Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Toolshed: 2021 AL farm system resolutions

Junior-circuit clubs' goals, desires for prospects in new year
Wander Franco and Jarred Kelenic are two of's top 10 overall prospects. (Mark LoMoglio/Tampa Tarpons, Freek Bouw/Phrake Photography)
January 6, 2021

Be healthy. That is the biggest resolution for everyone, in and out of Minor League Baseball, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. But we can't write that 30 times. Instead, Toolshed is taking this first full week of 2021 to lay out New Year's resolutions for all 30 farm systems,

Be healthy. That is the biggest resolution for everyone, in and out of Minor League Baseball, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. But we can't write that 30 times. Instead, Toolshed is taking this first full week of 2021 to lay out New Year's resolutions for all 30 farm systems, starting with this edition covering the American League.

Baltimore Orioles: Turn the corner -- The Orioles finished in one of the AL East's bottom two places the past four seasons. The organization brought in Mike Elias from the Astros in November 2018 to oversee a rebuilding process. It's getting around the time to start seeing the light around the bend. That is already happening in some cases. Ryan Mountcastle made a strong 35-game debut last season, firming up his place in the plans. Adley Rutschman remains the centerpiece of the rebuild, and the backstop's first full season feels like something we were particularly robbed of in 2020. Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall remain a solid 1-2 punch in the pitching ranks. Heston Kjerstad was a bit of a surprise as the 2020 No. 2 overall pick, but his power-first profile coming out of Arkansas could play well in the modern game. Those are good building blocks, but the O's don't have the top-five system yet that would point to a clear successful rebuild. Further breakouts from those prospects and others -- along with the No. 5 overall pick in July -- could help get them there and make the 2021-22 offseason one in which Baltimore can pivot toward becoming a playoff contender again.

Boston Red Sox: Find a star -- This is the goal of any farm system obviously, but it's especially pertinent for Boston in 2021. Building up the farm system has become a goal in the Chaim Bloom Era, and the Sox made some strides toward that end with 2020 trades, adding prospects Jeter Downs, Jeisson Rosario, Connor Wong, Hudson Potts, Connor Seabold, Jacob Wallace and others. (Withholding comment on the Mookie Betts deal that brought Downs and Wong to Boston in the first place.) Those made the system a little deeper, but it still lacks a true signing star. At No. 40 overall, Downs is currently the organization's top prospect, but as a middle infielder, his future defensive home is far from set. Triston Casas might have moved past Downs on some lists because of his power potential and two-strike approach, but his defensive questions and lack of lengthy Minor League experience tamp down the profile. Bryan Mata drew raves for his pitching potential at the alternate site, now he has to carry that over to an actual Minor League mound. The club was really pleased with Jarren Duran's power improvements in Pawtucket, and he'll need to show them off in actual gameplay next. The potential for all four -- as well as a healthy Jay Groome and established Major Leaguers Bobby Dalbec and Tanner Houck -- to make jumps are there. They just need to actually occur in 2021 for the organization and its fans to feel better about the project on the road to Fenway.

Chicago White Sox: Don't fall off a cliff -- That seems dramatic. In reality, the White Sox are in a good place as an organization. A strong mix of veterans and young stars got the South Siders back to the playoffs in 2020, and there are more where the latter came from. Among the club's top four prospects right now, Michael Kopech, Nick Madrigal and Garrett Crochet have already seen the Majors, and Andrew Vaughn could have joined them, if not for MVP Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnación blocking his 1B/DH path. There's a good chance the White Sox could be left without a Top-100 prospect by the All-Star break due to prospect graduations. The trick will be getting the next group to make strong enough jumps that it will feel like the farm system hasn't skipped too many beats. Look for 2020 second-rounder Jared Kelley to lead that charge with his mid-90s fastball and plus changeup.

Cleveland Indians: Trust in the youth -- Looking to buy stock in a farm system? Cleveland might be a great bet. Ten of the organization's top 12 prospects are currently 21 or younger, and the two others aren't exactly old veterans either in Nolan Jones (22) and Triston McKenzie (23). What's more, the group is littered with young players who have yet to see a full campaign at Class A or above. Outfielder George Valera, for instance, could have overtaken Jones as the top prospect in the system if he had played 100-plus games in 2020. Instead, he'll likely get that chance to show off a plus hit tool and above-average pop this summer. Shortstop Brayan Rocchio and pitchers Daniel Espino and Ethan Hankins could be well-suited to big jumps with added experience. We could look up at the end of 2021 and see Cleveland with five or more Top-100 prospects, even after graduations for the likes of Jones and McKenzie. That's before considering a possible Francisco Lindor trade happening in his last year before free agency. Keep an eye on this group.

Detroit Tigers: Show off the bats -- So much of the emphasis on the Tigers system coming into 2020 was on the pitching side, and for good reason with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning closing in on the Majors. One year later, Detroit fans already have gotten a look at Mize and Skubal in the Majors. The results were mixed, but the shortened season allowed both to establish foundations at the top level. Next, it'll be on the club's hitting prospects to show how well-rounded the system has become. It certainly helps that the Tigers added Spencer Torkelson's plus hit and power tools to the pipeline as the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft. Fellow first-rounder Riley Greene (2019) was another big name robbed of his first full season, but he will get to show off his above-average potential from the left side in 2021. Keep an eye on 2020 second-rounder Dillon Dingler as well as he tries to make hay as the catcher of the future in the Motor City.

Houston Astros: Find excitement beyond Forrest Whitley -- The Astros are a classic example of sowing and reaping when it comes to farm systems. At the start of the decade, the organization built up one of the strongest pipelines in baseball. It used some of those prospects to build a perennial contender and traded away others to bring in Major League talent like Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Contention led to lower Draft picks that made the system more difficult to restock, and the loss of first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021 did no favors either. What's left is one Top-100 prospect in Whitley, a 23-year-old coming off two virtually lost campaigns. The good news is Cristian Javier proved you don't have to be a Top-100 name to find success after arriving in Houston, and it'll be on the Astros to find more like him in 2021. Shortstop Jeremy Pena is a good candidate to make the next leap. The former University of Maine star has been a solid producer in the Dominican Winter League in recent weeks, posting a .779 OPS with three homers over 30 games to back up his breakout 2019 season. On the pitching side, Luis Garcia jumped from Class A Advanced to the Majors and could use a little more development time to solidify his place as a potential starter. Getting Whitley to The Show for the first time would be a win in 2021, but the Astros should be focused on getting more exciting talent in behind him as well.

Kansas City Royals: Let Bobby Witt Jr. cook -- Officially, the Royals' top prospect has a career Minor League OPS of .670. You won't find a single person in baseball who believes that will stick. Even when Witt was putting up below-average numbers over 180 plate appearances in the Arizona League, other numbers (like his exit velocity) told the story of a prospect ready to live up to his billing as the No. 2 pick in the 2019 Draft. That continued during the shortstop's time at the Kansas City alternate site, where he faced much more difficult competition than he would have at the lower levels of Minor League ball in his first full season. Combine his newfound experience with his plus raw power and above-average hit tool, and Witt should be ready to take off even more so in 2021. That's a scary proposition for a player already considered to be the No. 8 overall prospect in the game.

Los Angeles Angels: Find internal pitching -- It's no secret that a key reason the Halos have gone to the playoffs once in Mike Trout's tenure is pitching, specifically starting pitching. Since the start of the 2019 season, Los Angeles starters have ranked dead last with a collective 6.1 WAR. (Cleveland is first at 25.7, to illustrate how big that gulf is.) Getting a fully healthy Shohei Ohtani will help matters as will a second season of Dylan Bundy. But it'd go a long way if some of the Minor League arms popped up to help. Tenth overall pick Reid Detmers was seen as potentially the fastest-moving pitcher in the 2020 Draft behind Crochet, thanks to the Louisville left-hander's plus curve and above-average fastball and control. A 2021 Major League debut is far from certain for Detmers, but a strong Minor League bow from the southpaw would help build his case as a future option. What's more, Chris Rodriguez enjoyed a breakout 2020 of sorts, having finally fully recovered from back injuries that limited him the previous two seasons. The right-hander is back to throwing in the mid-90s and has three offspeed options that show plus potential. With Jo Adell graduating and Brandon Marsh potentially not far behind, the emphasis in this system needs to be on the arms, if it isn't already.

Minnesota Twins: Give Alex Kirilloff space to grow and settle -- The Twins made a bit of a shock move when they brought up their No. 2 prospect to make his Major League debut in the postseason of all places. Kirilloff even started in right field in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Astros, going 1-for-4. Flash forward a few months, and Minnesota has an opening in left after non-tendering Eddie Rosario. The job seemingly should be Kirilloff's to claim, and if he can win it in the spring, he should be given ample time to settle into the role. Kirilloff brings plus potential in his hit tool and above-average power from the left side, and the Twins thought highly enough of those skills to give him meaningful at-bats with the season on the line in late September. Barring injury or serious performance issues in Spring Training, there aren't many good on-the-field reasons to leave him on the outside looking in again to open 2021.

New York Yankees: Unleash Jasson Dominguez -- The Yankees signed Dominguez for $5.1 million on July 2, 2019 and had hopes of getting him his first taste of the Minor Leagues last summer. The pandemic had other plans. So fans of the Bombers have to wait until 2021 to see the switch-hitting outfielder with five potential above-average tools. We should temper expectations, slightly. Dominguez hasn't even gotten a chance to perform in the Dominican Summer League yet, and with the Minors losing the Rookie Advanced and Class A Short Season levels, his highest stateside circuit this year could be the Gulf Coast League, considering he'll only turn 18 in February. Dominguez still could make a loud debut in Florida by showcasing his plus power and plus-plus speed. If he does, expect him to shoot up prospect boards from his current position as the No. 48 overall prospect.

Oakland Athletics: Get the younger generation going -- If the Cleveland system is defined by its youth, the Oakland one is defined by its age at the other end of the spectrum. A.J. Puk -- the club's top prospect -- turns 26 in April. Six members of the club's top 10 prospects are 23 or older. In other words, they won't be carrying the farm system for long. That makes it even more imperative that top-three prospects Robert Puason (18) and Tyler Sederstrom (19) get their careers off to good starts in 2021. Neither the shortstop or catcher respectively has officially debuted in the Minors yet, and it's possible both begin competitive play at the Arizona complex. But wherever they play, both will bring plenty of potential for impact. Puason is a gifted defender at the six and could be at least an average switch-hitter in time. Sederstrom could hit enough to play almost anywhere and remains a little raw on the defensive side behind the plate. Tightening up those weaknesses while keeping what makes those two special in the first place would go a long way toward making the future of the A's system brighter at a time when it's likely going to lose a good chunk of prospects to age/graduations.

Seattle Mariners: Pour the foundation -- Let's be clear. The 2022 season is when things should really pop off in the Emerald City. That's when M's fans can expect the likes of Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, Taylor Trammell, Cal Raleigh and maybe even George Kirby and Emerson Hancock to have either arrived in the Majors or at least be knocking on the door. (Hopefully, Seattle would have made other Major League moves to help supplement the young talent coming up.) That means 2021 should be all about making sure this young core stays the course in its development. Perhaps Kelenic, Rodriguez and Trammell could follow the path of fellow outfielder Kyle Lewis. Lewis got his feet wet with a solid Major League debut in 2019, built upon that experience and won the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year award. At least, Kelenic and Rodriguez have higher ceilings than Lewis did as a prospect and come without the knee injury history. If they and the others maintain their current outlook for one more year while taking additional steps toward the Majors (or even reaching them), then 2021 will be a success for the Seattle farm.

Tampa Bay Rays: Prove the point of having the game's strong system -- It's important to remember Blake Snell was a Tampa Bay player-development success story. A 52nd overall pick in 2011. A dominant Minor League pitcher. A Cy Young winner. An ace on an AL-pennant-winning team. So if the Rays are going to trade someone like that away for prospects when his contract hits eight digits, it puts even more pressure on the farm system to produce the next Snell, either on the mound or elsewhere. That's where the organization's depth comes in. The Rays boast seven Top-100 prospects, most among all 30 clubs. Among those seven, three are pitchers with Major League experience -- Brendan McKay, Luis Patiño and Shane McClanahan. All three should be candidates to help the big club in some form next season. ("Some form" being an optimal phrase given how the Rays use pitchers in various roles these days.) Top overall prospect Wander Franco was a postseason taxi-squad member, and the switch-hitting shortstop should be a candidate to see The Show at age 20. Vidal Brujan and Josh Lowe aren't far off either, and Brent Honeywell Jr. could get a shot if his injury issues are truly behind him. Building up a strong system is good on paper. Coming off last year's World Series appearance, the Rays should have their sights set on more than looking good on paper. Turning the Minor League talent into Major League results (like they did with Snell) should be the biggest goal in 2021.

Texas Rangers: Draft well -- Two simple words that are really hard to pull off. Coming off a 22-38 season and a second AL West cellar finish in the past three years, the Rangers are clearly entering rebuild territory, if they're not there already. The Lance Lynn trade this offseason that brought back No. 98 overall prospect Dane Dunning clearly indicates as such. There are some solid pieces here who could slot into Arlington's next contender in third baseman Josh Jung and catcher Sam Huff, who already boasts three homers in his first 10 games. But barring another major trade of Joey Gallo in 2021 or some unforeseen breakouts, there isn't a clear way the system can take a Texas-sized jump in the coming months. Thus the Draft becomes all the more important. The Rangers have the second overall pick in July. If the Pirates take Kumar Rocker as expected first overall, Texas will have a plethora of options from shortstops (Jordan Lawler, Marcelo Mayer, Matt McLain) to an offensive catcher (Adrian Del Castillo) to another Vanderbilt pitcher (Jack Leiter). Any of those options likely leapfrog Jung to become the Rangers' top prospect, and any other picks the rest of the way will build out the system. A miss at No. 2 could set the pipeline back again and keep this group from becoming a top-10 system in time. Drafting well is always an emphasis, but the stakes could be even higher in Texas this year.

Toronto Blue Jays: Get a clearer picture of Austin Martin's fit -- The Jays looked like they got quite a steal when Martin --'s No. 2 Draft prospect -- fell to them with the fifth pick in June. The former Vanderbilt star had the best overall hit tool in the class and should produce enough with the bat to play virtually anywhere. Therein lies the rub. Martin played all four infield spots as well as center and left field during his collegiate days. He was announced as a shortstop on Draft night, and he told's Andrew Battifarano that the six was his position of emphasis during his time at the alternate site during the summer. That's also the position Bo Bichette calls home with the big club. It's still way too early to be concerned about Martin pushing Bichette for playing time when the former hasn't officially made his pro debut yet. But Martin does have the stick to move quickly, and the Jays have built up a strong enough core to push for a return to the playoffs in 2021 and beyond. They might let Martin find his bearings at short to start the coming season, but if he hits like he should, he could be moving around the grass and dirt again come midseason in search of joining Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and others north of the border.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.