-90's fastball, a plus curveball and a developing changeup. The career minor-league numbers speak for themselves with the 3.04 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 410 strikeouts in 331.2 innings pitched. It's not a matter of if but when we see Manning in 2021. We just need confirmation on his health.
You know, it's quite ridiculous that the Rays are already this good, have the top prospect in Franco and another in Vidal Brujan we should be excited about. In Brujan, you have a unique prospect, and one who should instantly have our attention in Roto leagues. Last time Brujan was in action, he stole 48 bases across two different levels with a .346 OBP. Speed is his most tantalizing asset, but he also has a plus hit tool and great plate discipline. Throughout his minor-league career, Brujan has 187 walks vs. 197 strikeouts! He's not like other speedsters in the past where we have to worry about him getting on base. His ETA is projected for 2021, but the Rays just have to figure out where to play all these guys.
It has begun! Shout out to my other Mortal Kombat nerds out there. The Baltimore Orioles have finally started their youth movement as we saw Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin all make their debuts in 2020. That leads me to believe 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman isn't far behind. With Rutschman you're looking at plus hit and power tools, a profile that could immediately be relevant for Fantasy at a weak catcher position. He'd also have one of the most hitter-friendly home ballparks in baseball with an improving lineup around him. My one pause is that he has just 37 minor-league games under his belt, but he'll be 23 years old when the 2021 season starts. I'm not sure he needs much more time down there.
I don't think it would have been crazy to imagine a Ronald Acuña-Christian Pache-Drew Waters outfield at some point in 2021 if the Atlanta Braves had gone to win the World Series. We could have seen them cut back on payroll, opting not to bring back Marcell Ozuna and open up some playing time. Nonetheless, Waters is a unique prospect with tools for days. On the other hand, his interesting power-speed combination comes with poor plate discipline. I can see him potentially being a batting average liability, but his Roto upside is quite tantalizing, especially in that lineup.
Admittedly, this last one is a selfish addition, but one I believe in. Logan Gilbert comes at hitters with a big 6-foot-6 frame and a fastball that regularly sits in the mid-upper 90's. He couples that with an above average slider and changeup that have been effective to this point, albeit not plus pitches. I'm banking on the stellar minor-league production translating to the majors. Through his first 26 pro starts, you're looking at a 2.13 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP with 165 strikeouts over 135 innings pitched. Outside of Marco Gonzales and maybe Justus Sheffield, we know the Mariners are desperate for pitching help. You won't need to draft Gilbert in re-draft leagues, but he's a name to remember as a waiver-wire add if he gets off to a nice start in the minors.