The Minor League season is off and running, giving teams a wide pool of prospects who are vying for an opportunity at the Major League level at some point. Some are knocking on the door already, while others could use this season to force their way onto big league rosters with their performances.
Here is the Minor Leaguer most likely to make an impact in the Majors in 2021 for each American League Central team:
Indians: 1B Bobby Bradley
Top prospect Nolan Jones could easily be the answer for this, as he’ll likely get a shot in the big leagues at first base or the outfield at some point this year, but the bigger impact could be felt from Bradley. The first baseman was called up to the Majors for a brief stint in 2019, hitting .178 with a .600 OPS in 15 games. But at that point, Bradley looked overmatched and overwhelmed. With some more experience under his belt and his weight at (as he described) the perfect number, he could be ready to prove what he can do at the big league level, both offensively and defensively. Cleveland is always looking for any type of offensive boost, and Bradley has certainly showcased his power throughout his Minor League career. In 13 Cactus League games this spring, Bradley hit .303 with a .951 OPS, five doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs. If that can translate to the big leagues, Bradley has the chance to make a big impact for Cleveland in 2021. -- Mandy Bell
Royals: LHP Daniel Lynch
You were thinking this would be Bobby Witt Jr., weren’t you? And the answer could very much still be him, as the Royals' top prospect, per MLB Pipeline, is expected to make his debut in 2021, given that he continues his standout performance from Spring Training and the club has open playing time for him. But we’re going to go with Lynch here because of the weight that pitching depth will have on this season. After being slated to be Triple-A Omaha’s No. 1 starter to start this season, the Royals decided instead to have Lynch make his debut on Monday, when he allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings and showed why he’s their top-ranked pitching prospect. Kansas City's bullpen depth was already being tested with injuries, so it moved Jakob Junis back to the bullpen to open a spot for Lynch, who will stay in the rotation for now. Lynch has an electric fastball and a wipeout slider while also mixing in a curveball and changeup that he can throw for strikes as long as he’s consistent with his fastball command. The 24-year-old will no doubt have ups and downs like any rookie does in the Majors, but having him on the Royals' pitching staff could have a lasting impact on its depth throughout a 162-game season. -- Anne Rogers
Tigers: RHP Matt Manning
The Tigers’ top pick in the 2016 Draft might be in the big leagues already if not for a right forearm strain that shut him down at the alternate training site last summer. He’s expected to make his big league debut sometime this summer, maybe sooner if needed. The 23-year-old had a rough introduction to Triple-A baseball Tuesday night, giving up three home runs in five innings for the Toledo Mud Hens, but he also struck out six. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, but it registered 100 mph in Spring Training contests. Just as important to his arsenal is a tumbling curveball that he can locate for strikes when he’s on. Compared with fellow top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, Manning has had a slower, steadier climb through the system, including 26 starts over two seasons at Double-A Erie. In that time, the former two-sport star and college basketball recruit has refined his pitching delivery and become more of a pure pitcher, one who could end up having the highest upside of the group. -- Jason Beck
Twins: RHP Edwar Colina
The Twins are 0-6 in extra innings, and they've been outscored, 28-3, from the ninth inning on this season. Their bullpen depth is a clear problem -- without clear answers from within. Colina could be part of that solution. The 24-year-old touches triple digits, and he's armed with one of the best sliders in the system, but he had a rough cameo in the big leagues in 2020 and is on the 60-day injured list to open the season with right elbow inflammation.
Colina is throwing once again at the Twins' Minor League facility in Fort Myers, Fla., and once he's both healthy and ready for the Majors, he could have some of the more electric stuff in a Minnesota bullpen that has been the clear weakness of the club so far in '21. He likely won't be a candidate for leverage spots anytime soon, but any big arm to lengthen manager Rocco Baldelli's options appears to be a need in the relief corps at this time. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: OF Yoelqui Cespedes
Céspedes, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 international prospect in the most recent signing class, would be considered a long shot to reach the Majors just months after joining the organization. But the right-handed-hitting outfielder and No. 5 White Sox prospect, per MLB Pipeline, told MLB.com during Spring Training that reaching the Majors is his ultimate goal for the 2021 season. Maybe a long shot is what the White Sox need, with left fielder Eloy Jiménez out five to six months after a late March surgery to repair a ruptured left pectoral tendon and center fielder Luis Robert away from baseball activity for 12 to 16 weeks after suffering a complete tear of his right hip flexor legging out an infield hit this past Sunday.
Left fielder Andrew Vaughn, right-handed pitcher Michael Kopech and left-handed pitcher Garrett Crochet, the team’s top three prospects, per MLB Pipeline, already are contributing to the White Sox as the rebuild has transitioned to title contention. Pitchers such as Jonathan Stiever (No. 7) and Jimmy Lambert (No. 19) or infielder/outfielder Garvin Sheets (No. 12) could see time with the White Sox, but Céspedes’ addition might be the most impactful and would be the most surprising in a jump from Double-A Birmingham. -- Scott Merkin