There’s long been a desire to attract more athletes to the sport of baseball, and for good reason. Watching those with premium athleticism roam the outfield or the basepaths can be exciting, and many of the top stars in Major League Baseball today would fit on a list of elite athletes.
Athleticism doesn’t just mean pure running speed, though that’s a big part of it, but can also include other tools on the field, from bat speed at the plate to arm strength in the field. You’ll see a lot of them playing up-the-middle premium positions, which is why so many of the top athletes for each organization listed below play shortstop or center field.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Dasan Brown, OF (No. 16)
The 2019 third-rounder shows 80-grade speed, making him a threat to steal every time he’s on the bases. He also can stake a legitimate claim as the best defensive outfielder among Toronto prospects. The athleticism doesn’t stop at the legs either. Brown can generate good bat speed, though his other offensive skills remain works in progress. But his present skills offer plenty to envision a Major League future for the Ontario native in his home province.
Orioles: Gunnar Henderson, SS (No. 6)
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he’s bigger than your typical shortstop, but his athleticism is what should allow him to stick there or let him move around the diamond defensively out of choice. He’s shown he can play third and even center field if needed and runs well for his size.
Rays: Greg Jones, SS (No. 10)
How to stand out in a system loaded with talented shortstops? Start with plus-plus speed. Jones stole 19 bags in 48 Minor League games after the Rays took him in the first round of the 2019 Draft, and he would have been a threat to steal 50-plus in a normal 2020 season. The former UNC Wilmington standout also showcases an above-average arm and enough power to make him more than your average slap-hitting speedster.
Red Sox: Jarren Duran, OF (No. 4)
Duran has proven significantly better than even the Red Sox expected when they took him in the seventh round out of Long Beach State in 2018, and he's not far away from making his big league debut following a huge winter in the Puerto Rican League. He's not only the fastest player in the system with plus-plus speed and 70 steals in 199 career games, but he also has made some swing changes that have Boston thinking he could provide 20 or more homers per season.
Yankees: Jasson Dominguez, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 32)
Dominguez comes with more tools and more hype than any international prospect in recent memory, drawing comparisons to Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout. Signed for $5.1 million in July 2019, he could have well above-average tools across the board -- and he's also a switch-hitter with advanced instincts to go with his physical gifts.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Daniel Johnson, OF (No. 21)
Johnson has four solid or better tools in his raw power, speed, arm and right-field defense -- and his arm is a plus-plus weapon. A Nationals fifth-round pick out of New Mexico State in 2017, he joined the Indians a year later as one of three prospects acquired for Yan Gomes.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1, MLB No. 7)
The same tools that make Witt a top-10 overall prospect make him an easy selection for this spot. That is to say, all of them. The 2019 second overall pick earned plus grades for all five skills, proving he’s a threat to hit for average and power, steal bases and play a high-quality shortstop. After this hot spring, the 20-year-old may have put himself in line to bring those tools to the Majors at some point in 2021.
Tigers: Parker Meadows, OF (No. 10)
Austin Meadows’ younger brother has a skill set all his own that could take him to the Motor City in a few years. Even at 6-foot-5, the 2018 second-rounder shows plus speed and a strong arm that combine to make him a gifted outfielder. The offensive tools still need to come around, but the raw power is at least above average as well. Only Riley Greene, who is much more gifted with the bat, ranks higher among Tigers outfield prospects.
Twins: Royce Lewis, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 17)
A torn ACL will cost him the 2021 season and a potential big league debut, but it would be wrong to think he won’t be all the way back to being the guy with easily plus speed. That speed helps him on the basepaths, but he also showed the ability to move around the diamond seamlessly, playing third and center field in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 like he’d been there for years.
White Sox: Yoelqui Cespedes, OF (No. 6)
The White Sox gave Yoenes Cespedes' younger brother a $2.05 million bonus in January in large part because of his considerable power potential, though that's far from his only tool. The Cuban is also a solid runner and center fielder with a double-plus arm.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF (No. 3)
Had Adams not signed as a first-rounder in 2018, he would have headed to the University of North Carolina to play football and baseball. He has 80-grade speed as one of the fastest players in the Minors, which helps his basestealing ability and he’s turned himself into a plus defender in center field as well as the power is starting to show up.
A’s: Buddy Reed, OF (No. 21)
Reed played hockey and soccer, as well as baseball, in high school, before heading to the University of Florida to focus on the diamond. He hasn’t hit as well as hoped in his pro career, but he’s played a Gold Glove caliber outfield, stolen as many as 51 bases in one season, and does have 20-20 potential if he can put it all together.
Astros: Pedro Leon, OF (No. 2)
Leon, a Cuban defector, landed the largest bonus in the 2020-21 international class when he signed for $4 million in January. He has well above-average raw power, might be the fastest player in the system, plays a solid center field and has top-of-the-scale arm strength.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 4)
Kelenic used all of his tools consistently well in his first full season with a 20-20 performance while he reached Double-A. He’s been knocking on the door since, both in the alternate site in 2020 and this spring. He’ll bring his All-Star potential to the Mariners outfield at some point soon in 2021.
Rangers: Bubba Thompson, OF
Thompson accounted for 3,860 yards and 43 touchdowns while quarterbacking McGill-Toolen (Mobile) to the Alabama state 7-A championship game in 2016 and drawing interest from Southeastern Conference football programs. The 26th overall pick in the 2017 Draft, he has well above-average speed to go with plus raw power and center-field defense, but he has been hampered by injuries and swing-and-miss issues.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 12)
Pache’s athleticism, particularly in the outfield, landed him a spot on the Braves’ Opening Day roster. He gets an 80 for his center field defense and a 70 for his speed, which he still doesn’t use consistently enough on the offensive end. Add in a 70 arm and we’re looking at three plus tools (not to mention an above-average power and average hit tool).
Marlins: Monte Harrison, OF (No. 16)
As a Lee's Summit West High senior in 2013-14, Harrison totaled 29 touchdowns on a Missouri Class 5 state champion football team and averaged 16.4 points on a basketball squad that finished third in the state. He also won the dunk contest at the Greater Kansas City All-Star Challenge and accepted a football scholarship to play wide receiver at Nebraska before signing with the Brewers for $1.8 million in the second round in 2014. Acquired in the Christian Yelich trade in 2018, he might be the best athlete on this list -- a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder with well above-average raw power and light strength as well as plus speed and center-field range -- but has yet to prove he can make consistent contact.
Mets: Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF (No. 5)
If it’s possible for a prep pick coming straight out of the Draft to have a high floor, then Crow-Armstrong fits the bill because of his athleticism. Last year’s 19th overall pick has plus speed and gets even better grades for his defensive work in center, where he covers plenty of ground. There’s a decent chance he could slide right into a Major League outfield right now and provide value if he didn’t have to hit. The Mets saw that when they used the 19-year-old in 11 Grapefruit League games this spring.
Nationals: Cody Wilson, OF
The Nats system has its strengths – specifically in big right-handed pitchers – but straight-up athleticism isn’t one of them entering 2021. Instead, we go outside the Top 30 to Wilson, who Washington believes covers enough ground to be a good Major League center fielder right now. Even when he was hitting just .215 at Class A in 2019, the 2018 13th-rounder was stealing 22 bases in only 77 games. If the bat never comes around, Wilson’s athleticism still gives him a chance to sneak in a Major League role as a fourth or fifth outfielder down the line.
Phillies: Luke Williams, UTIL
He’s only posted a .644 OPS in his Minor League career, but he’s shown he can really run, successful on nearly 81 percent of his stolen base attempts. He also has shown off his defensive versatility, playing everywhere other than behind the plate and on the mound, since joining the Phillies via the 2015 Draft.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Garrett Mitchell, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 65)
Mitchell was always going to garner attention this spring as Milwaukee’s first-round pick last year, but his plus-plus speed, good defensive ability from the outfield and above-average hitting potential made him a Cactus League standout. That was just a taste of what could be coming from the former UCLA star. Mitchell’s overall talent should translate well to the pro side, and his athleticism should be a big reason why he could climb quickly to the top level.
Cardinals – Masyn Winn, SS/RHP (No. 6)
Someone who has a real case to be a two-way player in the pros has to be doing something right athletically. St. Louis’ second-round pick last year is just that. On the mound, Winn sits in the low- to mid-90s and can spin a plus curve. In the field, he is an above-average runner who uses his arm to play a solid shortstop. The only below-average tool presently on his resume is his hitting, and if that grows with experience, Winn could play both roles in the Majors someday.
Cubs: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 61)
Davis was named region defensive player of the year while helping Basha High (Chandler) win the Arizona 6-A basketball championship in 2017 before deciding to focus on baseball that summer. Signed for $1.1 million as a 2018 second-rounder, he has the upside of a 30-30 center fielder.
Pirates: Liover Peguero, SS (No. 5)
One of the most exciting prospects at the Pirates’ alternate site in 2020, Peguero got the Pirates really excited about what kind of return they’ll get from his part of the Starling Marte trade. He can really run, giving him the chance to steal bases and play shortstop for a very long time, all coming from a high-energy package.
Reds: Rece Hinds, 3B (No. 8)
While you’d typically think of a plus runner for this feature, Hinds is extremely athletic, especially given his 6-foot-4 frame. He runs better than you’d think and that athleticism has helped him improve at third. If that doesn’t work, he moves well enough (and has the plus arm/power bat profile teams like) to play an outfield corner well.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Padres: CJ Abrams, SS (No. 2, MLB No. 8)
This couldn’t be a list of best prospect athletes without Abrams. The 2019 sixth overall pick features 80-grade speed that helps him out on the diamond in multiple facets. He marries that with good strength and incredible bat speed, all which stem from his athleticism. It’s a rare blend of skills that makes the San Diego shortstop worth watching any time he's in the game.
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 47)
Carroll was already a promising prospect because of his plus-plus speed, 60-grade hitting potential and impressive defensive play up the middle in center. Reports of added strength and solid raw power at last year’s alternate training site reinforced not only his place on this list, but his spot atop Arizona’s prospect rankings. After missing out on competitive play in 2020, the 2019 16th overall pick should finally unleash his multiple tools over a full Minor League season this summer.
Dodgers: Jeren Kendall, OF
The best athlete in the 2017 Draft, Kendall signed for $2,897,500 as a first-round pick out of Vanderbilt while drawing Jacoby Ellsbury comparisons with his sneaky power, plus-plus speed and Gold Glove potential in center field. But he hasn't been able to solve pro pitching, hitting .223/.309/.413 with a 32 percent strikeout rate, mostly in High-A.
Giants: Hunter Bishop, OF (No. 4/MLB No. 83)
Bishop originally planned on walking on the Washington football team as a wide receiver before deciding to play baseball at Arizona State, where he blossomed into the 10th overall pick in 2019. He offered some of the best raw power in his Draft class, not to mention plus speed and solid center-field ability.
Rockies: Brenton Doyle, OF (No. 6)
He needs to show what he can do beyond the lower levels, but the Rockies really think they found a Division II steal from the 2019 Draft’s fourth round. He’s a physical specimen with plus speed and a ton of raw power, with the chance to be double-digits in steals and homers in the future. He can really defend, with a good chance to stick in center field and a hose for an arm that would fit in right as well.