Every Sunday during the 2021 season, I will be posting a list of 10 hitting prospects to stash in redraft leagues. This is important because, despite this being a dynasty article, I am solely evaluating players for their ability to impact fantasy teams in 2021—and not beyond.
With Opening Day finally upon us, it is time to take a close look at which high profile prospects made the team out of camp, and which are being held down in the minor leagues to “work on their defense” or whatever other excuses MLB franchises have come up with in order to manipulate service time.
The White Sox once again showed a willingness to put a top ranked prospect on their opening day roster in Andrew Vaughn, who might draw some starts in left field after the injury suffered by Eloy Jimenez during spring training. This makes Vaughn ineligible for this list, although dual 1B/OF eligibility will make him more valuable going forward.
Taylor Trammell, not Jarred Kelenic, made Seattle’s Opening Day lineup, and he’ll be a deep league option for those who need some speed right away – and could turn into a mixed league candidate if the swing change he went through yields solid results. Lastly, Jonathan India was a surprise addition to Cincinnati’s Opening Day roster, and he looks primed to be the team’s starting second baseman going forward.
Here are the players who, for whatever reason, were not included on the big league club to start the year, but who I believe could be worth stashing in many redraft formats because of the impact they could make down the stretch – some sooner rather than later.
1. Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA – ETA April
The Seattle Mariners had a relatively quiet offseason until then-president and CEO Kevin Mather somewhat shockingly launched into a 45-minute, often unprompted discussion about the team – which included racially insensitive comments about top prospect Julio Rodriguez and former pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, as well as some less than savory, but altogether unsurprising, comments about the front office’s strategy to manipulate service time for a few key Seattle prospects, including Logan Gilbert and the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, Jarred Kelenic.
The team made it clear (in writing) they don’t support the comments made by Mather, before promptly ignoring Kelenic’s strong performance this spring and keeping him at the team’s alternate training site, likely until sometime in mid-April when they are set to acquire an extra year of service time.
Ignoring the dumb, non-baseball side of things, the impending arrival of Kelenic is great news for the sport in general, and huge news for those who went ahead and selected him on draft day. If he’s still available in your league, I’d suggest finding a spot for him on your bench if at all possible, because the results from the budding superstar should be well worth the wait – if he truly does make it up by April.
There’s always a chance the team keeps him down longer, either because they truly think he needs more seasoning in the minors, or because they want to make it look like that, or because of injury etc., but all signs point to him spending more of the 2021 season with Seattle than not – and his ability to contribute in all five categories will make him a fantasy darling for years to come.
2. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B, MIN — ETA April
After making his major league debut during the team’s playoff run in 2020, all signs pointed toward Alex Kirilloff getting an everyday job, or at least a bench role, with the Twins come opening day – especially after the team let Eddie Rosario walk in free agency.
Instead, the team is rolling with Luis Arraez in left field and Kyle Garlick as the fourth outfielder, with Kirilloff headed to the team’s alternate site. I can’t imagine it will be long until the hulking left-hander is up with the big club, and his bat should allow him to stick around full-time once he gets back.
Kirilloff has outstanding raw power, thanks to a strong lower half, a big uppercut swing, and an open landing with his front foot which allows him to more effectively turn on inside pitches and get out in front of them. He also has excellent bat control, despite a free-swinging approach, which should allow him to hit for a relatively high average – although he’ll be less impactful in OBP leagues.
If this profile sounds oddly familiar it is because it matches up quite a bit with the player he will (eventually) replace in Minnesota, Eddie Rosario, who had a similar swing and approach at the plate.
Kirilloff has more raw power than Rosario, and I’m more than willing to bet we see a strong performance from him as soon as he hits the big leagues in 2021, making him worth stashing in redraft formats for those who have room and are willing to be a little patient.
3. Wander Franco, SS, TB — ETA September
The top prospect in all of baseball comes in at No. 3 on this list because, quite frankly, it is really hard to predict what Tampa Bay will do with their young superstar shortstop this season. Franco probably won’t even be the first middle infield prospect promoted by the Rays this year (that honor will likely go to Vidal Brujan) and there is a very real chance Franco doesn’t get promoted until September, if at all in 2021.
Having said that, there’s a reason he is the top prospect in the game right now – and if you are truly looking to stash someone and can afford to be a little patient, Franco is as good a bet as anyone to be a game-changer down the stretch if he gets the call.
Given the ultra-rare 80 grade future value from Fangraphs, Franco has everything you could possibly want out of a fantasy baseball prospect: speed, power, hit tool, etc. and while there is always some risk in rostering players who have yet to play in the big leagues, Franco is about as risk-free as you can get.
Tampa Bay has a full infield at the moment, with Brujan waiting in the wings, and as a team known for their frugality, his call-up date is a huge mystery. Still, if you have a roster spot and are willing to take the risk, Franco will reward you quite handsomely whenever he does finally make his big league debut.
4. Brandon Marsh, OF, LAA — ETA May
Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh is the kind of prospect scouts drool about – a 6’4 speedster with a good hit tool and burgeoning power, which if he finds a way to fully harness could make him a legitimate All-Star caliber player.
He is currently blocked in Los Angeles by some guy named Mike Trout, as well as veteran Justin Upton and fellow youngster Jo Adell – although the Angels made it clear they aren’t ready for either of the young guns just yet after they signed Dexter Fowler and Juan Lagares to hold down big league spots for now.
That makes it a little hard to gauge Marsh’s MLB timeline, but the good news is he already has 412 plate appearances at Double-A under his belt, and he played some of the best baseball of his career in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 thanks to a swing alteration. The primary change was with his hands, where he loaded the bat a little differently to get more loft in his swing in an effort to change his five-degree launch angle from the previous year.
COVID robbed us of a chance to see how that swing change will play out against opposing pitching, but if it goes as well as his fall performance suggests, he could rocket through the minor leagues and force the Angels to give him a roster spot before the summer is up.
Once there, Marsh could be a 15/20 type guy right out of the gate, making him a must-own in redraft leagues if/when he gets that call.
If you feel like taking a risk and trying to get ahead of this, Marsh is not a bad name to stash at the end of your bench. But LA’s full outfield, and Adell’s presence, make this playing time situation among the more tenuous ones on this list.
5. Adley Rutschman, C, BAL — ETA June
Similar to Franco, Rutschman is a tough player to rank on this list. A switch-hitter with premium power and a solid hit tool, Rutschman could easily be among the top 10 catchers in all of fantasy baseball by season’s end – but it will heavily depend on if (or when) he gets called up to the big league club.
The Orioles are still in tank mode, and they are beginning the 2021 campaign with Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco behind the dish. Rutschman is likely already an upgrade over one, or both of those guys, despite only having 12 games of experience above Low-A.
Still, the reports from the team’s alternate training site were extremely positive for the young catcher, and his makeup, poise, advanced skillset, leadership, and potentially elite defense behind the dish make him a prime candidate to rise quickly up the ranks and onto the big league club sometime this summer – provided Baltimore is willing to give up an additional year of service time for the former Oregon State star.
Getting a good, quality catcher often costs an arm and a leg on draft day, and if you are someone who doesn’t like the look of that spot on your current roster, Rutschman may not be a terrible gamble in formats with deeper benches, as he has the ability to instantly upgrade that position in a major way if he gets a look this summer.
6. Vidal Brujan, 2B, TB — ETA May
Likely the infield prospect Tampa Bay will turn to before Franco, Vidal Brujan is an elite athlete and a double-plus runner who has exceptional barrel control and overall command of the strike zone, despite a swing that was described by Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs as “hellacious” after he told a story about Brujan swinging “so hard that he corkscrewed himself to the ground, only to pop back up like a Russian folk dancer”.
Brujan has drawn comparisons to Ketel Marte and Ozzie Albies due to his size and athleticism, and the hope for many in the industry is that, much like both Albies and Marte, he will grow into some power as he physically matures, without sacrificing his bat-to-ball skills and/or his speed.
Whether that happens in 2021 remains to be seen, and that will be a huge determining factor for his value in redraft leagues – as well as, of course, how much he even sees the field.
The Rays were very close to giving him a call during the playoffs last year, and while the team has a full roster of infielders at the moment, it seems like a safe bet that Brujan, who is 23 and has about a half season’s worth of at-bats at Double-A, could get a look early in the summer depending on the Rays’ team needs.
If that happens, he’ll be a quality add in most formats thanks to his speed and plate discipline – and if that power shows up he has the potential to be a fantasy star.
7. Jeter Downs, 2B/SS, BOS — ETA July
Named after Derek Jeter, Jeter Downs has a similar skillset as a power-speed threat who plays up the middle, although he’s more likely to stick at second base than at shortstop, and will begin his big league career in Boston and not New York.
The 23-year-old has been an advanced hitter throughout his minor league career, and his gap power could translate into some over the fence pop as he physically matures – and gets the benefit of calling Fenway Park home. He’s an average runner that has shown smarts on the base paths, and there’s absolutely potential for him to be a 20/20 guy at his peak, or at the very least a 15/15 regular who can contribute in BA/OBP formats as well.
Downs only has 12 games of experience above High-A though, and he has yet to officially debut in Boston’s farm system, but considering the success he had in the lower levels of the minors while with the Dodgers it seems entirely plausible Downs will thrive in the high minors this year, and could easily force his way onto Boston’s active roster.
No one is unseating Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, but Downs’ competition at second base is some combination of Enrique Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis – so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him getting reps by the middle of the summer.
He is more of a watchlist candidate than anything in most redraft leagues, but in deeper formats I think he’s worth stashing for those who have the room.
8. Jarren Duran, OF, BOS — ETA July
Credit to Boston’s front office for developing a strong farm system, as this is back-to-back Red Sox on this list, with Bobby Dalbec already entrenched in the big leagues and Triston Casas potentially not too far behind.
Jarren Duran is a speedster with good bat-to-ball skills who underwent a swing change last year that began to unlock some power—the ultimate combination of circumstances, and one that often makes prospects hounds a little weak in the knees.
Duran reportedly hit five home runs in intrasquad scrimmages at Boston’s alternate training site last year and, considering he slashed .303/.367/.408 with 46 steals across two minor league levels in 2019 (with just five total dingers), it is not hard to see why the potential of added power would make him pretty appealing.
Duran is still pretty raw, and I have concerns that plate discipline will remain an issue, but if the 24-year-old does get the call in 2021 he will be an interesting deep league sleeper—and one that I wouldn’t mind stashing in very deep formats ahead of time to take a gamble on.
9. Josh Jung, 3B, TEX — ETA July
If they stay on that path again in 2021, a potential very quick riser to the show could be 2019 first-round pick Josh Jung, a third baseman who has only played 44 minor league games – none above Single-A.
Jung oozes raw power, and a recent swing change is allowing him to impact the ball earlier in his swing plane – which allows him to pull balls well over the left-field fence, rather than inside outing them like he had been doing previously. Jung already has a strong command of the strike zone, having walked more than he struck out at Texas Tech, and if he can continue to tap into that raw power in games without losing his plate discipline – he has the tools to be a well-above-average big league regular.
Texas will allow him to work on his new swing in the minor leagues to begin the campaign, but they have little reason to hold him down if he proves he’s ready for the next step. While his overall potential is unlikely to be reached in 2021, there’s plenty of reason to believe he could help fantasy owners in the final few months of the season – and those in deeper leagues may want to grab him now and wait it out.
10. Bobby Witt, Jr., SS, KC — ETA September
One of the stars of spring training was Kansas City shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., a first-round pick in 2019 who was already highly regarded in prospect circles before he set the baseball world ablaze with his light tower power on full display in Surprise, Arizona last month.
Witt’s raw power is already well-known, along with his 60-grade speed, giving him true 30/30 potential at his absolute peak. He’s still just 20 years old, however, and while his timeline may have been accelerated by his power display this March, it’s still not even remotely a guarantee that he will be up at all in 2021.
Still, very few prospects have the potential that Witt does, and the few who do are either already on this list (Kelenic/Franco) or are less likely to be big leaguers in 2021 (Julio Rodriguez, Marco Luciano, CJ Abrams, Spencer Torkelson) which leaves Witt as an extremely high-risk, high-reward prospect stash in redraft leagues this season.
As talented as he is, I can’t recommend stashing him except in the deepest (16+) of formats, and even then it’s only really worth it if you have deep benches and are willing to gamble a roster spot on someone who, at best, probably won’t be up until September. That final month of the season, if we get it, could be absolutely electric though.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)