The return of Minor League Baseball in 2021 was a glorious feeling indeed. Also welcome this summer: the return of public prospect performance.
No more alternate training site reports. No more brief, tantalizing looks at fall instructs. The genuine article of prospect vs. prospect play came back to diamonds across the country, beginning in May and wrapping up with the end of the Triple-A Final Stretch on Oct. 3.
Some prospects looked as hot as ever when they finally returned to the field. Others showed impressive breakouts and exceeded expectations in exciting ways. Those are the types we celebrate in this edition of the Prospect Team of the Year.
The Royals lead the way with three prospects on the 12-player First Team and another on the Second Team. The Twins, Pirates and Mets are the only other organizations with multiple representatives between the two squads, though the latter two placed both of theirs on the Second Team.
Prospects were chosen for this list based solely on their Minor League performance in 2021. To be eligible for the Prospect Team of the Year, players must have spent at least half of the season in the Minors and made our organization Top 30 Prospects rankings at some point.
C: MJ Melendez (KC No. 4, MLB No. 68)
AA/AAA: .284/.384/.627, 119 G, 41 HR, 97 RBI, 89 R, 73 BB, 3 SB
Two years ago, Melendez batted .163 with nine homers in 110 games at Class A Advanced Wilmington. Let’s just say he was a different hitter in 2021. His 41 homers (entering Tuesday) not only lead the Minors but also give him the highest single-season total since Kris Bryant slugged 43 in 2014. The 22-year-old backstop ranks third among full-season Minor Leaguers with his .627 slugging percentage and fifth with his 1.011 OPS.
1B: Nick Pratto (KC No. 2, MLB No. 66)
AA/AAA: .263/.380/.594, 120 G, 34 HR, 92 RBI, 91 R, 78 BB, 11 SB
Like Melendez, Pratto has taken extremely well to the Royals hitting program in the last two years, leading to a power breakout of his own. His 34 homers are tops among all Minor League first basemen and represent a jump of 25 from his time with Wilmington in 2019. Pratto was one of only three Minor Leaguers this season to post an OBP of .380 or above, a slugging percentage of .590 or above and at least 400 plate appearances. Melendez and Anthony Volpe are the others.
2B: Nick Yorke (BOS No. 4, MLB No. 98)
A/A+: .325/.412/.516, 97 G, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 76 R, 52 BB, 13 SB
One promising year isn’t vindication alone, but Boston’s decision to take Yorke, who many thought was a second- or third-round talent, in the first round last year sure looks a whole lot better now. Yorke’s .325 average was seventh-best in the Minors (minimum 400 plate appearances), and his 149 wRC+ was tied for 12th among that group of 356. To his further credit, the 19-year-old put up his best numbers over a 21-game stint at High-A Greenville, where he batted .333/.406/.571 following an August promotion.
3B: Jose Miranda (MIN No. 8)
AA/AAA: .342/.400/.568, 122 G, 29 HR, 92 RBI, 93 R, 41 BB, 4 SB
There’s no denying that Miranda was a hitting machine in his age-23 campaign. His 176 hits are most in the Minors -- 15 more than anyone else -- and he should only build on that total in the Final Stretch with St. Paul. Subsequently, his .342 average was fourth-best among qualified full-season Minor Leaguers, and it wasn’t an empty batting average either. His 29 homers are tied for 11th-most in the Minors, and he’s one of only 12 players with at least 25 homers and 25 doubles (29, to be specific).
SS: Anthony Volpe (NYY No. 1, MLB No. 15)
A/A+: .294/.423/.604, 109 G, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 113 R, 78 BB, 33 SB
In a year of fun surprises, Volpe might wear the crown for Breakout Prospect of the Year. The 2019 first-rounder was believed to have average to above-average skills across the board but showed more than that with turns at Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. The 20-year-old shortstop led all qualified full-season Minor Leaguers with his 1.027 OPS and 170 wRC+. He was one of only three players with at least 25 homers and 25 stolen bases, and he didn’t slow down much either with a .286/.391/.587 line in 55 games at the higher level. His place as the top prospect in the Yankees system is secure.
OF: Julio Rodríguez (SEA No. 1, MLB No. 2)
A+/AA: .347/.441/.560, 74 G, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 64 R, 43 BB, 21 SB
It was a busy summer for the 20-year-old slugger that saw him help his native Dominican Republic qualify for the Olympics and then capture bronze at the Games themselves in Japan. Back stateside, he never skipped a beat in his stints at High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas. His .347 average was second-best among full-season qualifiers, and his 1.001 OPS was seventh. Had he not missed so much time for international play (not that that’s a critique), he would have been a lock for the 20-20 club, considering his power and the fact he already met the steals threshold.
OF: Joey Wiemer (MIL No. 23)
A/A+: .295/.403/.556, 109 G, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 86 R, 63 BB, 30 SB
The 2020 fourth-rounder brought an all-out swing, good speed and 70-grade arm to the Minors for the first time this summer. Wiemer joined Volpe and Bobby Witt Jr. in the exclusive 25-25 club, and his ability to slug the ball only got better as the season went on. He hit .336/.428/.719 with 14 homers in only 34 games at High-A Wisconsin following a mid-August promotion. Wiemer’s vicious swing could catch up to him at the upper levels, but it certainly worked wonders for him in 2021.
OF: Alek Thomas (ARI No. 3, MLB No. 41)
AA/AAA: .314/.396/.564, 105 G, 18 HR, 59 RBI, 86 R, 52 BB, 13 SB
Thomas was already a strong prospect entering this season as an outfielder who could hit well from the left side, show plus speed and exhibit a good glove on the grass. He kicked things up a notch, especially when it came to power, at the upper levels in his age-21 season. It’s worth noting that both Amarillo and Reno play in hitter-friendly environs, but Thomas deserves credit for improving his slugging percentage more than 100 points from .450 in 2019 to .563 this campaign. His 12 triples are second-most in the Minors in a good blend of his power and speed. He has yet to hit below .300 in a Minor League season.
DH: Bobby Witt Jr. (KC No. 1, MLB No. 3)
AA/AAA: .295/.365/.588, 120 G, 33 HR, 95 RBI, 97 R, 49 BB, 29 SB
Entering Tuesday, Witt is only one steal away from becoming the Minors’ only 30-30 player in 2021 and the ninth such performer since 2000. He also leads the Minors with 72 extra-base hits and ranks second in total bases (285), fourth in homers (33) and fourth in total hits (143). The 2019 second overall pick entered this summer with a ton of hype coming off strong alt-site reports and an impressive spring, yet he may have even cleared that bar with his upper-level performance. Expect him to be in Kansas City early in 2022.
LHP: Logan Allen (CLE No. 10)
A+/AA: 9-0, 2.26 ERA, 111 1/3 IP, 143 K, 26 BB, .193 AVG, 0.93 WHIP
Cleveland grabbed the southpaw, who shares a moniker with another lefty in the same organization, in the second round out of Florida International last year, and it hasn’t taken long for this Allen to make a name for himself. The 23-year-old posted the third-lowest ERA among Minor Leaguers with at least 100 innings pitched this season and also ranked among the top 15 in K rate (33.2 percent), FIP (3.30), K/BB ratio (5.5) and WHIP. His changeup and overall control earn the highest grades.
RHP: Grayson Rodriguez (BAL No. 2, MLB No. 8)
A+/AA: 9-1, 2.36 ERA, 103 IP, 161 K, 27 BB, .159 AVG, 0.83 WHIP
Rodriguez became the highest-ranked pitching prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list in the middle of the season, and the results certainly backed up the stuff. The 21-year-old right-hander led full-season qualifiers with a 40.5 percent strikeout rate and was second among the same group in both WHIP and FIP (2.67). His 2.36 ERA was fourth-best among those with at least 100 innings pitched. That’s even more impressive considering 18 of Rodriguez’s 23 starts came at Double-A Bowie. He’s a big piece of the Orioles’ budding future.
RP: Indigo Diaz (ATL No. 21)
A+/AA: 6-2, 1.20 ERA, 45 IP, 83 K, 16 BB, .135 AVG, 0.82 WHIP
A 27th-round pick out of Michigan State in 2019, Diaz would have gone unselected in the five-round 2020 or 20-round 2021 Drafts. But the 22-year-old right-hander thrived in his first taste of full-season ball this summer, split between High-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi. He didn’t allow an earned run in 27 of his 32 regular-season appearances at those two stops. His 47.4 percent K rate was tops among all Minor Leaguers with at least 40 innings pitched, as was his 1.42 FIP. His 1.20 ERA placed seventh among the group. Diaz’s mix of a mid-90s fastball and promising breaking ball give him hope toward recreating these gaudy numbers at the higher levels.
C: Francisco Álvarez (NYM No. 1, MLB No. 10)
A/A+: .272/.388/.554, 99 G, 24 HR, 70 RBI, 67 R, 55 BB, 8 SB
1B: Spencer Torkelson (DET No. 1, MLB No. 4)
A+/AA/AAA: .267/.380/.554, 116 G, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 85 R, 72 BB, 4 SB
2B: Nick Gonzales (PIT No. 4, MLB No. 63)
A+: .302/.385/.565, 80 G, 18 HR, 54 RBI, 53 R, 40 BB, 7 SB
3B: Jordan Walker (STL No. 3, MLB No. 58)
A/A+: .317/.388/.548, 82 G, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 63 R, 33 BB, 14 SB
SS: Eddys Leonard (LAD No. 18)
A/A+: .296/.390/.539, 107 G, 22 HR, 81 RBI, 89 R, 51 BB, 9 SB
OF: Andy Pages (LAD No. 5)
A+: .265/.394/.539, 120 G, 31 HR, 88 RBI, 96 R, 77 BB, 6 SB
OF: Khalil Lee (NYM No. 8)
AAA: .271/.449/.496, 98 G, 13 HR, 36 RBI, 65 R, 69 BB, 8 SB
OF: Matt Fraizer (PIT No. 23)
AA: .306/.388/.552, 112 G, 23 HR, 68 RBI, 84 R, 56 BB, 15 SB
DH: Vinnie Pasquantino (KC No. 18)
A+/AA: .300/.394/.563, 116 G, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 79 R, 64 BB, 6 SB
LHP: Jake Eder (MIA No. 7)
AA: 3-5, 1.77 ERA, 71 1/3 IP, 99 K, 27 BB, .169 AVG, 0.98 WHIP
RHP: Taj Bradley (TB No. 6)
A/A+: 12-3, 1.83 ERA, 103 1/3 IP, 123 K, 31 BB, .181 AVG, 0.93 WHIP
RP: Jovani Moran (MIN No. 26)
AA/AAA: 4-2, 2.41 ERA, 3 SV, 67 1/3 IP, 109 K, 32 BB, .124 AVG, 0.89 WHIP