2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch For The Top 30 Prospects
Welcome to our draft stock watch series for 2021!
After starting this series for the 2019 draft class, we were excited to beef up and run with it more regularly for the 2020 draft class last year. Alas, dreams sometimes don’t come to fruition. While the coronavirus pandemic derailed many of our plans for 2020, we’re hopeful the 2021 season brings back some sense of normalcy.
As we get into the college baseball season, that means a regular draft stock watch piece every Tuesday. We’ll use the recurring feature to track risers and fallers in the draft, explore bigger-picture draft topics, the strengths and weaknesses of the class and talk to as many experts as possible.
RELATED: See the Top 200 draft prospects in the 2021 class
Today, we are taking a look at what the top prospects in the class have on their to-do lists. It's the fourth year we’ve done this particular project. Each year we try to identify specific areas of growth or areas of weakness that potential first-round picks will need to address in order to solidify or improve their draft stock.
Minnesota righthander Max Meyer and Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin serve as two prominent examples from last year’s to-do list.
At this time last year Meyer ranked No. 29 thanks mostly to questions about how his stuff would hold up in a starting role. Meyer had displayed his elite slider and high-octane fastball, but scouts wanted to see that stuff play and stay while he was starting full-time—not just out of the pen. While Meyer didn’t get a chance to show his stuff could hold over a full season, in the time he was given his stuff was as loud as ever and he posted a 1.95 ERA over four starts and 27.2 innings while striking out 46 batters (15.0 K/9) and walking just eight (2.6 BB/9). He ended up being the first pitcher selected with the third overall pick to Miami and signed for $6.7 million.
On the opposite end is Martin, who ranked No. 13 at this point and needed to improve his offensive approach and cut down his strikeouts. Like every player, Martin didn’t have a full season to address his to-do list, but in 15 games he posted the lowest OPS (.843) of his collegiate career and struck out at a 30.1% rate. Despite an exciting set of supplemental tools, those hit tool questions caused Martin to fall into the third round, where the Phillies signed him to a $1.3 million bonus.
As always, there are players below with a wide range of outcomes, and that is true more than ever in 2021 given the limited time the college class in particular has had to establish themselves. There are no players with profiles as safe as Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson (2020) or Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman (2019) at this time.
Let’s dive in.
30. Jackson Jobe, RHP/SS, Heritage Hall HS, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Areas To Improve: strike-throwing, develop CB & CH
Jobe entered the summer as a talented two-way prospect, but it’s safe to say most teams view him as a higher-upside prospect on the mound. A fastball up to 95 mph and a 3,000+ rpm slider will do that. Scouts would like to see him take a step forward in his strike throwing to more effectively use both loud pitches. Further developing a curveball and changeup that are both solid but behind his fastball/slider combo will help as well.
29. Chase Burns, RHP, Station Camp HS, Gallatin, Tenn.
Areas To Improve: show better command with high-end stuff, maintain body
At times last summer Burns showed both exceptional pure stuff and solid feel for pitching. However, he didn’t often showcase both at the same time. He was more scattered when throwing his fastball in the upper 90s and clearly took some oomph off of his pitches when attempting to dial in his command. Learning to better command his stuff at the high-end could move the needle—whether that comes from repeating his release point more consistently or shortening a longer arm action. Maintaining a large, 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame will also be key for Burns this spring.
28. Cody Morissette, SS, Boston College '
Areas To Improve: Improve defensive reputation, steal some bags/hit some homers
Morissette’s defensive reputation isn’t bad but he’s talked about more as a versatile defender than a player who could stand out at a premium defensive position. It’s unclear if Morissette will get a chance to handle shortstop this spring—returning shortstop Brian Dempsey is still in the fold—but if he does get innings at the position, showing he can play short at the next level will add value to his profile. Outside of that, Morissette doesn’t have much of a carrying tool, so either adding more power (ala Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin in 2020) or displaying more usable speed on the bases could elevate a well-rounded but unspectacular toolset.
27. Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State
Areas To Improve: Tick up FB velocity, improve breaking stuff, start full season
While Wicks does have a potential 70-grade offering (changeup) and strong history of strike-throwing (2.4 BB/9) at Kansas State, his fastball has mostly been in the 89-91 mph range. While the velocity bar is lower for lefthanders and several southpaws have gone in the first round with similar firepower in recent years, he would climb up boards if he came out this spring throwing harder. Additionally, scouts have commented that both his slider and curveball are more fringy offerings, so sharpening one—or both—of those pitches to give him a reliable weapon vs. lefthanded hitters would also help. Like every college arm on this list, starting for a full season to make up for lost time in 2020 is a must.
26. Benny Montgomery, OF, Red Land HS, Lewisberry, Pa.
Areas To Improve: Refine offensive approach, make more consistent contact,
Tooled up players with rudimentary offensive approaches or plenty of moving parts in the swing have wide error bars and that profile fits Montgomery to a tee. There are very few players in the 2021 class who can compete with his raw power, 70-grade speed, arm strength and outfield defense all together. However, Montgomery will need to give evaluators conviction in his hit tool and that could be challenging against Pennsylvania pitching. There are plenty of moving parts in his setup, so either toning that down or simply showing more consistent contact and putting himself in a better launch position could go a long way.
25. Chase Petty, RHP, Mainland Regional HS, Linwood, N.J.
Areas To Improve: Prove starter traits, more consistent breaking ball
No pitcher in the high school class has a fastball as electric as Petty’s when you combine top-end velocity and heavy, sinking life. However, there will be starter/reliever question marks with Petty because of his size, the effort in his delivery and his scattered control. If Petty comes out throwing better strikes with perhaps less effort he could remove some of the risk in his profile. Likewise, improving a slider that has been inconsistent at times could help his case in July.
24. Harry Ford, C, North Cobb HS, Kennesaw, Ga.
Areas To Improve: Refine catcher defense, prove hit tool
Ford is the unicorn of the 2021 draft as an exceptionally athletic catcher who could probably play any position on the diamond with enough time. Scouts believe that athleticism will allow him to handle the physical demands of catching, but want to see him refine the detailed areas of the defensive game to pair it with above-average arm strength. Ford has also shown electric bat speed and an ability to do damage all around the zone, but a longer stride makes some evaluators wonder if he will run into timing issues at the next level. Admittedly, we are picking nits with Ford, but given the track record of high school catching he’ll need to excel in all phases this spring to up his stock.
23. Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Mississippi
Areas To Improve: Fastball velocity, improve changeup, start full season
Hoglund possesses some of the best pure starter traits in the 2021 class, and that’s true going back to his high school days when he walked just two batters during his senior season. Hoglund arguably has the best command in the country (he’s walked just 1.8 batters per nine) but scouts would like to see him come out this spring with more typical swing & miss stuff. Hoglund has been up to 96 mph and his fastball plays up, but he’s more typically in the 88-92 mph range. Adding more firepower to that pitch, as well as improving a changeup for lefthanded hitters, would give teams more confidence in his bat-missing ability at the next level.
22. Joe Mack, C, Williamsville East HS, East Amherst, N.Y.
Areas To Improve: Continue performing on both sides, shorten actions behind the plate
Like Ford, there aren’t any glaring weaknesses in Mack’s profile. He will similarly have to overcome the poor track record of high school catchers—arguably the worst single demographic in the draft. Still, Mack has talent on both sides of the ball and is currently in a similar mold to the Tyler Soderstrom/Noah Naylor types in recent years, albeit with less athleticism than Soderstrom and less power than Naylor. Mack could stand to improve his actions behind the plate, as the length of his movements can limit him defensively and cause his arm to play down.
21. Izaac Pacheco, SS, Friendswood (Texas) HS
Areas To Improve: Contact ability, hit with impact to opposite field
Pacheco has a sweet lefthanded swing with plenty of power projection based on his strength now and future physical projection, but needs to show better barrel ability. Scouts thought his swing could get a bit leveraged and grooved at times last summer, and he also showed a tendency to get too pull-heavy in his approach. His power potential is tantalizing and he has a chance to be an athletic defender at third base, but he’ll need to show more out of his pure hit tool in Texas.
20. Joshua Baez, OF, Dexter Southfield HS, Brookline, Mass.
Areas To Improve: Refine offensive approach, cut down swing & miss
Baez has some of the best power in the high school class and a high-upside raw toolset that’s near the top of the class behind Benny Montgomery. When Baez does connect with the baseball it’s explosive. But there is some swing and miss involved in his aggressive approach. There aren’t too many mechanical red flags to speak of outside of a bit of a hand drop that could cause some issues against velocity up in the zone. Because he’s likely a corner outfielder, he’ll need to leave no doubts about his hit tool, as the industry is skeptical of the right-right corner outfield profile out of high school.
19. Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Areas To Improve: Prove offense over a full season
Davis has game-changing arm strength behind the plate and a strong defensive foundation to build on in pro ball, but scouts are still a bit skeptical of his bat. He did hit .372/.481/.698 in a short, 14-game sample last spring, but evaluators want him to prove his offensive profile over a full season this year. If he does that, he’ll fly off the board. Davis has solid bat-to-ball skills and controls the zone well, but it’s a rigid and shouldery swing at times that scouts are a bit skeptical of moving forward.
18. Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama
Areas To Improve: Make the most of supplemental tools, continue mashing
In a normal year, Wilson would have likely had an opportunity to prove his bat and power in either the Cape Cod League or with the Collegiate National Team. Without those opportunities, it’ll be interesting to see what scouts do with a corner profile, Sun Belt Conference masher. He’ll need to continue hitting at a high level over a full season after a bit of a blip last spring in 18 games, and while he’s unlikely to provide much value from his defensive or running, getting the most out of those tools could help alleviate some of the pressure that is sure to be on his bat.
17. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
Areas To Improve: Play plus CF defense, show a looser swing
Frelick has the toolset to play center field and shine there, but most of his playing time at Boston College has been in right field. As a dynamic athlete and plus-plus runner he should find success in the outfield, but teams will want him to prove his defense. It’s much tougher to profile as a corner outfielder at the next level with a 5-foot-9, 175 pound frame. Additionally, Frelick has shown great bat speed and hitterish qualities, but he can get barred and shouldery at times and could benefit from being a bit looser in his swing this spring.
16. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
Areas To Improve: Dominate lower level college pitching, prove CF defense, show impact
Like Ethan Wilson, Cowser will have the skepticism that comes with being a small college bat. Because of that he’ll need to dominate the college pitching in the Southland Conference and put up a line more like his freshman season (.361/.450/.602) than his 14-game stint in 2020 (.255/.379/.364). Some evaluators are skeptical that Cowser can stick in center field, so proving he can stay in the middle would alleviate pressure on his hit/power combination. If he can’t do that, showing more over-the-fence pop would give teams more confidence he can profile at the next level. Doing both of those things would be gravy.
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15. Richard Fitts, RHP, Auburn
Areas To Improve: Maintain stuff in starter’s role, improve control, develop changeup, start full season
One of the biggest risers from the fall, Fitts wowed evaluators with a big-time fastball, plus slider and—like many Auburn arms—a changeup with split action. If he can maintain the stuff he showed last fall in a starter’s role this spring, he should be off the board within the first 20 picks. Improving his command and making strides with his changeup would also help him answer starter/reliever questions, and with just six collegiate starts on his resume, starting a full season will be key.
14. Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest (N.C.) HS
Areas To Improve: Show improved ability to stay on dirt, strength gains, dominate North Carolina pitching
Watson has plenty of athleticism and some of the best pure bat speed in the class. He might not be challenged too much against North Carolina prep pitching, so he’ll need to dominate the competition to provide confidence in his hit tool, and adding strength to a smaller frame could also give teams confidence. While he has all the tools to stick in the middle of the infield, teams would like to see improvement in the details of his defensive game to give them more confidence he is a shortstop at the next level.
13. Brady House, SS, Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.
Areas To Improve: Cut down on swing and miss, dominate Georgia pitching, show impact
House seems to be the latest victim of prospect fatigue, but it’s true that he didn’t dominate offensively like most evaluators wanted him to last summer. Because of that, he’ll need to cut down some of the swing and miss that was in his game and show impact against Georgia pitching this spring. While he’s athletic for his size and was a better defensive shortstop than many scouts expected, he’s still a risk to move to the hot corner at the next level and will need to hit and hit with power to profile there out of high school.
12. Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
Areas To Improve: Maintain control development, consistent breaking ball, start full season
Madden took a big step forward in the control department in 25 innings in 2020 after walking more than five batters per nine as a freshman in 2019. That rate was down to 1.4 per nine last spring, but teams will want to see that improved strike-throwing maintained over a full season as a starter. Madden has a fastball/changeup combination that many scouts see as future plus offerings, but he needs to improve the consistency of his hard slider, which lands in the mid 80s, to increase his ceiling even more. Madden has some experience as a starter in both of his years with Texas, but has just 67.1 innings under his belt so starting a full season will be important.
11. Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Areas To Improve: Cut down on swing and miss, handle breaking stuff, hit for higher average
Fabian will get points for being one of the younger players in the class and he is one of the rare college center fielders with the power/speed tools combination. Still, there are real hit tool and swing-and-miss questions he’ll need to answer this spring after hitting .250/.368/.466 with a 21.8% strikeout rate in 288 plate appearances. He’s shown an ability to handle premium velocity, but some scouts noticed he struggled against breaking stuff when opposing pitchers adjusted to him. Making that adjustment himself to avoid being exposed will be another factor scouts are watching.
10. Andrew Painter, RHP, Calvary Christian HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Areas To Improve: Be the same pitcher last summer this spring over more innings
Of all the players on this list, Painter might be the toughest to find a true area of weakness to suss out. He’s a complete prep pitching prospect that checks most boxes scouts want to see with a projectable frame, loose and easy arm action, four-pitch mix and potential for above-average control. Since “be lefthanded” isn’t really an option, we’ll instead say that Painter needs to go out this spring and simply be the same pitcher he was last summer, but over more innings. If he can increase the power of his breaking balls, that would be a cherry on top.
9. Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
Areas To Improve: Prove third base defense/arm strength, stay healthy
Binelas is one of the better hit/power bats in the 2021 class, which is why he’s featured among the top 10 players. College third basemen who are selected among the first 10 picks have a strong track record given the offensive bar players have to clear to go this high as a corner profile. Still, some teams wonder if he’s not a better fit for first base in the long term, so improving his defense and showing better arm strength this spring could help that projection. Binelas was limited to just two games in 2020 due to a hamate injury, so staying healthy and developing more of a track record will be especially crucial for him.
8. Matt McLain, SS/OF, UCLA
Areas To Improve: Improve zone management, prove shortstop defense, show impact or speed
McLain is seemingly in a tier of his own for college shortstops, but that doesn’t mean every team sees him as a lock to play the position at the next level. Proving his defensive ability at shortstop over a full season will help his profile, as will improving his zone management. McLain has a career 24.6% strikeout rate and a 6.7% walk rate so improving on both those marks will be helpful, as would showing more impact ability or usable speed.
7. James Wood, OF, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Areas To Improve: Cut down on swing and miss, improve zone recognition, continue proving center field defense
Wood has some of the best pure upside in the class thanks to his power potential and the bat-to-ball skills he showed last summer. He did have an aggressive approach at times and expanded the zone (with success, many times) unnecessarily, so showing a better feel for pitch selection and cutting down on some of the swing and miss in his game could help him go even higher up draft boards. While Wood has proven to be a strong center fielder, his size will continue to bring questions about whether he’s better off in a corner, so continuously proving himself in center will be necessary.
6. Jaden Hill, RHP, Louisiana State
Areas To Improve: Maintain stuff in starter’s role, slider consistency, start full season
Hill has a chance for the best pure stuff in the 2021 class, but he has just 21.2 collegiate innings under his belt. He, more than perhaps any other college pitcher, needs a full season as a starter to prove his stuff is legit and holds up in a starting role and over a complete season. Additionally, Hill’s newfound power slider doesn’t have the same track record as his fastball/changeup combination, so proving the consistency of that pitch will also be important.
5. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
Areas To Improve: Fastball velocity, better command, refined changeup, start full season
Many of the college pitchers around Leiter throw harder than him, so for many teams an improved top-end fastball will elevate his profile. Additionally, Leiter didn’t quite live up to his high school reputation as an advanced strike-thrower, with eight walks (4.6 walks per nine) in 15.2 innings, so showing better command in 2021 will also help. Starting over a full season and refining his changeup are other keys that scouts have mentioned. Leiter’s 15.2 collegiate innings are fewer than any other arm on this list.
4. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS, Chula Vista, Calif.
Areas To Improve: Add strength, show impact, quickness defensively
Mayer has an argument as the best pure hitter in the 2021 prep class, but he could add to his offensive profile by starting to fill out a projectable 6-foot-3 frame and tapping into more in-game power. His swing is currently leveraged well for more power and many scouts already believe he’ll grow into above-average pop down the line. Showing it sooner rather than later would add even more confidence to their projections. While Mayer is a standout defender who slows the game down well, some scouts would like to see a bit more quickness defensively to prove he can stick at shortstop long term.
3. Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
Areas To Improve: Prove catcher defense, arm strength
Del Castillo has a strong case as the best pure hitter in the class and brings solid power and exceptional zone control along with it. So his to-do list is almost entirely centered around the defensive side of the ball. His biggest skeptics wonder if he can catch long term, so Del Castillo will need to show his work from last summer (with Royals catcher Salvador Perez) translates to games this spring. That includes receiving, blocking and showing better arm strength.
2. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Dallas Jesuit HS
Areas To Improve: Handle velocity at the plate, become a more nuanced defender
We’re in the nitpicking range, but none of the players in the 2021 draft are perfect. Lawlar has a case as the best pure hitter in the prep class along with Marcelo Mayer, but some scouts want to see him do more damage against upper-end velocity at the plate even after he was one of the best performers with the bat last summer. Additionally, Lawlar is a strong defender but the most critical evaluators will talk about how he gets away with things because of his athleticism, so improving his internal clock, footwork, angles and other granular defensive details could make him an even more well-rounded player.
1. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Areas To Improve: changeup development, prove health, sharpen command, maintain body, start full season
In 2019 and 2020 the top prospects in the draft (Adley Rutschman and Spencer Torkelson) had virtually no holes in their game to speak of and limited areas to improve. That is not the case this year, though Rocker is the most big league-ready player in the class. Still, let’s get into the weeds of his profile. Rocker has shown an above-average changeup in the past, but scouts want to see it improved this spring and like many college pitchers he doesn’t use it frequently, instead opting for his fastball or slider. After missing a start last spring scouts will want to see him fully healthy and starting over the full season. He could also stand to sharpen his command and be more precise with his pitch location. Lastly, as a big-bodied pitcher he’ll need to maintain his body and physique.