COVID-19 affected many aspects of baseball in 2020, including prospect rankings. Not only was there no Minor League season with which to evaluate players, but fewer prospects than usual graduated to the big leagues during the shortest season since 1878.
The exact opposite should be true next year, however. It's likely that among the first 20 players on MLB Pipeline's current Top 100 Prospects list, 17 will shed their rookie/prospect status by the end of 2021. Get ready for a lot of turnover at the top.
We annually gaze into the future to predict the 10 best prospects in baseball at the conclusion of the following year. Recent history tells us that almost every prospect who finishes one season in the Top 10 will do so again the next unless he establishes himself in the Majors or gets injured. Prospects in the 11-25 range fill most of the holes, along with a couple from the 26-50 territory and occasionally someone from the bottom half of the Top 100 or from the next year's Draft.
A year ago, we correctly surmised that Rays shortstop Wander Franco and Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman would headline our end-of-2020 Top 100 and also rightfully projected that Twins shortstop Royce Lewis, Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic would claim spots in the Top 10. More of our predictions -- Giants catcher Joey Bart, White Sox first baseman Andrew Vaughn and Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez -- just missed because of the lack of graduations.
Our biggest dilemmas this time around were determining whether Rodríguez and Tigers first baseman/third baseman Spencer Torkelson would still qualify at the end of 2021 and if we should include Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker, the projected No. 1 overall pick in next year's Draft.
Though he reached high Class A at age 18 in 2019, Rodríguez has played just 17 games at that level and will be just 20 next season, so we're going to err on the side of caution with him. Torkelson, the top selection in the 2020 Draft, has yet to play in a pro game but is so advanced at the plate that we envision him jumping to Detroit at midseason. If we thought he'd qualify, he'd rank No. 1 on our projected Top 10.
Rocker is very talented but also pitched just 15 innings this spring and none during the summer, so we left him off our list, which doesn't include a single pitcher.
1. Julio Rodríguez, OF, Mariners (No. 15 on current Top 100)
The Kelenic vs. Rodríguez debates are fun -- Kelenic is a better pure hitter and faster, Rodríguez owns more raw power -- but the bottom line is that Mariners fans will get to watch two of the best players in baseball in the same outfield during the middle of this decade.
2. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals (No. 8)
A rare five-tool player at his position, he also has baseball IQ and makeup as good as his physical ability, with the entire package leading some scouts to rate him as the best shortstop to come out of the Draft since Alex Rodriguez.
3. Marco Luciano, SS, Giants (No. 29)
He has the best bat speed and power potential of any middle infielder in the Minors, not to mention a better chance of sticking at shortstop than initially anticipated.
4. CJ Abrams, SS, Padres (No. 21)
That's three straight shortstops who made their pro debuts in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019, with Abrams the best pure hitter of the trio and also possessing difference-making speed.
5. Jasson Dominguez, OF, Yankees (No. 48)
COVID-19 pushed back his debut until 2021, so we'll have to wait a year to see whether reports of potential well-above-average tools across the board can come true.
6. JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins (No. 24)
Like Rodriguez, he's a right fielder who hits for average and power and showcases a strong arm -- and also like Rodriguez, he might not stick around in the Minors to stay on the Top 100 a year from now.
7. Riley Greene, OF, Tigers (No. 25)
The most advanced high school hitter and No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 Draft has been better than expected, looking right at home in big league camp and showing more power and defensive aptitude than expected.
8. Austin Martin, SS/OF, Blue Jays (No. 16)
The best hitter in the 2020 Draft and a potential 20-20 guy, Martin needs to find a defensive home and most likely will end up at second base or in center field.
9. Kristian Robinson, OF, D-backs (No. 39)
The slugger is on course to reach Arizona at age 21 and become the best Bahamian player in big league history.
10. Zac Veen, OF, Rockies (No. 49)
We're jumping the No. 9 overall choice in the 2020 Draft over a half-dozen players selected ahead of him because of his all-around hitting ability.