2022 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Kevin Parada Homers At Will, Up Arrow College Arms
Welcome to Baseball America’s 2022 Draft Stock Watch. This is a recurring feature we’ll bring throughout the draft season to explore rising and falling prospects and dig into different themes and topics with the class at greater length.
Yes, the news that MLB canceled the first two series of the regular season certainly puts a damper on things this week, but hope springs eternal in the amateur space and baseball is still being played in high school and college by players who will go on to be the faces of the sport.
So let’s focus on that today by checking in on a few early-season performers and rising prospects after the second week of college baseball.
Today we touch on a college catcher who’s attempting to keep pace with North Carolina State’s Tommy White in the home run department, examine a few groundball artists off to strong starts and look at two additional West Coast arms with unique pitch mixes and deliveries.
After that, I have notes on players I saw in person last weekend at a heavily scouted Campbell-Maryland series, including a draft-eligible sophomore righthander who’s getting tons of top-three round chatter and power-armed shortstop Zach Neto.
Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech (No. 15)
The first item on Parada’s preseason to-do list this spring was to show more power.
After nine games, he’s homered six times—which is more than halfway to his previous season high of nine. While showing that sort of power against conference pitching will be more meaningful, it’s clear that Parada has added mass and strength this spring.
His playing weight dropped to around 190 pounds last summer when he was exhausted after a full season of catching for Georgia Tech and with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team—he ranked as the No. 6 draft prospect on the team. He’s currently listed at 210 pounds and with that additional strength, it seems like many of his doubles from last year—of which there were 20—are turning into home runs.
Through nine games, Parada is hitting .514/.581/1.135 with six homers, five doubles, five walks and four strikeouts. While it’s true that Parada has yet to face 90-plus mph velocity on a consistent basis, he has performed well in a small sample against that velocity and is also showing an ability to drive the ball with impact to right-center.
His first five home runs all came against pitches on the outer half of the zone and four of those five were driven out of the park to center or right-center field. Parada has always been viewed as an impressive pure hitter first and foremost, and his new strength gains are allowing him to access power in-game without selling out an approach that led to a .318 average during his freshman season in 2021.
What is notable about Parada this season is the development of his batting stance. This spring he’s tweaked a pre-pitch setup from 2021 and he now starts with his bat behind his back and pointed down into the dirt, with his lead shoulder raised and almost directly in between his eyes and the opposing pitcher. While it’s certainly unorthodox visually, Parada shifts his hands and his barrel to a more traditional looking load position during his leg kick before the pitcher releases the ball.
Evaluators asked about this unusual setup noted that it was perfectly fine as long as he gets to his launch position on time, and so far he’s done that. It seems like more of something that’s interesting to note, while his strength gains are leading directly to the increased power he is showing this spring.
Jonathan Cannon, RHP, Georgia (No. 58)
Parada isn’t the only Georgia prospect starting the season off well. On the other side of the ball, Georgia Friday night arm Jonathan Cannon is coming off his second strong start of the season. After outings against Albany and Akron, Cannon has thrown 14.1 innings while not giving up a run, allowing five hits (all singles), walking none and striking out nine.
Cannon is one of the better strike-throwers in the class, but he does face questions about the quality of his stuff and how much swing and miss he’ll generate against better hitters at the next level. He’s never posted better than the 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings mark he managed in 11.1 innings out of the bullpen during the shortened 2020 season and his fastball is more of the Michael McGreevy sinker type than an elite carry heater à la Jack Leiter or Landon Sims.
Some teams will certainly critique the analytical profile of Cannon’s fastball, but some teams are increasingly more intrigued with excellent command pitchers who have a strong foundation of strikes. That’s certainly Cannon’s profile.
His velocity is up a tick compared to the full 2021 season through two weeks but his whiff rate on the pitch is down. He generates a tremendous number of ground balls, however, and that rate is up from his 2021 season after generating nine groundouts against Albany and 14 groundouts against Akron. He was named Co-SEC pitcher of the week after throwing 8.1 shutout innings against Akron, while allowing just three singles and striking out five.
This weekend, Georgia and Georgia Tech play each other for a rivalry series and seeing the Cannon-Parada matchup will be must-watch viewing for draftniks.
Cooper Hjerpe, RHP, Oregon State (No. 90)
After walking four batters in his first start of the season against New Mexico, Hjerpe turned in a strong, six-inning outing against Xavier during week 2. He didn’t allow a run while scattering just three hits and striking out nine batters, compared to one walk.
Hjerpe doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but everything he throws plays up thanks to an incredibly tough slot. He’s a 6-foot-3, 200-pound southpaw who pitches from the first base side of the rubber and drops down to a sidearm delivery, which creates a difficult angle for both righties and lefties alike.
Scouts have wanted to see him throw more consistent secondaries, and a slot that helps his fastball play up could simultaneously make it tough to consistently spin a breaking ball, but through two starts this spring he has posted a 0.82 ERA over 11 innings, while striking out 17 batters (13.9 K/9) and walking five (4.1 BB/9).
Hjerpe has been a fastball-dominant pitcher in his collegiate career and it appears that is still the case through his first two starts, but it’s hard to argue with his results. He’s an intriguing arm with a unique analytical profile that should be exciting for MLB teams whether he remains a starter or has to transition to a bullpen role in the future.
We’re keeping an eye on how his velocity tracks throughout the season and the progress of his secondaries.
Luis Ramirez, RHP, Long Beach State (NR)
Ramirez was fantastic in the season opener against Mississippi State, when he retired the first 14 batters he faced and turned in six shutout innings to help Long Beach State upset the Bulldogs. In that outing he struck out five, walked two and didn’t allow a single hit.
He continued to pitch well in his second start of the season against Sacramento State last Friday, with seven shoutout innings while scattering six hits and striking out seven batters while walking none.
Scouts seem to regard Ramirez as one of the better college pitchers on the West Coast. Evaluators like his easy delivery and arm action and have noted that his velocity has trended in the right direction over the last few seasons.
So far in 2022 he’s sat around 92-93 mph with plus sinking action and impressive feel to spot his stuff around the strike zone. It's a heavy sinking fastball that should encourage plenty of weakly hit ground balls (so far he’s generated 17 groundouts and 10 fly outs) and scouts also think he has a strong changeup that mimics the shape of his fastball and could be effective as a swing-and-miss offering with increased usage.
On top of that, he has a breaking ball that gets above-average grades and features solid tilt and sharp, late bite at its best. The pitch will pop out of his hand and hang to his arm side, but when he executes down and to his glove side, it’s a legitimate swing-and-miss weapon.
Cory Lewis, RHP, UC Santa Barbara (NR)
Lewis is the Friday night starter for UC Santa Barbara, and is coming off a six-inning shutout start against Nevada last Friday. After striking out 11 batters and walking four, he’s up to 21 strikeouts and six walks on the season over two starts and 10.2 total innings.
His performance during week 2 earned him Big West pitcher of the week honors.
Lewis is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander who throws a fastball in the 89-92 mph range, but the pitch reportedly features standout induced vertical break and has gotten plenty of whiffs up in the zone. He’s also got a breaking ball in the 78-80 mph range that some scouts believe is his best pitch, in addition to a changeup and a knuckleball that could be a viable offering at the next level—a rarity for pitchers in the modern game.
In 2021, Lewis posted a 3.38 ERA over 80 innings while starting 10 games and relieving five, with solid strikeout (9.7 K/9) and walk rates (3.5 BB/9). Early in the 2022 season, Lewis’ strikeout (17.7 K/9) and walk rates (5.1 BB/9) are both up significantly, but he’s an interesting college arm with a unique pitch mix who could slide into the top 200 draft list on our next update.
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Thomas Harrington, RHP, Campbell (NR)
Harrington turned in an excellent freshman season in 2021, posting a 3.45 ERA over 14 starts and 75.2 innings of work. That ERA was the lowest among qualified Big South starters and his 75 strikeouts led all Campbell pitchers. With a July 12, 2001 birthday, Harrington is a draft-eligible sophomore and a name who drew a large scouting crowd—along with teammate Zach Neto—last weekend against Maryland.
Harrington is listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and has a thin build with room for additional strength. He pitches with a deliberate windup and works from the first base side of the rubber. He has a clean, loose arm action that works well and repeats a three-quarter slot consistently with good balance in his finish and slight hooking action in the back of his arm stroke.
On Friday against Maryland, Harrington threw seven innings, allowed two hits and one earned run, while striking out nine batters and walking one. He showed a four-pitch mix in this outing and had impressive feel for all his offerings, with above-average or plus control overall.
In the first inning, Harrington sat in the 91-93 mph range and touched 94, though his velocity steadily declined inning by inning and he was in the 89-91 mph range in the sixth and seventh innings. The fastball wasn’t an overpowering swing-and-miss pitch in this look. It has a bit of arm-side running life, though he did a nice job spotting the pitch to both sides of the plate.
His go-to secondary was an 82-87 mph changeup that he showed exceptional feel to spot and used as his primary swing-and-miss offering. It looked like an above-average changeup in this look, with slight fading action, and he had the confidence to use the pitch in any count and against righthanded hitters in addition to lefthanded hitters. He generated seven whiffs with the pitch in this outing.
Harrington threw both a slider and a curveball, and while those breaking balls both looked fringy or below-average initially, he improved his feel for them both as the outing progressed. His slider is a 78-81 mph breaking ball with flat, 10-to-4 shape and lacked tilt or hard, late biting action but his best offerings showed solid late turn and flashed solid against righthanded hitters. His curveball was his least-used pitch, a 75-78 mph breaking ball with 12-to-6 shape that he had less feel to land consistently and looked more like a change-of-pace offering.
It seems like the industry views Harrington as a top-three round talent at this point. He has a strong starter’s delivery and foundation of command with projection remaining that could help his fastball tick up in the future. After two starts, Harrington has posted a 0.69 ERA over 13 innings with 22 strikeouts and just one walk, as well as a .070 opposing batting average. As of Feb. 27, Harrington’s 22 strikeouts were tied for fourth among Division I pitchers.
Zach Neto, SS, Campbell (No. 36)
Neto entered the spring as a highly-acclaimed player who was named Big South player of the year after hitting .405/.488/.746 with 12 home runs last spring. Following that performance, Neto played well on the Cape (.304/.439/.587 with three home runs in 16 games) and ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the league.
Last weekend against Maryland, Neto went 1-for-7 with a bunt single, but he walked six times and didn’t strike out once. Neto is clearly the top hitter in Campbell’s lineup and was pitched around regularly—including one intentional walk with a runner on second base. Despite a relatively modest weekend, Neto was the leading hitter on the club after eight games with a .320/.472/.440 slash line. He tripled once, doubled once and had eight walks compared to just three strikeouts.
As his walk and strikeout numbers would suggest, Neto showed a solid approach at the plate and tracked pitches well. He was patient and rarely expanded the strike zone (though he did swing and miss through a fastball up on one occasion and also got aggressive in a 3-0 count with runners on during the second game, where he flew out) and generally seemed to track pitches well.
Neto showed a bit of home run power to left-center in batting practice, but it looks like his power primarily comes from bat speed and big, aggressive hacks. He’s listed at just 6-foot, 185 pounds and isn’t overly physical, but features an extra large leg kick to get started in his swing.
A big arm is likely Neto’s biggest tool. He showed easy plus arm strength from shortstop with impressive carry and life on his throws. That arm strength gives him opportunities to convert on ground balls hit deeply to his arm side in the 5-6 hole. He moves well defensively and has solid hands and actions, which should give him a chance to continue playing shortstop at the next level.
Nick Dean, RHP, Maryland (NR)
A junior righthander, Dean took the ball opposite Harrington in Friday’s matchup between Campbell and Maryland. While Dean doesn’t have eye-popping stuff by any means, he turned in a quality outing: seven shutout innings, three hits and one walk, with seven strikeouts.
Dean is an efficient strike-thrower who has managed 2.6 walks per nine innings over his collegiate career and on Friday showed impressive command for a four-pitch mix. He has a fastball that touched 92-93 mph a few times, but mostly sat in the 89-91 mph range in this outing.
Dean also shows confidence in a changeup in the 78-82 mph range, a short cutting slider in the 80-82 mph range and a top-to-bottom, 12-to-6 curveball that had solid depth but lacked power in the low-to-mid 70s. In this outing, Dean’s changeup was his best swing-and-miss offering, with eight whiffs generated, and he especially showed good feel to land the changeup, slider and fastball for strikes.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Dean has room to fill out and add strength to his frame and potentially allow his fastball velocity to creep up. He worked from the first base side of the rubber and threw from a three-quarter slot, with an extended arm action in the back of his stroke with stabbing action.
After two starts and 14 innings this season, Dean has yet to allow an earned run, while striking out 15 batters and walking two, with a .146 opposing batting average after facing Baylor and Campbell. He’s certainly a BA 500 candidate and potentially a late day two or early day three arm at the moment.