2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: 10 Early-Season Rising Prospects
Welcome to Baseball America’s 2021 Draft Stock Watch. A recurring feature throughout draft season, we’ll use this space to explore rising and falling prospects in the 2021 draft class and also dive into different themes and topics at greater length. In today’s edition, we look at 10 players who have upped their draft stock since the start of the season. You can see previous Stock Watch installments below:
- 10 Risers (Including a standout prep bat in Louisiana)
- Stock Watch (Jaden Hill Struggles, Ty Madden Shines In Week 3)
Welcome to the BA Draft Stock Watch!
This week, we are taking a look at 10 players who have upped their draft stock since the start of the season. Last year in early March we did a similar exercise for the 2020 class and we're back to do it again in 2021.
Below we look at several players who entered the season ranked in the first round who have impressed, as well as a number of college and prep players ranked outside of that range who are pushing closer and closer towards it.
Let's dive right in.
Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College (No. 17)
.476/.531/.857, 4 HR, 4 2B, 5 BB, 5 K, 3-for-5 SB
While many of the college hitters currently ranked at the top of the first round have been middling or underwhelming through three weeks, Frelick has been terrific. He’s hitting the ball in the air more frequently than he did in 2019-20, which has helped him tally four homers in just 10 games—a significantly higher rate than previously in his career.
As a freshman and sophomore, Frelick homered six times in 54 games, or in 2.9% of his total at-bats. So far in 2021, Frelick is homering in 9.5% of his at-bats.
Last weekend Frelick added a pair of homers against Auburn righthander Richard Fitts (who has struggled over three starts) on elevated, low-90s fastballs before helping complete a huge comeback on Sunday with a two-out, three-run blast in the ninth inning to send the game to extras.
With the industry not hesitating to take sub-6 feet college bats in recent years (Nick Gonzales, Nick Madrigal, Kyler Murray, Keston Hiura as prominent examples) it’s hard to see Frelick’s size—he is listed at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds—limiting him with offensive production like this, especially when combined with a center field defensive profile.
Henry Davis, C, Louisville (No. 19)
.395/.520/.684, 3 HR, 2 2B, 8 BB, 3 K, 5-for-5 SB
College catchers can easily move up draft boards with strong production, so it’ll be interesting to see what teams do with Davis, who entered the season as a first-round talent and has continued to impress with the bat.
Davis has collected hits in all 11 games so far this season, including four multi-hit games and he has great zone discipline. Like Frelick, Davis is getting the ball in the air more than he has in the past, but most of his extra-base hits have come against secondary stuff or lower-velocity fastballs. How he handles 90-plus velocity against ACC pitching will likely be something scouts bear down on the rest of the season.
Baserunners are 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts against Davis, with one of those stolen bases coming in a first-and-third, no-throw situation. His good throws to second have been in the 1.95-2.00-second pop-time range, and Davis has also aggressively hunted for backpicks at first and second base—keeping runners on their toes.
Davis’ preseason to-do list was built around proving his offensive game this season and he’s done just that.
Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Mississippi (No. 23)
3 G, 17.2 IP, 4.08 ERA, 28 K, 5 BB
If you just compare Hoglund’s box score stats to his first three games last year, he’s actually been a bit less successful in terms of preventing runs (three runs in 2020) albeit with similar strikeout and walk numbers (27 K, 4 BB).
While Hoglund has been bitten more by the long ball this season, with three homers allowed already, scouts are excited about the stuff coming out of his hand. After sitting around the 89-91 mph range a year ago, Hoglund’s fastball has mostly been in the 92-94 mph range through three starts this season and up to 96 at its best.
That uptick is encouraging, particularly when adding fastball velocity was the No. 1 item on Hoglund’s preseason to-do list. While Hoglund has mostly gone to his fastball/slider combination, scouts believe he has a four-pitch mix that is average or better across the board now with his added velocity. While there are pitchers in this class with bigger pure upside, Hoglund offers a reasonably high floor given his command and starter attributes.
Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS, Oklahoma City. (No. 30)
The early feedback from scouts who have seen Jobe this season is highly positive. With his performance and the struggles of Florida prep righthander Andrew Painter, it wouldn’t be surprising for Jobe to pitch his way to the top of the prep arms in the class. Currently he is the third-ranked prep pitcher.
This season Jobe is still handling shortstop while he’s not pitching and when he is on the bump has held mid-90s velocity deep into his starts. His slider—which was voted the best breaking ball in the class—is still there and getting 60- and 70-grade projections at its best, while Jobe has also shown a potential plus changeup with impressive action. Refining a changeup or curveball was one of Jobe’s to-do list items, and it sounds like he’s done that.
That’s three 60-grade pitches out of an athletic, and fairly easy delivery, which should make teams think carefully about whether or not they want to take the plunge and go after a prep righthander in the first round. Jobe could be a safer prep righty profile, given his lack of upper-90s velocity and outstanding feel for spin.
Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (Ohio) (No. 54)
2 G, 11 IP, 0.82 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB
We dug into Bachman’s most recent start in detail during last week’s stock watch, but the 6-foot-1, 235-pound righty didn’t pitch last weekend due to arm soreness. That is certainly not helping his stock, but what he’s shown in two starts is extremely loud.
His velocity is up considerably from what he showed in 2020, with a fastball that’s averaged around 96 mph and been up to 100 at its best and a slider in the mid-to-upper 80s now after being a low-80s pitch through four games in 2020. Some evaluators have given Bachman a pair of 70-grade offerings between the fastball and slider, and that pure stuff would put him solidly in the first round.
The health of his arm will be a large factor for him moving forward, and there is a bit of effort in his delivery that could concern teams. Still, if he returns to the mound and keeps doing what he did against Jacksonville (5 IP, 6 K) and Florida International (6 IP, 10 K) there’s no reason he shouldn’t fit in with the top college pitchers in the class.
Joe Rock, LHP, Ohio (No. 87)
3 G, 18 IP, 1.00 ERA, 30 K, 6 BB
The walk total Rock has amassed through three starts is the big number.
After walking 5.6 batters per nine during his 2019 season with Ohio, Rock has improved that rate (3.0 BB/9) through his first three starts this season. Scouts believed he needed to show better strike-throwing ability this spring to shoot up draft boards and so far … he’s done just that.
Rock threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Morehead State during week two and is coming off a six-inning, 12-strikeout game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in week three. Rock’s fastball has been up to 96 mph this spring, but averages 90-92 with sinking life out of a sidearm slot. His go-to secondary is a low-80s slider that has sweeping action and is a potential plus offering according to evaluators. Rock has also infrequently flashed a changeup that shows some solid fading life in the low 80s, but he’s largely been a fastball/slider pitcher to this point.
If he keeps up throwing strikes at a high rate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rock go off the board within the first two rounds.
Peyton Stovall, SS, Haughton (La.) HS (NR)
Stovall was among the first group of players left off our preseason top 200 draft list, but the early reports on his bat this year are loud.
He has demolished the high school pitching he’s faced, showing plenty of in-game power and some scouts believe he might be one of the better pure hitters in the class. He has impressive bat speed and balance in the swing, but his supplemental tools come up a bit short.
Scouts believe Stovall will be a better fit for second base at the next level thanks to some arm strength questions, but you only have to look at the Red Sox’s Nick Yorke selection in 2020 to see that teams are looking for bats, not gloves, at the top of the draft.
Stovall’s performance has him climbing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him go off the board within the first two rounds.
Luca Tresh, C, North Carolina State (No. 163)
.400/.467/.950, 7 HR, 1 2B, 5 BB, 9 K
Perhaps North Carolina State is coming for Georgia Tech’s reputation as “Catcher U.”
After Patrick Bailey went 14th overall to the Giants in the 2020 draft, the Wolfpack has another catcher who could wind up going on the first day of the draft in Luca Tresh, who has tallied a hit in 9-of-10 games this season and is tied for second in the country with seven home runs.
Tresh is far from the defender that Bailey was, but his bat could be better. He elevates the ball at a high rate and has gaudy exit velocity numbers, which analytics departments will love even with the swing and miss that comes with the package. While all of Tresh’s home runs this season have gone to the pull side, he has shown an ability to hit for power to the opposite field as well in 2019-20.
The catching evaluation will be the biggest question for Tresh, as scouts haven’t had much time to see what he can do behind the plate, given Bailey’s presence. Tresh uses a one-knee setup and needs to improve his receiving, but if a team believes he can stick at the position there’s no reason why he couldn’t go in the first round—especially in a class lacking in college bats.
Wes Clarke, C, South Carolina (NR)
.471/.625/1.235, 8 HR, 2 2B, 14 BB, 8 K
Speaking of college bats, let’s talk more about South Carolina’s slugger Wes Clarke.
It would be difficult to not have Clarke on any list of rising prospects given the gaudy numbers he’s put up thus far and the fact that the industry is seeking out college bats. The question for Clarke will be how high the industry takes a right-right hitter with limited defensive value.
Clarke has caught three times this season. When he hasn’t been catching he’s been in the lineup as a designated hitter. With a 6-foot-2, 236-pound frame, he would be big for the catcher position and many scouts believe he will be limited to first base/DH at the pro level—which would put significant pressure on his bat. If a team does believe he can catch that would change the calculus on his future value, but at this point seems a fairly significant if.
First base only types can and do go well in the draft. Just last year North Carolina first baseman Aaron Sabato went No. 27 to the Twins and in 2018 Clemson first baseman Seth Beer was drafted one spot later at No. 28 by the Astros. Both Sabato and Beer had very limited supplemental tools.
However, both Sabato and Beer entered their respective draft years with more pedigree and a higher industry opinion on their offensive tools. Sabato ranked No. 41 on Baseball America’s 2020 preseason draft list, while Beer ranked No. 34 on the 2018 preseason draft list. Sabato and Beer also had very loud freshman campaigns—a 1.149 OPS by Sabato and a 1.235 OPS by Beer.
Clarke, on the other hand, came into this season unranked and managed a .740 OPS during his 2019 freshman season. Because of all of this, teams will probably have a difficult time evaluating the South Carolina masher. Model heavy teams that are typically happier to take corner profile bats will have to deal with a smaller sample of games and at-bats.
At the end of the day, Clarke’s bat will carry him. If he keeps hitting at a high level during conference play—well, all of these factors we’ve touched on might seem to matter just a bit less.
Bubba Chandler, RHP, North Oconee HS, Bogart, Ga. (No. 86)
Chandler entered the season as one of the more exciting athletes in a 2021 prep class overflowing with athleticism. A standout quarterback who’s also a two-way player on the diamond, some scouts are comparing Chandler to Cardinals’ 2020 second-rounder Masyn Winn—but instead of 5-foot-11, Chandler stands 6-foot-2.
This spring scouts have seen Chandler up to 97 mph with a fastball that gets 70-grade future projections, while his curveball is getting labeled a potential 60-grade offering.
Given Chandler’s multi-sport and two-way status, there’s a lot of refinement to be had on the mound, but the natural talent is there for a club that is fine taking a high-upside project. The Padres and righthander Justin Lange come to mind from last season. Chandler isn’t nearly as raw as Lange was at the same time and is also a solid hitting prospect in his own right.
He’s an above-average runner whose athleticism translates to the field and allows him to be a solid, high-energy defender at shortstop. He has a line drive stroke from both sides of the plate and plus raw power in the tank, and scouts have seen him put together impressive at-bats so far.
Chandler’s talent is rare, and enough teams seem to be in on him that a first-round selection wouldn’t be surprising.
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Ty Madden, RHP, Texas (No. 12)
Madden had his best start of the young 2021 season on Friday against Houston, throwing a complete game shutout, while striking out 14 batters, walking two and allowing a pair of hits. After getting hit around against Mississippi State on Feb. 20, Madden has struck out 25 batters and walked three over his last two outings against Brigham Young and Houston—without allowing a run.
In his gem against Houston, Madden largely continued to rely on his fastball/slider combo, though in this outing he did a much better job spotting his fastball down in the zone, particularly to the glove side. Madden’s fastball velocity is up from 2020 and has been one of the harder fastballs in the class to this point, and was 92-99 mph in this game—still touching the mid-to-upper 90s in the final inning.
His slider was a chase pitch out of the zone, mostly in the mid 80s, while Madden continues to show glimpses of a solid changeup that he uses only occasionally. In this outing the changeup was in the 86-90 mph range and an effective swing-and-miss offering down and to the arm side against both righties and lefties.
Jaden Hill, RHP, Louisiana State (No. 6)
While Madden shined last week, Hill struggled in a big way.
After a pair of solid outings against Air Force and Youngstown State, Hill managed to get just one out against Oral Roberts before he was pulled. The righthander allowed five hits, walked two batters, hit another and was eventually responsible for eight earned runs after leaving with the bases loaded.
“I think it hurts him quite a bit,” said one scout. “You don’t want it to. But at the same time there just haven’t been very many first-round arms who have had outings like that—non-conference early in the year.”
Hill fought his control more in this outing than in his first two starts, and particularly struggled to land his slider. He missed with the pitch regularly up and to the arm side, and without being able to get it in the zone, hitters were able to sit on his fastball for hard contact.
While many scouts had future 70 grades on Hill’s slider entering the season, the pitch has not looked like a double-plus pitch through his first three starts. It’s been more of a below-average to fringe-type offering, which is especially concerning given Hill’s prep history as a fastball/changeup pitcher.
So far in 2021, Hill has added more questions than he’s answered.