Image credit: Elijah Green (Photo by Ken Murphy/Four Seam)
Welcome to our first draft mailbag of the 2021 season! College baseball is underway this weekend so draft season is just about to be fully in swing. We’ll try and tackle many of your draft questions throughout the process. Feel free to send any questions to me on Twitter (@CarlosACollazo).
Let’s dive right in.
I think different teams will have different ideas of how to go about the age factor. Some teams already put more of an emphasis on age than other organizations and that will probably continue this year.
Some models are surely going to bang the returning college players more than others because of their age, but that will give some clubs an opportunity to zig while everyone else is zagging. If models are pushing a solid college player down the board because of his birth date I think you might see other teams get aggressive with that demographic to find some pretty good value that has slipped down the board.
At the same time, teams won’t be able to push those players quite as much in negotiations because the extra year gives them more leverage than they would normally have. There will still be players who sign big under slot deals for a variety of reasons.
This is a fascinating question—and a good one.
We will have to see this play out to know for sure, but I think my immediate instinct is to assume that the rates of college players selected in the draft will only continue to increase. That’s been the trend for several years now, as more and more teams feel comfortable with the safer demographic of college players.
There are always going to be tooled-up high school players that you simply can’t pass on because their upside is too high. But I do wonder if teams like the Padres or Indians, or others who have been extremely prep-heavy in recent years, will continue taking high schoolers at the same rate.
I don’t think the Robert Hassell’s of the world are going anywhere, but what about long-term projection plays like righthander Justin Lange? The Padres gave him $2 million in the supplemental first round because his natural arm talent is pretty unbelievable, but he is one of the most raw players in the class.
If there is a higher turnover rate in the minors because there are fewer spots and each spot carries more weight/value as a bigger percentage of a team’s “prospect stockpile” are those players given a shorter leash to figure it out? It does seem like the incentives are in place to avoid those sorts of players and profiles and delegate the development to the college ranks.
Conversely, hitting on a high-upside high school player before he goes to college proves it is still one of the most cost-effective ways (in addition to the international market) for clubs to acquire stars.
This one will be interesting to see unfold.
At the moment we have Cusick ranked No. 33 with a group of collegiate arms including Michigan lefthander Steven Hajjar, Florida righthander Tommy Mace, Mississippi State righthanders Eric Cerantola and Will Bednar and Boston College righthander Mason Pelio.
I believe all of those arms have a chance to move into the first round with a strong season, but Cusick will have to prove his strike-throwing ability and increase the consistency of his secondary stuff.
No one questions the arm strength. He throws hard and will likely pitch in the upper 90s but he has a career 4.8 walk rate and many scouts currently think he is more of a reliever than starter at the next level. If he follows in the path of his former teammate Jared Shuster and ticks up the strikes to give teams more confidence in a starter projection, he has the talent to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, I would think.
There’s going to be a ton of movement this year. Probably more than in any year I have covered the draft for Baseball America (since 2017).
With the uncertainty in the college class entering the season, there should be plenty of movement from that group of players. So the college pitching group I mentioned previously could be all over the map by the time July comes due to injury, improved stuff/command, or a down season.
With that caveat, I think some of the safer bets in this range are prep pitchers who slide and pitchability college arms who have performance but maybe not as much high-end stuff as the pitchers going in the first.
The prep pitching group of Chase Burns, Jackson Jobe, Joshua Hartle, Max Debiec, Anthony Solometo, Brock Selvidge and Ben Kudrna would be a good place to start. The college arms would include Miami (Ohio) righthander Sam Bachman and Mississippi State lefthander Christian Macleod.
Then I would start to look at hitters who maybe don’t have the best profile but have tools or college performance. Guys like Tennessee second baseman Max Ferguson or Florida State outfielder Robby Martin or preps like catcher Ian Moller (high-risk demo) or right-right outfielders including Malakhi Knight, Lonnie White Jr. and Will Taylor.
There’s a good chance a college bat I’m not even thinking about or don’t know very well rises up the board this spring—it’s that sort of volatile year.
I think Green would be in the top tier of hitters in this class if he were eligible this year, but I don’t think I would have him as the favorite to go 1-1. I think you could make an argument that he’s the top Florida outfielder in the class (ahead of his IMG Academy teammate James Wood and Florida outfielder Jud Fabian) if you really liked him, but 1-1 is a tough ask for a right-right high school outfielder who might wind up being a corner guy in the long run.
There have been six high school outfielders taken with the first pick in the draft. Three of those players were right-right, with only Delmon Young being selected as a right-right, 1-1 high school outfielder this century. You have to go back to 1984 (Shawn Abner) and 1969 (Jeff Burroughs) to get the other two.
Teams really scrutinize that profile, especially out of high school, and it is difficult for me at this point to declare Green as the presumptive 2022 1-1 favorite because of those reasons. I don’t think there’s one player who has worked his way into that spot just yet. Maybe that happens this season, but I think we would be overly aggressive to make that call right now.