Exactly three weeks from now, the 2020 MLB Draft will be on its second and final day of selections and nearly all of the players in my Top 25 College Prospects to Target in Dynasty Leagues should be off the board. Commissioner Rob Manfred will be found reading off the names of draftees in his personal man cave located in the basement, as he slowly digests a large glass jar of cracker jacks for all to see. During the two-day event, he may even sit down on his leather recliner and announce a few picks while glugging down some Basil Hayden’s bourbon in between sets in a mild attempt to understand why he ever took his job in the first place.
As the draft winds to a close, fantasy owners will finally know which farm systems the players they’ve been targeting, or have already bought stock in, will be developing in. If said player is picked by the Miami Marlins, you get excited because you know they’ll be a star in the NL Central within the next four years. If they’re drafted by a New York team, you’ll be filled with mixed emotions, knowing it will be a miracle if that prospect’s arms and legs don’t mysteriously all fall off by year’s end. Let’s face it, even if that actually happened, the Yankees’ training staff still wouldn’t be able to properly diagnose it.
But in all seriousness, draft day will be a glorious day, as we so desperately need something, anything, Baseball. As you consume the 2020 MLB Draft next month, intently take in new information brought about by national coverage, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Know which players you like and are targeting regardless of class, and don’t put stock in a player out of raw emotion or recency bias. Just look at all the first round picks from the last five-to-ten years that still aren’t Major League contributors: you don’t want the “have-now” prospects, you want the right prospects – and if that means buying on a player in the 2021 or 2022 classes as opposed to this one – so be it.
Continuing from last week’s first five college baseball underclassmen prospects, here are underclass prospects six-through-10. Next week, I will reveal how these underclassmen stack up against members of the 2020 draft class in my complete college top 100.
6. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
You probably won’t see Frelick ranked any higher than this, and if you do, help a brotha out and let me know because I’m trying to make a damn statement. But my pal, Sal, might just be my favorite player in next year’s draft class – for obvious reasons. I’m still scratching my head to understand why scouts aren’t salivating over him the same way I am. Frelick can hit a lick and frolic around the base paths. That sounded a lot cooler in my head than on this screen. But he’s my 2021 position player version of Bryce Jarvis from the 2020 class, meaning I’m going much higher on him than consensus. Actually, Jarvis has started to rise up other draft boards since I ranked him No. 15 in my Top 25 College Prospects to Target in Dynasty Leagues.
When breaking down Frelick, the first thing that should strike you is his pure tape. As a former three-sport athlete, he made a plethora of highlight reel plays in the outfield for BC as a freshman, even though he’s a natural middle infielder and never played much outfield at all prior to college. On top of that, he has wheels that he uses effectively to stretch routine singles into extra base hits and has already exhibited excellent base-stealing ability at the college level. As you look at these players from a fantasy perspective, this is one of the more intriguing five-tool prospects you’ll have the opportunity to snag. As a freshman in 2019, Frelick swiped 18 of 21 bags in just 38 starts, then stole a perfect seven-for-seven in 15 games in 2020 (89% success rate).
Still, what I love most is Frelick’s swing from the left side of the plate. I watched a lot of his tape, and the swing is incredibly efficient and level, and the bat travels straight to the hitting zone and stays long through. On one of his four homers as a freshman, he was clearly beat on a fastball and he still managed to deposit it just over the left field fence. If you watch this highlight tape and fast-forward to the 0:41 mark, you will see an absolutely gorgeous home run off Frelick’s bat to the pull side. You always have to take highlights with a grain of salt because you’re only seeing the good and not the bad or ugly, but the quick hands and weight transfer on that swing present the image of a future star. And not the Lady Gaga-loving-Bradley Cooper type, although I do find Bradley’s eyes to be incredibly dreamy. *Stares at window. Three hours pass. Returns to work.*
As for the pop, Frelick may have only hit four homers in his freshman 2019 campaign, but he started just 38 games and projects as the type of player whose power is likely still several years away from reaching its full potential. After batting .367/.447/.513 with four home runs (13 XBH), an 8.9 K% and 12.2 BB% as a freshman, he took a small step back in 2020. However, Frelick began this past season with an 11-game hitting streak and .350 average before going 0-18 in the final four games of 2020, three of those games coming against ACC-opening competition at Clemson – so don’t overreact to the final slash line: .241/.380/.414 with two homers (five XBH), an 8.4 K% and a 15.5 BB%.
Throughout his first two years with BC, Frelick has shown a clear ability to put the ball in play while posting strong on-base numbers. While he can play almost anywhere on the diamond and sports a 1.000 career fielding %, Frelick is currently listed as an outfielder on draft boards – but I could also see an organization using him in the infield. He should continue to add bulk to his smaller 5’9” and 175 pound frame, adding more power into his game along the way. Truthfully, I think Frelick’s ceiling is a top three college player in the 2021-2022 draft classes. I can see the potential for 25-25 production in him in the Bigs. Hey, if I never went out on a limb, why would you keep reading? Funny thing about the metaphor of going out on a limb: if you’re wrong, the branch snaps and you fall to your death – but what happens in that metaphor when you’re right? Please weigh in in the comments section so I can sleep tonight.
7. Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama
Ethan Wilson has one of the more refined swings among the college underclassmen in this conversation. As a left-handed hitter, he uses a single toe tap before stepping into each pitch. Unlike some other high-ceiling, left-handed power-first bats we’ve seen at the college level (J.J. Bleday and Heston Kjerstad come to mind), Wilson’s load is simple, free of hitches or loops and he’s direct to the baseball. From “connection” onward, he reminds me a lot of a young Bryce Harper in terms of his pure swing. That’s a comp to the actual swing – not to the player or the future MLB output I’m predicting.
That said, any scout would have to be out of their mind to give Wilson a power grade lower than 60. He has Kjerstad-esque pop and maybe then some, seeing as he’s a full year behind the Razorback phenom. On top of that, Wilson may have produced the best freshman season the Sun-Belt Conference has ever seen last year, which, in all fairness, is kind of the equivalent to saying someone is the sexiest ugly person you’ve ever met, or that last night you ate the best pizza you’ve ever had from Domino’s, but we’ll leave it at that. Seriously. We’re splitting hairs with the bats on this list, but even so, you gotta love this statline: .345/.453/.686, 17 home runs (37 XBH), 51 RBI, 59 runs and six steals to go with a 17.0 K% and 13.5 BB%. The strikeouts are a bit high, but not nearing the point of concern when taking into account the magnitude of his power.
A freshman who posts those kind of on-base numbers with a .686 SLG and 17 big flies is going to get noticed quickly, which was the case for Wilson. He came into 2020 as a Preseason All-American and the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year. But even so I have him ranked about as highly as you’ll see, and a lot of that comes down to the pure eye test. When you watch Wilson hit, you really do see the ball explode off the bat in a way we just aren’t accustomed to seeing with players his age. Take this absolutely terrible video for example, in which you get to see Wilson launch a pair of home runs against No. 10 Arkansas. I mean, he absolutely crushes these balls. Sure, this clip was taken by someone recording off their TV, but you can still see the degree of power that’s in this bat. We’re not making the case for an Oscar in choreography here, we’re looking for information. It’s also hilarious, because I honestly did not hear the broadcaster reference Harper the first several times I watched that video, and I had already made that same mental note prior to seeing that particular highlight.
Regardless if you believe me or not, remember this: Wilson will hit 30+ homers in the Big Leagues someday. You heard it here first, however ridiculous that sounds. But then again, how bold of a prediction even is that these days? May I say 35+? If you play in an open world league, Wilson should be owned and will be highly coveted this time next year. He was off to another strong start in 2020 and was even six-for-six in the SB department prior to the season being cancelled.
8. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
“I’ll have one cow, sir.” That’s me rolling up to the local butcher and ordering me some Colton C., one of the more impressive hitters with the USA Collegiate National Team last summer – a team that also sported Heston Kjerstad, Garrett Mitchell and Patrick Bailey on its roster. In 13 games (eight starts) with the CNT last summer, Cowser batted .273 with a .390 OBP while smacking three home runs and leading the team in runs scored with nine.
Cowser entered his freshman 2019 season at Sam Houston State as a largely unknown commodity on the national landscape. He was ranked just the No. 411 outfielder nationally in the 2018 graduating class by Perfect Game and the No. 234 overall player in the state of Texas. That doesn’t get you to campus with a heck of a lot of hype, but it served Cowser remarkably well in his rookie campaign: .361/.450/.602, seven home runs, seven triples, 17 doubles, 50 runs, 54 RBI and nine stolen bases. As you can see, he delivered the whole package: on-base numbers, power, speed – all translating to actual production. Cowser struck out just three more times (29) than he walked (26) as a freshman, translating to an 11.1 K% and 9.9 BB% over 262 plate appearances.
In 2020, we didn’t get exactly the same hitter, albeit his 2019 numbers were going to be tough to replicate in the first place and the abbreviated nature of the 2020 season didn’t give Cowser much of chance. Across 14 games, Cowser slashed .255/.379/.364 with one homer (four XBH), five steals and a nine-to-eight K-to-BB ratio. Cowser’s 2020 line brings his career slash to .339/.436/.554.
At present, Cowser’s swing is entirely built around his quick hands. As a left-handed hitter, you can see him simply flick balls to the opposite field for base hits, hardly using his lower half at all in the process at times. With his handsy swing, scouts feel we there’s another level of power in Cowser as he develops physically, being 6’3” but listed at just 195 lbs. With his plus-speed, Cowser will be a first round pick next year if he holds his own in 2021. With the way the balls are flying at the MLB level, I personally prefer to put my fate in the hands of guys like Cowser with innate bat-to-ball abilities and quick hands, while waiting for the full package to develop. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time that a lack of package development left me disappointed.
9. Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
It’s around this point where the lack of reliable and recent scouting data begins to really complicate the rankings of these prospects. Instead, we’re limited to information stemming from their high school draft year, one full season of NCAA competition, any summer ball participation and of course, the polarizing eye test. This law holds true for Binelas, who was the No. 149 overall player in the 2018 high school recruiting class, but has since risen into a top 10 college prospect for the 2021-22 MLB Drafts due to one successful season at Louisville.
Having only appeared in two games in 2020 (missed 15 games to a hand injury) with a one-for-seven resume to show for it, 2019 is truly our only source of legitimate data for Binelas. And, if you’re having trouble pronouncing the name, it’s three syllables like “ba-nan-as.” Bih-NELL-us. In 2019, Binelas in fact went bananas, slashing .291/.383/.612 with 14 homers (33 XBH), 54 runs, 59 RBI and three steals over the course of 59 games/243 plate appearances. That showing earned him unanimous Freshman All-American honors. The Louisville third baseman does strike out significantly more than Frelick and Cowser, going down on strikes at a 19.8% clip against an 11.1 BB% as a freshman.
Binelas’ 2019 season was good, but was it potential top 10 pick good? This is where things get hairy, as we don’t have the data we’d like in developing opinions about some of these players. I don’t know how scouts are grading Binelas’ power and hit tools, although I will say he was the premier power threat on what was the nation’s preseason No. 1 team in 2020. If I had to guess, I would say the power sits in the 50-55 range, with the hit tool less developed around 40-45. Binelas keeps his hands tight up against his chest when tracking pitches, but has a very simple and synchronized swing. He brings his hands directly from that unique starting position to the hitting position, using an abbreviated leg kick that minimizes the number of moving parts. It’s very controlled and he consistently finishes in a strong, balanced position, regardless of the quality of contact made (or lack thereof).
At 6’3” and 210 lbs., Binelas is fairly developed with room for more. When you look at this hitter from the standpoint of the prototypical blue chip prospect, he checks off a lot of the important boxes: size, bat speed, power and a smooth stroke. Still, with the swing-and-miss aspect of his game and his status as a power-first hitter paired with the lack of data, I don’t see Binelas as anything more than a fringe guy on open world rosters at present. Look for Binelas to get selected in the back-end of the 2021 draft depending on how he performs with the Cards next season. I don’t see him slipping much past there, making him an intriguing target in the middle rounds of first-year player drafts come 2022.
10. Hunter Barco, LHP, Florida
At present, Barco is universally viewed as the No. 1 overall college player in the 2022 draft class, but that’s still a long ways away. Side note: this is the first player from the 2022 class to make my underclassmen list. Truthfully, it was difficult to size Barco up against guys like Gunnar Hoglund (Ole Miss), Mason Pelio (Boston College) and Steven Hajjar (Michigan) from the 2021 class. In the end, it’s up to each individual fantasy owner to determine how much they weigh future MLB ETAs into these equations. You’ll obviously have to wait on Barco longer than anyone else on this list, since he won’t even hit the MLB farm until the summer of 2022, over two years from now. And who knows what could happen in terms of health and velocity gains/drops with all the new variables thrown into the equation by the cancellation of play.
So why should you care?
All of this has my head spinning like I’m a back-up ballet dancer in The Nutcracker, but it’s time to come back to reality. Here’s what I said about Barco last week in the comments section: “Florida’s Hunter Barco probably came into the year as the most highly regarded college arm, and his 1.40 ERA/.162 BAA over 19 1/3 frames certainly didn’t change that appraisal.” Facts. That’s not bad. And he also struck out 26 and walked six during that time, which is also quite sexy. But this was just four starts and one relief appearance. Those four starts were against Jacksonville, Miami (FL), Troy and South Florida. Okay, not the worst competition in the world.
There have been so many pitchers that have exploded onto the college scene as a freshman yet were never able to replicate their success in subsequent years. Name a program and there’s probably a guy. Despite this, we should look at each individual player uniquely, and this is what Barco’s got in the kitchen: fastball with sinking, running life that sits 91-92 but can ramp up into the mid-nineties, a split-change that ranks among the best in his draft class with crazy spin rates touching 1,100 RPMs, and a slider/cutter hybrid acting as his tertiary pitch. As a southpaw and a young kid with just five games of college experience, the appeal is obvious.
It’s for those reasons that I have Barco ranked tenth on this list. For the same reasons, he will be the only player in the 2022 class to be crack my college top 100. As attractive as some of those other players may be in the 2022 class and beyond, there’s still too much left *cues Natasha Bedingfield once again* unwritten. In regard to their future draft stock, I mean. Or maybe draft “status” is more fitting, judging by the current state of the MLB Draft, which may never return to its former marathon length.
Barco is still an interesting guy to look into in deep formats, because if he successfully navigates the next two years without injury or blow-up, he very well may be in the No. 1 overall pick conversation come 2022. At that point, I expect he’d move quickly through the farm. He’s had some arm slot inconsistencies in the past, but during his senior 2019 high school season and 2020 freshman college campaign those appeared to be in the rear-view.
So is this post. Until next week!
Also Considered: Robby Martin, OF, Florida State; Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss; Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU; Steven Hajjar, LHP, Michigan; Mason Pelio, RHP, Boston College; Doug Nikhazy, LHP, Ole Miss; Christian Franklin, OF, Arkansas