Each year, there are at least one or two young prospects who emerge from the fringes of the minor leagues to make their respective big-league debuts for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 2020, we finally saw the electrifying debut of one of the team’s perennial top prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz. Also, pitcher Mitch White emerged into the majors after five full years in the system. And let’s not forget lefty reliever Victor Gonzalez and utilityman Zach McKinstry, two youngsters who many fans were surprised to see arrive in the bigs.
Indeed, there are many uncertainties heading into the 2021 season, primarily because of the lingering effects of the pandemic. We have already been told that the Single-A and Double-A minor league seasons will be starting late, but fans are keeping their collective fingers crossed that there are no roadblocks at the major league level, specifically in the form of a condensed spring training or a shortened regular season.
Nevertheless, we are bound to see a few MLB debuts from some of the best prospects on the Los Angeles farm, whether it results from an injury to an existing player or perhaps because the team simply needs an infusion of youth and energy.
Listed below are my three choices for prospects that are likely to get the call in 2021. For the sake of this discussion, these players have never appeared at the MLB level previously and will be true rookies at the time of their debuts.
Although he didn’t quite make it to the majors in 2020, 23-year-old righty Josiah Gray was one of those players who was included in the 60-man player pool, allowing him to train throughout the season with the best players and coaches in the organization. Prior to the stoppage of spring training due to the initial coronavirus outbreak, the Brooklyn native made three Cactus League appearances, two of which were starts, tallying a total of five full innings of work.
In 26 games in 2019 between Low-A Great Lakes, High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, Gray finished with a combined 11-2 record, a 0.99 WHIP and a 2.28 ERA with 147 strikeouts against just 31 walks.
Gray started his 2019 campaign in the Midwest League, posting a 1.93 ERA in five starts before being promoted to Rancho. In 12 Cal League starts, he went a perfect 7-0 with a 2.14 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and a .209 opponents’ batting average, throwing many of his innings in the hitter-friendly confines of LoanMart Field. After earning a promotion to Tulsa on July 17, Gray pitched to a 2.75 ERA across nine games for the Drillers.
Gray was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Cincinnati Reds out of Le Moyne College in New York. He was acquired along with infielder Jeter Downs in a trade from the Reds on December 21, 2018, that saw Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer shipped to Cincinnati.
Gray is currently ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers’ system, according to MLB Pipeline.
Some folks might be surprised to see 23-year-old middle infielder Michael Busch on this list, but he is unquestionably the prospect whose value rose the most during the offseason.
Also included in the 60-man player pool last year, Busch arrived at the alternate training site on July 11 as the 58th player added to the club’s pool. However, it didn’t take him long to impress the scouts who were on hand evaluating the younger prospects.
According to Kyle Glaser at Baseball America, Busch was one of the Top 6 players across the MLB “who got the loudest and most consistent raves” in camp last year.
Last January, Jim Callis of MLB.com put together a series of rankings highlighting the game’s best prospects by position. Busch appeared on the list as the sixth-best second base prospect in all of baseball.
It wasn’t that long ago when Busch was selected by the Dodgers as the 31st overall pick in the 2019 draft out of the University of North Carolina.
Billy Gasparino, the Dodgers’ director of player development, called Busch an “elite left-handed hitter,” comparing him to current Los Angeles slugger Max Muncy.
Said Gasparino not long after Busch’s selection, “Michael is a guy who we thought was one of the better bats in the Cape Cod League, both in terms of performance and swing, as well as overall defensive versatility. He’s been a staple in the UNC program. They rave about his makeup and his character, and we’re excited to add him to our organization. We’re going to challenge Michael and start at second base.”
With all the uncertainty surrounding second base heading into the 2021 season, a few unexpected circumstances could easily see Busch make his MLB debut at some point during the year.
Busch is currently ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the system.
Probably the biggest surprise on this list is 25-year-old outfielder DJ Peters.
Often criticized for his high number of strikeouts, there are plenty of other aspects of his game that could lead to his potential MLB debut. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder is probably best known for his power, but he has deceptive speed and athleticism for his size. Defensively, he can handle all three outfield spots, and his arm strength is one of his best assets.
If he proves he can make consistent contact during 2021 Cactus League play, it’s likely he will be given at least a few chances to prove his value at the big-league level, especially when considering the departures of outfielder Joc Pederson and super-utilityman Enrique Hernandez.
Not long after being selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Western Nevada College, the righty-hitting Peters was quickly ushered to the short-season Pioneer League, where he posted an impressive slash line of .351/.437/.615 with 24 doubles and 13 home runs over 302 plate appearances for the Ogden Raptors. Coincidentally, Peters finished sixth in the league’s individual batting standings, ending his season just a few ticks behind the aforementioned Ruiz, who posted a .354 average and finished fourth in his own quest for a batting title.
Peters has racked up almost every possible offensive award in the minors. He was named Player of the Week six times across three levels, he garnered about a dozen All-Star nods, and he was even named the Cal League Player of the Year in 2017, when he slashed .276/.372/.514 with a whopping 27 homers, 29 doubles and 82 RBI for Rancho. In 2018, he led Tulsa with 29 bombs in 132 games.
Splitting the 2019 season with Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Peters appeared in 68 games for the Drillers, hitting .241 with 10 doubles, 11 homers and 42 RBI, while batting .260 with 10 doubles, 12 homers and 39 RBI in 57 games for OKC.
Like Gray and Busch, Peters was included in the team’s 60-man player pool last season. He’s the only player on this list who is part of the club’s current 40-man roster.
Peters is currently ranked as the organization’s 11th-best prospect.