Inbox: Who were 2021's biggest surprises?

October 7th, 2021

If you thought that the end of the 2021 regular season in the big leagues, not to mention the end of all Minor League action, would create a breather for those in Pipeline-land, you thought wrong.

There’s still so much to talk about! From prospects in the postseason, to those headed to the Arizona Fall League, from our final Rookie Power Rankings to a look at this year’s rookie class’ long-term value, it’s led to plenty of activity on Twitter and for this week’s Inbox.

Biggest surprise for each level? Biggest disappointments? -- @CaoChadTTV

I’ll stick to the full-season levels for this, with the knowledge that some guys who played across levels might get lost in the shuffle:

Triple-A: Jose Miranda, Twins (surprise); Jeter Downs, Red Sox (disappointment)

Miranda raked across Double-A and Triple-A, finishing with a .344/.401/.572 line and had a .960 OPS in 80 Triple-A games. Downs had a 20-20 year in 2019 and still had double digits in homers and steals as a very young player in Triple-A, but hit .190/.272/.333 with a 32.3 percent strikeout rate.

Double-A: MJ Melendez, Royals; JJ Bleday, Marlins

Even though he got promoted to Triple-A, Melendez still finished third among all Double-A hitters with 28 home runs in just 79 games, en route to leading all of the Minors with 41 homers across two levels.

High-A: Matt Fraizer, Pirates; Jordyn Adams, Angels

A 2019 third-round pick, Fraizer kind of came out of nowhere to hit .314/.401/.578 with 20 homers in 75 High-A games. (He more than held his own after a bump to Double-A, with an OPS of .848.) Adams is still super-young, raw and toolsy, but had shown a better feel to hit than anticipated in 2019, when he made it to High-A. That didn’t translate to his .600 OPS season in 71 games this year. 

Low-A: Nick Yorke, Red Sox; Ed Howard, Cubs

The Red Sox surprised many when they took Yorke in the first round of the 2020 Draft, then he went out and proved them right, hitting .325/.412/.516 across two levels of A ball (.323/.413/.500 in 76 Low-A games). Howard, taken one spot before Yorke in the 2020 Draft, never found his groove during his pro debut, with a .225/.277.315 line in 80 games, though he did show some signs of life late in the year.

How can you justify taking money for MLB opinions when you think Ryan Mountcastle is the 8th place AL RoY? -- @chefwindsor

I really appreciate the inquisitive and respectful tone so many take on Twitter these days. It does the heart good.

This query was in reaction to that final Rookie Power Rankings, which tended to get the most consistent vitriolic responses all year. Folks really do take their rookies seriously!

So, first a clarification. Mountcastle, the Orioles rookie who hit 33 homers this year, was not the eighth-place American League rookie. The RPR looks at rookies in both leagues combined. Mountcastle was No. 8 on that list. Among AL rookies on the list, he came in sixth. Not much different, I know, but I strive for accuracy.

We talked about this, and the rankings overall, at length, on this week’s Pipeline Podcast, so be sure to check that out. I do really appreciate all the Orioles fans’ passion about Mountcastle, who did lead all rookies with those 33 home runs, finished second among AL qualified rookies with his .487 slugging and third with his .796 OPS. And I think he has the chance to keep hitting home runs in the future.

But now I’m going to ask everyone to try to put the O’s hat down and look objectively in comparing him to other rookies this year. Mountcastle was third among AL rookies with 161 strikeouts, behind Adolis García and Randy Arozarena, both of whom ranked ahead of Mountcastle on the RPR. And truthfully, I am worried about García's similar lack of approach at the plate. But both of those outfielders add speed (Arozarena stole 20 bases and García had 16) and, particularly with García, defense to the mix. Perhaps defensive metrics are less dependable, but all of them point to García being one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, not just among rookies, from his 16 assists to his 1.6 dWAR, according to Baseball-Reference. Mountcastle, on the other hand went from left field to first base and spent a lot of time at DH. Again, according to Baseball Reference, he finished with a -1.5 dWAR.

Now, I was accused of ranking only based on WAR for that final list. Truth be told, the staff at MLB Pipeline votes, and that’s how we determine the rankings. But if we were to go only based on bWAR, I hate to tell O’s fans that Mountcastle wouldn’t be anywhere near the top 10 in the AL, let alone all of baseball. His 0.9 bWAR wouldn’t even put him the top 20 in his league. I’m not bringing this up to bash Mountcastle, just pointing out different perspectives here.

Out of the 10 shortstops on the top 10 list, who has the fastest path to the majors and who has the highest floor of them all? -- @antman_92

As we also discussed on the podcast, there really is one name for both. That, of course, is Bobby Witt Jr., No. 1 on the Top 10 shortstops list and No. 3 overall. With the success he had in Triple-A (.285/.352/.581 in 62 games there), he’s clearly ready for the next challenge, or at least a very long look in Spring Training next year for an Opening Day gig. Can’t get any faster than that, especially considering the only other two Top 10 shortstops who had experience at the upper levels, CJ Abrams and Royce Lewis, are coming off of injuries.

As for highest floor, it’s easy to go with Witt again, right? He’s the safest bet among this list to be a big leaguer right now, with that upper-level success pointing to solid production at the very least and with the defense to stick at shortstop for a long time. Marcelo Mayer, No. 4 on the list has a perceived high floor as well, with scouts feeling confident about his feel to hit and his defense, but as a high schooler from the 2021 Draft, he’s just starting to build his professional resume.

Will Jonathan Mayo bobbleheads be available at ballpark gift shops next year? -- @PiratesFanDan

Who do I talk to about this idea? I think this is a craze that could sweep the nation and I’m totally there for it. Might want to avoid Baltimore, though. (Read the Ryan Mountcastle-related question and my answer.)