We’re now about halfway to two-thirds of the way through the minor league seasons at all levels and so it’s a good time to check in on who’s grabbing our attention now and who might be struggling more than they should be. It’s also a good time to notice some of the more off-the-beaten path prospects as well so that you can have a chance to nab them on the wire in dynasty leagues before they really draw attention from the masses.
Taj Bradley, RHP TB - Bradley was a fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft out of the Georgia prep ranks and since then he’s been working his way through the system for the Rays. We all know that the Rays are very good at developing young arms and we are just starting to see the fruits of their development labor with the 20-year-old righty and his four-pitch mix. None really jump off the page at you in terms of plus grade but they are all above-average to just slightly below-average right now but they are getting better quickly with more consistent work following 2020. The fastball sits at 95 with nice break while the slider and curveball are two distinct breaking pitches with the slider being the one he leans on the most. His changeup is still coming, but should be a weapon when it’s fully developed which would give him four above-average pitches and a profile of a mid-rotation starter at worst. Grab him now if you want the next top Rays pitching prospect two years early.
Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B CIN - De La Cruz has had the luxury of developing in a system that doesn’t usually get a lot of attention. The 19-year-old was a J2 signing in 2018 and he’s impressed at every step so far both in Dominican Summer League and stateside and the belief, including from myself, that he’s a five-tool prospect in the making. He’s still pretty lanky at 6’2” and 150 pounds but that hasn’t slowed him down in terms of the stats department with a .327/.368/.645 slash line, five homers, 22 runs, 18 RBI, and four steals in 26 games. Right now the power is the worst tool at just below-average but that’s mainly because of the lack of muscle on the frame and as he starts to fill out physically, the power and the rest of the skills will all improve.
Robert Puason, SS OAK - The belief is that the 18-year-old shortstop will continue to develop just fine and the tools he comes with will keep making themselves known especially on the defensive side of things, but right now, things aren’t clicking. In 65 games at Class-A Stockton, he’s slashing just .215/.289/.271 with two homers and 17 RBI and nearly two strikeouts per game. While this is the first taste of pro ball for him, it’s not quite the start many expected but there’s still plenty of time for him to turn things around clearly. Don’t sour on him just yet.
Joe Gray, OF MIL - Gray was taken in the second-round of the 2018 draft as a high schooler and had as much upside as anyone in the Brewers’ system at the time, until injuries delayed him showing what he’s capable of. He’s got an intriguing set of skills on his side including plus power and arm strength along with above-average speed. The hit tool is still needing improvement as it’s still below-average, though his current stat line isn’t showing that way. Gray started at Low-A for 51 games and now has been at High-A for 22 games with a combined stat line of .283/.390/.572 with 14 homers, 69 RBI, 55 runs, and 16 steals over 269 at-bats. When he’s healthy, he’s a top-10 talent in the Brewers system and is still a well under-the-radar prospect.
Hudson Haskin, OF BAL - Haskin was a second-round pick out of Tulane as a sophomore with a swing that is one of the more interesting ones in the Orioles’ system. It may be unusual, but it’s effective and should lead to 20-homer pop while he has the speed to be a 25-steal threat as well. Haskin has played 69 games this year with a slash line of .279/.372/.411 while hitting five home runs, 51 runs, 38 RBI, and 20 steals. He’s part of a talented retooling of the Oriole’s system and expect him to figure in the long-term centerfield discussion for a while to come.
Michael Toglia, 1B COL - First base might be a shallow position right now, but there is a young interesting crop coming up through the minors and Toglia is one of the more intriguing ones. The switch-hitting first baseman was drafted by the Rockies twice, once out of high school and the second time out of UCLA as a first rounder in 2019, as an indication of how much they like his talent. The power from the 6’5”, 226-pound infielder is impressive and shows up from both sides of the plate well in games. He also has the defense to be a Gold Glove fielder which will keep him on the field even during hitting slumps. Toglia has played 75 games this year, 74 of which were at High-A Spokane (hence his placement in this section), and has posted a slash line of .234/.333/.465, 17 homers, 66 RBI, 50 runs, and seven steals. The steals will diminish as he moves up but the hit skill and power should only continue to improve.
Hector Yan, LHP LAA - Yan is one of the top pitching prospects in the Angels’ system but his future role is still up in the air given his delivery. The lefty comes from the first-base side with a sidearm action that adds movement to his pitches but also costs him control. He’s been capable of striking out a bunch of hitters (148 in 109 innings in 2019) but this year the stuff and control hasn’t been working. In 64 innings at High-A, Yan has a 5.63 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and a 66:43 K:BB ratio. The stuff, a three pitch-mix of a fastball, curveball, and changeup, could very well be great out of the back of the pen, but the control will be the sole decider of his path as if he gets it going in the right direction, there’s still starter upside.
Jake Eder, LHP MIA - Taken in the fourth-round of the 2020 draft, he was part of a very pitching-heavy approach in last year’s draft for the Marlins and the dividends of that are starting to show. Eder may be getting eclipsed by his Double-A teammate, and first round pick in 2020, Max Meyer, but the stats are very similar and in some regards favor Eder. The stuff is there to make Eder a candidate for a mid-rotation starting role, so long as he shows it consistently over multiple starts as the velocity on the fastball will fluctuate between 90-96 and the curveball can flatten out as well. Saying all that, though, he’s been on his game at Pensacola over 64.2 innings with 92 Ks, 25 BBs, and a .177 BAA. Expect him up in mid-2022 and to be a high-ceiling mid-rotation option for the Marlins.
Adley Rutschman, C BAL - Rutschman is lighting up Double-A Bowie as the top catching prospect continues his march toward Baltimore. The former number one overall draft pick is slashing .274/.398/.513 in 75 games this year with 17 long balls, 58 runs, 53 RBI, and a steal while walking nearly as much as striking out (53 to 54 respectively). There’s little more to be said about the skill set that Rutschman possesses as a generationally good catching prospect and a middle-of-the-order bat regardless of position. He’ll continue to learn his craft at Double-A while working with the next crop of young pitchers to come up for Baltimore in Grayson Rodriguez, D.L. Hall, and Drew Rom to form that camaraderie that’s so important between catchers and pitchers.
Mark Vientos, 3B NYM - Taken out of high school in 2017, Vientos has been a long-developing corner infielder and he’s now really taken some major steps forward. In 62 games at Double-A, he’s slashed .279/.350/.601 with 20 homers, 52 RBI, and 38 runs while now dealing with Brett Baty at third base as well. Vientos is in a bit of a defensive pickle now as Pete Alonso is locking down first base in the majors and Brett Baty is likely the long-term third base answer. He could move to left field or if the NL gets the DH, he’d fit there too.
Jeisson Rosario, OF BOS - Rosario was signed in 2016 by Boston and was one of the more interesting prospects in that class as a lefty-outfielder with four above-average tools. Now at Double-A Portland though, the skills aren’t showing to their fullest with a .234/.335/.294 line in 63 games with just two homers, 34 runs, and 27 RBI. All of those are off of pace from what he’s done at previous steps along the way and it’s taken some shine off his profile.
Josh Lowe, OF TB - Lowe, yes another one with a similar last name in the Tampa system, has been putting on a show at Durham this season. The lefty-hitting outfielder, over 70 games, is slashing .281/.353/.542 with 15 homers, 50 RBI, 45 runs, and 16 steals. The third ranked Rays’ prospect, based on my most recent Top-250 update, is showing off why he is considered four plus-skills in his set of tools and why the push to get him to Tampa has been so strong of late. He should get his shot within the next month or so to make the major league roster.
Keibert Ruiz, C WAS - Ruiz has been on a tear at Triple-A this year, now between two different teams. In fact, he’s now hit a homer in each game he’s played for Rochester, Washington’s affiliate, including an absolute moonshot on Tuesday. Across 53 games between Oklahoma City and Rochester, Ruiz is slashing .301/.379/.638 with 17 homers, 46 RBI, 40 runs, 27 strikeouts, and 23 walks. The reason he’s still at Rochester is because Mike Rizzo, Nationals’ GM, wants him to catch everyday but he should be up at some point over the next month for sure.
Mackenzie Gore, LHP SD - Let’s preface this with the fact that Gore is still one of the top pitching prospects in the game and is still the top prospect in the Padres’ system. However, there has been a big bump in the road in 2021. In his 20 innings at Triple-A, he’s posted a 5.86 ERA and 1.80 WHIP with an 18:12 K:BB ratio and a .289 BAA. The frontline starter candidate simply needs to fine-tune his stuff against hitters on the cusp of the majors and that’s about it, it’s not as though there’s a drop in velocity, it’s more so that El Paso, where the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate is located, is perhaps the worst pitching environment in the minors right up there with Albuquerque. This start certainly delays his ETA by a year.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP STL - Just like Gore, Liberatore is the top prospect for the Cardinals and still one of my favorite pitching prospects in the game, but he’s having an undeniably bad 2021 season with a 5.15 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .269 BAA, and 70 Ks in 71.2 innings at Triple-A Memphis. The biggest issue for him has been an astonishing amount of home runs allowed at 16 in his 13 games, 12 starts, which has clearly ballooned his ERA. Liberatore is still a front-line starter prospect who should sit behind Jack Flaherty in the Cardinals rotation as early as mid-next year but he definitely needs to keep the ball in the park to really reach his floor and certainly his ceiling.