2021 Arkansas Top MLB Draft Prospects
Today, Baseball America rolls out its state-by-state rankings for the 2021 MLB Draft. Additionally, you can find our:
As of early June, Franklin was hitting below .300 (.294), but like the rest of his teammates he dominated opponents by drawing walks and hitting for power. Franklin’s power/speed combo is even more alluring now that he’s answered some of the questions that once surrounded his ability in center field. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound center fielder is an average runner who takes a while to get to top speed (and his big swing means he generally turns in 4.35-second times to first), but he is excellent at leaving his feet and is fearless going back on balls to the wall. He’s an above-average defender who also has an above-average, accurate arm. At the plate, Franklin uses the entire field well, with above-average power and the ability to turn on fastballs on the inner half. He has a modest timing step, getting his foot down consistently on time. When he gets a ball to pull, he does an excellent job of using his lower half, generating excellent exit velocities. Franklin recognizes and feasts on changeups in the zone as well. He proved vulnerable to chasing sliders down and away in the zone, but if pitchers get greedy, he will lay off of them if they go far out of the zone. Franklin can be beaten in the zone, but he rarely expands to chase pitches out of it, especially when he gets into two-strike counts. Franklin’s well-rounded skill set and three years of production for Arkansas make him a pretty safe pick, and he has enough power and plate discipline to make a solid MLB impact as well.
Bishop has long been viewed as one of the players to watch in the 2021 high school draft class. He has well above-average bat speed, plus speed in the outfield (he’s consistently been timed at 6.6-6.65 seconds in the 60-yard dash) and plus raw power. What leaves scouts a little leery of taking him in the first two rounds are worries about his ability to hit for average and make consistent contact. He added some noise to his load in his swing during the summer of 2020. That turned what had been a pretty simple swing into one that could generate more power thanks to a bigger hand pump. That power came at the expense of a slower trigger that led to some swing-and-miss issues against top-notch competition, although his excellent bat speed and hand strength give him a solid base to build on as a hitter. The 6-foot, 176-pound Bishop is also a constant threat on the basepaths as he uses his plus speed well. An excellent athlete, Bishop was also Arkansas High’s quarterback and safety in football, and also finished fourth in the state in the triple jump as a senior. The Arkansas signee should be able to stay in center field, although his routes could improve. He has an average arm.
Kopps has carried a starter’s workload as a moment-of-truth reliever for the nation’s No. 1 team. In the NCAA regionals, Kopps threw 13.1 scoreless innings and 185 pitches in four days to get two wins and a save in three appearances. After NCAA regionals he led the nation with a 0.68 ERA. Kopps has one plus pitch, but it’s an exceptional offering. Even college hitters that know he’s going to throw his plus-plus mid-80s slider/cutter can’t lay off of it. He can throw it for strikes, where its late movement still makes it tough to hit. And when he gets to two strikes, he can lower his target and watch hitters swing over an almost unhittable slider in the dirt. Kopps throws his below-average 88-92 mph fastball just 24% of the time overall and just 17% of the time when he’s in a two-strike count. He will mix in a below-average slow (mid 70s) curveball and he’s toyed with a fringe-average changeup that is effective because of the surprise factor. This is Kopps’ fifth season at Arkansas (he redshirted one year and then received a medical redshirt as he recovered from Tommy John surgery). He is already 24 years old. A team picking him will expect him to move quite quickly, but considering his workload this spring, any pro team signing him will have to consider shutting him down until 2022 because of his heavy usage. He should move quickly, but there are some doubts that his dominance will translate effectively to pro ball.
A 27th-round pick of the Indians in 2017 coming out of high school, Opitz has played nearly 150 games for Arkansas, although thanks to the coronavirus eligibility rules, he could return for another year in 2022. Opitz does everything scouts want to see behind the plate. He’s an excellent catch-and-throw catcher with arguably the best arm in the draft class. Opitz regularly records plus-plus pop times. He has thrown out 43% of basestealers for his career, and his presence has largely led some teams to shut down their basestealing when he’s at work. He works well with pitchers and shows excellent ability to block balls in the dirt. So why has a catcher with above-average defense and a plus-plus arm struggled to gain traction with scouts? It’s the bat. Opitz projects as a well below-average hitter with bottom-of-the-scale power. He has hit five home runs in over 500 career plate appearances. His 2021 season (.259/.370/.351) tracks right in line with his .253/.365/.344 career line at Arkansas. Opitz understands the strike zone and draws walks, but he struggles to catch up to velocity. A team picking Opitz knows it will be getting a backstop who can improve a pitching staff, but to even be an MLB backup he’ll need to significantly improve as a hitter.
Wicklander’s first two seasons at Arkansas could best be described as inconsistent. There were moments when he looked like a potential rotation fixture and there were other outings where he was quickly bounced because of ineffectiveness. During the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, Wicklander felt sick, went to an urgent care facility and discovered that he was a Type 1 diabetic. Once he learned how to manage his condition, Wicklander found that he was stronger. He also was much more consistent. After starting the season bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation, Wicklander became Arkansas’ Friday starter. Wicklander is primarily a two-pitch pitcher right now, even if he’ll show a changeup that he barely throws. Wicklander’s low-90s average fastball (he can touch 95) and high-70s slider are both average offerings, but ones that are equally effective against lefties and righties. He’s very comfortable sweeping his slider away from same-side hitters or working it down and in on righthanders. He will tighten up his slider to make it a harder pitch when needed. His above-average command of both pitches makes it work. Wicklander probably fits best in pro ball as a reliever or a starter who works through the lineup twice. He has yet to show consistent feel for a third pitch and he made it out of the sixth inning only once in 2021.
Southeastern Conference shortstops with the range and arm to stick at the position in pro ball get drafted, and Battles demonstrated that he’s got the range, body control and arm to handle shortstop. Battles made an immediate impact in his first year at Arkansas after transferring in from McLennan (Texas) JC. He was Arkansas’ everyday shortstop and like most of his teammates, he didn’t hit for a high average, but showed an ability to get on base. Battles’ glove is ahead of his bat, but he’s athletic and has some strength, so there’s hope that he could exceed his projections of a below-average hit tool and below-average power.
Noland was a star quarterback and pitcher in high school who came to Arkansas as a two-sport athlete. He played in four games at quarterback for the Razorbacks in 2018 and made 17 starts for the Razorbacks’ College World Series team the following spring. And then he decided to focus on baseball full time. Noland’s 2020 season, like everyone else’s, was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. His 2021 season was shortened by a forearm injury. He was awful in the outing after which he was shut down and awful in his first appearance in his return two months later, but other than that he was effective out of the Razorbacks’ pen. Noland at his best pairs his low-90s fringe-average fastball with a 12-to-6 curveball that is short and hard. His slider also could end up as an above-average pitch and he’s mixed in a changeup. His injury this year clouds his status, but at his best, he has a starter’s assortment and athleticism.
8. Payton Allen, SS, Bentonville (Ark.) HS
Source: HS • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 180 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Kansas
9. Gerald Jumper, OF, Jonesboro (Ark.) HS
Source: HS • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 210 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Tennessee
10. Austin Ledbetter, RHP, Bryant
Source: HS • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 200 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Arkansas
11. Matt Goodheart, OF, Arkansas
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 180 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
12. Liam Hicks, C, Arkansas State
Source: 4YR • Ht: 5-11 • Wt: 185 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
13. Braydon Webb, OF, Arkansas
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 195 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
14. Cole Evans, RHP, Little Rock
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-5 • Wt: 235 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
15. Bryce Brownlee, RHP, Fountain Lake HS
Source: HS • Ht: 5-11 • Wt: 170 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Army