With the end of January upon us, it's time to start looking in earnest to the next wave of players to take the game by storm. I've talked a lot in the last couple weeks about current players and what to make of their current results, but with drafts starting up, whether redraft or dynasty prospect drafts, it's also important to get your hands on players that can make an impact to your team long term too. After compiling my top 100 list of prospects for fantasy baseball, I wanted to break this down by division, and it quickly became apparent that some divisions were much stronger than others in this area. The American League East is certainly one of the front runners with top-tier talent across the board. I'll continue to look at these on a divisional basis as we gear up to release our top 100 prospects in a couple weeks.
Adley Rustchman (C- BAL)
Over the last couple months we've seen Anthony Volpe fly up the board, with a handful of fantasy analysts putting Volpe ahead of Rutschman. Rutschman is still my top prospect in the East, though, and the number four overall fantasy prospect in the league. The first overall pick from Oregon State in 2019 has mashed at every level in the minors, and hit 23 HR with an OBP near .400 last year. As a switch hitter, he's a rare talent that has a polished swing from both sides of the plate, though showed that he was stronger last season from the right-handed batters box. What really sets him apart though is his presence behind the plate as a premium talent that doesn't look to move away from the position any time soon. There isn't much that needs to be said about Adley that hasn't been said already, but his talent is absolutely oozing. The question isn't if, but when we see Adley next year - don't be surprised if we see a debut at some point in May or June this season.
Anthony Volpe (SS-NYY)
When drafted in 2019, Volpe was seen as a premium defender with upside offensively. Last season saw him take huge strides at the plate, a credit to his work away from the field in 2020, and finds himself in the top 20 in most prospect lists now. Last season we saw him make a meteoric rise up prospect lists, and anyone who has their pulse on the minor leagues will tell you there isn't much he didn't do well last season. While he's always had a sharp eye at the plate (drew 23 walks in 34 games in rookie ball in 2019), his bat came to life last season with 27 home runs, 113 runs scored and 86 RBI between two levels of A ball last season. Those tools combined saw him post an OBP north of .400, but he's also an asset on the bases where he stole 33 bases as well, making him one of those can't miss talents - especially in 5x5 roto formats. Whether you like the Yankees or not, there's simply no denying the talent we saw last season, even if we don't see a debut until 2023 at the earliest.
Grayson Rodriguez (P-BAL)
In fantasy, it's increasingly hard in our first year player drafts to put a ton of stock into starting pitching because of the ever-increasing risk to relief profile and injury. Rodriguez has defied those notions in every way in his minor league tenure, with good health in addition to his impressive numbers. Those numbers include a career 12.9 K/9 rate that has increased at every level of minor league ball while seeing his BB/9 drop below two last season. With a lively fastball sitting in the upper 90s, he's added a very good changeup that's become one of his better pitches to a wipeout slider and a good curve as well giving him a true four pitch mix. I expect to see him start the season in AAA where he should be primed for a rapid ascent to the majors if he can continue to fill the strike zone.
Marcelo Mayer (SS-BOS)
With average or better tools in every category, there's no mistake about why the Red Sox made him the fourth overall pick in the '21 draft. Though he doesn't have the speed that most shortstops need to stay at the position, his defense more than makes up for it. What sets Mayer apart at the plate is his advance approach and bat to ball skills that should make him a strong top of the lineup bat down the road. Though he hasn't shown a ton of in game power to date, he does have some nice raw power that could lead to a breakout season for him soon. With the power upside he possesses, I liken him to a Corey Seager, but hopefully a form of that which can stay on the field for longer stretches of time. Mayer will likely take longer to blaze a trail to the majors, being 19 and fresh off a campaign in rookie ball - expect to see him take the field for the Sox no earlier than 2025.
Shane Baz (P-TBR)
The first name on this list that has seen major league playing time, we saw Baz get his first cup of coffee last season with three starts down the stretch for the Rays. In those three starts, Baz displayed exactly what we like in him as a prospect - an exceptional strikeout rate paired with the ability to limit baserunners. Another product of the ill-fated Chris Archer trade with the Pirates, Baz went to work over the 2020 season and emerged this year as a legitimate asset to the Rays. Armed with an upper 90s fastball, he also features a curveball and slider that cause a lot of swings and misses with an occasional changeup to keep lefties honest. The real concern here is workload as Baz hasn't thrown 100 innings at any level yet along with the deployment questions regarding Tampa Bay's front office. Still, Baz possesses immense talent, and at 22 years old should be a lock to break camp with the Rays this April.
Triston Casas (1B-BOS)
It might be a surprise that he's not higher on the list, but that speaks to the talent that's abound in this division right now. One of the best bats in his draft class, Casas sets himself apart from the typical first base power build by bringing a strong hit tool that he showcased last season with a .279 average and a strong walk rate. Though his size likely limits him to a 1B/DH role, he has all of the measurables you'd like to see in that role. He continued to work last season in the Arizona Fall League where he put on a clinic with his bat. Despite his size, Casas has sneaky speed with three triples and seven steals to his credit last year, though he won't be counted on for that in a 5x5 in most weeks. With a lineup in the bigs featuring Bobby Dalbec and JD Martinez in his projected role, it might be a while before we see the big guy in the show, but I anticipate a debut by the end of summer or early fall for the Fenway Faithful to see him up close.
Vidal Brujan (SS-TBR)
Last season we saw a glimpse of Brujan, and though he struggled in his debut, there was a lot to like about him in 2021 from a fantasy perspective. We've long drooled over his speed in fantasy circles, and he delivered on that again last season with a third consecutive 40 steal campaign. What really made my eyes pop were his increased willingness to draw walks and his power potential. It might make some scoff to talk about 12 HRs as a high point, but added power to his speed profile makes him a nice asset up the middle on your fantasy roster, and takes away from his reliance on one category to generate value. With a log jam in Tampa Bay between Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco entrenched at their positions, expect Tampa to continue to be creative in how they can get his bat into the lineup moving forward. I fully expect Brujan to break camp with the team if they can find a way to get him consistent at bats.
Josh Lowe (OF-TBR)
Another prospect that has continued to climb up the rankings, Lowe saw a debut last season after a strong season for the Durham Bulls where he hit 22 long balls and posted a .916 OPS. Though Lowe flashed the power potential in AA in 2019, his bat to ball skills and plate discipline were markedly different last season with a .291 batting average and a career high walk rate. Lowe has quietly become very efficient on the bases as well, swiping 15 or more bases in each of the last four season as well. Make no mistake, there's plenty of swing and miss in his swing, and that could be a deterrent in some formats, but makes a nice addition to your roster pool based on his upside. With Austin Meadows, Kevin Kiermeier and Randy Arozarena in the fold already it remains to be seen where he can get regular at bats, and his primary competition for playing time could be Brujan.
Jasson Dominguez (OF-NYY)
I'm going to preface this by saying I anticipate a lot of hate for where I have Dominguez ranked, but I can't in good conscience rank him above anybody higher than him. One of the most enigmatic prospects in the game, Dominguez may be one of the most hyped prospects in the game that we've seen in a long time that lacks in game action. Long lauded as a prospect that brings 30-30 upside to the table, he has above average bat speed and power from both sides of the plate. Has shown good plate discipline, but lacked a lot of bat to ball ability in his first taste of minor league ball last season striking out 73 times in 56 games. He also failed to display much of that power or speed last season with only 15 XBH and 9 steals. Dominguez certainly has the talent to make an impact in fantasy, but the move to make him one of the top prospects in the game looks to be very premature. With the amount of seasoning he shows that he still needs, don't expect to see Dominguez before 2025.
Colton Cowser (OF-BAL)
One of my favorite bats in the 2021 draft, Cowser was a no-brainer for the Orioles at pick number five with a strong career at Sam Houston State. One of the top college bats in the draft, he answered a lot of questions about his power potential this season by hitting 16 HR in his junior season. He has quick hands with a controlled approach at the plate, and continues to post strong walk numbers with a low strikeout rate. Good but not great run tool that saw him swipe 17 bags in his junior year, and seven in 32 games in the minors last season. With questions answered about his power, Cowser looks like he could be a strong 20-20 candidate in an Orioles lineup that could be packed with hitters in the coming years. As an advanced college bat, I expect Cowser to rise through the minor leagues rapidly, and with playing time available in Baltimore wouldn't be surprised to see him on the field in 2023.
Orelvis Martinez (SS-TOR)
Another bat in a long line of power hitting infielders for the Toronto Blue Jays, Martinez finds his name climbing up the list with a 28 HR season last year between two levels of A ball. There's a lot to like about Martinez's game with the raw power potential he's showcased. Despite his success on the field though, there are a couple factors that keep him a little bit lower on this list. There have long been questions about his contact skills, and that was in full effect last season when he struck out 113 times in 98 games. He also took a noticeable step back in the batters box upon his promotion to High-A last season that saw his average dip closer to .200. The high variance in his hit tool continues to be a question, but there's no denying the unbelievable talent, and he has the potential to be a rare middle infielder if he can continue hitting balls out of the park. I expect him to start the season in High-A ball again, and likely not make a debut until the end of 2024.
Oswald Peraza (SS-NYY)
Another shortstop prospect for the Yankees that saw his stock take a nice bump last year, Oswald Peraza has quickly turned himself from a glove first infielder to a fantasy relevant prospect for more than just his speed. While speed has always been a part of his game, swiping ten or more bags in each minor league season, Peraza parlayed his improved plate productivity last season into a 38 steal season. Though he flashed strong upside last season, there are questions regarding his climbing strikeout rate along with a lackluster ability for drawing walks - questions that could see him struggle offensively if he can't continue to hit, especially for power, as we saw with each successive promotion last season. This said, Peraza is certainly more MLB ready than Volpe, and if the Yankees decide not to pursue a shortstop when the offseason resumes, he could be in line for playing time sooner rather than later.
Jarren Duran (OF-BOS)
Taken in the 7th round of the 2018 draft, Duran is the second oldest prospect on this list turning 26 next season. Though he was already a polished hitter when drafted, Duran's stock went up this year when he hit 16 home runs in 60 games for Worcester in AAA, despite his lowest minor league average to date, before getting the call to the major leagues where he promptly struggled to a .578 OPS. The upside is present if Duran can make the adjustments though, as we've seen him steal bases in the past with a 46 steal season in 2019. Duran lacks the plate discipline that would see his name rise up the list, and is heavily reliant on batted ball success to find his way on the bases. He could feature some nice 15/15 upside at the top of the Red Sox order if he can earn another trip to the show, but I expect him to begin the year in AAA unless he blisters the baseball in spring.
Nate Pearson (P-TOR)
There may be no other pitching prospect with a combination of high-ceiling and low-floor like Nate Pearson. Somehow still a rookie, Pearson has continued to battle injuries and inconsistency over the last two season, and has lost much of the shine on his stock. There is inherent reliever risk here as we've seen him operate out of the bullpen for most of his major league career, and if he can't stay healthy, will be stuck there permanently. He still has some great swing and miss potential though, and this is why he'll remain in his spot for another season. Expect to see Pearson break camp in a similar role to Michael Kopech last season and build up his inning count as he has only thrown 188 innings combined since 2017.
Gabriel Moreno (C-TOR)
No catcher prospect has done more for his prospect status than Gabriel Moreno, who rounds out the list. Though he was very raw when he signed out of Venezuela, the power has come for Moreno a lot faster than many thought it would. Moreno has a great sense for putting the bat to the ball, and has 88 strikeouts over 191 career minor league games. What keeps him lower on the list, despite the power potential at a thin position, are a lack of plate discipline with a low walk rate and a lack of sample size. Though he ascended to AAA ball last season, Moreno has played in 40 games only once since he signed. He has a bright future if he can continue to have sustained batted ball success even when the power comes, but I don't expect to see him playing full time for the Jays until 2023 at the earliest.
Media Credit: Eagle-Tribune, Camden Chat, Bay News, Dunedin Blue Jays, NY Post