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The biggest surprises of the three-year ZiPS projections

Who will be the emergent stars in 2021?

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, FanGraphs made the three-year ZiPS projections publicly available. The projection system developed by Dan Szymborski gives us a mostly familiar glimpse of the future. In 2021, the best player in baseball will still be Mike Trout, and the worst player will be Tim Tebow. For all the hand-wringing about his velocity in the early goings, Chris Sale will be the best pitcher in baseball.

That doesn’t mean that the projections aren’t without their surprises. These were the biggest ones I found.

Juan Soto will be the best player in baseball (not named Mike Trout)

It’s not a surprise that Juan Soto will be good or even that he’ll be great. In his first full season, Soto hit 22 homers and walked 16 percent of the time. It was one of the best seasons by a teenager ever. The Nationals may have lost out on Bryce Harper*, but they have Juan Soto, who ZiPS not only projects to be better than Harper, but better than everyone in baseball (except for Mike Trout, of course).

*I can’t believe he didn’t want deferred payments until he was 60!

In 2021, Soto is projected to be worth 7.5 fWAR just two tenths of a win behind Trout and half a win better than Francisco Lindor. He’s also expected to lead the league with 48 homers. Oh, and he’ll only be 22.

Keibert Ruiz will be one of the best catchers in baseball

Dodgers prospect Keibert Ruiz has yet to debut in Triple-A let alone the majors. Ruiz, MLB Pipeline’s 34th overall prospect, opened 2019 in Double-A. He’s is still ranked behind the PadresFrancisco Mejia and the Giants’ Joey Bart. In 2021, Ruiz figures to be better than just about everyone except for Gary Sanchez and JT Realmuto.* There are plenty of exciting catching prospects that have recently come up from Carson Kelly to Danny Jansen, so it’s interesting that ZiPS is most bullish on Ruiz.

*There currently aren’t ZiPS projections for Bart.

Shane Bieber will be a top-five starter

Bieber had a great rookie year. His strikeout-minus-walk percentage was 19.6, and his SIERA was second-best among qualified rookie starters. His one blemish was that he was a bit hittable. He wasn’t overlooked, but he did get upstaged a bit by other good rookie seasons from Walker Buehler and Jack Flaherty among others.

ZiPs, though, figures Bieber to be a top-five starter come 2021. At 4.4 fWAR, he’ll be up there with Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom despite striking out less than eight batters per nine innings. He’ll eat innings and ride his impeccable command to success.

Someone named Hudson Potts will almost hit 30 bombs

It’s a testament to the Padres farm system that Hudson Potts can exist in relative obscurity. He hasn’t cracked a top-100 prospects list, and he’s 15th in the Padres organization according to MLB Pipeline. FanGraphs grades him at 50 FV, so he’d rank much higher in less insanely deep farm systems.

Potts will begin the season with the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the Padres’ Double-A affiliate, and ZiPS predicts a meteoric rise for him. In 2021, he’s projected for 28 homers which is what JD Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are projected for.


Projecting players three years out is messy, and its even messier when the player doesn’t have big league experience. Still, these will be players to keep an eye on.