Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Fantasy baseball drafts are in full swing and excitement for a “normal” 162-game MLB season is brewing like a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. While building a reliable teal is crucial in redraft leagues, it can also be beneficial to grab a high-upside top prospect or two that will be debuting early in the season. This season, we have plenty of them along with some intriguing targets that could be waiver wire gems midseason. So here go again, down the interesting yet risky road filled with top fantasy prospects just waiting to make an impact for your fantasy squads.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the prospects that debuted last season and if I’m buying their 2021 ADPs along with top redraft targets, deep-league targets, mid-season waiver wire prospects, and much more. But be careful here. Drafting prospects in redraft should be very strategic and not a basket you put all your eggs into. Building a strong and reliable team can allow you to take a chance on one or two of the names below to see if they can give you that added boost.
If you aren’t playing your dynasty leagues on Fantrax, you’re missing out on the deepest player pool and most customization around. Just starting out in a dynasty league? Then check out Eric Cross’ Top-250 Overall Fantasy Prospects and Top-500 Dynasty League Rankings.
Also, make sure to check out the Five Tool Fantasy Baseball Podcast and Fantrax Prospect Toolshed weekly for more dynasty and prospect talk.
Top Fantasy Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball: Hitters
Standard League Targets – Debuted in 2020
Randy Arozarena (OF – TBR)
Alright, I suppose we should start with the always interesting Randy Arozarena. It’s not very often that a prospect outside the top-100 overall does what Arozarena did in September and October. If you combine those two months, he hit a robust .338 with 17 home runs and three steals in 155 plate appearances including setting the record for the most home runs in one postseason. The Rays wouldn’t have gotten to the World Series without Arozarena’s postseason heroics, but what can we expect in 2021?
Randy Arozarena now has the record for most home runs ever hit in a single Postseason! (9) pic.twitter.com/9pSwcVsm84
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 25, 2020
As it stands now, Arozarena’s 2021 ADP in NFBC drafts sits at 58.4 as the 17th outfielder off the board. Over the last two weeks, it’s crept up to 54.6 and I’m sure he’ll be inside the top-50 by the time March rolls around. Is Arozarena highly-talented with a bright future? Yes. Is using a top-50ish pick on him incredibly risky? Also yes. Since he’ll be hitting in the middle of Tampa Bay’s order, it’s fair to wonder if he steals as much as he’s capable of, which is 20+. The increased Chicken and Rice power is very encouraging, but at the same time, I don’t think he’s all of a sudden going to be an annual 30-homer bat.
I’m sure pitchers are going to be breaking down Arozarena a ton this offseason after the destruction he created in September and October. Most notably, in his sub-.200 xBA against offspeed and breaking pitches during the regular season. I’m all for Arozarena as a top-100 guy, but making him one of my first three draft picks is not something I’m comfortable doing in 2021 redrafts. And those screaming “it’s a small sample size” when scoffing at me pointing out those xBAs against non-fastballs need to remember that his entire 2020 breakout was a small sample size.
Dylan Carlson (OF – STL)
In a surprising twist, I’m starting out this article with back to back players that I’m not buying at their current ADPs. And that has absolutely nothing to do with Dylan Carlson’s lackluster 2020 Major League debut. It’s 100% about the top-150 price tag on NFBC and the probability that he returns a positive ROI at that level. Long-term, there’s a 25+ homer, 10-steal threat waiting to happen, but not in 2021. One area I’ve been questioning is his ability to hit for average, outside of his .292 season in 2019 between Double-A and Triple-A, Carlson was a .245 hitter in the minors, albeit, with a 11% walk rate.
I’m on board with 20-25 homers in 2021, but with an average around .250 and single-digit steals. Those 20 steals in 2019 likely will go down as an anomaly in his professional career and Carlson in general is around an average to slightly above-average runner and only attempted two steals in 35 games with St. Louis. .250/20/5 isn’t a top-150 player in my eyes.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT)
Let’s just make it three for three in ADP avoids for me to start this article. I’ll admit that I probably ranked Ke’Bryan Hayes a bit too low in my prospect rankings over the last couple of years. But with that said, his short Major League debut was definitely an overperformance. At least when compared to what I believe he’s capable of. Hayes is solid across the board but doesn’t stand out in any one area to me. The power he displayed with Pittsburgh was miles above what he showed in the minors where he looked like a 15-20 HR bat.
While I think we can see some seasons where he pushes 20/20 with a solid average, I’m not sure that comes in 2021. And we can’t forget that the lineup around him in Pittsburgh is horrendous. Out of the current projected starting nine, only one (Hayes) hit above .250 in 2020. If I can get Hayes outside the top-200 (Unlikely), I’d definitely buy when the return could be .270/15/15. But his ADP has been creeping up all winter and will probably be around the top-125 in another month or so. There’s just not enough potential ROI for me at that price tag.
Nick Madrigal (2B – CHW)
If you understand the profile and probable spot in the batting order, you shouldn’t have any quarrels with your Nick Madrigal investment this season. Madrigal has very minimal power and is unlikely to even reach double-digit homers any time soon. So get that out of your head and enjoy the hit/speed combination that he brings to the table. Madrigal has already established himself as one of the top contact hitters in baseball. For hiters with 50+ plate appearances in 2020, Madrigal ranked 2nd in contact%, 8th in Z-Contact, 1st in O-Contact, and 3rd in SwStr%. That was as a rookie! With his contact skills, .300+ in 2021 is very possible with 20+ steals to go along with it. That’s very solid at his near-200 ADP. I wouldn’t target him as my starting 2nd baseman, but I love the hit/speed potential and high floor at my middle infield spot.
Ryan Mountcastle (1B/OF – BAL)
Ryan Mountcastle is a hitter, through and through. But at the same time, Mounty did overperform in his 2020 Major league debut with Baltimore. While he did have a 71st percentile xBA, his .268 mark there was well below his .333 AVG and his exit velocity was below league average as well. I’ve seen enough of Mountcastle throughout his minor league career to have a solid expectation of what type of hitter he’s going to be year to year. He’ll be more useful in AVG leagues than OBP leagues as he’s never walked a ton (4.6% in MiLB) and doesn’t bring much speed to the table, even though he’s around an average runner on the bases. The upside here is a .270-.280 hitter with 20-plus homers annually. If he does that, his near 150 ADP will be fine, but I’m not sure we see him ascend into top-100 territory in 2021.
Ha-Seong Kim (2B – SDP)
Every few years we have a hitter come to the Majors via Japan or Korea and the hype is usually fairly high. With Ha-Seong Kim, that is exactly the case and then some. Signing with the trendy Padres will have that effect. With Kim, I can’t buy the rising ADP. It current;y sits around 180 on NFBC and has already been rising fast, approaching the top-150 over the last two weeks with a min pick of 120. Has everyone forgotten that players from the KBO haven’t exactly made the smoothest transitions of late?
I’m not saying Kim won’t provide enough to be fantasy relevant, but using a top-150 pick on him is very risky if you ask me. ZIPs projections have him going 23/15 this season. That would be incredible, but likely a 95th percentile outcome. If you can get Kim around pick 200, I’d be all for that, but as his rising ADP shows, that’s a pipe dream.
Bobby Dalbec (1B – BOS)
As a Red Sox fan that lives 20 minutes from their Double-A affiliate, watching Bobby Dalbec take batting practice was a thing of beauty. The interstate runs about 200 feet behind the left field wall there and I swear he was going to cause an accident one of these days with one of his mammoth moonshots. Dalbec is about as close to a “three true outcome” hitter as you can find. The power is double-plus and Fenway fits his swing perfectly, but he also struck out 29.8% of the time in the minors and possesses below-average contact skills. Thankfully, his 11.7% walk rate has allowed him to salvage his OBP, and should continue to do so in the Majors, making him a bit more valuable in OBP leagues than AVG leagues.
As it stands now, Dalbec is slated to start at first base for the Red Sox this season and hit 8th. If you can stomach the .240ish AVG, then you’ll probably feel okay investing in him after pick 250 as he could realistically flirt with 30 homers and 75-plus RBI, especially if he moves up following a probable Andrew Benintendi trade.
Cristian Pache (OF – ATL)
Without a doubt, Cristian Pache has become a difficult player to rank for me. The tools are there, but he’s yet to translate those fully into games. One tool that has translated though it the hit tool. Pache hit .283 in the minors while never hitting below .277 in any season. But while he was able to make consistent contact, that was mostly into the ground instead of driving the ball in the air. Only at Class-A Advanced Florida State League in 2018 (93 games) and the Double-A Southern League in 2019 (104 games) did Pache have a flyball rate above 30%.
I’d love to see him drive the ball in the air more consistently and approach his 20-homer upside, but I’m not banking on that in 2020. His above-average speed has also gone to waste on the bases as he’s been under 50% stealing bases in each of his last two minor league seasons. There’s a path to .280/15/15 for Pache in 2021, but that’s probably the best-case scenario with lower R and RBI totals as well as he’s likely going to hit 8th more often than not.
Standard League Targets – Yet to Debut
Jarred Kelenic (OF – SEA)
Meet your top rookie for the 2021 season. My love for Jarred Kelenic’s offensive profile is well-known throughout the land at this point and that bleeds into the 2021 fantasy season. After reaching Double-A in 2019 and demolishing baseballs all summer at Seattle’s alternate site, Kelenic has shown that he’s ready to make that next step to the Major Leagues. In his 173 career minor league games, Kelenic has slashed .290/.366/.516 with 29 home runs and 35 steals with a 10.1% walk rate and 21.4% strikeout rate.
Jarred Kelenic 💪
The #Mariners' No. 1 prospect showed off some power with this blast out to right.
Keep track of the best prospect highlights and performances in Summer Camp here: https://t.co/sgRnY1luLl pic.twitter.com/IeoTfsSVsG
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 13, 2020
There are simply no big weaknesses in his game and he’s shown the skills to be a major force across the board offensively. Kelenic profiles as a plus-hit, plus-power, above-average speed player with immense long-term upside in the .300/30/25 ballpark. For 2021, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he finished with a solid average of around .280 with around 20 homers and 15 steals in 400-450 at-bats. If you’ve established a reliable offensive core in the early rounds, I’d strongly consider drafting him in the 175-225 range as he should be up early in the season.
Andrew Vaughn (1B – CHW)
Get ready, because Andrew Vaughn is coming. Soon. The 2019 #3 overall pick only has 55 professional games under his belt, but the bat is so advanced, there were rumors the White Sox were going to call him up last season. That obviously didn’t come to fruition, but it just shows that Vaughn is nearly ready to contribute at the Major League level. Vaughn mashed at the University of California to the tune of a .374/.495/.688 slash line and 50 dingers in 160 games. His combination of a plus hit tool, plus or better power, and exceptional plate approach (123/75 BB/K in NCAA, 12.2 BB% in MiLB) gives Vaughn one of the highest prospect floors in the game today to go along with his .300/30+ upside.
With Edwin Encarnacion out of town and Adam Engel currently occupying left field, it shouldn’t be long before Vaughn steps in to play 1B/DH with Eloy Jimenez moving from DH to the outfield. Even hitting lower in the order, Vaughn is a great bet for decent four-category production this year in a stacked White Sox lineup.
Alex Kirilloff (OF/1B – MIN)
One of my favorite late-round targets in 2021 drafts has been Alex Kirilloff. If it wasn’t for his “down” 2019 season where he dealt with a wrist injury followed by the lack of 2020 minor league campaign, Kirilloff would be getting as much hype as Andrew Vaughn right now. It doesn’t take long for some to forget that Kirilloff was a locked-in top-10 prospect before the 2019 season due to a plus or better hit tool and above-average to plus power. We’re talking about a career .317 hitter in the minors that still hit .283 in 2019 and reminded everyone of his immense upside with the lumber, slashing .311/.351/.500 with five doubles and five home runs in 26 games. That’s what he’s capable of when not being hampered by a wrist injury.
Alex Kirilloff hard, oppo line drive for the third time today. Love his stroke the other way, even though nothing is getting down for him. @CRKernels #Twins pic.twitter.com/uho2onoSlB
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) June 20, 2018
As of now, it looks very possible that Kirilloff is in the Twins lineup on opening day after making his debut in the 2020 postseason and Roster Resource currently has him slotted in at DH and hitting 6th. Nelson Cruz resigning would put a damper on that, but even if that happens, Kiriloff could easily win the left field job from Jake Cave. Regardless, Kirilloff will be up very early and has the tools to hit for both average and some power right away. Don’t forget about him at the end of your drafts.
Leody Taveras (OF – TEX)
While the upside, in general, doesn’t even come close to the trio above, I’ve been targeting Leody Taveras a ton in 2021 drafts. Getting a potential 30-steal player after pick 200 is my idea of a good value. Taveras consistently displayed his plus speed in the minors and posted a 96th percentile sprint speed and eight steals in his 33 games with Texas last season. His speed is the main reason why you’re going to want Taveras on your fantasy teams, but there’s a decent chance Taveras could add 80+ runs hitting leadoff for Texas as well with an average you can stomach and double-digit pop as well.
Alejandro Kirk (C – TOR)
If Alejandro Kirk is starting regularly, he has top-10 catcher upside in 2021. That’s really the main question here. Kirk’s offensive skills are undeniable and his .315/.418/.500 slash line with more walks than strikeouts showcases that. This is a .280-.300 hitter with 15-20 homer pop in the making that could be a top-5 fantasy catcher in time. As of now, that playing time is projected to be there for him as Kirk is penciled in as Toronto’s starting DH and will backup Danny Jansen behind the plate as well. Toronto has been rumored to be looking for another big bat to add to their lineup via free agency, so this could all change at any second, but if they don’t add anyone, Kirk is a phenomenal late-round target.
Deep League Targets
Ryan Jeffers (C – MIN): With Mitch Garver in the picture, Ryan Jeffers playing time situation isn’t 100% clear, but it looks like he’s at least going to split time behind the plate and has the power to be an option in 2-Catcher leagues.
Sam Huff (C – TEX): The same can be said here with Sam Huff, but his playing time is even cloudier. Roster Resouce even has him starting 2021 in Triple-A. If he does get the catcher job out of spring training, Huff would make for a solid deep league option for his power upside alone.
Jose Garcia (SS – CIN): While Garcia is slated to start at shortstop for Cincinnati, the offensive upside is rather limited. There’s enough power and speed to push 10/15, but Garcia’s contact skills are fringe-average at best and the approach is rough.
Jarred Oliva (OF – PIT): Anthony Alford in center field? That’s who is standing between Jared Oliva and deep league value. Oliva is the superior talent in my opinion and could easily win this job out of spring training. If he does, Oliva’s 25-steal wheels and solid AVG give him deep league appeal.
Daniel Johnson (OF – CLE): I’ve never been high on Daniel Johnson but it looks like he’s going to get a chance to start due to a lack of better options in Cleveland this season. He displayed above-average power and speed in the minors and could be a 15/15 threat this season.
Mid-Season Waiver Wire Targets
Wander Franco (SS – TBR)
It’s probably a little demoralizing to see Wander Franco only in the mid-season targets section. Trust me, I would love to put him in the section above, but I just don’t see him debuting before June this season. Tampa Bay already has a crowded infield and don’t really have a need to rush Wander. However, once Franco assaults minor league pitching for a few months, we could see him mid-season where he would create an all-out frenzy in weekly FAAB leagues. No prospect is a sure thing to step right in and dominate, but Franco has the tools to be one of those rare occurrences thanks to his 80-grade hit tool, plus raw power, and above-average speed.
Apenas terminando de cantar el Himno Nacional🇩🇴, Wander Franco no se aguantó y conectó tremendo HR para iniciar el partido.
🐴 @Gigantes_Cibao #LIDOM#GCvsTL pic.twitter.com/mWMMlLq70N
— LIDOM (@LIDOMRD) October 15, 2019
Joey Bart (C – SFG)
After making his debut in late-August, Joey Bart mostly struggled to tune of a .233/.288/.320 slash line in 33 games. He’s still searching for his first Major League home run as well. Not exactly what we were expecting, but it’s not uncommon for a rookie catcher to struggle initially. With Buster Posey back in the picture, Bart is likely going to start at Triple-A which is where he likely would’ve been in a normal 2020 season when the minors were actually an option. He’ll be back though and bringing his 30-homer bat with him.
Jeter Downs (2B/SS – BOS)
The Red Sox have been rumored to be in on Marcus Semien and others, but let’s hope none of that comes to fruition. Why? Well, that would leave the 2nd base job in Boston wide open for Jeter Downs to grab and run with mid-season. The 2017 1st round pick has flashed an exciting power/speed blend throughout his professional career, including a 24/24 campaign in Double-A in 2019. Fenway Park fits Downs’ pull-happy batted ball profile too.
Jarren Duran (OF – BOS)
Jeter Downs isn’t the only fantasy-relevant prospect that should debut this season. After a torrid start to 2019 in the Class-A Advanced Carolina League, Duran hit a brick wall in Double-A and looked overmatched. But setting aside that rough Double-A showing, Duran has shown above-average contact skills, plus speed, and made a swing adjustment (lowered hands) that unlocked some additional power at the Red Sox alt site in 2020. The recent Hunter Renfroe signing blocks Duran at the moment but there’s a great chance that Benintendi is dealt by opening day. If that happens, we could see Duran this summer and his speed gives him immediate fantasy appeal if starting regularly.
Others of Intrigue Projected To Debut or Be Recalled Mid-Season
Drew Waters (OF – ATL), JJ Bleday (OF – MIA), Royce Lewis (SS – MIN), Trevor Larnach (OF – MIN), Jazz Chisholm (2B/SS – MIA), Jesus Sanchez (OF – MIA), Brandon Marsh (OF – LAA)
If Injuries Occur…
Luis Campusano (C – SDP), Josh Lowe (OF – TBR), Vidal Brujan (2B – TBR), Xavier Edwards (MI – TBR)
This is an interesting group, but it’s going to take a lot for any of them to make a significant fantasy impact in 2021. We’re probably looking at an injury or two to open up enough playing time for that potential impact to happen. The path is a bit easier and less crowded for Campusano, but he also has the lowest fantasy upside of this bunch and is, well, a catcher. The Tampa Bay trio could all provide fantasy value thanks to their speed alone, but as we all know, Tampa Bay is already very crowded, especially in the infield. These are all just players to monitor on the waiver wire.
Maybe We See Them Late…
Adley Rutschman (C – BAL), Nolan Jones (3B – CLE), Ronny Mauricio (SS – NYM), Kody Hoese (3B – LAD), Josh Jung (3B – TEX), Tyler Freeman (SS – CLE), Taylor Trammell (OF – SEA), Seth Beer (1B/OF – ARI)
Media Credit: MLB Pipeline, Lance Brozdowski, LIDOM, Fox Sports MLB, Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
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Thanks again for all that you do. I am in win-now mode and am looking to upgrade at OF specific to SB (I play in a 5×5 OBP ROTO 12 team league). I want to trade either one of my pitchers or pitching prospects.
My current pitchers are:
Gallen, Glasnow, S. Gray, Burnes, K. Hendricks, Paddack, Pineda and Sale.
My pitching prospects are:
Balazovic, L. Gilbert, J. Gray, Skubal, Walston and E. Cabrera.
I was thinking of offering my Tarik Skubal for Tommy Edman. Do you think this is a good move? Thank you!!
It’s solid for a win-now move and with that SP depth that you have. Thanks for the support!
Thank you again. I have one more question for you (since George Springer just signed with TOR). I was planning on having Alejandro Kirk as my second C (his playing time is not looking so good right now. Mitch Garver is my first C). The same owner I was going to ask also has Travis d’Arnaud. Does this deal sound fair to you or should I add in another piece?
Get: Tommy Edman & Travis d’Arnaud
Send: Tarik Skubal & 1.11 FYPD for 2020 draft class
Thank you as always for your time!
That deal is fair. I’d do it in in win now mode, but if you’re not going to contend this year, I’d hold off.
Thank you again Eric! I approached another owner who might have a better return. He has Salvador Perez and Andrew Benintendi. Would you rather have the Edman/d’Arnaud side for win-now or the Perez/Benintendi side? I would offer the same package of Skubal and 1.11 FYPD 2020.
Thank you so much! Love the toolshed podcast!
Thank you! I prefer the Benny side.
I read your article on Elijah Green and was wondering what his prime stats could be? Do you think he could have similar stats to Zac Veen? The reason I ask, is because I can draft high school players as well. This would allow me to draft Mick Abel with my 1st pick, but at the same time I want to draft smart. Thanks for the work you put into these articles, I enjoy them.
Just let me know.
Hey Adam. It’s so hard to predict since he’s still only 17, but Greene could be Veen with more speed upside which is scary. Thanks for the kind words!
When can we expect to see projected 2021 stats populate into our rosters on Fantrax???