2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Checking In On First Round College Bats
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 notable college performances around the country from opening weekend, including details on every college hitter currently ranked in the first-round range. You can see previous Stock Watch installments below:
- Intro (West Coast Risers)
- First Round Bats (OF Sal Frelick is electric on both sides of the ball)
- Stock Watch (RHP Sam Bachman shows loud fastball/slider combo)
- Underclass Activity (Breakout season for RHP Peyton Pallette?)
Welcome to the BA Draft Stock Watch!
After bearing down on first-round-ranked college pitchers last week, we are checking in on our first-round-ranked college hitters this week. Before we get into that, however, will you allow me to plug my new podcast? If you do, I'll fill you in on a few prospects who could be surging on the West Coast.
Sound like a fair trade? Ok, great.
So, last week the first episode of a new Baseball America podcast called Future Projection dropped. The podcast features myself and international writer Ben Badler where we talk about high school players, college players, international players, scouting and anything else across the baseball world that piques our interest. But the focus is prospects up and down the spectrum in a long, in-depth conversation format. If that sounds like something you're into you can check out the first episode here or subscribe to the podcast on your preferred podcast listener.
As promised, here are your prospect movers.
- UCLA righthander Nick Nastrini currently ranks No. 95 on the BA 200 but has come out with better fastball velocity (up to 95-96 mph) and is trending up because of that.
- Mira Costa High (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) righthander Thatcher Hurd ranks just ahead of Nastrini (No. 90) but is getting plenty of good feedback from scouts who have seen him early this season and could shoot up into the top 50 range.
- San Diego State righthander Troy Melton was a sleeper candidate prior to the season and was in the first group of players left off the BA 200. He's getting top-five round chatter and if that's legit he'll certainly rank inside the top 200 on our next update.
- Oregon righthander Caleb Sloan is getting some buzz despite having pitched just one inning so for for the Ducks this season after transferring from Texas Christian and recovering from Tommy John surgery. He's a big, workhorse-looking righty with a fastball that's been into the upper 90s, two different breaking balls and a changeup.
Now let's check in on our first round hitters:
First Round Bats
Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami (No. 2)
Last Week: 5-for-12 (.416), 1 BB, 2 K
Season: .320/.433/.400, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 2B
It’s a testament to Del Castillo’s career as a hitter that he’s hitting over .300 and getting on base at a 43% clip and it seems like he’s been just … fine?
He looked good sitting back on breaking stuff and going with the ball to the left-center gap in the Virginia Tech series, and during opening weekend against Florida turned on a few middle-in offerings and used the pull-side to tally his two extra-base hits (both doubles) of the season.
Del Castillo has slugged over .500 in each of his first two seasons with the Hurricanes, so look for his power to tick up as the season progresses. It’ll also be interesting to track his walk and strikeout numbers, as in 2019 and in 2020 Del Castillo walked more than he struck out in both seasons—though at the moment he has one more strikeout than walk.
Matt McLain, SS, UCLA (No. 8)
Last Week: 2-for-12 (.167), 5 BB, 1 K
Season: .304/.484/.522, 1 HR, 7 BB, 2 K
A relatively quiet weekend against UC Irvine dampened McLain’s loud numbers from opening weekend, but his overall offensive line and production is buttressed by impressive zone control. McLain’s seven walks are good for second among UCLA hitters and he’s rarely swung and missed or expanded the strike zone this season.
He has swung over a few changeups, including two in the dirt from San Francisco righthander Landen Bourassa, but other than that he’s been a disciplined hitter. It’s worth noting that his sole home run of the season to this point came against an 82-mph changeup from San Francisco righthander Grant Nechak that hung up over the middle of the zone.
There’s still a few weeks before the Pac-12 gets conference play started, but so far in a small sample McLain has done a nice job addressing one of the items on his preseason to-do list—zone control—while hitting for average and extra bases.
Jud Fabian, OF, Florida (No. 11)
Last Week: 8-for-22 (.364), 3 BB, 6 K, 4 HR
Season: .257/.366/.600, 4 HR, 6 BB, 13 K
How important is a first impression?
That’s an interesting question to ask when breaking down what Fabian has done over the first two weeks of the college season. If he’d started the season with his week two performance, he would likely be getting significantly more buzz. After a 1-for-13 showing on opening weekend, Fabian bounced back in a big way against North Florida and Samford.
What was particularly good to see was that three of his four homers on the week came against breaking and offspeed stuff—a category of pitches that Fabian struggled with last week. The whiffs haven’t gone away (as evidenced by his team-leading 13 strikeouts) but it’s much easier to tolerate swing-and-miss tendencies when it comes with big power—and Fabian’s four home runs lead Gator hitters.
Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville (No. 9)
Last Week: 1-for-15 (.066), 2 BB, 1 K, 1 2B
Season: 077/.194/.115, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 2B
It has been a rough stretch for Binelas to open up the season, though his lone extra-base hit of the year came in the series finale against Western Illinois on Sunday—perhaps that’s a sign of things to come for the corner infielder.
He’ll need to get things ironed out with the bat, as Binelas entered the year needing to prove his defensive work at third base. If offensive questions are added to that list, his stock could fall fairly quickly, especially with the additional weight that this season bears for every player’s collective collegiate resume.
Binelas has expanded the zone a fair amount and also rolled over on a lot of ground balls to the right side of the infield, which isn’t an ideal batted ball result for a power hitter who’s a below-average runner.
A three-game series between Sam Houston State and Oklahoma State was canceled, which means Cowser has played just four games to this point. While it’s early to bear down on all of these hitters in any statistically meaningful way, that’s especially true for Cowser.
He had a loud series finale against Texas-San Antonio on Sunday, going 3-for-5 with his first extra-base hit of the season. Cowser has a big opportunity in front of him over the next seven days with games against Rice, No. 11 Texas Tech and No. 10 Texas Christian in the Shriners Classic this weekend and quality midweek games against Baylor and No. 20 Texas.
Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College (No. 17)
Last Week: 6-for-13 (.462), 2 K, 1 HR, 1 2B
Season: .429/.484/.607, 2 BB, 5 K, 3-for-4 SBA
Frelick has been electric in all phases of the game for Boston College. He leads the team in hitting (.429), is tied for the team lead in runs (9) and stolen bases (1) and also added a home run and a pair of doubles—all while playing highlight-reel defense in center field.
Frelick has twitchy hands in the box and has shown an ability to shoot the ball to the opposite field—he hit a pair of hard hit balls off the left field wall against Duke last weekend—and turn on the ball to the pull side for over-the-fence power. He’ll also occasionally get slappy and pull out on pitches on the outer half, but throw his hands to the ball and put pressure on the defense with his plus-plus running ability. He’s logged sub 4.0 second times from home to first out of the box this season, which are near top-of-the-scale run times for a lefthanded hitter.
Frelick put on a bit of a defensive clinic in center field on Saturday in Durham. He showed an ability to come in on shallow fly balls in front of him and also range back and make difficult plays at the warning track and wall. Frelick made one diving catch that displayed his athleticism and also showed an ability to flip his hips and adjust his route while tracking a ball hit straight over his head, before making a leaping, over-the-shoulder grab. On all of his chances he showed solid reads off the bat and a quick first step.
Perhaps there’s a reason why scouts voted him as one of the better defensive outfielders in the college class.
Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama (No. 18)
Last Week: 1-for-14 (.071), 4 BB, 3 K
Season: .125/.263/.125, 2 BB, 4 K
Like Binelas, Wilson is a corner profile who has struggled with the bat to open the season, with just a pair of singles to show for himself after three-game sets against Southeast Missouri and Oral Roberts as well as a midweek matchup with Southern Mississippi.
Wilson has driven a few deep fly balls to center and right that wound up being long outs, so perhaps those will start to fall into the gaps for extra-base hits in the future, but he’s also expanded the strike zone high and rolled over on a few pitches to the right side of the infield.
Both of his hits were ground balls that he shot through the infield.
Henry Davis, C, Louisville (No. 19)
Last Week: 5-for-12 (.416), 4 BB, 1 HR
Season: .409/.567/.682, 6 BB, 0 K, 2 HR
Davis is riding a seven-game hitting streak to start the season and would be leading Louisville in hitting if it weren’t for a blistering start to the season from teammate Cameron Masterman (.476/.621/.905).
While a cannon arm is what Davis is generally most known for, he produced well with the bat in the shortened 2020 season and is doing more of the same early in 2021. Davis has excellent, pure bat-to-ball skills and doesn’t swing and miss much—see his strikeout total above—but his natural tendency seems geared towards the pull side.
Both of his home runs have gone out to left field and while this is certainly nitpicking, he also seems to pull out on breaking balls and soft stuff on the outer half of the plate, rather than sitting back and driving the ball to the opposite field.
Either way, his production has been impressive and MLB teams will not hesitate to push college catchers up the board with full-season performance—particularly a catcher with Davis’ pedigree and defensive toolset.
Cody Morissette, SS, Boston College (No. 28)
Last Week: 1-for-10 (.100), 4 BB, 3 K
Season: .236/.406/.273, 10 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
Morissette started his season on a high note, going 2-for-4 with a home run and a pair of walks against Charleston Southern. The home run was a no-doubter off the bat and can be seen below, but since then it’s been more walking to first base than trotting around the bags.
Morissette did hit a fly ball to the opposite field warning track against Duke on Sunday that was solidly struck, but also showed a decent bit of swing and miss.
Morissette’s 10 walks are near the top of the country and worth keeping an eye on moving forward as he’s never walked more than he’s struck out in a previous stint—with Boston College or in the Cape Cod League.
Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (Ohio) (No. 54)
6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K, 2 HBP (94 pitches)
Bachman has been close to lights out for Miami (Ohio) through two starts this season, allowing just one run over 11 innings with 16 strikeouts and three walks. The stuff has been loud, and on Friday night against Florida International, Bachman sat with a fastball around 96 mph and ran it up to 100 on one offering.
His best pitch in this outing was a knee-buckling slider, which generated 17 whiffs and plenty of chases out of the zone. The pitch is hard, ranging from 84-90 mph but was mostly in the 86-88 mph range in this outing. It has two-plane, diving action at its best and was particularly effective against righthanded hitters when Bachman would locate the pitch down and away to his glove side. When left up the pitch would flatten out to his arm side, and he also occasionally yanked both his fastball and slider—hitting batters with each pitch.
Bachman works with an up-tempo delivery that features significant drop and drive as he surges forward to the plate. There’s a bit of plunging action and extension in the back of his arm stroke, which could affect his command, and as he delivers the ball he does so with slight effort and a bit of recoil. It is not an exceptionally smooth and fluid delivery, though Bachman was in the strike zone more than not in this outing—especially with his slider. Bachman also threw a few changeups in the 85-87 mph range and generated one whiff with the pitch. He was inconsistent with his arm speed on the offering in this outing and the change looked like a distinct third pitch.
Wes Clarke, 1B, South Carolina (NR)
Last Week: 7-for-12 (.583), 4 BB, 4 K, 5 HR
Season: .636/.742/1.818, 8 HR, 40 total bases
There’s no hitter in college baseball hotter than Wes Clarke. After six games, he’s slashing .636/.742/.1.818 with eight home runs, two doubles and nine walks to just four strikeouts. That’s a blistering pace.
One of his more impressive homers came on Sunday against righthander Ty Olenchuk, who threw him a reasonably placed 82 mph slider low and away in a 1-1 count. That location meant nothing for Clarke, who reached out and connected with the pitch while off-balance slightly, yet still deposited it 417 feet into the batter’s eye in center field. If the eight home runs in six games didn’t make it obvious that Clarke had massive raw power, that specific homer was a pretty good encapsulation of what the 6-foot-2, 236-pound slugger can do to a baseball.
In terms of his pro potential, his defensive position is the big question. Clarke has caught one game this season, but every other game he’s been in the lineup as a designated hitter. Prior to the season, scouts thought he was a first base only type, but without playing much of the field so far, it’s difficult for teams to get a read on his defensive projection.
At this point, Clarke leads NCAA Division I hitters in most major statistical categories including: average (.636), on-base percentage (.742), slugging percentage (1.818), home runs (8), total bases (40), runs (14, tied with Stetson outfielder Andrew MacNeil) and RBIs (17).
Joe Rock, LHP, Ohio (No. 87)
7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K (89 pitches)
Rock was a big riser last summer and fall after showing a fastball up to 95 mph and a slider that got plus future projections. The big question with him was a lack of track record with Ohio and questions about his strike-throwing after he walked 37 batters in 59 innings (5.6 BB/9) in 2019. Through two starts in 2021 he’s been impressive and was a weekend standout in week two after no-hitting Morehead State over seven innings. While it’s only 12 total innings, his strikeout rate (13.5 K/9) is up and his walk rate is down (3.8 BB/9). Rock’s lower-80s slider has been a weapon against righties and lefties, but is particularly tough against same-side hitters thanks to a low, three-quarter arm slot.
Justice Thompson, OF, North Carolina (NR)
Last Week: 8-for-13 (.615), 3 BB, 1 K, 3-3 SBA
Season: .520/.586/.920, 2 HR, 4 2B
Thompson spent two years at Northwest Florida JC and hit over .300 both seasons with seven home runs in 62 career games. After an electric fall with the Tar Heels, Thompson took over the starting center field job and has had no issues translating his average, power and speed to the Division I level. Thompson had a loud, four-hit game against James Madison that included his first homer with UNC, then had a midweek multi-hit game against Elon and topped it off with a 6-for-10 showing against then-No. 2 Virginia. Thompson has a tall and lean, 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and sets up with a crouched, slightly open stance in the box. He homered against lefthander Andrew Abbott (No. 119 on the BA 200) on Thursday when the southpaw left a fastball up and over the middle of the plate and has also shown an ability to bunt for a hit and move well on the bases and in the outfield for his size. Center fielders with power and speed combinations and college performance are a valuable demographic, and Thompson will have ample opportunity to continue proving his bat against ACC competition this spring.
Tyler Myrick, RHP, Florida International (NR)
6 IP, 1 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 13 K, 2 HBP (93 pitches)
Like Bachman, Myrick has been equally effective for Florida International in his first two outings of the season, allowing just one earned run over 12 innings, while striking out 20 batters and walking just one. In a matchup against Bachman and Miami (Ohio), Myrick racked up 13 strikeouts and his first walk of the season, primarily by using a solid fastball/slider combination that he used to pepper the strike zone.
Myrick’s fastball ranged from 90-96 in this outing, mostly in the 92-93 mph range but his last pitch of the game was a 96 mph bullet. The heater has some arm-side running life, and he showed solid control for the pitch, if not precise command in this look. He paired that fastball with an 83-88 mph slider that showed impressive vertical dive at its best, but would flatten out when left up in the zone. Myrick threw a few changeups in this game, but he used the pitch sparingly in the 84-88 mph range. The best offering he hit on fell completely off the table against a lefthanded hitter and was thrown with fastball arm speed.
Myrick is listed at 6 feet, 205 pounds and has a well-developed and physical build with broad shoulders and a filled out lower half. He has a fast arm and a three-quarter slot, but the operation comes with some effort, though for the most part he was synced-up and consistent with his release point in this outing. At times Myrick would slow his delivery down in the leg lift to disrupt hitters’ timing.
Mason Black, RHP, Lehigh (No. 44)
5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K (73 pitches)
Black was terrific in his season debut against Coppin State, as his line makes apparent. The only baserunner Black allowed reached on a fielding error in the fifth inning. And despite striking out 11 of the 16 batters he faced, Black was still efficient with his pitch count, averaging just under 15 pitches per frame. Black isn’t scheduled to face the toughest competition this year, but it’s much easier for scouts to bear down on pitchers vs. poor competition than hitters, so that shouldn’t be much of an issue.
13 Hitters From The 2021 MLB Draft Class Off To Strong Professional Debuts
13 hitters—some well-known, others under the radar—who transitioned into pro ball smoothly.
Peyton Pallette, RHP, Arkansas (2022 Rank: NR)
5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K (65 pitches)
Pallette was effective in a brief stretch of innings in 2020 (1.59 ERA) as a reliever, but has added a few ticks of fastball velocity this season and has been dominant through two starts. He hasn’t allowed a run over 9.1 innings while racking up 16 strikeouts and walking just two batters.
On Saturday, Pallette threw five shutout innings against Southeast Missouri State and struck out eight batters while walking just one. Pallette worked with a three-pitch mix that was led by his fastball, a pitch that was up to 96 several times, but sat in the 90-94 mph range in the final innings of his start. Pallette throws the pitch with impressive command and through his first 26 pitches of the game only three were balls. In addition to peppering the strike zone with his fastball, the pitch was also his best whiff-getter—generating 11 swings and misses, mostly up in the zone.
Pallette’s curveball is in the 78-80 mph range and showed 11-to-5 movement with some slurvy action at times. The pitch was inconsistent in this outing and while he would occasionally hit on a good breaker that powered out of the zone, for the most part it lacked the sharp and hard biting action that you want to see with an out-pitch. His changeup was firm in the 86-88 mph range, with a tick of arm-side fading life, but he missed with the pitch regularly to his arm side.
Pallette is listed at 6-foot-1 and he has a thin, lean frame that could use more weight in the future, but his delivery is fairly easy without much noticeable effort. Pallette is a name to keep an eye on moving forward, especially as he’s helped push Arkansas to its first-ever No. 1 ranking in the country.
Christian Knapczyk, SS, Louisville (2023 Rank: No. 44)
Knapczyk has played just two games for Louisville this season (starting one), but was impressive enough defensively on Saturday against Western Illinois to mention here. Knapczyk ranked No. 277 as a high schooler in the 2020 draft class thanks to above-average shortstop defense and plus running ability and he showcased both tools last weekend. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound infielder showed an ability to range to his left and right with fluid actions and an impressive backhand and strong throw from the hole across the diamond. He reached on a swinging bunt in the fifth inning and manufactured a run after stealing second and then tagging and advancing to third on an average-depth fly out to center field. The bat will be the biggest question moving forward, but Knapczyk certainly looked like he could pick it at shortstop in this look.
Jared McKenzie, OF, Baylor (2022 Rank: NR)
McKenzie has four multi-hit games this season and his most impressive multi-hit game is undoubtedly last Saturday’s 3-for-5 showing against Auburn and potential first-round righthander Richard Fitts. McKenzie went 3-for-3 against Fitts with a pair of home runs to the opposite field and rounded out his day by dumping a fly ball that dropped into left-center for a single. The homers came against 93 and 94 mph fastballs, and the single was against a slider below the zone. That sort of performance against an arm as talented as Fitts will raise eyebrows.
Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech (2022 Rank: No. 3)
Parada was the highest-ranked high school hitter to make it to campus from the 2020 class and was the second-highest ranked prospect, overall, behind Florida State righthander Carson Montgomery. While some teams had questions about Parada’s long-term defensive ability, he was considered one of the best pure hitters in the prep class. After six games, Parada is leading Georgia Tech in each triple slash category (.524/.615/.1.048) and is tied for the team lead in doubles and home runs. After a pair of 4-for-4 games against Mercer and North Carolina State, Parada was moved into the three-hole in Georgia Tech’s lineup. He’s spent time at catcher and designated hitter so far. His performance this week earned him ACC Player of the Week Honors.
Jackson Finley, RHP, Georgia Tech (2022 Rank: NR)
3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K (48 pitches)
Finley threw an inning of relief against Mercer during the middle of the week and then turned in a loud three-inning performance against North Carolina State Saturday. He struck out seven and allowed just two hits while firing a 93-97 mph fastball that looked overpowering. Finley is still sporting a 6.35 ERA on the season after allowing four earned runs in 1.2 innings against Eastern Kentucky on opening weekend, but his pure stuff was electric against the Wolfpack this past weekend. So far, in terms of innings, he’s been the most-used Yellow Jacket reliever.