There’s that old adage: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. While first impressions are crucial, finishing strong can be just as important.
From a development standpoint, that’s certainly true. Ending a long season on fire can help a young player springboard into next year and beyond, and it’s exciting to see prospects really figure things out as a year goes on. The Minor League season isn’t over yet, but if the last month is any indication, the 30 hitters below are ready to end things on a very high note.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Rikelbin De Castro, SS (No. 15)
Signed for $1.2 million out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019, De Castro is finally getting his first taste of the pros this summer, and he's ending on a strong note. He owns a .432/.553/.676 line with six extra-base hits and a near-even 9/8 K/BB ratio over his last 12 games with the Blue Jays’ Florida Complex League affiliate. De Castro earns his best grades on the defensive side, but his quick swing gives him the potential to be above-average with his hit tool as well.
Orioles: Colton Cowser, OF (No. 5/MLB No. 80)
The No. 5 overall pick in this year’s Draft didn’t waste any time getting settled in pro ball on Aug. 2, kicking things off in the Florida Complex League with five multi-hit games in a row. After just seven games there, he moved up to full-season ball and he’s hit in all 12 games since the promotion, heading into Thursday’s action. All told, the outfielder has a robust .394/.523/.530 line with more walks than strikeouts over his first 19 games.
Rays: Ford Proctor, C/INF (No. 30)
Proctor’s main focus in 2021 has likely been his move from the dirt to behind the plate, an idea he brought to the Rays last year. He’s holding his own at the new position while still getting looks at short and third, and this finishing offensive kick has only helped keep him afloat in a deep Rays system. The 24-year-old is hitting .282/.386/.535 with four homers, one triple and four doubles over 21 games at Double-A Montgomery since Aug. 1. Two of those homers came Tuesday alone in his first career multi-homer game.
Red Sox: Nick Yorke, 2B (No. 4)
The Red Sox may have surprised other teams when they made California high school product Yorke the 17th overall pick in the 2020 Draft, but he has proven worthy of that selection in his pro debut as a 19-year-old. He batted just .195 in May but has hit .382 since, including .429/.509/.813 with nine homers in 23 games during the last month. He's demonstrating some of the best pure hitting ability in the Minors with a .334/.421/.523 line, 12 homers and 11 steals in 83 games between Low-A and High-A.
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 15)
One of 2021's top breakout performers isn't letting up, as Volpe batted .268/.392/.561 with six homers in 22 August games. A 2019 first-round pick from a New Jersey high school, he has at least solid raw power, speed to match and a high baseball IQ. He's hitting .300/.432/.608 with 22 homers and 28 steals in 92 games between Low-A and High-A and ranks first in the Minors in runs (97) and second in OPS (1.041).
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: George Valera, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 67)
Valera's bat earned him a $1.3 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 and has been sizzling during the last month, producing a .302/.475/.628 line with nine homers in 27 games, including four multi-hit efforts in his first eight contests in Double-A at age 20. His sweet left-handed swing has translated into a .266/.428/.533 season with 17 homers and 10 steals in 71 games between High-A and Double-A.
Royals: Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B (No. 18)
Even Kansas City has been impressed by the 2019 11th-rounder’s breakout campaign, and a July promotion to Double-A has done little to slow Pasquantino down. He’s hitting .425/.494/.712 with three homers and 12 doubles in 21 games since Aug. 7. In fact, he has more two-baggers than strikeouts (nine) in that span, and he’s also walked 11 times. His 58 extra-base hits rank second in all the Minors. Sure, we could mention Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto or MJ Melendez -- all of whom have an OPS above 1.000 in the last 30 days -- but most readers know those Top 100 prospects. It’s about time they knew Pasquantino too.
Tigers: Ryan Kreidler, SS (No. 10)
On Aug. 16, Detroit promoted three prospects from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene were the headliners. Kreidler, however, has been stealing the show. The 2019 fourth-rounder is hitting .383/.474/.596 with two homers and four doubles over 15 games since joining the Mud Hens. It was already promising that the Tigers had pushed the former UCLA standout to the Minors’ highest level in his first true taste of full-season ball. That he is performing like this is even more encouraging.
Twins: Yunior Severino, 2B/3B (No. 27)
The Twins challenged the 21-year-old infielder with a push from Low- to High-A near the end of July and, boy, has he responded. In 24 games since Aug. 1, he’s hit .344/.427/.490. The stretch was highlighted by a 12-game hitting streak that featured three four-hit games.
White Sox: Romy Gonzalez, SS (No. 21)
A previously unheralded 18th-round pick from the University of Miami in 2018, Gonzalez earned his first big league callup by batting .326/.389/.686 with eight homers in 23 August games. He doesn't have loud tools, but he does possess plus raw power and an aggressive approach that have translated into a .275/.357/.525 line with 23 homers and 22 steals in 87 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Arol Vera, SS (No. 6)
The 18-year-old Vera is showing what all the fuss was about when the Angels signed him for $2 million in July 2019, hitting his way out of the Arizona Complex League and up to full-season ball at the end of August. He’s hit a very respectable .286/.345/.416 during this time span, hitting .317/.384/.469 in the ACL before he got promoted.
Astros: Joe Perez, 3B (No. 10)
Finally getting a chance to play regularly after Tommy John surgery in 2017 (when he was a second-rounder out of a Florida high school), some soft-tissue injuries and the cancelled 2020 season, Perez has responded by batting .294/.356/.507 with 17 homers in 92 games while rising from Low-A to Double-A. He struggled in his first month in Double-A but raked in his second, hitting .313/.371/.554 with six homers in 27 games.
Athletics: Lawrence Butler, 1B/OF (No. 22)
Butler, a sixth-round pick in 2018, is currently on the injured list, but he was really starting to learn how to tap into his raw power this year. And in his 17 games in August before getting hurt, he was swinging the bat particularly well, with a .304/.380/.536 line. There’s still swing-and-miss to deal with, but his K rate was down in August (25.3 percent to lower his season rate to 33.1 percent). He also swiped nine bags in August and is three homers shy of joining the 20-20 club.
Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
J-Rod didn’t return from the Olympics until Aug. 14, but it’s clear his time in Japan energized him. Since coming back, the 20-year-old outfielder has dominated Double-A competition to the tune of a .411/.542/.536 line. In that 16-game span, he’s drawn 16 walks and struck out just nine times while also stealing seven bases. He’s hitting a combined .336/.446/.552 across two levels in 2021.
Rangers: Dustin Harris, 1B/3B (No. 17)
An 11th-round pick by the Athletics out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) JC in 2019, Harris came to the Rangers in the Mike Minor trade last year and has been a revelation in his first full pro season, hitting .330/.406/.543 with 17 homers and 24 steals in 96 games between Low-A and High-A. He has been better than ever in the last month, batting .418/.465/.747 with eight homers in 24 contests.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 40)
Quick shout out to 2021 fifth-rounder Luke Waddell, who’s gone straight to full-season ball and posted a .952 OPS to start his career, but Pache’s resurgence after struggling for much of the year could benefit the Braves more right now. Since Aug. 1, Pache has hit .321/.391/.513 over 21 games, well-timed if the Braves want to call him up for the stretch run in Atlanta.
Marlins: Peyton Burdick, OF (No. 15)
A 2019 third-round pick out of Wright State, Burdick looks like a steal after slamming 31 homers in his first 165 pro games. He has big raw power and has adjusted well to Double-A pitching in his first full pro season, batting .338/.446/.597 with five homers in 21 games over the last month. He's hitting .228/.373/.466 in 96 games overall and leads the Double-A South with 67 runs and 70 walks while ranking third with 20 homers.
Mets: Khalil Lee, OF (No. 8)
New York just called up Lee as part of September roster expansion, so the team clearly appreciates how hot he’s been of late. The 23-year-old outfielder reached base at a .464 clip in August, giving him the fourth-best OBP at Triple-A during the month. His .981 OPS was ninth-best at Triple-A East in the same span. As stellar as those recent numbers are, they’re only slight bumps over what he’s accomplished for the season. Lee’s .450 OBP (with a boost from his Triple-A-best 19.7 percent walk rate) ranks second-best among all Minor League qualifiers in 2021. He could stand to get the ball off the ground more to benefit more from his power, but Lee earned his callup by being a well-above-average Triple-A hitter on the whole, especially of late.
Nationals: Brady House, SS (No. 4/MLB No. 58)
There are strong first impressions, and then there is what House has done since Washington took him 11th overall in July. House has gone 9-for-25 (.360) over his first six games in the FCL. Three of those nine hits have been home runs, giving him the second most in the league since he debuted on Aug. 23. Two have been doubles. Although it’s a small sample, House’s .800 slugging percentage speaks to the plus-power potential that made the right-handed slugger a top 2021 Draft prospect in the first place.
Phillies: Bryson Stott, SS (No. 2)
The idea of the 2021 Futures Gamer in hitter-friendly Reading sounded good when he got promoted to Double-A in the beginning of June. It took him a little while to find his groove, but, boy, did he in August, with a .408/.447/.660 line thanks to 16 multi-hit performances. That’s enabled the 2019 first-round pick to up his season totals to .303/.387/.510 with 15 homers.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Joey Wiemer, OF (No. 23)
A new level is supposed to be hard. No one seems to have told Wiemer that. The 22-year-old outfielder went 14-for-21 (.667) with four homers in his last five games at Low-A Carolina. Since his debut with High-A Wisconsin on Aug. 11, Wiemer has kept his bat hot with a .373/.434/.761 line and seven blasts over 18 games. His 1.195 OPS is the highest at High-A Central in that timespan. Wiemer can swing for the trees, leading to some swing and miss, but the Brewers said they’re willing to ride out this approach so long as it works for him. It definitely is working right now.
Cardinals: Juan Yepez, 1B (No. 27)
No one has mashed more than Yepez since the beginning of August. No, really. His .763 slugging percentage and 1.217 OPS over 24 games for Triple-A Memphis each lead all full-season Minor League qualifiers since Aug. 1. Eighteen of his 29 hits have gone for extra bases in that span (seven homers, 11 doubles), and he’s accomplished all that while walking more times (14) than he’s struck out (13). Yepez has primarily played first base since joining Memphis, putting him behind Paul Goldschmidt on the depth chart, but he’s certainly hitting enough to get attention from St. Louis brass.
Cubs: Nelson Velazquez, OF (No. 30)
Velazquez has some of the best raw power in the Cubs system and has made the most of it during the last month, hitting .325/.402/.714 with seven homers in 22 games, mostly in Double-A. Drafted in the fifth round out of a Puerto Rico high school in 2017, he's batting .276/.340/.512 overall with 18 homers and 13 steals in 89 contests between High-A and Double-A.
Pirates: Nick Gonzales, 2B (No. 4/MLB No. 66)
The month of August was very, very good for the Pirates’ top pick in the 2020 Draft. The infielder hit .364/.419/.757 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs in 24 games. He finished off the month with a three-homer game on Aug. 29 and two more on Aug. 31 and now carries a season line of .303/.369/.567.
Reds: Rece Hinds, 3B (No. 8)
Injuries, including a June meniscus tear that kept him off the field for two months, have hampered Hinds’ ability to show off the offensive upside that made the Reds take him in the second round of the 2019 Draft. Since he came back on Aug. 7, both during his rehab games in the Arizona Complex League and back in full-season ball, Hinds has been swinging a hot bat, with a .303/.365/.742 line. Of his 20 hits, 14 have been for extra bases, including six homers.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Alek Thomas, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 42)
The 21-year-old outfielder opened August by going 17-for-52 (.370) with four homers in his final 12 games at Double-A Amarillo before earning a bump to Triple-A Reno. He’s barely lost a step with the Aces. Thomas is hitting .341/.426/.537 with five extra-base hits in 10 games at the highest Minor League level, showing off the plus hit tool that has helped make him a Top 50 overall prospect. His surge has been a bright spot for D-backs fans who could very much use one in 2021.
Dodgers: Miguel Vargas, 3B (No. 6)
The son of legendary Cuban slugger Lazaro Vargas, Miguel signed for $300,000 in 2017 and demonstrates some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the Dodgers system. He has mashed at a .394/.454/.596 clip with five homers in 27 Double-A games over the last month, boosting his season line to .319/.386/.523 with 20 homers in 104 contests between that level and High-A.
Giants: Jairo Pomares, OF (No. 9)
Known more for his hitting ability than his power coming into the year, Pomares swatted three homers in his 51-game pro debut in 2019 but has 17 in 65 contests this year between Low-A and High-A despite missing the first six weeks with back issues. A Cuban signed for $975,000 in 2018, he has batted .362/.389/.619 with six homers in 27 games during the last month to improve his 2021 line to .357/.404/.659. His slugging percentage and 1.082 OPS would rank second in the Minors if he weren’t a few plate appearances short of qualifying.
Padres: Robert Hassell III, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 46)
Hassell pushed for a promotion by going 20-for-44 (.455) with two homers, six doubles and seven walks in his final 11 games at Low-A Lake Elsinore. He got to a brief slow start at High-A Fort Wayne but quickly put an end to that with a monster three-homer game Wednesday night for his first career multi-homer performance at any level. The 2020 first-rounder’s career is already off to a strong start with a .321/.411/.497 line, 10 homers and 31 steals through 95 games at the two spots, and if he can bump those numbers up with the remaining time at Fort Wayne, the arrow pointing up next to his name only grows larger.
Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 54)
After a somewhat rough introduction to full-season ball for the 2020 first-rounder, Veen has hit consistently well, but he might be saving the best for last. In August, the 19-year-old outfielder posted a .389/.462/.633 line with four homes and 21 RBIs. That brings his first year totals to .306/.402/.519 and he has 15 homers and 32 steals to go along with that slash line.