Rosters. Real, glorious Minor League rosters.
Those are what have arrived on the digital doorsteps of fans over the last couple of days, and they came as virtual oases following the Minor League desert that was 2020. Last year's canceled season only added more intrigue to the decisions each organization made on where to send their prospects ahead of Opening Day on May 4. Some clubs were willing to push their best talents even after a lost season. Others opted to be more conservative.
What's left after each of those calls are rosters that will get to play across the four full-season levels of Minor League Baseball starting Tuesday. These are MLB Pipeline's picks for the most loaded Opening Day rosters heading into the 2021 season, based on quality and depth of prospects:
1. Durham Bulls (Triple-A, Tampa Bay Rays)
Prospects: SS Wander Franco (No. 1, MLB No. 1), INF/OF Vidal Bruján (No. 2, MLB No. 42), LHP/DH Brendan McKay (No. 3, MLB No. 62), SS Taylor Walls (No. 7), OF Josh Lowe (No. 11), RHP Joe Ryan (No. 12), RHP Brent Honeywell Jr. (No. 18), RHP Drew Strotman (No. 21), INF Kevin Padlo (No. 24)
Any team that got Franco was going to be an instant must-follow. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting shortstop has the only 80-grade hit tool as given out by MLB Pipeline this year, and it should play instantly at the top level of the Minors. The fact that Franco isn't alone -- not even close to it -- is what puts Durham over the top. The Bulls boast a diverse roster of prospects with promising infielders like Franco, Bruján, Walls and Padlo. The pitching staff should be strong as led by Ryan, Honeywell (in his return to Durham for the first time since 2017) and Strotman. Lowe is capable of offensive and defensive highlights from the outfield. McKay, coming off shoulder surgery, still has two-way potential and should feature at the plate and off the mound for the Bulls when healthy. You won't find a Minor League team deeper or more loaded with big names to start the season.
2. Everett AquaSox (High-A, Seattle Mariners)
Prospects: OF Julio Rodríguez (No. 2, MLB No. 5), RHP Emerson Hancock (No. 3, MLB No. 26), RHP George Kirby (No. 5, MLB No. 81), RHP Juan Then (No. 9), LHP Brandon Williamson (No. 10), RHP Isaiah Campbell (No. 12), OF Zach DeLoach (No. 13), RHP Levi Stoudt (No. 14), 3B Austin Shenton (No. 19), SS Kaden Polcovich (No. 26), RHP Tim Elliott (No. 27), 3B Tyler Keenan (No. 29), RHP Matt Brash (No. 30)
The decision to send Rodríguez to High-A felt like a curious one from Seattle. MLB Pipeline's No. 5 overall prospect ended 2019 at that level, and he played in the Arizona Fall League, Dominican Winter League and alternate training site since then (with a few injuries mixed in). Still, getting him together with this much Mariners talent can only mean good things for the future of the Seattle farm system. Hancock and Kirby start together as the M's two most recent first-round picks, and they anchor a pitching staff with six other ranked prospects. DeLoach gives Everett another flashy option in the outfield alongside J-Rod, and Keenan can provide some thump as well in the middle of the lineup. This is quite the welcome for Everett's new status as a full-season club.
During Minor League Spring Training, the Blue Jays talked about wanting to keep both Martin and Groshans at shortstop for as long as they could. It seems the organization also decided that both were too good to start anywhere below Double-A, and now the Fisher Cats have a delicious pickle on their hands. Expect Groshans to play third base as well while Martin moves around to second, third and center field when the former is playing the six. Both speak loudest with their bats anyways, and the thought of two first-rounders forming the heart of the New Hampshire lineup should make even the Old Man in the Mountain smile. Woods Richardson rounds out the Top 100 contingent with a strong four-pitch mix and plus control that helped get him to Double-A ahead of his 21st birthday.
Only one roster can claim two different Top 25 overall prospects, and that one belongs to the Marlins affiliate in Pensacola. Miami bet on tools with each of its last two first-round picks. Bleday led NCAA Division I in homers as a junior at Vanderbilt before the Fish took him fourth overall in 2019. Meyer sported a plus-plus fastball and similar 70-grade slider at Minnesota before he went third overall last year. They will combine forces this time around in Double-A South and try to keep Miami's run of developmental success going two stops away from South Beach. Keep an eye on Burdick as well after the 2019 third-rounder showed promising offensive tools in 2019 and at last year's instructs.
The center of the Mets system will be in Coney Island. Three of the club's four Top 100 prospects are headed to High-A in Mauricio, Allan and Baty, and despite not cracking the Top 50, all three have legitimate star power. Mauricio has plus power potential as a switch-hitting shortstop and can field the position well for his size at 6-foot-3. Baty might be an even better overall hitter and brings plenty of his own pop from the left side. Allan, who worked with Jacob deGrom in the offseason, features a plus fastball, plus curve and improving changeup that took impressive jumps during his work with it at last year's alternate site. All three are capable of taking over a game. In his own right, Butto might have the best changeup in the entire system. The Cyclones will be worth the subway ride from Queens or anywhere else for that matter.
6. Greensboro Grasshoppers (High-A, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Prospects: 2B Nick Gonzales (No. 2, MLB No. 35), RHP Quinn Priester (No. 3 MLB No. 43), SS Liover Peguero (No. 5), RHP Tahnaj Thomas (No. 7), RHP Carmen Mlodzinski (No. 11), RHP Braxton Ashcraft (No. 22), LHP Omar Cruz (No. 24), RHP Michael Burrows (No. 29)
Looking for the future of the Pirates? Greensboro is where X marks the spot. Not only do the Grasshoppers feature two Top 100 prospects and recent first-rounders in Gonzales and Priester, they also boast prospects that could crash the Top 100 themselves with strong 2021 seasons in Peguero, Thomas and Mlodzinski. The Pirates already had a top 10 system in baseball, but they need it to jump to the next level for this rebuilding effort to be a successful one. Getting the first overall pick this summer will help. Getting major leaps from this group of Grasshoppers will accomplish that even more so.
Where Witt would open 2021 was going to be the story of early May in the Kansas City pipeline. (Well, maybe until the Royals gave Daniel Lynch his debut on Monday.) The Royals provided their answer, choosing to send him to Double-A where they're hopeful the No. 7 overall prospect can carry his momentum from the spring and last year's alternate site. In typical K.C. fashion, Witt is just one piece of a core of Royals prospects the organization is hoping to build at Northwest Arkansas in a similar vein to their homegrown stars of the last decade. Pratto, in particular, has taken off this spring and looked like a first-base masher capable of taking off in 2021. Bowlan, Marsh and Heasley certainly have their fans as well and will need every bit of their pitching potential to crack through a Royals rotation that is getting more crowded by the month.
8. San Jose Giants (Low-A, San Francisco Giants)
Prospects: SS Marco Luciano (No. 1, MLB No. 14), OF Luis Matos (No. 7), LHP Kyle Harrison (No. 8), OF Alexander Canario (No. 9), 3B Luis Toribio (No. 10), LHP Nick Swiney (No. 15), 3B Casey Schmitt (No. 16), 1B Garrett Frechette (No. 21), C Ricardo Genoves (No. 28), SS Jimmy Glowenke (No. 29)
Luciano has all the pieces to become the Next Big Thing in prospectdom. He already hit .302/.417/.564 across two short-season levels in 2019 and followed that up by showcasing even more pop at last year's alt site in what would have been his age-18 season. Now, he's headed to the old California League, where hitters go to thrive. He won't be there by himself either. San Francisco's system in its current state thrives on youthful, untapped prospects, and San Jose will be rich in those, considering Matos, Harrison, Canario and Toribio will join Luciano at Low-A. In total, one-third of the Giants' ranked prospects are headed south of the bay, giving San Jose star power and depth.
Finally, the baseball world will get to see a full system of Rutschman. The 2019 top overall pick begins his 2021 journey at Bowie, where he brings plus offensive potential as a switch-hitter and a full suite of defensive tools behind the plate. Pairing him with Hall is enticing, considering the left-hander has his own considerable ceiling with a high-90s fastball, above-average curveball and above-average change. There's the possibility that Rutschman could make any Baysox pitching prospect he works with better because of his catching glovework. To that end, pay attention to Bradish, whom the O's were pleased to acquire from the Angels in December 2019. Seventeen months later, Baltimore believes the 6-foot-4 right-hander is ready to take off during his actual Minor League debut in the system. He would give fans another reason to watch a Bowie club worth following for Rutschman alone.
10. Wilmington Blue Rocks (High-A, Washington Nationals)
Prospects: RHP Cade Cavalli (No. 1, MLB No. 86), RHP Jackson Rutledge (No. 2), RHP Cole Henry (No. 3), INF Yasel Antuna (No. 4), LHP Matt Cronin (No. 10), C Israel Pineda (No. 15), RHP Joan Adon (No. 16), RHP Holden Powell (No. 20), RHP Tyler Dyson (No. 23), LHP Evan Lee (No. 24), RHP Reid Schaller (No. 27)
Graduations and trades have left the Nationals system with significantly less depth than other organizations. The depth it does have is super concentrated at High-A Wilmington to open 2021. No other Minor League team boasts all four of its parent club's top prospects like the Blue Rocks do now. That includes the group of big, hard-throwing right-handers the Nats themselves call The Big Three in Cavalli, Rutledge and Henry. Cavalli is already a Top 100 prospect, and Rutledge isn't far from joining him with a plus-plus fastball and plus slider of his own. Deeper down, Washington pegged reliever Cronin as a potential quick-mover, and the organization is pleased with the pop Pineda has shown this spring. Outside of Durham and Everett at the top of this list, no Minor League team will feature as many of its parent club's Top 30 prospects as Wilmington will in its first season as a Nats affiliate.