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 diving into a few top prospects’ recent performances and looking at notable risers on our BA 400 draft update. 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
Welcome to another draft stock watch!
Today we focus mostly on notable risers within the top 100 of our updated draft rankings, but we wanted to dig into a few players from this past weekend’s highly-anticipated series between Vanderbilt and Florida.
There’s plenty to get to, so let’s jump right into it:
A Mechanical Adjustment By Jud Fabian
We’ve written previously about how Fabian’s strikeout rates could be concerning for teams. However, the toolsy Florida outfielder has made an adjustment in his approach within the last few weeks and it seems to be working.
After Florida’s series against Missouri, Fabian eliminated his stride in two-strike counts. You can see mechanical adjustments in the clips below from an April 25 game against Auburn within a fourth-inning at-bat against lefthander Peyton Glavine (yes, the son of Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine).
Below is the first pitch of the at-bat. Pay attention to Fabian’s front foot:
Here’s the second pitch of the at-bat, an 0-1 changeup in a similar zone. This time Fabian takes a swing and fouls off the ball, but keep your attention on the front leg:
Similar to the first load and stride, right? Right. Now, in an 0-2 count, Fabian makes an adjustment:
There’s no leg kick to get started and no stride at all to get his swing going. On the next pitch, it pays off in the form of an 0-2 home run to left field:
Fabian has been making a concerted effort to cut down on his strikeouts, and if you check the numbers, it seems to be working:
In February and March, Fabian struck out 40 times in 96 games, and was pushing his strikeout rate close to 40% of the time at his worst. However, since April, he’s cut his strikeout rate significantly.
And perhaps the most encouraging sign: Not only has Fabian managed to cut down on his rate of whiffs, but he’s done so without sacrificing in-game power production. In fact, his power rate has gone up in this stretch, and two of his home runs this past weekend came in two-strike counts against Vanderbilt righthander Jack Leiter.
Like every college player in the country, he has more leverage than a typical draft year to move the needle in either direction in the final months of the season. With so much of the 2020 season simply taken away, every at-bat down the stretch carries even more weight than it typically would—good and bad. The ability to make adjustments as a hitter is crucial, and Fabian is showing he’s capable of making them.
But getting back to the Vanderbilt righthander…
Jack Leiter Has Allowed Eight Homers In His Last Three Games
It’s true. Leiter has allowed nine home runs this season and eight of those have come in his last three starts—including the two he gave up to Fabian when he missed his spots with a fastball and slider, respectively.
Here’s a look how Leiter’s first eight starts compare to his last three:
No starter in college baseball got off to a more dominant start than Leiter through the first eight weeks of the season, but his last three outings have been a bit rough. Most drastically, he’s seen his home run rate go through the roof.
He gave up three homers in his shortest outing of the season last Saturday against Florida, two coming vs. Fabian after getting ahead in two-strike counts, and one coming off the bat of third baseman Kirby McMullen in an 0-0 count. Each home run came when Leiter missed his spot and left a pitch over the heart of the plate.
Looking back at a few of the other homers he’s allowed during this stretch, it seems like a similar issue. Below are all three of the homers Leiter allowed in a game against Tennessee—the first of his tough three-game stretch.
One batter later, Rodriguez again is looking for Leiter to go down and away with the fastball in a 2-1 count against left fielder Evan Russell. This time Leiter misses up and to his arm side:
The final home run he allowed came in the seventh inning against Russell once again. This time Leiter was behind in a 3-1 count and again Rodriguez is looking for Leiter to attack down and away:
Each of these pitches offer a good example of control vs. command, as Leiter is still in the strike zone but missing his spots. At times he’s not missing by much, but it seems that even as good as Leiter’s fastball is in the zone, it’s not infallible when he’s behind in the count and leaving the ball over the heart of the plate.
So, Leiter is tumbling down draft boards, right? Not really. Scouts have continued to be impressed with Leiter’s pitch-quality week in and week out. Even in these three starts, Leiter has struck out 30% of the batters he’s faced. That’s not the ridiculous 48% rate he posted through his first eight starts, but it seems unrealistic to hold any pitcher to that sort of rate over a full season—Leiter or otherwise. It’s also a short stretch and we don’t want to overreact to a small sample. Still, this is a good example of why teams wanted to see Leiter post over a full season, and why it’s difficult to declare any one prospect in this class as a the clear-cut, no-doubt, obvious No. 1 talent in the class.
It seems like the 2021 draft class simply doesn’t have such a player. That’s why the remaining weeks of the season will be fascinating to watch: to see if Leiter or Rocker or one of the high school shortstops or someone else entirely (Louisville catcher Henry Davis is sitting here with a 1.187 OPS and walks twice as often as he strikes out) will be able to establish themselves as the top player in the class.
It should be an exciting race to the finish.
In the meantime, here are notes on several of the bigger movers on our recent BA 400 update:
Henry Davis, C, Louisville — No. 5 (+2)
Davis isn’t a significant riser in terms of the number of spots he’s moved up the board, but the way upper-level scouts are talking about him in terms of realistic landing spots in the draft is seriously heating up. And it’s no wonder why—after going 5-for-12 this weekend against Clemson with his ninth home run of the season, Davis is hitting .400/.520/.667 with 29 walks and 15 strikeouts. That’s a .400 batting line over 37 games and 135 at-bats. That’s loud! And even if his hitting ability wasn’t enough to overwhelm any criticisms about his defensive ability at catcher, think about this: what is the sort of catcher that’s going to be valuable at the major league level when the strike zone is electronic and pitch-framing suddenly becomes irrelevant? A catcher who can block, call a game and control the running game (and hit the ball). With an arm that grades out as at least a 70, Davis has that skillset.
We wrote about Cowser in a recent draft stock watch, so I won’t go on at length about him here. Essentially, Cowser has been hitting for power, controlling the strike zone and playing solid center field defense. That’s a good combination for one of the few hitters in the class with some sort of summer track record.
Michael McGreevy, RHP, UC Santa Barbara — No. 34 (+26)
Our most recent mock draft has McGreevy sliding into the back of the first round to a team that works wonders with his exact profile and last Friday McGreevy dominated a Cal Poly lineup that includes talented 2022 prospect Brooks Lee. He struck out 15 batters and walked none over eight innings, allowing just two hits and one earned run (via homer). He’s got a great frame, locates a 91-95 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, lands a plus curveball and also mixes in a slider and changeup. He checks a ton of boxes.
Peyton Stovall, SS, Haughton (La.) HS — No. 37 (+41)
Stovall was one of the earliest risers on draft boards once the season got started and he only continues to climb. How many high school hitters in the Southeast are going to be drafted in front of him when July rolls around? The list is going to wind up being pretty short. The hit and power tools are both real and he’s been one of the best prep performers in the country, tallying his 15th home run of the season last week.
Matt Mikulski, LHP, Fordham — No. 40 (+85)
Mikulski shortened up his arm action—which you can see here—this year, increased his stuff and has essentially dominated the Atlantic 10 Conference every time he’s taken the mound. He posted his sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season on Saturday against Massachusetts, when he punched out 11 batters and walked four over 5.2 innings. That made him the second pitcher among Division I arms to reach 100 strikeouts on the season (Jack Leiter was first) and he’s sitting with a 1.33 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 23 walks. He’s one of several college lefthanders who are moving up boards, though certainly the most prominent.
Matheu Nelson, C, Florida State — No. 43 (+258)
Nelson was unranked on our previous list, which is an indictment on us and also a credit to what he’s done this season. After OPSing .885 as a freshman in 2019 and .794 during the shortened 2020 season, Nelson has exploded this season, hitting .341/.445/.867 with 20 home runs and a massive 1.312 OPS. Pair those numbers with defensive tools that scouts think have a chance to be above-average and it’s hard to see Nelson lasting very long at all come draft time. If he keeps hitting at this sort of pace for the rest of the season a No. 43 ranking will seem light.
Robert Gasser, LHP, Houston — No. 59 (+242)
Gasser put in a lot of work over the offseason and it’s paying off for him this year, with his stuff ticking up. Outside of two starts against Oklahoma and Wichita State, Gasser has posted every week for Houston, and is sitting with a 2.13 ERA, 78 strikeouts and 22 walks through 63.1 innings and 10 starts. With a four-pitch mix that now features a fastball that gets up into the mid 90s from the left side, Gasser has solidly put himself into day one consideration.
Peyton Wilson, 2B, Alabama — No. 66 (+235)
I suppose if your name is Peyton, you have a pretty good chance to be a good hitter in this year’s class. Our second-ranked Peyton has a much different toolset than Stovall, as a standout runner who could provide value at a number of positions at the next level, including middle infield and center field. He’s a twitchy, explosive athlete who is hitting .321/387/.535 with nine home runs after a 4-for-13 weekend against Missouri.
Spencer Schwellenbach, SS/RHP, Nebraska — No. 70 (+81)
Schwellenbach is a legit two-way player who will create some debate about the path he should take in pro ball. He posts loud exit velocities as a shortstop, but also hops on the mound and fills up the strike zone with 94-97 mph fastballs and shows feel for a good slider in the mid 80s. He’s hitting .289/.421/.491 with four home runs and has posted a 1.08 ERA on the mound through 16.2 innings, with 20 strikeouts and just three walks.
Dylan Smith, RHP, Alabama — No. 81 (+220)
Smith is an impressive athlete with a frame that still has some physical projection remaining, but this spring he’s shown a solid four-pitch mix including a fastball in the low 90s. Last weekend against Missouri, he had one of his best starts of the season, striking out 11 batters over eight innings, while scattering two hits, allowing two earned runs and walking none. On the season, Smith has a 3.20 ERA over 64.2 innings and 11 starts, with 86 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Trey Sweeney, SS, Eastern Illinois — No. 82 (+155)
Sweeney has been one of the better offensive performers in the country this season and is hitting .399/.523/.736 with a team-high 12 home runs after homering this past weekend. There are some moving parts in his swing, but some scouts think he has a chance for plus power potential and while scouts are mixed on whether or not he sticks at shortstop at the next level, he certainly has the arm to handle third base. He’s been heavily scouted in recent weeks and it’s no surprise why given his production—even if it is against lower-level competition in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 3B, Oklahoma State — No. 89 (+212)
Another big-time performer, Encarnacion-Strand performed at the junior college level for two seasons and has shown he can translate that hitting ability and power production to Power Five conference play. Through 40 games, Encarnacion-Strand has been one of the best power hitters in college baseball, with 15 home runs and 121 total bases, while slashing .371/.440/.761.
Tyler Black, 2B, Wright State — No. 99 (+96)
The final thought we’ll leave you with today is trust and listen to scouts. Before the season got started, we put Tyler Black on a list of sleepers who could pop—not because we are smart, but because we simply ask scouts things and then listen when they are kind enough to respond. Black had a poor 13-game stint in the shortened 2020 season, but evaluators liked his natural hitting ability and feel for the strike zone. After a loud weekend against Purdue Fort Wayne—where Black went 11-for-25 including a season-high five-hit game—Black is hitting .374/.494/.650 with eight home runs and 27 walks to just 19 strikeouts. Alexis Brudnicki talked to Black about his toolset and hitting approach here, if you are interested in more on the Wright State second baseman.