Our prospects lists are filled with athletically gifted players who have tremendous power, speed and arm strength. But who are the toolsiest of them all?
Below, we identify the best athlete in each farm system. As usual, outfielders dominate the list, with 17 of the 30 players highlighted spending the majority of their time at that position last season. Additionally, nine of the players featured are shortstops. Fifteen of these physical standouts made our end-of-season Top 100 Prospects list in 2021, led by shortstops Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals, No. 3) and CJ Abrams (Padres, No. 6).
Blue Jays: Dasan Brown, OF (No. 19)
Brown’s 80-grade speed makes him one of the fastest runners in the Minors, and it’s a big reason why the Jays took him in the third round and signed him for above-slot at $800,000 back in 2019. (Being an Ontario native didn’t hurt either.) Alongside “athletic” and “fast,” the biggest attribute on Brown’s profile remains “raw” as he tries to prove his bat can get him to the Majors. He hit .212 with a 32.7 percent K rate over 51 games in Low-A last season, though he did steal 22 bases in 28 attempts and played center field exclusively.
Orioles: Gunnar Henderson, SS/3B (No. 4, MLB No. 74)
He’s big (6-foot-2 at least), strong and physical, but he also moves well enough to play shortstop, and he can steal a base. His athleticism has helped him slide over to third without a hitch when needed, and the Orioles also feel like he could play a very good center field.
Rays: Vidal Bruján, OF/2B (No. 2, MLB No. 21)
Tampa Bay is known for developing versatile players, and in 2021, Bruján became the prime example of that approach, driven by his own request to try new positions. The 24-year-old added all three outfield spots to his resume while also featuring at second, third and short with Triple-A Durham. All of those are options for him because he’s a 70-grade speedster with a good arm. What’s more, his 147 stolen bases are most in the Minors since 2018, his first year in full-season ball.
Red Sox: Jarren Duran, OF (No. 3, MLB No. 25)
The Red Sox knew Duran had plus-plus speed when they drafted him in the seventh round out of Long Beach State in 2018, but he now has plus raw power after reworking his left-handed swing to add more loft and do a better job of using his legs. He slammed 16 homers and stole as many bases in 60 Triple-A games this season before making his big league debut, during which his sprint speed (29.3 feet per second) ranked in the 96th percentile.
Yankees: Jasson Dominguez, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 17)
When you get compared to Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout, you’re a premium athlete. That’s the case with Dominguez, who signed for $5.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2019 as one of the most hyped international prospects ever. Still just 19, he’s built like a Southeastern Conference running back and could have at least solid and perhaps well above-average tools across the board.
Guardians: Daniel Espino, RHP (No. 5, MLB No. 92)
The lone pitcher and Panamanian on this list, Espino uses his athleticism and lightning-fast arm speed to generate some of the best stuff in the Minors without excessive effort. A 2019 first-rounder out of a Georgia high school, he reaches 101 mph with running action on his fastball and backs it up with a wipeout slider that climbs into the upper 80s.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1, MLB No. 3)
Tally up all of his individual tools, and Witt’s scouting report might be the most loaded of any prospect going. He’s a plus runner and even earns some 70s from scouts. He shows legit plus-plus power in games, and while that’s rare for any position, it’s especially so for a defensively gifted shortstop. His special arm will be handy if the Royals roster necessitates a move to third base this summer. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Witt in another life as a mobile quarterback roaming and firing all over the gridiron. Or maybe even as a kicker since his leg appears to be his sixth tool too.
Tigers: Dillon Dingler, C (No. 4)
Athleticism is on the tip of the tongue of any evaluator discussing Dingler. He was a center fielder as a freshman at Ohio State in 2018 and became a full-fledged backstop the rest of his time in Columbus before going to the Tigers in the second round in 2020. He still possesses above-average speed, and he moves well behind the plate. Think Daulton Varsho with a stronger arm and better chance at staying at catcher.
Twins: Royce Lewis, SS (No. 1, MLB No. 35)
We’ll have to see if his elite-level speed is all the way back once he returns from his torn ACL. He hasn’t played in a competitive game since the Arizona Fall League in 2019, so there are questions to be answered. But pre-injury he was a basestealing threat and a guy who showed that not only can he play shortstop, but he can move around the field, including playing a very, very good center field.
White Sox: Colson Montgomery, SS (No. 1)
Indiana’s 2020-21 male high school athlete of the year, Montgomery set the career basketball scoring record at Southridge High (Huntingburg) and had the opportunity to walk on the hoops team at Indiana if he had attended college. Instead, he signed with the White Sox as the 22nd overall pick last July because his future is brighter in baseball as a 6-foot-4, lefty-swinging shortstop who draws a lot of comparisons to Corey Seager.
A’s: Buddy Reed, OF
Reed played three sports in high school (hockey and soccer were the others), and his athleticism has long been on display since he came out of the University of Florida in 2016. The bat hasn’t shown up as consistently as hoped, but he still runs very well, plays an elite-level center field and has enough strength to hit the ball over the fence when he’s locked in and healthy.
Angels: Werner Blakely, SS
There are many athletes in the Angels system to choose from, from former football standout Jordyn Adams to January 2021 international signee Denzer Guzman. But we’ll give Blakely the nod this time around. His upside and athleticism made the Angels willing to go over slot to sign him for $900,000 in the 11th round of the 2020 Draft. He’s long, lean and wiry and should keep adding strength and be a plus runner.
Astros: Jordan Brewer, OF (No. 21)
Brewer drew interest from Michigan’s football program as a wide receiver before he dislocated his shoulder as a high school senior, ending his gridiron career, though he did get to Ann Arbor after two years in junior college and led the Wolverines to a runner-up finish at the 2019 College World Series. A second-rounder that June, he has the plus raw power and well above-average speed to become a 25-25 center fielder, though injuries have delayed his progress as a pro.
Mariners: Harry Ford, C (No. 5, MLB No. 98)
It’s not often a catcher gets a 60 run grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, but Ford, the Mariners’ first-round Draft choice last year, is a plus runner who has every chance to catch, with a strong arm and good receiving skills. But he also could play a very good second base and has the chops to move to center field if necessary, leading many to see him as a Craig Biggio 2.0 type.
Rangers: Bubba Thompson, OF (No. 26)
Southeastern Conference football programs wanted Thompson as a quarterback after he accounted for 3,860 yards and 43 touchdowns while quarterbacking McGill-Toolen (Mobile) to the Alabama state 7-A championship game in 2016. But he opted to focus on baseball, went 26th overall in the 2017 Draft and is coming off his healthiest and best season as a pro (.808 OPS, 16 homers, 25 steals in Double-A). He’s a no-doubt center fielder with well above-average speed and plus raw power.
Braves: Drew Waters, OF (No. 3, MLB No. 79)
Concerns about his approach coming off a very inconsistent 2021 season in Triple-A will certainly knock down his prospect status some, but the raw tools are still undeniable. He can really run, and he used that speed to steal a career-high 28 bases last year as well as play a plus center field. There’s a ton of raw power to tap into here, too, if he can refine his approach at the plate.
Marlins: Kahlil Watson, SS (No. 1, MLB No. 27)
Perhaps the biggest steal of the 2021 Draft, Watson was a candidate to go No. 1 overall to the Pirates but dropped all the way to the Marlins at No. 16. The North Carolina high school product is listed at just 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds but plays much bigger than that with an aggressive approach that yields plus raw power. His best tool is his well above-average speed and the rest of his game is at least solid across the board.
Mets: Jaylen Palmer, 3B/SS/OF (No. 16)
Palmer is more than a feel-good story as a local New York City native trying to make it in blue and orange. His above-average speed and raw power piqued the Mets’ interest back in 2018 when they selected him in the 22nd round, and the organization has tried to harness his overall athleticism into an everyday role since. Primarily a left-side infielder entering 2021, Palmer saw the most time in center field at High-A and Low-A and is expected to be an outfielder moving forward, where his speed and 55-grade arm can play better.
Nationals: Donovan Casey, OF (No. 18)
The Nationals picked up Casey from the Dodgers in the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner blockbuster last July. Three months later, they named him Defensive Player of the Year. That shows you just how good of an impression the 25-year-old outfielder made in a short span in the Washington system. Casey, who was also a pitcher at Boston College, possesses plus speed and a 60-grade arm that give him a decent floor as a fourth outfielder. He is one step closer to achieving that Major League role now that he was added to the 40-man roster in November.
Phillies: Johan Rojas, OF (No. 6)
Rojas really took a big step forward with his move to full-season ball in 2021 as he started to turn his considerable tools into production. He stole 34 bases and hit 11 homers last year, while reaching High-A. He has easily plus speed and will play center field for a very long time.
Brewers: Sal Frelick, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 88)
Frelick may have been undrafted out of the Massachusetts prep ranks, but he did head to Boston College as the 2017-18 Gatorade Football Player of the Year for Massachusetts and an excellent hockey player to boot. It’s his plus-plus speed that translates well to all three sports, and his excellent hand-eye coordination leading to strong contact rates only helps his baseball stock. The 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year could have a fun competition with fellow prospect Garrett Mitchell for the future of the center field spot in Milwaukee.
Cardinals: Masyn Winn, SS (No. 4)
You have to be pretty athletic for a club to draft you as a two-way player, as the Cards did with Winn in the second round of the 2020 Draft. He’s been a full-time shortstop to this point, one who works well in the premium position and showcases one of the Minors’ most special infield arms. He topped out at 99.8 mph on a Statcast-measured throw in Low-A Southeast and regularly fired balls in the 92-96 mph range across the diamond. His bat will determine whether he uses that velo from the six or the mound, but his defensive skills alone give him a decent floor as a position player.
Cubs: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 1, MLB No. 14)
Davis helped Basha High (Chandler) with the Arizona 6-A basketball state title and was named region defensive player of the year in 2017 before deciding to focus on baseball that summer. A 2018 second-round pick, he showed off his considerable power with a pair of homers while winning MVP honors at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game last July, and he’s also a quality defender with plus speed and solid arm strength.
Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS (No. 3, MLB No. 52)
He’s a unicorn, a 6-foot-7 middle infielder that the world has been waiting to get pushed off of shortstop, but who has every chance to begin his big league career in earnest at the premium position. He has ridiculous raw power that he’s still figuring out and can steal a base, all while making plays defensively a guy his size has no business executing.
Reds: Jay Allen, OF (No. 5)
Allen played three sports in high school, and could have played football and baseball at the college level had he wanted to go that route. So, he’s really focusing on baseball for the first time since being taken No. 30 overall in last year’s Draft. He has the chance to hit with plenty of power and runs well enough now to play center field, though he might end up profiling as a super-athletic right fielder with a strong arm when all is said and done.
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 2, MLB No. 20)
Oh, what could have been. Carroll was already lauded for his plus-plus speed, easy plus defense in center and 60-grade hit tool when he added strength heading into 2021. He showed it all off quickly by going 10-for-23 (.435) with five extra-base hits and three steals in seven games at High-A Hillsboro before a shoulder injury ended his season in May. The profile remains stellar and, barring any health setbacks, it isn’t hard to imagine Carroll picking right back up in 2022.
Dodgers: Jeren Kendall, OF
Scouts considered Kendall the best athlete in the 2017 Draft, though his signability and swing-and-miss concerns dropped him to the Dodgers as the 23rd overall pick. He has lived up to the pros and cons of his scouting report, continuing to display plus-plus speed and plus raw power, arm strength and center-field defense while batting .219 with a 34 percent strikeout rate as a pro.
Giants: Hunter Bishop, OF (No. 6)
Bishop planned on walking on Washington’s football team as a wide receiver before opting for baseball at Arizona State, where he developed into the best college athlete and the 10th overall pick in the 2019 Draft. He features huge raw power, solid to plus speed and center-field quickness and instincts, though covid and injuries have limited to just 48 pro games in three years.
Padres: CJ Abrams, SS (No. 1, MLB No. 6)
Of all the prospects MLB Pipeline ranked at the end of the 2021 season, only three received 80 run tool grades: Dasan Brown, Jordyn Adams and Abrams. The Padres shortstop is the only one of that group who is a Top 100 talent and the only one who plays shortstop. How much of that speed comes back from July leg injuries is yet to be seen on a Minor League diamond, but even if Abrams downshifts, he’s a 30-steal threat who can zip around the dirt and pick up triples by the handful.
Rockies: Brenton Doyle, OF (No. 7)
After creating quite the buzz during his pro debut in 2019 after being taken in the fourth round out of Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia, Doyle’s approach did regress with the jump to High-A in 2021. Even so, he showed off his power-speed combination with 16 homers and 21 steals while showing off an arm strong enough for right and the wheels to play center.