Over the past 10 months, have you happened to hear Casey Stern mutter the iconic phrase, “prospects are cool, parades are cooler,” and thought, shit, prospects are waaaaaay cooler than parades now! Don’t get me wrong, I loved a good, old-fashioned homecoming float as a kid as much as anybody. But the Coronavirus pandemic has done quite a number on the attractiveness of modern parades. In today’s world, I think “prospects are cool, but watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade alone while shoveling a full tin of baked corn into your mouth that you made for yourself is cooler,” is a bit more fitting, wouldn’t you say? Well, here at Razzball with The Itch and myself, prospects are always cool. They’re cool even when they’re not, say, in July when everyone else is getting psyched for the start of the 2020 MLB season and 2020 fantasy football drafts, and I’m busy writing a Way-Too-Early College Top 25 for the 2021 MLB Draft segment, inadvertently detailing how one-dimensional my life is. Or, if you read that particular post, how frequently I crap myself on airplanes.
In my Way-Too-Early College Top 25, I took an early shot at laying out the top 25 prospects for the 2021 MLB Draft in a year that had very little spring action and a summer filled with cancelled developmental leagues. Now, as college players returned to campus over the past several months, effectively receiving some varying level of fall training, practice and game action, we have a lot more data and scouting to lean on. But, before I begin rehashing my top college prospects list and start to build it into my annual (it’s year two, can I say that?) complete college top 100, let’s discuss some early risers that I may have either previously overlooked or under-ranked. Since I’m such a Carmen Sandiego fanatic, I’ll also go rogue and add some other notes of things I’m hearing, or seeing, that I don’t really agree with, or that I simply think are worth mentioning. That, my dear friends, begins at the very top of the 2021 Draft (guess who?), then follows with the likes of Ethan Wilson and Jaden Hill.
Kumar Rocker – You’ve known Rocker’s name for some time now if you play in a dynasty league or any format that utilizes a first-year player draft (acronym: FYPD – if you’re here for “Frick you, Peter Dinklage!” then your Google search failed you and you’re at the wrong spot). If you don’t, then you likely only play in redraft leagues and are reading this either because you’re confused, bored, or fell asleep on the mouse, and now you’re inadvertently scrolling up and down this article and have forwarded your boss the link several dozen times. I won’t judge. In the past year, I’ve written about Rocker twice already: an initial analysis here as part of my Prospect Security Check series and again here when I ranked him as the No. 1 underclassman prospect to target in dynasty leagues. I’m not writing this blurb to sing you another rendition of Rocker Bye Baby and put you to sleep, but rather to provide an update — if you can even call it that. Yes, Rocker is still viewed as the favorite to be drafted first overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, however, he does not possess the same degree of consensus at No. 1 as someone like Spencer Torkelson did last year. Depending on his junior 2021 season at Vanderbilt, Rocker could either cement his status as the top pick, or see his stock fall slightly. However, he is a lock to go in the first ten picks, barring injury. If he shows any amount of progress in the development of his changeup, the rest will be history. Just like Carmen. We’re on the case, and we’re chasing her through history!
Matt McClain – McClain is one name whose stock appears to be on the rise (granted, it was high to begin with), as he’s viewed as a potential top-five pick at present despite his relatively small stature at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. MLB Pipeline ranks McClain as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft, while Baseball America is slightly less bullish, putting him at No. 8. If the power he exhibited in the abbreviated 2020 season is legit (.397/.422/.621, 3 HR, 7 XBH in 13 games), then the upside is obvious, as he’s a potential five-tool talent at a premium defensive position (shortstop). McClain has been comped to Alex Bregman, but that’s a reckless, overzealous comparison. Don’t be surprised if he goes in the first five picks in the 2021 Draft, but despite the five-tool potential, he won’t be a target of mine in FYPDs. For a full breakdown on McClain, you can refer to my College Baseball Underclassmen Prospects: Part One article.
Ethan Wilson – Wilson is a sturdy, left-handed outfielder at 6-foot-2 and 210 lbs. Playing his college ball at South Alabama, he possesses some of the best power in the draft class and potentially the most raw pop of any left-handed bat in the crop. If given the choice, I’ll happily take Wilson over McClain in a FYPD (remember what we talked about) even given the relatively large gap between the two in the speed/stolen base department. Most ‘perts’ disagree, as MLB Pipeline has Wilson as the No. 23 prospect in the 2021 class while Baseball America has the slugger positioned at No. 18. Through my eyes, Wilson has a compact swing given the amount of power he possesses, which pairs with a smooth and simple load and works well with his quiet stride into each pitch. Long story short, Wilson is being undervalued. For full analysis, feel free to review my top ten college underclassmen prospects.
Ethan Wilson (OF) is #16 on our 2021 #MLBDraft rankings by @ProspectJesus & @JoeDoyleMiLB. He is arguably one of the most under the radar, top college bats out there.@affranco10 spoke w/ his coach to get the story on Wilson & the South Alabama program. https://t.co/vMsjm0Hc99 pic.twitter.com/r1jbinq3t1
— Prospects Live (@ProspectsLive) July 28, 2020
Jaden Hill – Big-bodied at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Hill has been one of the highest risers up boards over the past year, currently positioned as MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 draft prospect and coming in at No. 6 according to Baseball America. There are certain scouts who feel the right-handed Hill has the highest ceiling of any arm in this class; higher than that of even Rocker. Should Rocker falter this spring or Hill simply deliver an unbelievable season, this could be the most likely name to steal the thunder at No. 1 overall. Still, with only 21 2/3 college innings on his resume, a lot of this noise is projectability and not actual performance — hence the variance in what I have graded in the past (No. 9 on my Way-Too-Early College Top 25) vs. where he’s being ranked in the draft class now. There are starter vs. reliever questions with Hill, but given his size, he should be able to hold velocity just fine with his 95-97 MPH fastball that has touched 99 in the past. Couple that with a plus-changeup and a still-developing, albeit nasty mid-80s slider (55-grade), and him being in the conversation as a top-five pick makes all the sense in the world. Obviously, we need to wait and see how the 2021 college season plays out, but Hill is a name to circle in 2021 FYPDs. His price will be lower than that of Rocker’s, but I don’t think there’s much of a gap in talent between the two.
Jaden Hill is one of the most fascinating arms in the draft.
He’s top-10 in our new mock.
That’d make him the fourth @LSUbaseball pitcher ever to go in the top 10.
Full mock: https://t.co/WW30io8ozD
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) January 11, 2021
Ty Madden – In my initial set of rankings, I ranked Madden as the No. 15 college prospect in the 2021 crop, but it’s clear he’s gained some *wait for it, here comes the most over-used word in draft history* helium since I wrote that piece back in July. Translation: he recently developed the unconventional ability to to impersonate Tweety Bird on team Zoom calls, a skill that has impressed the Texas Longhorns coaching staff and draft pundits alike. Student-athletes these days are truly multi-dimensional. But the real helium stems from Madden’s recent ability to perform against potential 2021 first round talents such as Colton Cowser this past summer, as well as countless Minor League hitters, through exhibition and simulated game action. Like many schools, Texas did not allow scouts and media on campus this fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but Madden reportedly touched 99 MPH in fall camp after sitting 90-94 MPH and topping out at 96 MPH during the 2020 season. He’s still a work-in-progress as his hard, mid-80s slider is a plus-pitch when he’s commanding it, but that isn’t always the case. Even so, his size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) mixed with his fastball-changeup combination make him an attractive prospect nonetheless — one likely to be called in the first half of the upcoming draft. Madden is now a consensus top-12 prospect according to BA (No. 12) and MLB Pipeline (No. 10). Still, it’s surprising how much higher he’s currently ranked ahead of names like Jonathan Cannon (MLB: No. 27, BA: No. 42) and Gunnar Hoglund (MLB: No. 30, BA: No. 23).
Texas soph. RHP Ty Madden has been loud to start. Great size/projection, FB sitting 92-95/96 with steep plane, living down, SL vicious at 84-87 with late, sharp vertical bite, plus pitch, 4 punchies through 2. High-end ‘21 #MLBDraft follow. SL below ???? pic.twitter.com/MWhVzDfeRG
— Brian Sakowski (@B_Sakowski_PG) March 1, 2020
Jordan Wicks – Wicks is the first of five players I’ll be touching on today that went unranked in my way-too-early top 25. In all fairness, it wasn’t so much of an oversight on my part, rather I more so followed industry consensus on a player I had very little intel on. As recently as this past September, Wicks was only the No. 33-ranked college prospect according to BA. Now, roughly four months later, Wicks has rocketed up to No. 27 overall on BA’s board and sits at No. 16 on MLB Pipeline’s top 100. So what happened? No, this wasn’t another Garrett Crochet-type of rise, where a guy came into fall camp with significantly improved and unexpected velocity on his heater. What happened was that Wicks dominated this past summer in the Northwoods League and it simply took a couple of extra months for scouts and pundits alike to rebuild their consensus on him. Wicks (9-3, 110.2 IP, 2.85 ERA, 112 K) was good during his first two seasons at Kansas State, but was even better this past summer: 0.45 ERA, 20 IP, 29 K, 5 BB. And remember, the talent in the Northwoods League was at an all-time high in 2020 after so many other summer leagues were cancelled, forcing players to shift to the NWL. Wicks is left-handed, built like a starter (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and possesses advanced control (2.4 BB/9 in college), so all he really needed to do was to shove against elite competition. However, Wicks’ heater is more of a high eighties/low nineties offering, so where he’s ranked now is likely more of his ceiling going into the draft than it is a starting point. He does possess a 70-grade changeup which is one of the best of its kind in the class, but the breaking stuff isn’t good enough quite yet for him to be a top-15 pick.
Richard Fitts – Representing another pitcher left off of my WTE college prospect rankings, Fitts is up to No. 17 on MLB Pipeline’s list and resides at No. 15 on Baseball America’s. Another acronym thought: is it okay to start abbreviating way-too-early with WTE? Will anyone be confused and think I’m writing about wet turtle eggs or West Texas eggplant? Probably, but what the hell. I’ve already pissed off Peter Dinklage, so why stop now? With Fitts being an Auburn right-hander, there’s a track record to have optimism in here as Casey Mize and Tanner Burns have both gone in the first round out of that program in the last three drafts. Unlike those two, however, Fitts has pitched almost exclusively as a reliever in college, having only recently expanded his horizons to that of a starter over summer ball and into fall camp. Fitts’ above-average-to-plus, 60-grade heater tops out at 97 MPH and frequently sits 93-95 MPH, but there’s still room for more based on his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. He also throws an above-average slider and changeup and has decent if not strong command. His 2021 stock will be largely dependent on what he proves as a starter this spring, as 21 of his 27 career appearances have come out of the bullpen.
Mason Pelio – Besides being an excellent word to yell into canyons to see how deep they are, Pelio also represents a Boston College right-handed pitcher that just missed my WTE top 25. Yep, those turtle eggs are nice, but not quite wet enough. Confused? Stop skipping around and read the damn article! But as I alluded to, I listed Pelioooooooo (see, great echo) as the first player in the “outside looking in” section in my WTE top 25 and as it stands today, he’s the No. 31/41 draft prospect according to MLB/BA. Where will he rank on Razzball? Check in during the months ahead as I slowly unveil my complete college top 100. Getting to Pelio, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander has been a member of the Boston College weekend rotation since arriving on the college scene, eventually grabbing hold of the Friday starter role in 2020. He can work the heater up to 97 MPH which he pairs well with a deceptive, above-average changeup. Much like Wicks and similarly built, Pelio’s breaking stuff is still fringy. However, given his potential to continue to add velocity as a result of his size, mixed with a serviceable track record (3.73 ERA, 94 IP, 81 K, 47 BB, .210 BAA), the early second round seems like a fair spot for Pelio. A standout 2021 campaign would surely change that. Pelioooooo!
2021 is shaping up to be a big year for Boston College. @BCBirdBall has three of the nation's top 30 college prospects.
Find them all in our updated rankings.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) July 11, 2020
Henry Davis – As the starting catcher at Louisville, Davis will likely be a first round pick in the 2021 Draft. He ranked just behind Pelio in my WTE top 25, which technically would make him my 27th overall college prospect at present. That said, it doesn’t take a Greg Amsinger to piece together that Davis is a top candidate to rise significantly in my next set of rankings, given where his overall draft stock currently presides: BA’s No. 19 overall prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 26-ranked player. Speaking of Amsinger, ever seen a guy whose personality exudes “I am a complete dickhead off the camera” more than that guy? I haven’t. Possessing arguably the best throwing arm in the draft class, Davis projects as a true catching prospect despite still having some work to do in the blocking department before he becomes a complete defensive package. That provides him with a safe floor in this draft, but with a .303/.381/.463 career batting line while playing in the ACC, the bat could vault him to a sexy signing bonus if 2021 plays out in his favor. The statistical trend leads us to believe it will. Davis batted .280 with a .386 SLG and three home runs across 132 at bats as a freshman, then hit .372 with a .698 SLG and three home runs in 43 at bats as a sophomore in 2020. That’s an improvement of .312 in the slugging department, which is slightly overblown by the lack of conference play in 2020, but impressive nonetheless for a true catching prospect. That’s a jump from 44.0 AB/HR to 14.3 AB/HR. If that ratio even stays close to the same in a full 2021 season, Davis will be drafted in the first 25 picks and whoever selects him will be seeing the whole world in HD — a dramatic difference compared to the graphics you enjoyed while playing Carmen Sandiego as a kid.
This week, I mocked Louisville catcher Henry Davis to the #Mariners 12th overall in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Today, I show you why. pic.twitter.com/JR2E716Btx
— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) October 2, 2020
J.P. Massey – I left Massey outside of my Way-Too-Early College Top 25, but that was an oversight on my part. Massey struggles with command at times, but sits in the low-to-mid nineties with a lively fastball that has the ability to touch 98-99 MPH when he’s working in shorter stints. He also wields a plus-slider and developing changeup, although the latter offering has reportedly come a long way in the past 12 months. Opposing batters hit just .174 against him in his freshman 2019 season at Minnesota. After he showed the ability to dominate the likes of Arizona and Duke in 2020, it’s obvious as to why his stock is on the rise. Currently positioned as a second-to-third round talent, Massey could jump to the first round with a breakout 2021 season — similarly to the drastic jump his former teammate and mentor, Max Meyer, made one year ago. Add in the fact that he’s up to 205+ pounds after a longer-than-usual offseason from the 180 he was at this time last year, and scouts have to be licking their chops. This could be the hidden gem in this year’s class.
That’s all for this week! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.