Breakouts are, by definition, unpredictable. Or they’re meant to be, anyways.
When the MLB Pipeline team set out to predict prospect breakouts for the 2021 season last January, we didn’t expect to go a full 30-for-30. Indeed, half of the fun around prospect coverage is seeing who can beat expectations and set new, higher ones for themselves and their futures. Looking back, four of our predictions appear to have come true, while 26 others rose to prominence in their own unique ways in a year in which Minor League Baseball returned to play.
This is a combined review of our preseason predictions and postseason picks for the true breakout prospect in each of the 30 farm systems:
All credit to Mike Rosenbaum (formerly of MLB Pipeline, currently of Prep Baseball Report) for this one back in January. Moreno had just been added to the 40-man roster after a strong showing at Toronto’s alternate site, and once the regular season resumed this summer, he showed everyone else just far how he’d come. Moreno hit .373/.441/.651 with eight homers in 32 games for Double-A New Hampshire before a broken thumb put him on the shelf for much of the season. Still, he showed enough promise as an all-around catcher in those looks to jump into the top spot of Toronto’s rankings, and he should get the chance to become the Jays’ catcher of the present and future next summer.
Henderson certainly lived up to expectations in terms of a breakout, reaching Double-A at age 20, but Stowers gets the nod from coming from further off the radar. He began the year as the organizaiton’s No. 26 prospect but now is up to No. 11 thanks to a year that saw him reach Triple-A and slug .514 with 27 homers in the process.
Goss’ potential breakout has been delayed by shoulder issues that limited him to only four appearances this summer. Bradley, on the other hand, became the next big arm in the Tampa Bay system at the lower levels. Most notably, the 20-year-old’s velocity ticked up to the point where he was throwing mid-90s regularly and touching the upper-90s at times. His slider and curveball still give him two promising breaking pitches as well. He led Minor League qualifiers with a 1.83 ERA over 103 1/3 innings at Low-A and High-A, and a spot in the Top 100 prospect list might not be far behind.
Selected 17th overall, Yorke was the biggest surprise in the first round of the 2020 Draft. However, the 19-year-old lived up to the pick with a monster showing in his professional debut. Yorke showed off his advanced plate discipline and ability to hit the ball to all fields as he slashed .325/.412/.516 with 14 homers and 62 RBIs over 97 games across two levels of Class-A ball. The second baseman was also named the Low-A East Player of the Month in August, during which he hit .419 over 16 games.
While Peraza hit .297 with a career-high 18 homers and reached Triple-A for the first time, Volpe’s stock skyrocketed in 2021. The 20-year-old opened the year as the Yankees’ No. 11 prospect and finished atop the list after hitting .294/.423/.604 with 27 homers and 86 RBIs over 109 games. The Low-A Southeast Player of the Month for June, Volpe has firmly entrenched himself on the prospect radar and figured to rank high on a variety of lists in 2022.
Valera certainly put together a strong season at the plate, mashing a career-high 19 homers, but we’re giving the edge to Allen, who went 9-0 with a 2.26 ERA and 143 strikeouts over 111 1/3 innings in his professional debut. Cleveland’s second-round pick from the 2020 Draft worked his way up to Double-A utilizing a trio of pitches, the best of which is his plus changeup. Allen, who sits in the low 90s with his fastball, held opponents to a .193 average and posted a 0.93 WHIP last season. After such a spectacular debut, Allen has definitely set the bar high for 2022.
Marsh was limited by arm soreness in 2021, robbing him at a chance of a true breakout. Even if he had been healthy, it would have been difficult to choose anyone but Melendez here. Prior to this season, the backstop was last seen hitting .163 with nine homers over 110 games for High-A Wilmington. In 2021, he led all Minor Leaguers with 41 homers and finished with a .288/.386/.625 line at Double-A and Triple-A. The left-handed slugger toned down a leg kick that was bringing a lot of pre-swing movement to his approach and also worked on improving his pitch selection to cut down on his chase rate. Melendez’s improved bat marries nicely with impressive defensive work, both as a thrower and receiver, and he’ll enter his age-23 season as one of the best all-around catching prospects in baseball.
You can always tell a little something by how and when an organization decides to promote a player. The Tigers moved Kreidler up from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo on Aug. 16 -- the exact same time as they did with top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. That was a slight indication that Detroit sees those three as a potential core of the farm and a group worth rounding up together. Kreidler, who was not ranked among Detroit’s Top 30 prospects at the end of 2020, was an even better hitter at Triple-A, where he hit .304/.407/.519 over 41 games. He receives strong defensives reviews as well for his work at the six and should be on track to help Detroit in some capacity next summer.
Miranda was one of the best offensive performers in all of the Minor Leagues in 2021. Playing across Double- and Triple-A, the infielder was the third baseman on the MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Year after hitting a combined .344/.401/.572 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs. He led the Minors in hits (184) and total bases (304) as well.
An 18th-round pick from the 2018 Draft, Gonzalez wasn’t on the White Sox Top 30 to begin the season, but ended the year ranked 20th after hitting .283/.364/.532 over 93 games between Double- and Triple-A. Gonzalez began the year with just 154 games of Minor League experience and had yet to reach the upper levels. Not only did he work his way through the upper levels in 2021, but he made his Major League debut in September. A big reason for the 25-year-old’s success was his ability to tap into his raw power. After hitting just four homers over 101 games in 2019, Gonzalez went deep 24 times in 2021.
A sixth-round pick out of high school in 2018, Butler had very little to show for his first two summers of pro ball in 2018 and 2019. He started to tap into his tremendous raw power in Low-A this past season and earned a late promotion to High-A, where he continued to swing the bat well. Overall, he finished the year with 19 homers, a .504 SLG and 29 stolen bases to boot.
The Angels took Daniel in the seventh round of the 2019 Draft, just a couple of months after the Auburn product had Tommy John surgery. As a result, the 2021 season was the right-hander’s first competitive action as a pro. He responded by pitching his way from High-A to Triple-A and leading the organization with 154 strikeouts, whiffing 12.1 per nine and walking just 2.7 per nine innings.
Preseason prediction: Hunter Brown, RHP (No. 3)
Postseason pick: Brown
Brown reached the upper levels of the Minors for the first time in 2021, racking up 131 strikeouts over 100 1/3 innings split between Double- and Triple-A. The 23-year-old, a 2019 fifth-round pick out of Wayne State, Brown still needs to make strides with his command, but his mid- to upper-90s fastball and power curveball offer an enticing one-two punch in his arsenal.
There was considerable anticipation for Marte making his United States debut after he hit .309/.371/.511 in the Dominican Summer League in 2019. We all had to wait a year because of the pandemic, but Marte didn’t disappoint, earning a late promotion from Low- to High-A as a teenager and hitting .273/.366/.459 with 17 homers and 24 steals in 107 total games.
The Rangers selected White in the second round of the 2018 Draft, but Tommy John surgery and the cancelled 2020 season delayed White’s professional debut until 2021. To make matters worse, a broken hand limited White to just 35 1/3 innings this season. To make up for lost time and log some additional innings, the Rangers sent White to the Arizona Fall League, where he was named the AFL Pitcher of the Year. White was nothing short of dominant in Arizona, pitching to a 1.91 ERA with 29 strikeouts over a league leading 28 1/3 innings. The Fall League is a small sample size, but White’s ability to star in the hitter-friendly environment bodes well for his future.
Tarnok didn’t have a bad year (3.44 ERA, 13.4 K/9), but it’s hard to look past what Strider did in his first season of pro ball. The 2020 fourth-round pick began the year in Low-A and finished it in the big leagues. He finished second in the organization with 153 strikeouts in the Minors, amassing that total in just 94 innings (14.6 K/9), holding hitters to a .190 batting average in the process across four levels.
It’s hard to pitch much better than Eder did in 2021. The 2020 fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt posted a 1.77 ERA and struck out 99 over 71 1/3 Double-A innings in his professional debut. A Futures Game selection, Eder held opponents to one run or fewer in 10 of his 15 starts. The 23-year-old also had six scoreless outings and twirled five no-hit innings with eight strikeouts on June 6, his most dominant outing of the season.
Vientos was all power potential in the early days of his career since the Mets took him in the second round of the 2017 Draft. In 2021, he was power realized. The 22-year-old right-handed slugger launched 25 homers in only 83 games between Double-A and Triple-A and finished with a .281/.352/.581 line. His defensive home remains in question between his current spot at third and possibilities in left and first. (A National League DH would certainly help.) His bat is very much not, and he should hit his way to Queens at some point in 2022 if his progress continues apace.
The Nats system certainly improved in 2021, but that improvement mostly came via external additions. So why not Cavalli for breakout prospect of the season? The 2020 first-rounder entered the season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 86 overall prospect and ends the year at No. 39. That jump was aided by the fact that he led the Minors with 175 strikeouts over 123 1/3 innings across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. The 6-ofoot-4 right-hander has four above-average pitches and can touch triple-digits with the heater. He has true ace potential if he can command that package slightly better.
Before the year started, O’Hoppe barely snuck onto the Top 30, at No. 28, having built a bit of a reputation of being a solid backstop based on holding his own as an extra catcher at the Phillies’ alternate site in 2020. Taken in the 23rd round in 2018, he played his way from High-A to Triple-A, hitting 17 homers and playing solid defense behind the plate, before a strong showing as one of the top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Kelly spent much of the year trying to come back from offseason surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, taking him out of the running here. Instead, it was Wiemer whose stock surged in 2021. The 2020 fourth-rounder entered pro ball with concerns about his hit tool and his ability to make the most of his incredible raw power. Some slight adjustments at the plate alleviated both concerns to the point where he became one of the most electric prospects in the Milwaukee pipeline. Wiemer hit .295/.403/.556 and was one of 16 20-20 Minor Leaguers after finishing with 27 homers and 30 steals between Low-A and High-A. Add in his plus-plus outfield arm, and Wiemer is showing enough tools to become a must-follow wherever he ends up to begin 2022.
You could make a strong case for Nick Plummer here, but he signed with the Mets as a free agent this offseason, so we’ll try to keep it to players currently in the organization. Walker is a fine pick on his own, having jumped from No. 6 in the Cards rankings to a comfortable spot in the Top 100. The 19-year-old third baseman exhibited an ability to make elite hard contact at Low-A and High-A and consistently put up some of the best exit velocities in Low-A Southeast, where he opened the season. He hit .317/.388/.548 with 14 homers in 82 games, and his pop might only increase as he matures.
Preseason prediction: Yeison Santana, SS
Postseason pick: Caleb Kilian, RHP (No. 14)
Acquired from the Giants in late July as part of the Kris Bryant trade, Kilian reached Double-A for the first time in 2021 and held batters to a .205 average over 100 1/3 innings. Kilian, who struck out 112 and pitched to a 2.42 ERA, finished his campaign with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League and helped lead Mesa to a title with six perfect innings in the championship game.
Priester had a solid year in High-A ball and earned Pirates pitching prospect of the year honors, but even though Contreras missed a chunk of time with a forearm strain, he went from somewhat interesting acquisition in the Jameson Taillon deal to a right-hander with some of the most electric stuff in the Minors. He posted a gaudy 6.31 K/BB ratio, mostly in Double-A, and made his big league debut, before looking like one of the best pitching prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Preseason prediction: Rece Hinds, 3B (No. 7)
Postseason pick: Jose Barrero, SS (Graduated from Top 30)
Hinds’ raw power did show up in 2021, but he played in just 54 games. Barrero had been forced into big league action in 2020 because of his defense, but didn’t hit. In 2021, he showed the bat is going to catch up by hitting .303/.380/.539 between Double- and Triple-A, finishing with 19 homers and 16 steals to earn more time in Cincinnati.
Nelson was a hard-throwing reliever in college, capable of touching triple-digits while utilizing a good curve. Given the chance to be a full-time starter in 2021, the 23-year-old right-hander took off with help from some cleaned-up mechanics. Nelson posted a 3.17 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 163 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings at High-A and Double-A, leading to a rise from No. 19 in the preseason rankings all the way to No. 5.
Pages, signed in 2017 after defecting from Cuba, led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in several offensive categories in 2019 and then exploded for 31 homers over 120 games in 2021. Concerns remain about Pages’ high rate of strikeouts -- though he did reduce his K% from 28.3% in 2019 to 25.5% this past season -- but he’s shown an ability to make adjustments and generate impressive exit velocities.
Canario hit a career-high 18 homers in 2021, but finished the season in the Cubs organization as he was sent to Chicago as part of the package for Kris Bryant in late July. Matos, who signed for $725,000 in 2018, entered the year viewed as an advanced hitter and showed as much as he slashed .313/.358/.494 over 109 games with Low-A San Jose. The 19-year-old also hit 15 homers and showed off his speed with 21 stolen bases.
Preseason prediction: Mason Thompson, RHP (traded to Nationals, graduated)
Postseason pick: Ethan Elliott, LHP (No. 12)
Elliott, a 2019 10th-rounder out of Division II Lincoln Memorial University, already had a taste of pro success when he posted a 1.77 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 12 starts at Class A Short Season Tri-City in his Draft year. His stock took a major jump when he carried those results to full-season ball in 2021. Elliott finished with a 3.06 ERA, 87 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 70 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A this summer. His plus changeup and above-average control fueled that rise, as did the fact that he was able to push his velocity from the mid-80s to 88-90. He deserves an even closer follow at the upper levels in 2022.
Playing most of the 2021 season at age 19, Tovar really started to show why the Rockies gave him $800,000 to sign in August 2017, earning a promotion from Low- to High-A after hitting .309/.346/.510 at the lower level. Combined, he hit 15 homers and stole 24 bases, all while playing extremely good defense at a premium position. And while his stat line in the AFL doesn’t stand out, he did make a very strong impression as one of the youngest prospects in the league.