Opening Day rosters featured 17 Top 100 Prospects, yet it’s some unheralded rookies who have made the biggest impact during the first week of the big league season. Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo, Reds second baseman Jonathan India, Dodgers utilityman Zach McKinstry and White Sox catcher Yermín Mercedes have generated plenty of highlights.
There are several prospects who didn’t begin the season in the Majors who will make their presence felt later in the year. Below, we highlight one for each club.
Blue Jays: Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 84)
A 20-year-old pitcher reaching the Majors this early? It isn’t out of the realm of possibility. With a September birthdate, Woods Richardson was young for his class and, if not for 2020, would be entering his third full Minor League season. The right-hander sports four above-average pitches and has little issue filling up the zone. The Blue Jays got a good look at that skill set this spring, when he fanned eight over eight scoreless innings, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Woods Richardson help the club in its playoff push in the second half.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
While he has just 37 games of pro experience under his belt, there’s no question the No. 1 overall pick from the 2019 Draft is very close to being big league ready. He stood out at the alternate training site last summer and looked like he belonged this spring. Assuming he starts at Double-A in May, seeing the switch-hitting all-around catching phenom hit Baltimore in the second half of the 2021 season and start to claim the mantle of being the face of the franchise could be exciting.
Rays: Luis Patiño, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 18)
The Rays’ list is filled with 2021 ETAs. Of that loaded bunch, the choice here is a newcomer with 11 Major League appearances already on his resume. Patiño brings an upper-90s fastball, plus slider and above-average changeup from the San Diego system over to Tampa Bay. The Rays have hopes of letting him stick as a starter, leading to his option back to the Minors, and he could slot into the rotation at some time this summer. If they choose to use him in relief as the Padres did, he could make his American League debut much earlier.
Red Sox: Jarren Duran, OF (No. 4)
Coming off a big winter in the Puerto Rican League, Duran has a better chance of grabbing playing time in the outfield than Jeter Downs does at second base. A 2018 seventh-round pick out of Long Beach State who has proven much better than expected, he has the best speed in the system and could have 20-homer power after incorporating some swing changes last summer.
Yankees: Deivi García, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 99)
Though he lost New York’s fifth-starter competition to Domingo Germán in Spring Training, García looked good in six starts for the Yankees last summer and should play a significant role on the pitching staff. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $200,000 in 2015, he can display a hammer curveball and a plus fastball and slider when at his best.
Indians: Nolan Jones, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 34)
Cleveland’s 2016 second-rounder and current top prospect won’t displace José Ramírez from third base, but Jones could help solve the Indians’ outfield issues by moving to a corner. Few prospects have a better combination of patience and power, and he led the Minors with 96 walks and slammed 15 homers while reaching Double-A at age 21 in 2019.
Royals: Daniel Lynch, LHP (No. 2/MLB No. 27)
The Royals have a recent history of pushing prospects earlier than others expected, but they don’t even have to be that aggressive with Lynch. The 24-year-old left-hander ended 2019 at Class A Advanced and the Arizona Fall League and proceeded to be an alternate-site standout last season with a mid-90s fastball, plus slider and above-average changeup. Ignore the spring stats. Lynch is knocking on the door and could be one of the keys that unlocks the next playoff contender in Kansas City, as early as this summer.
Tigers: Matt Manning, RHP (No. 3/MLB No. 23)
Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have recently graduated. Soon, it will be the third member of the Big Three’s turn to reach The Show. Manning could have been right there with the other two had a right forearm strain not shut him down last August. He was back to full health this spring and made five Grapefruit League appearances, touching as high as 97 on the radar gun. His plus curveball and above-average changeup will make him a solid Major League starter. He might just need his first few Triple-A starts to ease in to that status first.
Twins: Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B (No. 2/MLB No. 24)
After getting called up to make his debut in the playoffs last year, many felt Kirilloff was likely to begin the year on the Opening Day roster and in the lineup as the left fielder. But he hit just .129 (4-for-31) in Grapefruit League action and he’ll instead begin the year back in the Minors. Fear not, AK fans, he’s too good of a hitter to stay down for long, with Brent Rooker’s injury perhaps paving the way, and he’ll be a better option than Jake Cave or Kyle Garlick in left long-term.
White Sox: Jonathan Stiever, RHP (No. 8)
The White Sox already have a huge rookie presence on their roster with Top 100 Prospects Andrew Vaughn, Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal and Garrett Crochet, not to mention Mercedes. Next up could be Stiever, a 2018 fifth-rounder from Indiana who has three pitches (fastball, spike curveball, slider) and control that all grade as at least solid.
Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 50)
While his outfield-mate Jo Adell — no longer considered a prospect — would likely be the first one in the Minors to get a call to help out in the outfield, Marsh’s tools have him next in line. But he has to stay healthy first, with a labrum issue keeping him off the field this spring and other injuries costing him development time the last couple of years. Despite that, he’s shown a feel to hit and displays plus defense and speed that should help the Angels in the AL West at some point this year.
Astros: Shawn Dubin, RHP (No. 12)
Dubin has raised his profile tremendously since signing out of Georgetown (Ky.), an NAIA program, for $1,000 as a 13th-rounder three years ago. Part of the Astros’ 40-man postseason pool last October, he has a pair of weapons in his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, which helped him top the high Class A Carolina League with 132 strikeouts in just 98 2/3 innings in 2019.
A’s: Daulton Jefferies, RHP (No. 4)
Jefferies put the Tommy John surgery that kept him off the mound for the better part of two seasons in his rearview mirror and pitched his way to a brief big league debut in 2020. This spring, he showed his advanced feel for pitching is ready to impact a big league rotation by posting a 1.50 ERA, .156 batting average against and a 4/1 K/BB ratio over 18 Cactus League innings.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 4)
We all know it’s a question of when, not if, Kelenic is brought up to take a spot in the Mariners’ outfield. He certainly didn’t quiet the desire for him to get called up by hitting .300/.440/.700 this spring. Injuries in the big league outfield undoubtedly have led to a stronger desire to see him in the big league lineup.
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 60)
Though Jung will be sidelined until May after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, don’t bet against him winning the Rangers’ third-base job later in the season. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 Draft and a Texas Tech product, he’s an advanced hitter with at least 20-homer potential, and only Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt are standing in his way.
Braves: Drew Waters, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 33)
Right now, there isn’t a clear opportunity for Waters to form the Ronald Acuña Jr.-Cristian Pache-Waters outfield trifecta we’ve all been waiting for. But the 22-year-old Waters can continue to refine his approach at the Braves’ alternate training site and then in Triple-A so he’s ready when that call comes, either because of an injury or if someone isn’t getting the job done.
Marlins: Sixto Sánchez, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
After allowing just five runs in his first five big league starts last summer and blanking the Cubs for five innings in the Wild Card Series, Sánchez has been set back this spring by visa issues, a false positive on a COVID test and mild shoulder inflammation. But with mid-90s heat, a well-above-average changeup and solid curveball and cutter, he’s still a big part of the Marlins’ 2021 plans.
Mets: Khalil Lee, OF (No. 7)
The Mets got involved in the Red Sox-Royals swap surrounding Andrew Benintendi almost exclusively to acquire Lee – a sign that they are high on the 22-year-old’s potential. Lee is only two years removed from ranking second in the Minors with 53 steals, and both his glove and arm could be assets for New York right away. He’ll need to improve his contact rate and batted-ball trends (particularly when it comes to putting the ball on the ground) to hit enough to secure an everyday outfield spot, but his other skills could make him a bench option for the Mets rather quickly.
Phillies: Spencer Howard, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 39)
Howard entered Spring Training with the chance to land a spot in the rotation after making six starts with the Phillies in 2020, but was slowed a bit with a minor back issue that didn’t really allow him to accumulate enough innings. He’s healthy now, something that has been a bit of an issue for him in his career, so expect to see him contribute in 2021, though it might be more out of the bullpen this year, albeit for multiple innings at times. The Phillies still do see him as a starter long-term.
Nationals: Tim Cate, LHP (No. 8)
The Nats were in the bottom tier of MLB Pipeline’s rankings on prospect reliance earlier this week. To reiterate, don’t expect the big names of the system unless they come up for end-of-season cameos. Instead, Cate could serve as rotation depth for the Nats this season, thanks to a stellar ground-ball rate and a curveball that might be the best secondary pitch in the whole system. The 2018 second-rounder can also fill the zone well – a fact that should help his case to help as a back-end starter in the coming months.
Brewers: Mario Feliciano, C (No. 5)
Despite the lost year, the Brewers added the 2019 Carolina League MVP to the 40-man roster over the offseason, taking him one step closer to his Major League debut. It also helps his case that Milwaukee opens the season with a bottom-10 catching group. Feliciano has above-average power and a plus arm that make him a threat on both sides of the ball, and those tools could be what lets him help the Brewers’ chase in the NL Central.
Cardinals: Johan Oviedo, RHP (No. 10)
The bigger names like Matthew Liberatore and Ivan Herrera need more time to push the envelope in the Minors. Oviedo, on the other hand, is coming off a 2020 in which he made five starts for the big club. They didn’t go entirely to plan, as evidenced by a 5.47 ERA, but his 95 mph fastball and above-average slider should play at the top level again in 2021. Oviedo should be one of the first arms up when the Cards’ rotation depth is challenged this season.
Cubs: Brailyn Márquez LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 57)
The best pitching prospect the Cubs have signed since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over baseball operations in October 2011, Márquez turned pro for $600,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 and made his big league debut on the final day of last season at age 21. That’s still his only appearance above high Class A, but he could move quickly with a fastball that reaches 102 mph and a power slider.
Pirates: Cody Bolton, RHP (No. 10)
If the start of the season is any indication, the Pirates are going to need pitching help in 2021. Still only 22, Bolton made it to Double-A in 2019 and made good strides, particularly with his command in the strike zone, at the Pirates’ alternate training site in 2020, so he’s at the right stage of development to go to Triple-A to start the Minor League season and be ready with his legitimate three-pitch mix when reinforcements for the rotation are needed.
Reds: Nick Lodolo, LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 56)
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 Draft officially has just 18 1/3 pro innings on his resume, but he did throw very well at the Reds’ alternate training site in 2020. He was billed as an advanced college lefty entering the Draft and all reports have him living up to that billing. He does need some mound time, and will get that in 2021, but his above-average stuff combined with his feel for pitching should allow him to start at an advanced level and be ready to impact the big league staff, if needed, in the second half.
D-backs: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP (No. 17)
One could make the case that nobody dominated the spring more than Bukauskas did in Arizona camp. The 24-year-old right-hander didn’t allow a baserunner to reach until his seventh outing and finished with 14 strikeouts and only three hits over 7 2/3 innings. That wasn’t luck. Bukauskas sat 95-96 with his fastball and leaned on his slider and changeup to keep hitters off-balance. His stuff could play in the D-backs’ bullpen right away, and the organization shouldn’t shy away from seeing how much his 2021 dominance can run into the Major League regular season.
Dodgers: Josiah Gray, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 55)
The Dodgers have a loaded pitching staff but teams never seem to have enough arms, and Gray produces explosive mid-90s fastballs and nasty mid-80s sliders. The former NCAA Division II Le Moyne (N.Y.) shortstop joined the organization in the six-player December 2018 deal that sent Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds.
Giants: Heliot Ramos, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 78)
Barring a trade of face of the franchise Buster Posey, Ramos has a clearer path to playing time than catcher Joey Bart. A 2017 first-rounder from a Puerto Rican high school, he has average or better tools across the board and impressed by hitting .410/.425/.718 in Spring Training.
Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 6)
This should be the season. Command issues kept Gore from making his Major League debut in 2020, but after continuous work in that department at the alternate training site and Spring Training, the 22-year-old southpaw shouldn’t be far from helping San Diego. Gore brings four plus pitches to the table, and at his ceiling, he definitely belongs in a rotation alongside Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Chris Paddack. When that will be will come down to how far his command has progressed since last summer.
Rockies: Ryan Rolison, LHP (No. 2)
This 2018 first-rounder had a solid first full season while dealing with the hitting-friendly environment of Lancaster in 2019 and was able to get in a decent amount of work between the alternate training site and instructs in 2020. That should ready him for the upper levels of the system after getting some Cactus League work in this spring, with a chance to get stretched out and ready in Triple-A. He has one plus pitch, his curve, but he has four distinct offerings, all average or better, with an idea of what to do with them, giving him all the tools necessary to step into the Rockies rotation when he gets the call.