Prospect Checkup: American League Central

A look at the AL Central's top prospects.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be checking in on how the top five prospects from each team are doing so far in 2021. The lists are based on our preseason rankings, which can be found by clicking on each team. Some prospects may still be looking to take the field for the first time, while others may be on the verge of losing their prospect status.

With this article, we’ll take a look at the top prospects from each team in the American League Central.

Stats are of May 22.

 

Chicago White Sox

 

1. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/LF, MLB – Vaughn hasn’t lit the world on fire in his MLB debut, but he has more or less held his own. Through his first 35 career games, the converted left fielder has posted a 100 wRC+ and a 0.5 fWAR. The batting average (.220) and home run total (three) are both lower than expected, but he is adjusting to playing in the outfield and has only just started seeing consistent playing time. He still profiles as an offensive force down the line and he should exceed prospect eligibility sometime in June.

2. Michael Kopech, P, MLB – Kopech has been electric for Chicago. The flame-throwing righty has a 28.3% K-BB rate to go with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 2021 innings. He’s worked both as a bullpen arm and a starter, though he is yet to pitch more than five innings in an outing. His role will likely continue to be the same — a bullpen arm that will make the occasional spot start — unless an injury to one of Chicago’s starters provides a lengthier opportunity out of the rotation. Kopech is still likely a starter long-term, though. He is knocking on the door of exceeding prospect eligibility.

3. Nick Madrigal, 2B, MLB – It’s been an interesting year for the White Sox second baseman. He recently belted his first career home run, but given that speed was one of his calling cards coming up through the minors, it’s concerning that he’s only swiped one bag. He remains a high average bat (currently hitting .276) that doesn’t strike out or walk much. He has exceeded prospect eligibility.

 4. Garrett Crochet, P, MLB – The results have been there for Crochet. He has allowed just one earned run while striking out 15 in 12.2 relief innings for the White Sox. But after averaging over 100 mph on his four-seamer in his MLB debut in 2020, that offering is only averaging 96.9 mph in 2021. He has been throwing it harder since he returned from the IL, though, so that is an encouraging sign moving forward.

5. Jared Kelley, P, Low-A – Overall, it’s been a struggle for Kelley out of the gates. The 19-year-old has a 9.00 ERA and 20.8% BB rate through four starts at Low-A. Yikes. He was better in his most recent start, though, where he tossed three shutout innings and struck out four. It’s only an eight-inning sample, so there is still plenty of time for things to turn around here.

 

Cleveland Indians

 

1. Nolan Jones, 1B/3B, Triple-A – Jones is off to a sluggish start at Triple-A. Through his first 16 games, he’s hitting just .182 and striking out more than 40% of the time. Jones has big power and knows how to draw a walk. He works deep counts, so high strikeout rates are always going to be part of the profile, but this is something to monitor in the coming weeks as his sample size becomes larger.

2. Tyler Freeman, SS, Double-A – It’s what we’ve come to expect from Freeman. He’s hitting for a high average (.350) with a low walk rate (6.3%). There had been rumors last season that Freeman was hitting for more power, and through his first 14 games, he has four doubles, a triple, and a home run. It’s not plus power or anything, but it’s more than he’s shown in years past. If he starts clearing fences more often, his prospect stock will soar.

3. Brayan Rocchio, SS, High-A- Rocchio has yet to find his footing in High-A, triple slashing .215/.261/.354 through 15 games. Encouragingly, though, he has two home runs and four steals, and is young for the level at 20 years old. Rocchio has a plus hit tool and plus speed, and will likely adjust to the tougher competition as the season progresses.

4. Bo Naylor, CDouble-A – Naylor is striking out 38% of the time and hitting just .167.  It’s possible the assignment was too aggressive for the 21-year-old. He has big power, but the high number of strikeouts make it difficult for him to maximize in games. Like several prospects on the Cleveland list, the strikeouts will need to tick down as the sample size increases.

5. George Valera, High-A – Another highly-touted Cleveland bat that’s struggling to start the minor league season. He’s been battling an injury (rumored to be oblique), and as a result, has only appeared in seven games. In those games, he’s hitting .182/.297/.273. It’s an extremely small sample, so no real reason for concern. Valera is Rule 5 eligible after this season, so a lingering injury that keeps him out of games is not ideal for Cleveland.

 

Detroit Tigers

 

1. Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, High-A – It was a slow start following a tough spring for the 2020 first overall pick, but Torkelson has heated up as of late, hitting .400 with a home run in his last five games. On the season, Torkelson is up to a 107 wRC+ and boasts an impressive 18.2% walk rate. Expect his batting average and power numbers to continue to climb.

2. Matt Manning, P, Triple-A – It wasn’t uncommon to think Manning was the most MLB-ready pitching prospect in American League heading into the 2021 season. He has struggled out of the gate in Triple-A, though, posting a 6.52 ERA in his first four starts. Still, his K-BB rate is nearly 20% and he shined in his last outing, allowing two earned runs while striking out seven in 6.2 innings. He appears to be shaking off the rust.

3. Casey Mize, P, MLB – Mize has now exceeded prospect eligibility. He’s looked much better in 2021 than he did in 2020, especially as of late. For the season, Mize has a 3.42 ERA, though his K-BB rate is under 10%. He’s posted five straight quality starts and in his last two starts has a K-BB rate of 18%.

4. Tarik Skubal, P, MLB – Like Mize, Skubal has now exceeded prospect eligibility. Skubal has had an up-and-down 2021, and his ERA currently sits 5.45 ERA. The strikeout rate is a solid 23%, but his 11% walk rate is a career-high for any level.

5. Riley Greene, OF, Double-A – Greene is one of the better prospect bats in the minors and has shown it in 2021. At just 20-years-old, Greene is having no problems at Double-A, hitting 274 with four home runs and four steals in 18 games. That’s good for a 133 wRC+. It won’t be surprising to see him finish the year in Triple-A if he keeps performing at this level.

 

Kansas City Royals

 

1. Bobby Witt, Jr., SS, Double-A – There were rumors of Witt, Jr. perhaps making the Opening Day roster due to a hot spring, but the Royals ultimately decided to give him more seasoning. Thus far, the talented shortstop has a 100 wRC+. He’s caught fire as of late, batting .348 with two home runs across his last five games.

2. Daniel Lynch, P, MLB/ Triple-A – The Royals gave Lynch a shot in the rotation, but he very much looked like a rookie. He was hit hard and struggled with walks, and it ultimately led to a 15.75 ERA. He will look to rebound at Triple-A.

3. Asa Lacy, P, High-A – Lacy was seen as the top pitching prospect of the 2020 class, and it showed in his most recent outing, where he tossed five shutout innings, striking out six. He had a rough outing earlier on, but his 34.1% strikeout rate shows the type of talent we are looking at.

4. Jackson Kowar, P, Triple-A- Kowar has been lights out in Triple-A. Through 21.2 innings, the 24-year-old has a 1.25 ERA and 32 strikeouts. The Royals already gave Lynch a shot at the rotation and Kowar could be next in line.

5. Erick Peña, OF, N/A – We should get our first professional look at the talented outfielder once Rookie ball starts. The 18-year-old has the potential for plus power and speed.

 

Minnesota Twins

 

1. Alex Kirilloff, 1B/OF, MLB/Triple-A – It’s been a so-so MLB debut for the Twins outfielder. Kirilloff has belted four home runs in 15 games, but is hitting .218 and striking out 27.6% of the time while barely drawing any walks. He also looked slow in left field. It seemed like he was starting to hit his stride before hitting the IL with a wrist injury, so he might not be far away from going on another tear. He’s now back in action and appears to be slotted in an everyday role. Wrist injuries can linger, so it will be important to monitor his power production over the next few weeks. He’s still a high-profile bat for the long term.

2. Trevor Larnach, OF, MLB – Larnach is another talented corner outfield bat for Minnesota. He’s 14 games into his MLB career and hitting a lowly .186, but he is walking 13.7% of the time. He’s already hit a ball 116 mph this year. That’s one of the best marks in all of baseball, and indicates just what type of power Larnach has. He might have some ups and downs in 2021, but this is one of the better young thumpers in the game.

3. Royce Lewis, SS, N/A – Lewis had been starting to generate some concern with his lackluster performance the last few seasons. Unfortunately, an ACL injury is forcing Lewis to miss the 2021 season. He’s a former consensus top-10 prospect so the talent is obviously still here for a bounce-back in 2022.

4. Jordan Balazovic, P, N/A – Balazovic has been shelved to start 2021 with a back injury, and it’s unclear when we will see him. He has a starter’s mix, and when we last saw him in 2019, he dominated two separate levels in the minors.

5. Ryan Jeffers, C, MLB – Jeffers opened some eyes with a strong 26-game showing in 2020 where he posted a 119 wRC+. He couldn’t back it up out of the gate in 2021, though, striking out nearly half the time in 11 games at the MLB level before being sent down to Triple-A to figure things out. He still profiles as an offense-first backstop.

Various Photos from Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare

  • Avatar Travis says:

    All I did was catch that Trevor Larnach homerun, and had to look up who the guy was. It was a sweet swing, and the ball JUMPED off the bat. You can tell he’s gonna be a stud

  • Avatar Dave says:

    Vincent, thanks for the update – much appreciated. Regarding Crochet’s velocity, I don’t think it’s a concern. Early in Spring training he said he is toning it down to develop his command (which some scouts said was a weakness going into the draft). Considering he’s still only 21 years old and has never even sniffed the minors, I think he’s looking pretty good – just needs to get those walks down a bit.

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