With the high school summer showcase circuit and collegiate wooden bat leagues winding down and fall practice quickly approaching in college baseball, now seems like a good time to put out my first 2021 MLB Draft player rankings. This list will continue to update and expand as we approach June, but for now it seems appropriate to just dive in to the top 25 guys.
This summer has been one of the most bizarre and difficult periods of prospect evaluation in the history of the sport. Physical distancing made it hard to pack in hundreds of scouts at certain high-profile events. The Cape Cod League cancelled its season. Certain high school showcases were cancelled or postponed. Even through these obstacles, there was still valuable information learned about many of these players, especially on the prep side. Showcases run by organizations such as Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report were able to give evaluators a chance to see a lot of talented players play against each other. This may be the first time ever where the industry feels more comfortable with the high school class than the college class. The rest of this draft cycle will be very interesting, both because of the unprecedented circumstances and the on-field talent this group possesses.
Before we get started, I would like to take a minute and explain some of the more analytical/mechanical terms that I use quite a bit throughout this article that may not be widely known by the general public. The first term is vertical approach angle. In essence, vertical approach angle is how a pitcher’s extension and release height combine to form what the batter sees when the ball leaves their hand. Fastballs that come from flat vertical approach angles with exceptional vertical movement (Josh Hader is a good example) lead to the hitter perceiving more ‘rise’ on the fastball. This leads to whiffs under the ball, pop-ups, and other weakly hit batted balls. For a more in-depth analysis of the concept of vertical approach angle and how it pertains to this year’s draft class, I highly recommend this piece by Wyatt Kleinberg of Prospects Live.
Another term I use is arm timing. Arm timing is basically where a pitcher’s arm is when his front foot becomes planted on the ground. If a pitcher’s forearm is parallel to the ground with his hand facing down, his arm is considered to be ‘late’. Pitchers with late arm timing typically are more prone to arm injuries (Stephen Strasburg and John Smoltz are two examples).
Hip hinge refers to a pitcher’s action of dropping their hips and getting into their legs as their back leg lowers while their front leg comes up into a leg kick. Typically, the deeper into their legs a pitcher can get, the better. Glute-dominant hip hinges are common in pitchers who throw hard and can be a sign of athleticism in the delivery.
Hip/torso separation is a term that applies to both hitters and pitchers. For both types of players, hip/torso separation looks at where the player’s torso is in relation to their waist when their front foot becomes planted. Players whose hips and torso are separated on foot strike are able to generate more torque, and as a result bat speed or arm speed.
Projectability refers to a player’s physical projection. A projectable player typically has wide shoulders and a more lanky frame that is conducive to the addition of muscle/weight as a player grows both naturally and in the weight room.
Now, let’s get into my top-25 MLB Draft rankings.
1) Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
One of the more well-known players in all of college baseball, Rocker has loud stuff with a very impressive track record to go along with it. The first thing that jumps out about Kumar is his physicality. Rocker is built like a defensive end. His 6’5, 255-pound frame creates an intimidating presence on the mound, and that strong frame makes it easy to envision him being durable throughout his career. In terms of his arsenal, his fastball sits anywhere from 91-95 and typically tops out at 96, but he does have some trouble holding that higher-end velocity. Usually by about the 4th or 5th inning he is working in more of the 91-92 range. He commands his fastball well and throws it for strikes to both sides of the plate. Rocker also shows an ability to get swings and misses with his fastball towards the top of the zone at times, even though his high release point doesn’t generate an ideal vertical approach angle. The breaking ball is what is going to make Rocker one of the first players off the board in June. His slider is an absolutely filthy offering that has earned a 70 grade from me. The pitch’s vicious bite and touch of gyro spin (which gives the pitch a good amount of drop) made college hitters look silly, and according to some it even improved metrically in the brief 2020 season. Rocker is able to land the slider for strikes as well as throw it below the zone to miss bats. Just like with his fastball, the pitch’s quality starts to dip as he works deeper into games. Because of how dominant the fastball/slider combo is, he doesn’t really throw a changeup much, but as he progresses and sees better hitters that pitch may come back. He has a good feel for the pitch low in the zone and produces solid movement on it that can miss bats. Mechanically, Rocker is pretty sound with clean arm action, a low ¾ arm slot, and good arm timing. He is athletic with stability in his front leg after release height, but there are times when he seems to lose balance after release. For Rocker to stay perched at the #1 overall spot, he has to show that he can hold his velocity and stuff deep into games. If he does that and shows the same stuff and strike-throwing ability we have seen thus far from him, he profiles as a perennial all-star and a top-of-the-rotation arm for a contending team.
2) Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
After graduating from high school early and enrolling at Florida a semester early, Fabian held his own as a 17/18-year-old in the SEC before bursting out in the 2019 Cape Cod League. He then proceeded to put up a .294/.407/.603 slash line in 2020 before the shutdown. Clearly, Fabian has an advanced offensive profile. He has a loose, athletic swing with a barrel that whips through the zone. He generates great natural loft in his swing and he has no trouble lifting the ball to produce line drives and fly balls. His ability to produce high exit velocities and get the ball in the air so well makes it easy to project a guy who hits 22-27 homers a season. Fabian does so many things well, but to me the part of his game that stands out the most is his approach. As one of the youngest players in the most difficult conference in America, Fabian put up a .353 on-base percent with a 13.5% walk rate as a freshman in 2019. He takes great at-bats and lays off tough pitches with ease. Defensively, Fabian plays center field for the Gators but he probably fits best at a corner outfield spot in the future. He is an above-average runner right now, but as he grows bigger he will lose a step and won’t be able to cover as much ground. His jumps and reads off the bat in the outfield also look shaky at times. Overall, Fabian’s offensive projection is more than enough to make up for a move to a corner outfield spot, and he has the potential to become an annual 3-win player and all-star candidate.
3) Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
A highly-touted high schooler who turned down first round money in 2019 to go to Vanderbilt, Leiter looks to be a lock for a top five selection in the 2021 draft thanks to three above-average to plus pitches, good athleticism, flashes of elite command, and statistical dominance in his short sample size in 2020. His fastball velocity has fluctuated over the past few years. He sat mostly 91-94 this past year at Vanderbilt, but he has been up to 96-97 in the past. He has shown flashes of superb command of the pitch, especially to his arm side, where he is able to generate whiffs and keep hitters off balanced. However, those flashes of great command are not the norm. Leiter struggled to consistently throw strikes in 2020, posting a sub-optimal 4.6 BB/9. He only threw 15.2 innings and I am willing to chalk it up to an extremely small sample size, but it is something to monitor. Leiter is able to get a considerable amount of vertical movement on his fastball, which allows him to generate whiffs at the top of the one without elite velocity. His 11/5 curveball is a plus secondary with huge depth and sharp bite. While the movement and bite on the pitch are both fantastic, there are some questions about whether or not big curveballs like his can still be a viable primary off-speed pitch. Because of how high the pitch gets out of his hand, hitters are able to pick it up early and adjust to the pitch. This is one of the reasons as to why Leiter didn’t miss as many bats with the curve as the pitch’s movement would suggest. Instead, his slider is the less heralded off-speed pitch that may become his primary bat-misser. It has good 10/4 shape with length and bite. His feel to spin his curveball offers hope that he can continue to improve his slider and optimize it to its full potential. Leiter mixes in a changeup that has the potential to be an average 4th offering. His delivery is nearly flawless; Leiter is a great athlete who uses his athleticism to his advantage in his delivery. He gets deep into his legs on the mound for a very efficient hip hinge, and shows great stability, flexibility, and body control in his finish. He is also able to generate great hip/torso separation, which could be a sign of more velocity to come. This great athleticism and his ability to repeat the easy mechanics makes it easy to dream on his command becoming one of the strongest parts of his profile. The main knock on him is his height. He’s listed at 6’1 but he may be shorter than that. His lack of height could bring up some issues about long-term durability, but his superb lower-half strength and the growing number of shorter pitchers in the big leagues are both enough to quell some of those concerns. Overall if Leiter shows the ability to become more consistent with his command and find a breaking pitch he can bats with consistently, there is a path to him possibly dethroning his teammate Kumar Rocker as the top prospect in the draft.
4) Jordan Lawlar, SS, Dallas Jesuit HS (TX)
A very athletic, high school shortstop, Lawlar jumps out mainly because of his premium defensive ability but his developing in-game power is what I find to so intriguing. He has a clean swing without a ton of moving parts and he has shown a strong feel for the barrel this summer. Lawlar displays an advanced ability to adjust to breaking balls mid-flight and use the whole field, a rare trait for hitters his age. Where he has really come along so well in just the past few months is in regard to his power. He clearly spent his time in quarantine packing muscle onto his projectable frame. He looks noticeably bigger and stronger, and his newfound strength in his physical frame has helped him put up power we hadn’t seen from him until now. Lawlar already had good bat speed and was able to rotate and pull the ball, but he is starting to show potential 60-grade raw power that he is tapping in to during games. Lawlar’s 70-grade athleticism makes him a joy to watch on defense, where he profiles a potential double-plus defender. His quick foot speed and explosive first step give him great range. He has excellent hands and actions, and has a quick transfer. His arm isn’t a cannon, but his ability to make different types of throws is a valuable part of his defensive game. In all, Lawlar is one of my favorite prep players in a class littered with talented hitters, especially at the shortstop position. Lawlar is committed to Vanderbilt.
5) Brady House, SS, Winder-Barrow HS (GA)
House has been a long time performer on the high school showcase circuit, possessing a very physical frame and an advanced offensive profile. House’s hitting mechanics are impressive. His fantastic hip/torso separation at foot strikes creates an extremely quick barrel that produces hard contact. He also gets natural loft to his swing because of near-perfect shoulder alignment and shows the ability to rotate and lift balls to his pull side, offering potential 25-30 power. His swing can look a little stiff at times, but he has mashed against the best pitching in the country for as long as anyone can remember. Defensively, he is a bigger guy and the projection of pedestrian foot speed as he ages makes it more of a 3B profile. Even if he can’t stick at shortstop, he still has good hands a strong throwing arm that profiles well at the position. He has the ability needed to be a potential above-average defensive 3B. House’s power-first offensive profile fits well at 3B, and the idea of a potential 25 homer hitter with solid defense at the hot corner is something that will earn him top-5 pick consideration in June. House is committed to Tennessee.
6) Matt McLain, SS, UCLA
A first round selection of the Diamondbacks in 2018, McLain did not sign and ended up on campus at UCLA instead. He struggled in his freshman season (.203/.276/.355) but he turned it around that summer on the Cape, where he slashed .274/.394/.425. That momentum carried over to the start of his 2020 season, where he was scorching hot. In his 64 plate appearances before the shutdown, McClain was off to a .397/.422/.621 start, and he also blasted three homers. His swing is really sound. He has a short, compact stroke that is quick through the zone. He has plus bat control and can whack pitches at all parts of the zone. He projects to be the type of player who puts the ball in play frequently. McLain hit the ball with a lot more authority in the spring and shows rotation and bat speed, but the swing doesn’t have too much leverage and he is more of a gap-to-gap hitter by nature. In a way he is similar to Alex Bregman coming out of LSU. Bregman had more power in his game than McLain at this point in their careers, but both players were more contact oriented at the same stage in their careers. Bregman’s power developed more once he got into pro ball, and there is a chance McLain’s power may still come. Besides power, McLain also needs to improve his approach and plate discipline. He attacks early and often, as he doesn’t see many pitches. He hits enough right now to get away with it, but he will have to show that he can lay off pitches out of the zone as he faces better pitching as his career goes along. McLain is the modern day defender. He is very versatile, as he played second base, third base, and centerfield in his freshman season before settling into the starting shortstop role in 2020. McLain has solid defensive tools across the board, and while his arm and hands may prove to be too weak for shortstop, his versatility will still prove valuable. Overall McLain’s floor is pretty high because of the contact and ability to hit, but how his power and approach develop will determine his ceiling.
7) Ian Moller, C, Wahlert HS (IA)
Moller really popped at the Perfect Game National Showcase, where his power and solid barrel skills played well. He has a quiet setup and load before unleashing a beautiful swing with bat speed and beautiful upward bat path. That bat path is perfect for today’s game in which hitting the ball in the air is so important. He generates line drives and fly balls, and his fantastic rotational ability gives him his big time power potential. Moller also generates good hip/torso separation at foot strike. All of these elements make him a threat to hit 20 homers a year. Defensively, he projects to stick behind the plate. He is an athletic catcher who moves well behind the plate, especially laterally. That lateral movement helps him when ball blocking, which is an area where he excels. His quick feet have given him quick pop times and he has good raw arm strength, allowing him to be a force in the run game. He folds up nicely behind the plate and shows solid flexibility, and he has shown the ability to be a calming presence behind the plate. Moller is impressive physically, possessing a strong frame with good lower-half strength that can definitely withstand the rigors of catching. Moller is a really solid all-around player whose only negative are some occasional swing-and-miss-issues and an extremely risky prep catcher demographic to which he belongs, but he has the tools to overcome the odds against players like him. Moller is committed to LSU.
8) Robby Martin, OF, Florida State
Martin is a projectable bat-first corner outfielder who has done nothing but hit in his brief time at Florida State. Standing at 6’3 and weighing in at 200 pounds, he has some present strength but his frame also suggests he could continue to put on muscle, which will be important for him as he needs to develop his power (he has only hit four homers at FSU). Martin has a pretty left-handed swing with solid bat path and a great approach, as he does a nice job of battling during at bats and drawing walks. In his two seasons in Tallahassee, Martin has posted a fantastic 13.2% walk rate. His natural loft in his swing is conducive to power, which I believe is still on the way. However, he doesn’t do a great job of delaying torso rotation, taking away some of that barrel whip through the hitting zone. While Martin presents an intriguing potential OBP/power profile, there are some significant swing and miss issues. His long arms create some big holes in his swing, and he has been prone to strikeouts. However, as a young player in the ACC his strikeout rate wasn’t awful, and he does do a good job of battling in the box. He served as the Seminoles’ DH his first season in Tallahassee, but he projects as a corner OF because of his size and below average foot speed. Overall Martin projects as a high OBP corner OF who has a chance to develop into 12-17 homer pop, but the swing and miss issues make him a more volatile college bat.
9) Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (CA)
In a draft class littered with talented high school shortstops, Mayer’s physical frame and well-rounded game help him stand out. Offensively, he has a clean, pretty swing that generates easy bat speed. He has explosive hands that help him generate that bat speed without having elite hip/torso separation. His ability to rotate and pull balls with authority gives him intriguing in-game power potential, especially when considering he could still develop into more of a physical specimen given how much weight his frame can still add. Mayer also has good bat to ball skills and commands the strike zone well enough to have an above average hit tool. A potential Mayer slash line may look like .265/.360/.440 with 15 bombs. Much of Mayer’s value also stems from his defense at shortstop. He is a lock to stick at the position with good lateral quickness and baseball instincts that give him good range. His actions and arm strength/accuracy/utility are above average as well. The knock on Mayer right now is that he has been absent from a lot of the high-profile showcase events, and as a result he hasn’t been seen too much against the best high school talent around. That will chance soon, as Mayer will be participating in the Perfect Game All-American Game in Oklahoma City next month. In sum, Mayer has 5-tool potential, and his athleticism and the amount of physical projection left make him a candidate for a top-10 selection. Mayer is committed to USC.
10) Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU
If we lived in an alternate universe in which Jaden Hill was ensured a clean bill of health and LSU made a run similar to the one Vanderbilt made in 2019, we may be talking about Jaden Hill the same way we talk about Kumar Rocker right now. Both guys have massive physicality (Hill is measured at 6’4/233), and extremely loud fastball/slider combinations. The difference between the two is that a shoulder injury in Hill’s freshman year and the Covid shutdown in his sophomore year have limited him to just 21.2 total innings in Baton Rouge. When Hill has pitched, he has been simply electric. His fastball puts up big velocity readings, as he has been up to 97-98 in shorter stints, and he sits around the 94-95 mark once settled in. The fastball doesn’t miss as many bats as the velocity may indicate, probably because of a steep vertical approach angle, but he can throw it for strikes to both sides of the plate when he’s on. The big thing for him will be becoming more consistent with his fastball command. Hill’s slider is a nasty swing-and-miss pitch. It has a flatter, horizontal break with great length. The problem I have with the slider is that he throws it too often out of the zone. I would like to see a more intentional focus on throwing the pitch for strikes, so he holds hitters accountable that the pitch can’t just be written off when they pick up on it. Hill throws a changeup that people really like, but because of how few innings he has thrown I haven’t seen it much. Mechanically, he is pretty solid with great athleticism, and balance/body control for a guy his size. He has a very efficient hip hinge and arm stroke, and his arm is on time at foot plant. Hill also generates solid hip/torso separation, which is an encouraging sign that some of the velocity comes from the mechanics and not just the monstrous strength. Hill is a very talented pitcher whose injury concerns leave a justifiable amount of worry, but if he pitches well and stays healthy this spring he could prove be a top five pick and show his middle-of-the-rotation potential.
11) Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
Del Castillo is one of the more advanced bats in this entire draft, but what really holds him back is his lack of a clear defensive home. When looking at Del Castillo’s stats, the thing that jumps out is the disparity between his performance as Miami and his one summer in the Cape Cod League. In 349 plate appearances as a Hurricane, Del Castillo has put a fantastic 9.2% strikeout rate. On the Cape in 2019, his strikeout rate was 21.6%. Obviously his sample size with Miami is much larger, but it is still fascinating nonetheless. When watching him play for the Hurricanes, it is easy to see why he puts the ball in play so often. He has a smooth left-handed swing and he controls the barrel very well, whacking pitches at all parts of the strike zone. Del Castillo’s ability to adjust to different pitches and hit the ball to all fields is impressive. He has hit for some power, too. His raw power is at least above-average and may even be plus, and his swing path and added strength suggest that he can hit anywhere from 12-17 homers a year at the big league level. The only real problem with Del Castillo offensively is that he does sometimes look uncomfortable against pitches that break away from him. When watching him, I noticed that he was bailing out against really good changeups from right handers that broke away from him, and he shows similar tendencies against left-handed breaking balls. It may prove to not be a big deal, but it may also prove to be a situation in which Del Castillo hits righties better than he hits lefties. Defensively, Del Castillo has played both catcher and corner outfield at Miami. He hasn’t caught much for the Hurricanes because there are concerns with his overall defense at the position, and he has not looked very comfortable in the outfield, either. He gets poor jumps and reads off the bat, and takes inefficient routes to the ball. Del Castillo’s below-average foot speed and first step also do not bode well for his ability to create range at the position. Del Castillo does have an above average arm that fits in RF, but his lack of range may relegate him to an eventual 1B/DH role. If Del Castillo shows a better feel for either catcher or right field this year while maintaining his superb contact skills, he can shoot up this board in a hurry.
12) Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss
After being selected by the Pirates in the sandwich round in 2018, Hoglund chose not to sign and will be draft-eligible again in 2021 with a strong case to be a first round pick this time around. He has been deemed as one of the more projectable right handed pitchers for a while now, and his tall 6’5 frame is starting to fill out. He has added strength in Oxford, and after a topsy-turvy freshman year he added velocity and showed improved stuff in 2020. His fastball now sits in the 91-94 range, and it is a classic 4-seamer that he commands well to both sides of the plate. Hoglund’s heater is one that the analytically-inclined organizations will love. It has good spin data and the pitch’s rising action misses a lot of bats, especially up in the zone. He throws two distinct breaking balls right now, with the better offering being an above-average slider with traditional 10-4/11-5ish shape. The slider has sharp break that misses bats and he has shown a feel for landing it for strikes and putting below the zone to get hitters to chase. Hoglund’s curveball is a vertically-oriented pitch that he throws for strikes, but it is not as sharp as his slider. The curve is more for show, as he uses it to steal strikes and keep hitters off-balanced. Mechanically, Hoglund is sound with a clean motion and has elements of his motion that show the ability to generate velocity. He gets solid hip/torso separation that creates a whippy arm. Right now his scapular range of motion isn’t ideal, but in a professional strength program that may be improved. If it does, we could see him add even a touch more velocoity. His arm timing is good and doesn’t show any traditional red flags in his delivery. Hoglund is athletic and shows some of that athleticism on the mound, but he could show a deeper hip hinge. Thus far, Hoglund has developed nicely in college. If he shows the same improved stuff in 2021, he will be one of the first college arms off the board in June.
13) Andrew Painter, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy (FL)
Painter is probably the most impressive prep arm in the class, with the potential for three above-average to plus offerings. Painter’s physicality is what immediately jumps out. He is all of 6’6 and his lean frame is still projectable. It is easy to envision him growing into a huge, intimidating presence on the mound. For a kid his age who is that big, his body control and athleticism are both fantastic. He control his long limbs extremely well, and it is easy to see his athleticism when he is on the mound. Right now, Painter’s fastball sits in the mid-nineties with impressive vertical life in the zone. He misses a lot of bats with the pitch and does a good job of executing it up and down and to both sides of the plate. The pitch data on the fastball is something that would be desirable to analytical scouting departments. His vertical approach angle is quite steep because of his release height, but his ability to generate solid spin rates and some vertical movement on his fastball to make up for that is impressive. Painter’s slider is his best secondary with double-plus potential. The slider is sharp, with heavy transverse spin that creates good sweep. He generates a lot of whiffs with the pitch and locates it well for the most part, but he has a tendency to miss with the pitch to his arm side. Painter’s curveball is a vertically-oriented pitch with big depth and sharp break that generates uncomfortable swings. He prefers the slider to the curve, but from his vertical arm slot with such a high release height, the curve has the potential to be more than just a pitch he throws for strikes to keep hitters off-balanced. Painter also throws a changeup but very infrequently. It sits in the low eighties; he is more of a breaking ball dominant pitcher. Mechanically, he generates solid hip/torso separation and scapular range of motion. He loves to vary his timings to the plate, with an extended pause at the top of his leg kick or even a quick pitch every now and then. This just demonstrates his unreal body control for someone his size. Overall Painter has middle-of-the rotation potential with more safety than the average prep arm, and he has a strong case to be the first high school pitcher taken this year. Painter is committed to Florida.
14) Chase Petty, RHP, Mainland Regional HS (NJ)
Petty has some of the most extraordinarily loud stuff that I have ever seen from a prep arm. It starts with his fastball, which sits in the mid-high nineties and gets up to 100 with sharp arm-side run. He does a good job of getting in on the hands of righties, and while he gets more soft contact than whiffs, the sheer stuff is enough to miss bats right now. I see a lot of similarities between his fastball and Dustin May’s. Both touch triple digits with heavy movement, and while they may not miss as many bats as a traditional north/south 4-seamer, May has shown that major success can still be had with the power sinker. His changeup is probably his best secondary offering, with good run and downward action. He shows the ability to miss bats with the change, and he has an advanced feel to locate the pitch down in the zone. The slider flashes plus at times with sharp 10/4 shape. What will take Petty to the next level is more consistent command of his entire arsenal. He struggles to control his fastball at times just because of how much late movement it has, and he needs to throw his slider for more strikes as well. Improved command will take Petty from a hard-throwing high school kid to more of a complete pitcher. Petty’s mechanics are really solid, as well. He generates great hip/torso separation, has phenomenal scapular range of motion, and has an efficient hip hinge. The arm speed is electric, as well. The knock on him is that the track record of extremely hard-throwing high school arms is not pretty, and there is some violence in the delivery that could cause injury concern. He has a starter’s arsenal, athleticism, and frame, and if he can stay healthy and improve his command, he has one of the highest ceilings of any pitcher in the draft. Petty is committed to Florida.
15) Benny Montgomery, OF, Red Land HS (PA)
If you’re a fan of extremely loud tools, then Montgomery is your guy. He throws the ball extremely hard, he is one of the fastest runners in the entire draft, and his bat speed leads to fantastic exit velocities. Montgomery is such an exciting player to watch, but for him to reach his sky-high potential, he has to prove his unorthodox hitting mechanics can play against top-tier pitching. His swing is quirky and more disconnected than a more traditional swing, and there are shades of Hunter Pence in his swing. Montgomery has a leg kick and a hitch in his load (he brings his hands down and then quickly back up again before he swings). However, his bat gets through the zone quickly and he finds the barrel well. What remains to be seen is if Montgomery can generate the same type of results with his swing against higher velocity arms, but up until this point he has played well at every major showcase event. He has huge raw power potential and if he can tap into it in games on a consistent basis, he has the potential to hit 20-25 homers every season. Montgomery stands out defensively, too, with his top-of-the scale speed (he has been clocked 6.32 in the 60-yard dash) he can cover a ton of ground in CF, and his rocket of an arm plays well for the position. There isn’t much game footage of him on defense, but it’s hard to imagine his speed and athleticism not playing well in the outfield. Overall Montgomery is a guy who can be a perennial all-star if he lands with an organization that can add some smoothness to his swing. He is the definition of a potential 5-tool player. Montgomery is committed to Virginia.
16) Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS (OK)
I am probably one of the few people who will have Jackson Jobe this high on a prospect list, but I am perfectly fine with that. After spending much of his prep career splitting time between hitting and pitching, Jobe really impressed on the mound at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June. In that event, he flashed a FB that got into the 2500 RPM range and a wipeout slider that got into the 3200 (!) RPM range. What stands out about Jobe is how smooth his delivery is. He is very athletic and the delivery is very low-stress. The fantastic athleticism and the relative ease of the operation reminds me of Jack Flaherty’s delivery and mechanics. Jobe’s fastball sits in the 92-95 range. He shows the ability to throw it for stirkes and he can miss bats at the top of the zone with the heater. While it has above-average potential, it’s his slider that is what makes he so high on him. He has a fantastic feel for spin that produces with heavy sweep at a 10/4 shape. When watching Jobe’s slider it looks like it takes a literal mid-flight turn, that’s how sharp it is. The pitch freezes high school hitters and has enough movement to generate a ton of swing and misses. I think that Jobe may be up there with Kumar Rocker in terms of the best slider in the draft, and it is almost certainly the best slider of any prep player in this year’s class. Jobe has a changeup too, but his fastball/slider combination has been so deadly this summer he hasn’t really needed the cambio. His gift for spinning a baseball also makes it plausible that he could add a CB to his mix at some point and have a north/south pitch to work off of his east/west slider. Jobe’s raw stuff, smooth operation, and fantastic athleticism give him a high ceiling as a pitcher, and even though he hasn’t pitched as much as other guys at this point I am still comfortable putting a 1st-round grade on him. Jobe is committed to Ole Miss.
17) James Wood, OF, IMG Academy (FL)
Wood is one of the biggest risers of this year’s prep class, simply because it feels like he has put the barrel on literally every pitch thrown to him this summer. The first thing that jumps out about Wood is the body. He is every bit of 6’6, and the physical transformation that he has undergone since last summer is noticeable. He looks lean and absolutely ripped, and it still looks like he could put some more muscle on his projectable frame. Wood’s impressive strength plays in a big way at the plate. He has legit 70-grade raw power potential, and he has present in-game power, as well. He generates phenomenal bat speed and rotation with a loose, athletic swing with the ability to lift the ball because of his natural upward swing plane. Wood’s in-game power has emerged in a big way this summer on the showcase circuit, where he has been hitting a ton of long home runs. What has really impressed me about Wood is even with his crazy power, he has shown the ability to hit the ball hard no matter where it is pitched. He has shown flashes of unbelievable bat control, swatting balls way out of the zone over the fence. His offensive potential is truly special, and he could be a guy that hits 30 homers a year. Defensively Wood may end up at first base. He has a 60-grade arm in the outfield, but he doesn’t have great first-step quickness that would allow him to get great jumps on the ball. Wood runs well once underway, but as he fills out his body more he will slow down. While the defense is a big question about his future outlook, his prodigious offensive potential makes him one of my favorite hitters in this year’s class. Wood is committed to Mississippi State.
18) Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama
Wilson dominated the Sun Belt as a freshman in 2019, hammering 17 homers and slashing .345/.453/.686. He got off to a bit of a slower start to his 2020 campaign (.282/.329/.465), but had a fantastic weekend in Fayetteville against Arkansas shortly before the shutdown that may have gotten him going. Wilson’s power is his calling card. He has a dynamic lower half that generates some great torque that he transforms into plus bat speed. He rotates well to his pull side and he taps in to his monstrous raw power in games occasionally. He does have a considerable amount of swing and miss in his game which limits his ceiling, but he has the makings of a .250ish hitter with 22-25 bombs a year. In Wilson, I see a little bit of a Kyle Schwarber profile offensively. He probably won’t ever hit for as much home run power as Schwarber does now, but he does fit the mold of a high OBP/home run power/high strikeout numbers profile. Defensively he is expected to play CF for South Alabama this season, but I think he is more of a corner OF long term. He has decent speed right now that will almost assuredly get worse as he continues to grow older (he doesn’t have much projectability left, if any), making it harder for him to make up for his subpar jumps with his above average closing speed in the future. The team that drafts Wilson will be betting on his power and approach at the plate, but if he continues to progress he has the makings of an everyday corner outfielder.
19) Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
Binelas has an intriguing offensive profile, but his future defensive home is unclear at the moment. He had a great freshman season at Louisville, leading the Cardinals in home runs and slashing .291/.383/.612. His explosive hands and great torque enable him to generate exceptional bat speed, and he gets good natural lift on the ball, especially in his wheelhouse down and in. He does swing and miss at a concerning rate, and he struck out about 18% of the time at Louisville in 2019. He may be one of the more three true outcome-dependent players in the draft, though, as he has advanced plate discipline and draws a good share of walks. His ability to walk bumps up his hit tool to at least average, and he rounds out the exciting offensive profile with plus raw power and 18-22 homer potential. Defensively, I don’t think he is a third baseman. He is already a pretty big guy, and there is a good chance he outgrows the position. He does nothing spectacular defensively, and his footwork, hands, range, and arm tools are all average or slightly below. Bineals also doesn’t possess the ‘twitchy’ athleticism or body control to handle some of the more difficult plays a third baseman needs to make. His decent foot speed could make him a corner outfielder, but 1B seems more likely. Even if he has to play first base one day, Binelas still has the offensive profile to provide value as he tumbles down the positional spectrum.
20) Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
Madden pitched 69.1 solid innings during his first season at Texas and summer with Chatham on the Cape, but he pitched a lot better (1.40 ERA) in his four starts in 2020. His fastball sits in the 92-94 range and can top out at 96. He has more of a vertical arm slot, and he uses that ability to generate vertical movement to his advantage, as he makes a clear effort to try and miss bats at the top of the zone. The pitch generates whiffs, but his command of the pitch is hit or miss, and he struggles to challenge hitters out of the zone at times. For example, there are times when his catcher calls for an 0-2 high fastball, and Madden will miss over the hitter’s head, making the decision to take way too easy. He shows a good feel for spin with his slider and curveball. Madden’s slider is his better breaking pitch, and it is above average. It misses a lot of bats and shows good length and sharp bite at times, but his ability to create that bite needs to become more consistent. He doesn’t generate a ton of his velocity by way of his mechanics. His hip/torso separation at foot strike and his scapular range of motion are not that impressive; he gets his velocity from athleticism, strength, and his innate ability to just throw the ball hard. There is some violence at the end of his delivery that brings about some concern about repeatability, as well. Overall if we Madden improves his command and consistency of his secondaries, he could be one of the top non-Vanderbilt college arms taken in the draft.
21) Chase Burns, RHP, Station Camp HS (TN)
Burns showed up this summer with a much more muscular, stronger frame, and his added strength has propelled his fastball into the high-90s. While the fastball is impressive from a velocity standpoint, the pitch doesn’t miss as many bats up in the zone as the velocity and arm slot would suggest. Burns’ fastball has relatively low spin efficiency, meaning he cuts the pitch quite a bit. This cut leads to a lack of carry up in the zone that would miss bats. An analytically-inclined player development staff may be able to help him achieve a better fastball. Improved pitch data combined with his present velocity and ability to execute the pitch may eventually turn his fastball into a 70-grade pitch. Burns throws his secondary pitches very hard, with a plus slider that sits 87-89 that misses bats at the bottom of the zone. His changeup sits around 88-89, and he has a feel for the pitch at the bottom of the zone. The main thing that separates Burns from a guy like Andrew Painter, besides the cut in his fastball, is command. Burns shows inconsistency in locating all three of his pitches. Mechanically, Burns does a lot of things that high-velocity arms do. He generates great hip/torso separation, he has really good scapular range of motion, and he is athletic in his hips. There is some funk and deception in his delivery, too. Overall the high-velocity high school arm is a risky demographic, but teams will likely be more comfortable selecting Burns because of how well he moves in his delivery. Burns is committed to Tennessee.
22) Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
Cowser came into his sophomore season at Sam Houston State with a plethora of preseason awards, including being named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, after putting up excellent numbers for the Bearkats and Collegiate Team USA. His momentum following his freshman year didn’t carry over, however, as in his 66 plate appearances before the shutdown he slashed an underwhelming .255/.379/.364 with one home run. While the numbers from his shortened season don’t quite back it up, Cowser is still one of my favorite college position players in this year’s draft because of how polished he is offensively. He has a solid feel for the barrel and makes a lot of contact. He has kept his strikeout rates in check, and has done a good job of putting the ball in play. Right now Cowser is more of a gap-to-gap hitter who focuses on getting on base, but he has some pull-side power that he can tap into on occasion. That power should continue to progress as he gets stronger (he still has some projection), and I believe he has 10-15 homer pop in him. Cowser’s approach and ball/strike recognition is solid, and he should walk pretty frequently at the next level. I also believe in Cowser’s ability to stick in center field. I don’t think he’ll ever become an outstanding at the position, but I think he can be good enough to play there on a consistent basis. Cowser has a slightly above average run tool which helps him create range, and his routes and instincts off the bat are solid, as well. Cowser presents an interesting package, and if he can regain his form from his freshman season, he should become a lock to be a first round pick in June.
23) Irving Carter, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy (FL)
A lean, projectable righty, Carter has shown up this summer throwing harder than he ever has before while retaining above-average command of his three-pitch mix. His fastball was in the mid-high 80s last year, but has been anywhere from 90-93 with touches of 94 this summer. He shows the ability to get some run on his fastball at times, and he does a good job of throwing the pitch for strikes. Carter has two quality secondaries in his slider and changeup. His slider has sharp break that he does a good job of throwing to the back foot of lefties. The pitch quality isn’t as consistent as it could be, but the ability to spin the ball is there. He has a very good feel for his changeup, which has swing-and-miss movement at the bottom of the zone that has been clocked anywhere from 80-86 this summer. Carter loves to mess with the hitter’s timing, altering his leg lift and times to the plate to mess with them. He has some serious deception with a lot of moving parts coming at the hitter from a gangly 6’4 frame. Carter gets into his legs well enough in his hip hinge, and he remains athletic in his delivery. The release height is quite high considering his high arm slot/height combination, which creates a less-than-ideal steep vertical approach angle. Carter has also shown that he is a bulldog on the mound that loves to compete, which makes him fun to watch on the mound. Overall the strike throwing ability and projectability of Carter is intriguing, and if he continues to develop properly it is easy to see a #4/5 starter projection. Carter is committed to Miami.
24) Josh Hartle, LHP, Reagan HS (NC)
Hartle is a unique arm with many characteristics that progressive scouting and player development departments want in their organization. His fastball sits 88-91 right now, but the pitch has above average to plus potential. At a lanky 6’5 and 180 pounds, Hartle will likely add velocity as he continues to develop physically, especially since he already has good mechanics. He generates really good hip/torso separation at foot strike in his delivery, creating good arm speed. His fastball also plays up due to his flat vertical approach angle, which he creates with superb extension and a lower arm slot. Hartle’s breaking ball is more slurvy with a lot of length that misses bats. He shows a good ability to get it below the zone to get chases from hitters on both sides of the plate. His changeup is slightly below average that needs improved command, but he can mix it in to RHH occasionally. Hartle likely projects as a starter at the next level with mid to back-end rotation potential, as he already possess a number of traits that are key in the development of pitchers. Hartle is committed to Wake Forest.
25) Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Davis has always been viewed as more of a defensive-oriented catcher before really exploding offensively to start 2020, slashing .372/.481/.698 in 52 plate appearances. At the plate, he has a wide base and a quiet setup that reminds me of Pete Alonso. He has some Heston Kjerstad/Dexter Fowler in his load with a big bat twirl to get his hands into slot. His swing is a little rigid and I have some questions about his ability to spin on balls on the inner half, but he generates plus bat speed and has a natural uphill swing plane. He doesn’t strike out often, either, and those bat-to-ball skills combined with his power potential is an intriguing combination. Defensively, he shows advanced ability as a receiver and a leader behind the plate. He guides a pitcher through a game very nicely and instills confidence in the guy on the mound. He has good hands and while robo-umps may cause pitch framing to become obsolete before Davis even reaches the Major Leagues, he does a good job of stealing strikes on the edges. Davis has good lateral athleticism when it comes to ball blocking, and his technique is very sound. Where Davis really excels defensively is in the run game. He has a 70-grade arm behind the plate and he does a really good job of throwing runners out. Davis is a force in the run game and is one of the best catch-and-throw guys in the country. Davis is still viewed more as a defense-first catcher, but if he shows some of the same things offensively in 2021 as he did in 2020, he can really cement himself as the top college catcher in the draft.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! This board will continue to grow as we get closer to draft day, but for now this list should give you a sense as to who my favorite players in the draft are right now. I look forward to evaluating these players more, and hopefully we have a great college baseball season this spring that will give us some great looks at these talented players.
Special thanks to Tyler Jennings of Prospects Live (@TylerJennings24 on Twitter) for letting me use the video used in the article.
Featured Photo: @VandyBoys