The annual unveiling of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list is typically a sign that spring, or at least Spring Training, is right around the corner. And while that was true in 2020, no one could have predicted what would have transpired, or not transpired, in the season to come.
Despite the pandemic-shortened Major League campaign and lack of any Minor League season, a lot of players on the 2020 Top 100 rose to the highest level and made contributions across baseball, from cellar dwellers to World Series champions.
Once again, we are all brimming with hope in anticipation of something close to a normal season. And once again, many on our brand new 2021 Top 100 prospects list will create excitement in the big leagues all year long.
Not surprisingly, the list is once again topped by Rays shortstop phenom Wander Franco, for a fourth straight edition (2019 midseason-2021 preseason). The top 10 also features a pair of Mariners outfielders and two Padres prospects.
Those on the list must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or have accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club(s) during the 25-player-limit period, excluding time on the injured list or in military service. The rankings continue to follow the guidelines laid out by the Collective Bargaining Agreement in terms of who falls under the international pool money rules. Players who are at least 25 years old and have played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.
The Top 100 is put together by myself, Jim Callis and Mike Rosenbaum, with input from industry sources, including scouts and front-office executives. It is based on analysis of players' upsides, tools and potential Major League impact.
MLB Network will air its Top 100 Prospects show on Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. ET.
The Top 10
1. Wander Franco, SS, Rays
2. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
3. Spencer Torkelson, 3B/1B, Tigers
4. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners
5. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
6. MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
7. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
8. CJ Abrams, SS, Padres
9. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates
10. Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays
Players from the 2020 Draft aren’t included in this section since they weren’t around to be on the list a year ago. There aren’t as many new names this time around because of the unusual nature of the 2020 season, but there are some intriguing players jumping onto the list this year.
It’s a group that starts with Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, who took Major League Baseball by storm by hitting seven homers in just 64 at-bats in the regular season then hit 10 more in an absolutely ridiculous postseason ride that included an American League Championship Series MVP. That’s why he’s debuting all the way up at No. 34 on this year’s Top 100.
No other newcomers are in the top 50, but a pair of right-handed pitchers came close. The Indians’ Triston McKenzie, who’s been on the list in previous years, but fell off in 2019, pitched his way to the big leagues, and Cleveland’s postseason roster, comes in at No. 51, while the Pirates’ 2019 first-round pick, Quinn Priester, debuts at No. 52.
It’s not just the newcomers making a jump in 2021. Several players who were on last year’s Top 100 have a big up arrow next to their names. There are six players who have improved their standings by more than 25 spots from one year to the next, led by D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll. The 2019 first-rounder flew from No. 89 all the way up to No. 47. Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas leapt from No. 77 to No. 44 while Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has catapulted into the top 10, coming in at No. 9 after ranking No. 41 before the 2020 season. Royals lefty Daniel Lynch made a similar 32-spot jump (No. 61 to No. 29), Blue Jays Jordan Groshans went from No. 75 to No. 46 and Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh also improved by 26 spots (from No. 79 to No. 53).
There are six prospects who were on last year’s preseason Top 100 who have fallen off the list in 2021, all coming in the 80-100 range. Marlins outfielder Jesús Sánchez is the highest-ranked prospect to fall off (No. 80), followed by Phillies shortstop Bryston Stott (No. 87), Rays right-hander Brent Honeywell (No. 91), Yankees RHP Deivi García (No. 92), Nationals shortstop Luis Garcia (No. 97) and Giants lefty Seth Corry (No. 99).
Even with the shortened year, a good number of prospects got enough big league time to graduate off of prospect lists. This group of 17 is topped by Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux, who was the No. 2 prospect a year ago. He was joined by two other top 10 prospects, outfielders Luis Robert of the White Sox (No. 3) and Jo Adell of the Angels (No. 6). A’s lefty Jesús Luzardo (No. 12) and Dodgers right-hander Dustin May (No. 23) were the top-rated pitchers to come off the list.
This is one of the more hitter-heavy Top 100s we’ve had in a while. There are 39 pitchers in total, 27 right-handed and 12 lefties, a far cry from the 47 arms we’ve had the previous two years. We only had 39 pitchers back in 2016, after having 42 in 2017.
There are still more total pitchers than any other position, with the 25 outfielders the closest. Shortstops are next with 14 making the Top 100, followed by nine catchers, seven third basemen, four second basemen and a pair of first basemen.
Feeling the Draft
When we re-rank the Top 100 in the summer, it gives us the opportunity to add members of the most recent Draft class. In 2020, outside of graduations, that was the only change to the list. Because of the pandemic, the order of existing players on the list remained static, outside of making room for the 14 members of the Class of ’20 that were added. That crop is led, of course, by No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson, our No. 3 prospect. Five other first-round picks are in the top 50 overall: No. 22 Austin Martin, OF (Blue Jays), No. 28 Max Meyer, RHP (Marlins), No. 30 Asa Lacy, LHP (Royals), No. 31 Emerson Hancock, RHP (Mariners) and No. 43 Nick Gonzales, 2B (Pirates). Overall there are 81 former draftees on the Top 100.
That leaves 19 international signees on the list (Reminder: Players from Canada and Puerto Rico are drafted.). Not surprisingly, the Dominican Republic leads this group with a dozen representatives. The Bahamas and Venezuela each have two players on the Top 100, while Colombia, Cuba and Panama each have one rep.