Historically, players who compete for the USA Collegiate National Team do quite well in the MLB Draft. Despite the uniqueness of the event in 2020, this rule held true on June 10 and 11, as 41 USA Baseball alumni were selected across the 160 picks included in the five round draft. Of the 26 players to make the 2019 USA CNT summer roster, 20 – you heard that right, 20 – were drafted in the abbreviated 2020 draft. Further emphasizing the importance of USA CNT participation was the fact that each of the top five picks – Spencer Torkelson, Heston Kjerstad, Max Meyer, Asa Lacy and Austin Martin – were included on that 26-man squad.
Even if you suck at math, you have likely already used the art of deduction to determine that only six players from that team went undrafted two weeks ago. Two of those players, Sam Houston State’s Colton Cowser and Mississippi’s Doug Nikhazy, were not even draft-eligible, as their draft year does not come until 2021. As a side note, Cowser is currently positioned as my No. 8 college player to target in the 2021 class. I have only ranked 12 players so far in the 2021 crop and although Nikhazy did not crack that list, he’ll fall within my top 20-25 when I begin to expand on those rankings.
That leaves us with just four 2019 USA CNT alumni that will now be reclassifying into the 2021 draft year: left-handed pitcher Andrew Abbott (Virginia), first baseman/outfielder Tanner Allen (Mississippi State), catcher Casey Opitz (Arkansas) and shortstop Luke Waddell (Georgia Tech). None of these four are expected to sign any kind of post-draft free-agent deal, unsurprisingly so, as all likely already turned down offers for more than $20,000 during the latter rounds of the 2020 draft.
As a result, we get a gift as prospective fantasy owners. Most likely, none of these players would have been on the first-year player draft radar in even the deepest of leagues, so now we have the opportunity to see them play one more season of college baseball. They will become more known commodities barring an unexpected cancellation of the 2021 season and, presumably, better all-around prospects. Considering all four, perhaps with the exception of Allen (No. 245 in Baseball America’s top 500), were fringe prospects for the five round draft, these guys should all go within the first three or four rounds next June with relative ease if they take care of business on the diamond.
Working alphabetically seems super lame, so let’s start with Opitz.
Casey Opitz | C | Arkansas | 5′ 11″ | 195 lbs.
2020 College Top 100 Ranking: No. 79
Pre-draft Rankings: No. 170 (MLB.com), No. 100 (Baseball America)
Oh, pits!!! Let’s do some quick math before we even talk about the player. According to the industry ‘perts,’ Opitz was between the 100-170th best prospect in the 2020 pool. That equates to an early third round ceiling and a floor of going undrafted. Opitz received calls on day two of the draft, but ultimately felt the right offer didn’t present itself. Judging by his skill set, that probably wasn’t a terrible choice.
Regarded as arguably the best defensive catching prospect in the 2020 Draft, Opitz’s bat still has a lot of developing to do and many feel he’ll never hit enough at the next level to be Major League regular. Opitz’s hit, power and speed tools all grade out at 40, so it’s clear he’s universally viewed as a below average prospect with the stick and legs. Over his first three collegiate seasons, he owns a slash line of .253/.367/.350 with four homers, one triple and 11 doubles paired with seven steals on eight career attempts (worth noting: seven-for-seven in 2019). His career K-rate is an ugly 21.2%, although Opitz has also walked in 14.9% of college plate appearances. It doesn’t take a self-proclaimed genius like Dan O’Dowd to see there isn’t a whole lot to like here offensively as a future fantasy asset, so why the blurb?
Three reasons, because I want to make Grey happy and abide by the rules of threes and also because I actually have three reasons. One, this post is about undrafted USA CNT members. Two, Opitz is a true catcher and due to his defensive prowess, you will see him in an MLB uniform someday and have to quantify him as a fantasy asset. And three, he made strides at the plate in the abbreviated 2020 season, although we need to take all 2020 numbers with a grain of salt since these players never got to conference play. In 16 games in 2020, Opitz batted .302/.361/.509 with one home run, one triple and six doubles, even though his lofty K rate stayed about the same. Hot take: if he does that over a full college season in 2021, he’ll be a first round draft pick. Hitting .302 with a .500+ SLG at the catcher position is like the equivalent of any other position player hitting .400 with 80 big flies and 200 steaks. Blindfolded. While riding an ostrich. It just doesn’t happen.
Obviously, that’s a major overreaction because we see numbers like that in the college game all the time, and Opitz’s 2020 wasn’t even that great. But at the catcher position, with his 60-arm and 55-glove (which seems low, honestly), it means a lot in terms of him as a future big leaguer. Some scouts have even referred to Opitz as one of the best defensive catching prospects they’ve ever seen — so it’s safe to say he’ll find his way to the MLB someday, right? One last stat: Opitz has thrown out 35 of 75 would-be base stealers in college, equating to a 46.7% success rate. That might not be fantasy sexy, but it’s baseball sexy. Whether he hits enough or not to be ownable in fantasy formats… that’s what you have to keep your eye on. Unless you’re blindfolded and riding an ostrich.
Luke Waddell | SS | Georgia Tech | 5′ 9″ | 180 lbs.
2020 College Top 100 Ranking: No. 75
Pre-draft Rankings: No. 125 (MLB.com), No. 116 (Baseball America)
Waddell is just a little fella at 5′ 9,” but he comes with a lot of intangibles, defensive versatility and excellent bat-to-ball skills from the left side of the plate. Over 495 college PAs, his mature offensive approach is backed up by a career 9.3 K% and 12.5 BB% — 16 more walks than punch-outs. He has performed well at the dish in each of his three seasons with Georgia Tech, but that hasn’t translated to his work with the wood in the Cape Cod League, where he’s a career .227/.300/.237 hitter. Oof.
Although he went undrafted in 2020, Waddell’s pre-draft ranks say that he probably should have been. He carries a 50-hit tool to go with 30-power and 60-run grades, projecting him as a future hit-first guy who could provide added value in the SB department. Waddell is a career .308/.410/.409 hitter in college, including four home runs, four triples, 22 doubles and 10 steals over the course of 116 games. After slashing .322/.436/.416 as a sophomore, he delivered a strong .300/.419/.417 line in 2020. He’s consistent if not spectacular, and also checks the character box, having been named the the sole captain of the Yellow Jackets in 2020. It was the first time the team named a captain since 1991.
My best guess is that Waddell didn’t get drafted simply because he’s undersized and didn’t perform well on the Cape in limited action. It has to be that, because like many other highly sought after 2020 draftees, he held his own offensively with the 2019 CNT: .320/.404/.380 with four steals while reaching base in all 14 games. Personally, I think Waddell’s bat and legs are appealing enough that he should have been drafted, but now that he’ll be in the 2021 crop, he’ll get another chance to potentially add some pop to his swing and enhance his draft stock. With a little added power, Waddell could turn into a far more popular fantasy prospect. At the very least, his ability to hit to all fields with those aforementioned bat-to-ball skills make him a high-floor prospect who should be able to make a name for himself as a super-utility journeyman at the MLB level.
Andrew Abbott | LHP | Virginia | 6′ 0″ | 175 lbs.
2020 College Top 100 Ranking: No. 93
Pre-draft Rankings: No. 116 (MLB.com), No. 132 (Baseball America)
Shizz. This is already getting long. Maybe I should hit up Kenny Rosenthal and see if there’s any openings over at The Athletic.
Abbott is another player who performed remarkably well with the CNT, yet didn’t hear his name called in the draft. With Team USA last summer, he struck out 12 batters in 12 innings en route to a 2.25 ERA. He was perhaps the team’s best bullpen weapon, which says a lot considering Burl Carraway went at pick No. 51 to the Cubs. But Abbott didn’t solely perform up to standards on the world stage, he also took care of business in the college game. Over 108 1/3 career frames with the Cavaliers, Abbott pitched to a 3.24 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with a 13.7 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. In 2020, he improved to the tune of a 1.35 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and a ridiculous 18.9 K/9 — although his BB/9 jumped to 5.4.
Even if they weren’t sensational, the bottom-line numbers were there to back up the strong albeit brief USA CNT stint. As a two-pitch guy wielding a 55-heater and 60-curve (often looks more like a slider), you would think that might be enough, even for a five round draft. The fastball sits 91-95 MPH, but it comes with running/sinking life that makes it play faster than it really is. Still, what held him back is likely the fact that he’s viewed universally as a relief prospect and often lives more in the 89-93 MPH range with his fastball. He’s a fringe prospect at best for now, but could vault himself into the FYPD conversation in 2021 with another strong season next year.
Tanner Allen | 1B/OF | Mississippi State | 5′ 11″ | 184 lbs.
2020 College Top 100 Ranking: NR
Pre-draft Rankings: NR (MLB.com), No. 245 (Baseball America)
Clearly, Allen is the least-hyped prospect of this bunch, as he wasn’t projected to be drafted by either MLB.com or BA. But I don’t necessarily agree with that. He has a beautiful left-handed swing and held his own offensively his first two seasons with the SEC-based Bulldogs. After hitting .287/.353/.444 with fiver homers as a freshman, Allen exploded for a .349/.426/.516 line in 2019 while clubbing seven homers, one triple and 23 doubles to pair with one stolen base. With that stat line came a purty 11.6 K% and 10.6 BB%, vast improvements from his marks of 20.1% and 8.8% in 2018. While with the CNT last summer, he continued to hit, finishing with a .308/.357/.359 line.
Allen took a step back in 2020, which is why his prospect ranking was so low heading into the draft. He appeared in only eight games and registered a mere 25 at bats before a broken hand ended his season, subsequently making him a major X factor in the 2021 crop and nearly impossible to rank at present. It’s unfortunate he won’t have the opportunity build back much stock this summer, but even so, look for Allen to be a quick riser in the 2021 class if he stays healthy. For now, I’m going to say another offensive campaign mirroring his first two college seasons would place him in the second-to-third round of the 2021 Draft.
Other Notable Undrafted College Players
There are a lot of other players I’d love to hit on in this piece, but for now I just want to mention two: Seth Lonsway, LHP, Ohio State and Tommy Mace, RHP, Florida. Lonsway was MLB.com’s No. 50 overall player in this year’s crop, while Mace came in at No. 69. Both also cracked the top 50 in my Complete College Top 100 list, so it’s a bit of a surprise they weren’t selected, but nothing is ever cut-and-dry like that in the MLB Draft as it is in other pro drafts. As a result, these will be two of the top college arms included in the 2021 class, although I wouldn’t put either in the same tier as Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter. You can read about both Rocker and Leiter in my first college underclassmen prospects installment.
And with that, I leave you, great readers of Razzball, with a tip of my hat and a curtsy. You can follow me @WorldOfHobbs in the meantime.