Power and speed don’t typically go together. David Ortiz and Billy Hamilton, at the extremes, could tell you that. So that’s what makes it all the more exciting when two of baseball’s loudest tools are paired in a player’s skill set. Rarely have both been on display together more than they were in the Minor Leagues in 2021.
Sixteen players hit at least 20 home runs and stole at least 20 bases in the Minors this past season. That’s the largest single-season membership of the 20-20 club since 1983 (also 16), and in the time records are available since 1958, only 1982’s class of 19 is greater than this year’s edition.
The jump comes after Major League Baseball instituted new rules at the lower levels, geared toward encouraging more movement on the basepaths. Low-A pitchers were allowed only two pickoff attempts per plate appearance, while High-A hurlers were required to step fully off the rubber before attempting a throw to a base. The two moves had their intended effects. Stolen bases per game at Low-A jumped from 0.83 in 2019 to 1.23 in 2021 -- an increase of 48 percent -- while they went up from 0.80 to 1.08 (35 percent increase) at High-A in the same timeframe.
Ten of the 16 20-20 players this year spent a majority of their seasons at Low-A, High-A or (as was often the case) both. This isn’t to say baserunners at other levels had it significantly harder, either; Triple-A bases were increased slightly in size and made a little less slippery. While stolen bases only went up modestly (0.63 per game in 2019 to 0.71), the caught-stealing rate plummeted from 30.4 percent to 24.4.
All that said, it’s still on the players themselves to take advantage of rule changes, and stolen bases are only half of the 20-20 equation. The 16 here still had to bring the power to gain entry. Now they join a Minor League club that has claimed current Major League stars like Luis Robert, Kyle Tucker (twice), Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr. and Trevor Story as members since 2015.
These are the 16 players of the 2021 Minor League 20-20 club:
Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals (No. 1, MLB No. 3)
33 homers, 29 steals
The 2019 second overall pick finished one theft shy of being the Minors’ only 30-30 player in 2021. He famously picked up that steal last week, but a midgame cancellation for Triple-A Omaha wiped it away. Nevertheless, Witt’s season was nothing short of thrilling, even more so considering this was essentially his first full season. The Royals got aggressive in sending him to the Minors’ two top levels, and his splits at Double-A (16 homers, 14 steals) and Triple-A (17 homers, 15 steals) were nearly equal in these categories. His place as a five-tool talent has been solidified.
Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees (No. 1, MLB No. 15)
27 homers, 33 steals
Volpe was another 2019 first-round shortstop, but entering 2021, evaluators believed he was solid, but not spectacular, in terms of his power and speed tools. That was especially true of the former with even the Yankees admitting they never had the New Jersey native down to threaten for a 30-homer season at any level. Instead, the right-handed slugger came out of the lost 2020 season with more pop than expected, thanks to a swing that brings plenty of loft, and he used his above-average speed to great effect at Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. Even if those rules don’t carry over to future levels, don’t be surprised to see Volpe stay aggressive in his basestealing after making that a focus this summer.
Joey Wiemer, OF, Brewers (No. 23)
27 homers, 30 steals
The Brewers selected Wiemer in the fourth round last year out of Cincinnati and hoped that he could show more of his impressive raw power in games than he did in college. He certainly accomplished that, on top of making good use of his 55-grade speed. Wiemer is a real all-or-nothing swinger, but Milwaukee has been content to let him hack, especially after he slugged .719 with 14 homers in 34 games at High-A Wisconsin. He’ll test that power-speed combo next in the Arizona Fall League.
Shay Whitcomb, INF, Astros (No. 20)
23 homers, 30 steals
The UC San Diego product played the role of Mr. Irrelevant in the shortened five-round 2020 Draft, but that moniker certainly didn’t stick in his first taste of the pros. Whitcomb got off to a strong start at Low-A Fayetteville with seven homers and 14 steals in 41 games but took things to a new level at High-A Asheville, where he hit .300/.358/.601 with 16 blasts and 16 thefts in 58 contests. Part of that was a hitter-friendly environment with the Tourists -- he slugged .728 at home at High-A, compared to .500 on the road -- but the Houston prospect still earned solid marks for turning his impressive exit velocities into actual homers. He stands out more for his aggression in stolen-base attempts than his actual speed.
Oswaldo Cabrera, INF, Yankees (No. 16)
29 homers, 21 steals
This was a definite power jump for the 22-year-old switch-hitter. Since signing for $100,000 in July 2015, Cabrera had yet to hit more than eight homers in a Minor League season entering 2021. He cleared that mark easily at Double-A Somerset, where he hit 24 blasts and slugged .492 in 109 games, and he ended in grand style with five more homers in a short nine-game stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His 21 steals were also more than double his previous career best of 10 and earn him extra marks for not coming at High-A or Low-A.
Cade Marlowe, OF, Mariners (No. 27)
26 homers, 24 steals
For all of the deserved love directed toward Julio Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic coming into the year, don’t sleep on another talented outfielder in the Seattle system. Marlowe, a 2019 20th-rounder out of the University of West Georgia, did the bulk of his production at High-A Everett in his first full season, hitting 20 homers and stealing 12 bags in only 71 games with the AquaSox. The M’s thought enough of Marlowe to give him a one-game look at Tacoma during the Triple-A Final Stretch, and like Wiemer, he’ll measure himself up against advanced competition again later this month in the AFL.
Josh Lowe, OF, Rays (No. 4, MLB No. 73)
22 homers, 26 steals
Only one player achieved 20-20 membership at Triple-A alone, and that’s Lowe. The 2016 first-rounder was already known for showing good raw power and plus speed, and he paired those together for his most productive season yet at Durham. Even the Rays admitted at times that the left-handed slugger, who produced a .291/.381/.535 slash line, would have gotten more Major League looks if not for a crowded Tampa Bay outfield. Instead, he only played for the Rays twice, and the extra time in Triple-A helped him achieve this 20-20 level. Expect Lowe to have a much bigger role in 2022 and beyond, given his ability to show four above-average to plus tools.
Romy Gonzalez, INF, White Sox (No. 20)
24 homers, 24 steals
The 2018 18th-rounder was one of the earliest members of the 20-20 club, having cleared both bars entirely with Double-A Birmingham (20 homers, 21 steals in 78 games) by late August. He didn’t stop producing at Triple-A Charlotte, where he hit .370/.417/.704 with four homers and three thefts in 15 games, and even got a 10-game look with the Major League club in September. Gonzalez doesn’t get many 55 grades on his scouting report, but he does show good raw power that he really tapped into in his age-24 season.
Neyfy Castillo, OF/1B, D-backs
21 homers, 26 steals
A July 2017 signing out of the Dominican Republic, Castillo hit only four homers in 113 games combined over his first two seasons of pro ball, and only five of those contests were spent away from a Dominican or Arizona complex. He certainly put his name on the map at Low-A Visalia, especially when it came to that power department as he tapped into some good raw pop. Castillo is a bit of a free swinger. He struck out 37.4 percent of the time with the Rawhide, limiting his offensive impact. But he deserves credit for showing more speed than his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame would suggest. How the 20-year-old fares with his power progression against tougher competition deserves following.
Izzy Wilson, OF, Angels
21 homers, 25 steals
The 23-year-old outfielder signed with the Angels as a Minor League free agent last November after spending five seasons in the Braves and Rays systems, and he certainly made a good first impression. He joined Cabrera, Gonzalez and Josh Stowers (see below) as the only players to reach 20 homers and 20 steals completely at Double-A. His numbers in both areas represented career highs, and his 21 home runs for Rocket City, in particular, bested his total from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons combined.
Dustin Harris, 1B/3B, Rangers (No. 17)
20 homers, 25 steals
It isn’t often you see a primary first baseman on these lists, but Harris was actually very efficient on the basepaths, only getting caught twice in 27 attempts at Low-A Down East and High-A Hickory. He earns above-average grades for his speed, and the Rangers are hopeful he can make the most of that athleticism at other spots on the diamond as well. Launch angle has been a point of emphasis, so his 20 homers, split evenly between his two Minor League stops, were a promising development.
Zach Watson, OF, Orioles
21 homers, 26 steals
Watson didn’t get on base a ton in 2011, posting a .294 OBP between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie, but he did make the most of his time there with his 26 thefts. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise from the LSU product, who can earn plus-plus grades for his wheels. His pop came primarily from the higher level, where he hit 12 of his 21 home runs despite playing seven fewer games there. It’ll be the speed that pushes Watson toward Baltimore, and he’ll need it in an Orioles system that is growing ever more crowded with talent.
Joe Gray Jr., OF, Brewers (No. 9)
20 homers, 23 steals
Milwaukee couldn’t have been more thrilled with the way the 2018 second-rounder broke out this summer. Injuries and health issues limited his playing time and production at two Rookie levels in his first two seasons, but once he finally got to reach full-season ball in 2021, Gray made the most of his impressive raw power, particularly at Low-A Carolina where he slugged .632 with 12 homers in 51 games. He has good enough speed to be a threat and was a perfect 12-for-12 in SB attempts before moving up to High-A Wisconsin in July. The outfielder was tested more up north, and that will continue when he heads to the AFL.
Jonny Deluca, OF, Dodgers
22 homers, 20 steals
A darkhorse candidate for this list, Deluca snuck his way on by stealing two bags in the penultimate game of the season for High-A Great Lakes. The bulk of his damage came at Low-A Rancho Cucamonga in a league known primarily for offensive production. Deluca hit .287/.376/.592 with 15 homers and 13 steals in 57 games with the Quakes, only to see that slash line fall to .232/.308/.421 in 44 games at High-A Central. At the least, the 2019 25th-rounder did enough for the Dodgers to take notice, and he shouldn’t be such a sleeper in 2022.
Josh Stowers, OF, Rangers
21 homers, 20 steals
Stowers also needed a last-minute push to reach the 20-20 threshold and did so with a homer in his final game of the season at Double-A Frisco. The 24-year-old spent his entire season with the RoughRiders and was Double-A Central’s only 20-20 player this season, ranking among the top 10 in both categories. A former Mariners and Yankees prospect, Stowers was acquired by Texas in an April deal for Rougned Odor. He had previously been a big-time college performer over his three seasons at Louisville, but this was by far his most successful showing in the pros to date as he tries to find himself in his third system.
Matthew Barefoot, OF, Astros (No. 15)
20 homers, 21 steals
Houston pushed the 2019 sixth-rounder out of Campbell to three levels in his first full Minor League season, and while he met some challenges at Double-A Corpus Christi, he eked past both standards to land on this list. The former Camel showed a good mixture of pop and speed both in school and during a run in the Cape League in 2018, leading to his pick by the Astros, and this was his first step of carrying that to the pros.