At long last, we are ready to unveil MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list. And with a full Minor League season in 2021, there are sure to be plenty of changes in this year’s list compared to a year ago.
With graduations, performances and an influx of new talent via the Draft and international signings, there was a lot to consider when constructing this year’s Top 100. For the first time in a very long time, the list is not topped by Rays phenom Wander Franco. And for the first time ever, the top eight players are all from the same league.
Franco was our No. 1 prospect for four straight lists, from the 2019 midseason to the '21 preseason rankings, before graduating off the list during the '21 season. He’s handed off to another shortstop, Royals future star Bobby Witt Jr., who leads a Top 10 that features eight American Leaguers, including a pair of Orioles and Tigers. After that run at the top, the National League catches up, with the AL finishing with an ever-so-slight 51-49 edge.
Those on the list must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or have accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club(s), excluding time on the injured list or in military service (not counting September time in 2019 or earlier seasons). The rankings continue to follow the guidelines laid out by the Collective Bargaining Agreement in terms of who falls under the international pool money rules. Players who are at least 25 years old and have played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.
The Top 100 is put together by myself, Jim Callis, Sam Dykstra and Will Boor with input from industry sources, including scouts and front-office executives. It is based on analysis of players' upsides, tools and potential Major League impact.
The Top 10
1. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
2. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
3. Julio Rodríguez, OF, Mariners
4. Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, Tigers
5. Riley Greene, OF, Tigers
6. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
7. Gabriel Moreno, C, Blue Jays
8. Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
9. CJ Abrams, SS, Padres
10. Francisco Álvarez, C, Mets
Complete Top 100 »
Players on this year’s list from the 2021 Draft or from the international signing period that began in January 2021 aren’t included because they weren’t officially professional prospects when we did the preseason list a year ago. There are a ton of new names this year, 40 in total, after a full year of information and data on the heels of the lost 2020 season.
It starts pretty close to the top. Three of our top 11 were not on the Top 100 to start the 2021 season, led by Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno. Moreno was added during the year and was No. 34 on our midseason re-rank in 2021, but now he’s climbed all the way to No. 7. Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe is up to No. 8 and Mariners shortstop Noelvi Marte comes in at No. 11. They are three of 10 newcomers to land in our Top 50 overall.
Moreno, Volpe et al aren’t the only ones to make huge leaps forward. There are a number of players who were on the 2021 preseason list who have moved way up the charts thanks to a big season last year. None have moved up more than Rays right-hander Shane Baz, who was No. 90 on last year’s list and now lands at No. 12, a jump of 78 spots. He is one of six prospects to move up 50 or more slots: Mets third baseman Brett Baty (+67), D-backs outfielder Alek Thomas (+63), Mariners right-hander George Kirby (+60), Nationals right-hander Cade Cavalli (+60) and Angels lefty Reid Detmers (+53).
Mets catcher Francisco Álvarez has jumped into the top 10, up from No. 48 in 2021, while Cubs outfielder Brennan Davis (from No. 61 to No. 15) and Reds right-hander Hunter Greene (from No. 71 to No. 22) have landed in the top 25.
Of the prospects who were on the Top 100 a year ago who still have prospect status, 23 of them have fallen off the list. That group is headlined by a pair of outfielders in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, who were No. 12 and No. 35 before the start of the 2021 season. The Guardians’ Nolan Jones (No. 36), the Astros’ Forrest Whitley (No. 41) and Jeter Downs of the Red Sox (No. 49) are the other prospects who were in the top 50 but are not on this year’s Top 100.
There are a few prospects who managed to stay on the Top 100 but still took precipitous falls, topped by Padres left-hander MacKenzie Gore, who went from No. 6 (the top pitching prospect) down to No. 86. Mariners right-hander Emerson Hancock also dropped more than 50 spots, going from No. 31 to No. 82.
With a full 2021 season, we saw a larger number of prospects graduate off of the lists as they established themselves in the big leagues. The group of 31 was led by long-time No. 1 prospect Wander Franco, who finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting, and included his teammate Randy Arozarena, who was No. 34 a year ago and actually took home the AL ROY hardware. Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic, Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson were the other top 10 prospects who lost their rookie status last year. Other graduates who received Rookie of the Year votes were Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson (No. 13), Braves right-hander Ian Anderson (No. 18), Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (No. 77), Rays lefty Shane McClanahan (No. 84) and Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (No. 95).
The trend of having a hitter-heavy list continues this year, with 71 position players on the list. The total of 29 pitchers (21 right-handers, eight lefties) is a drop of 10 from a year ago and a huge dip from the 47 pitchers on the Top 100 in 2019 and 2020.
The 29 arms are still the most when compared to any individual position. There are 24 shortstops, the second-highest total, followed closely by the 20 prospects who are listed as outfielders for their primary position. There are 12 catchers, an all-time high, six second basemen, six third basemen and three first basemen.
Feeling the Draft
We always add new draftees to the list during our midseason/summer re-rank and then when we do it again for this list, we have pro debuts to potentially look at. It’s a small sample size, at best, but it’s better than in 2020, when there was nothing to evaluate. Looking at those debuts as well as how the prospects were perceived heading into the Draft, we’ve added 11 members of the 2021 Draft class to this year’s Top 100. They’re all first-rounders, topped by Red Sox shortstop Marcelo Mayer, who was ranked No. 1 on our Draft Top 250, and was taken No. 4 overall. He’s our No. 14 prospect, followed closely by Rangers right-hander Jack Leiter, the No. 2 pick in the Draft. D-backs shortstop Jordan Lawlar (No. 6 pick), Pirates catcher Henry Davis (No. 1 pick) and Marlins shortstop Khalil Watson (No. 16 pick) are the other 2021 draftees in the top 25. Overall, there are 74 former draftees in the Top 100.
That means there are 26 international signees on the list (Reminder: Players from Canada and Puerto Rico, often included separately in international competition, are drafted.). As has typically been the case, the Dominican Republic has the most representatives, with 17. Venezuela has seven Top 100 prospects and Cuba has two.