TOP PROSPECT FOR NATIONAL LEAGUE TEAMS
BY ADAM MEDEIROS – UPDATED 1/29/2021
The second part of my Top Prospect for each organization will now focus on the National League. As I mention in my American League Top Prospect list, Covid-19 threw a wrench into the cogs of Minor League Baseball. Using what we saw from the 2019 campaign along with occasional appearances with their big clubs in 2020, the following list will examine each National League team and what we can expect from their top prospect.
ATLANTA BRAVES – CRISTIAN PACHE, OF, 22 YEARS OLD
Cristian Pache has steadily improved his prospect status year-after-year in the minors, culminating in a big-league roster spot during 2020. Pache’s strengths come on the defensive side of the ball. His blazing speed and strong arm allow him to cover a ton of ground in the outfield and I believe he has a chance to elevate to become one of the best centerfielders in the league. At the plate, Pache won’t provide much power as he only hit 21 homeruns in 400+ minor league games. His average has hovered around the .275 in the minors but if he can do that at the major league level, his bat will be an excellent complement to what he provides in the field. Expect to see him with the Braves as early as 2021 with some Gold Gloves headed his way in the future.
MIAMI MARLINS – JJ BLEDAY, OF, 23 YEARS OLD
The Marlins clear-cut number 1 prospect heading into 2021 is Sixto Sanchez, who I view as a potential Cy Young Award winner in the near future. However, since Sixto made 7 starts with the Marlins in 2020 and figures to slot into the top of their rotation in 2021, I chose to focus on their next minor league prospect, JJ Bleday. The Marlins drafted Bleday with the 4th overall pick in the 2019 draft out of Vanderbilt. As a junior at Vandy, Bleday led the team to a National Championship and showcased his ability to command the strike zone. Bleday has a smooth, fluid swing which generates hard contact along with plus defense and a strong arm. We’ve only seen Bleday play in 38 games with the Marlins organization, so he’s still early in his development. With the lost 2020 minor league season, Bleday was able to spend the season at the Marlins alternate site and I’d expect him to start 2021 with Double A.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES – MICK ABEL, RHP, 19 YEARS OLD
In a situation similar to what I wrote about the Marlins, the Phillies top prospect is right-handed pitcher Spencer Howard. Since Howard made 6 starts last season and currently projects to start the 2021 season with the big club, I instead wanted to focus on a true minor-league prospect, RHP Mick Abel. Abel was drafted 15th overall in the 2020 MLB draft out of high school. As far as pitch arsenal goes, Abel can consistently reach the mid 90’s to go along with a plus slider and a developing change up. All reports indicate that Abel has above-average control, so when you put that arsenal together with the ability to throw strikes, you have the making of a top of the rotation starter.
NEW YORK METS – FRANCISCO ALVAREZ, C, 19 YEARS OLD
The Mets signed Francisco Alvarez in 2018 and figures to be the Mets catcher of the future. At the plate, Alvarez is an excellent hitter with the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Alvarez has the chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order bat thanks to his power and provide the Mets with 20-30 home runs a season. The only downside to Alvarez’s game at the moment is his ability behind the plate. He has a strong throwing arm but isn’t always accurate with his throws to the bases. In 2019, he allowed 15 passed balls in 27 games, something he will definitely need to work on. The Mets spent the 2020 season working with Alvarez on his ability to call a game which will hopefully translate into Alvarez rounding out his game.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS – JACKSON RUTLEDGE, RHP, 21 YEARS OLD
At 6’8, 250 lbs, Jackson Rutledge is a towering figure on the mound. He matches his presence on the mount with an aggressive, explosive approach which can overpower hitters. Rutledge’s best pitches are his mid to high 90’s fastball and a wipeout slider, to go along with an average changeup and curveball. In 2019, we got to see Rutledge in game action across 3 levels of the minors where he posted a combined 37.1 IP with 39 K’s and a 3.13 ERA. If Rutledge can harness his control and develop his secondary pitches, he could move quickly through the Nationals system and become a staple of their rotation moving forward.
Honorable Mention: Cade Cavali, RHP, 22 years old
CHICAGO CUBS – BRAILYN MARQUEZ, LHP, 21 YEARS OLD
The Cubs signed Brailyn Marquez as a part of the 2015 international class and since then, Marquez has developed into one of the hardest throwing pitchers in all of baseball. Marquez’s fastball sits in the high 90’s but he can sometimes lose control of it. He has worked to develop his secondary pitches while maintaining control of his fastball, which is something the Cubs worked with him on extensively at the alternate site in 2020. If Marquez can harness the control on his pitches, he has the chance to develop into a front-line starter, but Marquez could also provide great value at the back end of a bullpen as he has great closer potential.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS – MATTHEW LIBERATORE, LHP, 21 YEARS OLD
Originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays 16th overall in the 2018 MLB draft, Liberatore came to the Cardinals in the trade that sent Randy Arozarena to Tampa. Liberatore has an excellent mix of pitches that include a mid 90’s fastball, a plus curveball and a developing slider and
changeup. All 4 of his pitches have the chance to become above- average offerings, which would project Liberatore to become a top-of- the-rotation starter for the Cards. Liberatore hasn’t pitched above low A
ball yet though, so we’re a couple years away at the earliest from seeing him pitch in the majors. However, with that time to develop, we could perhaps see him make his debut sometime in 2023 with a spot in the rotation come 2024.
CINCINNATI REDS – AUSTIN HENDRICK, OF, 19 YEARS OLD
Austin Hendrick was drafted by the Reds in the 1st round, 12th overall, of the 2020 MLB draft out of high school after showcasing one of the best power bats in the draft. Scouts have graded Hendrick to have plus raw power which he can spray to all fields. With a keen eye at the plate and the ability to hit for both average and power, Hendrick immediately projects as a middle of the order bat. Hendrick’s defensive ability is the other side of that coin, where his average speed limits him to a corner outfield spot, most likely in right field. As long as Hendrick can provide enough pop as he progresses through the minors, the Reds will find a way to get his bat into the lineup.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS – BRICE TURANG, SS, 21 YEARS OLD
A sort of jack-of-all-trades, Brice Turang has shown the ability through his short time in the minors to be able to be a plus hitter, plus runner and plus defensively. The only shortcoming to Turang’s game is he doesn’t provide much power, as he’s only amassed 4 homeruns across 171 games in the minors. That being said, reports out of Milwaukee’s alternate site in 2020 showed that Turang was consistently barreling the ball and producing high exit velocities. It would not be unrealistic for Turang to develop into a top-of-the-order bat who hits for high average and provides 10-15 homeruns per year.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES – NICK GONZALES, SS, 21 YEARS OLD
Ke’Bryan Hayes burst onto the scene with the Pirates last season, so
while he is the Pirates top prospect, I’ll again focus on a true minor- league prospect. Nick Gonzales was drafted 7th overall in the 2020 MLB
draft and with good reason. Gonzales can flat out hit. In 3 years at New Mexico State, Gonzales hit .399 in 128 games. Using his elite plate discipline and contact skills, he also hit .351 in 42 games at the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019. Before the 2020 NCAA season was canceled due to the pandemic, Gonzales had a .448 average to go along with 12 homeruns in 16 games. Gonzales was drafted as a shortstop, but the feeling is that he is a better fit as a second baseman with the Pirates. Once he reaches the big leagues, Gonzales has a chance to be one of the best hitters in the league as he can hit for a high average and provide upwards of 15-20 homeruns a season.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS – KEIBERT RUIZ, C, 22 YEARS OLD
Keibert Ruiz signed with the Dodgers as an international free agent in 2014. Since that time, he’s put together a minor league career batting average of .299. Ruiz is an excellent hitter and has showcased his ability to hit for average while providing some pop as well. Ruiz is a switch hitter which only adds to his value. Unfortunately for Ruiz at the moment, the Dodgers have another young player in Will Smith who is locked in behind the plate. Ruiz felt like a prime candidate to be moved in some trades, but he wasn’t included in the trade with Boston for Mookie Betts. Ruiz would be the future at catcher for many teams in the league, so the possibility is there that he will be moved. For now, it seems he will either return to the minors or enter a time share with Smith.
SAN DIEGO PADRES – MACKENZIE GORE, LHP, 21 YEARS OLD
MacKenzie Gore was selected 3rd overall in the 2017 MLB draft to the San Diego Padres, who hoped they had just drafted their future ace. Featuring a high leg kick during his delivery, Gore brings 4 plus pitches to the mound including a mid 90’s fastball, a slider (his next best pitch), a curveball and changeup. Throughout his minor league career, he’s had difficulty throwing both his curveball and slider consistently for strikes in the same game, but if he can put it all together, he will surely eat up major league hitters. Gore had his best minor league season in 2019 while pitching in High A ball. He compiled a 1.02 ERA in 79.1 innings to go along with 110 strikeouts in 15 starts. Gore was promoted to Double A that same year where he made 5 starts. 2020 would have been another opportunity for Gore to begin the year in Double A and make his way to the big leagues, but instead spent the season with the Padres alternate site. Currently, it seems the Padres don’t want to rush Gore up to the majors, so it is believed he will start 2021 back with Double A with a chance for a call up later in the season.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS – MARCO LUCIANO, SS, 19 YEARS OLD
Marco Luciano was signed by the Giants as an international free agent in 2018 and immediately became an impact player in the Giants system. During his first year, at age 17, he played 38 games in the Arizona League. Luciano went on to hit .322 with a .438 OBP to go along with 10 homeruns and 38 RBI, truly showcasing his loud bat. He has a natural feel for hitting and, with development, has a chance to become a middle-of-the-order bat for the Giants. Early reports are that Luciano is just average defensively at shortstop, so a position change may be in line for Luciano if his bat pushes him quickly through the Giants organization. We’re still many years away from seeing Luciano reaching the majors, but when he finally does, I think we’re looking at a future all-star with MVP potential.
COLORADO ROCKIES – ZAC VEEN, OF, 19 YEARS OLD
Drafted 9th overall in 2020, Zac Veen stands at 6’5”, 200 lbs and is an exceptional athlete. We haven’t been able to see Veen in game action with the Rockies organization yet due to the pandemic, but his draft scouting revealed that Veen projects to be a power hitter who can at least hit for a decent average. In Coors Field, a left-handed power hitter can put up some video games numbers so the opportunity will arise for Veen to become an impactful hitter with the Rockies. Defensively, he is athletic enough to be a center fielder, but with just average speed he will more than likely profile better at a corner outfield position.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS – CORBIN CARROLL, OF, 20 YEARS OLD
Drafted 16th overall in the 2019 MLB draft, Corbin Carroll has a mature approach at the plate and has the ability to spray the ball to all fields. While undersized, Carroll can still lift the ball out of the ballpark but generally profiles more as a contact hitter. Carroll has plus speed and is an excellent defender so he will in all likelihood remain a centerfielder for his career. Many have made comparisons to Jackie Bradley Jr., but if Carroll can maintain his prowess at the plate, he could develop into a better hitter than JBJ. Carroll only has 42 games under his belt with the Diamondbacks organization and will need more time to develop, but in a few more years I expect to begin hearing Carroll’s name in call-up discussions.