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Toolshed: Reasons for AL systems to give thanks

Well-rounded systems, new faces in new places worth celebrating
Spencer Torkelson and Adley Rutschman were the No. 1 overall picks in the last two First-Year Player Drafts. (Carlos Osorio/AP, Cliff Welch/
November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving comes to the United States next Thursday. While there was no Minor League season in 2020, there are still plenty of reasons prospect fans can give thanks over the coming week. This begins a two-part series in which Toolshed explains what fans of each of the 30 farm systems

Thanksgiving comes to the United States next Thursday. While there was no Minor League season in 2020, there are still plenty of reasons prospect fans can give thanks over the coming week. This begins a two-part series in which Toolshed explains what fans of each of the 30 farm systems should be thankful for this offseason. This edition focuses on the farm systems of the American League.

Baltimore Orioles -- A full system: pegged the Orioles as the No. 10 system in baseball in March and not a heck of a lot has changed since then. Ryan Mountcastle made a strong first impression in the Majors over 126 at-bats and still retains his prospect status for four more at-bats going into 2021. He is one of five Top-100 prospects in the Baltimore system. Adley Rutschman tops the list, followed by Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and 2020 first-rounder Heston Kjerstad. That group includes a relatively balanced set of impressive hitters and pitchers with a slight tip toward the slugging category. This is the type of farm general manager Mike Elias and the rest of the O's front office set out to build, and that may only get stronger in 2021 when these names can grow again in Minor League games and the organization also gets the No. 5 overall pick in the Draft. The foundation is set for the next Orioles' contender, even if it's still another year away. There is hope on the horizon of Eutaw Street.

Boston Red Sox -- An actual arms race: Any fan had to watch the Red Sox for only a couple innings in 2020 to see the club clearly needed pitching. Boston pitchers finished with a 5.58 ERA, third-worst in the Majors, and were the only group with a collective WAR below 0 at -0.2, per FanGraphs. That was without Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, of course, but there is cause for optimism that more help could be on the way from within the organization. Tanner Houck dominated in a short Major League stint with a 0.53 ERA and 21 strikeouts over three starts (17 innings), putting to bed temporarily any idea of his best present role. After some bumpy years of development, the 2017 first-rounder should get heavy consideration for a Major League rotation spot come the spring. Top pitching prospect Bryan Mata was one of the talks of the alternate training site in Pawtucket, where he showed off four above-average pitches, leading Boston pitching coach Paul Abbott to say, "He's as exciting as anybody in baseball." What's more, Jay Groome looked healthy for the first time since his Draft year in 2016, flashing a plus fastball and an impressive curve in Pawtucket. The arms aren't the strength of the system per se -- that belongs to the infield group headlined by Triston Casas and Jeter Downs -- but at a time when Boston needs arms, some are definitively on the way or have already arrived.

Chicago White Sox -- Crochet's health: It was a lot of excitement followed by a big scare. The White Sox drafted Garrett Crochet 11th overall in June and then proceeded to make the former Tennessee left-hander the only 2020 pick to make the Majors this summer by calling him up on Sept. 18. Crochet struck out eight over six scoreless innings in the regular season, was the first pitcher out of the Chicago bullpen in a must-win Game 3 of the Wild Card Series against the A's and then ... left early with an apparent arm injury. Finally came the sigh of relief. In October, the White Sox announced Crochet had suffered a flexor strain in his forearm, that his ulnar collateral ligament was in good shape and he was expected to recover quickly enough to participate fully in Spring Training. That's huge news for Chicago fans who had fallen in love with a Crochet fastball that averaged 100.4 mph in the Majors as well as his plus slider. The Pale Hose only used Crochet out of the bullpen to begin his career, but he's expected to get extended back out to starting shape in the spring. The fact he will be healthy enough to tackle that next phase of his career should come as a huge relief to the South Side.

Cleveland Indians -- A youth movement: In a normal Minor League season, the Cleveland farm could have taken a huge jump forward in 2020 with George Valera, Daniel Espino, Brayan Rocchio and Aaron Bracho all solid bets to make their full-season debuts. Valera, in particular, feels like a prospect who could have made the leap into Top-100 consideration with his impressive hitting ability from the left side. Instead, that jump-off point will come in 2021. Even as things stand now, seven of the Tribe's top 10 prospects are 20 or younger. Triston McKenzie is the old man of the group at 23, and he has already performed well in the Majors. There is a lot of legitimate room for growth with this group, and that's before any potential Francisco Lindor trade that would bring more prospects to the pipeline (though they'd be coupled with the loss of a franchise shortstop). It's a group that could be in the upper tier shortly.

Detroit Tigers -- Focus on the bats: Toolshed is still high on the pitching in the Detroit system that was such a focus heading into 2020, but after Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal failed to catch fire in their Major League debuts, the arms could be a tougher sell as reasons for thanks this November. At least right now. Fair enough. The Tigers system is well-rounded enough that there are eye-popping bats capable of bringing excitement, specifically those belonging to 2019 first-rounder Riley Greene and 2020 top overall pick Spencer Torkelson. New manager A.J. Hinch was asked about them this month and told the Detroit Free Press, "Those are dudes." The organization is high enough on both to make them captains of their own clubs at this year's instructs with Greene reportedly besting Torkelson in a Home Run Derby to end camp. With plus-plus raw power, Torkelson is the better hitter overall and has the quicker path as a college star, but Greene has been a joy to watch take off in the Minors in 2019 and in his first spring a few months back. The infielder Torkelson and the outfielder Greene are capable of filling out the middle of a Tigers lineup, and as a righty-lefty pairing, they could bat back-to-back in the Motor City for years to come. For anyone turned off slightly by the arms, find plenty of solace in these bats.

Houston Astros -- Still reasons for excitement: This will feel like damning with faint praise, and in some ways, it is. The Astros system is at a low point right now, in part because of graduations and low Draft slots in recent years. That could dwindle to another new low following Major League sanctions that caused Houston to lose its first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021. So the fact there are notable bright spots at all would seem to be reasons for thanks among Astros fans. Forrest Whitley was shut down with arm soreness in 2020, but before then, he was looking much closer to his usual self (i.e., one of the top pitching prospects in the game) than the 2019 version who struggled so mightily with command. Freudis Nova and Jeremy Pena give the club two legitimate middle-infield prospects, and Korey Lee has the power and arm to be the club's catcher of the future. On the mound, Cristian Javier was a Rookie of the Year finalist, and Bryan Abreu continues to be a Major League option with two killer breaking balls. At a time when it certainly could be, the pipeline to Houston isn't dry yet.

Kansas City Royals -- Draft fortune: You can never have too much pitching. That might have been a mantra floating around the Royals war room during the Draft in June. Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy was believed to be the top pitcher on many Draft boards, but the former Aggie fell to Kansas City at No. 4. The Royals made sure the southpaw, who sports three plus potential pitches in his fastball, slider and changeup, didn't go further. They added him to a mix of top arms that already included Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic. Singer and Bubic have since graduated with basically full Major League seasons, and Lynch and Kowar shouldn't be too far behind in 2021. That said, Lacy has perhaps the highest ceiling of the bunch, and his presence only gives Kansas City more hope for a fully homegrown rotation.

Los Angeles Angels -- Detmers on the doorstep: The focus all across Anaheim in the coming months will be on what the Halos can do to give Mike Trout some help and get him back in the playoffs for just the second time in his career. Quite rightly, part of the spotlight will be put on the Angels rotation, which finished with a 5.52 ERA in 2020 -- the second-highest mark in the Majors. Luckily, the group selected potentially one of the quickest moving hurlers in the Draft in Louisville left-hander Reid Detmers. The 6-foot-2 southpaw spots the ball really well -- a requisite skill for fast-moving pitchers -- and sports three above-average pitches with the highlight being his curve. The Angels moved Griffin Canning up in his second full season in 2019. Depending on how Detmers looks in his first Spring Training, he could beat that path and give Los Angeles the rotation depth it desperately needs.

Minnesota Twins -- What comes next for Kirilloff: Three players made their Major League debuts during the postseason -- Shane McClanahan, Ryan Weathers and Alex Kirilloff, the one who started the trend. The Twins left their No. 2 prospect at the alternate site all summer but called him up for the Wild Card Series against the Astros. The club even gave the right fielder a start in Game 2; he went 1-for-4. It's one promotion and one game, but it provides plenty of optimism about how Minnesota views the game's No. 27 overall prospect at present. Kirilloff had somewhat of a down 2019 at Double-A Pensacola, most of which was due to wrist problems. We don't have a full season of Minor League data to show exactly how he bounced back, but the callup tells us the Twins trusted him enough to hit in a playoff series. He responded with a single that was 105.9 mph off the bat -- the second-highest exit velocity exhibited in Game 2 behind only noted masher Nelson Cruz. Kirilloff's debut is far from a guarantee he'll open 2021 with the big club. It's worth remembering he hasn't even technically reached Triple-A yet. But fans can bet that if he continues smoking the ball for a few weeks in the spring, he'll get heavy consideration to make his regular-season debut in the Majors before long.

New York Yankees -- "The Martian" will land: For the record, that's the nickname of top Yankees prospect Jasson Dominguez. It's easy to forget about the 17-year-old outfielder after his introduction to Minor League Baseball was taken away by the coronavirus pandemic. So let this be a reminder that the No. 48 overall prospect will don pinstripes and get a chance to show off his skills in 2021, if all goes well. A switch-hitter, Dominguez draws raves for his five-tool ability, scoring particularly high on his run, power and arm tools. He would likely rank much higher if he got to show those skills off against Minor League competition, so expect his stock to jump once he can do so in front of wider audiences. For more on how Dominguez deals with the hype surrounding him, check out Jesse Sanchez's piece on

Oakland Athletics -- Trust in teens: The A's had their own Big Three when it came to prospects headed into 2020 -- Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy. Luzardo and Murphy have since graduated, and Puk likely would have if not for shoulder issues that required surgery. Now Oakland fans keeping an eye on the farm system should place their hope on two prospects at the other end of the experience spectrum. Switch-hitting shortstop Robert Puason and catcher Tyler Soderstrom have the makings of the next Top-100 prospects in the A's system. Puason is a gifted runner, a potentially above-average hitter from both sides and a lock to stick at shortstop with his defensive skills. Soderstrom was a small surprise to fall to the A's at No. 26 in the 2020 Draft, and the left-handed slugger shows a plus hit tool and 60-grade arm. He might have to move off catcher some day, but the bat is good enough to play anywhere. Whenever Puk graduates, the cupboard will be far from bare in the A's system.

Seattle Mariners -- They already know: Telling Mariners fans what to be thankful for in their farm system this holiday season is a futile gesture. Perhaps no fan base right now is more clued in to the happenings of the club's prospects than the one in Seattle -- and for good reason. For any uninitiated, the M's claim six Top-100 prospects. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are perhaps the two most exciting outfield prospects going, and they soon could claim the same grass in the Majors. That outfield group added another big name in Taylor Trammell at the Trade Deadline, and that was in the midst of a season in which another outfielder Kyle Lewis was winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Pitchers Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Emerson Hancock -- Seattle's first-round picks from 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively -- fill out the rest of the Top-100 contingent and give the M's hopes of a homegrown rotation in short order. Noelvi Marte sits outside the Top 100 for now but could easily climb there when he reaches full-season ball. Seattle hasn't made the playoffs since 2001 and might need a few more pieces to get over that hump by 2022. But in Kelenic and Rodriguez, the Mariners have two candidates to become superstars and a few other prospects capable of bringing a contender to the Emerald City.

Tampa Bay Rays -- Franco is playing again: It was one of the big questions in prospectdom this summer. Once the Minor League season was canceled, would we see top overall prospect Wander Franco in affiliated ball in 2020? The answer, unfortunately, was no. Franco was a member of the Rays' postseason player pool and even caused a minor fracas when he posted a jersey with a World Series patch last month, but he was never summoned to The Show for his debut. Instead, the switch-hitting shortstop is making up for lost game time in the Dominican Republic. He is expected to play at least 15 games for Escogido and will stick to shortstop whenever he's in the field. The switch-hitter already went deep for his first official homer of 2020 and was off to a 5-for-16 (.313) start in his first four games with the Leones. Despite being only 19, expect Franco to show off his impressive hitting stroke, solid knowledge of the strike zone and budding power during his time back home. After a season spent behind closed doors, any Franco sighting Rays fans can get in 2020 feels like a blessing.

Texas Rangers -- Small glimpses of big power: At 22-38, the Rangers had the worst record in the American League this season, and a lack of a Minor League season made it tough to find saving graces at the lower levels. That said, second-ranked Sam Huff made a loud impression over the 10 games he spent with the big club in September. The 22-year-old catcher belted three homers, slugged .742 and posted a 1.136 OPS in his time with Texas. Those weren't light numbers either. Huff had a hard-hit rate (i.e., percentage of balls hit at 95 mph or higher) of 60 percent and an average exit velocity of 95.7 mph, both of which would rank among the top two in the Majors had he qualified. Yes, 10 games is a small sample. Yes, Huff struck out in 33.3 percent of his plate appearances, a worrisome rate for the future. But not many batters could impact the ball the way he did in 2020, and he did that without ever playing higher than Class A Advanced. It was a brief look at the prodigious pop Huff could bring over the long term to Arlington.

Toronto Blue Jays -- More infield prospects to love: With Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio firmly in the Majors, Jays fans might have thought they wouldn't need to think about infield prospects for a while. Then Vanderbilt's Austin Martin fell to Toronto at the fifth spot in the Draft, and another promising infielder swiftly came to the attention of those north of the border. Martin had perhaps the best hit tool of any player in this year's Draft, having posted a .368 average and 1.007 OPS over three years at Vandy, and he shows above-average speed as well. He played six different positions at school and was announced as a shortstop but seems more likely to end up at second base or even center field in the pros. Even if he does end up on the grass, Toronto fans have 2018 first-rounder Jordan Groshans to look forward to on the dirt. The 21-year-old shortstop was ready to rebound from a foot injury that kept him out for most of 2019, but will get a chance to show off his above-average offensive potential again next season.

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