And here we are. Our coverage of college prospect talent has finally come full circle, which is kind of redundant, don’t you think? Circles are fully completed to begin with, unless by “full circle,” we are describing the actual filling in of a circle, which in reality, would then effectively become a dot. So, you might say that here at Razzball, our coverage of college prospect talent has come dot. Ahh. That’s better.
What do I mean by this? On March 12, 2020, the college baseball world came crashing to a halt, as did numerous other sports entities and industries. My own existence was thrown into a whirl; a seemingly unfathomable reality all too sudden to believe — as I’m sure yours was, and your friends’, and your friends’ friends’, and your friends’ friends’ mothers’ friends and so forth. As I admittedly understand, the reaches of all that has occurred over the last year-plus comes accompanied with far more tragedy than the impact on sports. But even so, the events of March 12 pushed me into becoming a Razzball contributor and on March 19 — just seven days later — I released my Top 10 College Prospects to Target in Dynasty Leagues, otherwise known as my debut post on the site, otherwise known as the date I first started leaving Grey *67 voicemails. It was written while I stared deeply into Trevor Bauer’s eyes, indirectly of course, via a photo I took standing outside of his house unbeknownst to him.
Fast forward to present day, one year and two months later (Note: NOT a Yellowcard song), and I am tackling that same practice yet again. However, this year we are beginning with the timeline we should be. The college baseball season has NOT been canceled and there ARE conference tournaments and postseason play ongoing. The 2021 MLB Draft is just under two months away, scheduled for July 11-13. It will be 20 rounds this year, not five. Thank. Freaking. Goodness.
One small difference from last year’s debut installment to this one: I will only be unveiling my top five prospects this week. Last year, I was young and naïve, energized and ambitious, and poured several days worth of work into the top 10. With the last year taking a decade-plus off of each of our lives, I’ll be turning the 2021 list into more digestible, bite-sized chunks — but do not fret — we will still be building up to my complete college top 100 prior to the 2021 MLB Draft. That list will be accompanied by fantasy-relevant analysis to assist all of you with your dynasty league and first-year player drafts. Now, enough with the technical chit-chat, let’s get to the top five.
A few quick links to use in lockstep with this year’s official list…
1. Jack Leiter | RHP | Vanderbilt | 6-4 | 225 | R/R
Yep, I did it. I made the flip-flop. I went back and forth on it countless times and at the end of the day, I simply think Leiter’s fastball command paired with the family pedigree not only gives him a safer floor, but gives him a higher likelihood of developing into a future ace at the MLB level. As I stated in one of my previous posts, yes, Leiter’s stuff (91-95, T98 MPH 70-grade fastball, 60-grade 12-6 CB, 55-grade SL, 55-grade CH) is electric, but it’s the command with his fastball to both sides of the plate and how he utilizes it up in the zone that sets him a part. This isn’t just an arm overpowering college hitters and getting away with mistakes; it’s an arm that should have the pitchability and in-zone command to get professional hitters out as well. While I have some concerns about Leiter’s long-term durability and arm health due to some struggles throughout the middle-to-late parts of the season, he nevertheless carries a 2.05 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 14.6 K/9 across 92 collegiate innings. Despite the excellent command inside the zone with his fastball, he does struggle locating the secondary stuff at times as evidenced by a 4.1 BB/9, so if you’re looking for a reason to argue for Rocker here — you have more than enough ammunition. By the time you comment on this post, I just might agree with you.
2. Kumar Rocker | RHP | Vanderbilt | 6-3 | 210 | R/R
I’ve written about Rocker at length to the point that the lines between my prospect coverage of him and my autobiography are blurrier than a 15-year-old’s vision after their first Four Loko. Chances are, if you click on one of the links above you’ll find analysis of Rocker. For that reason, I’m not going to go on and on about him, but the stuff is dominant and the body frame is like no other. Perhaps, that’s yet another reason for Rocker to be at the top of this list. He wields a 93-96 MPH 65-grade heater that touches 99, and don’t forget that he threw a 2019 no-hitter with all 19 strikeouts coming on breaking balls below 77 MPH. The curve is 60-grade, while the slider is even better (and accounted for virtually all of the aforementioned Ks) at 65-grade, and he tops it off with a 50-grade change that has made strides, but will be a point of focus in the minors. While his 2.5 BB/9 is far better than Leiter’s, I’ve scouted Rocker in person and noticed that he often gets a lot of swinging strikes on poorly located pitches in the zone — perhaps because his stuff is simply too overpowering for most college lineups. While I’m still incredibly bullish on Rocker (I have him at No. 2 overall in the college class), this is the primary reason I have him ranked here. It seems silly, when Leiter is sporting a career BB/9 over 4.0, but it could indicate Rocker will have a steeper learning curve throughout the farm compared to his Commodore teammate. For comps, Rocker has posted a 2.80 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 12.0 K/9 over 202 2/3 career frames. Me likely, yung bic (TM).
3. Sal Frelick | OF | Boston College | 5-10 | 175 | L/R
How many licks does it take to get to the middle of a Tootsie Pop? We all watch as the kid with the lisp raises his hand a sheepishly replies, “free-lickth.” What we have here is an uber-talented athlete that has converted to the outfield and a swing as sweet and smooth as you can find. Before Frelick became a consensus top-12 pick, I was all over him in May of 2020, writing:
“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… 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… 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.”
And that’s me pretending to be Grey by quoting me! And truthfully, Sal, I really appreciate you making me look smart this past year: .359/.443/.559, 6 HR, 2 3B, 17 2B, 13 SB, 12.3 K% and 11.8 BB%. That’s 28 strikeouts and 27 walks. Full disclaimer: I started this post with Fabian at No. 3 and Frelick at No. 4, and after finishing my write-up I realized I had no choice other than to make the switch. Smooth sal’ing, dynasty leaguers!
4. Jud Fabian | OF | Florida | 6-1 | 180 | R/L
If I have to read one more ‘pert’ overreacting about Fabian’s strikeouts issues, I swear I’m gonna blow like that grumpy vacuum cleaner in The Brave Little Toaster — which just so happens to be my favorite movie of all time. I look around the 2021 crop of college hitters and I simply don’t understand what I’m seeing in MLB Draft rankings lists, whether it be on MLB.com, Baseball America, Fangraphs — what have you. All those outlets do great work to varying degrees (said by a proud Fangraphs monthly supporter), but it doesn’t compute in my fickle little brain. Henry Davis, Matt McClain and Colton Cowser are all tremendous players, but none come with the ceiling that Jud Fabian does. Fabian plays a tremendous center field defensively, has the ability to steal double-digit bags on a regular basis in pro ball and could regularly hit 35-40 home runs in the big leagues (he has 20 in 242 PAs this season, which ranks second nationally). What’s the catch? The strikeouts of course! Fabian has struck out 73 times this year for a 30.2 K% while walking at a 15.3% clip. Is there a chance the strikeouts skyrocket and Fabian struggles to adjust to professional pitching, especially in the upper minors? Without a doubt. Is there also a shot he develops into a five tool, five category stud with 35-40+ bombs and 100+ ribbies on a yearly basis? Yes, yes there is. At times, Fabian looks completely lost at the plate, guessing on pitches and taking 0-2 fastballs down the middle for strike three, but there are also times when he can carry an entire team on his back. Just two weeks ago, I wrote about how Fabian had cut his strikeout rate by 6% in two weeks while striking out just 11 times in 15 games and walking on 16 occasions during that span. And who cares about the strikeouts if you walk at a 15% clip and hit 35-40 long balls these days anyway?
5. Henry Davis | C | Louisville | 6-2 | 195 | R/R
Davis certainly wasn’t expected to be ranked this highly heading into the year, but the Louisville backstop has basically done everything he’s needed to do to become a top 10-15 overall player in the 2021 crop: .366/.486/.628, 12 HR, 9 2B, 42 R, 44 RBI, 10 SB, 10.6 K% and 14.4 BB%. Yep, that’s eight more walks than strikeouts in a 216-PA sample size for an ACC player. Add in the premium position component and Davis is a top-10 pick this July. So why do I have him at five? Well, for one, I write for Razzball, THE fantasy baseball site (waiting for my phone to ring with Ohio State’s attorneys on the line) and not for a real world scouting service,. Two, I have concerns about Davis’ swing, specifically his bat path. Three, there is no three — and I included three solely to get Grey off my back about the law of threes. Clearly, these aren’t overly alarming issues in my mind, as Davis is at No. 5 on this list, but you’ll find him much higher elsewhere, ahead of Frelick and a consensus better prospect than Fabian (outside of my own opinion, of course). To the former point, I’m not giving Davis a boost simply for being a catcher. I’m ranking the best all-around tools and abilities at the plate. To the latter point, Davis has a very unorthodox swing. He starts with the knob of the bat facing the first base line while resting the middle of the bat on his back shoulder, then loops his hands closer to his head, back towards the catcher to a near-full lock, then turns that knob back toward the catcher (the way all swings should start immediately prior to the connection point) and finally explodes through the ball in one quick, powerful motion. I’m not saying it won’t work at the next level. I’m not saying the bat speed and power isn’t elite. What I am attempting to iterate is that I don’t have the same concerns about Frelick or Fabian, and both are far more athletic players who need to grow into their bodies even more than Davis does. Now, Davis is athletic in his own right, as he’s swiped 10 bags this year, but when we’re splitting hairs, the name Henry makes me think of redheads and that’s really all you need to know.
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.