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Brendan Tuma’s Prospect Report: Wander Franco, Jarren Duran, Alek Manoah (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Brendan Tuma | @toomuchtuma | Featured Writer
May 19, 2021

We’re going to keep the same format we used in last week’s prospect report. One week ago at this time a younger, more naive version of myself thought I’d be able to put together a new top-20 list after a one-time departure from the norm.

However, we went 588 days without minor league games, which has caused the floodgates of prospect news coming in on a daily basis to feel more like an avalanche. It’s tough enough to keep up with minor league box scores in a “normal” year, but there have been so many new developments that need so much attention in such a short amount of time, that we’re going to take one more week to catch our breath before diving back into the daunting task of curating a new top-20.

Remember, not only are we witnessing the developments of the past calendar year from these youngsters, but a large portion of our highly ranked early-season players have since graduated prospect status. This left a gaping hole atop our rankings, and I don’t want to advertise a defined order until I feel a bit better about it. That’ll be a project for next week, I promise. For now, let’s dive in.

Reminder to reach out with questions on Twitter anytime – @toomuchtuma.

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Prospects Starting Hot

Wander Franco (SS – TB)
The No. 1 prospect in baseball checks in this week hitting .340/.393/.640 through 12 games with Triple-A Durham. He had himself a big weekend, hitting a grand slam on Saturday before collecting four hits on Sunday. He has shown his trademark control of the strike zone as well, generating a 6:4 K:BB ratio thus far. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect for a promotion coming soon is that the Rays are playing him all over the field as of late. Franco has started seven games at shortstop, two at second base, and three at third base. Defensive versatility will only help expedite his path to the big leagues, especially for a franchise like Tampa Bay.

Jarren Duran (OF – BOS)
Perhaps no prospect has seen his stock rise over the past calendar year more than Duran. It’s a great “what if.” Duran reworked his swing entering spring training in 2020. If we had a minor league season last year then the fantasy industry might’ve caught on to his gains sooner. Instead, we only had alternate site scouting reports and some Puerto Rico League box scores to go off. Still, the signs were there to get in on Duran on the ground floor. He continues to prosper and hit his fifth homer of the season on Tuesday night. Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic recently warned us that the Red Sox want to be patient when it comes to a big league promotion for Duran. This lines up with Chaim Bloom’s overall philosophy as well as some other reports I heard. I’m hoping he’s up by mid-June.

Alek Manoah (SP – TOR)
The 23-year-old was completely off my radar entering 2021. Now there’s talk of him being the best pitching prospect in baseball. This speaks not only to where we are with prospect evaluations in 2021 (with so many developments to get caught up on), but to pitching as a whole. In dynasty leagues it’s often best to sell high on the top ranked pitching prospects when they’re still in the low minors. We then want to get in on the action when we can acquire them on the cheap and they’re close to the big leagues. Manoah recently checked both of those boxes. He has the “it” factor and has completely overwhelmed his competition thus far. Manoah is starting for Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday. If he dominates again things could get very interesting.

Vidal Brujan (2B/OF – TB)
Similar to Franco, the Rays are using Brujan at a variety of positions this season. Through 13 games he has eight starts in the outfield, four at second base, and one at third base. He has five homers and three steals to go along with a .314 average and a 1.044 OPS. Brujan has always been a burner on the base paths, but he’s starting to show some power upside just like Duran. There’s a non-zero chance that he actually beats Franco to the majors, and he’ll be an extremely fantasy relevant player once he’s up.

Jesus Sanchez (OF – MIA)
The 23-year-old outfielder fell off top-100 prospect rankings after flopping in the major leagues last season. It was just a 10 game sample, however, and Sanchez has since come roaring back. Through 11 games in Triple-A he’s batting an absurd .477 with six homers and 18 RBI. There are a lot of strikeout issues going on, and Sanchez might wind up being a Quad-A player. Nonetheless, he’s back on the radar for both redraft and dynasty league purposes. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to add him off waivers in a couple of dynasty leagues recently.

Hunter Greene (SP – CIN)
Another prospect who has undergone a complete revival this spring, Greene is coming off an extremely impressive start this week. The No. 2 overall pick from the 2017 draft, Greene underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019, but his “stuff” is as electric as ever. Through three starts in Double-A he has a 25:3 K:BB to go along with a 1.69 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP. Greene continues to skyrocket up my prospect rankings.

Julio Rodriguez (OF – SEA)
Seattle played it safe with most of their prospect assignments this season. Rodriguez has been playing for High-A Everett to begin the year, but I’m thinking he could be ready for a promotion to Double-A sooner rather than later. Through 13 contests the 20-year-old is hitting .327/.413/.727 with five homers, 12 RBI, and three stolen bases. I don’t expect to see him with the Mariners until 2022, but he’ll remain my No. 3 overall prospect when my revised rankings come out next week.

Prospects Starting Cold

Spencer Torkelson (1B – DET)
Torkelson’s pro debut has been a reminder of how big of an adjustment this level can be for young hitters. The slugging corner infielder was considered a wildly advanced bat coming out of Arizona State, but he has hit just .159 so far and he’s still seeking his first professional homer. Torkelson has shown some improvements as of late, and he’s walking enough that his .345 OBP is respectable. We aren’t panicking and selling low by any means. Torkelson has both the pedigree and the upside to suddenly heat up in a hurry.

Marco Luciano (SS – SF)
The best scouting term I can attribute to this 19-year-old physical phenom is “loud contact.” Luciano possesses outrageous bat speed that produces high exit velocities with thunderous power. The downside is that he’s still so, so raw. Luciano spent some time at the alternate training site last summer and was quickly exposed by more advanced pitching. He struggled in spring training and now he’s batting just .222 with 13 strikeouts in 11 games for Low-A San Jose. The long-term upside is immense so remain patient in dynasty league formats.

Bobby Witt Jr. (SS – KC)
Optimism for an early-summer MLB promotion has subsided, as Witt is batting just .184/.273/.245 through 12 games with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. His spring training results were so encouraging, though, that I remain very bullish on his long-term potential. Similar to Tork and Luciano, this is a situation to not overreact to.

Nate Pearson (SP – TOR)
When it comes to these starting pitcher prospects who have begun getting a taste of the big leagues – Pearson, Spencer Howard, Luis Patino – I keep coming back to Michael Kopech. He has obviously exceeded expectations in 2021, and despite an inconsistent role, he’s just flat out pitching well. That’s all I’ve wanted to see from Pearson this season. It doesn’t matter whether it’s as a reliever, a traditional starter, or some hybrid of the two. Not only was his lone major league start disastrous, but he’s once again hurt. After suffering through a groin injury this spring, the 24-year-old is now dealing with a shoulder impingement. We need to see more. And soon.

Assorted News + Notes

  • Logan Gilbert didn’t dominate in his MLB debut by any means. He did generate 10 swinging strikes, however. He also showcased his trademark control by registering a 5:0 K:BB in his four innings of work. There’s still a case to be made for him as the top pitching prospect in baseball. He gets a great matchup against the Tigers on Wednesday night.
  • Jarred Kelenic, Seattle’s other top prospect who was recently called up, had a monster game last Friday night against Cleveland. He has started slow otherwise, though. The good news is the Mariners are continuing to bat him leadoff.
  • The Corbin Carroll injury really hurts. The 20-year-old outfielder was off to a scorching start in High-A, but he’ll be sidelined for the season due to a shoulder injury. Carroll has a smaller frame but was beginning to showcase some power to go along with his elite speed and on-base skills. I’m interested in buying low in dynasty leagues.
  • Pete Crow-Armstrong, who was the Mets’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft, will require shoulder surgery as well. No timetable has been given and the good news is that the injury is to his right (non-throwing) shoulder. Known as a “glove-first” prospect, Crow-Armstrong was off to an electric start at the plate — hitting .417 with two doubles and two steals through six games.
  • The Mike Trout calf injury has led to speculation as to whether or not the Angels will call up one of their top two prospects — Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh. Perhaps LA will feel like they need to make a move, but from what I can tell they don’t want to rush either of them, especially after Adell’s disaster of a stint in the majors from last summer. Adell has 21 strikeouts in 12 games at Triple-A Salt Lake, though he’s totaled four homers and two steals. Marsh, meantime, recently returned from a shoulder injury and hasn’t done much since homering in his first game back.
  • Marlins RHP Max Meyer, the third overall pick in the 2020 draft, struck out nine and walked one while allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings on Tuesday. He has looked fantastic at Double-A thus far, and his stock continues to trend up.

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Brendan Tuma is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brendan, check out his archive and follow him @toomuchtuma.

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