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.
Diaz will help offset the injuries that are piling up in Miami, although he is still behind Jesús Aguilar at first base which will limit his playing time in the short term. Walls has taken over as Tampa’s everyday shortstop in place of Willy Adames, who was traded to Milwaukee, although Walls is really only a placeholder for the No. 1 prospect in baseball, Wander Franco, who could be up in less than a month’s time.
Florial’s call-up was temporary, as he was sent back down to make room for Giancarlo Stanton to return from the injured list, but he could see more time this year now that Aaron Hicks is out for the season. He’ll be added to the given consideration section for now after hitting six home runs with a steal through his first 18 minor league games this year.
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 Rays took a significant step toward promoting No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco last week when they dealt incumbent starting shortstop Willy Adames to the Brewers for a pair of relievers. However, Tampa gave the initial call-up to Franco’s Triple-A teammate, Taylor Walls, who was hitting .327 with a 166 wRC+ before getting the call. Walls has looked solid for Tampa so far, hitting .278 with a .409 OBP and a 137 wRC+, but he’s viewed entirely as a placeholder for Franco, who is expected to be called up after the Super 2 deadline in mid-to-late June.
Franco has done his part to prove his readiness, slashing .277/.351/.494 with three home runs and three steals in 20 games with the Durham Bulls.
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, especially now that his timeline for a callup is becoming more clear.
Tampa Bay has a full infield at the moment, and another prospect, Vidal Bruján, is still waiting in the wings -although he’s been playing primarily outfield this season, which makes him less of a threat to Franco’s timeline. If you have a roster spot and are willing to take the risk, Franco will reward you quite handsomely when he does finally make his big league debut.
2. Vidal Bruján, 2B/OF, TB — ETA June
While Franco has more upside than anyone not currently in the big leagues, it seems entirely possible that another Durham teammate, Vidal Bruján, could be in the big leagues next. 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 both Franco and Walls, Bruján 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.
3. Jarren Duran, OF, BOS — ETA Late June
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/.366/.625 with seven home runs and four steals in 18 games played.
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. 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.
There is one significant hurdle before we get too excited about Duran, however, and that is his placement on the Team USA Olympic qualifying baseball roster. Those games will start this week, and will obviously slow down his potential MLB debut – although it’s unclear for just exactly how long, as it depends on how the US team does.
Duran is still pretty raw, and I have concerns that plate discipline will remain an issue (he’s striking out at a 26% clip in Triple-A), 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.
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’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 .227 with a 27.9% strikeout rate through his first 18 games, although he now has six stolen bases and three home runs, including one that recently left the stadium entirely – once again showing off his ridiculous pop.
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. Jesús Sánchez, 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 Sánchez.
Sánchez is tearing the absolute cover off the ball to begin the campaign at Triple-A. Alongside his teammate and former member of this list, Lewin Díaz, Sánchez is hitting .421 with seven home runs, three triples, a steal, and just an 18.8% strikeout rate in 76 at-bats for the Jumbo Shrimp.
Long regarded for his tools, Sánchez’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 Sánchez’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 Sánchez 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.
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 .351(!) with three home runs in his first few games with Sacramento, although he is rocking a concerning but not surprising 30% 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. Brandon Marsh, OF, LAA — ETA July
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.
However, the Angels have not shown much of a willingness to give Marsh or fellow outfielder Jo Adell much of a look so far this season, even with Mike Trout on the IL and injuries/ineffectiveness hampering guys like Justin Upton, Dexter Fowler, and Juan Lagares.
Note: Adell would be No. 2 on this list if he was still prospect eligible, and I would rather roster him as a stash than Marsh for the time being.
It’s tough right now to gauge Marsh’s MLB timeline, as he is still behind Adell in the pecking order – and Adell is clearly behind guys like Lagares and Taylor Ward, who was given the call when Trout went down.
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. His start at Triple-A has been a bit of a mixed bag, as he’s played 11 games and slashed .213/.377/.381 with just one home run and one steal, but a remarkable 20.8% walk rate.
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.
8. Isaac Paredes, SS/3B, DET – ETA July
After a 34-game cameo in 2020 which nearly cost him his prospect eligibility, Tigers infielder Isaac Paredes was expected to begin the 2021 campaign on Detroit’s opening day roster. However, a slow start in spring training pushed him down to Triple-A Toledo to begin the season, with the team opting instead for a combination of Harold Castro, Willi Castro, Jonathan Schoop, and Niko Goodrum up the middle.
Paredes got off to an even slower start with the Mud Hens but has picked things up as of late, and as of this writing is now slashing .253/.333/.367 with a home run and 11 RBI through 20 games. There’s still work to be done, especially after he really struggled with Detroit last year – hitting just .220 with a 56 wRC+ – but Paredes has exceptional bat control and plate discipline, which should result in him being a high-OBP, top of the order caliber hitter in the Motor City in due time.
The infielders blocking him are subpar, to say the least, and while Paredes is still just 22 years old it would not be a surprise at all to see him in a Detroit uniform before the month of June is up – and he could absolutely be a sneaky source of runs and BA/OBP down the stretch. Speed isn’t a part of his game, and the power remains a bit of a question mark, although I believe he has the stick to hit 20 or so home runs per season at his peak.
In AL-only leagues or deeper redraft formats, Paredes is a bat worth checking in on before he gets snapped up by someone else in the next month or so.
9. 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 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 and is displaying his rare combination of power and patience at the plate, boasting four home runs and a .217 ISO along with a ridiculous 22.6% walk rate and a slash line of .246/.441/.464.
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 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 season.
10. 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. It’s been a tough start to the season for Downs, who is hitting .239 with a very alarming 38.3% 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.
Added: Isaac Paredes
Graduated: Lewin Diaz
Others given consideration: Estevan Florial, JJ Bleday, Drew Waters, Seth Beer, Brent Rooker, Julio Rodríguez, Brennen Davis, Heliot Ramos, Riley Greene, CJ Abrams, Luis García, Daz Cameron, Nolan Jones
Photo from Bryan Green | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)