For the past three weeks, I’ve been making rounds from my home in Atlanta to watch high school and college games while the 2021 MLB Draft is still four months away. It’s not yet time to update my initial rankings of the top 50 prospects in this summer’s draft, but there are a lot of players going up (and down) in the first round from what I’ve seen in my first personal looks at the season.

College Position player

I’ve already written in-depth articles on two of the top college prospects in the country, Vanderbilt right wing Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. They are still firmly on top of the league table.

The biggest problem with this year’s draft is the hierarchy of players in college, both the overall weakness of the class and the fact that the strongest players have to step aside without a recent track record to fall back on. UCLA shortstop Matt McLean was voted the best starting prospect of the season and has taken that spot this spring, while the spots behind him become a little more certain.

Miami receiver Adrian Del Castillo is the second consensus option, and I saw him against Florida a few weeks ago. He has developed into an average runner with adequate arm strength, and offensively he has above average batting control and plate discipline with solid average raw power. He doesn’t have a plus on his scouting card, but he has solid contact, plays at a top position, and has some experience in a major conference, so Del Castillo could end up in the top 10 of current picks.

Miami catcher Adrian Del Castillo hits a double off Florida pitcher Hunter Barco pic.twitter.com/RY4Nw1zIy4

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

The biggest risk in this group is Boston College midfielder Sal Frelick. He didn’t have the benefit of a high school recruiting profile or a late major conference run-up to the Cape/Team USA summer season. Since Frelick has the resources to run thanks to his multi-sport background, he was seen at the top of the lists earlier this spring. He has a 1,363 OPS with four homers in 11 games, including two last Friday against Auburn’s Richard Fitts when I was there. Frelick hits easily, has above-average bat speed, 70 feet of speed, an average arm and only marginal raw power, but his shorter approach and arms allow him to make a lot of contact and match his strength in games. He’s probably in the general 10-15 range right now. Frelick also has some experience as an outfielder that could be useful at the professional level.

Some of the videos of the guys I saw over the next three weeks will be covered in tomorrow’s scouting report:

Sal Frelick from British Columbia, who had Richard Fitts, Richard Fitts, in his heart. Frelick did it twice in this match pic.twitter.com/qmkFVprmgj

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

The last of the Rebels in this group is Louisville receiver Henry Davis. He gives the impression of Evan Gattis to the record, with more raw power, energetic editing and a solid approach. Davis has 80 hands since high school, but he’s yet to improve a bit behind the plate when it comes to catching. It’s almost perfect for the type of catcher who benefits most from an automatic strikeout call, and fits perfectly in the middle of 1st. Around.

A few other clubs I’ve seen in the last three weeks that you should keep an eye on:

Florida center fielder Jud Fabian has 65 degrees of raw power and is a solid center fielder in center field, but he currently has 20-30 degrees of pitch recognition, which gives him real problems with off-speed pitches. He used to be better, but now scouts have referred him to big man Jeren Kendall – he can’t hit the bucket until he proves otherwise, but he’ll still go in the second half of the first round.

Louisville’s Alex Binelas broke his hamate bone last spring, but he has already shown superior raw power this spring. He’s a third/first reliever who needs to improve his lateral speed and hasn’t impressed at the plate so far. He’s now a second-round pick, but former UCLA first baseman Michael Toglia fell the same way, but came back in the first round early in the draft.

2 Connected

Florida catcher Nathan Hickey was well known in high school, but he wasn’t behind the plate or in good shape, so his hitting/passing combination didn’t have the profile of a pro. He’s lost weight and is now well behind the plate, and his offensive prowess is still there, so a good season could put him in the top 50 behind Del Castillo, Davis, and maybe Memphis’ Hunter Goodman in what now looks like a solid class of catchers.

The BC has another interested lefty in outfielder Cody Morissette. Like Frelick, he’s smaller in stature, but Morissette has no game-changing hitting or foot speed. He is a solid hitter who is probably the best second base candidate in professional baseball and is currently in the second round.

Louisville has two other players who can claim the position: Levi Asher and Lucas Dunn. Usher is a good runner with some control of his bat who will face a lot of competition in the first round, so a good spring will take him into the second round. Dunn plays everywhere and has a collection of average major league tools, but he plays better than Usher or Binelas; I think Dunn belongs in the third round at this point. Another player similar to Dunn is Florida tight end Jacob Young.

In particular, Georgia Tech’s young catcher Kevin Parada (solid defense, excellent contact skills) and first baseman Andrew Compton (superior raw power, solid approach) are both top hitters. Vanderbilt shortstop Carter Young, third baseman Parker Noland and center fielder Enrique Bradfield all played their best two innings, as did Florida shortstop Colby Holter and outfielder Sterlin Thompson and Miami infielder Yohandy Morales. Florida State’s Josh Rivera, who has had a slow start but also has two better rounds on his record and has improved since arriving in Gainesville.

College pitcher

I mentioned Auburn Fitts above, and he hasn’t been very good in his last few games. I think he was 93-95 mph against BC and showed an above average slider and changeup in the first inning, but quickly faltered in terms of skill and command. Apparently he’s never done cross country before, so he’s going to do the second round until he can show more consistency. The frame, arm action, delivery, substance and command components are all there, which is why he was ranked in the middle of the first round in the fall. I think he should focus more on the four-seam fastball than his sinker, given his characteristics.

Mississippi judge guard Eric Serantola met with Kent judge guard Luke Albright last Saturday in Starkville, Mississippi. Serantola is 6-foot-3, 222 pounds and opened the game at 95-99 mph, similar to Cade Cavalli and Slade Cecconi in the first round of 2020. Serantola’s curveball repeatedly performed better, and his changeup also showed above-average action when he did. He had four walks and a pair of hits in the outfield, bunts and strikeouts in the field, so his numbers seem worse than his performance, but Cerantola also has a below-average team that needs to improve. The shape of his four-spoke fastball is also not conducive to upside or swings and misses, forcing him to throw backwards more than his elite velocity should. Serantola is a first-round pick to develop, but I think his market starts in the draft, with a likely spot in the second round if the draft were today.

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Albright has shown more raw quality in his previous appearances, but he looked like a well-prepared backcourt and forward with a solid 6.2 inches. He was at 90-93 mph with two- and four-stampers and a slider, curveball and warmup that were average and played a little by command. This version of Albright is in the back end of the second round, but it may be worth seeing if the 90cm speed returns for the draft.

Boston College right-hander Mason Pelio replaced Fitts and did his best. He sat at 93-95 mph for most of his outing, with a solid average swing and a curveball he struggled to land for strikes. He doesn’t look particularly athletic on the mound and has always been a risk for relief, so he’s currently in the third round. Louisville right-hander Jack Perkins has been hitting 98 mph in recent weeks, but was between 92 and 95 mph last weekend. His signature pitch is a 3,000-rpm breaking ball, along with Craig Kimbrel’s useful changeup and charisma on the pitching mound. His delivery and command leave a lot to be desired, he underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and his slow/fastball form had the same problem with hitters like Serantola; I’d also say a third rounder for Perkins.

Louisville right-hander Jack Perkins has a high rotation curve that often exceeds 3,000 rpm pic.twitter.com/PuwHYlkgYs

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

I also came across a few pitch options by subclass. Vanderbilt freshman Christian Little sat in relief at 92-95 mph with a 55-degree curveball, but reduced his command and increased the effort with one walk in the window. I’d never seen Hunter Owen, a 6-foot-5 young man from Maine, but he impressed me in the relay, going 91-93 mph and averaging a solid three pitches. Florida has two impressive underclassmen arms, although left-handed starter Hunter Barco (low 90’s, plus shift, starting movement) and right-handed reliever Brandon Prophet (94-98 mph, plus slider) have yet to make significant appearances, while Miami right-handed starter Victor Mederos (up to 97 mph, above-average shift, solid breaking stuff) has improved significantly since college. Finally, Georgia Tech’s Zach Maxwell’s Jumbo Right hit 94-98 mph with an above-average curveball and a relief team.

Seniors

Harry Ford, a receiver from Georgia, was selected in the first round primarily because of his unique skill set. He is an above average runner, defender and pitcher who also possesses superior raw power and a proven track record of making contact with wooden bats against top competition. It’s also built like a bike, but it’s flexible enough to train freely behind the plate. Ford’s swing still needs work (his summer swing is more suited to pro ball), but the sense of contact is clear. I keep saying I’m scared of the pre-receiver demographic, and momentum conversion is not a variable I’m happy with, but it’s how you put together the tools and skills of an amateur catcher.

Georgia Tech commit receiver Harry Ford with three normal moves and one in slow motion @hford_13 pic.twitter.com/kwQDBNRbvB

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

The team at IMG Academy is one of the most talented high school teams and perhaps the best we have ever seen.

Outfielder James Wood, like Ford, has a unique profile: a 6-foot-4, 240-pound outfielder with good bat control and a surprisingly solid average velocity. Some scouts think he’s fast enough to play center field, while others (I think that way) think he could end up at first base. This large difference in forecasts is due to what recruiters and analysts hate: the lack of comparisons. I don’t know of any professionals who come close to Ford or Wood, and it’s generally considered a bad thing, though I’m not sure about that. Woods’ projection is tied to what you think will happen to his frame and athletic ability, and his body comparisons include Aaron Judge, Richie Sexxon, Giancarlo Stanton, and various basketball players, all of whom don’t come close to the equation, but are the best we can do.

I see similarities to Kyle Tucker as a hitter/power/patience for Wood, who has an inconsistent impact every game thanks to his low blood pressure and patient approach. I’ve seen three games of Woods this spring, and he’s throwing double digits without a swing, which makes it hard to score him if you don’t have a prospect in the summer. Jason Heyward also had this problem in his first year of the draft, knocking him out of the top 10. In a class where most college hitters have, at best, the same traits as elite high school hitters, elite high school hitters (of which Wood is one) are treated the same as college hitters, and Wood’s eventual position won’t really affect his eventual peak in the big leagues. I think Wood will end up between 15 and 25.

Left-handers Drew Gray, Mason Albright and Jackson Ferris are IMG’s anchors and rotate with very different prospects. Gray has the best pro performance, projected, 6-foot-3 athletic frame with a fastball/curveball axis that combines well with a much higher curveball than in the big leagues. After his first appearance of the year, there was a late buzz, and then, in my mind, two weeks later, Gray struggled to locate his fastball in the upper zone, essentially sinking his curveball. Gray is a two-way player and an Illinois native who transferred to IMG this year. He fits into a late development project on the mound that will be somewhere between 25 and 50, depending on his consistency this spring.

IMG Academy left-hander Drew Gray analyzes a friendly fastball/vertical slider combo in slotmo @drew_gray5 pic.twitter.com / LWA8ViDJR4

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

Albright was one of the best pitchers this summer, going 88-91 mph with a strong feel for the spread. He came into the spring with a 92-94 mph velocity in his first few outings and showed solid average raw talent, but with a team closer to the top of the league average. I think he’ll be somewhere in the second half of the second round. Ferris is ineligible until the 2022 draft, and he’s had a boost this spring that will get him into the first round if it comes to that. He has some funk in his delivery and moves from the high hand that help with the vertical movement that analysts like to see. He was 89-93 mph when I saw him, but he’s won a few ticks this spring with three above-average pitches and an above-average feel for pitching.

In IMG’s lineup, SS Drake Varnado (above average contact ability, speed, suited for shorts) and 3B Tommy White (Jordan blaze style, likely suited for first base, more raw power) are available in the draft and have potential for the second or third round, while catcher Brady Neal from 2023 has the most potential among low-end players not named Elijah Green. I mentioned in my ranking article that IMG Green is currently the best dilettante on the planet, with comparisons to Ronald Acuna Jr. I’ll leave it at that for now, with this video under a Manny Ramirez-like swing mechanic:

IMG Academy CF Elijah Green (2022) is currently the top draft pick in the country, in all classes. Here is a double, single and slo-mo of the deep output in CF. The double and fly out were in 15-20 mph winds, so a good chance they hit a homer in normal conditions. @elijahgreen1204 pic.twitter.com/N7r1Zfo2gf

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

At the same tournament IMG participated in, in Hoover, Alabama, I also watched a handful of preliminaries. Florida Prep shortstop Edwin Arroyo also fits in in rounds 2 and 3 as an alternate hitter for the hurler, who is expected to remain at the position where he is good at the plate. Massachusetts Prep RF Jonathan Santucci (first baseman) and Michigan Prep 3B Luke Leto (first baseman who now looks more like a third baseman) are eligible to play in 2021 and played with a travel team at the tournament, essentially sporting the same look as they did in the summer. Alabama Prep right-hander Grant Taylor faced IMG and performed well, going 91-94 mph and using a lower curveball. His frame and delivery aren’t ideal for a deep projection, but there’s a good chance he’ll be the key to LSU’s out of the bullpen next year.

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Georgia Prep right-hander Bubba Chandler (hired by Clemson as quarterback, thrower and shortstop) had a good look at the game against outfielder Thad Ector and performed well. Chandler took the first pitch he made while doubling with his right hand (he’s a switch-hitter) and sat at 93-96 mph at first, but calmed down a bit. He’s (you guessed it) a natural athlete with three potentially above-average pitches and a starting movement, despite a short track record on the mound, with interest in the second half of the first round.

Two other notes: 2021 Tampa Prep HS (Fla.) right-hander Jose Pena and 2022 Buford HS (Ga.) right-hander Dylan Lesko. Pena is an intriguing development, he hits the mid-90s and has a good curveball, but he’s still pretty raw right now, with some interest as a second rounder. Lesko was the leader of the 2022 prep class and did not disappoint in my opinion: He opened at 95-96 mph and mixed in a curveball and a changeup that both scored a 55 or 60. Lesko still has more than a year before he’s drafted, but he’s on pace to become the best pitching prospect since Hunter Green and Mackenzie Gore in 2017. The 2022 prep class already has eight pitchers who have shown first-round potential, which is a remarkable number for this transition: Lesko; Ferris; right-handers Brock Porter, Ian Ritchie Jr. and Nick Dugan; left-handers Brandon Barriera, Tristan Smith and Noah Schultz.

Tampa Prep HS (my alma mater!) right-hander Jose Pena’s curveball in 1000 fps slo-mo @JosePena645 @TPrep_Athletics pic.twitter.com/7cK5oADBrj

– Kylie McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021

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