After an entire Minor League Baseball season was missed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 has seen a surplus of MLB prospects unexpectedly progress and climb the ranks quickly.
Players who weren’t considered top prospects within their own organizations have now jumped into the Top 100 prospects in baseball over the first 100 minor league games, while prospects who were highly touted entering the season have fallen off quickly.
Here are five players whose stock has skyrocketed through the first 100 games of the season:
SS Anthony Volpe (New York Yankees: A+)
Coming into the 2021 season, it was known that the New York Yankees had one of the deeper farm systems in baseball; Anthony Volpe only helped prove that point by breaking out in a big way in his second professional season.
Volpe, the Yankees 2019 first round pick, struggled in his first season of professional baseball in 2019 hitting .215/.349/.355 with two homers. After a year off for the 20-year-old from New Jersey, the shortstop has hit .303/.440/.609 over 88 games between Hudson Valley (A+) and Tampa (A).
Over that span, the 5-foot-11 middle infielder has shown his ability to hit for power, hitting 55 extra-base hits – 20 of those being homers. His quick bat speed has been showcased along with his ability to hit to all fields. In just 122 Minor League games, Volpe’s hit tool is already in the 60-70 range.
After the season began with the spotlight on Jasson Dominguez, it has quickly pivoted to Volpe. The Yankees, with current shortstop problems, are just a year or two away from a homegrown, hitting shortstop.
SP Hunter Greene (Cincinnati Reds: AAA)
Hunter Greene? Yes, it’s that Hunter Greene.
After being tagged one of the best prospects in baseball history in 2017, even being showcased on the Sports Illustrated cover, Greene has finally become the prospect many had hoped he would become.
Greene dumped hitting after the 2017 season, focusing on pitching. It didn’t work out for him early on, posting a 12.46 ERA in 2017, following that campaign up with a 4.48 ERA in 68.1 innings in 2018. But, after missing the 2019 season due to Tommy John Surgery, Greene has returned to the mound for the first time in two years in a dominant way.
Greene posted a 1.98 ERA in 41 innings in Double A before being promoted to AAA. Greene’s already pitched 93.1 innings this season, as it remains clear the Reds organization are limiting his starts in his return season.
Greene’s pitch control has been the most promising part of his return; a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 127:34 will play no matter the level. Greene’s fastball – which is considered one of the best in the minors – sits at 98mph, while he’s continued to showcase his above-average 85mph slider.
Greene will be a regular fixture for the 2022 Reds, as they remain hopeful he can stay on path to becoming a regular starting pitcher.
C/1B Tyler Soderstrom (Oakland A’s: A)
In my 2020 TWSN mock draft, I pointed out that Tyler Soderstrom may not stick behind the plate long term: it appears that may be true. Soderstrom has caught 38 of his 57 games he’s appeared in, but has struggled statistically, allowing 55 of 70 base stealers to reach safely. He’s appeared in nine games at first base, and it will be incredibly intriguing in 2022 to see if his primary position changes from catcher to first base.
Nonetheless, Soderstrom’s bat has played, hitting .306/.390/.568 with 12 homers in 57 games. Strikeouts have been higher than most would like to see, but posting a .422 BABIP is encouraging for any 19-year-old.
If Soderstrom’s fielding was in a better place, it would be interesting to see if he’d be at a higher level in the organization by now, but nonetheless seeing Soderstrom showcase his hitting ability at this young of an age is an uplifting sign for A’s fans.
SP Shane Baz (Tampa Bay Rays: AAA)
Shane Baz was the “throw-in” in quite possibly the worst trade in MLB history: Chris Archer for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Baz. Sorry, Pittsburgh Pirates fans.
Baz has been nothing close to a “throw away prospect,” as he has become one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. In Tampa Bay, it always appears as if they find diamonds in the rough; Baz has been a blossoming pearl for the Rays in an organization that needs pitching depth.
Baz has been brilliant in 2021, posting a 2.30 ERA in 62.2 innings. During that span, Baz has struck out a whopping 91 batters and only has allowed 10 to reach base on balls. Although Baz’s time in the minors has been so brief this season due to him representing Team USA in the Olympics – which is quite an honor for the 22-year-old from Cypress, Texas – he’s pitched well to date.
Baz’s fastball, like Greene’s, is one of the best in MiLB. Showcasing a plus slider as well, it’s a possibility we can see Baz in the majors for a September run into the Postseason.
3B/LF Mark Vientos (New York Mets: AA)
In the New York Mets farm system, it’s view from the outside is quite obvious: the “big three” of Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio, the two pitchers (Matt Allan and J.T. Ginn), and everyone else. The player that gets forgotten about the most in the conversation about the Mets minor league system is easily Mark Vientos.
Vientos, the Mets second round pick in 2017, has always had the ability to hit, especially for power. Coming into the 2021 season, we’ve yet to see the “star power” potential that Vientos had. In 69 games with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies this season, Vientos has definitely shown it. The 6-foot-4 power bat already has 22 homers this season; not to mention his .280 batting average and .938 OPS to go along with it.
From the day he was drafted, Vientos has always been compared to power hitting bats – most specifically Manny Machado. After his first three seasons were inconsistent, Vientos has been mashing the ball in Double A all season. If Vientos can limit his strikeouts and reach base more via walks (In 2021: 26 walks: 83 strikeouts), he will easily climb to be one of the better prospects in baseball.
The 21-year-old out of American Heritage High School could see time in Queens as soon as next year if he continues to show the growth he already has at the plate.
Don’t forget Mark Vientos’s name.