30 Late-Round Prospects Who Can Contribute in 2021: Part 1 (AL)

Whether you’re a fan of a specific team, a baseball junkie, or both, it's exciting to see the next crop of young players come into Spring Training playing alongside the current heroes of baseball. As the great Rogers Hornsby said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring” and as we East Coasters wait for Winter Storm Viola, it’s hard to believe pitchers and catchers report today. The game is in an exciting place right now, and between Acuña, Tatis, and Soto, it seems baseball’s young stars have never been more fun to watch. After all, it isn’t every day you have a bunch of kids come in and set the world on fire as those three have. Here, we are going to take a deeper dive into prospects who could capitalize on a great spring and have a chance to be everyday players with their organization in 2021, along with their draft position (Average/Min./Max.) in NFBC drafts. While they might all be owned in your dynasty league, keep an eye on their redraft stock as the spring rumbles on.

Yusniel Diaz, OF

Orioles #8 Prospect (NR MLB)

NFBC ADP: 739/489/749

The centerpiece in the Manny Machado trade a few years back, Diaz has seen his stock tumble slightly over the last few seasons, ranked #52 in MLB.com’s prospect list in 2018. If his power were to come out like we saw him do in the futures game in the 2018 Futures Game, we could be talking about a perennial All-Star. However, in the case of Diaz, it appears we are looking more at a lower middle of the order bat, who can do all things well. His best tool is his hitting, graded anywhere from a 50-65 over the last few years, but combines this with all tools getting grades of 50+. Scouts were raving about him at the alternate site last year, a good sign of things to come for this Spring Training. The Orioles have nothing to lose if they think he can handle big-league pitching, and he may earn his way into the lineup sooner rather than later.

Jeter Downs, 2B/SS

Red Sox #1 Prospect (#49 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 539/363/612

A case could be made here for Red Sox top prospect Tristan Casas, but there is a much clearer path to playing time for Downs. He topped out at AA with the Dodgers in 2019, and reports from the Red Sox alternate site were solid, as he was able to hold his own against the Red Sox young pitching. If not for the signings of Kiké Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, I would have expected Downs to be penciled in at the Keystone every day. The positional flexibility from Hernandez and Gonzalez does give the Red Sox an option if Downs were to light up Spring Training. Downs features an average hit tool with the potential for plus power; he has sported a .267/.359/.458 over his 3 seasons in the minors.

Shane McClanahan, SP

Rays #7 Prospect (#84 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 642/453/744

With a crowded prospect list and current roster, what happens with the Rays will be an interesting thing to watch this Spring Training, particularly the play of super-prospect Wander Franco. I am more interested in what happens with their pitching staff throughout the spring and early in the season. Oft-injured pitcher Rich Hill and bounce-back candidates Chris Archer and Michael Wacha make up 60% of their rotation, so when one or more of them do not pan out for them, chances are McClanahan could get the first shot if he plays well this Spring. Although he hasn’t gotten an official invite yet, expect him to be at the MLB Camp in 2021. He got a small taste of the Majors in the 2020 playoffs, coming out of the bullpen featuring his 100mph fastball, above-average slider, and emerging changeup.

Simeon Woods Richardson, SP

Blue Jays # 4 Prospect (#87 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 748/597/742

The Jays have a great core of young position player prospects that would fit here, but they have a roster full of young, versatile infielders and a full outfield with the addition of George Springer. There is no guarantee that Woods Richardson will be pitching in the majors in 2021; in fact, I think there is a greater chance he doesn’t, but a strong spring could force the Jays hand into giving him the next chance if an injury were to happen. Woods Richardson features 4 solid pitches, highlighted by a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, and at the alternate site in 2020, coaches raved about his progress on his curveball and changeup. Despite the lack of an overpowering fastball, Woods Richardson has seen a fair amount of success with an 11.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9.

Clarke Schmidt, SP

Yankees #2 Prospect (NR MLB)

NFBC ADP: 530/331/628

Schmidt got a taste of the big leagues in 2020, but was unimpressive in his 3 bullpen appearances, giving up 5 runs in just 6.1 innings, but did show some strikeout potential, striking out 7. Schmidt features a power sinker and a newly added 3,000-RPM slider with 14.3 inches of break (MLB average is 9.6). To put this in perspective, had he pitched enough to qualify for Statcast’s pitch movement leaderboards, Schmidt's slider would have been #1 in vertical movement and #6 in horizontal. There is no clear opening with the Yankees at the moment, with fellow prospect Deivi Garcia seemingly ahead of him in line for a rotation spot, but fear not, his time will come. His arsenal perfectly fits Yankee Stadium, as he did not give up a home run in his short stint in 2020, but also pitched to a great 0.4HR/9 in his two minor league seasons. If you’re looking for a late pitching flyer, Schmidt might just be worth a shot. Like McClanahan, Schmidt hasn’t received his official invite to camp, but he will get his chance.

Andrew Vaughn, 1B

White Sox #1 Prospect (#14 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 316/180/421

This pick is a little earlier than I intended to have someone’s ADP in this article, but the potential is there for Vaughn to be an early-season starter for the White Sox. The 2019 3rd overall pick will not yet be supplanting Jose Abreu, but if the White Sox don't mind Eloy Jiminez in left field, they have a clear opening at DH. Enter Andrew Vaughn. He has never played above High-A ball but absolutely destroyed the Pac-12 during his time at Cal. Over his 3 seasons there, he put together a .374/.495/.688 line in 160 games, capped off by a Golden Spikes Award (best collegiate baseball player) in 2018 and another finalist appearance in 2019. While this type of production may be an overzealous expectation from a rookie and Vaughn doesn’t possess the most power in the minors, he is a great pure hitter, and if your league has OBP as a category, he could be a monster as his plate discipline is second-to-none with players his age.

Tyler Freeman, SS

Indians #2 Prospect (#98 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 724/426/746

Since the acquisition of Andres Giminez and Amed Rosario, there has been and will be a logjam at SS for the foreseeable future. Before the acquisition of LF Eddie Rosario, Ahmed would have been penciled in the outfield, perhaps opening up more of a spot for Freeman. It is, however, going to be much easier for Freeman to compete with Giminez than it would have been if he were still competing with a superstar in Francisco Lindor. Since being drafted in 2017, all he has done is hit. Giving him a 60-grade hit tool, it's possible he can become a solid contributor in AVG and potentially OBP. His power is lacking behind and probably will struggle to see more than 10-15 HR per year. Overall, imagine him as a Jeff McNeil-lite, an above-average hitter, with little else to separate him from the pack.

Kody Clemens, 2B

Tigers #18 Prospect (NR MLB)

NFBC ADP: Undrafted

I’m a sucker for a good bloodline, and as the son of should-be Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, you can’t get much better than that. This is a deep pick for a team with no reason to rush their prospects, so he is more of an, “add when he makes it to the show”, rather than a draft and hold type player. Clemens is a lefty 2B, originally drafted in the 3rd round in 2018 out of the University of Texas, where he won Big 12 Conference player of the year and he was a Golden Spikes Finalist, losing out to Andrew Vaughn. Since adding more power in his junior year of college, he has carried that trait into pro-ball, in his 180 minor league games, he has slugged 17 HR and swiped 15 bases, not bad production out of a thin 2B pool. Jonathan Schoop is penciled in as the Tigers every day 2B, but it is possible for Clemens to claim a bench role and steal some ABs in a lineup desperate for some left-handed power.

Daniel Lynch, SP

Royals #3 Prospect (#54 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 642/422/727

Royals fans, you have a lot to like about your prospects debuting over the next few years. In every scouting report of Lynch, you will see something along the lines of “lefties that throw 97 don’t grow on trees”, but the Royals actually have another right behind Lynch in Asa Lacy. Lynch’s fastball is his most dominant pitch coming into 2021, but he truly features average pitches across the board, with average command. With such an electric fastball, does he really need more than average to pitch off it? Throughout the minors, Lynch had a 157 Ks in 147.2 innings, while only walking 37. He has given up his fair share of HR and might need to develop a clear put-away pitch, but if he shows improvement this Spring, I would be willing to bet on him being in the rotation before the year is over.

Trevor Larnach, OF

Twins #3 Prospect (#77 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 694/357/747

Before the signing of Andrelton Simmons, the Twins pick would have been Royce Lewis, but there sure is a lot to like with Larnach. His batted ball profile is very similar to that of Vlad Gurrerro Jr., the raw power has always been there, but he has consistently driven the ball into the ground. For his career in the minors, he has hit 18 HR over 628 ABs, with 152 Ks and 78 BBs. With Larnach, he has pure power to all fields and shows decent fielding skills, enough to make him contend for the open LF spot after Eddie Rosario’s departure. He will be left to compete with fellow prospect Alex Kirilloff, who already has seen some postseason ABs in 2020, but Larnach continuing to improve his launch angle could vault him ahead in the depth chart.

Forrest Whitley, SP

Astros #1 Prospect (#41 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 554/351/607

If it seems as though Whitley has been among the top pitching prospects for years, you would be correct in your thoughts. Whitley has battled injuries constantly over his entire minor league career, throwing in only 197 innings in 4 years. To talk about risk/reward, I don’t think there is a player that more fits that bill than Whitley, and really the Astros rotation as a whole. He has five excellent pitches, including a curveball that is among the best spin rates in the minors and an upper 90’s fastball. I’ll be closely watching Whitley to see if he can finally start to command his pitches, or more importantly, stay healthy. If he can put it together, he can be an ace and anchor your fantasy staff. That “if” however, looms large over Whitley.

Brandon Marsh, OF

Angels #1 Prospect (#53 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 589/346/699

With the Jo Adell experiment in 2020 not panning out the way the Angels would have liked, manager Joe Maddon has already stated he will begin the 2021 season in the minor leagues. Cue the intro of another highly touted OF prospect, Brandon Marsh. From his swing to his beard, everything about Marsh reminds me of Charlie Blackmon. He dominated the alternate site in 2020 “in every capacity” and made some changes to his mechanics hoping to get more lift on the ball and cut down his K rate, changes that seemed to work as he dominated the second half of the 2019 season and the Arizona Fall League. He’s got the speed to steal bases, and the eye to take walks, we could be looking at a future 25/25 player here.

Logan Davidson, SS

A’s #5 Prospect (NR MLB)

NFBC ADP: Undrafted

Similar to Tyler Freeman of the Indians, this is a gut-feeling pick. He is young at just 22 years old, and the A’s might be content having Jed Lowrie and Chad Pinder fight it out for the backup 3B job if Matt Chapman doesn’t start the season as healthy as he should (although reports are he will have no limits going into Spring Training), and Davidson hasn’t even been invited to major league camp yet, he possesses some of the best raw power in the A’s system, is a switch hitter, and was the A’s 1st round pick in 2019. In his NCAA career at Clemson, he slugged 42 HR, 142 RBI and stole 37 bases over 187 games. The chances of Davidson getting the call this year are slim, but with some serious need for an extra infielder, even after acquiring Elvis Andrus, Davidson might be the next man up if they search from within the organization.

Logan Gilbert, P

Mariners #4 Prospect (#35 MLB)

NFBC ADP: 503/344/599

The obvious pick here would be Jared Kelenic, but he is being drafted about 300 picks earlier (217.7 ADP) so I am going to try a different take. Gilbert has a solid pitch mix, including three above-average pitches and a fourth not too far behind. The 2019 first-rounder also features plus control (55 Grade) with a fastball maxing out around 97mph. His slider is currently his best out-pitch and has a much different shape than his curve, which is the newest pitch he is working on. With all these positives, what is there not to like for Gilbert? The only true answer here is depth, as the Mariners will be deploying a 6-man rotation this year to keep innings down after the shortened season. Outside of workhorse Marco Gonzalez and oft-injured James Paxton, there is little proven talent keeping Gilbert from making the rotation.

Sam Huff, C

Rangers #2 Prospect (NR MLB)

NFBC ADP: 382/254/503

Huff has been known for hitting rockets in the minors, hitting the hardest exit velocity among Rangers prospects since Joey Gallo, and that 60 Grade power was on display when he won the 2019 Futures Game MVP with a game-tying homer in the 7th inning. He features a large body for a catcher, standing at 6’5” 240lbs, so there is a pretty good chance he moves off the position eventually. Jose Trevino currently blocks Huff as the starter and the Rangers brought in some veteran Non-Roster Invitees for Spring Training, but a 2020 late-season call-up shows the team believes he is ready to compete for a spot in the lineup. Despite a small sample in the MLB, Huff held his own with a line of .355/.394/.742 over 10 games. I wouldn’t be afraid to roster Huff as a second catcher, and if he can crack the opening day lineup, you could see top 10 catcher points at the end of the season.