2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Five Ranked Risers, Five Unranked Pop-Ups
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 five ranked risers and five unranked pop-up prospects. 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
Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State (No. 26)
Cowser entered the year as a middle-of-the-first round bat, but slipped to the back of the first after hitting under .300 through the first month of the season. Since late March, however, the former collegiate national team member has been on a bit of a tear, with six home runs in his last 13 games, including a stretch from April 3-10 where he homered in five consecutive games.
Through 35 games, Cowser is hitting .352/.494/.696 with 12 home runs and excellent zone control, with 30 walks (18.75 BB%) compared to just 24 strikeouts (15 K%). Scouts are expecting Cowser to put up big offensive numbers given the conference he plays in, but his performance to this point certainly qualifies as big, with a career-high home run total with 15 regular season games still yet to be played.
What is key for Cowser—and what could elevate him over other hitters in a down class of college hitters—is his track record with USA Baseball. He was a member of the 2019 collegiate national team, where he started nine games, hit .273/.390/.303 and ranked as the No. 16 prospect on the team as one of the youngest members. That history could make teams feel more comfortable with his hit tool, and now that he’s added more power production, there’s a lot to like in his overall profile. So far this season, he’s checked off most of the items on his preseason to-do list.
Trey Sweeney, SS, Eastern Illinois (No. 237)
It would be difficult to find a player hitting better than Sweeney in college baseball. Through 38 games, Sweeney is hitting .415/.539/.756 with 11 home runs, a 1.295 OPS and more walks (33) than strikeouts (20). Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, his on-base percentage is the best among Division I hitters.
Scouts have been impressed with his improvements this year, outside of the eye-popping numbers. A lefthanded hitter with some bigger movements in his swing, Sweeney has done a better job covering holes he previously had on the outer half, and he’s also looked like a better defender at shortstop. Previously teams expected he would move to third base at the next level, and while that certainly could still be the case for clubs, more might be inclined to let him try shortstop before moving him to the hot corner.
Sweeney has a fairly large bat tip in his load, which could create timing issues against higher-level pitching, but to this point he has done a good job getting on plane, controlling the zone and showing more in-game power.
Gavin Williams, RHP, East Carolina (No. 130)
Williams was a 2020-eligible prospect who had some of the best pure stuff and easy, triple-digit velocity in the class. However, injuries and spotty control held him back and added to the reliever risk in his profile.
This season, after coming out of the bullpen in his first three outings of the year, Williams has been terrific in a starting role, allowing just three earned runs in five starts, with 50 strikeouts and nine walks. In total, including his relief efforts, Williams has posted a 2.84 ERA over 37.2 innings with 61 strikeouts (14.6 K/9) and 12 walks (2.9 BB/9).
While he eclipsed the 15 K/9 mark in the shortened 2020 season, that walk rate is the lowest Williams has posted, by far, and if his improved control is legit—he should climb up draft boards. Scouts have always believed he had the three-pitch arsenal, body and delivery to handle a starting role and now that he’s cutting down on his walks it might be an easier projection for them to make.
Patrick Wicklander, LHP, Arkansas (No. 186)
Wicklander entered the year as the No. 141 prospect in the class but fell about a round after he started the season as a reliever. After switching back to a starting role—where he’s pitched well for five straight weeks—he should be reversing course on draft boards.
Last weekend the 6-foot-1 lefthander limited South Carolina to just one run over seven innings, while striking out five batters and walking none. On the season, Wicklander has posted a 2.20 ERA over 41 innings, with 44 strikeouts (9.7 K/9) and 14 walks (3.1 BB/9).
Against South Carolina, Wicklander sat in the 90-92 mph range with his fastball from the left side, touching 94, but used the pitch to generate 10 whiffs—mostly up in the zone. His most used secondary was a sweeping slider in the low 80s with solid horizontal movement, but limited tilt or late vertical bite. Wicklander does get a bit extended in the back of his arm action, but for the most part it’s a loose and clean delivery, with good balance through his finish.
The lone run he allowed came on a Brady Allen home run, when he went for a putaway slider in a 1-2 count, but didn’t bury the breaking ball enough below the zone or on Allen’s back foot. Scouts likely want to see more of Wicklander’s changeup against righthanders for just this reason, as the pitch is solid when he lands it, but his feel and usage of the pitch are both limited currently.
Brady Allen, OF, South Carolina (No. 218)
Speaking of Allen, he’s been quite good this year. Below is the home run he hit against Wicklander in the series finale on Sunday:
On the season, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound outfielder is hitting .304/.395/.595 with 10 home runs, 11 doubles and eight stolen bases. Allen likely doesn’t have one tool to hang his hat on, outside of perhaps a plus raw power grade, but he’s a good athlete who is a solid hitter with an impressive performance track record, average or a tick better running ability and average arm strength.
If he were a center fielder he’d likely be talked about at a much higher level, but he might have the hitting ability and power production to fit in an outfield corner, where he has the athleticism and toolset to be a solid-average defender.
Allen has shown in-game power to all fields this season, and his production against both fastballs and breaking balls has been solid, with offspeed pitches providing the biggest challenge for him this season, according to scouts.
Jordan Marks, RHP, South Carolina-Upstate
The most well-known draft prospect in South Carolina named Jordan is likely Gamecocks righthander Brannon Jordan, but over at South Carolina-Upstate, Jordan Marks is quietly dominating Big South competition.
Through 10 starts and 69 innings of work, Marks has posted a 1.57 ERA while striking out 80 batters (10.4 K/9) and walking a measly 10 (1.3 BB/9). That strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.0 is good for 12th in the country among Division I pitchers who’ve thrown at least 50 innings. The complete list is as follows:
- Scott Randall, Sacramento State (17.8)
- Pierson Ohl, Grand Canyon (12.2)
- Tyler Mattison, Bryant (12.0)
- Michael McGreevey, UC Santa Barbara (11.7)
- Chris Turpin, New Orleans (10.6)
- Russell Smith, Texas Christian (9.9)
- Ben Ethridge, Southern Mississippi (8.9)
- Cole Stupp, Kentucky (8.8)
- Gabe Levy, Davidson (8.7)
- Sean Bergeron, Western Kentucky (8.5)
- Zebby Matthews, Western Carolina (8.4)
- Jordan Marks, South Carolina-Upstate (8.0)
- Chad Dallas, Tennessee (8.0)
So the list of pitchers in this category is mostly filled up with small school arms, which is perhaps unsurprising. Marks, though, has solid stuff to back up his performance, including a fastball that has been up to 98 mph, and a low-80s slurvy breaking ball and changeup.
His command is likely his best attribute as a pitcher, and he’s walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings over his collegiate career. That combination of stuff and strike throwing could have him taken at some point on day two of the draft.
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Travis Smith, RHP, Walton-Verona HS, Walton, Kent.
Smith has been heavily scouted during his starts so far this season and he’s turned in multiple no-hitters. He’s a big physical righthander who doesn’t have a lot of quick-twitch movements on the mound, but he throws a fastball in the 88-91 mph range and fills up the strike zone. Smith has been up to 94 mph in the past, but mostly lives around 90, with secondaries that scouts describe as fringe-average now, but underlying spin qualities that could give him a good breaking ball in the future when he learns to land the pitch more consistently. Smith is committed to Kentucky.
Will Koger, RHP, Bardstown (Kent.) HS
Koger is another high school arm out of Kentucky who has been scouted heavily this season. He’s a lean-bodied righthander with a quick arm and has touched 95 mph this spring, with a power breaking ball that has tight spin, but feel he’s still developing for the pitch. He’s grown into his body a bit in the last few months but still has further room to fill out a 6-foot-2 frame. Koger has less feel for throwing strikes at the moment, but has bat-missing stuff now and has shown enough glimpses of a changeup for scouts to think he could develop a third pitch down the line. Koger is committed to Louisville.
Tommy Molsky, RHP, Northern York HS, Dillsburg, Pa.
Playing good competition is beneficial for a variety of reasons—one of which is you’ll get seen more frequently when you do. That’s certainly the case for Molsky, who matched up against the top-ranked Pennsylvania prospect in the class early this season: Benny Montgomery. With plenty of eyes on him, Molsky pitched in the 92-96 mph range with a quick arm and because of that is moving up boards fairly quickly. Mosky is still quite thin, and listed at just 160 pounds, but his arm speed has already excited scouts enough that a team might try and sign him out of a Penn State commitment.
Chad Patrick, RHP, Purdue Northwest (Ind.)
Patrick is seventh among Division II arms in WHIP (0.79) and if you cut that list down to just pitchers with 40-plus innings this season, he moves up to No. 3 on the list. Patrick has posted double-digit K/9 rates each season at Purdue Northwest (Ind.), going back to his freshman season in 2018. This year he’s managed a 1.29 ERA over 42 innings and six starts, with 63 strikeouts (13.5 K/9) and just seven walks (1.5 BB/9). While the competition is certainly less than Division I, scouts like his ability to maneuver a 90-95 mph fastball around the zone and average secondaries in a downer curveball and solid changeup. He repeats his delivery well and considering his strike-throwing ability and three-pitch mix has a solid batch of starter traits. It’s difficult to say where a team will take a pitcher like Patrick, but he seems like a decent sleeper candidate given his command and pitchability.