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Can Jack Leiter Leapfrog Kumar Rocker In MLB Draft Prospect Rankings? (Mailbag)

Jack Leiter Vanderbilt
(Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt)

College baseball made its triumphant return last weekend and we got to put eyes on players in actual, meaningful games for the first time in what feels like forever. Naturally that has led to a lot of player discussion.

Below we touch on much of the action in our draft mailbag. Feel free to send any questions to me on Twitter (@CarlosACollazo).

It’s a good, not great, year for Georgia Tech prospects.

At the moment we have three ranked among the BA 200: lefthander Brant Hurter, shortstop Luke Waddell and lefthander Luke Bartnicki in that order.

Both the pitchers come with reliever risk and Hurter has a Tommy John surgery already on his resume that adds more to his risk profile. So perhaps Waddell is the least volatile prospect of the three, but he’ll also be 23 years old on the third day of the draft and I have to imagine many teams are going to knock him because of that.

I’ll still bet on Hurter, who could have the most upside of the trio.

I am much more excited about the Yellow Jackets' 2022 class of prospects, which includes a longtime personal favorite of mine in catcher Kevin Parada as well as hard-throwing righthander Zachary Maxwell and switch-hitting Drew Compton.

At the moment we have Kansas State lefty Jordan Wicks as the top-ranked college lefty and he did nothing to dissuade us from that during week one. We discussed him a bit in this week’s draft stock watch, though I admittedly saw less of him week one than some of the other pitchers in the first round range.

It was a bit surprising to see him topping 100 pitches on opening day, but as long as he stays healthy he has one of the safer profiles among the college arms in this class, even if he doesn’t have quite as much upside as a few of the names ranked in front of him right now.

College players like Wicks who throw strikes and have a solid track record go pretty well, and he has one of the better offspeed offerings in the entire class—so it’s not like he’s throwing only 50-grade pitches out there.

As to your second question, it’s difficult to move the needle too much in just a few games but it’s hard not to get excited about what South Carolina’s Wes Clarke did. After a Tuesday game against Winthrop where he hit three home runs and a three-game series against Dayton where he went 7-for-10 with three homers it's safe to say he’s a pretty big up-arrow guy.

I probably should have already had him on the BA 200 given his hitting track record and a solid summer with wood in the Coastal Plain League. I feel like he might be there on our next update.

I will say false but I appreciate where your head is at.

The MLB draft is hard and increased depth of the class might make your chances of hitting on guys later a bit better, but it's still far from a guarantee. I agree with where your thinking is coming from and have said for a while now that I think most teams will really come away from this draft loving the players they get in the 3-10 round range—perhaps more so than in any other draft.

The combination of insane depth—it’s at least a 60-grade class in that regard and some clubs put 80 grades on the depth—and the lack of consensus on the class as a whole means teams will be all over the place in terms of how they line up their boards. There's going to be less consensus than typical after we get outside of the first 50-70 players or so.

It would not surprise me at all if this draft class wound up with more productive players who were acquired in later rounds. I still wouldn't say someone "screwed up" if they missed on guys that late though. Every team is still going to miss at a decent clip at the end of the day.

Typically when you see a high school player with a 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame like Wood you would immediately think he’s a corner guy. And while that’s still his most likely future home, I think scouts were really surprised and impressed with how well he moved and with his instincts in the middle of the outfield.

Wood himself has said he has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to proving he can play center field and I wouldn’t want to write him off there until he proves he can’t.

At the same time, there are very few center fielders at the major league level as tall as Wood is. Players like Dexter Fowler and Lewis Brinson are a few on the short list. Perhaps he could be an outlier like those two, and the game has progressively gotten bigger and bigger across the board, which is probably worth noting.

But when I ask scouts this question specifically, most have come back to me with some variation of, “He’s pretty good defensively and is an impressive athlete, but I still have him as a future corner guy.”

I saw Jonathan Cannon briefly in the 2020 season while checking in on the Bulldogs early to get looks at righthanders Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox. He’s uber projectable with a 6-foot-6, 207-pound frame and a loose and easy delivery.

He’s one of many pitchers who was used primarily as a reliever but will transition into a starting role this year. He looks like a starter to me and I think there’s plenty left in the tank. He was already 92-95 mph with a good slider in a brief look last year.

Cannon didn’t pitch for Georgia on opening weekend, as he was recovering from mononucleosis. His teammate lefthander Ryan Webb is an interesting pitching prospect in his own right and also missed the first weekend due to Covid-19.

You can read more on both players in our 2021 draft rankings and the scouting reports therein. I think Cannon has first round potential though and wouldn't be surprised if some teams already had him in that range—even with just 11.1 innings under his belt.

After Leiter’s performance on Monday—and the fact that he’s going to be consistently pitching behind Rocker—I am sure this will be a fascinating question all season long.

Quite simply, Leiter needs to pitch well over a full season. Rocker has proven it more than any other pitcher in the upper tier of college arms for this draft class and Leiter (along with Louisiana State righthander Jaden Hill) needs more time to establish himself in a collegiate starting role.

No one in the industry doubts the talent of Leiter or Hill as being comparable to Rocker, but through no fault of their own, they haven’t been able to prove themselves in the way that Rocker has. While all of these pitchers have pedigree going back to their high school days, the amount of confidence teams can have in Rocker’s overall body of work is at this point greater than both Leiter and Hill. If they both stay healthy and take the ball every week this season it will be difficult to decide which pitcher you like best.

I do not believe that Rocker is entrenched in the 1-1 spot in the same way that Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman was two years ago. Rutschman was the wire-to-wire first overall pick favorite pretty much without question. While Rocker will have every chance to become the first pick I do think it’s more of an open competition this year between the arms we’ve mentioned, a college bat who could have a loud season or a prep player like Texas shortstop Jordan Lawlar—the No. 2 ranked player in the class at the moment.

A lot can happen over the next five months and just last year Minnesota righthander Max Meyer went from a reliever with starter questions to the first pitcher taken in the draft with just four weeks of performance. Hill fits that specific profile more than Leiter does, but both arms have potential to be the first taken in July.

We just need to let the season play out. They will wind up telling us which order they belong in based on their play, and if it's a toss up because they are all great—well, all the better for the Pirates, Rangers, Tigers and Red Sox.

Jack Leiter Gettyimages

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