MINORS: Top OF Prospects 2020

(Photo: Jo Adell, OF, LAA)

This week continues our annual review of the top prospects by position. Between now and Opening Day, we'll examine one position a week by looking at both those rookies ready to contribute in the big leagues now, as well as the top long-term prospects at each position. Again this year, our topic schedule will mirror the position covered in Market Pulse that same day, to give you a complete look at the position.

Here’s our previously covered positions:

Catcher | Shortstop | Second base | Third base | First base

This week, we take a look at the top OF prospects in baseball. Outside of starting pitching, there is no other position in baseball with as much depth or impactful fantasy prospects as the outfield. In the past five years alone we’ve seen Ronald Acuna, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Eloy Jimenez, Austin Meadows, Andrew Benintendi, Aaron Judge, Hunter Renfroe and Byron Buxton (among others) graduate from the HQ 100 and become fantasy building blocks. Getting those impact bats early can be critical to building winning teams, both in re-draft and keeper leagues.

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Overall, the depth of the 2020 OF class is on par or compared to previous years. For example, this year there are 24 OF who made the HQ 100 with 16 in the top 50. In 2019 there were also 24 OF who made the list, while in 2018, which was a bumper crop, there were 29 OF in that year’s HQ 100. While the overall depth is impressive, there are few prospects heading into spring training who seem likely to win full time jobs. In fact, most if not all of the top OF prospects will start the year in the minors. Barring last minute trades or injuries, only Dylan Carlson (STL) and Austin Hays (BAL) have a legitimate shot of winning a starting role. Even the international players joining the ranks of MLB outfielders is more limited than in previous years. Both Shogo Akiyama (CIN) and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (TAM) signed limited, non-blockbuster deals and will have to fight for playing time in crowded outfields.

For those willing to assume some risk, there are a handful of end-game flyers who could yield a tidy profit if they get called up sooner than anticipated. Jo Adell (LAA) doesn’t turn 21 until next month, but he’s done nothing but rake as pro and has the speed and athleticism to play in the majors right now, though the prudent play would be for him to spend most of the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. Christian Pache (ATL) also has the speed and defense to play in the majors and in the past the Braves have shown a willingness to promote their top prospects aggressively and Ender Inciarte hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Finally, Jarred Kelenic (SEA) is one of the best pure hitters in the minors with a compact stroke and a disciplined approach. The rebuilding Mariners might not be able to justify keeping him in the minors the entire season.

The dollar ranges listed below represent projected values for 2020. (See a more detailed scouting report on each player by following the link to his team's organization report.)

Shogo Akiyama (CIN)
Akiyama signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Reds in December after establishing himself as one of the most reliable CF in Japan, where he was a five-time All-Star. The 31-year-old Akiyama has solid, across-the-board tools, with speed and defense being above-average. He has a patient approach at the plate and makes consistent contact (11.5% bb% and 82% ct%) and has enough speed to stick in CF and slot in at the top of the Reds lineup when he does play. Exactly how much he does play will be interesting to see as the Reds have one of the more crowded OF heading into the 2020 season (Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Aristides Aquino, Nick Senzel and Akiyama). Because of his speed and defensive prowess, Akiyama will likely work his way into the starting lineup more often than not and we have him projected to post double-digit HR and SB.

Luis Robert (CHW)
Robert might be the exciting and intriguing prospect in the minors outside of Wander Franco. The 22-year-old blitzed through three levels in 2019, slashing .328/.376/.624 with 31 doubles, 11 triples, 32 home runs and 36 SB. Robert does have an aggressive approach at the plate, so the .300+ BA might not translate at the next level, but the mix of power and speed will have most fantasy owners eagerly awaiting his April debut in the Windy City.

Dylan Carlson (STL)
Carlson finally had the breakout season many had anticipated since the Cardinals took him with the 33rd pick in the 2016 draft. The 21-year-old Carlson slashed .292/.372/.542 with 28 doubles, 26 home runs and 20 SB between Double-A and Triple-A, posting career-highs in virtually every offensive category, winning the Texas League MVP, and making his first appearance in the Futures Game.  The switch-hitting OF is selective at the plate, hunting pitches he can drive and has impressive raw power. While he has above-average speed and should be able to stick in CF in the majors, he’s 6’3”, 205 and fantasy owners shouldn’t expect him to post 20+ SB on a regular basis. Carlson will likely start the year in the minors, but the Cardinals' OF options of Tyler O’Neill, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader aren’t likely to keep him in the minors for long.

Austin Hays (BAL)
Hays had an up-and-down record as a prospect. He had a monster season in 2017 (.329/.365/.593 with 32 HR) that saw him make his MLB debut. He then took a huge step back in 2018 when he posted a meager .676 OPS in an injury-shortened season. He got things back on track in 2019, hitting .309/.373/.574 in 21 big league games and should see more playing time in 2020. Has has the size and bat speed to hit for above-average power, but his aggressive approach leads to inconsistent contact. A late-season adjustment offers some hope and our $11 projection hints at the upside, but he will need a strong spring to win the starting CF gig in Baltimore.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (TAM)
Tsutsugo signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Rays in December and will serve as a utility type in 2020, splitting time at 1B and 3B, and platooning with Hunter Renfroe in RF/LF. The 28-year-old Tsutsugo has above-average to plus power with a selective approach and solid bat-to-ball skills. In nine seasons with Yokohama of the JPN, Tsutsugo slashed .285/.382/.528 with 205 home runs a 13.0% bb% and 79.0% ct%. Tsutsugo has an all-fields approach and should handle the transition to the MLB due to his age and experience. Because he isn’t slated to be an everyday player, Tsutsugo could be undervalued on draft day (ADP of No. 376) and is worth a small investment in AL-only formats.

Jarred Kelenic (SEA)
Kelenic was widely viewed as the best prep hitter in the 2018 draft class when he went sixth overall to the Mets. He came over to the Mariners as part of the Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz deal and impressed in his full-season debut, slashing .291/.364/.540 with 31 doubles, 23 HR and 20 SB across three levels. Kelenic has a short, compact stroke and is just now starting to tap into his plus raw power. He has 60 grade tools across the board and the potential to be an impact bat with enough speed and arm strength to play either CF or RF. Kelenic should be over the back injury that forced him to leave the AFL early and the retooling Mariners might not be in a huge rush to bring him to the majors (he played just 21 games at Double-A). Still, a quick start could force the issue and by the end of the year, he could be the Mariners best OF.

Kyle Lewis (SEA)
Lewis, who was the 11th pick in the 2016 draft, suffered a career-threatening knee injury. The injury and subsequent recovery kept him off the field for most of 2017 and 2018. The 24-year-old Lewis was healthy in 2019, playing in 122 games for Double-A Arkansas and making his MLB debut. Lewis has above-average to plus power, but sells out to get to it and has a lot of moving parts to his swing. Contact issues will likely keep him from being a star (4% bb% and 59% ct%), but he has the tools to hit .250-.260 with 25+ HR if he can stay healthy and productive. Lewis has the inside track for one of the starting OF spots and could be a cheap source of power.

Jo Adell (LAA)
Adell exudes athleticism and is a true five-tool prospect. As a 20-year-old, Adell played at three different levels, hitting .289/.359/.475 with 27 doubles, 10 HR and seven SB. He does have some contact issues, but once he learns to be more selective he has the tools to hit .270+ with 25-30 HR and 10-15 SB. He has enough speed and arm-strength to stick in CF, but will likely move to a corner slot once he reaches the majors, which could be as soon as the 2020 All-Star break.

Cristian Pache (ATL)
Pache has developed quickly since landing a $1.4 million bonus as an international free agent in 2015. The 21-year-old has elite athleticism with plus speed and defense. At the plate, Pache is starting to tap into his raw power, setting career-highs in doubles (36) and home runs (12). While Pache has plus speed, he is not efficient on the bases and in his career has been thrown out 38 times in 96 SB attempts. Pache showed improved bat to ball skills in 2019, but still has some work to do to realize his full potential. Pache is already on the Braves' 40-man roster, but will likely spend most of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett with a possible late-season MLB debut.

Sam Hilliard (COL)
Hilliard isn’t likely to appear on any top 100 prospect lists (he ranks as the Rockies' No. 4 prospect, with a grade of 8D), but he does have a nice mix of power and speed and last year posted an impressive 35 HR/22 SB season at Triple-A Albuquerque and then smashed seven HR in 77 AB with the Rockies. At 6’5”, 225, Hilliard is one of the more imposing physical specimens in the minors and has enough speed, range, and arm strength to play both CF and RF. An aggressive approach at the plate and a long swing does lead to some swing-and-miss (67% ct% at AAA), but he also draws his share of walks. Historically the Rockies have been reluctant to give their prospects a long leash, but at 26 Hilliard should get a chance to prove he’s ready for a larger role.

Long-term Top 45 OF Prospects
1. Jo Adell (LAA)
2. Luis Robert (CHW)
3. Jarred Kelenic (SEA)
4. Julio Rodriguez (SEA)
5. Dylan Carlson (STL)
6. Alex Kirilloff (MIN)
7. Christian Pache (ATL)
8. Drew Waters (ATL)
9. Kristian Robinson (ARI)
10. J.J. Bledary (MIA)
11. Heloit Ramos (SF)
12. Taylor Trammell (SD)
13. Jason Dominguez (NYY)
14. Jesus Sanchez (MIA)
15. Hunter Bishop (SF)
16. Trevor Larnach (MIN)
17. Riley Greene (DET)
18. Alex Thomas (ARI)
19. Brennen Davis (CHC)
20. George Valera (CLE)
21. Corbin Carroll (ARI)
22. Brandon Marsh (LAA)
23. Leody Taveras (TEX)
24. Monte Harrison (MIA)
25. Jordyn Adams (LAA)
26. Josh Lowe (TAM)
27. Misael Urbina (MIN)
28. Austin Hayes (BAL)
29. Gilberto Jimenez (BOS)
30. Jake Fraley (SEA)
31. Erick Pena (KC)
32. Khalil Lee (KC)
33. Estevan Florial (NYY)
34. Alexander Canario (SF)
35. Nick Solak (TEX)
36. Edward Oliveras (SF)
37. Travis Swaggerty (PIT)
38. Tristen Lutz (MIL)
39. Corey Ray (MIL)
40. Jarren Duran (BOS)
41. Jeisson Rosario (SD)
42. Bayron Lora (TEX)
43. Mickey Moniak (PHI)
44. Randy Arozarena (TAM)
45. Jared Oliva (PIT)

J.J. Bleday (MIA)
Bleday emerged as one of the more polished collegiate bats in the 2019 after a standout season for College World Series champs Vanderbilt in which he hit an NCAA-leading 27 HR. Belday isn’t the most athletic prospect, but he does have plus raw power and an advanced approach at the plate. At 6’3”, 205, he has a quick LH stroke and all-fields power. At his peak, he should hit for average with 25+ HR potential. He should start the season at Double-A and could be in the majors by late 2021.

Hunter Bishop (SF)
Bishop vaulted to the top of the 2019 draft class with a breakout season at Arizona State (.342/.479/.748 with 22 HR) and landed a $4.1 million bonus from the Giants. Bishop has plus speed and power, though at 6’5”, 210, some worry about his ability to hit for average. Bishop has an interesting mix of drawing lots of walks (26% BB), but also struggling to make contact (63% CT). Long-term, Bishop has the potential to stick in CF and be a 20/20 OF with a good OB%.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.