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2021 USA Baseball College National Team Top MLB Draft Prospects

Image credit: Reggie Crawford (Photo courtesy of USA Baseball)

USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in July finished a summer unlike any before it. Due to travel restrictions and the continued fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the team didn’t compete in any international competition overseas or on home soil. Instead, the 48-man roster competed in a series of 11 intrasquad scrimmages mostly in the footprint of the Appalachian League and capped off the schedule with a three-game series in North Carolina against the USA Olympic team. 

Unique circumstances aside, the CNT still provided a lengthy look at the best college players returning to campus for the 2022 season and a preview of what’s to come in the next couple of drafts. 

While the 2022 draft rankings published earlier this month take a holistic view of a prospect, this list is informed primarily by a player’s performance this summer and conversations with coaches and evaluators who watched the CNT. As such, some discrepancies in the rankings exist.

1. Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly 

After missing nearly all of the shortened 2020 season due to injury, Lee, the son of Cal Poly coach Larry Lee, burst onto the scene in 2021 by hitting .342/.384/.626 with 27 doubles and 10 home runs, two years after passing on potentially being a first-round pick to attend college. 

A switch-hitter, Lee has always been lauded for his skills as a pure hitter and that continued this summer, when he hit .306 during the intrasquad slate and finished the summer by going 3-for-4 in the final game against the Olympic team. His physicality has also raised eyebrows and there’s confidence that he will hit for power at the next level from both sides of the plate. Defensively, he may not stick at shortstop, but his plus hands and arm should make him a fit at third base. 

2. Reggie Crawford, LHP, Connecticut

A two-way player for UConn, Crawford has been more of an impact player at the plate to this point of his college career, but he’s been effective in his short looks on the mound. Last season for the Huskies, he struck out 17 batters in 7.2 innings. 

Simply put, there was no player with more buzz on the CNT over the summer. A physical presence at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Crawford works with a high-90s fastball from the left side that touched 99 against the Olympic team, but he also features a curveball and slider that he can land for strikes. He doesn’t presently have a changeup, in part because it’s hard to argue against the effectiveness of his current repertoire against college hitters. There is confidence Crawford can be a starting pitcher, and evaluators will be eager to see how the lefthander performs in an expanded role in 2022. 

3. Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech

It was a high bar to clear for Jace Jung to be as productive a hitter at Texas Tech as his brother Josh, who was a first-round pick of the Rangers in 2019, but he’s on track to do so. Last season, he hit .337/.462/.697 with 21 home runs for the Red Raiders. He’s similar to the other infielders high on this list in that his bat makes him a potential first-round pick, even as there are questions about his value in other areas. 

Jung is the type of pure hitter that forces coaches to reach for the cliche of saying that he “can really hit,” and while power from both sides of the plate is already present, there is confidence that there is still more to come in that regard. The defensive questions around his game stem from him not being seen as overly athletic, and his fringy arm strength. One individual made a Max Muncy comparison for Jung as a successful player who leads with the bat and gets by defensively. 

4. Jacob Berry, 3B/1B, Louisiana State

Berry started hitting shortly after arriving on campus last year at Arizona and he hasn’t stopped since. He hit .352/.439/.676 with 19 home runs for the Wildcats in 2021 on the way to freshman All-American honors. After the season, he followed coach Jay Johnson in a transfer from Arizona to LSU, where he will join what was already going to be one of the best lineups in the country. 

The summer slate didn’t slow Berry’s bat down, as he hit .387/.475/.871 with four homers during the 11 scrimmages. He had a tougher time against the pros on the Olympic team, but he hit a home run off of Scott Kazmir in game 1 of that three-game series. There are no questions about Berry’s ability at the plate, and that is what has him so high on this list. There are questions about his defensive ability, as he served primarily as a DH for Arizona and played first base for the CNT, but his work ethic suggests that it’s plausible he wills himself into being playable somewhere on the field before it’s all said and done. 

5. Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State

The 54th-ranked prospect on the BA 500 going into the 2020 draft, Crews removed his name from consideration in the draft to attend LSU instead. He was nothing short of a phenom in his first season with the Tigers in 2021, hitting .362/.453/.663 with 18 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 39 walks compared to 44 strikeouts, a very impressive ratio for a first-year hitter in the SEC.

Crews was shut down after seven scrimmages this summer when he suffered a minor injury playing defense, but he did enough to lead one CNT coach to say that he showed the best bat-to-ball skills of any hitter on the team. Crews’ stock dropped a bit just prior to the draft in 2020 in part due to concerns about the swing and miss in his game, but his freshman performance and low strikeout rate this summer should help allay those concerns. His ability as a plus hitter with plus raw power stands out, but as a solid runner with good instincts in the outfield, Crews presents an exciting all-around package that makes him the highest-ranked 2023 draft prospect on the list. 

6. Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech

The 48th-ranked player on the BA 500 ahead of the 2020 draft and considered one of the best hitters in his prep class, Parada eschewed the draft and the start of his pro career to enroll at Georgia Tech, where he shined as a freshman, hitting .318/.379/.550 with 20 doubles and nine home runs. He also swung the bat well this summer while splitting reps at catcher with Arizona’s Daniel Susac, going 10-for-25 in the scrimmages. 

Parada is seen as a bat-first catcher, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you are as productive as he has been so far. There’s little concern about his ability to hit at the next level, but there are questions about how much more power can be expected from a frame that’s fairly filled out already. Defensively, he has a fringy arm, but he did show improvement in his blocking and receiving this summer. A draft-eligible sophomore for the 2022 class, Parada is seen as a very high-floor prospect and that should keep him high on draft boards, despite some defensive limitations at present. 

7. Daniel Susac, C, Arizona

A teammate of Berry’s last season in Tucson, Susac put together a freshman All-American campaign of his own by hitting .335/.392/.591 with 24 doubles and 12 home runs, with his slash line jumping up to .363/.397/.669 in conference play. He and Parada were on the same team in the scrimmages this summer and split time behind the plate, with Susac going 6-for-22. 

Also a draft-eligible sophomore, Susac provides an interesting foil for Parada for the title of the best college catcher in the 2022 draft class, and whereas the Georgia Tech backstop is seen as having a high floor, Susac’s ceiling might be more tantalizing. He brings value to the table defensively with a plus arm behind the plate, which pairs nicely with the plus raw power he boasts as a hitter. 

8. Gavin Cross, OF, Virginia Tech

Cross was among the breakout stars in college baseball in 2021, hitting .345/.415/.621 with 13 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs. He built on that success by establishing himself as the CNT’s most consistent hitter during the course of the intrasquad scrimmage schedule. He hit .455/.474/.879 with four home runs in those 11 games, and was the only player to have a hit in all three games against the Olympic team. 

Over the last six months, Cross has shown himself to be one of the best hitters in college baseball, and his summer with the CNT cemented his place among the elite prospects for the 2022 draft, with he and LSU’s Barry emerging as the two biggest all-around threats at the plate as the summer wore on. Defensively, he isn’t a standout outfielder, but his skills and power bat fit him into a right field profile. 

9. Brock Jones, OF, Stanford

A former safety on the football team at Stanford, Jones is one of the most exciting players in college baseball. After struggling as a freshman in the small sample that was 2020, Jones broke out last season, hitting .311/.453/.646 with 18 home runs to become a catalyst in a powerful Stanford lineup. 

Jones is every bit the athlete you would expect him to be given his football background, and he is often lauded for his cerebral approach to the game. He’s a good runner, but not a burner, and that’s part of why there’s concern about his ability to stick in center field. His arm might also prove to be a liability defensively. Jones already has plenty of power to go around, but there’s some thought that there might be more in the tank as he learns to lift the ball more effectively. 

10. Hunter Barco, LHP, Florida

While he wasn’t as dominant as he was during the shortened 2020 season as a first-year player, Barco was Florida’s most consistent starter in 2021 on the way to putting up a 4.01 ERA that doesn’t fully capture how effective he was for the most part down the stretch. He threw just once for the CNT during the scrimmage schedule and was masterful, throwing three scoreless innings with eight of his nine outs coming via strikeout. 

The lefthander, who was one of the top prospects in the draft coming out of high school in 2019, works with a four-pitch mix headlined by a fastball that averaged a touch under 92 mph and touched 95 in 2021, plus a slider that induced a 44% whiff rate. Despite not yet putting up a full season with eye-popping numbers, Barco remains a top arm in a class relatively short on pitching prospects thanks to his considerable stuff and track record at a high-level program.

11. Robert Moore, 2B, Arkansas

Moore emerged as a catalyst in the Arkansas lineup in 2021. Not only did he hit .283/.384/.558 with a team-leading 16 home runs, but he seemed to come up with the big hit the Razorbacks needed every time he was asked to do so. He was also one of the most consistent hitters on the CNT during the scrimmage schedule, hitting .351, good for fourth on the team. 

The son of Royals general manager Dayton Moore, Robert has the advanced skills and mature approach to the game that you would expect from someone who was raised in that environment. Although he showed surprising power in the spring for a player who is 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, that wasn’t expressed during his summer on the CNT as he had just one extra-base hit, a double. Moore is a good runner, and his good hands and smooth defensive actions make him a fit at second base.

12. Landon Sims, RHP, Mississippi State

Sims was a workhorse reliever for national champion Mississippi State last season, putting up a 1.44 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 56.1 innings of work. The righthander was nearly as dominant for the CNT, with six strikeouts in 3.1 scoreless innings during scrimmages and a scoreless frame against the Olympic team. Next season, he is slated to get a crack at transitioning to a role in the weekend rotation. 

His fastball averaged 94.5 mph and touched 98 in the spring, although it was down a few ticks in the summer, likely due to his heavy workload and late end to the season with MSU. Beyond the velocity, his fastball is impressive because it’s a swing-and-miss pitch. In the spring, it had a nearly 40% whiff rate, a nearly unheard of figure for a fastball. His slider is similarly effective and was the best on the CNT. One CNT coach marveled that no one seemed to get any good swings off of Sims all summer. 

13. Paul Skenes, RHP/C, Air Force

Going into last season, few knew the name of Paul Skenes, but that’s changed in a big way in 2021. A two-way star for Air Force in the spring, he hit .410/.486/.697 with 11 home runs and had a 2.70 ERA and 11 saves on the mound. His baseball future, as it stands now, is as a pitcher. For the CNT, he was used sparingly, but he impressed in small looks on the mound. 

He threw four total scoreless innings, two during the scrimmage schedule and two in the first game of the series against the Olympic team. His fastball was up to 96 mph against the Olympians. That velocity looks fairly easy from a 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame, and his fastball has been up to 98 in the past. In the spring, his slider had a 47% whiff rate, but in the look against the Olympic team, he also showed a changeup that flashed plus. 

14. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi

Gonzalez wasted no time in becoming an impact player for Mississippi, hitting .355/.443/.561 with 12 home runs, all while walking (38) more often than he struck out (34). That served to back up his reputation as a standout hitter in the 2020 class coming out of high school. Things didn’t go as well with the CNT, as he hit just .182, but he was limited for a time with a sprained ankle. 

He will remain high on prospect lists thanks to his bat, especially if he continues to perform in the SEC like he did last season. He has the arm for shortstop, but evaluators will be eager to see him man the position over the next couple of years to get a feel for if he will stick at the position at the next level. 

15. Tanner Witt, RHP, Texas

Witt was excellent from the jump for Texas last season in a relief role, putting up a 3.16 ERA, a .194 opponent batting average and 73 strikeouts in 57 innings, and he saved his best outing of the season for Omaha, where he threw 5.2 scoreless innings against Tennessee in an elimination game in the College World Series. He was outstanding again with the CNT, giving up four hits and one run in six innings over two appearances. 

Witt’s fastball last spring averaged just over 92 mph and touched 96 with a curveball in the high 70s and a changeup in the low 80s that induced a nearly 40% whiff rate last season. The righthander will likely get a chance to start at Texas sooner rather than later, and his success in that role will have quite a bit of bearing on how he’s viewed as a prospect a year from now.

16. Nate Savino, LHP, Virginia

A first round talent coming out of high school who instead chose to attend Virginia as an early enrollee, Savino took on a bigger role in his second season at Virginia in 2021, throwing 54.2 innings with a 3.79 ERA as a swingman. With the CNT, he struggled a bit by giving up seven hits and eight runs (five earned) in six innings. 

Savino works with a sinking fastball in the low 90s, a sweeping slider and a changeup in the low 80s out of a low slot. The trouble is that the lefthander just hasn’t missed enough bats so far in his college career. He has 44 strikeouts in 65.1 career innings with the Cavaliers, and last season, none of his three offerings had a whiff rate greater than 22%. Savino’s stuff and pedigree is good enough that he will continue to be an intriguing prospect, but evaluators will be looking for a step up in 2022. 

17. Logan Tanner, C, Mississippi State

After hitting .287/.382/.525 with a team-leading 15 home runs for Mississippi State in the spring, Tanner went just 4-for-22 for the CNT over the summer, but more importantly, he continued to show the defensive prowess that has made him another name to watch in a strong class of college catchers for the 2022 draft. 

Tanner is a good receiver, a skill honed with two years of experience handling high-end pitching staffs at MSU, and he also features a plus arm that helped him throw out 35% of would-be basestealers a season ago. There are questions about how much he can be expected to hit at the next level, but he does have good raw power, which could help him be a contributor offensively even if the hit tool doesn’t progress. 

18. Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee

A velocity jump just before the 2020 draft increased Tidwell’s profile, but he still ended up at Tennessee, where he handled the rigors of pitching in the SEC well, with a 3.74 ERA in 98.2 innings. After that heavy workload in the spring, he got hit around a bit with the CNT, giving up six hits and six runs in seven innings of work. 

An eligible sophomore for the 2022 draft, Tidwell is already one of the most proven starting pitchers in a draft class light on them. The headliner in his repertoire is a fastball that averaged 94 mph last spring and touched 99, but he also features a slider and a changeup that had nearly 40% whiff rates during the season, and he’ll occasionally flip in a curveball as well. 

19. Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida

Sproat had a 1.50 ERA in the small sample that was the shortened 2020 season, but he wasn’t able to back that performance up as a second-year pitcher at Florida. He had a 6.65 ERA in 21.2 innings with nearly as many walks (15) as strikeouts (18). He was much better, however, over the summer with the CNT, giving up five hits and two runs with eight strikeouts in nine innings, including three hitless innings against the Olympic team. 

Stuff is not a concern with Sproat. His fastball touched 100 in the spring, and in his three-inning outing against the Olympians, the pitch sat in the mid-to-high 90s. His changeup was also a weapon in 2021, with a greater than 40% whiff rate. He needs to refine his command, but his premium stuff is enough to offer plenty of promise for the future.

20. Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina

Sanders had some ups and downs as a freshman at South Carolina. After dominating in a relief role early in the season, he moved into the rotation, where he initially had great success before struggling during the back half of the conference slate. Put together, though, it was an impressive first season for Sanders and one that has placed him among the top prospects to watch for the 2023 draft. For the Gamecocks, he had a 3.54 ERA in 54.1 innings before giving up eight hits and four runs in five innings during the CNT scrimmages. 

Sanders is a hard thrower, with a fastball that averaged 94.1 mph in the spring and touched 97. He also uses a slider and a changeup, with the former inducing a 45% whiff rate last season. The righthander was seen as lanky and projectable coming out of high school, but already, he’s added some muscle to his frame. The hope for evaluators is that he continues on that trajectory and develops into a workhorse over the next two years. 

21. Carson Whisenhunt, LHP, East Carolina

Whisenhunt came out of the gate extremely hot for East Carolina last season, giving up just three runs and striking out 36 in 22.2 innings over his first four starts, and although that pace slowed as ECU got into the teeth of conference play, he remained a key piece in the rotation, finishing with a 3.77 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 62 innings. He was also excellent in two starts for the CNT, giving up three hits and one run with 10 strikeouts in six innings. 

The lefthander really turned heads with what he did in a small sample with the CNT, only adding to the anticipation of what he will accomplish next spring. He works with a fastball that averaged 92 mph last season and touched 95, complemented by a swing-and-miss changeup. Last season, the pitch had a 59% whiff rate, and this summer, albeit in a small sample, it had an astounding 71% whiff rate. He doesn’t use his curveball as often as those two offerings, but that was still a pitch that had a greater than 40% whiff rate last season. 

22. Kyle Teel, C/OF, Virginia

After taking his name out of the draft to attend Virginia, Teel emerged as the Cavaliers’ best hitter in 2021, putting up a .335/.416/.526 slash line with nine home runs. With the CNT, he hit .233 (7-for-30), but his three doubles were tied for the team lead during the 11-game scrimmage schedule. 

Teel is an extraordinary athlete, which is among the reasons he was able to bounce around between catcher and right field for Virginia in the spring. He’s raw behind the plate, but his athleticism gives him a fair chance to become a good defender when it’s all said and done, and his plus arm is already an asset. It seems clear that Teel is going to hit, but the biggest remaining questions deal with where he ends up defensively and how well he plays the position once that’s determined. 

23. Jaxon Wiggins, RHP, Arkansas

A 6-foot-6, 220-pound righthander, Wiggins had an up-and-down year as a freshman at Arkansas, putting up a 5.09 ERA in 23 innings. He flashed the big stuff that makes him a pitcher to watch, but at the same time, he struggled with an 8.44 ERA in SEC play, showing he still had strides to make. He enjoyed a successful summer with the CNT, giving up six hits and two runs with no walks and nine strikeouts in six innings during the scrimmages. 

Wiggins is a fastball-heavy pitcher, and it’s easy to see why. The pitch averaged over 95 mph in the spring and touched triple digits, and he held that velocity by showing a fastball from 96-99 over the summer. His changeup does show signs of being a plus complementary pitch, however. He had a nearly 60% whiff rate on that pitch last season. Wiggins has all of the raw materials to become one of the best pitching prospects in the country, but it’s just about development and refinement now. 

24. Ethan Long, 1B, Arizona State

Long quickly emerged as one of the best power hitters in the country last season, hitting .340/.417/.704 with 16 home runs in his first season at Arizona State. He continued to swing it well as a member of the CNT, going 8-for-24 with three doubles in eight scrimmages and 1-for-3 in his one start against the Olympic team. 

Long’s ability at the plate, and specifically his power, will be his calling card, but where he lands defensively will play a role in how he’s valued as a prospect. He mostly spent time at DH last season for ASU, but also played first base and both corner outfield spots. As long as he continues to mash, being relegated to first base is not viewed as negatively as it once was from a prospect standpoint, but showing the ability to handle the outfield can’t hurt. Long also saved a handful of games for the Sun Devils and threw 6.2 innings with a fastball that touched as high as 94 mph, but it’s understood as of now that his future is with the bat.  

25. Hayden Dunhurst, C, Mississippi

Dunhurst has been a solid contributor with the bat through two seasons at Mississippi, hitting .278/.380/.461 with 12 home runs over 82 games. It was a tougher go for the switch-hitting catcher with the CNT, as he went 4-for-25, with all four hits singles. 

Despite the struggles over the summer, there is still confidence that Dunhurst will hit and hit for power at the next level. Additionally, he provides defensive value, including a plus throwing arm that helped him throw out 39% of would-be basestealers last spring. With his ability to defend at a high level and be a middle-of-the-order bat, Dunhurst is a well-rounded catching prospect.

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