2021 Tennessee Top MLB Draft Prospects
Today, Baseball America rolls out its state-by-state rankings for the 2021 MLB Draft. Additionally, you can find our:
Leiter was a first-round talent out of high school and ranked as the No. 21 prospect in the 2019 class, but a high price tag and strong Vanderbilt commitment meant he got to campus in Nashville. Draft-eligible in his second year with the Commodores, Leiter—the son of long-time big league pitcher Al Leiter—dominated in his first full season of collegiate baseball, posting a 2.12 ERA over 76.1 innings and 13 starts, while striking out 127 batters (15 K/9) and walking 34 (4.0). Known for his polish and pitchability out of high school, scouts continue to praise Leiter’s moxie on the mound, with a deep pitch mix that includes five offerings if you count a two-seam and four-seam fastball. Leiter is a shorter righthander, listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, but he has added strength to his frame since high school, particularly in his lower half. This spring, Leiter has primarily worked with a fastball, curveball, slider combination. His fastball has been up to 98 mph, but averages 93-95 mph, with excellent carry that generates plenty of whiffs in the zone and above it. Teams love the metrics on Leiter’s fastball, and the combination of his size, extension and carry on the pitch allow it to play up, even when he’s sitting in the 90-93 mph range. His curveball is his best secondary offering now, an upper-70s, 12-to-6 downer that he lands consistently in the zone when he wants but can also bury for a put-away pitch. Leiter throws a slider in the low 80s that has less depth but might wind up being a better out-of-the-zone chase offering and he also infrequently throws a mid-80s changeup that scouts loved out of high school and could become an above-average secondary with more reps. Durability was the one concern scouts had with Leiter, and while he did post most weeks throughout the season, he skipped one start to manage fatigue and at times was a bit homer-prone. While Leiter might not project as an ace, scouts see a pitcher who should fit in a No. 2 or No. 3 role and pitch in the big leagues for a long time.
Rocker was one of the top high school pitching prospects in the loaded 2018 prep pitching class that included lefthanders Matthew Liberatore and Ryan Weathers and righthanders Ethan Hankins and Carter Stewart, among others. Despite ranking as the No. 13 player in the class and a consensus first-round talent, Rocker made it to campus at Vanderbilt where he was the highest-ranked player in Baseball America’s college recruiting rankings history. He delivered on the hype and became the 2019 Freshman of the Year after posting a 3.25 ERA in 16 starts and 99.2 innings with 114 strikeouts to just 21 walks. Because of Rocker’s pedigree and collegiate track record, he entered the tumultuous 2021 draft cycle as the de facto No. 1 player in the 2021 class and remains in the top tier of players despite a lack of consensus on any standout 1-1 player in this year’s group. Rocker has a large, 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame befitting a workhorse big league starter that leaves no doubt about his professional bloodlines. Rocker’s father, Tracy, played football at Auburn and briefly in the NFL. He has power stuff out of that powerful frame, headlined by a fastball up to 99 mph at his best and a devastating slider in the low-to-mid 80s that grades out as a double-plus offering at its best and is one of the better breaking balls in the 2021 class. Rocker has dealt with inconsistent velocity this spring, sitting in the 89-93 mph range at times before getting back to his usual mid-90s stuff. He’s still succeeded and overwhelmed SEC hitters even without his best velocity, but scouts question how that pitch will play at the next level, especially due to the fact that his fastball has played down at times dating back to high school. Rocker experimented with a cutter in the 88-91 mph range this season and has also thrown a firm changeup with slight fading action. Both offerings could give him something to keep lefthanders off his fastball at the next level, and his changeup in particular has shown upside in the past, but both need more refinement and usage before teams will feel confident projecting plus grades. While some teams think Rocker has reliever risk thanks to inconsistent fastball command at times, his pure stuff, pedigree and track record give him significant upside and he should be one of the first arms selected.
After making tremendous strides forward with his strength and velocity over the last two years, Burns now has some of the best pure stuff in the 2021 high school pitching class. Last summer he showed one of the better fastballs of the group, running his heater up to 100 mph and consistently getting into the upper 90s. Listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Burns attacks hitters downhill out of a high, three-quarter arm slot and his fastball has shown impressive riding life. Burns has two breaking balls—one is a downer curveball that has shown average potential and the other is a more promising mid-to-upper-80s slider with sweeping action that shows hard tilt and bite at its best. Scouts seem to prefer the harder breaking ball and have given it future plus grades, while evaluators are more mixed on Burns’ changeup. Burns brings some reliever risk to the table because of his history of throwing scattered strikes, and given his long arm action that leads to inconsistencies with the timing in his delivery and with the consistency of his secondary offerings. Burns has shown an ability to pitch with lower velocity and improve the quality of his control, but scouts think he still needs to learn how to control his body, figure out his wingspan and fine tune some of the details of his mechanics to get the most out of his top-end stuff (which is exceptional) with more consistency. Burns is a Tennessee commit, but could get drafted among the top-two rounds.
Goodman had a freshman All-American season in 2019 after hitting .326/.367/.573 with 13 home runs and 11 stolen bases. After playing in the outfield that season, Goodman began catching during his sophomore year and has continued to catch for Memphis this spring, which makes his powerful righthanded bat all the more interesting. Goodman’s raw power is easily plus, and has translated to 21 homers through 56 games, with a .307/.401/.678 slash line. That power does come with a good amount of swing-and-miss. He’s struck out around 21% of the time in his career in the American Athletic Conference and his swing is noisy, with plenty of moving parts. He’s got significant bat waggle pre-pitch and during his load, and also uses a very big leg kick in his lower half, which scouts believe will need to be toned down at the next level. There are question marks defensively as well. While Goodman is a solid athlete with big-time natural arm strength, his actions are clunky behind the plate and scouts are skeptical about how much he’ll be able to improve his receiving and blocking. His arm is only fringe-average behind the plate. Goodman is a solid runner who’s gone 22-for-25 in stolen base attempts in his career, so perhaps the best fit for him is a corner outfield position, where his arm might play better. A team who thinks he can figure out the catching could take him in the top few rounds.
Kinney is an offensive-oriented prep infielder with a strong, 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame and a lefthanded swing that scouts love. The hit tool and power projection are what evaluators are buying with Kinney, and he has a chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average power. However, he’s likely to be a bit of a split-camp player with a wider range of opinions given his lack of supplemental tools and the fact that he’s probably a better fit for second or third base in the long run. A team that drafts the South Carolina commit in a signable range will be one that is heavily convicted in his hit tool—and those teams are certainly out there. Kinney is more hit over power at the moment, with solid bat-to-ball skills and a fairly clean and fluid bat path out of a slightly crouched setup. He has shown the power to drive balls out to left-center field, and the scouts who really like him think he’ll be able to grow into plus power when he’s more physically mature. Kinney is a below-average runner and fringy defender, so there’s going to be plenty of pressure on his bat to perform and because of that some teams would prefer he proves it against SEC pitching, but others see him as a top-50 player in the class and want to get his bat into pro ball right away. Kinney’s father, Mike, is the head baseball coach at his high school.
Going back to his high school days at Benjamin High in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., scouts have been excited about Thomas’ tool set and upside. There have always been questions about his ability to get to those tools in games, however, but this spring Thomas turned in a productive season with a .337/.396/.648 slash line, including 13 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 12 tries through his first 51 games. Thomas is a good athlete with above-average running ability, arm strength and raw power out of a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame. The ball jumps off his bat with impressive pop on easy, graceful swings, but Thomas has always been a high-strikeout, low-walk player. This spring he struck out in 26% of his plate appearances and walked in just 4% of his trips to the plate. That puts a lot of pressure on his pure hitting ability, which is fringy at best. Thomas expands the zone and swings and misses at a decent clip, particularly against breaking balls and offspeed offerings. He does have the bat speed to catch up to high-end velocity and posted an OPS over 1.100 against 93 mph or harder pitches this spring, according to Synergy. Defensively, he’s probably a corner outfielder but some scouts want to see how he looks in center field given his running ability and athleticism. He didn’t get a chance to play there this spring given the presence of Enrique Bradfield, but some teams could start him there at the next level.
A transfer from Panola (Texas) JC, Dallas led Tennessee with 21.1 innings in the shortened 2020 season and posted a 2.53 ERA in the process. While he didn’t quite hold opposing teams to that sterling mark this spring, Dallas did impress over 15 starts and 90.2 innings, with a 4.27 ERA and standout strikeout and walk numbers. He struck out 106 batters (10.5 K/9) and walked 19 (1.9 BB/9) and had the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio among SEC pitchers who started 10 or more games. He’s been mostly a three-pitch arm this spring, with an average fastball that sits in the 91-93 mph range but has been up to 97, with both a curveball and a slider—pitches he improved over the offseason. The curve is a hard downer in the 79-81 mph range that is effective against righties and lefties, while the slider sits in the mid 80s with late and hard bite that makes it an effective swing-and-miss offering inside and out of the zone. Dallas has flashed a mid-80s changeup as well, but he rarely uses it and it’s a distinct fourth pitch at the moment. Dallas’ arm action gets a bit lengthy in the back with some plunging action, but he’s been a strong strike-thrower for two years now and scouts have confidence he can start at the next level, with the sort of breaking stuff that should be able to miss pro bats.
A physical, 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder who’s also a talented football and basketball player, Hayslip has an intriguing package of tools, but scouts have questions about his pure hitting ability. There’s no doubt that Hayslip has impressive bat speed and plenty of raw power to the pull side. Scouts have mentioned he grades out very well in some quantifiable barrel metrics, including barrel connection, bat speed and rotational acceleration, but most scouts also wonder about his pure feel for hitting and approach at the plate. There’s some barring action in his swing and scouts would like to see him use the opposite field more, but he was also difficult to evaluate this spring considering the lower-level competition he faced in Tennessee. He’s an above-average runner now with above-average arm strength to go with it that could make him a good fit in a corner outfield spot, where he will likely have enough raw power to profile well. Some scouts would give him a chance in center field to see if he can stick there, but given his frame and current physicality, most in the industry see him outgrowing the position. Hayslip is considered a fairly strong commit to Alabama and could be a tough sign, and he also got some collegiate interest on the football field from other programs. Hayslip’s father, Ben, is a notable country songwriter who has credits for a number of hit songs by artists like Tim Mcgraw, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and many others.
Rucker has started since his freshman season for Tennessee and in 2019 hit .273/.358/.339 but had a better average (.303) during SEC competition. He tapped into a bit more power in the shortened 2020 season and showed good plate discipline to go along with it. After another strong performance this spring, there should be plenty of teams interested in Rucker on the second day of the draft. He hit .323/.393/.494 with a career-best seven home runs in 63 games, though that additional power also came with the highest strikeout rate of his college career (21%). Rucker has solid-average tools almost across the board, with scouts seeing an average hitter and an average defender who has played all over the infield for Tennessee but is likely best suited for the hot corner at the next level. That defensive profile could be a bit tricky, as some teams don’t think Rucker’s below-average power is enough to profile there. Rucker showed more swing and miss this season and expanded the strike zone on breaking stuff down, but he did post an OPS over 1.000 against 93-plus mph fastballs, per Synergy. Rucker might have the defensive versatility to become a utilityplayer who moves all over the infield and to the outfield corners, but his ultimate upside likely depends on the amount of power production he’s able to tap into without his strikeout and walk rates getting out of hand.
10. James Peyton Smith, RHP, East Robertson HS, Cross Plains, Tenn. (BA RANK: 146)
Source: HS • Ht: 6-4 • Wt: 225 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Vanderbilt
When Smith committed to Vanderbilt, he was throwing in the 88-91 mph range with impressive feel for his changeup and solid control and command. He’s changed his profile over the past year or so, and now has one of the livelier fastballs in the high school class, a pitch that has been up into the 97-98 mph range at its best, with arm-side running action that comes from a lower, three-quarter arm slot. A big and physical righthander listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Smith attacks hitters with a lot of moving parts, with a long and inverted arm action in the back and a crossfire landing on his finish with significant effort. That has led to questions about his strike throwing and control and leads some scouts to think he’s ultimately best suited for a bullpen role. Smith has thrown multiple breaking balls, a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curve, and scouts think those pitches play up thanks to the life of his fastball, but they both need further refinement and consistency, and some scouts wonder if his arm action will prevent him from getting to an above-average breaking ball. He does have good feel for his changeup, which has a chance to be an above-average pitch. Smith’s arm talent is legit, and he has starter upside if he can iron out some of the moving parts in his delivery, but he could be a tough sign out of Vanderbilt.
Ferguson helped lead The Bolles School in Jacksonville to back-to-back state championships in high school and entered this spring as an industry favorite with a chance to go among the first 50 picks in the draft. After a season in which he hit .264/.387/.485 with a 23% strikeout rate that might be on the optimistic end of potential outcomes for him. Scouts really liked Ferguson’s swing entering the year, but thought it backed up a bit this spring as he started to leak out over his front side more frequently. Entering the year, scouts saw a player with an average hit tool and good bat-to-ball traits, but he was clearly trying to hit for more power this spring and that approach led to less contact, albeit with a career-high 12 home runs—though almost all of those homers went to the pull side. Teams will probably want him to get back to a more contact-oriented approach with a wood bat at the next level, control the zone more efficiently and get on base to use his legs. Ferguson is a good athlete and a plus runner who has always stolen bases at a high success rate, and this spring went 15-for-19 (79%) in stolen base attempts. He’s played second base for Tennessee and has more than enough speed and athleticism to handle the position, but some scouts would like to see him in center field thanks to his running ability and the fact that he doesn’t always look natural with his defensive actions on the dirt.
Keegan had a loud summer in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League and was one of the better performing hitters in the country early this spring. Through 53 games, Keegan hit .361/.441/.673 with 14 home runs to power the middle of Vanderbilt’s lineup. Listed at 6 feet, 210 pounds, Keegan is a bit undersized as a first baseman and he’s just fringy defensively at the position, but he has caught in the past—although this spring CJ Rodriguez has been the team’s primary catcher. Scouts are worried about his defensive profile at the next level because if he can’t catch he’s likely limited to first base as a below-average runner with a fringy arm, but they haven’t been able to see him catch much at all recently. He’s shown all-fields power this spring, though it has come with some swing-and-miss tendencies (27 K%), and he has struggled to catch up to 93-plus mph fastball velocity. Because of that there are scouts who think he’ll be a better college hitter than pro hitter, but in a class light on college bats, Keegan’s performance could be loud enough to go at some point in the fourth-to-10th-round range—especially if a team thinks he has a chance to catch.
Corona plays at the same Baylor High program in Chattanooga, Tenn., as fellow 2021 infielder Cooper Kinney, making it one of the more exciting prep infield tandems in the country. Corona is a 6-foot-2, 198-pound shortstop who has a solid tool set across the board but lacks a real carrying tool. He’s hitterish in the box thanks to impressive hands that play on the defensive side as well, with a compact bat path and some ability to manipulate the barrel. He has fringe-average power now but could grow into average power in the future. He’s a solid runner now with above-average arm strength and should be able to do enough defensively to play shortstop or third base in college, though most evaluators think his best defensive home is third base because he isn’t the twitchiest athlete in the middle of the infield. Corona can get on the mound and throw in the lower 90s, and he might get a chance to do a little bit of both if he makes it to campus at Wake Forest, but he’s a position player for MLB scouts.
Rodriguez has been an advanced defensive catcher dating back to his days in high school, when he was part of the Canes Prospects team that won the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Jupiter in 2017. He impressed Vanderbilt’s coaching staff from the moment he stepped on campus for his skills on both sides of the ball. A 5-foot-10, 200-pound backstop, Rodriguez’s professional prospects are solidly built on his defensive ability behind the plate and his ability to control the zone as a hitter. He’s been the starting catcher since day one for a Vanderbilt program that has big-time pitching talent, and scouts like his catch-and-throw ability, as well as his advanced receiving and blocking. Through his first 63 games with Vanderbilt, Rodriguez threw out 34% of basestealers. Rodriguez doesn’t have massive arm strength—some scouts grade it as average, and some put it as above-average—but his exchange and release are quick and help his natural strength play up. He has very limited power at the plate and creates most of his offensive value by simply working the count and getting on base. This spring he walked at a 16% rate and struck out just 8.5% of the time—one of the lowest rates in the SEC among players with 100 plate appearances. Rodriguez might not have the offensive tool set to profile as an everyday big leaguer, but he could do enough to be a backup. For analytical teams that like how he’s handled Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter and appreciate his on-base ability, he could go in the middle of the top-10 rounds.
Station Camp High has been scouted heavily this spring thanks to the presence of righthander Chase Burns and Ginther, who is an undersized lefthander committed to Vanderbilt. Listed at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, Ginther showed an impressive two-pitch mix last summer with a fastball that has been up to 94-95 mph at best and a breaking ball that has a chance to be an above-average pitch. Teams really like the spin qualities on his fastball that could allow the pitch to play up from its velocity and rack up whiffs in the top of the strike zone, though there is some reliever risk thanks to a violent delivery that features heavy spin off in his landing. Ginther is committed to Vanderbilt and could be a tough sign.
Fisher is likely to be an enigma for teams this spring. The big, physical lefthander was draft-eligible last year but didn’t pitch at all in the shortened 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. This spring he did get back on the mound, but he didn’t pitch much for a loaded Vanderbilt team, throwing just 11 innings over 14 appearances. He struck out 13 batters (10.9 K/9) but also walked 10 (8.2 BB/9) and now has an extensive track record of below-average control going back to 2018 with the Commodores. Scouts are still drawn to the standout pure stuff, and this spring he threw his fastball in the 93-95 mph range and got up to 97 from the left side. He shows a power slider in the mid 80s as well, which looks like a real plus offering when he lands it—problem is, he rarely does. Fisher has also thrown a firm, upper-80s changeup. With a 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame and a sidearm slot from the left side he creates a tough angle for hitters and has real back-of-the-bullpen pure stuff. He’ll need to take massive steps forward with his control and consistency before a big league team will trust him in a high-leverage role, though.
Smith didn’t get a ton of usage in Vanderbilt’s pitching staff this spring, but he showed impressive strike-throwing ability out of the bullpen over 12.2 innings and nine appearances, while posting a 3.55 ERA. Smith struck out 18 batters (12.8 K/9) and walked just three (12.8 BB/9) while showcasing a four-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range, and he can get it up a few ticks higher than that at best, and he also mixed in a low-80s slider and upper-70s curveball and infrequently used a mid-80s changeup. Smith has pitched in a starting role for Vanderbilt in the past and might have the pitch mix and strike-throwing ability to get a chance to do it again at the next level, but his stuff seems to play better in a bullpen role.
Brown has racked up a ton of strikeouts this spring with Middle Tennessee State and finished the year with one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in the country. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander, Brown posted a 3.99 ERA over 14 starts and 85.2 innings of work, while striking out 113 batters (11.9 K/9) compared to just 15 walks (1.6 BB/9). Among Division I arms with at least 50 innings pitched, his 7.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio was good for 10th best in the country. Some scouts had interest in Brown a year ago thanks to that pitching ability, and there’s no-doubt his numbers will intrigue teams again this year. Brown is a fastball/changeup pitcher who sits around 90 mph but has been up to 95 and throws his changeup in the 78-82 mph range. Both pitches have gotten a ton of whiffs for him this spring, but scouts are more skeptical about his ability to spin the ball. He’s thrown a slider and a curve, but both need work.
Leath only threw 6.1 innings this season thanks to a hamstring injury that shut him down the rest of the way, but he’s dominated hitters in the brief time he’s been on the mound over the last two years at Tennessee. While he’s thrown just 25 innings for the Volunteers after transferring in from Blinn (Texas) College, Leath has a career 1.08 ERA with 37 strikeouts (13.3 K/9) and just seven walks (2.5 BB/9). He pitches in the low 90s with his fastball and can get to 94-95 mph but used a power breaking ball in the low 80s as his primary pitch and he’s gotten enough swing and miss with the offering to project it as above-average. Leath has a reliever look but a real weapon with his breaking ball.
Valincius is a massive corner infielder with big-time raw power out of a 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. The South Carolina commit is a power-over-hit bat at the moment, but he does have some track record of showing good timing at the plate and performing against quality competition. This spring scouts thought he did a good job of getting his body into shape and shedding some weight, and evaluators have noted that he has impressive body control and mobility for his size, with an above-average or plus arm that could allow him to stick at third base. His most realistic future home is still first base because of his size and below-average running ability that could limit his range when the game gets faster at the next level. Valincius is a tough profile out of high school who might have to prove his hitting ability and in-game power in the SEC.
21. Jay Dill, RHP, Baylor
Source: HS • Ht: 6-5 • Wt: 225 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Missouri
22. Ben Joyce, RHP, Tennessee
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-5 • Wt: 225 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Tennessee
23. Nolan Letzgus, RHP, Walters State (Tenn.) JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-0 • Wt: 180 • B-T: B-R • Commitment/Drafted: Cubs '19 (34)
24. Trey Lipscomb, INF/OD, Tennessee
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 200 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
25. Devin Obee, OF, Ensworth HS, Nashville
Source: HS • Ht: 6-2 • Wt: 210 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Duke
26. Connor Pavolony, C, Tennessee
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 190 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
27. Elijah Pleasants, RHP, Tennessee
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-5 • Wt: 200 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Royals '18 (36)
28. Camden Sewell, RHP, Tennessee
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-4 • Wt: 190 • B-T: L-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
29. Alberto Osuna, 1B, Walters State (Tenn.) JC
Source: JC • Ht: 6-1 • Wt: 235 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: North Carolina
30. Brett Hansen, LHP, Vanderbilt
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-4 • Wt: 205 • B-T: L-L • Commitment/Drafted: Giants '18 (38)
31. Drew Beam, RHP, Blackman
Source: HS • Ht: 6-4 • Wt: 200 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Tennessee
32. Thomas Schultz, RHP, Vanderbilt
Source: 4YR • Ht: 6-6 • Wt: 215 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted
33. Hayden Summers, RHP, Walters State (Tenn.) JC
Source: JC • Ht: 5-11 • Wt: 185 • B-T: R-R • Commitment/Drafted: Never Drafted