These prospects could be MLB's Top 5 in 2021

January 17th, 2019

As everyone is likely aware by now, MLB Pipeline has officially begun rankings season. There are three lists up, with the remaining Top 10 position lists coming soon:
Top 10 right-handed pitchers
Top 10 left-handed pitchers
Top 10 catchers
While we've been putting out all of these lists, we've also been doing some historical research. Since 2011, which position do you think has compiled the highest combined Wins Above Replacement among top 10 preseason prospects? If you guessed shortstop (569.5), you'd be right. Outfielders came in second at 496.7, while right-handed pitching stands third, with 338.2 WAR.
All of these lists obviously elicit a ton of debate, which is a big reason why we enjoy doing the rankings. And that leads to good questions from all of you. So let's get to them, shall we?

We typically do a story of who will top the Top 100 a year from now right after a new list comes out, but this stretches it a bit further. The best part is that both @puk32ellers and then @Morris_8334 gave their projections. Both put Wander Franco of the Rays at the top, the only similarity. Nos. 2-5 for @puk32ellers were MacKenzie Gore (San Diego), Jarred Kelenic (Seattle), Matt Manning (Detroit) and Hunter Greene (Cincinnati). Meanwhile, @Morris_8334 rounded out his list with Alex Kirilloff (Minnesota), Royce Lewis (Minnesota), Nolan Gorman (St. Louis) and Matthew Liberatore (Tampa Bay).
Both solid lists, though I could see both Kirilloff and Lewis having graduated by 2021. I'm going to go ahead and agree with putting Franco in the No. 1 spot. And I think Gore is probably right there with him, so I'll place him at No. 2. After that, I'll be different: No. 3, Patino of the Padres; No. 4, Drew Waters of the Braves; and No. 5, Adley Rutschman, who is about to start his junior year at Oregon State and could be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 Draft.

I wanted to answer this one because this is a common misconception. Yes, was our Pipeline Pitcher of the Year in 2018, and for good reason after a dominant season during which he reached Double-A for the first time. We're obviously very high on him, given that we have him at No. 5 on our Top 10 RHP list.
Our lists on Prospect Watch are not about current performance, however. Yes, production does become important at a certain point, and seeing Cease do well as he progressed to Double-A is a reason why he's as high as he is. But the Pitcher of the Year Award is only about performance for that year, not what he may, or may not, become in the future. That second point is exactly what the rankings are about -- what we project, based on countless conversations with the scouting industry, the players will become. With an overall 60 grade, Cease is still projected to be a frontline starter. It's just that Forrest Whitley, Casey Mize, and Mitch Keller are projected to be ever so slightly better than Cease. At least for now.

I chose this one because it was a more polite version than several other tweets that had variations of "No Chris Paddack?" Braves fans, don't worry, I won't forget you. We got plenty of the "Where's Touki Toussaint/Ian Anderson?" questions as well.
Suffice it to say the right-handed pitchers list is the deepest one we have. I don't want to give anything away in terms of where these guys land on the new Top 100 (coming on Jan. 26), but you can get the idea by looking at our 2018 list. All 10 hurlers on that list were in the top 29 overall. So just because your favorite pitching prospect isn't on the list doesn't mean he isn't highly regarded.

Padres fans, relax. Not only are Paddack and Luis Patino not far from this top 10, but Patino was the "Keep An Eye On" subject in the RHP breakdown story and San Diego has four lefties in the top 10. How many starting-pitching prospects do you need, anyway?
As for Braves fans, it's not a prospect-ranking season without hearing full-throated complaints. We get accusations of anti-Braves bias for snubs, even though there were 10 Braves in the Top 100 at the end of 2018. and gives them two Top 10 RHP, and I assure you Anderson and Toussaint aren't far behind.

I had to include this question just because of the thoroughness of it. I also love how he's asking about going after Manny Machado to combat the Padres LHP pitching prospects on the way up, but his profile picture is of a very much left-handed-hitting (.796 career OPS vs. LHP) in a Dodgers uniform. But I digress.
I can't imagine any team, even one within the same division, going after a high-priced free agent because of Minor League pitching depth. But it is important to point out that the Padres also have some quality right-handers coming soon as well. The aforementioned Paddack and Patino didn't miss our Top 10 by much, and who knows what righties like Cal Quantrill, Anderson Espinoza and even can become. Maybe you should be looking for switch-hitters in Los Angeles?