Ahh, college. What a magical time. I can still remember my roommate freshman year. He never showered, wore shoes and frequently left bowls of boiled noodles out, unrefrigerated, only to pick them back up several days later and eat a few. Ahh, yes. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think back fondly on the kid who dressed up as a bush every day so he could jump out and scare other student on their way to class. The college years truly represent a time when young minds grow and evolve, and the same goes for the college crop of baseball talent. The 2021 NCAA baseball season began just last weekend, which means many of the top names for the upcoming MLB Draft and subsequent first-year player fantasy drafts are finally back on full display. After coming out with my rankings of the Preseason Top 50 College MLB Draft Prospects at the beginning of February, several stars have already made headlines or showcased telling impressions after the first week of play. I’ll continue to follow all of these names from now until July, working towards a Complete College Top 100 in advance of the 2021 MLB Draft. But for now, let’s check in on a few key names and discuss what I saw in this week’s collegiate corner. All are welcome, so long as you don’t leave your noodles out.
Kumar Rocker – Currently situated as the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, Rocker did nothing but hold his status steady over the weekend. With perhaps the only knock being that he isn’t stretched out quite yet and only lasted four innings, Rocker allowed just one hit while striking out eight against Wright State — although he did walk three. Barring injury, I think Rocker’s floor in the 2021 draft is a top-five selection. Even if poor performance were to alter his stock, which I don’t anticipate happening, he won’t slide much. He’s a pitching coach’s dream.
Kumar Rocker, Back to Back Sliders for the K…and Sword ??
One the filthiest pitches in college baseball. pic.twitter.com/GImnzp1VXV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 22, 2021
Jack Leiter – Leiter one-upped Rocker in his 2021 debut, throwing five innings of shutout baseball with one hit allowed and eight strikeouts. Expect both of these Vanderbilt right-handers to go in the top ten picks this upcoming July, maybe even top five. I had Leiter at No. 3 on my Preseason Top 50 College MLB Draft Prospects list and although I don’t see him moving much higher, there’s still going to be a fun battle for the top collegiate pitcher in this class between Rocker, Leiter and Jaden Hill.
Jaden Hill – Speaking of Hill, the LSU righty opened 2021 with four shutout innings against Air Force over the weekend. He scattered three hits and walked five. With this past weekend’s start, Hill still has just 25 2/3 collegiate innings to his credit, so the remainder of his 2021 campaign will go a long way in determining his final draft stock. I’m rather bullish on him, as he’s currently at No. 2 in my rankings.
Ty Madden – Coming into the season as my fourth-ranked collegiate pitcher behind the unearthly trio of Rocker, Hill and Leiter, Madden got roughed up a bit in his first start. Lasting four innings, the righty surrendered four runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks, striking out five. The good news is that Madden touched 97 MPH with his fastball and sat 94-95 MPH throughout the start. The bad news is the above stat line and the fact that Madden’s fastball was lacking life with very little sinking or riding action. You can’t judge an elite prospect based on one start, but his spin rate and induced vertical break metrics were poor in this one, which is reason for some concern. Continue to monitor Madden moving forward with an emphasis on his pitchability and command, as those are two of his biggest question marks at present.
.@TexasBaseball RHP Ty Madden (‘21 Elig.) was dominant in the first, 94-97 with three strikeouts. Settled in more 93-95 and got hit some in the second. Flashes of a plus SL in the mid-80s and a CT up to 89. #PGDraft pic.twitter.com/itEaICDMQt
— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) February 20, 2021
Gunnar Hoglund – In my Way-Too-Early College Top 25 written back in July, I had Hoglund ranked No. 11 and Madden at No. 15. If you look to my updated Preseason Top 50 College MLB Draft Prospects rankings, Hoglund is at No. 12 with Madden at No. 11. This past weekend, Hoglund made it pretty clear he’s a better right-handed pitching prospect than Madden. Yes, it’s only one start for each guy, but the stark difference was telling. Pitching against arguably one of the best offensive teams in the nation in Texas Tech, Hoglund fired 5 1/3 innings with three earned runs on three hits and three walks, striking out 11. Hoglund worked 92-96 MPH with his fastball and showed excellent command with his 84-87 MPH slider. Although he didn’t go to it much, Hoglund’s changeup also looked like an above average pitch. Hoglund needs to work on limiting the long ball and maintaining focus with the bases empty, as all three of his runs came via the homer, with one coming immediately after a two-out, bases empty walk. All told, this was a promising start for Hoglund to open the year on and he should be a first round pick capable of moving quickly through the Minor Leagues upon being selected.
One of Gunnar Hoglund's 11Ks yesterday…
And catcher energy goals. ? pic.twitter.com/p7nJhRCf4l
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 22, 2021
Jordan Wicks – Entering the 2021 season ranked No. 13 on my Preseason Top 50 College MLB Draft Prospects list, Wicks came out firing in his opening start and showed no signs of needing extra time to ramp up his pitch count. Going head-to-head against fellow 2021 draft hopeful Kevin Abel, Wicks tossed seven shutout innings against Oregon State, striking out 10 with just three hits allowed and two walks. For most of the start, Wicks sat 92-94 MPH with his heater, although it was more 89-91 MPH in the latter innings. It’s so far so good for Wicks, as his secondary pitches looked sharp, which may be the only remaining piece of the puzzle the K-State right-hander needs to cement himself as a top-20 pick. For more on Wicks, check out my initial breakdown on him here.
— K-State Baseball (@KStateBSB) February 19, 2021
Kevin Abel – Although Abel was ultimately out-dueled by Wicks, it was good simply to see him back on the mound after missing most of 2019 and all of 2020 to Tommy John surgery. Remembered best for his dominant, two-hit shutout to clinch the 2018 College World Series for Oregon State, Abel went undrafted this past June despite being a top-150 draft prospect. In his much-anticipated return to the mound, Abel worked 4 2/3 innings with one earned run on one hit and two walks, striking out seven. Although his fastball sat mostly 89-90 MPH, he topped out at 92 MPH and was able to throw 79 pitches without injury in his first collegiate showing in nearly two years. Abel entered the year ranked No. 37 on my Preseason Top 50 College MLB Draft Prospects rankings and with more performance such as this one, he’ll be one of the more obvious risers to keep an eye on.
Henry Davis – Davis got off to a hot start in the batter’s box, slashing .500/.625/1.000 with two home runs, three walks and zero strikeouts through the first four games of the year. Now, three of those games were against Bellarmine — a school I have never heard of until now — but the pop and plate vision is clearly there. Additionally, he also stole two bases, which is all the more impressive when you remember that this is an elite defensive catching prospect. The trajectory has been set early and if it continues, Davis will have no problem being a slam-dunk first round pick this July. He does have a bit of a complex load that features a big loop with the bat head, but it’s nothing that should keep him out of the first round. For what it’s worth, he entered the year at No. 17 on my preseason list.
Came away from the weekend impressed with Henry Davis (C, Louisville) in every facet of his game. Comfortable the box; feel for the zone and recognizing spin. Receiving has gotten quieter year-over-year & moved feet well behind the dish. Arm has always been there. Sizzle reel: pic.twitter.com/IqePbeCjQi
— Burke Granger (@burkegranger) February 22, 2021
Parker Chavers – Hopefully, you’re not a shmuck who still watches SportsCenter, but if you do, 1) I’m sorry to hear about that and 2) you likely caught Chavers’ heroic moment from opening weekend. I don’t know for sure, obviously, because I don’t watch SportsCenter, but, erm, I’m assuming it would have, uh, made the cut. Down 7-4 with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Chavers launched a walk-off grand slam to take down Duke. Overall, Chavers is slashing .333/.450/.533 through the first four games of the season. I was relatively high on Chavers heading into last year’s draft for the mere reason that I believe his swing will play much better than most think in pro ball. He’s currently ranked No. 45 on my Preseason Top 50 College MLB Draft Prospects list.
Andrew Abbott – Despite not coming into the year with the same degree of draft hype as a guy like Wicks, Abbott was equally as dominant in his season-opening start. Throwing against legitimate competition in UConn, Abbott fired 5 2/3 shutout innings with just two hits allowed, striking out nine and walking one. When I say Abbott doesn’t have the same degree of draft hype, what I mean is, he isn’t in the conversation to be a first round pick at present. He went undrafted in last year’s draft, but is still a top 120 prospect for 2021 according to Baseball America. The fastball sits 89-93 MPH and can touch 95 MPH from the left side, which he pairs with a mid-to-upper 70s breaker, so you don’t need to dig very deep to see what there is to like here. Although he didn’t crack my preseason top 50, he was in the conversation and there’s a strong chance he’ll vault himself into that range by the time of my next rankings. If you want to read more on Abbott, check out my Draft Leftovers post from last June.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 19, 2021
Bringing the Heat – Wrapping up here, I wanted to close by touching on some of the hardest throwers from the opening weekend of action. Brandon Birdsell of Texas Tech and Brandon Sproat of Florida both touched 99 MPH on the gun. What a time to be a Brandon, amiright? Meanwhile, Texas A&M’s Bryce Miller, TCU’s Johnny Ray and Arkansas’ Jaxon Wiggins each registered pitches at 98 MPH. With that level of heat, all five are names to keep your eyes on, although none are currently top 200 draft prospects — something that could in all likelihood change throughout the months ahead. Ray represents a rather intriguing prospect, utilizing a high three-quarters arm slot and sitting 96-98 MPH before settling in at 92-95 MPH for three innings against Ole Miss. He did get hit around, however, giving up four earned runs on three hits and three strikeouts with four strikeouts against the Rebels.
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.