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.
The mid-April service time manipulation deadline has finally passed and so far it has not led to any major MLB debuts, although we did see our first graduation on this list in Twins masher Alex Kirilloff, who is up following an IL stint for Miguel Sano and COVID-IL stops for both Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick.
How long Kirilloff stays remains to be seen, but he’s a nice speculative add in 12-teamers as his ability to contribute in four offensive categories is quite strong if he steps into everyday at-bats – which so far has been the case as he’s started in left field and hit fifth in his first two games since the call-up.
Kirilloff gets replaced by Marlins outfielder JJ Bleday, who could be up in the middle of the summer if he hits well to begin the minor league campaign, but the rest of the list remains largely the same while we wait for teams to begin to tap into their farm system following the April manipulation deadline’s passing.
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 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 Rodríguez 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 for at least the first few weeks of the season.
To make matters even worse, an early-season injury to Jake Fraley opened the door for an outfielder to get recalled and the team opted to fill that spot with Braden Bishop a 27-year-old who has hit just .128 at the big league level in 86 at-bats across the last two seasons at the big league level.
The latest update on Kelenic comes from Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto who said Kelenic will “play in the big leagues in the not-too-distant future” but that the team’s current outfield depth, now that Kyle Lewis is back and healthy, doesn’t present them with a need for him at the moment. The article also mentioned that the team doesn’t want to “rock the boat” by giving Kelenic a call which seems, frankly, negligent by the organization. How is giving good players a chance to play bad for your team that is surprisingly competitive to start the year? Whatever.
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 as soon as possible, because the results from the budding star will be well worth the wait if he does make it up within the next month – and even if he doesn’t, frankly, they will probably still be worth it down the line.
There is still always a chance the Mariners keep him down longer, either because they truly think he needs to face Triple-A pitching, or because they want to make it look like that, 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. Wander Franco, SS, TB — ETA September
The top prospect in all of baseball moves up to No. 2 on this list, remaining one spot behind Kelenic 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 Bruján or possibly even Taylor Walls) and there is a very real chance Franco doesn’t get promoted until September, if at all in 2021.
Having said that, there is 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, outside of the unclear debut timeline.
Tampa Bay has a full infield at the moment, with Bruján 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.
3. 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 – and when both those players went on the injured list, with Fowler out for the year, the team opted to call up Jon Jay and Scott Schebler instead of giving either Adell or Marsh a shot.
That makes it a little hard to gauge Marsh’s MLB timeline, as he’s likely behind Adell in the pecking order and the team doesn’t seem in a rush to see either of them at the big league level, 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.
4. Vidal Bruján, 2B, TB — ETA May
Likely the infield prospect Tampa Bay will turn to before Franco, Vidal 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.
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 Bruján, who is 23, has about a half season’s worth of at-bats at Double-A, and is on the 40-man roster, 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.
5. Joey Bart, C, SFG — ETA 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 – although Bart’s strong spring should make him a candidate to come up midseason – or really at any point if injury befalls Posey.
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. Jarren Duran, OF, BOS — ETA June
This list has featured both Jarren Duran and Jeter Downs all year long, but I went ahead and flipped the two at the advice of the great Shelly Verougstraete who said it seems far more likely we will see Duran before we see Downs in 2021.
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.
7. Jeter Downs, 2B/SS, 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.
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.
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 Hernández, 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. JJ Bleday, OF, MIA — ETA August
The Miami Marlins have a hoard of young outfielders knocking on the door to the major leagues, but the best of the group (by far) is Bleday, the fourth overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft and a masher from the left side who hit well in Low-A in 2019 and reportedly looked great at the alternate site last year, before hitting well in spring training.
The team already plans to start the slugger in Triple-A this year, an aggressive assignment for a guy with just 151 minor league plate appearances, and while guys like Monte Harrison and Jesus Sanchez remain options for call-ups, considering both already have big league experience, I’d much rather gamble on Bleday in deeper fantasy leagues.
His easy power from the left side and advanced plate discipline for his age could make him a really nice pickup down the stretch. Playing time is not guaranteed here, but in 16+ team leagues with deep benches or a few NA slots, Bleday is a guy I’d love to take a gamble on while we see how he responds to Triple-A pitching in a few weeks.
9. Adley Rutschman, C, BAL — ETA September
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. A recent report from Joe Trezza of MLB.com indicates that Rutschman won’t make his big league debut until late 2021, which bumps him a bit on this list, but his time will still come at some point this year – and when it does he will be a hot add.
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.
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 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 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.
Added: JJ Bleday
Graduated: Alex Kirilloff
Photo from Bryan Green | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)