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Prospect Roundup

Top 10 Prospects: 2021

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: September 28, 2020, 1:14 pm ET

Whether you loved it, hated it, or just acknowledged it, the 2020 regular season came to an end. As the resident prospect writer, I was impressed with some young performances -- Kyle Lewis, Alec Bohm, Luis Robert (until September) immediately jump to mind -- and there were some players that were overmatched in their first taste of MLB action.

And while the end of the 2020 campaign is just 24 hours ago, it's time to look forward and take a gander at the top prospects for the 2021 season. Here's a very important caveat: We still don't know who will or won't be considered a rookie. I'm going off the standards set forward before, but that could change, and several of these players may not be eligible.

That out of the way, here's a look at the top prospects to target for the 2021 campaign.

1. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Miami Marlins

I've never listed a pitching prospect at the top of a list to open a year. Congrats, Sixto. You've broken me. While he struggled in his final two starts of the season, it'd be impossible to not come away impressed with what the 22-year-old did prior to that, and a 3.46 ERA and 33/11 K/BB ratio in seven starts without any minor-league seasoning in 2020 is pretty darn good. Sanchez has elite swing-and-miss stuff, and he generally throws it all for strikes. He should pitch at or near the top of the Miami rotation, and he'd be the first prospect I'm drafting in 2020 -- even if I still have some long-term concerns based on his frame.  

2. Dylan Carlson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

Carlson's numbers are not terribly impressive. Heck, they're just not impressive; he hit .200 with a .616 OPS in his 35 games. I saw enough from the 21-year-old to not be concerned about a (relatively) small sample size in 2020. He's a switch-hitter who has the ability to hit for average and power, and while he didn't get a chance to run much this summer (1-for-2 in SB attempts), he has the ability to add double-digit steal seasons, as well. He should be a starter in the outfield for the Cardinals in 2020, and the upside is quite palpable.

3. Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

I try not to be a prisoner of the moment, but it's pretty hard not to be with Hayes. The 23-year-old was flat-out dominant in his 24 games with the Pirates, hitting .376/.442/.682 with five homers and stealing a base. He was particularly good at the end of September, hitting .459 over the last 10 games of the year. While it'd be foolish to expect those kinds of numbers in 2021, he is one of the top prospects in the Pittsburgh system, and he can hit for average with developing power. There's an awful lot to like about this profile for next season and beyond.

4. Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

Pearson dealt with command issues in his small sample of appearances with the Blue Jays, and he not only walked 13 hitters in his 18 innings, he gave up five homers in his five appearances. He also struck out 16 hitters and allowed just a .209 average, so the stuff isn't in question. Pearson also missed time on the injured list, but was able to return and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief on Friday. In 2021, he should be a member of the Toronto rotation, and as long as he can throw strikes, he has a chance to be successful.

5. Jo Adell, OF, Los Angeles Angels

There's no getting around it: Adell was awful in 2020, and it didn't get any better. In 124 at-bats, he hit .161/.212/.266 with three homers and 55 strikeouts. Yikes. And yet, I have very little long-term concerns with Adell. We've seen plenty -- plenty -- of prospects struggle in their first taste of MLB action, and he doesn't turn 22 until April. He also had a .258 BABIP, which is a below-average mark. Is there risk here? Of course, but all of the tools are here for Adell to be successful.

6. Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta Braves

As good as Sanchez was, Anderson was even better. Statistically, anyway. The right-hander struck out 41 hitters against 14 walks in 32 1/3 innings, and he registered a 1.95 ERA in his six starts. The 22-year-old can miss bats with the best of them, and his .172 average against and only two homers allowed shows he didn't give up much hard contact, either. The one concern here is control; 14 walks in that time frame is a pretty high number, and bases on balls were a recurrent theme in the minors. So were strikeouts, however, and Anderson will get to play behind one of the best lineups in baseball in 2020. 

7. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Seattle Mariners 

The first prospect on this list who didn't make his debut in 202, and spoiler alert: the last. Kelenic is one of the top outfield prospects in baseball, and the Mariners decided a promotion wasn't worth keeping Kelenic through the 2027. Nice system you've created here, baseball. The former Mets prospect has a chance to contribute in every category, and all reports from Seattle's alternate site that he looks ready to go. He won't open the year with the Mariners, but he should be up by the middle of April, and he should be worth the wait.

8. Ryan Mountcastle, OF/1B, Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles finally -- finally -- gave Mountcastle a chance to play everyday in 2020, and saying he looked ready is an understatement. The 23-year-old hit .333 with an .878 OPS in 35 games, and he added five homers and five doubles for good measure. Patience has been an issue at the plate, but 11 walks in that time isn't an abhorrent number. There are defensive issues for Mountcastle, but as long as it doesn't keep him from being in the lineup, he has a chance to be a strong fantasy option in 2021.

9. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Chicago White Sox

Ranking Madrigal is difficult. The positives are obvious; he hit .340 in 29 games, he stole a couple of bases and had four multi-hit games to end the season. The negatives are just as glaring; he had three extra-base hits in 103 at-bats, and his 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame and compact swing make hitting for power extremely unlikely. He makes this list because he can help in two categories, but he's going to be a hindrance in the power category, and will have to hit for a high average to have any fantasy appeal. 

10. Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit Tigers

In seven starts for the Tigers in 2020, Mize allowed no more than three runs in the first six before allowing six in his finale. The problem is that he also never went more than 5 1/3 innings, so that explains his 6.99 ERA in 28 1/3 innings. While the numbers were disappointing, they certainly weren't poor enough to write off the first pick of the 2018 draft. He still has swing-and-miss stuff, and he doesn't hurt himself with self-inflicted damage with above-average command. Mize ranks this low because Detroit is likely bad again in 2021, so he won't get many win chances. All of the other rates should be (much) better next summer.

Also considered: Wander Franco, SS; Tampa Bay Rays; MacKenzie Gore, LHP, San Diego Padres; Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox; Joey Bart, C, San Francisco Giants; Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B, Minnesota Twins; Jazz Chisholm, SS, Miami Marlins; Logan Gilbert, RHP, Seattle Mariners

Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for NBC Sports EDGE and also appears on the Circling the Bases Podcast.