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.
There have been fewer top-tier hitting prospect promotions this season, with many of the high-profile debuts coming on the pitching end of things. That means this list, by and large, has not changed all that much this year – and indeed only one change is coming this week, with Rays outfield prospect Josh Lowe sneaking onto the list in place of Angels outfielder Brandon Marsh, who has not played since June 1 with a shoulder injury. That injury, plus the strong performances of Jared Walsh and Taylor Ward, plus the presence of Jo Adell and Marsh’s own struggles prior to the injury are enough to knock him off the radar for right now, at least in redraft leagues.
Without further ado, here is a look at the top 10 hitting prospects worth stashing in your redraft leagues.
1. Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA — ETA July
Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic is a reminder that despite all the hoopla top-tier prospects get, sometimes they don’t light the league on fire right away. Kelenic’s debut came with significant fanfare, but after 23 games he was rocking a .096/.185/.193 slash line with a 28.3% strikeout rate and poor contact rates, which led to him getting sent back to Triple-A to try to get back into the groove.
Kelenic has responded to the demotion well, picking up where he left off and slashing .284/.368/.580 with six home runs and four steals in 20 games played. It seems like only a matter of time before the five-tool outfielder is back patrolling the grass at T-Mobile Park. Of course, there is no guarantee he will come back and immediately hit well – he could still struggle – but the talent level is clearly still there, and there is little reason to panic about the top prospect.
In fact, friend and colleague Michael Ajeto said it best in a recent tweet:
i don’t think there’s another prospect in the past several years who i would feel as strongly about while having as poor of a debut as him. in other words: not at all, his floor is too high imo
— Michael Ajeto ☭ 🇵🇭 (@dysthymikey) July 3, 2021
If Kelenic got dropped in your 12-team redraft league, he is absolutely worth picking up and stashing while we wait for his inevitable return. Even in 10 and 8 team leagues, he’s worth at least putting on the watchlist if he’s still around. Patience is key here, but the results will almost certainly be worth it by the end of the season.
2. Jarren Duran, OF, BOS — ETA Late July
Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran has continued his scorching hot hitting for Triple-A Worcester this season, and as of this writing he is slashing .278/.372/.599 with 15 home runs and 10 steals in 39 games played.
The biggest news for Duran, however, is the announcement that he was left off the US Olympic Team, a decision made by the Olympic Committee in part because the Red Sox wanted a provision in place that would allow them to call him up while he was gone. The committee felt that trying to replace a player during the games would be difficult, so they ultimately decided to let him go.
Per a major league source, the decision not to include Duran on US Olympic Team was from the USOC. Red Sox would have been OK with him going – with the proviso that if they wanted to call him up, they could. With visa requirements and logistical challenges of replacing …
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) July 2, 2021
This is, obviously, a great sign the Red Sox have him in their short-term plans.
Duran is a speedster with good bat-to-ball skills who underwent a swing change last year that began to unlock his power—the ultimate combination of circumstances, and one that often makes prospects hounds a little weak in the knees. And my goodness has that power stroke come to play this season. Duran has posted multiple 430+ home runs this year, blasting towering home runs that are nearly inconceivable coming from a player who was not considered a power-hitting prospect as recently as 2020.
Considering Duran 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 (although he has dramatically improved his strikeout rate over the 2021 season), but when the 24-year-old does get the call in 2021 he will be a popular waiver wire add in 12-teamers —and one that I wouldn’t mind stashing in most redraft formats ahead of time to take a gamble on.
3. Vidal Bruján, 2B/OF, TB — ETA Late July
Taylor Walls got his chance first, and now Wander Franco is getting his, paving the way for Vidal Bruján to be Tampa Bay’s next impact-hitting prospect to join the show. Bruján 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 Bruján swinging “so hard that he corkscrewed himself to the ground, only to pop back up like a Russian folk dancer”.
Bruján 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.
Bruján got off to a hot start at the plate in Triple-A Durham, slashing .292/.390/.525 with seven home runs, 14 stolen bases, and nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (22) through June 11. He’s struggled pretty significantly since then, however, mustering just a .185 average with two homers and no steals over the past three weeks, a concerning trend that is likely slowing down his potential call-up timeline, even with Walls on the IL and Franco struggling in the big leagues.
Bruján has done all of this as an outfielder primarily – which gives him added versatility which will help when the team is looking for reinforcements. The fact that his power is showing up from both sides of the plate is an even stronger indication that it is real, which only makes him more exciting as a prospect on the brink of the big leagues.
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 Bruján, who is 23, has about a half season’s worth of at-bats at Double-A, is on the 40-man roster, and is learning to play the outfield, could get a look very soon depending on the Rays’ team needs – although he’ll need to show some life at the plate soon.
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, a la peak Marte.
4. 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 in March.
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 is still not even remotely a guarantee that he will be up at all in 2021.
We know that Kansas City is not afraid to aggressively promote prospects, as seen by the Daniel Lynch move earlier this season, and if they remain competitive into the late summer, Witt’s promotion may be far closer than we initially projected.
It helps that Witt has shaken off the slow start to the season. At Double-A, Witt is now slashing a smooth .290/.360/.535 with 12 home runs and 13 stolen bases, good for a 135 wRC+ – not bad for a 21-year-old.
Very few prospects have the potential that Witt does, and the few who do are either already in the big leagues or are less likely to be big leaguers in 2021 (Julio Rodríguez, 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 still would not recommend stashing him except in the deepest (16+) of formats, and even then it is only really worth it if you have deep benches and are willing to gamble a roster spot on someone who probably won’t be up until the late summer. That final month of the season, if we get it, could be absolutely electric though.
5. Joey Bart, C, SFG — ETA Late July
With Buster Posey’s decision to opt-out last year, the Giants called up uber catching prospect Joey Bart, but the youngster struggled in 33 MLB games, hitting just .233 with a 2.7% walk rate and a 36.9% strikeout rate, along with just seven extra-base hits and zero home runs.
Now that Posey is back, the Giants are content to roll with the future Hall of Famer and some combination of Curt Casali and Chadwick Tromp as the backup – giving Bart a chance to develop with the team’s Triple-A affiliate. So far so good, as Bart is hitting .344 with eight home runs in his first 33 games with Sacramento, although he is rocking a concerning but not surprising 29% strikeout rate.
Bart also exited a game on Friday after getting hit on the foot by a pitch, and as of this writing, the severity of the injury is unknown. If this ends up taking him out of action for a while, it will slow down his potential return to the show – so this is something to monitor with Bart in the short term.
It seems likely that Bart will be a guy who gets shuttled up and down between Sacramento and San Francisco this year – he already played one game with the Giants – which makes him a hard guy to stash until he manages to wrestle away a full-time role – which may or may not happen this year thanks to the surprisingly excellent performance from Posey after a year away in 2020.
Bart is probably never going to contribute in either the average or OBP categories, but the power is very real and could lead to 25-30 home runs annually when he reaches his peak. At a position that is a dearth of fantasy talent, the potential of Bart to come up and pile on home runs makes him an intriguing stash candidate in deeper redraft leagues – although his struggles last season certainly give some cause for concern.
I’d ultimately settle on putting Bart on the watchlist except in those deeper leagues, but if anything happens to Posey you’ll want to be on Bart as quick as you can.
6. Cal Raleigh, C, SEA — ETA Late July
Cal Raleigh has been a prospect crush of mine for a while now and he is finally starting to showcase a little more than just the pure raw power – posting a ridiculous .319/.376/.596 slash line with eight home runs and a 129 wRC+ at his first taste of Triple-A.
He’s also rocking a stellar 7.4% walk rate and an insane 11.6% strikeout rate, well, well below the 29.6% mark he posted in Double-A in 2019.
Unfortunately, while Seattle’s catching situation has been bad for most of the year, the duo of Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens has picked things up as of late, making Raleigh’s debut timeline a little murkier.
“Right now, it’s impossible to say that Cal’s not ready for an opportunity in the big leagues,” Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto said earlier this week. “He catches, he throws, he’s been a leader and he has really just been raking since the first day. That being said, since being recalled from Tacoma, Luis Torrens has been terrific, he’s done everything we have asked him to do, (including) hit for power. And really, very quietly since Tom Murphy got into a role that suits his skills much like he played in 2019, he’s put up an OPS somewhere in the neighborhood of .760, .780, where he’s primarily hitting against left-handed pitchers and managing our pitching staff.”
Raleigh is more than ready to contribute at the next level, and now that Seattle’s younger pitchers, namely Logan Gilbert, are up at the show, giving them a familiar face/glove to throw to couldn’t hurt.
Raleigh is among my favorite unheralded prospects in all of baseball, and while catchers are tough to predict – Raleigh has the ability to impact the ball in a way that would make him a top-10 catcher in all of fantasy baseball, and that is worth stashing in deeper redraft leagues even if the timeline is less clear.
7. Josh Lowe, OF, TB — ETA Late July
It’s not surprising that Rays’ outfielder Josh Lowe gets lost in the shuffle. On a team with prospects like Franco, Bruján, Walls, and a litany of dynamite young pitchers, Lowe sort of fades into the background. Hell, for a while he was the third highest-rated prospect with the last name Lowe in the system, behind both Nate and Brandon.
However, the 2016 first-round pick is starting to really make a name for himself now. The converted third baseman is now a full-time center fielder down in Triple-A Durham, and the power most in the industry were hoping to see finally peeked out in 2019 and is here in full force in 2021. Lowe is slashing .292/.360/.548 with nine home runs and 10 stolen bases for the Bulls, rocking a .256 ISO and a 136 wRC+.
He does have strikeout issues that likely aren’t going away anytime soon, but his combination of power and speed and solid walk rates should make him a quality fantasy piece as soon as he is playing regularly. That is of course the tough question, with Lowe and any Rays prospects, because of their love of platooning and pretty full outfield.
Kevin Kiermaier isn’t the answer long-term, but the team still has Manny Margot at the big league level and of course may need to find a spot for Bruján sooner rather than later.
Still, Lowe is not a bad option to stash in deeper redraft leagues, as he has plenty of tools to contribute right away if/when he gets the call.
8. Seth Beer, 1B, AZ – ETA August
It feels like Seth Beer’s best baseball season came way back when he was a freshman at Clemson, but in reality, he’s been an extremely productive power hitter throughout his minor league career. Joining the Diamondbacks in the Zack Greinke trade back in 2019, Beer is currently slashing .289/.393/.509 with six home runs and excellent walk (9.2%) and strikeout (18%) rates for Triple-A Reno. You’d like to see more over the fence pop, no doubt, but Beer has shown great plate discipline and contact skills throughout his minor league career, and there’s some optimism that the power will resurface in time.
The main issue is Beer’s positional flexibility or lack thereof. Beer played 10 games in right field back in 2018 but has otherwise only played first base and some left field. He’s a better fit for an AL team with a DH, although rule changes in 2022 could give him a significant boost in regards to playing time.
For this year he’s behind Christian Walker, Pavin Smith, and bench bats like Josh Reddick and Nick Heath for playing time, but injuries or trades could easily open up a spot for him to play somewhat regularly down the stretch – and those in deeper redraft leagues should consider holding onto him until that happens, as his dramatic improvement in strikeout rate and strong slash line and power potential could make him a must-own fantasy player in the final few months of the season.
9. Jeter Downs, 2B/SS, BOS — ETA September
Credit to Boston’s front office for developing a strong farm system, as this is the second Red Sox prospect on this list, with Bobby Dalbec already entrenched in the big leagues and Triston Casas potentially not too far behind.
Named after Derek Jeter, Jeter Downs has a similar skill-set 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.
Before he gets to Boston to play second base, however, Downs is cutting his teeth with the new Triple-A Worcester Sox – and he is their starting shortstop. After a tough start to the season, Downs has steadily improved his performance over the last month or so. He is now hitting .240 with a .319 OBP, seven home runs, 10 stolen bases, and a respectable 92 wRC+. His 9.6% walk rate is solid, but his 30.7% strikeout rate is still alarming – especially considering his previous strikeout totals were nowhere near as problematic.
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 had 12 games of experience above High-A before this season began, making his performance at Triple-A even more impressive this season. He still has some proving to do before he gets the big call, and while no one is unseating Bogaerts at shortstop, Downs’ competition at second base is some combination of Enrique Hernández, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo, and Michael Chavis – so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him getting reps by the end 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.
10. Adley Rutschman, C, BAL — ETA September
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. Most media outlets don’t expect Rutschman up at all this season, especially with Baltimore way out of the playoff picture, but even a few weeks at the end of the year could be huge for those in deeper fantasy leagues.
Rutschman began the season at Double-A and is displaying his rare combination of power and patience at the plate, boasting 11 home runs and a .228 ISO along with a ridiculous 17.4% walk rate and a slash line of .288/.419/.535.
The Orioles are still in tank mode, and they are rocking 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 heading into this season.
Still, the reports from the team’s alternate training site were extremely positive for the young catcher, and his makeup, poise, advanced skill set, 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 at least in early 2022, and potentially this season 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 season.
Added: Josh Lowe
Removed: Brandon Marsh
Others given consideration: Brandon Marsh, Isaac Paredes, Estevan Florial, JJ Bleday, Drew Waters, Brent Rooker, Brennen Davis, Heliot Ramos, Riley Greene, Nolan Jones, Nolan Gorman
Photo from Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)
Big Mariner and Raleigh fan as well, but you can’t overlook the 2021 splits at HOME vs. the extreme AAA West hitter friendly desert and high altitude parks like Vegas, El Paso, Albuquerque, Reno… .789 OPS at Tacoma and 1.125 on the ROAD.