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 biggest call-up of the year finally happened late last week, with the Mariners giving uber outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic his first taste of big-league pitching. Kelenic should be up to stay for good, and if somehow he remains on the waiver wire in your league, he needs to be snapped up immediately.
The rest of the list doesn’t undergo too many changes, although a pair of Marlin prospects find their way onto the tail end of this list, while another Marlin is given the boot – at least for now.
Without further ado, here is a look at the top 10 hitting prospects worth stashing in your redraft leagues.
1. Wander Franco, SS, TB — ETA June
The promotion of Kelenic means that Rays superstar infielder Wander Franco ascends to the top spot on this list, as his promotion to the big leagues could be coming soon – especially when looking at his .290/.378/.581 slash line, two home runs, one steal, and a minuscule 13.5% strikeout rate through his first week of Triple-A action.
I still think Franco’s teammates Vidal Bruján and Taylor Walls – who are also both off to hot starts – could get the call first, but now it looks a tad more likely that Franco will be up sooner rather than later if he continues to crush it with the Bulls, which there is little reason to believe he won’t do.
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.
2. Jarren Duran, OF, BOS — ETA June
This list has featured both Jarren Duran and Jeter Downs all year long, but especially now that Duran is learning to play left field, a spot currently occupied in Boston by the massively struggling Franchy Cordero, it looks almost certain he will be up far earlier than Downs – allowing him to jump all the way up to the No. 2 spot on this list after a scorching week of hitting for Triple-A Worcester.
Duran already has four home runs and a steal through his first nine games this season, including a two-run home run night early in the year and a recent MOONSHOT that traveled nearly 450 feet earlier in the week:
440 feet for Boston’s #3 prospect Jarren Duran. This ball had an exit velocity of 112 MPH. Absolutely crushed.
— WooSox Watch (@WooSoxWatch) May 14, 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 (he’s striking out at a 30% clip in Triple-A despite a .314 average), but when 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 most redraft formats ahead of time to take a gamble on.
3. Vidal Bruján, 2B, TB — ETA June
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.
And, also like Franco, Brujan has gotten off to a hot start at the plate in Triple-A Durham, and he has done so as an outfielder primarily – giving him added versatility which will help when the team is looking for reinforcements on the farm. 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 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, 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 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.
We know he started the season in Double-A, and how he responds to that assignment will go a long way in determining the likelihood of him debuting during the 2021 season. We also 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 for another few weeks Witt’s promotion may be far closer than we initially projected.
However, Witt is off to a slow start with his new digs, hitting just .235 with a 27% strikeout rate through his first eight games, tagging his first home runs of the year a few days ago, and totaling two stolen bases. He’ll no doubt start to warm up, but any struggles will push his debut timeline further and further away.
Still, very few prospects have the potential that Witt does, and the few who do are either already on this list (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 still would not 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 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. Brandon Marsh, OF, LAA — ETA June
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. However, LA has had a really hard time filling that final outfield spot – using veterans like Dexter Fowler, Juan Lagares, Jon Jay, and Scott Schebler to no avail before eventually converting reliever turned first baseman turned outfielder Jared Walsh into the starter in right field. Now, Walsh is expected to move back to first base after the team unceremoniously designated future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols for assignment, which could clear the way for a promotion – which will first go to 27-year-old Taylor Ward but could likely go to fellow young outfielder Jo Adell in short order.
Note: Adell would be No. 3 on this list if he was still prospect eligible, and I would rather roster him as a stash than Marsh for the time being.
That makes it a little hard to gauge Marsh’s MLB timeline, as he is still behind Adell in the pecking order – although that could be moot very soon if Adell joins the big club. The good news is Marsh 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. He’s only played in one game at Triple-A so far, but he blasted a home run – a promising sign for his power stroke going forward.
Once Marsh reaches the show, he 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.
6. Joey Bart, C, SFG — ETA June
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 .304 with a pair of home runs in his first few games with Sacramento, although he is rocking a very concerning 37.5% strikeout rate.
It seems pretty clear Bart is a guy who will get shuttled up and down between Sacramento and San Francisco, 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 depending on Posey’s health and productivity.
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.
7. Lewin Diaz, 1B, MIA – ETA July
The Kelenic graduation opens up a spot on the list, and Miami’s Lewin Diaz earns the nod after a scorching hot start to the season at Triple-A. The 24-year-old first baseman is currently slashing .333/.400/.778 with four home runs, 12 RBI, and just four strikeouts in nine games for the Jumbo Shrimp.
Diaz made his major league debut for the Marlins last year and struggled in 41 plate appearances, hitting just .154 with a 30% strikeout rate and just two extra-base hits. However, Miami has a history of seeing their hitting prospects struggle out of the gate, before finding their way after an adjustment period (a la Jazz Chisholm).
Diaz has displayed legitimate raw power throughout his minor league career, and even after losing a significant amount of weight and seeing his power diminish, he seems to be back on track to kick off the 2021 season. The biggest concern for Diaz, at least as it pertains to those in redraft leagues, is the presence of veteran Jesus Aguilar, who is off to a hot start this season and is clearly blocking Diaz from a regular role in Miami.
That makes Diaz’s timeline tough to predict, although he would be worth snagging if anything should happen to Aguilar, or if he is traded before the midseason trade deadline. Until then, Diaz is more of a watchlist candidate or a stash in deeper leagues with N/A slots while he continues to dominate Triple-A pitching.
8. Jeter Downs, 2B/SS, BOS — ETA July
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. It’s been a tough start to the season for Downs, who is hitting .176 with a 43.6% strikeout rate, but that doesn’t change his potential to make an impact in this Boston lineup at some point this season, although not likely at the shortstop position barring an injury to Xander Bogaerts.
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, but considering the success he had in the lower levels of the minors while with the Dodgers it seems entirely plausible Downs will eventually thrive in the high minors this year, and could easily force his way onto Boston’s active roster.
No one is unseating 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.
9. Jesus Sanchez, OF, MIA — ETA June
The Miami Marlins have a hoard of young outfielders knocking on the door to the major leagues, and while the best of the group is JJ Bleday, the fourth overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, the one who is knocking on the door of a big-league call-up right now is the 23-year-old Sanchez.
Sanchez is tearing the absolute cover off the ball to begin the campaign at Triple-A. Alongside his teammate and fellow member of this list, Lewin Diaz, Sanchez is hitting .571 with four home runs, two triples, and just three strikeouts in 28 at-bats for the Jumbo Shrimp.
Long regarded for his tools, Sanchez’s performance has never really matched up with the scouting reports, and a brief big league cameo in 2020 went very poorly, as he hit just .040 with 11 strikeouts in 25 at-bats. But, much like Jazz Chisholm, perhaps Sanchez’s second taste of the big leagues will go much better than the first. Miami has a slew of young outfielders, including fellow prospect Bleday and of course Monte Harrison, but Sanchez is too hot to keep down for much longer, and a guy doing that much damage in Triple-A is worth a speculative add if and when he gets promoted – and potentially worth stashing in deeper redraft leagues as well.
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. 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 down 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.
Rutschman began the season at Double-A this past week, an assignment that bodes well for him making his debut this season – although again he’s less certain to come up during the summer months, making him a riskier stash candidate.
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.
Removed: JJ Bleday
Graduated: Jarred Kelenic
Others given consideration: Jared Oliva, JJ Bleday, Drew Waters, Isaac Paredes, Seth Beer, Brent Rooker, Julio Rodríguez, Brennen Davis, Heliot Ramos, Riley Greene, CJ Abrams, Luis García, Taylor Walls
Photo from Bryan Green | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)