2021 Kentucky Top MLB Draft Prospects
Today, Baseball America rolls out its state-by-state rankings for the 2021 MLB Draft. Additionally, you can find our:
Davis ranked as the No. 306 prospect in the 2018 class out of Fox Lane High in Bedford, N.Y., but at the time he was seen as a defensive-first catcher with work to do offensively. His loudest tool was by far his arm, with some scouts grading it as a 70 at the time and comparing it to the best throwing arms in the majors while he was still in high school. That remains the case for Davis, whose arm strength is elite and at least a 70-grade tool now, but his offensive development and performance this spring have pushed him up draft boards to the point where most teams consider him the best college bat in the 2021 class. A 6-foot-2, 210-pound backstop, Davis entered Louisville with a swing that was described as too steep, lengthy and stiff. He’s improved that significantly over three seasons, though his swing is still a bit unorthodox. Davis sets up with a crouched and open stance, with his hands at shoulder length before cocking back in his load and striding to an even or closed setup with his feet. It’s a strength-based swing more than a twitchy, fluid, bat speed operation, but Davis combines standout zone recognition, pure bat-to-ball skills and plus power to his pull side to make everything work. Davis has walked more than he’s struck out in his Louisville career, with 31 walks to 23 strikeouts through 49 games in 2021 and was flirting with .400 for a decent stretch of the season while also tapping into a career-high 14 homers. Most of that power goes to the pull side, and Davis’ approach in general has been to his pull side. He’s produced against every pitch type this spring, with an OPS over 1.000 against fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed offerings, though he has shown more swing and miss against changeups than other pitch types. Scouts are split on whether or not Davis will catch at the next level. He has the arm strength and athleticism—he’s a good runner for a catcher—but needs to work on his blocking and receiving.
Lile has the exact sort of high school profile that terrifies many scouts, because you have to be all-in on his bat to feel comfortable about taking him. It’s a credit to just how good Lile is in the batter’s box that the industry views him as a potential top-two round sort of player. The 6-foot, 190-pound Louisville commit has always been a consistent performer on some of the better travel teams in the country, using a simple, direct bat path from the left side. He has very quiet motions at the plate, with little to no pre-pitch movement and an easy, repeatable load and bat path that lets his hands do the work. He has a solid approach, with an ability to use the entire field, though scouts have said his swing is more built for hard line drives than big-time power potential. Without a ton of strength, and with a frame that doesn’t project to add a significant amount more, that could be difficult for his profile if he winds up in left field. There are some scouts who saw him this spring and reportedly think he can be a big league center fielder, but the general consensus puts him in left field, where his fringy arm strength and average running ability will fit best. Lile’s profile has been one that teams prefer to send to college where he will have a chance to prove his hitting ability against ACC competition, but for teams convinced by his hit tool, he could be a Day One pick.
Binelas entered the 2021 season as one of the better in-game power hitters of the 2021 class, with a chance to go in the top half of the first round. He has slid down draft boards after getting off to an extremely slow start with the bat and moving across the diamond from third base to first. He went 2-for-31 during the first eight games of the season and around the halfway point was hitting just .212/.317/.424. He did have a stronger finish and hit .256/.348/.968 with 19 home runs, but teams have struggled to look past how lost he looked at the plate early, in addition to a 22% strikeout rate. Binelas does have massive raw power out of a strong, 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame and he distributed his homers from the left-center gap to the right-center gap, with some scouts assessing his raw power as 70-grade. While his career average won’t look great, Binelas’ power output and walk rates are impressive and scouts who like him appreciate his plate discipline and all-fields approach. Teams entered the year hoping he would prove his ability at third base—where he’d shown stiff actions and fringy glovework—but now he’s a likely first baseman. Some scouts think he might be athletic enough to handle left field. Binelas did have a massive, three-homer game against Clemson in the ACC Tournament, which could have swayed evaluators back to his preseason hype, but it seems safe to say Binelas raised more questions than he answered this spring.
Koger is a projection righthander with a 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame who showed the makings of solid stuff last summer, with a fastball in the 89-91 mph range and solid feel to spin a breaking ball. His velocity fell off quickly last summer, though, and it was clear he needed to add more strength. Well, he did that this spring and plenty of scouts ran in to see him, as he touched 95 mph with his fastball—a fairly significant velo uptick from the summer—and continued to show feel to spin a good breaking ball. The pitch has been in the upper 80s with 12-to-6 shape at times and more horizontal movement when he cuts the pitch off and lands it on his glove side. It’s shown solid depth and a spin rate around 2,500 rpm, and it could become a real plus offering with more power and consistency in the future, but at the moment he struggles to land it in the zone. Koger also throws a changeup, but it’s a distant third pitch at the moment. Scouts think there’s enough in Koger’s operation and loose arm stroke to project him as a starter, though he’ll need to get better at repeating his release point. He’s committed to Louisville and could be a tough sign, but there was enough heat on him this spring to think he might get picked somewhere in the top-five rounds.
Rhodes became eligible for the 2021 draft after it was moved from June to July. He turns 21 on Aug. 15, which just gets him inside the Aug. 27 cutoff date. Because of that, Rhodes entered the year as a top-two rounds sort of prospect thanks to an impressive freshman campaign in the shortened 2020 season. Rhodes hit .426/.485/.672 with 10 doubles in 17 games. He didn’t quite live up to the expectations teams had for him offensively this spring, however, struggling to a .252/.397/.508 line, though a 12% walk rate still allowed him to get on base almost 40% of the time. Despite Rhodes’ down year, scouts still like his bat and pure hit tool, with good contact ability, solid balance at the plate and a swing that is more geared for low line drives than home runs at the moment. Outside of his hitting ability, Rhodes’ other tools are average. He’s a solid runner and a fine defender in a corner outfield spot, and evaluators don’t see big power potential with Rhodes barring a swing change that helps him elevate the ball more consistently. Because of that, he has a bit of a tweener profile, though some teams want to try him on the infield. He’s played third base, first base and caught in the past. Rhodes was mainly a catcher throughout his youth, but a broken back transitioned him off of the position. Rhodes could be a tough sign as a draft-eligible sophomore coming off a down year, and he has the option to return to Kentucky to try and rebound for the 2022 class.
Smith is a big righthander with a 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame and a fastball that he’s shown a good ability to pump into the strike zone this spring. Smith was heavily scouted early on this season and works with a fastball that’s mostly in the 89-91 mph range and has shown solid running life. It doesn’t profile as a huge swing-and-miss offering with lower spin rates and sinking action, but scouts do like his ability to spot the pitch, and his frame suggests he could throw harder in the future. Smith showed a breaking ball that blended in shape last summer, with high spin rates in the 2,600-2,800 rpm range and solid depth, but evaluators have questioned the consistency of the pitch this spring. Instead, they seem to prefer a low-to-mid-80s changeup that has good tumbling action. Smith is committed to Kentucky.
Louisille had two pitchers drafted in the first round in 2020—lefthander Reid Detmers and righthander Bobby Miller—and so Kirian went from the bullpen role he had pitched in his first three seasons to a starting role this spring. It wasn’t an easy transition, as Kirian pitched to a 4.80 ERA over 69.1 innings, striking out 75 batters (9.7 K/9) and walking 28 (3.6 BB/9) while giving up about a hit per inning. That strikeout rate seems solid with no context, but it was actually the lowest rate of his collegiate career, which will make plenty of scouts think he’s still better suited to a bullpen role at the next level. Kirian has an extra-large frame at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and a fastball that has been up to 96 mph, though he sits in the 90-92 mph range. He throws a slurvy breaking ball in the 78-82 mph range that he can land for a strike consistently, but scouts wonder how much of a true bat-missing pitch it is. After being mostly a fastball/breaking ball pitcher a year ago, Kirian has thrown a low-80s changeup sparingly this spring, but he has less feel for it than his two primary offerings. While Kirian’s stuff isn’t overwhelming on paper, he does have some deception in his delivery, and he hides the ball well.
Usher entered the year as a player who had a chance to go among the top-three rounds thanks to an exciting all-around tool set, including plus running ability, plus arm strength and raw power. He hit .411/.484/.571 in the shortened 2020 season with Louisville after previously hitting well at Kirkwood (Iowa) JC. This spring, though, Usher struggled mightily with the bat, hitting just .216/.358/.306 with a 28% strikeout rate. That slash line was even worse against lefthanded pitchers, and he’s struggled with both high-end velocity and against breaking and offspeed stuff. Usher does show some ability to get on base and take a walk—with a 15% walk rate—but his season raised real questions about his overall hitting ability, and he struggled to elevate the ball consistently, instead rolling over on pitches and grounding out to the right side of the infield. His tool set is still loud, as Usher is an explosive runner who should be able to play center field and has more than enough arm strength for right field, with a strong, 6-foot, 210-pound frame and solid raw power.
Albanese looked poised for a breakout season this spring after an extremely loud fall where he dominated and looked like one of the better pitchers on Louisville’s staff. He had been slowly trending upward since recovering from Tommy John surgery that kept him out in 2018, but scouts were looking for him to add to his collegiate track record, as he entered the year with less than 20 innings under his belt. Albanese pitched just four games and 17 innings before his season again ended due to injury, but he was solid when on the mound. He posted a 3.71 ERA with 17 strikeouts (9.0 K/9) and three walks (1.6 BB/9). A big, 6-foot-6 righthander, Albanese is a bit of a slow mover on the mound, but he showed a solid three-pitch mix with a fastball in the 92-94 mph range that bumped 96, a high-spin, downer curveball that he showed ability to spot well as a strike or use as a chase offering and a low-80s straight change that was used infrequently this spring. Whether or not Albanese showed enough in his limited sample this spring to convince teams to draft him with the medical history he has on his track record is the biggest question, but he has stuff, physicality and showed solid control in a small sample.
Schultz posted a massive 1.234 OPS through 16 games in the shortened 2020 season and started the 2021 spring off strong as well—though not to the same extent and with significantly less power frequency than his .754 slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances a year ago might have suggested. Still, Schultz finished the year with a .329/.401/.481 line, with six home runs and 11 doubles and he also went 22-for-24 (92%) in stolen base attempts. Schultz is a plus runner, and he’s stolen 37 bags in 43 tries (86%) over his Kentucky career. A second baseman now, that’s his most likely position at the next level, but his running ability could give him some defensive versatility in the outfield as well. Despite his home run numbers, Schultz has below-average power and with a 5-foot-9, 200-pound frame he’s unlikely to grow into much more.
Bowman played two seasons at Iowa Western JC prior to transferring to Louisville this spring. In Iowa, Bowman hit over .400 for two seasons with five home runs and stole an impressive 44 bags in 50 tries. His hitting ability translated to the ACC this spring, as Bowman hit .293/.387/.455 with eight home runs and 20 stolen bases in 24 tries. He’s a plus runner who controls the zone well—14.4 K% compared to a 10.4 BB%—and should be able to stick at second, though teams could explore playing him in the outfield where his speed would be an asset.
12. Ethan Wood, RHP, Danville (Ky.) HS (BA RANK: 434)
Source: HS • Ht: 6-7 • Wt: 215 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Louisville
13. Matt Higgins, OF, Bellarmine
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 205 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
14. Oraj Anu, OF, Kentucky
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 235 • B-T: B-R • Commitment/Drafted: Red Sox '19 (16)
15. Kade Grundy, RHP, Somerset (Ky.) HS
Source: HS • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 190 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Louisville
16. Jack Perkins, RHP, Louisville
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 200 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Braves '18 (39)
17. Kruise Newman, RHP, Logan County HS, Russellville, Ky.
Source: HS • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 198 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Tennessee
18. Lucas Dunn, 2B, Louisville
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 195 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
19. Jared Poland, RHP, Louisville
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 205 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Red Sox '18 (34)
20. Luke Brown, OF, Louisville
Source: 4YR • Ht: 5-10 • Wt: 190 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Yankees '19 (25)
21. Mason Hazelwood, LHP, Kentucky
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-5 • Wt: 205 • B-T: L-L • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
22. Luke Smith, RHP, Louisville
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-3 • Wt: 175 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted