2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: 12 Pop-Up Prospects, Notable Performers
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 are looking at 12 notable performers and pop-up players in the class. You can see previous Stock Watch installments below:
Top 30 Prospect To-Do Lists | 10 Sleepers | Bearing Down On 1st Round Pitchers | Checking In On 1st Round Bats | 10 Early-Season Risers | A Historic High School SS Class? |10 Risers On Our BA 300 Update | A Standout Northeast Class
Hunter Goodman, C/OF, Memphis—No. 36
Goodman had a loud weekend against Cincinnati, going 5-for-14 with four home runs on Friday night in a doubleheader. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound catcher has been a consistent performer in his career for Memphis and is doing more of the same this season, hitting .315/.397/.637 with 10 home runs after his power display last weekend. All four of his homers against Cincinnati were to the pull side, but he has shown an ability to hit for over-the-fence power to all fields this season as well. Goodman is big and strong, but his swing has a lot of moving parts, including a big leg kick, a long stride and late bat wiggle and a hand movement during his load. Those movements help him gear up for impressive power, but also create swing-and-miss issues. Goodman has struck out at a 21.9% clip through 34 games this season, while walking 10.3% of the time. That strikeout rate isn’t prohibitive, especially when it comes with this sort of power, but it would be a concern at the next level. He has some chase issues as well, particularly below the zone.
Matheu Nelson, C, Florida State—NR
Nelson was a fairly prominent draft prospect out of Calvary Christian High in Clearwater, Fla., in 2018, checking in at No. 259 on the BA 500. He was ranked on last year’s draft list in a similar range in the 2020 class as an eligible sophomore, but scouts are reporting much louder tools than we’ve previously seen from the 5-foot-11, 209-pound backstop. After going 4-for-11 last weekend against Boston College with a pair of home runs, Nelson is hitting .324/.433/.802 on the season, with 15 home runs. His slugging is far and away better than anything he’s shown in previous years with Florida State and a down 2019 stint in the Cape Cod League (.513 OPS). Nelson’s stance is more crouched this season, with his weight shifted farther back on his back leg than his setup in 2020. His home runs against Boston College were both against low-90s fastballs which demonstrated impressive power to the pull-side with good extension, but Nelson has also shown power to the right-center gap this season. Among Division I players with at least 30 plate appearances, Nelson has the seventh-best isolated slugging (.478) which fairly dramatically changes his draft profile. Previously, Nelson lacked a carrying tool, but with his newfound power and defense that has been characterized by some scouts as plus as well—he now has an exciting combination of tools on both sides of the ball. There is swing-and-miss (23.9 K%) in his game and he’ll be 22.5 on draft day, but Nelson’s stock is rising and he could be in play among the first several rounds of the draft.
Logan Cerny, OF, Troy—NR
Cerny had a pair of multi-hit games and went 5-for-13 last weekend against Georgia State with a homer, upping his season line to .319/.413/.723 with 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases. Cerny has some upside with his athleticism and power/speed combination. Scouts believe he’s a 70-grade runner, which plays on the bases and in center field, where he has a chance to be a plus defender. That’s a pretty loud tool set for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound outfielder who came out of a powerhouse Parkview High program in Georgia, where he was a catcher until his senior season. Fairly significant strikeout concerns could limit Cerny, who has whiffed 40 times in 32 games, good for a 28% strikeout rate in the Sun Belt Conference. Cerny has solid hand speed and has performed well on 93+ fastball velocity this season, but does expand the zone at times. His upside should make him a top-five round talent, but exactly how high he goes will depend on teams’ confidence in his pure hit tool.
Niko Kavadas, 1B, Notre Dame—No. 250
We mentioned that Nelson is No. 7 among D-I hitters in ISO, but Kavadas is the top dog in that category through his first 25 games. The hulking first baseman is hitting over .300 for the first time in his four-year career at the moment, with a .329/.487/.866 slash line, .537 ISO, 13 home runs and more walks (26) than strikeouts (22). He went hitless in three games leading up to Sunday’s finale vs. North Carolina State, when he bagged a 3-for-4 day that included his 13th homer on the season. So far, Kavadas has been on base in all but two games this year. Kavadas was a top-200 player in the 2020 draft class thanks to his power production, but questions about his swing-and-miss tendencies and a first base/DH-only profile put plenty of pressure on his bat. The profile hasn’t changed and his current strikeout rate (19.1%) is right in line with his career rate, but those whiffs are coming with the best in-game power numbers he’s ever had. With 12 homers so far this season, he has already tied the mark he initially set in 2019, but in 136 fewer plate appearances.
Aaron Brown, RHP, Middle Tennessee State—NR
Some scouts had Brown turned in last year, but after the draft was shortened to five rounds, he made his way back to school. Statistically, Brown is in elite company through his first nine games of the season. His 79 strikeouts are good for fourth among Division I pitchers, behind only Jack Leiter (94), Gunnar Hoglund (87) and Kumar Rocker (81). Brown is racking up his strikeouts in Conference USA, while the other three are doing it in the SEC—which is a bit different. Still, Brown could be a late-round performance draft and has improved his fastball velocity since 2020. He’s been up to 95 and sits in the 90-92 mph range. His most-used secondary is a changeup in the 78-82 mph range, but he has struggled to spin a slurvy breaking ball. He could be a late-round performance pick or sneak into the back of the top 10 rounds for a team that is higher on his talent.
Connor Norby, 2B, East Carolina—No. 267
Norby has been one of the better hitters in the country, and after 31 games is still hitting well over .400 with a .442/.482/.713 slash line. He’s hit in every game but one—a March 12 matchup with UNC-Charlotte when he still reached base with one walk—and is third in the country in batting average among Division I hitters with 100+ plate appearances. Norby doesn’t have huge raw power but he seems to be a hitter who can tap into everything he has given his impressive barrel ability. He’s hit nine homers so far this season with several going to the opposite side in right field, but doesn’t clear the fence by much, which will lead some scouts to wonder whether those homers will turn into doubles or outs at the next level with a wood bat in his hand. At the same time, he has homered nine times while hitting almost half of his balls on the ground, so perhaps elevating the ball with more frequency will have the opposite effect on his power production. Listed at 5-foot-10, 187 pounds, Norby has a super quiet swing, with minimal pre-pitch movement in both his lower and upper halves, taking a small step to the ball before firing the bat directly to the ball with an even bat path. Norby turns in fringe-average run times from home-to-first and some scouts think his tool set is mostly average across the board, but he’s performing at a high level and does most things well.
Dominic Hamel, RHP, Dallas Baptist—No. 211
Hamel ranked as the No. 238 prospect on the BA 500 a year ago after throwing two good games and two poor ones in the shortened 2020 season. Through nine starts in 2020, he’s been terrific, posting a 2.45 ERA over 47.2 innings with Dallas Baptist, while striking out 76 batters (14.4 K/9) and walking 13 (2.5 K/9). His 76 strikeouts are good for eighth among Division I pitchers. While he sits around 92 with his fastball, which was praised as a high-spin pitch a year ago, Hamel has done a nice job this spring manipulating a low-80s slider depending on the count. He has shown good feel to land the pitch for strikes and adds more depth to the offering when he needs to use it as a putaway. It doesn’t look plus, perhaps more of an above-average offering. Hamel has also thrown a mid-80s changeup which has slight running action as well as a low-70s curveball with 11-5 movement and slower arm speed, but he’s missed the strike zone more often with those offerings and primarily has worked off of his fastball/slider combination.
Carson Williams, SS/RHP, Torrey Pines HS, San Diego—NR
There’s been a lot of recent chatter about Williams, who is a two-way player committed to California. A shortstop and righthander, some scouts prefer Williams and his 92-95 mph fastball on the mound at the next level, but he reportedly prefers hitting and has shown impressive power so far this spring. After adding more weight in the offseason, evaluators are putting plus power grades on Williams, who has been mis-hitting balls and still sending them over the fence to the pull side. A shortstop now, scouts think Williams might have to eventually move to third base as he continues to fill out and add weight. With plus arm strength, he should be able to make the position work and seems to now have the power to profile there.
Ali Camarillo, SS, Otay Ranch HS, Chula Vista, Calif.—NR
Another West Coast shortstop who has been seen a lot recently is Camarillo, who is a deeper projection and perhaps more of a split-camp prospect than many other players on this list. Listed at 6-foot, 165-pounds, Camarillo has impressive shortstop actions and defensive tools, but he lacks present physicality and strength. He has average foot speed but his glove, hands and arm all play up the middle at shortstop with a 55-grade arm according to some evaluators. Similarly, scouts who are higher on the Cal State Northridge commit like his feel for the barrel and natural bat speed, but acknowledge he currently lacks strength. Those who are lower on him see few offensive tools to get excited about and a run tool that plays below-average down the line.
Jonathan Vastine, SS, Bartow (Fla.) Senior HS—NR
Vastine’s name has been popping up all over the place in the scouting community and he has been seen by several scouting directors this spring. Whether there’s real top-two round interest is a bit questionable, as Vastine does have the benefit of being in an area of the country where national-level evaluators can easily go to see him while on a Florida run to see many of the top players in the class. Either way, Vastine does seem like yet another split-camp player in this year’s class—there are more players described as split-camp types this year than any in recent memory. Those who like him might see a hitter with a chance for a plus hit tool and the ability to stick at shortstop, while those more skeptical see more of an average hitter who is going to be a second baseman in the long term and lacks much power. Vastine is a Vanderbilt commit, so he likely will come with a high price tag for any club that believes in his bat and defensive ability.
Jace Jung, 3B, Texas Tech—No. 47 (2022 Class)
It’s scary to think about where Jung would go in this year’s draft class given scouts’ desperation for a college hitter to step up and perform. The younger brother of Rangers 2019 first-rounder Josh, Jace stepped right into his brother’s footsteps as Texas Tech’s third baseman as a freshman, when he hit .264/.438/.604 in 19 games during the shortened 2020 season. After struggling a bit at third, Jace shifted to second base this spring and has also taken his offensive performance to another level, hitting .386/.500/.803 with 15 home runs (tied for the most in the country along with South Carolina’s Wes Clarke and previously mentioned Matheu Nelson) and more walks (30) than strikeouts (27). Jace has already tied his brother’s career-high in homers and figures to surpass him at some point this season. Evaluators believe he does a much better job pulling the ball with authority than Josh did while he was at the same level. Jace recognizes spin well, which has allowed him to control the zone at an advanced rate and stay on breaking stuff against both righthanders and lefthanders and use the entire field well. Among Division I freshmen with at least 50 plate appearances this season, Jung is 13th in average (.386), sixth in on-base percentage (.438), first in slugging (.604), second in isolated slugging (.417), 17th in BB% (18.5), 10th in runs (34), fifth in hits (49), first in total bases (102) and first in home runs (15).
Frank Mozzicato, LHP, East Catholic HS, Manchester, Conn.—NR
A Connecticut commit, Mozzicato didn’t pitch at big national events last summer, when he was throwing in the mid-to-upper 80s, but he has all the markings of a pop-up player with projection arrows pointing the right way. He has loose, fluid arm action and throws without much effort from a free-and-easy delivery. He’s still 17 for two more months, so he’s young for his class, has strength projection remaining in his 6-foot-3 frame and tight spin on a hard curveball. There are other pitchers in the northeast who have more present velocity, but Mozzicato has the starter traits and projection indicators that should vault him up draft boards. Judging from the 20 scouts who were at Mozzicato’s second start of the season on Monday and the way he pitched that day, he won’t stay under the radar much longer.
On Monday, Mozzicato used a hammer curveball to help him strike out 15 of the 25 batters he faced over 6.2 innings with one run (unearned) on three hits and three walks. Pitching on a cool afternoon with light rain throughout the game, Mozzicato sat at 88-91 mph in the first two innings, before settling in the rest of the way at 87-90 mph. He topped out at 92 after touching 93 once last week in his first start of the year, when he struck out 16 in 5.1 innings. His best pitch is a plus curveball, one of the better breaking balls from any high school lefty in the country. It has sharp bite, tight spin, good shape and depth, a pitch that should generate a lot of whiffs against pro hitters. While some pitchers his age with a good breaking ball will show a plus curveball in flashes, Mozzicato’s curveball was consistently plus most of the time. It ranged from 74-80 mph, mainly in the 75-78 mph range, with advanced feel to add and subtract from the pitch depending on the situation. Even his ability to locate his breaker was impressive as he threw 22 of his 29 curveballs for strikes, showing better command of his curve than his fastball. Mozzicato didn’t need to use his changeup, but he sprinkled in two of them at 80-81 mph that he showed feel for and both induced empty swings.
Last year, Jagger Haynes was relatively under the radar in North Carolina when the Padres drafted him in the fifth round and signed him for $300,000, betting on a 17-year-old lefty with a smooth delivery, projectable 6-foot-3 frame and a trending-up fastball that reached 93 mph. Mozzicato has similar projection qualities, a better breaking ball than Haynes and more time this year to prove himself to scouts leading up to the draft. If that projection comes on, it’s easy to envision him in the coming years sitting in the low 90s with the ability to reach 96 mph, a plus curveball and a quality changeup.