5. Ke’Bryan Hayes | 3B | Pittsburgh Pirates
Hayes enters the 2021 MLB season as one of the frontrunners for National League Rookie of the Year following a stellar start to his big-league career in 2020.
The 24-year-old made his MLB debut on 1 September against the Chicago Cubs, going 2 for 5 including a home run in an extra-innings loss.
That was a sign of things to come as the third baseman ended the season with a .376 average across 24 games with five homers and 11 RBIs.
His 1.124 OPS ranked fourth among all major league players with at least 75 plate appearances in the final month of the season.
Hayes’ defensive skills have always been clear to see – he’s already being tipped as a future Gold Glove winner – but his strong performances at the plate have put him among the most exciting prospects for 2021.
4. MacKenzie Gore | LHP | San Diego Padres
Many expected Gore to make his MLB debut at some point in the 2020 season, but the former high-school standout was forced to spend the summer at the Padres alternate training site after the minor league season was cancelled.
Apparent inconsistencies in his mechanics and the shortened season saw the lefty held back instead, with the Padres biding their time on their top pitching prospect.
Gore is likely to spend some time in triple-A to start the upcoming season, with the Friars’ strong rotation meaning there is little rush to promote him yet.
When he does make his big-league debut – hopefully at some point in late ’21 – expect a four-pitch repertoire, including a mid-90s fastball and a vicious mid-80s slider.
Gore has all the tools to become an eventual No. 1 starter for San Diego, and he will hopefully take his first steps toward that goal this year.
3. Jarred Kelenic | OF | Seattle Mariners
Kelenic is another prospect who many thought we’d see during the 2020 season, with his omission from Seattle’s opening-day roster raising a few eyebrows.
There remains uncertainty over his place in the Mariners roster, with the threat of service time manipulation hanging over the organisation should Kelenic be left out once again.
Putting all that aside, Kelenic is a plus power hitter with decent speed, a good arm and the potential to carve out an All-Star career in the bigs.
His breakout double-A season in 2019 saw him go .291/.364./.540 with 23 homers and 20 stolen bases, illustrating the all-round ability that makes him one of the top prospects in baseball right now.
Whatever happens regarding his inclusion on opening day, Kelenic will make his debut sooner rather than later and is likely to make a big impact when his chance materialises.
2. Adley Rutschman | C | Baltimore Orioles
Orioles fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years, but the imminent big-league debut of Rutschman is certainly something to get excited about.
The No. 1 selection in the 2019 draft is one of the most highly-rated catching prospects for some time.
At the plate, the switch-hitting Rutschman displays the ability to hit for both average and power, with his exceptional discipline seeing him walk more than he struck out during his college career.
Behind the plate, he possesses plus defensive skills, a strong arm, and a high baseball IQ, allowing him to dictate all aspects of the game.
The only negative at the moment is a lack of pro experience, with Rutschman playing just 37 games so far, but strong performance at the Orioles’ alternate training site in 2020 has put him in a great position to make his mark in 2021.
1. Wander Franco | SS | Tampa Bay Rays
Franco has been one of the top prospects in baseball for a few years now, and should finally make his big-league debut in 2021.
The Dominican infielder is an elite offensive talent who hits for both average and power, while possessing stellar discipline.
Over the course of his two minor league seasons to date, the switch-hitter went .336/.405/.523, hitting 20 home runs and 110 RBIs. He also drew more walks (83) than he had strikeouts (54) during that time.
His long-term viability at shortstop is not yet clear, but he is also an above-average defensive player with a strong arm, who may actually improve with a move to second or third base.
He might not feature in the early season running for Tampa Bay, but a call up is inevitable at some point this year, and you can be sure that the whole of baseball will be watching on when he does get his chance.