The skinny on each team's top prospect

May 3rd, 2021

There's only one No. 1 prospect for any team at any given time, and that prospect's progress in the farm system and proximity to making a Major League debut are always of great interest. Here's a one-stop shop for getting the latest information about each club's top prospect with the help of all 30 beat writers.

American League East

Blue Jays: Nate Pearson, RHP (No. 10 overall)

Club: Triple-A Buffalo

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: Pearson missed the latter half of Spring Training with a right adductor strain, and once he was back to full health, he needed to build back up on his throwing program through April. Recently activated and optioned, Pearson will open the season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, where he’ll need to prove that his stuff is sharp enough to return to the Major Leagues. Pearson’s 2020 debut was a rocky one that included an IL stint, but he flashed his dominant potential in the AL Wild Card Series with five strikeouts over two perfect innings against the Rays. The big right-hander needs to find his groove again, but when he’s healthy and pitching to the ceiling of his potential, no pitcher in this organization -- and few in baseball -- have the natural gifts Pearson does. To a rotation in need of both healthy arms and upside, Pearson represents a tantalizing option as the season goes on and he should be a major piece of this club in 2021. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 2 overall)

Club: Double-A Bowie

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: None of the hype has dimmed on Rutschman, the No.1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft. But he simply hasn’t played very much, getting a slow start due to mononucleosis in 2019 and missing the canceled 2020 season due to the pandemic. That makes this summer important for Rutschman in the Orioles’ eyes, as it’ll mark his first full season of pro ball. He’ll open it at Double-A Bowie as a 23-year old with just 37 professional games under his belt, after appearing in 10 at big league spring training this February and March. Rutschman flashed his considerable toolset in the Grapefruit League: a super-advanced approach from both sides of the plate, plus power and defense behind the plate. Some believe Rutschman could catch in the big leagues right now. And many believe he will hit from the day he arrives, which will be at some point in the near future. -- Joe Trezza

Rays: Wander Franco, INF (No. 1 overall)

Club: Triple-A Durham

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: The drumbeat for Franco’s promotion began when he reported to big league Spring Training camp for the first time, intensified when he launched a titanic home run in Grapefruit League play and continued as the Rays’ lineup struggled to find consistent production at the beginning of the season. And Tampa Bay’s front office clearly believes Franco is nearly ready for The Show, jumping the 20-year-old switch-hitter past Double-A and putting him in Triple-A to start the season. There are few questions about Franco’s bat -- although he could strengthen his case with a hot start against upper-level pitching -- but there will be some interest in how he handles playing shortstop, second and third base. Then it’s just a matter of when there’s an opportunity with the Rays and/or when they believe it’s time to call him up. A midseason debut doesn’t seem out of the question for baseball’s top prospect. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B/3B (No. 36 overall)

Club: Double-A Portland

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: By far the most complete hitter in Boston’s farm system, this will be a big year for Casas to get the at-bats he missed when there was no Minor League season last year. The Red Sox love the advanced approach Casas has at the plate and his strong discipline is matched by his power. But the left-handed hitter isn’t just a slugger. With an imposing 6-5 frame, he has the ability to belt the ball from gap to gap. He idolizes Joey Votto and tries to pattern himself after Cincinnati’s veteran first baseman. Casas can play both corner infield positions. With Rafael Devers entrenched at third base through at least '23, first base/DH is probably a quicker path to the Majors for Casas. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Jasson Dominguez, OF (No. 27 overall)

Club: TBD

ETA to Majors: 2024

2021 Outlook: One of the game's most hyped prospects, Dominguez has already garnered physical comparisons to the likes of Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout -- no pressure! A switch-hitting center fielder with excellent power and speed, the 18-year-old Dominguez is expected to make his professional debut this season. The Yankees spent $5.1 million to sign Dominguez out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019, a franchise record for an international amateur. Scouts marvel at his advanced bat speed and mechanics (one back-field drive this spring was said to be crushed with 117 mph exit velocity) and believe that he could have 30-30 homer/steal potential. -- Bryan Hoch

AL Central

Indians: Nolan Jones, 3B (No. 30 overall)

Club: Triple-A Columbus

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: Maybe if Jones was pigeonholed to just third base, his timeline would be much longer. However, the Indians talked to their top prospect just before last offseason began about seeing time at other positions, including the outfield and first base. Since then, he’s been rotating through all three spots (with most of his reps still coming at the hot corner) and has progressed in the grass after never playing in the outfield before. The hope to make Jones more versatile clearly shows the club is attempting to put him on a better (and quicker) path to the Majors, considering José Ramírez rarely takes a day off at third. By the end of the year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 22-year-old get his first call up to the big leagues. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 7 overall)

Club: Double-A Northwest Arkansas

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: The question facing the Royals the past two months has been where they should start Witt Jr. in 2021 after he hasn’t played a game above rookie ball but made significant strides the past year despite no Minor League games. Should it be Double-A or Triple-A? At one point in Spring Training, Witt Jr. was making the case to be on Kansas City’s Opening Day roster because of his standout performance during Spring Training on all sides of the ball. The Royals saw no harm in starting Witt Jr. in Northwest Arkansas, knowing full well he could make a rapid ascension to the Majors this year. He will get work and reps in all over the infield -- shortstop, second base and third base -- to make sure he can take advantage of any opportunity there is with the big league club. Witt Jr. is only 20 years old, and he was drafted just two years ago out of high school. But make no mistake: The Royals’ top prospect is getting closer and closer to Kansas City every day. -- Anne Rodgers

Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B (No. 3 overall)

Club: High-A West Michigan

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: The clamor from Detroit fans to put last year's top overall Draft pick on a fast track to the Majors cooled after Torkelson went 1-for-31 with four walks and 16 strikeouts this Spring Training. Still, a hot start could rekindle the buzz, especially if Detroit continues to struggle to hit. The Tigers, however, are determined to exercise patience, both for his transition to third base and his need to form a daily routine and approach for the grind of pro ball. His raw power made his home runs at Arizona State a social media staple, and even his protective swings are hard. He has an advanced eye at the plate, though he might have been passive in his pitch selection as the strikeouts compiled in Spring Training. The hope is that Torkelson can join fellow Tigers top hitting prospect Riley Greene at Double-A Erie sometime in the summer. Until then, he’ll be a rock star in Grand Rapids. -- Jason Beck

Twins: Royce Lewis, SS (No. 15 overall)

Club: N/A (out for season with right ACL tear)

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: Lewis had actually reported for big league Spring Training as a non-roster invitee in February when the Twins scrutinized some minor knee pain during the 21-year-old’s intake physical and discovered a torn ACL that would require a season-ending procedure to repair. It was brutal news for the former No. 1 overall pick, who struggled to a .661 OPS across High-A and Double-A in 2019 but felt much better about his more direct swing and ability to drive the ball to all fields as a result of his work at the alternate training site in 2020. He was eager to translate that to the field in 2021, but that will need to wait until the end of a lengthy recovery process that will keep him away from action until next season’s Spring Training.

Fortunately, Lewis is still only 21 years old and had been among the youngest players at each level in the Minors, giving him time to weather this obstacle and keep his development on track. But upon his return, the pressure will be greater to perform for the toolsy athlete, who continues to develop his defensive skills at shortstop and refine his offensive approach to best utilize his outstanding skill set. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Jared Kelley, RHP (NR overall)

Club: Low-A Kannapolis

ETA to Majors: 2023

2021 Outlook: Left fielder Andrew Vaughn, right-handed pitcher Michael Kopech and left-handed pitcher Garrett Crochet, the top three White Sox prospects, already are in the Majors and contributing on a regular basis. In fact, Kopech was one of the team’s best stories and most dominant performers during April. Kelley is next on the prospect list, but really hasn’t started his career with the 2020 Minor League season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly was a second-round pick out of Refugio High School in Texas during the 2020 Draft, and already possesses a fastball capable of hitting in the upper 90s, as well as one of the best changeups in that class. He has first-round talent and was a surprise to fall where he did, but at 19 years of age, Kelley needs plenty of experience at the lower levels to develop before moving into the White Sox rotation. -- Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 44 overall)

Club: Triple-A Salt Lake

ETA to Majors: Late 2021

2021 Outlook: Marsh has plenty of tools, as he’s combined power, on-base skills and speed throughout his Minor League career. He can play all three outfield positions and could get called up to the Majors for the first time later this season, especially after right fielder Dexter Fowler suffered a season-ending knee injury. Former top prospect Jo Adell remains in that mix but if Marsh impresses at Triple-A, he could get a crack at the job in right field at some point this year. If not, Marsh figures to be a regular in 2022 and it’ll be interesting if the Angels decide to move Mike Trout off center field to make room for Marsh and his strong defense. But Marsh is more than capable of playing either corner outfield position and the 6-foot-4 slugger has enough power to profile anywhere in the outfield. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Pedro Leon, CF (NR overall)

Club: Double-A Corpus Christi

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 outlook: With the club’s top prospect, pitcher Forrest Whitley, out for the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery, all eyes turn to Leon, whom the Astros signed out of Cuba for $4 million in January. Leon stands only 5-foot-10 but has a powerful, compact build, above-average raw power, as well as the best speed (70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and arm strength (80) in the organization. Leon was signed as a center fielder, but he’ll get the bulk of his playing time at shortstop this year, perhaps 80 percent of his starts. Leon worked out at shortstop in the spring and he has the athleticism to play there. And with Astros starter Carlos Correa headed to free agency at season’s end and prospect Jeremy Peña out for the season following a wrist injury, Leon could be poised to take over at shortstop in Houston next year. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Tyler Soderstrom, C (No. 93 overall)

Club: Low-A Stockton

ETA to Majors: 2024

2021 Outlook: You wouldn’t know Soderstrom was in his first big league camp this Spring Training based on his interactions with the more established players on the A’s. Soderstrom, Oakland’s first-round selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, carries a certain confidence about himself that stands out. The young catcher drove the ball to all fields during Cactus League play, hitting .400 (4-for-10) with three doubles in 10 games. His double against the D-backs on March 16 registered an exit velocity of 109.6 mph, according to Statcast.

Though his offense is ahead of his defense at this point, the 19-year-old backstop made great strides under the watchful eye of A’s manager Bob Melvin, a former big league catcher himself. Entering his first Minor League season with the club, Soderstrom’s supreme strike zone recognition and advanced bat could help him rise through the system quickly, especially if his defense continues to progress. -- Martin Gallegos

Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 4 overall)

Club: Triple-A Tacoma

ETA to Majors: May 2021

2021 Outlook: It’s not a matter of if Kelenic will be up in the immediate future, but when. And given the Mariners’ offensive woes beyond their Nos. 1-3 spots in the lineup, the urgency might be even higher to call him up soon. Kelenic will report to Triple-A Tacoma, a stone’s throw from Seattle, on Tuesday, which represents his highest Minor League assignment yet -- another indicator that he’s nearing his graduation as one of the game’s top prospects. The Mariners will want him to at least play in a few games there against more superior pitching than what he’s been seeing in Minors Spring Training the past month. And while any unproven prospect comes with a level of uncertainty, Kelenic’s incredibly advanced and patient approach, coupled with his elite contact and power potential suggest that he should make an impact with the big league club immediately. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Josh Jung, INF (No. 54 overall)

Club: Triple-A Round Rock

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: Jung hasn’t appeared in professional ball higher than High-A Hickory, where he slashed .287/.363/.389 in 2019. He’s been sidelined with a left foot fracture he sustained in Spring Training but is expected to be the third baseman of the future for Texas. He’s expected to open the season at Round Rock in late May. There’s no reason to rush the 2019 first rounder, but he’s expected to be in the big leagues soon if all goes according to plan. He’s not quite ready to handle the big leagues just yet, but if he crushes his first few weeks of Triple-A pitching, the decision is easy for the Rangers to call him up. -- Kennedi Landry

National League East

Braves: Cristian Pache, CF (No. 11 Overall)

Club: Atlanta Braves

ETA to Majors: Arrived in 2020

2021 Outlook: Pache’s strange path brought him back to the Majors on Saturday to resume his role as Atlanta’s center fielder. His struggles through this season’s first two weeks led the Braves to send him to their alternate site with the intention to spend some time playing every day with Triple-A Gwinnett. Multiple injuries forced the club to audible and throw the talented young outfielder back into the fire. This worked last year, when Adam Duvall’s oblique strain forced Pache to become Atlanta’s center fielder one inning into the NL Championship Series. He homered and doubled during that best-of-seven series, but has looked overmatched during most of his plate appearances against big league pitching. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: JJ Bleday, OF (No. 16 overall)

Club: Double-A Pensacola

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: Selected fourth overall in the 2019 MLB Draft after winning the national title with Vanderbilt, Bleday has just 38 games of professional baseball under his belt because the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season. Still, the organization has the 23-year-old on the fast track thanks to his advanced approach at the plate. The left-handed batter has participated in big league camp twice, the alternate training site and the fall instructional league. In 19 Grapefruit League games in 2021, Bleday posted a .979 OPS with two homers and two doubles. All three of Miami's starting outfielders can become free agents following the 2021 season, so trades at the Deadline are not out of the realm of possibility. Should that be the case, Bleday is a top option to be called up. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: Francisco Álvarez, C (No. 40 overall)

Club: Low-A St. Lucie

ETA to Majors: 2023

2021 outlook: The Mets signed Álvarez to a $2.7 million deal when he was just 16 years old because they envision him developing into the rare big-league catcher who can hit for both average and power in the middle of a lineup. The Mets haven’t had one of those since Mike Piazza left town following the 2005 season, which isn’t a knock on their player-development system; catchers who rake are among the rarest MLB commodities. At age 19, Álvarez remains raw defensively, but the Mets are confident he can stick behind the plate. They’ll take things slowly for now with Álvarez, who has played just 42 professional games (and none above rookie ball). -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 86 overall)

Club: High-A Wilmington

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: Cavalli jumped to the top of the Nationals’ prospect rankings after being selected less than a year ago in the first round of the 2020 Draft (No. 22 overall). Cavalli has a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball in the mid-90s. His slider and changeup also garnered above-average grades. The Nats consider Cavalli, 22, as part of a “big three” of their future, along with their No. 2 prospect Jackson Rutledge and No. 3 prospect Cole Henry. While the team isn’t opposed to calling up young talent, its rotation is built so there is no rush for Cavalli to debut this year -- his first full season of Minor League baseball. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Spencer Howard, RHP (No. 34 overall)

Club: Triple-A Lehigh Valley

ETA to Majors: 2020

2021 Outlook: Howard made his big league debut last season, but he struggled more than expected as he battled shoulder issues. Howard is healthy this year. He is throwing hard again, too. But he also finds himself in an interesting spot. Originally, the Phillies had no plans to make him a part of the their rotation because he is on a strict innings limit. Essentially, the Phillies did not want to go through Howard’s innings too early. They brought him into the bullpen a couple times already this season, but because of struggles in the rotation the Phillies sent him back to Triple-A to start building up arm strength. If he joins the rotation at some point, it might be as a modified opener (i.e. he won’t start a game and pitch one inning, but he also won’t start a game and pitch six or seven). -- Todd Zolecki

NL Central

Brewers: Garrett Mitchell, CF (No. 56 overall)

Club: High-A Wisconsin

ETA to Majors: 2023

2021 Outlook: Mitchell’s first professional season was limited to four games in the Brewers’ fall instructional league but he was nonetheless a breakout player in his first big league camp, slashing .367/.406/.567 in 30 Cactus League at-bats with the Brewers while flashing line-drive authority and exceptional speed. The organization decided to skip him past the low-A level and send Mitchell directly to its new High-A club at Wisconsin, where he will play his first regular season games as a professional about 90 miles from American Family Field. So far, it looks like the Brewers got a steal when Mitchell slipped to No. 20 overall in last year’s Draft over concerns about his Type 1 Diabetes. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Matthew Liberatore, LHP (No. 31 overall)

Club: Triple-A Memphis

ETA to Majors: 2022 (... and an off chance at ’21)

2021 Outlook: One of countless players to lose out on the 2020 Minor League season, Liberatore was assigned to the Cardinals’ alternate training site all of last year, hoping to try and mediate as much of the missed opportunities he would have received in his third professional season. There, Liberatore said he was able to sharpen his repertoire, appreciating the fact that he could bounce his approach off his teammates -- several of which were rehabbing big leaguers -- and receive feedback just moments after facing them in simulated games or live batting practices.

Coming off a stellar Spring Training with a 3.24 ERA across five appearances, the lefty is bound for as close to the Majors as he can be in Triple-A. The only question: If Liberatore shows out, and the Cardinals need an arm for the stretch run, is he the one they call upon at 21 years of age? It’s not impossible, but competing for the 2022 rotation may be his likelier fate. -- Zachary Silver

Cubs: Brailyn Marquez, LHP (No. 51 overall)

Club: TBD

ETA to Majors: Late 2021 or 2022

2021 Outlook: The 22-year-old Marquez was optioned to Double-A Tennessee during Spring Training, and that is his likely landing spot when he does join an affiliate to start his season. For now, the big lefty remains in Arizona, where he is continuing a conservative ramp-up in preparation for the coming season.

Marquez also had a gradual behind-the-scenes program in 2020, but it culminated in a much-anticipated MLB debut in late September. The lefty was wild while battling first-outing jitters, but flashed his triple-digit heat with an impressive strikeout of José Abreu. It was a glimpse of Marquez’s promise, but also his continued need for development. Maybe Marquez can reach The Show again in '21, but '22 might be a more realistic target.-- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (No. 9 overall)

Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

ETA to Majors: Arrived in 2020

2021 outlook: Hayes made his Major League debut in September 2020, and in one month, he made a case to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. In fact, having only played 24 games in the 60-game season, he had the highest number of Baseball Reference wins above replacement of any NL rookie (1.9). 

Needless to say, the expectations are high for Hayes, who figures to be a frontrunner for the NL Rookie to the Year Award again this season. The third baseman doesn’t have many development areas that need big gains. He’s a three-time Minor League Gold Glove Award winner. His 28 feet per second sprint speed is above league average. Hayes, who was seen more as a hit-over-power prospect, mainly just needs to show that the power is legit. -- Jake Crouse

Reds: Nick Lodolo, LHP (No. 50 overall)

Club: Double-A Chattanooga

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: Lodolo, the seventh overall selection in 2019, is a big lefty at 6-foot-6 who has a feel for pitching and control that more than offsets his lack of overpowering stuff. Like a lot of elite prospects, the 23-year-old benefitted from spending 2020 at the alternate site, where he could test himself against more advanced hitters. The organization noticed a difference from Lodolo between his Spring Training and summer camp last year and when he pitched for them this past spring.

During his first pro season in 2019, Lodolo struck out 30 batters without allowing a walk. With only 18 1/3 innings of experience though, he will need more development time. While 2022 seems more realistic, the Reds could call on him (or fellow prospect Hunter Greene) if there is a need for pitching help late this season. -- Mark Sheldon

NL West

D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 39 overall)

Club: High-A Hillsboro

ETA to Majors: 2022

2021 Outlook: The D-backs love everything about Carroll, who they grabbed with the 16th overall pick in the 2019 Draft. He was regarded as an advanced high school player at the time and in his short time in the Arizona organization he has done nothing but show that he will move quickly through their system. Carroll lost out on a year of Minor League play in 2020, but the D-backs believe that his work at their alternate training site against more advanced pitching than he would have seen at the Low-A level will pay off for him in the long run. Carroll has shown an advanced approach at the plate with a good feel for controlling the strike zone. Defensively he has plenty of range in center and can make all the plays out there. The big leagues at some point next year is an aggressive timeline for someone drafted out of high school just two years ago, but Carroll may be able to pull it off. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Keibert Ruiz, C (No. 48 overall)

Club: Triple-A Oklahoma City

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: The Dodgers are in a good spot when it comes to their catching depth. They have Will Smith and Austin Barnes at the Major League level, but also have top prospect Ruiz ready to go. Ruiz made his debut last season and didn’t waste any time to make an impact, launching a homer off Julio Teheran in his first plate appearance. He finished the 2020 season with a .875 OPS in eight at-bats. This spring, Ruiz missed the majority of big league camp due to a visa issue. However, he raked in limited opportunities, going 5-for-6 at the plate. Ruiz is currently with the Dodgers as part of their taxi squad. It’s very likely that Ruiz will get a chance at some point this season. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (No. 14 overall)

Club: Low-A San Jose

ETA to Majors: 2023

2021 Outlook: The Giants haven’t signed a homegrown international All-Star since Pablo Sandoval in 2003, but Luciano could be poised to finally break that drought. Since receiving a $2.6 million signing bonus from the Giants in July 2018, Luciano has worked hard to chart his path to stardom, flashing the type of raw power, athleticism and baseball instincts that suggest he could be an impact player in the big leagues before long. The 19-year-old has yet to play a full Minor League season, but he’s faced plenty of advanced competition after spending last summer at the alternate training site and participating in his first big-league camp this spring. Luciano has said he believes that experience could help accelerate his timetable and enable him to reach the Majors as early as next season. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 6 overall)

Club: Triple-A El Paso

ETA to Majors: 2021

2021 Outlook: Gore’s big league debut might come sooner than you think. MLB Pipeline’s top overall pitching prospect, Gore dealt with some control issues over the past year and a half. Otherwise, he probably would’ve debuted already. But Gore’s stuff remains as lively as ever, and his four-pitch mix gives the Padres every reason to believe he’ll be an impactful front-of-the-rotation arm -- and soon. San Diego would love to see Gore hone his command a bit at the Minor League level. He’s only thrown 183 professional innings, and clearly has a few things to work on. But injuries might ultimately force the Padres’ hand. The back end of their rotation has taken some hits recently. In no uncertain terms, Gore is expected to help carry that load at some point this year. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 45 overall)

Club: Low-A Fresno

ETA to Majors: 2024

2021 Outlook: Veen, listed at 6-4 and 190, grew about an inch and reported to Minor League Spring Training in the 205-210 range. The added muscle should help him in his first year of pro ball, which may be a challenge for many high school players -- who are headed into full-season Minor Leagues with only fall instructional ball behind them. Two key attributes arose in camp -- gap power in the form of home runs and doubles, and a patient eye that led to walks. If this carries to regular-season play, the pre-Draft comparisons to the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger could be more than just the fact they are similar in frame. -- Thomas Harding