TOP PROSPECT FOR AMERICAN LEAGUE TEAMS BY ADAM MEDEIROS – UPDATED 2/10/2020
On the heels of the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the 2020 World Series, it’s time to take an early look forward at each team and delve a little deeper into their top prospect. While Covid-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into the cogs of Minor League Baseball, we can still use what we know from the 2019 campaigns to project out some new and upcoming talents. During the shortened 2020 season, many of the high-profile prospects throughout the league were added to their respective team’s alternate sites. While at these alternate sites, players were able to play and train while minor league baseball was shutdown. The unfortunate part of all of it was we were unable to watch these prospects in game action. That being said, let’s take a look at who I believe is the top prospect as it stands right now for each American League organization.
TAMPA BAY RAYS – WANDER FRANCO, SS, 19 YEARS OLD
We begin our list with the consensus number 1 prospect in all of Major League Baseball, Wander Franco. Franco split time in 2019 between Low A and High A ball, where he dominated older competition. In High A ball, he hit .339 with a .408 OBP, and he walked more than the struck out by almost double (26:15)! Franco is a switch hitter who has elite bat-to-ball skills and doesn’t ever seem to strike out. He has a natural feel to hitting with exceptional hand-eye coordination. If there is a anything negative to say on Franco at all, it would be that he doesn’t have ground-breaking speed or elite defensive ability. However, his bat alone will be enough to get him an everyday spot at the top of the Rays lineup and produce at a high level for years to come. Expect to see him in a Rays uniform as early as the 2021 season, where he will make an immediate impact on a team already coming off a World Series appearance in 2020.
Honorable Mention: Brendan McKay, LHP, 24 years old NEW YORK YANKEES – JASSON DOMINGUEZ, OF, 17 YEARS OLD
ALL ABOARD! Welcome to the hype train that is Jasson Dominguez! Dominguez is only 17 years old… so why is he the top prospect for the New York Yankees? Scouts who have seen Dominguez in action have graded him to have elite power and elite speed. Jasson is a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate and has excellent defensive skills. His name has been mentioned in comparisons with Mike Trout and Mickey Mantle from MLB general managers who have seen him play. Having said all of that, we haven’t seen him play a single game in the Yankees organization yet so all we have to go on is what’s reported. The Yankees certainly believe in him though, as they coughed up $5.1 million to sign Dominguez; nearly ALL of their $5.4 million international signing pool. Once Dominguez gets some game action with the Yankees organization, don’t be surprised to see Dominguez fly up the top prospect chart in the next year or two. Now it’s early, but if you buy into the hype, expect to see Dominguez manning an outfield spot at Yankee Stadium in 2-4 years.
BOSTON RED SOX – JETER DOWNS, 2B, 22 YEARS OLD
I struggled to single out any player as the clear-cut top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, but ultimately chose Jeter Downs over the power hitting first baseman, Triston Casas. In 2019, while with the Dodgers organization, Downs played the majority of his games in High-A ball in the California League before being promoted to Double-A Tulsa for a handful of games. Downs combined to hit 24 home runs and stole 24 bases showing his ability to drive the ball effectively and being an asset on the basepaths. Downs has played both shortstop and second base during his time in the minors, but seems to be a better fit for second base given his range and defensive ability. Following the 2019 season, the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers for a package which sent Downs over to Boston. The Red Sox have a glaring need at second base, so expect to see Downs eventually get the call-up sometime in the 2021 season.
Honorable Mention: Triston Casas, 1B, 20 years old
BALTIMORE ORIOLES – ADLEY RUTSCHMAN, C, 22 YEARS OLD
If you were designing an ideal catcher for your organization from scratch, the end result would look something like Adley Rutschman. Rutschman is a switch hitter with plus power from both sides of the plate, elite defensive skills with a strong arm and a high baseball IQ. Perhaps most importantly, Rutschman is a natural born leader. Rutschman was drafted #1 overall in the 2019 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles and will soon become the face of the franchise. We haven’t seen much of Rutschman in the Orioles organization as of yet, as he’s only played a total of 37 games, but expect to see Rutschman behind the plate at Camden Yards as early as 2022.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS – NATE PEARSON, RHP, 24 YEARS OLD
Drafted 28th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, Nate Pearson has 3 pitches in his arsenal which all grade as plus offerings. Pearson’s fastball can reach triple digits consistently to go along with a plus slider and developing changeup. Pearson has all the tools to become the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays for years to come. The only red flag on Pearson moving forward will be his control, which he will need to refine. In 2019, he spent the bulk of the season in Double A with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and posted a 3.02 BB/9 in 62 innings. During a brief stint with the Blue Jays during the 2020 season, he walked 13 batters in 18 innings. If Pearson can consistently find the strike zone, he will be a force at the major league level.
Honorable Mention: Austin Martin, SS, 21 years old
CHICAGO WHITE SOX – ANDREW VAUGHN, 1B, 22 YEARS OLD
Andrew Vaughn was drafted #3 overall in the 2019 MLB draft. Vaughn has an elite approach to hitting which should allow him to thrive in the majors. From 2017-2019 (160 games) with the California Golden Bears, Vaughn hit 50 home runs with 163 RBIs with a triple slash line of .375/.495/.688. Vaughn will likely begin 2021 in Double A but is likely on the fast track to the majors given his massive hitting potential. The issue facing Vaughn at this point is Jose Abreu, who is currently manning his position with the White Sox. Vaughn’s emergence could lead to a shift to DH for Abreu and Vaughn might force their hand as early as this upcoming season.
CLEVELAND INDIANS – NOLAN JONES, 3B, 22 YEARS OLD
Nolan Jones was drafted in the second round, 55th overall, in the 2016 MLB draft and thus far is proving that he was a steal. Jones is one of the most disciplined hitters in the minor leagues where he led all of minor league baseball in walks for 2019. In 49 games with Double A in 2019, Jones slashed .253/.370/.466. Jones is only an average defender, but should be able to hit well enough to keep a spot in the lineup. With Jose Ramirez currently manning the hot corner for Cleveland, we may see a position change for Jones who could easily make a shift to the outfield. The Indians are currently in a re-tooling phase and I look for Jones to be a huge part of the Indians rebuild.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS – BOBBY WITT JR., SS, 20 YEARS OLD
Bobby Witt Jr., son of former Major Leaguer Bobby Witt, was drafted #2 overall in the 2019 MLB draft. Witt Jr. has an excellent combination of athleticism, baseball IQ, and pure talent. He has plus speed, plus power, plus baserunning ability, and plus defensive ability which should translate into the young shortstop becoming a building block for the Royals. Coming into the 2019 draft, many scouts viewed Witt Jr. as a potential 30-30 player, with 20-20 being the more likely scenario. We only got to see Witt Jr. play in 37 games of Rookie ball in 2019 and he spent all of 2020 at the Royals alternate site. With a few years to develop, Witt Jr. will have the opportunity to become a mainstay atop the Royals lineup.
MINNESOTA TWINS – ALEX KIRILLOFF, 1B/OF, 23 YEARS OLD
Alex Kirilloff may have been one of the best hitters to come through all of Minor League Baseball if not for some injury trouble. Kirilloff missed the entirety of the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery but came back in 2018 to slash .348/.392/.578 across 2 levels of A ball. After a call-up to Double-A in 2019, he missed time with a pair of wrist
injuries but still managed to hit .283 with a .343 on-base percentage. Alex is a sweet-swinging left-handed bat who projects to hit around 20 home runs a year while maintaining a .280-.300 average. He can play good defense in the outfield, but the Twins may also have him in the mix
to start games at first base to keep his bat in the lineup. Kirilloff made his Major League debut in 2020 when he started a playoff game against the Astros, becoming the first major league player ever to do so. The confidence the Twins have shown in him leads me to believe he is a major part of their plans heading into 2021.
Honorable Mention: Royce Lewis, SS, 21 years old
Detroit Tigers – Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, 21 years old
Perhaps my favorite prospect on this entire list, Spencer Torkelson is a true star in the making. The Tigers drafted him #1 overall in the 2020 MLB draft and with good reason. Torkelson is a middle-of-the-order bat with the potential to become an elite hitter with massive power at the Major League level. Torkelson dominated college competition while at Arizona State where he hit 54 home runs in 129 games amassing a .337/.463/.729 slash line. In the Cape Cod Baseball League, he put up a similar line of .340/.484/.745 showing a measure of consistency and production across all levels. While he’s played 1B almost exclusively throughout his career, the Tigers announced him as a 3B when they drafted him. Whether he plays either corner position, expect Torkelson to be a major part of the Tigers future.
Honorable Mention: Casey Mize, RHP, 23 years old
LOS ANGELES ANGELS – BRANDON MARSH, OF, 22 YEARS OLD
Jo Adell is widely regarded as the Angels top prospect but due to a rule change in response to the shortened 2020 season, Adell no longer
qualifies as a prospect. I’ve decided to focus on Brandon Marsh who now takes over as the Angels top prospect. Marsh spent the majority of his 2019 season in Double A where he had an excellent showing at the plate slashing .300/.383/.428. Marsh has good speed and is a capable defender, as he projects to settle down into a corner outfield position in the big leagues. With 33-year-old Justin Upton currently occupying LF for the Angels, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marsh take over at some point in 2021 or 2022 at the latest.
SEATTLE MARINERS – JULIO RODRIGUEZ, OF, 19 YEARS OLD
The Seattle Mariners struck gold when they signed Julio Rodriguez as an international free agent in 2017 and he’s done nothing but impress since joining the organization. Rodriguez can flat out hit. With plus power to all fields and the ability to hit for a high average, Rodriguez is on the fast track to reach the majors. In 2019, Rodriguez hit .462 in 17 games with Modesto in the California League all at age 18. At only 19 years old, he may have been in line to make his MLB debut sometime in 2020 had it not been for the shortened season. He has a strong arm but only grades as an average defender making his most likely landing spot in RF. Rodriguez grades as an average runner and won’t provide much speed on the basepaths, but his loud bat should provide Seattle with some much-needed middle-of-the-order power for years to come.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS – A.J. PUK, LHP, 25 YEARS OLD
The Athletics drafted Puk in the 1st round, 6th overall, in the 2016 MLB draft. Armed with an electric fastball which sits in the upper 90’s and a devastating slider, Puk made it to Double-A by 2017. Although he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2018 season, the Athletics felt confident enough to promote him to the big-league club in 2019 after only throwing 25.1 innings in the minor leagues that year. He pitched only 11 innings out of the bullpen in 2019, but he put up a 3.18 ERA. Entering the 2020 season, the Athletics made the decision to shut down Puk after he experienced some shoulder soreness. Rather than rush him back into the fold, Puk missed the entire shortened season with eyes on a rotation spot in 2021.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Soderstrom, C, 19 years old
TEXAS RANGERS – JOSH JUNG, 3B, 22 YEARS OLD
Coming out of Texas Tech, Josh Jung was considered to be one of the best bats available in the 2019 MLB draft. The Rangers pounced on Jung with the 8th overall pick that year with hopes that Jung would develop into a power hitting third baseman. Playing in Low-A ball in 2019, Jung posted a .287/.363/.389 line in 40 games. Although the batting average and on-base percentage were good, he surprisingly only hit 1 home run that year. The Rangers certainly hope that Jung will be able to hit anywhere from 25-30 home runs consistently at the big-league level. I feel that would be Jung’s ceiling, and is more likely to be a 15-20 home run hitter who posts a solid average and is able to drive the gaps. Jung has yet to leave Low-A ball, but I expect he will begin the 2021 season with the Rangers High-A club, possibly ending the year with Double-A.
HOUSTON ASTROS – FORREST WHITLEY, RHP, 23 YEARS OLD
The Houston Astros drafted Forrest Whitley with the 17th pick in the 2016 MLB draft with hopes that he could end up as a top of the rotation starter for the big club. By the end of the 2017 season, Whitley used his 5-pitch arsenal and impressed enough to earn a promotion all the way through Double A in just his second full season. However, in February of 2018, Whitley was suspended 50 games for violating the league’s drug program. The 2019 season was when the wheels came off the track for Houston’s top prospect on the field. Whitley began the season in Triple A, where he was absolutely shelled to the tune of a 12.21 ERA in 8 appearances. He was sent back down to Double A to work on some control issues where he fared slightly better with a 5.56 ERA in 6 starts. The once promising prospect is now fighting to right the ship as he tries to make his way to the big club. There’s still hope for Whitley, who has a great array of pitches, to succeed in the big leagues.