There may be no Minor League Baseball games yet, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.In the coming weeks, Toolshed will craft the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age. The opening edition focused on teenagers, and the second looked at 20-year-olds. This time, we turn
There may be no Minor League Baseball games yet, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming about lineups.
In the coming weeks, Toolshed will craft the best possible prospect lineups, sorted by age. The opening edition focused on teenagers, and the second looked at 20-year-olds. This time, we turn our attention to prospects who will be 21 this year. Eligibility is determined by a player's age on June 30, roughly the midpoint of a regular season -- the same date used by Baseball-Reference in its age calculations. Also, to keep this as clean as possible, a player will only be placed at his primary position, with an exception of a designated hitter spot. As fun as it would be to move around shortstops or put third basemen across the diamond at first to get their bats in the lineup, such moves wouldn't fit the spirit of the exercise.
With those ground rules set, here is the most prospect-laden roster of 21-year-olds headed into 2020:
Catcher -- Luis Campusano, Padres: The second-round pick out of Augusta, Georgia in 2017 broke out in a big way in his second full season last year and enters 2020 as MLB.com's fourth-best catching prospect. Campusano's best attributes sit on the offensive side; he's coming off a season in which he hit .325/.396/.509 with 15 homers, one triple and 31 doubles for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore. Those numbers earned him California League co-MVP honors alongside Lancaster's Luis Castro. He also can stand out on the defensive end, especially when it comes to showing his plus arm. The Padres gave the right-handed slugger some looks at first base last year, and his bat is good enough to provide value there. But at age 21, Campusano has every opportunity to stick behind the plate and make catcher a strength for any team he plays on, including this imaginary one.
First baseman -- Michael Toglia, Rockies: Last year's 23rd overall pick out of UCLA is the least experienced player on this list, but only because he's just entering the pro ranks. (He turns 22 on Aug. 16, thus making our cut.) Like many first basemen, Toglia's toolset is power first, though his skill comes from both sides as a switch hitter. He's also a gifted defender at the cold corner, which is notable considering his size at 6-foot-5. The Arizona native has some work to do to ensure his overall hit tool gets the most of its power when he reaches the upper levels, but the pieces are there. Already the game's No. 8 first-base prospect, Toglia has room to climb, should he take off with more experience.
Second baseman -- Jeter Downs, Red Sox: Downs moved to the Boston system this offseason only after an initial deal that sent Brusdar Graterol to the Sox in the Mookie Betts blockbuster had to be changed, and it's not difficult to make the case that the AL East organization got an upgrade in the revision. The right-handed infielder broke out nicely in his first season with the Dodgers, batting .276/.362/.526 with 24 homers and 24 stolen bases over 119 games between Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa. Though nothing on his scouting sheet screams plus, he does have a legitimate chance to show above-average ability with his hit and power tools. Drafted as a shortstop, he has split his time between the two middle-infield spots over his first two full seasons, enough for him to qualify here. He's likely Boston's second baseman of the future anyway, which should be a welcome sight in The Hub given the club's struggles to find a full-time replacement at the spot following Dustin Pedroia's significant knee injuries.
Third baseman -- Isaac Paredes, Tigers: Paredes is as much a victim of prospect fatigue as a player can be at age 21. The Mexico native first saw Class A ball in 2016 in the Cubs system, moved up to Double-A in 2018 for the Tigers and has been there the past two seasons. Both Chicago and Detroit have been aggressive with Paredes because of his overall ability to hit from the right side and his capability of making consistent contact. There's also been hope power will come in time, though his career high for home runs is 15. Once a full-time shortstop, Paredes took the majority of his reps at third last season because of the limits on his range, and it's likely he'll stick there, thanks to an above-average arm. After putting up a 133 wRC+ at Erie last season, expect Paredes to close in on the Motor City soon once play resumes, joining Detroit's many pitchers on the club's next potential contender.
Shortstop -- Royce Lewis, Twins: Let's hope for the Arizona Fall League version of Lewis at the plate and the regular-season version in the field. The Twins' top prospect took a step back offensively last summer, hitting just .236/.290/.371 between Class A Advanced and Double-A, before rebounding nicely with a .353/.411/.565 line over 22 games and an AFL MVP award in the autumn. Minnesota had to let Lewis play different positions (second, third, center field) in order to get him on the AFL roster, but the organization still said this spring that it intends to keep him at short for the long haul. Even on days when he can't hit, the 2017 first overall pick provides value with his plus-plus speed and good range and arm at the premium position. Coming off last year's AFL, plenty of prospect prognosticators predict Lewis -- and his leg kick at the plate -- can show 2019 was a blip on his developmental radar and he'll grow back into being a plus hitter with above-average power in time. That possibility is too good to pass up here at shortstop.
Jo Adell, Angels: Adell, who turns 21 on Wednesday, was selected nine picks after Lewis in 2017, but has grown into arguably the star of that Draft, at least from a position player perspective. The No. 6 overall prospect is about as well-rounded an outfield prospect as the game currently possesses with above-average to plus-plus grades for all five of his tools. A small drop in production at Triple-A Salt Lake is the only thing holding him back from being the outright top outfield prospect in baseball, an honor held by Luis Robert. Before baseball shut down, Adell still was expected to climb to Anaheim in short order and combine with Mike Trout and Justin Upton to form one of the Majors' most formidable outfield trios. That debut will be delayed. The hype train around Adell will not.
Cristian Pache, Braves: If it wasn't for Trout, Adell would be the starting center fielder of the future for Los Angeles. If it wasn't for Pache, he would fill the same spot in this lineup. Instead, the Braves youngster gets tasked with covering ground up the middle, and there are few, if any, in the game who would fight to have the two switched. Pache has plus-plus speed and a plus-plus arm, both of which make a Gold Glove candidate the moment he reaches the Majors, perhaps as early as this summer. The No. 13 overall prospect still has room to grow offensively and his bat will never reach the potential of his glove, but career highs with 12 homers and an .802 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019 added to his promise at the plate. With so many other big bats here, it's even easier to take the pressure off Pache and reap the rewards of everything else he brings to the table.
Dylan Carlson, Cardinals: Only three players on this list have seen Triple-A so far. All three of them are outfielders. Carlson slides in nicely alongside Adell and Pache to make this group an experienced bunch on the grass. Carlson has experience at all three outfield spots but moves over to left to allow Pache to fly in center and Adell to make the most of his arm in right. Good luck to anyone hoping to find the gaps against that defense. Offensively, Carlson was MiLB.com's Breakout Prospect of the Year in 2019 after showing some big improvements on the power side. The switch-hitter notched career highs with 26 homers, 20 stolen bases and every slash-line category (.292/.372/.542) while playing 126 games between the Minors' top two levels. It's tough to find a weak spot in Carlson's game at the moment, even if he doesn't have the plus-plus grades of the others above. He would be one of the steadiest producers on this made-up team, and he should contribute in St. Louis in short order when baseball resumes.
Designated hitter -- Oneil Cruz, Pirates: The Pirates have to find a long-term position for the 6-foot-7 Cruz, who has played a lot of shortstop but is far from guaranteed to remain there. We don't have that same problem. The glory of this DH spot is we can put the left-handed slugger right into the heart of the lineup and take advantage of Cruz's plus power. His raw power is even higher than plus, indicating that on any given day he's capable of sending a moonshot well beyond the fence. The No. 64 overall prospect is also an above-average runner, which comes as a surprise for his size but is another added bonus for this spot. Cruz hasn't quite busted out statistically in the same way others on this list have, but anyone who has seen him in batting practice can agree that that's coming soon. With his spot here secured, we want to be there when it happens.
Right-handed pitcher -- Sixto Sanchez, Marlins: Miami's top prospect turns 22 on July 29, meaning he just makes the cut, and this lineup will gladly take his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, above-average slider and plus changeup. If that package wasn't special enough, Sanchez makes it play even more with his ability to fill up the strike zone, as evidenced by his 4.6 percent walk rate last season at Double-A Jacksonville. The biggest knock on the 6-foot right-hander was his durability, but his career-high 20 starts and 114 total innings last season helped him some in that department. The Marlins have dreams of making Sanchez their ace within the next two years. We would have similar aims for the No. 22 overall prospect in this lineup if not for the next guy on this list.
Left-handed pitcher -- MacKenzie Gore, Padres: In the prospect world, when MacKenzie Gore is an option you go with MacKenzie Gore. The San Diego southpaw was MiLB.com's Starting Pitcher of the Year last season, having posted a 1.69 ERA and an 0.83 WHIP with 135 strikeouts over 101 innings between Class A Advanced and Double-A. What's even more important is he backs those numbers up with stuff. The No. 5 overall prospect earns plus grades for all four of his pitches, and his control of that arsenal is graded out as a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Gore seemed like a potential first-half callup for the Padres this season, which is remarkable given he had only 60 2/3 innings of Class A experience at this point last year. It just speaks to the 6-foot-3 hurler's current ability and seemingly limitless future potential.
Preferred batting order
SS Lewis (R)
LF Carlson (S)
RF Adell (R)
DH Cruz (L)
C Campusano (R)
1B Toglia (S)
2B Downs (R)
3B Paredes (R)
CF Pache (R)
What to do with Pache? On paper, he could be the perfect leadoff man with his super speed. However, his .331 career OBP doesn't scream leadoff man, at least not yet, and he was only successful in eight of his 19 stolen-base attempts last season -- a sign he's still raw on the basepaths. In the ninth spot, he can serve as a secondary leadoff man ahead of the big boppers when the lineup turns over. Meanwhile, we're still betting on a Lewis turnaround in the top spot, and with 50 steals over the past two seasons, we know he can take advantage once he does get on. Cruz vs. Campusano was another close call for the cleanup role, but we went with the Pirates slugger to break up the righties between Adell and Campusano. It also doesn't hurt that Cruz has seen Double-A pitching while Campusano hasn't. It is a bit of a righty-heavy lineup overall, but the presence of switch-hitters in Carlson and Toglia make it a little tougher for any opponent to play the matchup game.
No. 26 overall prospect Drew Waters has been neck and neck with Pache for much of the last year, but the fellow Brave's strikeout rate is too high to keep him from beating out Carlson for the third outfield spot. Also since a good amount of his value is tied up in his defense, his bat doesn't quite bring the same excitement as Cruz's, causing him to miss on the DH spot as well. We don't do bench spots in this series, but you can bet the 2017 second-rounder would be the first one on that list. Catching provided another conundrum with Keibert Ruiz (Dodgers) and Miguel Amaya (Cubs) pushing Campusano, though ultimately falling short. If not for Sanchez, Brusdar Graterol, Jordan Balazovic, Shane Baz and Deivi Garcia would have made for a fun battle at the right-handed pitching slot, and on the other side, Brailyn Marquez and DL Hall could have initiated a left-hander debate if Gore had been another age.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.