Top 25 Impact Prospects for Redraft Leagues (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Kyle Lewis came out of nowhere in 2020 to return fourth-round value for fantasy managers. In 2019, Pete Alonso led the majors in home runs. The year before, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr, and Walker Buehler each provided enormous returns on investment for their fantasy managers. In 2022, when we look back at the 2021 season, whose names will we see in the record books?
To be eligible for this list, a player must have accumulated less than one year of service time.
I used a combination of traditional statistical analysis, including minor league performance, along with statcast analysis and scouting reports to evaluate players.
The most important consideration is whether or not a player has a path to playing time.
2020: .281/.382/.641, 7 HR, 4 SB, 64 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: Unranked
The Cardinals sent Randy Arozarena to the Rays last offseason for a package centered around prospect Matthew Liberatore. He earned the nickname “The Cuban Mookie Betts” by dominating AAA (.435 wOBA, 246 at-bats) and then the Major Leagues (.413 wOBA, 84 at-bats). Arozarena had arguably the greatest postseason in MLB history last season, as the Rays fell two games short of winning the World Series.
He has the potential to provide plus value for fantasy managers in all five statistical categories.
In 2020, the Rays ranked eighth in the Major Leagues in stolen bases, and Arozarena has elite (93rd percentile) sprint speed. It isn’t controversial to say that stolen bases are being phased out of the game because of an increased focus on analytics, which means there are fewer to go around. The synergy between Arozarena’s speed and the Rays’ base running philosophy has league-winning potential.
His weakest category will likely be batting average because of his high strikeout rate (28.9%).
Fantasy managers can target Arozarena as a top-50 player with top-20 upside. Anybody who misses out on stolen bases early in the draft can play a little bit of catch-up by drafting Arozarena somewhere in Rounds 4-6.
2020: 1.95 ERA, 2.54 FIP, 3.45 xFIP, 11.41 K/9, 3.90 BB/9, 32 1/3 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 34
Ian Anderson outdueled Gerrit Cole in the Bronx for his first-career start. I could joke and say, “It’s all downhill from there,” but in Anderson’s case, that would be a lie. Anderson followed up a dominant regular season with a dominant postseason (0.96 ERA, 18 2/3 IP). I like what I see when I look at Anderson’s peripherals. He can be a little wild, but that’s because he throws hard (94.5 MPH average fastball velocity, 10th in MLB among qualified pitchers) and generates WHIFFs with both of his off-speed pitches. There’s nothing not to like when considering Anderson’s work in 2020.
Anderson struggled (6.57 ERA, 1.39 K/BB) for 24 innings at AAA in 2019. Those numbers look like a short sample size outlier, as he had a lower K% and higher BB% when compared to his career averages. He might not perform as well as he did last season because he is due for negative regression in BABIP, HR/FB, and LOB%, but he will still be a valuable asset.
Fantasy Managers can consider Anderson a bargain at his current ADP (89th overall). He offers tons of upside after a dominant 2020 debut.
2020: 3.24 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 3.60 xFIP, 11.34 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 33 1/3 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 97
Cleveland took Triston McKenzie 42nd overall in 2015. He’s battled injuries during his minor league career, but he’s looked dominant when healthy. He debuted in 2020 and was reassigned to the bullpen late in the season and during the playoffs. By shipping Carlos Carrasco to the Mets, the Indians have cleared room for McKenzie in their starting rotation.
McKenzie features a four-pitch mix, as he can throw fastballs, sliders, curveballs, and change-ups. His slider (44.2% WHIFF) and curveball (34.4% WHIFF) keep hitters off balance. He did an excellent job allowing soft contact last season (87th percentile average exit velocity). There is a lot to be excited about here.
McKenzie will not have a lot of extra pressure on him at the back end of Cleveland’s rotation. The team has a reputation for developing great starting pitchers, and if 2020 is any indication, they hit the mark again with McKenzie. Fantasy managers can target McKenzie way ahead of his ADP (179th overall).
2020: 3.46 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 4.08 xFIP, 7.62 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 39 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 19
Sixto Sanchez signed with the Phillies in 2015 and was traded to the Marlins in 2019 as part of the J.T. Realmuto deal. He made his Major League debut in 2020 after playing 2019 in AA.
Sanchez throws a five-pitch mix, including a fastball that averages 98.5 MPH — second among qualified pitchers — and a change-up that averages 89 MPH, which keeps hitters off rhythm. He has excellent command, posting elite K/BB rates several times during his minor league career. The one category where he will lag other fantasy starters is in strikeouts, as he has thus far shown no seasons with a K/9 rate above 8.55.
In 2020, Sanchez’s peripherals supported his 3.46 ERA. He had a superlative 3.00 K/BB rate and neutral luck considering his BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB%. Sixto’s outlook for 2021 is slightly marred by potential inning limits late in the season. Fantasy managers can target him ahead of his ADP (127th overall).
2020: (KBO) .305/.397/.523, 30 HR, 23 SB, 533 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: Unranked
Ha-Seong Kim signed with the Padres recently after six full seasons in Korea. He’s a career .294/.373/.493 hitter there with 133 home runs and 134 stolen bases.
Fantasy managers will want to monitor Kim’s progress in Spring Training to get a feel for where he fits in the lineup. If he bats higher in the order, he’ll do better in runs; if he hits in the middle of the order, he’ll do better in RBI. He has the potential to provide value in all five categories.
Not many players have played in both the KBO and MLB. Seong-Kim is the best hitter to try. Fantasy managers looking to add middle infield depth can target Kim well ahead of his ADP (153th overall).
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 27
The Minnesota Twins took Alex Kirilloff in the first round of the 2016 draft. He missed 2017 with Tommy John surgery. In 2018, he broke out by slashing .348/.392/.578 with 20 HR in 512 AB across the A and A+ levels. He started 2019 in AA but battled wrist injuries and slashed a disappointing .283/.343/.413 in 375 AB. He spent all of last season at the alternate site before appearing in one game during the postseason.
Kirilloff is the third player in history to make his Major League debut in the playoffs.’
The Minnesota Twins released Eddie Rosario in December, signaling that they’re ready for the Alex Kirilloff era to begin in earnest. He is the favorite to replace Rosario in left field. Fantasy managers can target Kirilloff way ahead of his ADP (267th overall).
2020: .333/.386/.492, 5 HR, 0 SB, 126 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 90
The Orioles took Ryan Mountcastle in the first round of the 2015 draft. He made his Major League debut last season and enters 2021 as the favorite for playing time at first base.
Mountcastle’s breakout 2020 was fueled by a lucky .398 BABIP. While it is almost certain that his BABIP will regress in 2021, Mountcastle has shown that he has the skill necessary to maintain a high BABIP for a full season in the minors. It’s just a question of how much regression will take place.
Mountcastle won the MVP award in the AAA International League in 2019. His minor league resume promises Major League power. Fantasy managers can expect four-category (HR, RBI, R, AVG) contributions from Mountcastle. He can be targeted way ahead of his ADP (141st overall).
2020: .376/.442/.682, 5 HR, 1 SB, 85 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 37
The Pirates took Ke’Bryan Hayes in the first round of the 2015 draft. He’s the son of Charlie Hayes, who caught the final out of the 1996 World Series for the Yankees.
Hayes made his Major League debut last season. His .450 BABIP is .106 points higher than his high watermark in the Minor Leagues, and his 25.0% HR/FB rate is triple his Minor League high, so he’s due for some regression.
On the flip side, Hayes hit 30 or more doubles in 2018 (AA) and 2019 (AAA). It’s possible that his game evolved in 2020 while some of those doubles became home runs. Hayes is a stolen base threat, but the Pirates don’t run much under Derek Shelton (0.45 attempts per game, 26th in MLB).
He has a clear path to playing time at the top of the lineup for the Pirates. Fantasy managers in re-draft leagues will want to target Hayes ahead of his ADP (136th overall).
2020: 3.97 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 4.16 xFIP, 9.26 K/9, 3.44 BB/9, 34 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 98
Dane Dunning, a first-round draft pick in 2016, was traded to Texas as part of the Lance Lynn trade earlier this offseason. He pitched well for the White Sox last year, and his minor league track record supports his early Major League success.
In 2018, Dunning pitched in AA then missed 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. He slots in as Texas’ third starter this season.
Dunning is a sinker pitcher with a five-pitch mix. His slider was great last season (43.5% WHIFFs). He throws it primarily against righties. Against lefties, Dunning prefers to throw change-ups (30.8% WHIFFs) or curveballs (8.2% WHIFFs) instead of sliders. He doesn’t have plus velocity, but he did limit hard contact last season (78th percentile Hard Hit%).
Fantasy managers can target Dunning way ahead of his ADP (264th overall).
2020: 6.00 ERA, 7.19 FIP, 6.04 xFIP, 8.00 K/9, 6.50 BB/9, 18 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 6
Toronto took Nate Pearson in the first round of the 2017 draft. He missed 2018 with a fractured forearm. In 2019, Pearson dominated the Minor Leagues (2.30 ERA, 101 2/3 IP).
He’s famous for his fast fastball, which has been clocked as high as 104 MPH. He averaged 96.3 MPH in 2020 (seventh among qualified starters). He has excellent off-speed pitches, featuring a curveball (60% WHIFFs), slider (34.7% WHIFFs), and changeup (36.4% WHIFFs).
Pearson is the favorite to win the fifth spot in Toronto’s rotation this season. Fantasy managers can target him way ahead of his ADP (277th overall). He has one of the highest ceilings among players on this list.
2020: .340/.376/.369, 0 HR, 2 SB, 103 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 36
Nick Madrigal was the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft. He tore through the minors and made his Major League debut in 2020. Scouts love his contact skills. He projects to hit for a high average his entire career.
From 2018-2019, Madrigal led the Minor Leagues in K% (3%). He is a smart base runner and a plus defender. The White Sox attempted the seventh-fewest stolen bases last season (0.46 per game), so that will dampen his outlook a little. Power is not a part of Madrigal’s game.
The White Sox have Tim Anderson leading off, so Madrigal will have to be excellent if he wants to advance in the line up. If Madrigal can move up in the order he would become a fantasy starter capable of contributing in three categories (R, SB, AVG). If he can’t, and he continues to bat ninth, then Madrigal will be a fantasy reserve.
Fantasy managers can target Madrigal ahead of his ADP (200th overall). He is a good target for managers looking to repair batting average deficits late in their drafts.
2020: .200/.252/.364, 3 HR, 1 SB, 110 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 14
Dylan Carlson went in the first round of the 2016 draft. He broke out in 2019, slashing .292/.372/.542 with 26 HR and 20 SB in 489 AB and winning the MVP award at AA.
In 2020, he was promoted to the Major Leagues as an injury replacement after the Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreak. He struggled and got sent to the alternate site, but the team soon recalled him, and he hit the ball harder in his return (92.9 MPH average exit velocity vs. 84.7 MPH average exit velocity).
Carlson has the potential to go 20-20, but he needs to cut down on the strikeouts to provide value in batting average. Fantasy managers can target him ahead of his ADP (150 overall).
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 1
Wander Franco, a top international free agent, signed with the Rays in 2017. A 19 year old, switch-hitting shortstop, Franco started for the AL Futures team during the All-Star Game in 2019. He was named Rays Minor League Player of the Year that season, too.
Franco has never hit lower than .318 in the Minor Leagues despite having played against much older competition. He’s second to Nick Madrigal in K% since his debut, and he walks significantly more than he strikes out. He hasn’t displayed elite power yet, but scouts believe that it’ll develop as he ages. Franco compares to Juan Soto, who posted similar stats in the Minor Leagues. Franco has good speed and steals bases.
Franco’s downside is that the Rays will likely wait as long as possible before starting his service clock. He’s currently blocked by Willy Adames at shortstop and Brandon Lowe at second base. There have been rumblings about the Rays trying Franco at third base, but there isn’t anything concrete enough to report there. He probably won’t make the Opening Day roster.
Franco will be an immediate waiver-wire add once promoted. He has the potential to be this year’s No. 1 impact prospect, as a lack of playing time is the only thing that can hold him back. Fantasy managers can monitor Franco closely during Spring Training.
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 9
Jarred Kelenic went sixth overall by the Mets in 2018, but the team then sent him to the Mariners as part of the Edwin Diaz deal. In 2019, Kelenic made the AL Futures team at the All-Star game. Scouts love his five-tool skill set. He has superstar potential.
Kelenic doesn’t have a path to clear playing time in Seattle. Kyle Lewis’ ROY season won him the starting job in center field. It’s possible that Kelenic could take one of the corner spots from Jose Marmolejos or Mitch Haniger, but the Mariners have no reason to rush him. They will likely take a conservative approach with Kelenic and avoid starting his service clock too early.
Fantasy managers can monitor Kelenic during Spring Training. He will be an immediate pick-up once he’s promoted to the Major Leagues. He has league-winning potential on the same level as Wander Franco.
2020: N/A (Opted out)
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 18
Michael Kopech was a first-round pick for the Red Sox in 2014. In the 2016 offseason, he was part of the Chris Sale trade and changed his socks from red to white. He debuted in 2018 but started only four games before injuring his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched since then.
Kopech has a clear path to playing time at the back end of the White Sox rotation, but there are question marks about his stuff since he hasn’t pitched since the TJ surgery.
Fantasy managers can consider Kopech a low-risk, high-reward pick and target him ahead of his ADP (288th overall).
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 3
The Padres took MacKenzie Gore third overall in 2017. In 2019, Gore dominated the A+ level before being promoted to AA. He has shown excellent command in the minors. There were rumors late last season that he was being considered for a promotion to the Majors but it never happened.
The only thing holding Gore back is a lack of playing time. The Padres rotation is stout, and he’ll have to battle Adrian Morejon in Spring Training for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Fantasy Managers can monitor Gore while he battles for a spot on the Opening Day roster. He will be an immediate waiver add as soon as he’s promoted.
2020: 0.53 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, 11.12 K/9, 4.76 BB/9, 17 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: Unranked
The Red Sox took Tanner Houck in the first round of the 2017 draft. Houck’s minor league track record doesn’t support his Major League K/9 rate or BB/9 rate. His lucky 95.9% LOB% and .161 BABIP last season will regress considerably in 2021. His ERA will too, but the question is, by how much?
In 2019, Houck split time between AA and AAA racking up 107 strikeouts, 46 walks, and a 4.01 ERA over 107 2/3 IP. That ERA seems reasonable for fantasy managers forecasting Houck’s 2021 stats.
Houck has a fastball, slider (47.2% WHIFFs), sinker (16.7% WHIFFS) mix, and he has a splitter that he rarely throws. In a small sample size, he held opponents hitless with his sinker and slider last season. His fastball isn’t very fast (92.8 MPH average, 37th percentile).
Houck is likely to start the year in Boston’s starting rotation. Fantasy managers can target him ahead of his ADP (342nd overall), but be wary about activating him in poor matchups.
2020: .375/.400/.583, 1 HR, 0 SB, 24 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: Unranked
Alejandro Kirk signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent in 2016. He missed 2017 with a hand injury. In 2018 and 2019, he excelled in the lower minors. Kirk made his Major League debut at the tail end of the 2020 season.
His minor league track record belies a disciplined hitter with good power potential. He walks more than he strikes out and hits a lot of doubles. In 2020, over an extremely small sample, Kirk finished third in average exit velocity among qualified hitters (95.0 MPH), behind only Tatis Jr. and Miguel Sano.
He’s going to face competition from Reese McGuire and Danny Jansen for at-bats at catcher. He will be in the mix for at-bats at DH too. If he picks up where he left off last season neither McGuire or Jansen should be able to hold him at bay for long.
Fantasy managers can draft Kirk near the end of their drafts, ahead of his ADP (247th overall).
2020: .263/.359/.600, 8 HR, 0 SB, 80 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 100
Bobby ‘Bombs’ Dalbec was a fourth-round pick for the Red Sox in 2016. Since 2018, Dalbec has hit 59 combined home runs at AA and AAA.
His 42.4 K% last season was nearly double his K% at AAA in 2019. If he doesn’t improve, he won’t hit in the .260s again. Dalbec has a clear path to playing time in Boston. He will open the season as the starting first baseman.
Dalbec has 40 home run potential but will drain batting average and not steal any bases. Fantasy managers can target Dalbec if they need power late in the draft.
2020: 4.98 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 4.63 xFIP, 8.65 K/9, 1.57 BB/9, 34 1/3 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 87
Deivi Garcia signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2015. The team brought him along slowly, and he made his Major League debut as a 21-year-old in 2020. He was inconsistent, looking like Pedro Martinez one start and Carl Pavano the next.
He has a four-pitch mix and can sometimes struggle with command. He did a great job limiting walks in 2020, but that’s an outlier when you consider his minor league track record. In 2019, across three levels, from A+ to AAA he had a 4.4 BB/9 (13.3 K/9).
The Yankees’ rotation is far from settled. If the season started tomorrow, Garcia would definitely have a spot. That said, they will probably sign a veteran in free agency between now and Spring Training. That would mean he will have to battle with Domingo German, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King. It seems like every year the Yankees battle injuries, so even if Garcia doesn’t start the season in the rotation, he may get the call eventually.
Fantasy managers can target him ahead of his ADP (303rd overall). He can be started in plus matchups.
2020: 6.99 ERA, 6.47 FIP, 5.37 xFIP, 8.26 K/9, 4.13 BB/9, 28 1/3 IP
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 5
Casey Mize went first overall pick in 2018. In 2019, he dominated the lower minors, exhibited excellent command, and threw a no-hitter in his first start at Double-A.
In 2020, he struggled generating WHIFFs and didn’t pitch up to his reputation. His Statcast profile is ugly. He was hit hard (19th percentile) and his xwOBA (3rd percentile), xERA (third percentile) and Barrel% (fourth percentile) backed up his poor ratios.
Fantasy managers can target Mize as a sleeper or as streamer in plus matchups.
2020: .355/.394/.742, 3 HR, 0 SB, 31 AB
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 69
Sam Huff was drafted out of high school in 2016. In 2019, he hit 28 home runs in the lower minors and was the MVP of the Futures All-Star Game (1-2 HR). He has Gary Sanchez-type power potential.
Huff broke in last year after an injury to Jose Trevino. Trevino is healthy now, so it’s unclear if Huff will be the starter on Opening Day. Fantasy managers will want to monitor Huff closely in Spring Training to see if he can pull ahead of Trevino.
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 17
Forrest Whitley was drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2016 draft. He moved quickly through the minors to AA, but in 2018 he was suspended for cheating (PEDs, not trash cans). In 2019, he battled injuries; was held at the alternate site in 2020.
Whitley has the stuff and raw tools to be a No. 1 starter in the bigs, but he needs to command it better if he wants to reach his potential. He has no clear path to playing time right now, but he could be the first man up if any Astros starters get injured.
Fantasy managers can monitor Whitley for news of a promotion. He will be an immediate waiver wire add once that happens.
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 20
Matt Manning went ninth overall in the 2016 draft. In 2018, he was the AA pitcher of the year. He’s pitched in two All-Star Futures Games, in 2018 and 2019. There’s nothing left for him to prove at AA and he will likely start the season in AAA.
The Tigers have no reason to rush Manning’s service clock. Fantasy managers can have Manning on their radar in Spring Training in case he builds momentum for an Opening Day roster spot. He will be an immediate Waiver add once he’s promoted.
MLB.com Prospect Ranking: 15
Julio Y. Rodriguez was signed by the Mariners as an international free agent in 2017. In 2019, after being promoted from the Single-A level to the upper-A levels, Rodriguez slashed .462/.514/.738 in 65 at-bats with two homers and six doubles. Rodriguez has a ton of long-term upside, and while he’s unlikely to debut until the summer or later, crazier things have happened.
He’s blocked by Mitch Haniger in right field. If Haniger struggles like he did in 2019, maybe Rodriguez will get a shot. He’s also blocked by Jarred Kelenic, Seattle’s other great outfield prospect who figures to be promoted first. In left field, the Mariners have the unproven Jose Marmolejos. Perhaps the Mariners would consider a Rodriguez-Kelenic-Lewis outfield next season if everyone plays up to their potential.
Fantasy managers can monitor Rodriguez. He would be an immediate waiver -wire add once he’s promoted.
- C. McCormick
- R. Dawson
- D. Jefferies
- C. Pache
- T. Taylor
- J. Bart
- D. Johnson Jr.
- C. Flexen
- T. Rogers
- S. Howard
- O. Cruz
- J. Fleming
- B. Honeywell Jr.
- L. Patino
- C. Seabold
- J. Garcia
- T. Stephenson
- I. Paredes
- T. Skubal
- R. Lewis
- R. Jeffers
- A. Vaughn
- B. McKay
- D. Waters
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