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2021 Prospect Projections: AL East rookies

How Steamer600 views O's, Sox, Yanks, Rays, Jays rookies
Randy Arozarena has posted a .991 OPS over 42 career regular-season games in the Major Leagues. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
@SamDykstraMiLB
January 13, 2021

This is the first in a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2021. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting

This is the first in a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2021. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 innings for relievers -- taking into account age, past performance and previous Minor League levels, among other factors. Because of the canceled Minor League season in 2020, all players included in the team tables below are ranked prospects who either played at Class A Advanced or above in 2019, sit on their organization's 40-man roster or are placed among MLB.com's Top 100.

The projections do not include past postseason performances.

It's a tongue twister, sure. It also happens to be true and something to keep in mind throughout the series but with one prospect in particular.

Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena was the star of the 2020 playoffs during Tampa Bay's run to the World Series. The right-handed slugger went 29-for-77 (.377) with 10 homers over 20 games last postseason. Only one other player hit more than six playoff long balls in 2020, and that was NLCS and World Series MVP Corey Seager with eight. Those 10 homers were also a playoff record as were his 29 hits, aided by the elongated postseason schedule.

The stuff of legends at the plate, and the type of performance that has made Arozarena a popular pick to be American League Rookie of the Year in 2021 because, if you can believe it, he still remains a prospect. (It should be pointed out that Arozarena was arrested in Mexico in November over a custody dispute involving his daughter and ex-partner, but was released two days later without charges pressed against him. He is expected to open 2021 in the Majors without further issue.) The Cuba native has 84 regular-season at-bats in the Majors between his time with the Cardinals in 2019 and the Rays last year. That remains 46 shy of the 130 needed for prospect graduation -- 46 he would have obtained already if the playoffs counted toward prospect status. It does not and so he remains eligible for the Rookie of the Year discussion.

Still, those 84 regular-season at-bats determined his Steamer600 projection ahead of 2021, and that's important to note when the projections don't quite stand out the same way his postseason dominance did.

During his regular-season time, Arozarena has batted .286/.384/.607 with eight homers over 42 games. Again, the power numbers stand out. But his powerful ways are still a relatively new phenomenon. In 2018, Arozarena slugged only .348 over 89 games with Triple-A Memphis. An emphasis on hitting fewer balls on the ground -- coupled with Triple-A's use of the Major League ball in 2019 -- allowed the pop to come to the fore one year later in Memphis (where Arozarena slugged .593 over 64 games), but those early struggles are still baked into the Steamer cake. As is the fact that his Major League production has come over a still small sample. As Major League pitching begins to see more of young bats like Arozarena, the arms tend to adjust, find holes and bring the numbers down to more human levels.

Taking all of that into account, Steamer tempers some of the excitement around the Rays outfielder with the following projection over a full season of 600 plate appearances in 2021: .257/.330/.447/.777, 24 HR, 20 SB, 108 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR.

Are those good numbers? Sure. In 2019 -- the last 162-game Major League season -- there were only nine 20-20 players in The Show. Getting even more specific, Steamer projects Arozarena to be the Rays' only player capable of achieving a 20-20 season, even if everyone else also makes 600 plate appearances. His 2.0 WAR projection is fourth-highest among position players on the team that just claimed an American League pennant.

But a 108 wRC+ would mean Arozarena would be a lot more average as a hitter than he's been so far at the game's top level. Arozarena's career wRC+ is a whopping 167 in the Majors so far, meaning a 108 would cause a serious crash down to Earth -- even if it was still slightly above-average. Other rookies like Ke'Bryan Hayes (3.2) and Nick Madrigal (2.8) enter 2021 with higher WAR projections as well.

Recent playoff performance suggests Arozarena is past the point of being a small-sample wonder on baseball's biggest stage. He could handle pitchers from the Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros and Dodgers, and those assignments could get easier when the season isn't on the line. That said, he is still a soon-to-be-26-year-old who has yet to stick in the Majors for a full season. With Steamer projections in tow, perhaps it's time to set those expectations to a more realistic level.

Baltimore Orioles

Orioles POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Fld WAR
Ryan Mountcastle (5)OF/1B600273.277.322.476.7981060.41.5
Rylan Bannon (25)2B/3B600158.245.318.385.7038501.2
Ryan McKenna (21)OF6001215.240.311.367.6787900.8
Yusniel Diaz (8)OF600179.250.325.404.7299200.6
Tyler Nevin (22)1B/3B600176.251.319.399.7188800.0
Orioles IP ERA FIP WHIP HR K/9 BB/9 WAR
Dean Kremer (10)2005.255.391.47388.24.11.6
Keegan Akin (15)2005.185.471.48408.84.51.4
Kevin Smith (12)2004.714.961.45317.94.01.3
Zac Lowther (11)2005.485.771.55407.54.50.8
Alexander Wells (19)2005.745.971.52445.93.20.5
Michael Baumann (9)2005.826.011.59426.94.60.4
Grayson Rodriguez (2)2006.386.521.76416.65.8-0.5
Kyle Bradish (29)655.515.691.64117.15.2-0.6
Cody Sedlock (27)656.126.271.65146.94.9-0.7
DL Hall (4)656.326.641.83137.26.9-1.0
Brenan Hanifee (28)656.656.771.80134.35.0-1.0

Most ready: Ryan Mountcastle got one third-place vote for 2020 AL Rookie of the Year after a solid debut season for the O's. The 23-year-old slugger debuted on Aug. 21 and proceeded to hit .333/.386/.492 with five homers over 35 games. As MLB.com's No. 90 overall prospect, Mountcastle became the first big prospect to reach the Majors as part of Baltimore's current rebuild, and those numbers helped cement his place in the club's long-term plans. That said, Steamer expects the 2015 first-rounder to be a little closer to average when it comes to his offensive output in 2021. That 106 wRC+ is a step down from his 139 as a rookie. Part of that has to do with a larger sample. Another factor is that Mountcastle has produced a wRC+ above 130 only once in his Minor League career, and that came for Class A Advanced Frederick in 2017. Mountcastle will get his chance to mash; the 27-homer projection indicates that. Orioles fans shouldn't be expecting a repeat of his rookie season.

Give it time: Yusniel Díaz was at Double-A when the Orioles acquired him from the Dodgers in the 2018 Manny Machado trade, so it might feel a little maddening that three years later, he still isn't quite up to Major League readiness. Injuries limited him in 2019, and he didn't leave the alternate site in 2020, putting Diaz back on the outside looking in heading into 2021. In a COVID-less world, the Cuba native likely would have seen Triple-A for the first time last summer and pushed for the Majors by the second half of a 162-game schedule. Instead, he still needs to reach the Minors' top level, and without production there, Steamer sees the outfielder as a slightly below-average bat at present. On his day, Diaz has the power to stand out. He just needs to show it in Norfolk first to convince the Orioles and Steamer.

Wild card: All of the pitching above, basically. Baltimore's best pitching prospects have yet to see Double-A (more on them below), and the ones knocking on the door are more mid-tier when it comes to their potential. That said, there should be plenty of chances to get looks in the Orioles rotation. Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin already have Major League experience and are slated to open 2021 among Baltimore's starters. Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and deadline acquisition Kevin Smith also should be knocking on the door. It's worth pointing out that Smith was unassigned by Steamer when it comes to teams, so while his FIP is lower than others in the table above, his WAR isn't better because it doesn't take certain factors into account.

Top-100 talent: Recent first-round picks Adley Rutschman and Heston Kjerstad don't have enough Minor League experience to garner Steamer projections unfortunately. No. 31 Grayson Rodriguez hasn't been above Class A yet and has the projection to match. No. 64 DL Hall oddly got a reliever projection and a subpar one at that. With some control issues in the past, he could fit that role at some point in the future, but the Orioles should have every intention of keeping him as a starter in 2021 and beyond.

Boston Red Sox

Red Sox POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Fld WAR
Connor Wong (19)C/2B450156.229.285.389.6747100.9
Jeter Downs (1)SS/2B6001616.246.309.394.7038100.9
Bobby Dalbec (3)1B/3B600305.234.318.455.773970.30.7
Jarren Duran (8)OF600825.274.323.395.7188500.7
Marcus Wilson (28)OF6001612.227.296.370.6667100.2
C.J. Chatham (14)INF60087.261.299.359.6586800.1
Hudson Potts (20)3B/2B600195.226.281.381.6626800.0
Jeisson Rosario (16)OF60089.219.294.309.603580-0.8
Triston Casas (2)1B/3B600175.201.258.334.592490-2.9
Red Sox IP ERA FIP WHIP HR K/9 BB/9 WAR
Connor Seabold (23)2004.995.001.40357.53.11.5
Tanner Houck (10)2005.095.131.53307.84.51.2
Garrett Whitlock (27)654.394.431.4087.93.40.2
Bryan Mata (4)654.434.561.4988.74.80.1
Thad Ward (9)2005.715.711.66337.25.30.0

Most ready: This won't come as a newsflash to anyone in New England. The Red Sox have a pitching problem. Boston starters finished last in the Majors with a collective 0.4 WAR in the shortened 2020 season. That came without Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (COVID-19 and myocarditis) -- two of Steamer's top three projected starters on the club headed into 2021 -- but even with that behind them, only Rodriguez seems like he will be an option for the entire upcoming campaign. As it stands, the rest of the rotation (outside of Nathan Eovaldi) seems up for grabs. Tanner Houck pitched his way into the conversation by posting a 0.53 ERA with 21 strikeouts over three starts (17 innings) at the tail end of last season. The 2017 first-rounder relied on a four-seamer, two-seamer and slider to set down Major League batters after tinkering with his stuff since entering the system. Given his more tepid results in the Minors, Steamer is a little down on his chances of coming close to repeating the 2020 successes in 2021, but barring significant additions to the staff, the projection system gives him a good chance of contributing to the Red Sox rotation. That's a far cry from the end of 2019 when it seemed like Houck was destined for a bullpen spot long-term.

Give it time: Boston continues to have an open space at second base and a top prospect in Jeter Downs who theoretically could fill that hole. Downs' inclusion in the much-derided Mookie Betts swap only heightens the anticipation for his Fenway arrival. Steamer would pump the brakes on that, however. Downs' projection of 16 homers and 16 steals is intriguing over a full Major League season because no other Red Sox player is projected for even a 15-15 season over 600 plate appearances. But the rest of the projection indicates a below-average bat and an overall profile that would struggle to crack one win above replacement. That's not the quality that demands a Major League spot. Instead, the No. 40 overall prospect, who has only 12 games of Double-A experience, is likely headed to Triple-A Worcester to open 2021. If he repeats his 2019 production at the top Minor League level, a midseason promotion could be in the cards. It's just not imminent quite yet.

Wild card: Some keen-eyed observers will note that Houck is second on the list of starting pitching options in the above table. He received the title of "Most ready" because of his established Major League resume, but Steamer would like to make the case that Connor Seabold will be the better starting option in 2021. Seabold came over to the Red Sox from the Phillies in a midseason deal that sent relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree the other way, and even after a year spent at two separate alternate sites, Steamer thinks he could help the Boston rotation in short order. The 24-year-old right-hander was last seen in the Minors at Double-A Reading in 2019, when he had a 2.25 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 40 innings. He also impressed in the Arizona Fall League after that. A high-spin fastball and plus tumbling changeup are the standout offerings at present, and the stuff and projections could make him a back-end starter in the first half. Pay attention to the development of his other secondaries to see whether he can beat Steamer and his current spot as Boston's No. 23 prospect.

Top-100 talent: No. 71 Triston Casas was a star of Boston's alternate training site in Pawtucket, where he showed off good power to all fields, but Steamer doesn't get access to that info. As far as the projections are concerned, Casas is a first baseman who only has played two games above Class A. Even if the corner infielder opens at Double-A in 2021, he remains at least a year away from Boston. No. 100 Bobby Dalbec has already reached the Fens and showed off his trademark power by hitting .263/.359/.600 with eight long balls in 23 games. He also struck out in 42.4 percent of his plate appearances. That last bit is a tough pill for Steamer to swallow. The system has him down for a 32.3 percent K rate over a full season, and that lack of contact drags down his wRC+ to below-average. The plus-plus power and lack of other options make Dalbec the de facto first baseman right now, but he'll need to find more bats on balls to beat these projections and keep his place next season.

New York Yankees

Yankees POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Fld WAR
Estevan Florial (7)OF6001612.222.288.360.6487130.0
Yankees IP ERA FIP WHIP HR K/9 BB/9 WAR
Deivi Garcia (3)2005.065.201.41409.13.81.5
Miguel Yajure (15)654.684.851.40117.93.40.1
Clarke Schmidt (2)654.925.021.44118.13.70.0
Albert Abreu (12)655.105.301.51128.74.6-0.2
Alexander Vizcaino (8)655.515.721.63117.45.1-0.5
Luis Gil (5)2006.296.441.76417.16.0-0.8
Frank German (27)656.216.331.70146.85.2-0.9
Luis Medina (11)2006.616.841.90406.87.2-1.5
Roansy Contreras (19)2006.857.011.77495.55.1-1.8
Yoendrys Gomez (9)2006.977.061.82475.65.6-1.9

Most ready: The Yankees are down a few starting pitchers at the moment with J.A. Happ and James Paxton hitting free agency and Luis Severino still recovering from Tommy John surgery. That becomes a lot easier to handle knowing Deivi Garcia is the club's No. 3 prospect. Garcia made his debut in pinstripes last season and was better than his 4.98 ERA over six starts indicates. His 4.15 FIP, 1.19 WHIP and 5.5 K/BB ratio were all positive indicators. Steamer is buying in some as well. Garcia's 1.5 WAR projection over 200 innings is fourth-best among healthy Yankees starters, and there's an argument that the right-hander might even be New York's No. 3 starter right now behind Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery. That said, an ERA above 5.00 might put Garcia on a short leash, and there's no indication he can hold up for 200 innings. The 5-foot-9 hurler's season high for innings is 111 1/3. It's good to have the 21-year-old on the rise, but don't be surprised if the Yankees look for more starting pitching protection to push him down the pecking order a tad heading into 2021.

Give it time: Look up and down the Yankees prospect rankings, and you'll find velocity everywhere. Luis Gil, Alexander Vizcaino, Albert Abreu and Luis Medina have 65 grades or above on their fastballs and could be bringing the heat to the Majors soon enough, especially since all four are on the 40-man roster. Of the quartet, Abreu is the only one who has reached New York, and even his projections don't command an immediate return to The Show. Control will be the biggest point of emphasis for this group, and if they can find the plate with regularity, there could be a logjam of high-ceiling arms on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx.

Wild card: No. 83 overall prospect Clarke Schmidt made his Major League debut on Sept. 4 and appeared only two more times for the Yankees after that. Of his three games, two were relief spots, and one was a start in the final game of the regular season. Tough to make an impression in such a limited amount of time. Also because of the small sample, it's tough to make much of his 7.11 ERA over 6 1/3 innings. Schmidt's Minor League numbers are much better, but even those were limited to 114 total frames by Tommy John surgery before the 2017 Draft. This is a case in which it's better to rely on reports than projections. Schmidt's mid-90s fastball and high-spin breaker still earn impressive grades, and he'll get back to working on those (and a developing changeup) at Triple-A to start 2021. If he can show the same profile, he should receive starting looks for the Yanks early on in the season, even if Steamer doesn't quite back that approach yet.

Top-100 talent: Outside of Garcia and Schmidt, No. 48 overall prospect Jasson Dominguez is the only Top-100 prospect remaining in the system. The five-tool outfielder has yet to play a Minor League game and didn't receive a Steamer projection. He is expected to debut at some point this summer.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Fld WAR
Randy Arozarena (21)OF6002420.257.330.447.7771080.22.0
Kevin Padlo (20)INF600219.213.302.387.6898501.3
Taylor Walls (19)SS6001121.236.301.357.6577801.1
Josh Lowe (12)OF6001818.225.297.380.6778201.0
Vidal Brujan (4)SS/2B600931.245.306.355.6617900.8
Wander Franco (1)SS6001112.240.298.351.6497500.6
Ronaldo Hernandez (14)C450115.207.248.325.573510-0.2
Xavier Edwards (5)2B/SS600415.234.278.303.581540-1.3
Brendan McKay (2)1B/DH600207.207.287.366.653750-1.4
Moises Gomez (17)OF600165.183.240.309.549460-2.6
Rays IP ERA FIP WHIP HR K/9 BB/9 WAR
Joe Ryan (11)2004.664.841.33368.93.41.7
Brendan McKay (2)653.763.961.22910.23.10.5
Shane McClanahan (7)654.534.801.42108.54.1-0.1
Luis Patino (3)654.684.921.42119.34.5-0.2
Drew Strotman (28)2005.966.141.70376.05.2-0.9
Shane Baz (6)2006.436.621.79406.06.0-1.8

Most ready: Arozarena. See above.

Give it time: Top overall prospect Wander Franco could fit any of these remaining categories. The switch-hitting shortstop was on the taxi squad for the Rays' playoff run and even generated some excitement when he shared his World Series jersey on social media. But here he belongs where we'll point out the obvious. Franco, who turns 20 in March and has yet to play above Class A Advanced, needs a little more time before he can show off his 80-grade hit tool in the Majors. As good a hitter as Franco's been in the Minors, his age and distance from The Show led Steamer to believe he could only post a 75 wRC+ over a full season at the top level right now. That projection would certainly go up if Franco produced at Triple-A or Double-A, and it would skyrocket if he matched his career Minor League line of .336/.405/.523 at either venue over a decent sample. The presence of Willy Adames at short holds off the demands to see Franco in St. Petersburg for now, and the Steamer projections help that cause. Come the All-Star break (or perhaps even earlier), that tune could certainly change.

Wild card: What to make of Brendan McKay? The 25-year-old left-hander was a good bet to graduate from prospect status in 2020, but never pitched in the Majors last season following his COVID-19 diagnosis in the summer and left-shoulder surgery in August. He stands at 49 innings, one short of graduation. Assuming the shoulder heals well -- he was expected to return to the mound by February -- Steamer projects McKay to be a serviceable reliever with a 3.76 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 10.2 K/9. In any other system, we might point out that McKay still should have his sights set on being a starter with his four-pitch mix. But with the Rays, pitching roles aren't quite defined in the traditional sense. McKay technically could make starts but only face a lineup one time through. He could be the long man following an opener. So much being unknown makes him a true wild card, even down to whether he still can hit at a Major League level. Steamer, for its part in that discussion, is very much down on that and might suggest the 2017 fourth overall pick stick to pitching going forward.

Top-100 talent: The Rays have five more Top-100 prospects beyond Franco and McKay -- No. 23 Luis Patiño, No. 41 Vidal Brujan, No. 67 Xavier Edwards, No. 86 Shane Baz and No. 99 Shane McClanahan. None of them received a WAR projection above 1.0, making it difficult to say they ought to command a Major League gig out of the chute in 2021. Patiño and McClanahan reached the Majors in 2020, but that didn't help either's case in the projections. If there's anyone here capable of beating their projections, it's Patiño, who was roughed up at the top level some last year but still possesses plenty of ceiling as a 21-year-old with easy gas and a plus slider.

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Fld WAR
Alejandro Kirk (6)C600215.289.354.474.829119-0.12.2
Riley Adams (23)C450114.219.295.352.6487200.9
Kevin Smith (20)INF6002013.224.273.384.6577000.2
Otto Lopez (13)SS/2B600612.220.260.293.552450-1.3
Jordan Groshans (3)SS60097.192.237.274.511330-2.2
Blue Jays IP ERA FIP WHIP HR K/9 BB/9 WAR
Nate Pearson (1)2004.784.851.38358.83.72.1
Simeon Woods Richardson (4)2005.195.351.55326.74.30.5
Julian Merryweather (21)654.204.221.3399.63.60.5
Patrick Murphy (18)654.204.301.3788.43.50.4
Anthony Castro (19)655.015.181.54108.14.9-0.2
T.J. Zeuch (29)655.095.121.5495.83.5-0.2
Joey Murray (30)655.165.241.46128.34.0-0.2
Yennsy Diaz (26)655.045.221.45127.93.9-0.3
Josh Winckowski (27)655.835.851.67115.84.6-0.6

Most ready: The easy answer here is Nate Pearson. Toronto's top prospect likely would have graduated in 2020, if not for a flexor strain in his right elbow. The right-hander debuted on July 29 in the Jays' sixth game of the season, but managed only 18 innings over five appearances due to the injury. His 6.00 ERA and 6.5 BB/9 rates may not stand out now on his Major League resume, but Steamer is willing to give him more credit for his Minor League body of work -- namely his 2.30 ERA, 119 K's and 27 walks over 101 2/3 innings in 2019 -- leading to a strong projection here. Pearson's velocity was back up to the high 90s in his return to the Major League roster, indicating the elbow issue is truly behind him. He is arguably Toronto's No. 2 starter at present behind Hyun-Jin Ryu, and even if the Jays add starting depth this offseason, he should remain squarely in the rotation heading into 2021.

Give it time: This is an odd one. Alejandro Kirk has played 117 games in the field in the Minors and seven more in the Majors. All of those were at catcher. Yet he received a 600-plate-appearance projection usually designated for non-catching position players. The fact his last Major League appearance was at DH in the Wild Card series against the Rays could play a factor, but even then, he only started one other Major League game in that role during the regular season. In any event, don't pay too much mind to that WAR projection. Instead, the wRC+ projection should be tantalizing for Jays fans. Kirk jumped from Class A Advanced to the Majors in 2020 and more than held his own, hitting .375/.400/.583 with a homer in nine games. Small samples aside, Steamer thinks the 22-year-old, who has a career .315/.418/.500 line in the Minors, would be an above-average bat right away should he return to The Show. The only reason we place him here is a reopening of the Minors should force Kirk back to at least Triple-A, where he faces a better chance of playing every day. If he can keep hitting like he has everywhere else in the pros, it won't be a long stay before he pushes Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire for Major League playing time.

Wild card: Not many 29-year-olds get to stay on as legitimate prospects, but Julian Merryweather retains his status as Toronto's No. 21 prospect heading into 2021. Steamer believes he could be one of the club's most useful arms as well. After 2018 Tommy John surgery delayed his arrival, the right-hander finally debuted on Aug. 20, 2020 and made eight appearances for Toronto, finishing with a 4.15 ERA and 15 strikeouts over 13 innings. Merryweather worked as a traditional reliever and an opener of sorts, and if he moves back to the bullpen, Steamer thinks he would be the club's second pitcher in that role. Merryweather's 0.5 WAR projection ranks behind only closer Jordan Romano's among potential Jays relievers. He averaged 97 mph on his fastball and threw a change that no one got a hit off in eight plate appearances as his preferred off-speed pitch. Merryweather is a "wild card" because he's only thrown 19 competitive frames since the start of the 2018 season, but the trend line and projection here is encouraging.

Top-100 talent: Former Vanderbilt star and 2020 top pick Austin Martin didn't receive a Steamer projection since he has no Minor League stats yet. No. 70 overall prospect Jordan Groshans received the rough projection one would expect from a player with only 96 plate appearances above Rookie ball. No. 93 Simeon Woods Richardson gets the closest to a Major League projection, but even his numbers are rough for a starting role. The right-hander topped out with six starts at Class A Advanced in 2019 and will enter the 2021 season as a 20-year-old. Expect him to open in the upper Minors, and if he can show that his four-pitch mix can play, a callup might be in play in the second half, even at his age.

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