2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: 10 Sleepers Who Could Pop Up
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 unranked sleepers who could shoot up draft boards this spring. You can see previous Stock Watch installments below:
- 10 Sleepers
- Stock Watch (Mason Albright dominates at PBR Florida Preseason Classic)
- Underclass Activity (Notes on No. 1 2022 high school player Elijah Green)
Welcome to the BA Draft Stock Watch! The amateur baseball season kicks off in earnest this week, with college baseball returning this weekend and many preseason high school events taking place around the country.
The 2021 class should be fascinating to watch unfold, as MLB scouting departments are sitting with less consensus on the class than ever before. Given that, there’s sure to be plenty of movement on the draft board—perhaps more than we’ve had in recent memory.
With that, we’re taking a look at 10 potential sleepers who have traits that could allow them to pop up this spring. In the same experiment for the 2020 draft we identified four players who did go on to move up draft boards: outfielder Owen Caissie (45th, Padres), lefthander Dylan MacLean (115th, Rangers), righthander Carter Baumler (133rd, Orioles) and shortstop Shay Whitcomb (160th, Astros).
Last year seven of our sleeper candidates were high school players. This year that ratio is flipped, with six of the 10 coming from the college ranks. That is reflective of the general uncertainty of the college class—particularly the hitters—this season.
We’re shooting for better than .400 this year. Let’s dive into it:
Brandon Clarke, LHP, Independence HS, Ashburn, Va.
Perhaps the ship has already sailed on Clarke being a “sleeper” for the 2021 class, because he’s gotten significant attention after a loud performance at Prep Baseball Report’s Super 60 last week. At the event, Clark hit 95 mph on the mound and also showed good feel for an upper-70s breaking ball and a mid-80s changeup. Clarke raised eyebrows for scouts prior to the event based on a bullpen session where he sat 92-96 and some evaluators thought he looked like a first round talent because of that. Clarke wasn’t at many showcase events last summer as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now healthy, he should be shooting up draft boards.
Jackson Linn, OF/RHP, Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge & Latin HS
Like Clarke, Linn wasn't on the showcase circuit regularly last summer, which makes him a prime sleeper candidate. The Tulane commit is tooled up on both sides of the ball with a fastball that has been up to 99 mph in recent pens and big-time power potential as a hitter. At this point, Linn has little history with many scouts in a loaded Northeast area, but his arm talent and raw power potential should get him seen early and often this spring. If his impressive natural tools translate at all to the field, he should be a high draft target—and even if they don't his upside seems loud enough for high-risk teams to take a shot.
Jacob Palisch, LHP, Stanford
Palisch was a potential top-five round pick in the 2020 draft, but after not pitching at all in the fall or spring, teams wondered about his health. If Palisch proves he's healthy this season many teams will be interested. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound lefthander has a solid three-pitch mix including a fastball in the upper-80s, a slurvey breaking ball and a changeup that is his best swing-and-miss offering. Even if Palisch doesn't add more velocity—which he could, given his still-projectable frame—if he comes out and performs in a starting role, he could jump up boards. Palisch had teams intrigued after a loud summer in the Cape Cod League in 2019 (0.77 ERA, 35 innings, 9.8 K/9, 1.3 BB/9) in a starting role. If he produces as a starter with Stanford this spring, watch out.
Hagen Smith, LHP, Bullard (Texas) HS
Like Clarke, Smith is coming off of Tommy John surgery that limited how much he pitched and was seen last year. There are reports that he's been up to 93 mph in bullpens recently and in the past he's shown a good slider as well. With a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame there are a lot of positive indicators with Smith, though he has had some scattered command issues in the past. If the Arkansas commit proves his health this spring and continues to refine his strike throwing, it sounds like he has the talent to fit among the top three rounds.
Troy Melton, RHP, San Diego State
Melton was our preseason pick for Pitcher of the Year in the Mountain West Conference, so this pick could be controversial given your definition of a "sleeper." Still, Melton is not currently ranked among our top 200 prospects, but was one of the first names who just missed. Melton was off to a strong start in the 2020 season after transitioning to a full-time starting role (3.22 ERA, 22.1 IP, 10.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9) and is still growing into his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame. With a three-pitch mix headlined by a fastball in the 92-95 mph range, Melton has the stuff and strikes to go among the top five rounds with a strong season.
Tyler Black, 2B, Wright State
Black had a Freshman All-American season in 2019 (.353/.469/.600, 7 HR) but scuffled out of the gate in the shortened 2020 season (.239/.340/.370). He controls the zone at an impressive rate—walking 38 times to 18 strikeouts in 2019—but has limited defensive tools and has mostly hit with a pull-heavy approach. While the profile won't be for everyone, it's hard to not see Black appealing to model-heavy teams who appreciate his plate discipline and performance in the Horizon League as a 19-year-old. If he bounces back with the bat over a full season in 2021, he will trend up.
Nick Biddison, 2B/OF, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech had two players drafted among the top five rounds in 2020 (LHP Ian Seymour and C Carson Taylor) and could have another in Biddison, who is a .297/.447/.515 career hitter over 68 games. Perhaps with a full season in 2020, Biddison would be solidly ranked too high to count as a sleeper, as he hit .344/.425/.557 with two home runs and five doubles in just 16 games. Biddison is a plus runner who can play all over the field sans shortstop and offers a solid blend of power (10 HR) and zone control (63 strikeouts to 54 walks).
Ryan Wrobleski, C/OF, Dallas Baptist
Wrobleski started his college career at North Iowa Area JC, where he hit .432/.476/.757 in a brief 10-game stint. He transferred to Dallas Baptist for the 2020 season and showcased some power in another small sample, hitting three home runs and five doubles in 14 games. There are swing-and-miss concerns (12 strikeouts to three walks) but Wrobleski has exciting tools in his speed and arm strength—which could be an asset from behind the plate or in right field. Depending on his offensive development and evaluations of his best future defensive profile, Wrobleski has exciting upside potential.
Hayden Jones, C, Illinois
Legitimate catchers out of college routinely get shoved up draft boards and Jones has a lot to like on paper. After starting his collegiate career at Mississippi State (where he hit .224/.269/.367 in 27 games), Jones transferred to Illinois State and had to sit out during the shortened 2020 season. He made some waves by posting loud exit velocities last summer in the Grand Park Summer League, and has exciting power potential out of a simple and compact swing that's leveraged for over-the-fence impact. He has limited collegiate track record and will also need to prove his defense behind the plate—where he has above-average arm strength—but having a former big league catcher as a head coach (Steve Holm) is a nice starting point.
Bransen Kuehl, RHP, Stevens HS, Rapid City, S.D.
Kuehl shares the classic "projection high school pitcher" profile that both Baumler and MacLean had a year ago. He has all of the traits you'd want to see from a prep arm who has plenty of future upside. He has a 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame that should add strength in the future and he throws with loose and easy actions on the mound with good arm speed. His fastball has mostly been in the 88-92 mph range and he has shown flashes of a slider that could be plus, but lacks consistency. Those are ingredients that pro teams can make make into a real weapon at the next. level if a club wants to sign him out of his Utah commitment.
Analyzing The Top 2021 College Baseball Recruiting Classes
Breaking down all the key names to know in the 25 best recruiting classes.
The 2021 PBR Florida Preseason Classic took place last week. The event has become one of the premier preseason high school events in the country and this year featured its most loaded field yet.
Several high-profile underclassmen were also at the event, most notably the top player in the 2022 prep class, outfielder Elijah Green—who had arguably the best performance of any hitter at the event.
Most players noted in this week’s Stock Watch and Underclass Activity segments are PBR Florida Preseason Classic attendees.
Mason Albright, LHP, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (Current Rank: No. 88)
Albright turned in a truly dominant pitching performance against a strong Calvary Christian team. The lefthanded Virginia Tech commit struck out 13 of the 14 batters he faced over 4.2 innings and didn't allow a single base runner. He worked off of a fastball that seemed almost unhittable on this night, a pitch that sat in the 90-93 mph range but generated 18 whiffs through his first four frames. While the pitch mostly was in the 1900-2200 rpm range, it played up in the zone with riding life and crossbody angle from his delivery. Albright threw out of a lower, three-quarter slot with some length and inverted action in the back, but he showed terrific feel to spot his fastball throughout the entire outing. Albright also showed an upper 70s changeup and a mid-70s curveball, but that showed solid 3/4 break when he hit on it. At times he would struggle to get on top of the pitch and his lower arm slot could hinder the pitch's power, bite and consistency at the moment.
James Wood, OF, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (No. 7)
Wood turned in a few impressive at-bats against Calvary Christian during a Thursday matchup, highlighted by an opposite field home run against 2022 lefthander Brandon Barriera (notes on Barriera below). After falling behind in a 1-2 count to Barriera, Wood caught a curveball that was left up and on the outer half of the plate. He did an excellent job keeping his hands back and driving the ball where it was pitched, shooting it off the bat at 97.5 mph and an estimated 371 feet over the left field fence. While Wood did strike out once by expanding the zone on a high fastball, he generally took strong at-bats at this event, sitting on solid stuff around the zone and waiting for pitches to drive, with multiple hard line outs and fly outs in addition to his homer. He turned in a few less-than-stellar routes on fly balls in right field, but it is difficult to grade his defensive reads with much accuracy on video alone.
Andrew Painter, RHP, Calvary Christian HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (No. 10)
Painter's start against Spruce Creek was one of the more anticipated games of the event, as Painter enters the season as the clear-cut No. 1 arm in the high school class. It wasn't his best outing, as he allowed five runs on four hits in just three innings and his fastball looked more hittable than you would expect given its 91-95 mph velocity range. While Painter touched 96 mph with his fastball, the pitch didn't fool many hitters on this outing and the pitched seemed to lack much movement. He left one 91-mph fastball up in the zone to 2021 RHP/1B Preston Wetherell, who homered to left with a 100 mph exit velocity.
Painter's slider was his most effective offering in this outing, a 78-80 mph breaker that showed above-average or plus potential at its best. He had to feel his secondaries out in this outing, but started to hit on a good slider and changeup in the second and third frames. The slider blends into his 75-78 mph curveball at times, particularly in the lower velocity range, where it shows more slurvey action than hard, horizontal life. At its best, the slider is a hard, sweeping breaking ball that generated whiffs outside and below the zone. In total he generated four whiffs with the pitch—more than any other offering.
His 83-86 mph changeup also looked impressive in this outing, a 1500-1900 rpm change-of-pace offering that he threw with good arm speed. At its best the pitch shows solid-arm side fading action and he used it confidently to get whiffs from righthanded hitters, though it did flatten out up in the zone on occasion. Painter's curveball looked like his fourth-best pitch in this outing, a 12-6 downer that got more groundballs than whiffs but showed good, hard finish at times.
Irving Carter, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (No. 80)
Carter showed solid velocity in his outing, but fought command over three innings. He walked two, hit a batter and allowed two runs on two hits, while striking out a pair against IMG Academy. Painter pitched in 92-94 mph range with his fastball, which he threw with solid downhill angle and solid raw spin rates in the 2500-2600 rpm range. A low-80s slider also showed solid spin metrics (2500 rpm) though he struggled to get on top of the pitch consistently and it looked below-average.
Tommy White, 3B, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (No. 97)
White continued to look like the aggressive, power-hitter that he was throughout the summer showcase circuit. He swings early and often in at-bats and showed plenty of swing-and-miss both inside and outside of the zone, but does have the ability to punish mistakes. He hammered a 79-mph changeup that 2022 lefthander Erik Blair (more notes below) left up in the zone, homering to left-center on a pitch that left the bat at 104 mph and traveled 368 feet. While White's swing decisions are questionable at times, there's no doubting his impact ability.
Corey Robinson, OF, Spruce Creek HS, Port Orange, Fla. (NR)
For the second straight year at the PBR Florida Preseason Classic, Robinson stood out for his impressive at-bats. The Florida commit isn't fazed in the least by velocity. After homering on a 95-mph fastball by righthander Alejandro Rosario at the 2020 event, Robinson squared up a 95-mph fastball from Painter this year, driving a hard ground ball through the left side of the infield for a single. He then worked a walk against the highly-touted righthander in his second at-bat, getting the better of Painter in both chances against him.
Braden Montgomery, OF/RHP, Madison (Miss.) Central HS (No. 40)
Scouting directors voted Montgomery as one of the better outfield arms in the class on our preseason best tools poll and he showed off that arm strength at PBR's Super 60 event. Montgomery recorded 99 mph throws from the outfield at the event workout. After that he ran a 6.9-second 60-yard-dash, managed 100-mph exit velocities in batting practice and got on the mound and threw in the 91-93 mph range. He's one of the top two-way players in the class and showed his all-around toolset in a workout environment in front of a large scouting presence.
Elijah Green, OF, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (2022 Rank: No. 1)
Get familiar with this name.
Green jumped righthander Dylan Lesko for the top spot on our 2022 high school rankings after a blistering summer with the bat, and stole the show as an underclassman at the PBR Preseason Classic. Green homered three times and showed massive power that he's capable of accessing against quality arms. He had a two-homer game against American Heritage—one of which jumped off his bat at 97 mph and another at a scorching 109 mph and an estimated 433 feet.
Green has a well-developed, muscular frame and is listed at 6-foot-3, 225-pounds after having just recently turned 17. His father, Eric, played in the NFL as a tight end for 10 seasons and it's not difficult to see those pro bloodlines in Green. What separates him already is an advanced offensive approach and the Miami commit showed great understanding of how pitchers would attack him and how he could adjust and respond within at-bats.
Green was the sole underclass player to rank on our 2021 Preseason All-America teams, as MLB scouting directors gave him a third-team nod. That typically bodes well for a player's future draft potential, with recent underclass preseason all-americans including outfielders Pete Crow-Armstrong (second team) and Austin Hendrick (third team) and catcher Drew Romo (third team)—all of whom signed for more than $2 million in the 2020 draft.
Brandon Barriera, LHP, American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. (2022 Rank: No. 5)
Barriera is currently the No. 3 pitcher in the 2022 class. He got hit around a bit in his outing against IMG Academy but showed promising stuff out of a projectable frame and loose arm action. He pitched in the 92-94 mph range and touched 96 with his fastball, a pitch that hovered in the 2400-2500 rpm range. He throws a high-spin breaking ball in the 75-82 mph range that blends between a curveball and a slider, with slurvey action and some power at its best. The pitch got up to the 2700 rpm range. Barriera is a Vanderbilt commit.
Brady Neal, C, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (2023 Rank: No. 16)
While bearing down on a few of his highly-ranked pitching teammates, it was hard to notice Neal behind the plate—which is always a good thing for a catcher, and particularly one as young as he is. He showed good defensive instincts and receiving ability, and also did a nice job blocking and centering balls in the dirt with runners on. Neal has arm strength that looks solidly above-average and aggressively looked to throw behind runners—throwing one out at second base. Neal is committed to Louisiana State.
Erik Blair, LHP, Calvary Christian Academy, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (2022 Rank: NR)
Blair showed an interesting three-pitch mix in relief against IMG Academy. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Florida commit is currently unranked on our 2022 high school list, but showed strong fastball/curveball/changeup combination. Blair pitched in the 86-87 mph range with his fastball, but it was good enough to end one strikeout against James Wood. His best pitch in this outing was a 72-74 mph curveball in the 2700-2800 rpm range that got several whiffs out of the zone. He also showed a 76-78 mph changeup with fading life when he hit on it, but he did spike the pitch in the dirt a few times. Blair throws with a short arm action and a three-quarter slot. He unraveled a bit after allowing a home run to Tommy White, but there are pieces to like with Blair moving forward as he continues to develop and add strength.