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2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Continued College Questions At The Top?

Jud Fabian Stockwatch Dannyparkerfourseam
(Photo by Danny Parker/Four Seam Images)

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 how the top of the class continues to bring up question marks, as well as highlighting recent performers and pop-ups. 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 | 12 Pop-Ups & Performers | 5 Ranked Risers, 5 Unranked Pop-Ups | BA 400 Rankings Risers

Welcome to another draft stock watch!

Last week was a bit of a tough one for draftniks, as multiple first-round players suffered injuries or didn’t play at all.

Vanderbilt righthander Jack Leiter (No. 1) was skipped in the rotation last weekend, with the team saying they are managing his workload. Mississippi righthander Gunnar Hoglund (No. 9) left in the first inning with forearm stiffness and underwent an MRI on Monday. The results of that MRI showed a UCL tear that would require Tommy John surgery. Additionally, UCLA shortstop Matt McLain (No. 12) suffered a broken thumb and could be out several weeks.

If teams had questions about the caliber of the college class before, these nuggets certainly haven’t helped them feel any better about it.

Additionally, Kumar Rocker (No. 4) continued to show glimpses of the dominance and inconsistency that has left teams scratching their heads at times in his Friday outing against Alabama. Rocker struck out the first seven batters he saw, but then allowed six runs during the third and fourth leaving him with a bit of a quirky final line: 5 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 13 K on 110 pitches.

Texas righthander Ty Madden (No. 8) was solid in a six-inning outing against Texas Christian (6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) but didn’t get much swing and miss in this one. The most consistent draft performers continued to produce this weekend: Louisville catcher Henry Davis (No. 5) had a 2-for-10 showing against Duke with his 11th home run of the season, but he also struck out three times which is just his second weekend series with three or more strikeouts this season (the other was against North Carolina State); Boston College outfielder Sal Frelick (No. 7) extended his hitting streak to 16 games against Pitt with a 4-for-12 series that featured his sixth home run of the year—and first since March 7 against North Carolina.

McLain was trending back up boards prior to his hand injury, but it seems like Davis and Frelick have the most momentum of the college players in the top 10 at the moment. We’ve generally continued receiving positive feedback on the top high school players in the class, led by shortstops Jordan Lawlar (No. 2), Marcelo Mayer (No. 4) and Brady House (No. 6) and righthander Jackson Jobe (No. 11). North Carolina prep shortstop Kahlil Watson (No. 10)  recently got his season started as well, and is hitting .583 with a home run, two doubles, a triple and four walks to no strikeouts through four games.

We’ve previously written about the quality of this year’s high school shortstop class, and given the continued uncertainty of the college group thanks to the most recent question marks is it possible that we’re lining up for at least a 50% split of prep and college players inside the top 10 for the first time since 2017?

It doesn’t seem crazy, and given how much better the industry felt about its high school player evaluations at the start of the year compared to the college class, perhaps we should have been anticipating this all along.

Since 2018, at least seven college players have gone inside the first 10 picks, with seven each in 2018 and 2019 and eight in last year’s draft. The list of high school top-10 draft picks in that span includes: OF Jarred Kelenic, LHP Ryan Weathers, RHP Carter Stewart, SS Bobby Witt Jr., OF Riley Greene, SS CJ Abrams, OF Robert Hassell and OF Zac Veen.

Below are notes on other prominent 2021 draft prospects, performers from the last week and nuggets from our conversations with scouts:

Jud Fabian, OF, Florida (No. 28)

We wrote about a mechanical adjustment Fabian implemented in last week’s stock watch, and after a 4-for-9 weekend that featured two home runs, a double, five walks and just one strikeout, Fabian’s strikeout rate is down to 27.7%. Fabian is one of the most interesting prospects in the class and one of the most difficult to find consensus on among scouts. His strikeout rate will be one of the most interesting numbers to watch as the season progresses, but don’t sleep on the fact that his 18 home runs are among the top five of Division I hitters.

Austin Vernon, RHP, North Carolina Central (NR)

Vernon was ranked on the BA 500 a year ago and likely will have a place on the list this year as well. He dominated Delaware State on Friday, facing one batter over the minimum in an eight-inning complete game no-hitter. Vernon struck out eight batters, walked just one and created 13 groundouts to three fly outs. Vernon sat with a fastball in the 94-96 mph range that touched 98. He got plenty of whiffs with a low-to-mid-80s changeup that has significant separation from his fastball, as well as a low-80s slider that features two-plane break down to his glove side. Vernon has a massive frame (6-foot-8, 265 pounds) and some movement in his operation as well as a long arm action, but on the season he’s posted a 2.73 ERA over 10 starts and 56 innings, with 87 strikeouts (14.0 K/9) to 25 walks (4.0 BB/9). North and South Carolina are typically deep on college prospects, and that seems especially true this year.

Alec Willis, RHP, Regis Jesuit HS, Aurora, Colo. (NR)

Willis is this week’s pop up prospect. He wasn’t on the showcase circuit last summer so teams likely don’t have much history on him, but he’s reportedly been up to 96 mph from a big, 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame. It’s hard to peg his draft range at this point given the lack of information, but there certainly seems to be a lot of scouting buzz around Willis.

Jake Fox, SS, Lakeland (Fla.) Christian HS (No. 315)

Fox is one of two players ranked on the current BA 400 from his high school—along with No. 159 OF Ty Evans—and scouts think he’s taken a bit of a step forward this spring. Some teams really like his hit tool, and through 27 games he’s managed a .362/.559/.695 line with three home runs, 32 stolen bases and 29 walks to 10 strikeouts against Florida 3A competition. Fox is a plus runner and a lefthanded hitter with impressive agility and hands that could keep him in the middle of the diamond, though scouts think his arm is a better fit for second than shortstop in pro ball, and he also has below-average power. But he’s one of many prep shortstops to keep an eye on. He’s committed to Florida.

Ryan Holgate, OF, Arizona (No. 124)

Holgate went 3-for-12 with a home run, a double, three walks and four strikeouts against Stanford this weekend. On the season he’s hitting .354/.429/.575 with seven home runs and 17 doubles. It sounds like there’s enough interest in Holgate’s powerful lefthanded bat that he could go in the second or third round range where there are plenty of offensive-oriented but profile-challenged college bats. Holgate will be limited to an outfield corner thanks to below-average running ability, but scouts really seem to like his power potential, with some putting 70-grade raw power on the 6-foot-1, 205-pound outfielder. He has a track record of hitting and hitting for pop going back to his high school days, and the last two seasons he’s really performed with an OPS right around 1.000, though it has come with some swing and miss—though not an inordinate amount.

Hunter Stanley, RHP, Southern Mississippi (No. 362)

Stanley threw a complete game shutout against Middle Tennessee last Friday, striking out 16 batters and walking none, while allowing two hits—all on 104 pitches. He’s been up to 96-97 mph and typically comes right after hitters with plenty of those fastballs—though he also features a breaking ball around 80 mph that has 12-to-6 movement. There is plenty of length in Stanley’s arm action, but despite a big, full circle arm stroke he has an impressive track record of throwing strikes, with a career 1.8 BB/9 at Southern Mississippi.

In fact, Stanley is one of just 24 Division I arms this season to match the following criteria: five or more starts, with 10 or more strikeouts per nine and two or fewer walks per nine. Perhaps this is a crude metric, but it seems to capture some of the best pure strike-throwers in the class, and maybe highlight some other names we should be paying attention to.

Below is the full list of players, sorted by strikeout-to-walk ratio:

Scott RandallSacramento State1168.111.10.814.0
Michael McGreevyUC Santa Barbara127610.40.911.0
Joe Savino*Elon64411.01.010.8
Pierson OhlGrand Canyon1174.
Trey Dombroski*Monmouth635.
Tyler MattisonBryant1063.
Collin SullivanSouth Florida1056.
Ben Ethridge*Southern Mississippi116410.51.38.3
Keyshawn AskewClemson848.
Braden OlthoffTulane1060.
Chris TurpinNew Orleans1274.
Jeremy Lee*South Alabama95211.81.67.6
Dan KlepchickMonmouth636.
Aaron BrownMiddle Tennessee1270.
Chad DallasTennessee1167.
Geremy GuerreroIndiana State1070.
Ryan OkudaVirginia Tech63410.31.66.5
Aaron DavenportHawaii106910.21.66.5
Will DionMcNeese1168.
Hunter StanleySouthern Mississippi127811.11.76.4
Tommy MaceFlorida116910.81.76.4
Dylan DoddSoutheast Missouri State1170.
Landon MarceauxLouisiana State1273.
Russell SmithTexas Christian1161.

There are nine players ranked on the BA 400 on this list including: Michael McGreevy (No. 34), Tommy Mace (No. 52), Landon Marceaux (No. 93), Russell Smith (No. 101), Braden Olthoff (No. 105), Tyler Mattison (No. 225), Dylan Dodd (No. 248), Aaron Brown (No. 356) and Hunter Stanley (No. 362).

Sacramento State righthander Scott Randall tops this list in terms of K/BB ratio, and has pitched to a 3.16 ERA this season, with 84 strikeouts to just six walks. Unsurprisingly, scouts have praised his pitchability this spring, citing an average three-pitch mix but a mentality on the mound that exudes confidence in what he’s doing. Randall has a fastball that sits in the 90-92 mph range, but has been up to 96 this spring, as well as a low-80s slider and a low-80s changeup that gets some above-average grades.

Only four players listed above are not draft-eligible for the 2021 season: Joe Savino, Trey Dombroski, Ben Ethridge and Jeremy Lee. Those players have been marked with asterisks.

Adrian Del Castillo (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

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