Major League rosters were set on Opening Day, but it's important to remember that they're never set in stone. Active rosters ebb and flow throughout the season as injuries and performance force organizations to make constant moves in search of putting the best possible team on the field.
Prospects play their roles in all of this movement, whether it's coming up to the Majors for the first time or returning to The Show from the Minor Leagues to fill a vacant need. That said, some organizations have established farm systems that will allow them to be more reliant on prospects than others during the 2021 season.
Below, we break down just how reliant each of the 30 organizations will be on their Top 10 prospects, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, in the upcoming campaign. There are five tiers -- Cream of the crop; Ready, willing and able; Healthy stream of prospects; Big names, little depth and Check back in 2022. Players listed below were given estimated times of arrival of 2020 or 2021 during the latest prospect ranking. Those, such as Ryan Mountcastle and Tarik Skubal, who were prospect-eligible to start the season but have since graduated were included as part of the process.
Cream of the crop
A team that nearly went to the World Series isn’t typically this reliant on prospects the following year, but that’s just not how the Braves are built at present. Pache and Anderson have picked right up from their postseason roles to claim spots on the Opening Day roster, and it wouldn’t shock to see both get Rookie of the Year consideration at season’s end. Waters – the other Top 100 prospect on this list – will provide outfield backup and has the ceiling to find a regular lineup spot should there be injuries. Contreras will be catcher depth, while Muller, Davidson and De La Cruz can all help out on the mound. Outside Pache and Anderson, there aren’t many guaranteed contributors, but the depth shouldn’t be questioned.
You could put Miami in its own tier if you wanted. Eight of the organization’s Top 10 prospects should see the Majors this season, most among the 30 farm systems. Six of those eight have already seen The Show after a 2020 campaign in which the Marlins had to dip into their youth reservoir several times en route to the postseason. Chisholm and Rogers are back with the big club now, and Sixto Sánchez could have been in April as well if not for shoulder issues that have put his return date into question. Bleday and Cabrera are the ones yet to debut, and they have the skill sets to break through by midseason, assuming health. It’s going to be a trial by fire in South Florida, and the Marlins are hopeful that 2021 is when the base of their next contender truly locks into place.
Across the board, the Rays were deemed to have the best farm system in baseball this offseason. As if that wasn’t enough, a lot of the organization’s best prospects are set to see St. Petersburg this summer. Among those listed above, Patiño, Arozarena, McKay and McClanahan have already reached the Majors. With his 80-grade hit tool, Franco should force his own Major League issue at some point, and his fellow infielder Bruján has elite game-changing speed that Tampa Bay shouldn’t overlook this summer. The Rays wheel keeps on turning, and that means more elite talent is on the way.
Chicago’s AL club boasts four Top 100 prospects. All four have opened the 2021 season on the Major League roster. That is all part of the way Rick Hahn has pushed the organization’s chips to the middle of the table in pursuit of an AL Central title. What also gives the Sox a bump to this upper tier is the fact that all four should play prominent roles. Madrigal is an everyday second baseman. Vaughn was thought to be a designated hitter but has been pressed into left-field duty. Kopech and Crochet are fireballers out of the bullpen and could be built back into starters as the season rolls along. The additions of Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks this offseason were huge. But adding these four to the foundation is equally big for the present and future of baseball on the South Side.
Ready, willing, able
The A’s lack a Top 100 prospect entering the 2021 season, but what they don’t have in elite talent, they make up for in Major League readiness. Only the Marlins, Braves and Rays have more Top 10 prospects with 2021 ETAs. Puk, who was called up Monday, is the most likely to be a big producer this summer with a plus-plus fastball and 65-grade slider that will ease his transition back following shoulder surgery. Jefferies competed for a rotation spot himself this spring and could easily slide in when depth is needed. The others may not be big-time contributors, but no one should ever doubt Oakland’s ability to make the most of its homegrown talent.
Trammell has already won a spot in the Seattle outfield coming out of spring, and it’s well-documented that Kelenic doesn’t require much more Minor League seasoning before he reaches the Emerald City himself. Gilbert and Kirby – first-rounders in 2018 and 2019, respectively – may have missed out on much-needed innings last year, but both right-handers have the advanced stuff to get at least some starts at various points this summer. Raleigh rounds out the collection as a plus power hitter with a good glove behind the plate. Though it doesn’t include Julio Rodríguez, who is expected to arrive next year, the list has enough talent to give M’s fans hope that the club could surprise or at least be on track for a postseason spot in 2022.
Mountcastle graduated over the weekend after a strong showing with the bat in 2020 ensured his place on the 2021 Opening Day roster. Now comes the turn to who’s next, and the name is as big as it gets. Rutschman’s arrival would automatically bring electricity to Camden Yards as a generational catching prospect, and he would carry a good measure of hope with him. Kremer, Baumann, Diaz and Akin are more names for depth, not that that should be discounted. Who and how many can emerge from that group as legit Major Leaguers will be huge in the O’s efforts to move beyond their rebuild.
It’s not often that we talk about a legit contender being reliant on prospects, but the Padres are not built like a traditional contender anyways. Campusano, Weathers and Marcano all cracked the Opening Day roster with varying levels of surprise, and all three had to so on their own accord, given San Diego’s plans to go after the NL West on day one. Gore is lurking as MLB Pipeline’s top pitching prospect, and if he can improve the command of his stellar arsenal, he seems to be in line for a May or June debut himself. Oña doesn’t have nearly the ceiling of anyone else mentioned here, but his above-average power bat from the right side and 55-grade arm could be of use, as they were in 2020. He opened the season on the IL with right elbow inflammation.
The Red Sox have made a few moves in the last two calendar years to build up the depth of their system, and in 2021, that farm could bear some serious fruit. Dalbec and Houck both opened the season in the Majors in prominent roles at first base and in the rotation. The former, in particular, could show enough of his trademark pop to compete for a Rookie of the Year Award. Duran came off a strong winter performance in Puerto Rico and continued to show a promising mix of hit tool and plus-plus speed this spring, leading many to wonder if he is the long-term replacement for Jackie Bradley Jr. in center. Even with all those mentioned, Downs, who was acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, is the best prospect expected to see Fenway Park in 2021 and could make for a promising double-play partner with Xander Bogaerts because of his all-around offensive potential. Mata is more of a question mark after he suffered a partially torn UCL this spring, though he is attempting to pitch through it and avoid surgery.
No, this list doesn’t include Bobby Witt Jr. He’s technically listed on MLB Pipeline as a 2022 ETA, but the Royals do have a history of getting aggressive with their prospects. They showed that again in 2021 when they used Isbel in their Opening Day lineup. One has to figure Lynch, Kowar, Bowlan and Cox – all pitchers taken in the 2018 Draft – can’t be too far behind either. Lynch is the most exciting of the bunch with a mid-90s fastball, plus slider and above-average changeup. If the Royals are going to surprise some in the AL Central, prospects should play a prominent role.
The arrival of the Big Three of Mize, Skubal and Manning is a boon for the Tigers, not only in this category but in their outlook for 2021 and beyond. It’s a signal that the ongoing rebuild might be finally taking a turn around the bend. Paredes and Cameron both saw the Majors in 2020 with middling results but enter this season with chances to prove that they equally belong in Detroit’s long-term plans. Things could be getting a whole lot more competitive in the Motor City.
Healthy stream of prospects
Forrest Whitley would have definitely featured here, if not for his Tommy John surgery this spring. Instead, the Astros contingent doesn’t feature a Top 100 name, but it does have solid talent. Garcia is already with the big club as a starter, thanks to his plus changeup, and Peña is looking to ride an impressive winter-ball campaign to some time on the Houston dirt. Ivey, who turns 25 in May, should serve as pitching depth.
Jays fans got a taste of what Pearson can do in five appearances last year, and a groin injury is the only thing standing between him and a spot in the rotation right now. Kirk won the backup catching job out of the spring and will be a promising right-handed bat off the bench, regardless of his position. Woods Richardson still doesn’t turn 21 until September, but the 6-foot-3 right-hander has developed to the point where he could help out in a number of pitching roles before the end of the summer. Toronto has hopes of returning to the playoffs for the second straight season, and some of the organization’s best young talents should play important parts in that pursuit.
Alzolay’s graduation is imminent after he tossed 33 2/3 innings between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He enters this campaign as the club’s No. 5 starter, one with a high-spin curve that should help him stick this time around. Both at age 22, Marquez and Amaya should be younger options for Chicago this season, but it’s worth noting that they are already on the 40-man roster. Marquez, in particular, made his Major League debut last season and could take his 80-grade heater back to the Cubs bullpen, whenever they choose to move him out of a Minor League starting role. Keep an eye on this next wave if Chicago decides to turn the page on its roster.
This batch of prospects could keep things interesting in Arlington. Dunning was the main return in the Lance Lynn trade with the White Sox and slotted directly into the Rangers rotation. A hamstring injury kept Huff from making the Opening Day roster, but the backstop simply has too much power to not head back to the Rangers following his 2020 debut. Jung will be a fascinating one to follow. The 2019 first-rounder underwent surgery on a stress fracture in his left foot in March and faces a six-to-eight-week recovery window. When he does come back, his hit and power tools are advanced enough to propel him toward The Show. Will he run out of time? Like we said, tune in down in Texas.
The Reds signaled just how willing they are to use prospects this season by making India their Opening Day second baseman. Stephenson joined him on that starting roster at backup catcher, and barring severe performance issues, neither should be moving any time soon. Garcia struggled with a .400 OPS in 24 games last season, but given the organization’s issues at shortstop, he should get ample time to improve those numbers in 2021. Lodolo’s inclusion would kick this group into another gear; the Reds’ top prospect missed a chance to pitch in his first full season last year but has the advanced arsenal to see The Show at some point in the months to come. The No. 57 overall prospect and others like him could be the difference between the Reds competing in an open NL Central and sitting out the playoffs.
The arrival of prospects might be the biggest events Colorado fans have to look forward to in 2021. Luckily, there should be some solid ones. Rolison has a starter’s ceiling and could be the next homegrown arm that the Rockies desperately need to fill their rotation. Vilade has the plus power to put up some big numbers in Coors Field, and the 2017 second-rounder should be knocking on the door to Denver in short order. Fairly or not, plenty of eyes will be on Montero as well after he came over from the Cardinals in the Nolan Arenado trade. The 22-year-old third baseman has above-average pop but will need to get more of his hit tool to get consistent Major League at-bats this summer. The rest of the Top 10 represents the long-term view needed for this pipeline.
This is a steady line of reinforcements for a club that should be in heavy contention for a playoff spot. Jeffers already shares Major League catching duties with Mitch Garver and has every possibility of winning the starting job for his own as the season rolls along. Kirilloff opens at the alternate site after debuting in last year’s postseason, but the organization’s top prospect should slot into left field at some point, perhaps as early as this month. Larnach and Duran are 24 and 23, respectively, and should bring a promising left-handed bat and electric fastball/splitter combo to the table. The quartet could play a role in holding off the White Sox in the battle of the AL Central.
All three of these players featured in the Majors during the shortened 2020 season and should get looks back in the Bronx this summer. García, in particular, just lost out on a rotation spot coming out of the spring. Meanwhile, Schmidt is on the 60-day injured list with an elbow strain, and the injury is the only thing putting his time of arrival into question. Younger power arms like Luis Gil, Luis Medina and Alexander Vizcaino could also be 2021 options, though their lack of experience make 2022 a more likely possibility.
Big names, little depth
Marsh might be sixth on the Angels’ outfield depth chart right now behind the four currently on the Major League roster and former top prospect Jo Adell. However, the 23-year-old is too talented to be held down long. Rodriguez was a surprise addition to the Angels bullpen because of how back injuries limited him to 77 2/3 innings in the Minors, but his stuff already plays at the top level. Maybe that gives hope to Reid Detmers – a 2020 first-round pick who showed an advanced arsenal at Louisville and was ticketed to move quickly on Draft Day. No one in the Top 10 other than Marsh is older than 22, so those are the three options right now.
Carlson was a given, coming off his 110-at-bat campaign last year. Oviedo also made five starts for St. Louis last season, and despite concerns about control, he should be in the mix for more looks this summer. The rest of the Top 10 is filled with question marks as far as 2021 is concerned. Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman and Zack Thompson could all fill a role but look more like 2022 regulars, given their relative lack of Minor League experience. Ivan Herrera is on the 40-man and could be the catcher of the future, but he still only turns 21 in June. It may take the Cards getting overly aggressive in search of an NL Central crown for this system to expand beyond the two names above.
This is a case where cutting eligibility at Top 10 prospects is unfair. Among prospects 11-20, Pavin Smith, J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer and Stuart Fairchild also have 2021 estimated times of arrival. Had they been included, Arizona would have been bumped into a higher tier. But under these parameters, Perdomo – who was called up for a brief look over the weekend – and Martin provide a decent base of their own. The latter is still returning from 2019 Tommy John surgery, and how the D-backs choose to use him at the top level deserves following.
What will the Dodgers system look like after 2021? It’s worth asking since their top two prospects are on track for 2021 arrivals. Ruiz already saw the top level last year, and Gray would have been on track if not for the shortened season. The latter especially could be well-positioned to be this year’s version of Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin – a pitcher with starter-quality stuff that could be pushed to the bullpen because of a loaded rotation. Never doubt the Dodgers developmental system’s ability to churn out more talent, and it’s notable that Michael Busch, Kody Hoese and Ryan Pepiot are all 23 years old. For now, Ruiz and Gray are a fine set on their own.
San Francisco slotted in at No. 4 in MLB Pipeline's 21-and-under Farm System Rankings and for good reason. Seven of the club’s top 10 prospects, including top talent Marco Luciano, fit that description. Normally, we’d say that means it will be a while until the Bay Area truly gets to witness this group’s talent, but the presence of Bart and Ramos change that calculus. The catcher already saw the Majors and could have headed back there if not for the return of Buster Posey. Ramos had one of the best springs of any prospect anywhere and shouldn’t be far away from finding his own spot in the Giants grass. It won’t come in droves this year, but San Francisco fans won’t completely lack of chances to see the fruits of the farm.
Another 2-for-2 at the top, like the Dodgers. McKenzie has already pitched out of the Cleveland bullpen this April, and he has the ceiling of someone who can pitch in an even more prominent role. Jones is the better prospect with plus power from the left side and elite patience, though he’ll need to get out of Jose Ramirez’s shadow. The rest of the system gets real young really quickly; MLB Pipeline ranked this as the fifth-best set of 21-and-under talents. The best is yet still to come in northeast Ohio, but Jones and McKenzie should do plenty to set the table.
Despite the fact that Howard made six Major League starts in 2020, Dave Dombrowski announced before the season that the organization was planning to use him out of the bullpen. Marchan’s strengths are on the defensive side of the catching position, and he’ll be playing for a backup role behind J.T. Realmuto in Philadelphia. With Bryson Stott perhaps one year away, don’t expect big prospect contributions from the Phils farm.
You know the guy at the top. A left wrist strain shouldn’t shut down the hype surrounding Hayes as he builds a likely National League Rookie of the Year campaign. As for the others? Well, that’s why the Bucs are in the midst of a multi-year rebuild. Right-hander Bolton, who last pitched at Double-A in 2019, should serve as starting depth, but outside of him, Oneil Cruz and Travis Swaggerty are more likely to get second-half cameos in Pittsburgh than bonafide contributing roles throughout the season. Let Hayes’ final arrival and graduation sustain this bunch until 2022.
Check back in 2022
Small was the 28th overall pick in 2019 but is entering his age-24 season, bumping him right up against the age at which prospects should be pushing for the Majors. The 6-foot-4 left-hander sports a mix with four potentially above-average pitches, thus easing his route to Milwaukee. Feliciano – a power bat with a strong arm behind the plate – made the 40-man roster this offseason and is a candidate to get a look since the catching position isn’t one of the Brewers’ strengths. Top 100 prospects Garrett Mitchell and Brice Turang both look a year away.
The Mets possess some excitement at the top with four Top 100 prospects – each of which is 21 or younger and has yet to play above Low-A. New York fans have to go to the back half of the top 10 to find Lee and Szapucki as potential 2021 contributors, and even those aren’t givens. Lee is a good runner and promising defensive outfielder, but swing-and-miss issues in the spring underlined concerns about his hit tool. Szapucki is on the 40-man, but injuries and the pandemic have kept him from pitching more than 61 2/3 innings in a season. There will be plenty of excitement in Queens elsewhere.
There’s an outside shot Cade Cavalli or Jackson Rutledge could come in the second half to provide some heat if Washington is in the middle of a playoff race. As it stands, however, it’s a pair of 23-year-old left-handers who are most likely headed to the capital. Cate, who has arguably the system’s best curveball, could serve as starting depth while Cronin is a quick-rising bullpen-only arm.