The abbreviated, wild-ride known as the 2020 MLB season has come to an end and the playoffs are in full swing. Sadly, that means fantasy baseball seasons are finished. And prospects watchers have turned their attention towards the 2021 season.
The 2020 season saw a significant number of key contributions from rookies and, had you been reading Rotoballer all season long, you would have had the opportunity to get in early on the likes of Kyle Lewis, Willi Castro, Tony Gonsolin, Dane Dunning, and many others. The 2020 season provided a constant challenge when predicting rookie successes due to the lack of minor league games and regular performance updates. We also saw some players really thrive in the alternate training environment (Ryan Mountcastle, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Tanner Houck) while others more or less disappeared.
The 2021 season will hopefully begin with traditional, unhindered minor league games but that may be more of a dream than a reality given the current state of the worldwide pandemic. A major overhaul of the minor leagues was also already in the works, which will almost certainly lead to a significantly-reduced number of leagues and opportunities for minor league players. So we will once again see lots of change next season. But be confident in the knowledge that Rotoballer will be here to help you navigate all the changes and the challenges that the 2021 season will bring. For now, let’s have a look at the projected top 50 prospects for 2021.Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Get access to our exclusive articles, rankings, projections, prospects coverage, 15 in-season lineup tools, daily expert DFS research, powerful Research Station, Lineup Optimizer and much more! Sign Up Now!
Top Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball
Analysis on Prospects 1-10
1. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners: Kelenic also recently took top place on Rotoballer’s Top 250 dynasty prospects — wrestling the title away from Wander Franco. The change has nothing to do with what Franco has or hasn’t done but is based solely on the rapidly-increasing hype around the Mariners’ prospect. Kelenic showed a very advanced bat in 2019 and then regularly produced glowing reports out of Seattle’s alternate training site. We might be witnessing the rise of the next Mike Trout.
2. Wander Franco, SS, Rays: If the minor league season had played out as expected, I have no doubt that Franco would have arrived in the Majors by mid-2020. In the end, though, the season didn’t work out the way we expected and he spent the year at the club’s alternate training site and the club never had the need to call on him after running away with the American League East title. Still, Franco was added to the club’s postseason roster as a 19-year-old, which goes to show how highly the club thinks of him and, likely, how close to the Majors he is.
5. Triston McKenzie, SP, Indians: After not pitching for a year-and-a-half, I had no idea what to expect from McKenzie in 2020. But then he went and acted like nothing had changed and dominated big league hitters. His average fastball velocity was down from his early days but he showed good command of his four-pitch repertoire.
6. Nate Pearson, SP, Blue Jays: Pearson was poised to have a significant impact on the Blue Jays in 2020 but never looked quite right and ended up hitting the injured list with an elbow issue. He returned at the end of the year and hit 101 mph on the radar gun while working in the bullpen. If he can stay healthy in 2021, Pearson has a huge ceiling with premium velocity, a deep repertoire, and above-average command/control.
7. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals: Carlson was a player that entered 2020 with a lot of hype and I cautioned fantasy managers to proceed cautiously. Indeed, the young hitter struggled, although he looked better during his second stint in the Majors late in the season. The invaluable experiences and growing pains in 2020 should help Carlson start to put things together for a solid 2021 season.
8. Ryan Mountcastle, OF, Orioles: Of all the players to debut in the Majors in 2020, Mountcastle is the one player that I was most wrong about. But the player that entered the club’s alternate training site in June is not the same player that exited en route to the Majors in late August. He significantly improved his approach at the plate and became more patient which helped his natural skill shine. With that said, I remain somewhat skeptical that he’ll maintain these changes over a full season and he’s benefitted from strong, likely unsustainably-high, BABIPs over the past two seasons. He’s likely worth the risk if the investment cost is relatively low.
10. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates: Like Mountcastle above, Hayes was another player that really benefited from the alternate training site environment. He was a player that was always loaded with potential but — as the son of a former MLB player — he perhaps didn’t take things as seriously as he should have in the minors. Under the regular watchful eye of the developmental staff, Hayes turned his above-average, athletic potential into a well-rounded package of skills. He should continue to hit for a strong average (although the almost .500 BABIP won’t continue) and pepper line drives all over the field but he needs to continue to work to hit more fly balls.
Analysis on Prospects 11-30
12. Randy Arozarena, Rays: Arozarena was a player that I ranked more aggressively than the consensus but even I was surprised by his power outburst in 2020. On the downside, it came with a significantly increased strikeout rate but he still managed to produce a (legitimate) high batting average. Arozarena has enough speed to be considered a 20-20 threat but he’s struggled with his success on the base paths.
13. Jo Adell, OF, Angels: Adell’s highly-anticipated MLB debut was a dud. The talented young outfielder battled serious contact issues and ended the season with an ugly BB-K of 7-53 in 37 games. He will likely need some additional seasoning before getting his next shot at The Show.
18. Garrett Crochet, P, White Sox: The fireballing Crochet averaged 100 mph on his heater during his five-game MLB trial and clearly has a sky-high ceiling. But it also came in the bullpen. The White Sox will likely want to see what the young pitcher can do in the starting rotation so he could spend some time back in the minors in 2021 while polishing his secondary stuff and building up stamina.
19. Alejandro Kirk, C, Blue Jays: I had Kirk ranked aggressively in 2020 due to his strong offensive showing in the minors and he had no issues acclimatizing to big-league pitching in a small sample. The roly-poly hitter may not have an overly long career given his physique but he could provide some real pop in 2021 for a club that received poor offensive results from its catchers in 2020.
20. Brent Rooker, OF, Twins: Rooker was a player that I expected big things from — if he could fight his way through the Twins’ impressive outfield depth. It took some time but he made his debut in the second half of the season but his year ended soon thereafter thanks to a broken arm after being hit by a pitch. In seven games, Rooker produced a 161 wRC+ and I expect strong offensive production in 2021 (if he can stop getting hit by pitches).
21. Dane Dunning, SP, White Sox: Dunning is another player that I had tagged as an intriguing sleeper heading into 2020 — although after missing all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, no one really knew what to expect from him. The club usually favors fireballers on the mound but this right-hander’s fastball averages just 92 mph. Dunning succeeds thanks to above-average command/control along with a deep repertoire.
23. Andres Gimenez. SS, Mets: The Mets have some depth at the shortstop position throughout the system and Gimenez tended to get lost in the shuffle at times because of his reputation as a good fielder but a modest hitter. He more than held his own as a near-average MLB hitter as a 22-year-old rookie and may have more untapped offensive potential than we thought.
25. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, White Sox: The White Sox entered 2020 with a very top-heavy minor league system that lacked depth but had the potential to graduate a number of big-league players with star potential. Vaughn is the last of that stud group remaining in the minors (although you could argue for Michael Kopech, too) but it shouldn’t take long for him to reach the Majors in 2021. He has a very well rounded offensive approach and should hit for both average and power while providing strong on-base numbers.
27. Tanner Houck, SP, Red Sox: Houck arrived late in the season and gave Red Sox fans some hope for the future after struggling throughout much of his minor league career. After looking like he might be headed for a future in the bullpen after 2019, the young right-hander rebounded at the alternate training site and looked much better when he arrived in the Majors. There are still some concerns that his repertoire is not deep enough to be an impact arm as a starter but he’s earned an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
28. David Peterson, SP, Mets: Peterson hung on to his rookie eligibility by a third-of-an-inning. The 2020 version of this young lefty was exactly what we expected: A solid-but-unspectacular arm capable of soaking up innings as a No. 4 starter.
Analysis on Prospects 31-50
31. Daulton Varsho, OF/C, Diamondbacks: Arizona gave Varsho an opportunity to play at the MLB level in 2020 but inconsistent playing time played havoc with his offensive results. If he gets a fair shot at playing regularly in 2021, this athletic fielder could be a valuable player with his catcher eligibility. He has 15-15 (HR-SB) potential.
33. Reid Detmers, SP, Angels: Detmers could be the second player from the 2020 amateur draft to reach the Majors. The Angels desperately need reliable starting pitching and this young hurler was considered the most advanced arm at the time of the draft. His command/control skills are more impressive than his raw stuff but he has mid-rotation potential.
37. Tyler Stephenson, C, Reds: With incumbent backstop Tucker Barnhart likely pricing himself out of a return to Cincinnati (unless he takes a massive pay cut after the Reds decline his option), the starting gig in 2020 should go to Stephenson. The rookie catcher showed flashes of his offensive potential in 2020 but needs to keep the strikeouts in check.
41. Luis Patino, SP, Padres: People are going to underrate Patino after his up-and-down MLB debut, which was spent mostly in the bullpen. But he has an electric arm and was only 20 years old during his debut season. He might not truly take off until 2022 but there’s a chance that we see a much improved MLB contribution as early as next year.
42. Daniel Lynch, SP, Royals: This past season, we saw a number of the talented, young arms that the Royals have been developing. Other than Asa Lacy, Lynch may have the highest ceiling of the impressive group but he’s had issues staying healthy. This lefty shows good velocity, potentially above-average control, and a deep repertoire.
43. A.J. Puk, P, Athletics: Puk would be much higher if I had any faith in his ability to stay healthy. It’s also looking more and more likely that he’ll end up in the bullpen. If he can stay on the mound, Puk has the stuff to be an impact pitcher but he comes with significant risk.
44. Dean Kremer, SP, Orioles: Kremer’s been a favorite sleeper of mine for a couple of years now and he looked good in his first face of MLB action despite struggling a bit with his control. He has just average, or slightly-above-average stuff, but hitters don’t get a good look at him which leads to above-average strikeout rates.
48. Brendan Rodgers, 2B, Rockies: Injuries continue to play havoc with Rodgers’ career — specifically a 2019 shoulder injury that cropped up again in 2020 (although the club downplayed the severity of it). If he can find some durability, this former first-round pick still has offensive potential, although it likely takes a hit if he ends up with a different club.
50. Royce Lewis, OF/IF, Twins: Lewis is still riding the hype from being the first-overall selection in the 2017 draft. He’s still young (21 years of age) but had a disappointing offensive season in 2019 and then spent the 2020 season at the alternate training site. Lewis has speed and defensive versatility but he hasn’t hit for average since low-A ball and he also has yet to tap into his raw power.
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