It’s Moving Week across the Minor Leagues.
In the last few days alone, Top 100 prospects Spencer Torkelson, Hunter Greene, Cade Cavalli and Shane Baz have each been promoted to new levels within the Minors following dominant starts to the 2021 season. Before them, Grayson Rodriguez and Francisco Álvarez also received bumps up the ladder in the last few weeks. After the canceled 2020 campaign left farm systems a bit at sea on where to place their young talent entering this spring, organizations have recently been willing to move some of their best young players in an attempt to find them fresh challenges and opportunities to sharpen their tools.
The promotions have certainly become a trend in the middle of the Minor League season’s second month, and like any good trend, one question follows. Who’s next?
These are some Top 100 prospects who could find themselves promoted within the Minor Leagues (i.e. not to the Majors yet) in the days and weeks ahead:
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles (No. 1, MLB No. 2)
Start with a bang. That is certainly what Rutschman has done in what is technically his first full Minor League season. The switch-hitting backstop is hitting .294/.428/.571 with 10 homers over 34 games for Double-A Bowie while walking and striking out in equal measure (28 times for both). His 171 wRC+ is ninth-best among all Double-A hitters, and his defensive work behinds the plate continues to earn rave reviews. There is an argument for keeping Rutschman in Bowie alongside Rodriguez and DL Hall (more on him later) and maintaining a core of top O’s prospects together to continue to develop chemistry as pitcher-catcher batteries. But at a certain point, Rutschman will need to be tested against Triple-A arms.
Julio Rodríguez, OF, Mariners (No. 2, MLB No. 5)
Only one player aged 20 or younger has a higher wRC+ than Rodríguez’s 179 at this stage in the season; it’s Álvarez at 180 who has already earned his own promotion. Rodríguez’s .327/.415/.589 line and 1.003 OPS for High-A Everett isn’t far off from Torkelson’s .312/.440/.569 and 1.009 at the same level, and it’s worth noting that the Seattle outfielder had also seen the High-A level for 17 games back in 2019. Despite his young age, Rodríguez’s move to Everett seemed like a conservative one to begin the year, and he has taken to it as expected with some time representing the Dominican Republic at the Olympic qualifiers mixed in. Travel to Double-A Arkansas can’t be far off.
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates (No. 4, MLB No. 51)
A good clue in the search for early-moving prospects can be found if the player in question is repeating a level. Cruz played 35 games at Double-A Altoona in 2019 and returned to the same spot two years later. The 6-foot-7 slugger is off to a predictably strong start with the Curve with a .948 OPS through 31 games, seventh-best in Double-A Northeast, and he’s only getting stronger as the season wears on. Four of his eight homers have come through 11 contests in June alone, and he is slugging .705 in the season’s second month. The biggest questions on Cruz remain on the defensive side – he still only plays shortstop – but the bat from the left side continues to be special. Now with about half a season’s worth of Double-A at-bats in his career, it’s getting close to the time when Cruz could see Triple-A Indianapolis.
DL Hall, LHP, Orioles (No. 4, MLB No. 56)
Pitching gets a little complicated, given that prospects only typically get one start on the mound each week, so it could be a little while longer for Hall to get the promotion call from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk, especially after he walked four in 4 2/3 innings last time out on Saturday. But if the Orioles were willing to move up Rodriguez this early, they may not be far off from doing the same with the 22-year-old southpaw. As of Tuesday, Hall leads Double-A Northeast in strikeouts (56) and is tops among all Double-A hurlers in strikeout percentage (43.8), ahead of Baz (40.8) and Greene (37.0). His 3.13 ERA and 1.01 WHIP are similarly solid, while control (16 walks in 31 2/3 innings) remains a point of emphasis. At the very least, Hall’s ability to generate K’s with a high-90s fastball and above-average curve and change should make him a Triple-A consideration before long.
Brett Baty, 3B, Mets (No. 4, MLB No. 77)
“He's trying to try to make a case for us to think about a potential next-level move for him,” Mets director of player development Jeremy Barnes told MLB.com last week. Baty was leading all High-A hitters with a .367 average and had a 1.090 OPS at the time. The Mets third baseman has struggled since, but even with no hits in his last four games, Baty still owns a .324/.431/.549 line and .980 OPS through 30 games, placing him among the top 10 in High-A in average, OBP and OPS. The slugging is coming along as well with all five of his homers on the season coming in June alone. Baty shows an advanced approach for a player who hadn’t seen full-season ball entering 2021, and he can drive the ball with the best of them as well. Once he gets back on track, Double-A Binghamton can’t be far away.
Shea Langeliers, C, Braves (No. 3, MLB No. 59)
As the 10th overall pick, Langeliers was the second catcher off the board in the 2019 Draft behind Rutschman, and the Baylor product is taking just as well to Double-A Mississippi this spring. Langeliers ranks third in Double-A South with nine homers, a .592 slugging percentage and a .971 OPS, and his 165 wRC+ ranks fourth among all Double-A catchers. Not bad for a prospect known primarily for his defensive efforts, but don’t fret, Langeliers has been no slouch on that end either. His 15 caught-stealings are most in the entire Minor Leagues, and his 57.7 percent caught-stealing rate is best among all Minor League catchers with at least 200 innings behind the plate. No matter how you look at it, it’s been a strong start for the 23-year-old – one that could push him to within one step of Atlanta soon.
Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP, Blue Jays (No. 4, MLB No. 72)
This isn’t Alek Manoah levels of dominance in the Minors, but with every coming start, Woods Richardson builds a case that he should get to Triple-A Buffalo on his own soon. The 20-year-old right-hander has allow one earned run or fewer in four of his five starts with Double-A New Hampshire, resulting in a 2.25 ERA. He has fanned 36 in 24 innings and 36.7 percent of the batters he faced – again right in line with Greene’s 37.0 percent mark at the same level prior to his promotion. Woods Richardson would have even more innings on his resume, had he not represented Team USA in the Olympic Qualifiers earlier this month. The fact that he was chosen for that squad – and that the Jays allowed him to go compete with a team littered with other top prospects and former Major Leaguers – tell us how advanced the right-hander is.
Noelvi Marte, SS, Mariners (No. 6, MLB No. 87)
Is it aggressive to suggest a 19-year-old with no previous experience above the Dominican Summer League move from Low-A Modesto to High-A Everett? Certainly. But the Mariners have been aggressive with their talented prospects before. See 2019, when Jarred Kelenic climbed three levels in his first full season. Marte pushes his case nightly, it seems, and is hitting .324/.423/.576 in 34 games. His eight homers are the most by any Minor Leaguer playing in their age-19 season or younger, and his .999 OPS places second among the same group. (The already-promoted Álvarez is tops at 1.022.) Like so many others on this list, Marte has gotten even better as the season wears on with a .340/.446/.660 line in June compared to .315/.411/.533 in May. If there is a teenaged prospect to get aggressive with at this stage, it’s Marte.
Jose Barrero, SS, Reds (No. 4, MLB No. 89)
Barrero got 68 plate appearances in the Majors last year as Cincinnati tried to find a shortstop, and while no one would claim that went exceedingly well, the 23-year-old is much more on track two levels down at Double-A Chattanooga this season. Barrero is hitting .327/.390/.545 with five homers through 28 games. Those are only three short of his career high in dingers with plenty of time left to smash that personal best. That’s a promising sign for a player who was believed to have below-average power entering 2021. Sure, the Reds sent Barrero down to Double-A to regain his confidence after the rough Major League debut, but we’re getting to the point where that seems to have been accomplished and Barrero’s offensive skills are in need of a better challenge with Triple-A Louisville.
Gunnar Henderson, SS/3B, Orioles (No. 5, MLB No. 95)
Make that a second 19-year-old on this list. (Henderson turns 20 on June 29.) One year after they took him in the second round, the Orioles brought Henderson along to the 2020 alternate site, where he competed against much more advanced competition, but wanted him to find a foundation of success at Low-A Delmarva this spring. Smash cut to now, and the left-handed slugger ranks third among all Low-A batters with a .615 slugging percentage and 1.002 OPS. His eight homers are tied for second-most at the level. If Henderson was doing this one year after he was drafted, we might caution that he needs more time. Two years and a trip to the alt site later, he has a strong case to see the second full-season of his career.