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The top 5 prospects going into 2021 will be ...

February 5, 2020

We’re in a little bit of limbo here at MLB Pipeline. Our Top 100 has been out for a couple of weeks, but our new Top 30 lists aren’t live yet. (Trust me, they’re coming, all of you who keep asking about it on Twitter.) Spring Training is right around

We’re in a little bit of limbo here at MLB Pipeline. Our Top 100 has been out for a couple of weeks, but our new Top 30 lists aren’t live yet. (Trust me, they’re coming, all of you who keep asking about it on Twitter.) Spring Training is right around the corner and we’re hearing about prospects in reported trades.

I don’t know about you, but all of this has me very excited to get the 2020 season started, so we can see all of these prospects back on the field again. For now, answering your Inbox questions will have to suffice.

We just put out this year’s Top 100 rankings and you already want to know what 2021 is going to look like? Sheesh.

I kid. This is a fun exercise and it’s always interesting to look a little bit further into the future. As I contemplated who to includ on this list, I realized once again that it’s going to be very hitter-heavy at the top. Our current top four are hitters, though we do have three pitchers in the 5-10 range. I’m not sure we’ll have that many a year from now.

The first thing I did was subtract the players I expect will have graduated by this time next year. We will undoubtedly say goodbye to the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux and White Sox outfielder Luis Robert from that top four. The Angels’ Jo Adell, even with the acquisition of Joc Pederson (more on that below) should also graduate. I also think the three top 10 arms -- the Padres’ MacKenzie Gore, Tigers right-hander Casey Mize and Nate Pearson of the Blue Jays -- will likely get enough big league mound time to no longer be in the conversation.

By no means scientific, I wanted to try to have a combination of players already at the top of the list who will stay there along with those who could make a leap up into the top five. And while I could see pitchers like Luis Patino of the Padres or Grayson Rodriguez of the Orioles taking another big step forward, I think there’s just too much offensive talent for them to break into the top five overall. Here’s my guess at what the 2021 top five will look like:

1. Wander Franco, SS, Rays
2. Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
3. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals
4. Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
5. Marco Luciano, SS, Giants

I was tempted not to answer this one because, by the very nature of them being on a Top 100 list, the prospects in that ranking aren’t really underrated, right? But I get the point of what you’re asking and I think there are some players who might be better than where they are currently ranked.

If you see my answer to the question above, you know that I might start with the Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez or the Giants’ Marco Luciano, who are currently Nos. 18 and 35. It’s not so much that they’re underrated -- both are in the top 40 after all -- but they just don’t have a big enough resume to be up higher at this point. Obviously, I think they’re going to outperform where we have them now and make a big jump.

Beyond those two, and maybe the two pitchers mentioned above (Patino and Rodriguez), I’ll give you a pair of infielders. One is Jordan Groshans from the Blue Jays, who might be underrated (he’s at No. 75) because he missed so much of his first full season. The other is No. 82 Geraldo Perdomo from the D-backs, who really impressed in the Arizona Fall League. I think we’re just getting to know what he’s capable of and could easily see him bounding up this list in a hurry.

I’m guessing you’re picking the end of May to get a sense of guys who’ll get called up before whenever the Super Two cutoff is? Or planning for a fantasy draft? Either way, I guess we can start with players who already have big league time and there’s likely going to be a spot for them:

Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Dodgers
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, A’s
Brendan McKay, LHP/DH, Rays
Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
Carter Kieboom, SS/2B, Nationals
Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers
Sean Murphy, C, A’s
Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates
Nico Hoerner, INF, Cubs
Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves
A.J. Puk, LHP, A’s
Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Red Sox (from Twins, according to reports)

So that’s a dozen right there, with maybe Kopech being a bit of a wild card since he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery. I’d add the guys who got the contract extensions, Luis Robert of the White Sox and Evan White of the Mariners, to that list. After that, it’s a bit of guesswork. There are 33 others, by my count, who we gave ETAs of 2020 to, meaning we believed that group would be ready for a big league callup at some point this season. Will Adell be up by the end of May? How about Gore? We’ll have to wait and see, but let’s set the over/under for callups by June at 30 total. I think I’ll take the over.

The quick answer is there will be a short-term impact, but I don’t think it’s really going to do too much in terms of slowing down that outfield duo long-term. Our Angels writer Rhett Bollinger wrote a lot about what Pederson’s arrival could mean.

Adell is about a half-step closer to being big league ready than Marsh. In a pre-Pederson world, I could see Adell tearing it up in Triple-A and then getting called up in late May or early June to take over in right field, pushing Brian Goodwin to a fourth outfielder role. Marsh could’ve hit his way up, or at least been ready to get called up, maybe in the second half depending on the personnel and how the Angels are doing. The addition of Pederson will likely mean the brakes get pumped a bit. I still think Adell makes his big league debut in 2020, but it could be late in the year or September (unless there are injuries). I could also see Adell and Marsh getting a full year in Triple-A, ready to hit the Angels full-time in 2021. Marsh will be just 23 and Adell will be just 21 at the start of next season, so there’s plenty of time. And Pederson is a free agent after this season, so we should very well be back where we were before this trade went down a year from now.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.