Written By: Zack Silverman
Follow Him on Twitter: @ZackMatt4
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
The Big 12 is led by big arms in Texas’ Ty Madden and Kansas State’s Jordan Wicks, but is virtually devoid of true impact bats. Meanwhile, the SEC has some big name bats in Florida’s Jud Fabian, Arkansas’ Christian Franklin, and Tennessee’s duo of Jake Rucker and Max Ferguson, but aside from Fabian, most of the bats in the conference have a lot to prove in 2021.
Meanwhile, here in the ACC, we’re absolutely loaded with offensive firepower, to the point that only two pitchers crack the ACC’s top ten prospects. They say that SEC hitters have to face a “gauntlet” of high powered arms, and that’s certainly true this year with too many to name. Over in the ACC, it will be the pitchers who will have to run down a gauntlet of high powered lineups.
Louisville, after putting five players into pro ball last year despite the shortened draft, dominates this list with two of the top three and four of the top ten names and a couple more who just missed the cut. Miami, who lost its entire weekend rotation but brings in arguably the top recruiting class in the entire country, will be a hotspot for 2021 draft talent as well, and Boston College might have the best collection of talent in recent program memory. Below are the top ten 2021 prospects in the ACC, followed by a team by team rundown of other names to watch (with apologies to Pittsburgh and my alma mater, Virginia Tech, who just don’t have much going for them).
1. C Adrian Del Castillo, Miami – ACC
Bat: L. Throw: R. 5’11”, 210 lbs. Born 9/27/1999. Hometown: Miami, FL
2019-2020: 14 HR, .336/.430/.571, 4 SB, 32/43 K/BB in 77 games.
Ironically, the top offensive prospects in the SEC (Jud Fabian) and ACC share a birthday on September 27th, only Adrian Del Castillo will be turning 21 and Fabian will be turning 20 because he reclassified. Del Castillo is simply a hitter – he hit .331/.418/.576 as a true freshman, then .358/.478/.547 as a sophomore, and sandwiched between that was a respectable .273/.323/.427 line in the elite Cape Cod League as a teenager. Not only is he the ACC’s top offensive prospect this year, he’s right up there with Fabian and UCLA’s Matt McLain as arguably college baseball’s top offensive prospect as a whole.
The bat is legit. A left handed hitter, Del Castillo combines a clean, compact swing with great extension through the ball and plenty of strength packed into his 5’11” frame. This enables the Miami native to show above average power in games, and with five home runs on the Cape as a teenager, he can get to it with wood bats and against high level pitching. More impressive than his power, however, is his professional approach at the plate. He’s extremely disciplined with just a 12.9% strikeout rate for his career at Miami compared to a 17.3% walk rate, and that’s been against a tough schedule. He should have no trouble not only handling professional pitching, but hitting for impact.
Del Castillo’s defense is another story. The exceptional feel he shows for hitting carries over behind the plate, where he’s a fundamentally sound catcher who gets the job done all around. However, he lacks the explosive arm strength of many of his contemporaries and the raw athleticism to create the “brick wall” effect. Given his work ethic and feel for the game, it’s easy to see him working his way towards average defense, and if he can indeed stick behind the plate, the bat becomes truly special. Even if he’s forced off of catcher to first base or left field, where he’d likely be below average, the bat is potent enough to still warrant a first round selection. At his ceiling, Del Castillo could produce 20-30 home runs annually with high on-base percentages.
2. C Henry Davis, Louisville – ACC
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’2″, 195 lbs. Born 9/21/1999. Hometown: Bedford, NY
2019-2020: 6 HR, .303/.381/.463, 1 SB, 22/21 K/BB in 59 games.
The ACC starts off with not one, but two elite catchers, though Henry Davis is a very different prospect from Adrian Del Castillo. A well-known defense-first prospect coming out of the New York high school ranks, he made it to Louisville and held his own with a .280/.345/.386 slash line as a freshman, elevating his stock a little bit. Then, he returned as a sophomore in 2020 and smoked the baseball nonstop, slashing .372/.481/.698 with three home runs and twice as many walks as strikeouts in 14 games. And while the schedule wasn’t particularly strong, he did pick up four hits, including three doubles, in eight at bats (plus two walks) against Ole Miss and homered against Wake Forest. The result is a defense-first catcher who suddenly knows how to hit, which is, you know, ideal.
Let’s talk about that bat. It was pretty light in high school, not uncommon for catchers even heading to premium programs like Louisville. The first thing he showed as a freshman was the hit tool, as he struck out in just 12.2% of his plate appearances – very impressive for a 19 year old in the ACC. Then in 2020, albeit in a small sample size, came the power, when he homered in his final two games against Wake Forest and Chicago State. Davis derives that power from a crouched load, using his legs to explode outwards at the baseball and plus bat to ball skills to find the barrel more and more consistently.
There’s some minor bat wrap in that setup, but that above average to potentially plus hit tool allows me to be comfortable with it overall. The overall setup might need to be quieted just a bit in pro ball, but again, with his great feel for the barrel, I’m not worried.
On defense, he has always stood out for an exceptional right arm that can virtually shut down the running game, having thrown out 12/33 runners so far at Louisville. His glovework is more ordinary, but as with Del Castillo, it’s trending in the right direction and he should be a net-positive overall with that arm. He’ll more than likely stick behind the plate, making his offensive profile much more appealing. If he can continue hitting in 2021 like he did in 2020, when he showed a plus hit tool and solid average power in a small sample, he could vault himself into top ten pick consideration, much like Dillon Dingler may have with more opportunity last year.
3. 3B Alex Binelas, Louisville – ACC
Bat: L. Throw: R. 6’3, 210 lbs. Born 5/26/2000. Hometown: Oak Creek, WI
2019-2020: 14 HR, .286/.376/.596, 3 SB, 50/27 K/BB in 61 games.
Henry Davis just edges out Alex Binelas on my draft board, but Binelas might have the most exciting bat in the Louisville lineup, itself one of the strongest in the entire country. Hailing from the Milwaukee-area prep ranks, he burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2019 and slashed .291/.383/.612 with 14 home runs and 33 extra base hits overall in 59 games, immediately establishing himself as one of the top names in a draft that was still two years away at the time. His encore in 2020 ended abruptly when he injured his hand against Ole Miss in just the second game of the season, so for now, all we have to go off is that exceptional freshman season.
The very first thing I notice with Binelas, beyond the numbers, is his swing. It’s lightning quick and incredibly explosive, allowing him to punish velocity by sending the baseball impressive distances. It can get a little choppy at times, which leads to some swing and miss questions, but it’s hard to teach bat speed like that. His plate discipline was decent but nothing special in that big freshman season, though it’s a bit unfair to judge his approach based on a freshman run through the ACC. 2021 will be a big opportunity for him to elevate his stock in that regard, especially considering the tangential questions about his hit tool. Still, you don’t knock 33 extra base hits as a freshman in the ACC without at least some feel for hitting, and his offensive upside is perhaps the best in the ACC.
On defense, we see somewhat of a similar story. Binelas shows a strong arm from third base, though he’s a bit choppy with the glove and makes for a decent overall third baseman. A few years ago, scouts might have been comfortable calling it “good enough” and letting him deploy that arm over there, but with shifting becoming a huge part of a third baseman’s job, his range becomes a little more stretched. That could lead to a move to first base or right field depending on his progress, where the pressure would increase on his hit tool. He has some to prove in 2021, but his combination of upside and college track record will be hard to match anywhere in the draft.
4. OF Sal Frelick, Boston College – ACC
Bat: L. Throw: R. 5’9″, 175 lbs. Born 4/2000. Hometown: Lexington, MA
2019-2020: 6 HR, .332/.428/.486, 25 SB, 22/33 K/BB in 54 games.
Boston College has the best group of draft talent it’s seen in years, and right at the top of that list is Sal Frelick. Though smaller in stature, he’s exploding with tools and jumped out to a .367/.447/.513 slash line with 18 stolen bases and more walks (22) than strikeouts as a freshman in 2019. Though his 2020 started slower before the shutdown (.241/.380/.414), he picked it right back up in summer ball with a .398/.473/.592 run through the FCBL. No question, this kid can flat out play.
Frelick’s big numbers have mostly come from a true plus hit tool, which has enabled him to strike out in just 8.8% of his plate appearances so far at Boston College. Though undersized, his exceptional feel for the barrel combined with innate athleticism enables him to hit for more power than you’d expect, with plenty of doubles, triples, and even home runs. The Boston-area native shows plus-plus speed that has enabled him to steal 25 bases in 28 tries at BC, and that becomes 35 bases in 39 tries when combined with his summer stats. He shows great range in the outfield and should be an asset in center field, giving him nearly the total package.
Let’s talk swing mechanics. Frelick has a simple swing in which he keeps the barrel in the zone for a long time, which is a good thing, and when he gets his pitch, it can be a really smooth, pretty swing at that. His mechanics can vary more than most tend to, and when he doesn’t get his pitch, he tends to flail at the ball. The good news is that his elite barrel control still enables him to make very consistent contact on those pitches, and strikeouts have never been even remotely a concern.
Watching him hit, it’s actually pretty impressive to see him way out on his front foot and still drop singles the other way or put difficult pitches in play, but going forward he’ll probably want to accept a little more swing and miss so that he can get his “A” swing off more often than not. With his strong pitch recognition skills, a more consistently upright Frelick could be a true impact hitter at the next level, despite being one of the smallest guys on the field.
5. RHP Ryan Cusick, Wake Forest – ACC
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’6″, 225 lbs. Born 11/12/1999. Hometown: Sudbury, MA
2019-2020: 7-5, 5.63 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 98/47 K/BB in 88 innings.
In contrast to the hitters, there aren’t any truly complete pitching prospects in the ACC. Ryan Cusick can’t even be considered the closest in that regard, but the stuff is nonetheless exciting. Though he hails from the Boston suburbs, Cusick attended the Avon Old Farms boarding school in Connecticut that produced George Springer and 2020 second rounder Hudson Haskin, and looks to be the latest in a strong line of baseball players from the Hartford-area powerhouse. His freshman season was pretty ordinary in 2019, putting up a 6.44 ERA and a 55/29 strikeout to walk ratio across 65.2 innings, but he raised a lot of eyebrows in 2020 when his stuff took a big step forward. That led to a 3.22 ERA and a 43/18 strikeout to walk ratio over 22.1 innings, and in this case, scouting the stat line does indeed tell the story.
Cusick is a 6’6″ right hander with wicked stuff at his best. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s, can bump as high as 97-98, and you’ll notice in the video above that he hit 95 on his 103rd and final pitch of the game against Louisville. He can also rip off a wicked slider with serious bite, a true plus pitch at its best, but at times it can flatten out considerably. His third pitch is his changeup, which he doesn’t use often, but he can flash a solid average one with nice fade to the arm side. All of this was on full display in the Coastal Plain League over the summer, where he dominated with a 1.14 ERA and a 40/9 strikeout to walk ratio over 23.2 innings.
Of course, the big question here is command and consistency, with the aforementioned breaking ball problems and the fact that he walked 18 batters in 22.1 innings last year. Prior to that, though, he had only walked 36 batters in 101.1 innings between his freshman season and the Cape Cod League, and then he walked just nine in 23.2 innings this summer. That suggests that he may simply need time to learn to harness that newfound stuff, and if the summer numbers are telling the truth, he already has.
Cusick is a prime contender for a breakout in 2021, one who could rocket up boards similarly to how Bobby Miller did so a year ago. He clearly has the arm strength to start, so if he can just take even incremental steps forward with his consistency and command, good things will happen to his projections. If not, he has a high floor as a fastball/slider reliever who could see high leverage innings in the big leagues.
6. 2B Cody Morissette, Boston College – ACC
Bat: L. Throw: R. 6′, 175 lbs. Born 1/16/2000. Hometown: Exeter, NH
2019-2020: 6 HR, .346/.402/.512, 11 SB, 43/29 K/BB in 73 games.
Sal Frelick and his teammate Cody Morissette form arguably the best 1-2 lineup punch in college baseball, and while they have put up similar numbers at Boston College, they’re very different players. Morissette gave a strong first impression as a freshman in 2019, hitting .320/.371/.476 across 58 games, then exploded for a .448/.522/.655 line in 15 games as a sophomore in 2020. That wasn’t a product of a weak schedule, as he picked up six hits in three games against Arizona State and eight hits in three games against Clemson.
We could go on and on about how Frelick’s tools impact the game, but with Morissette, he just hits – and I mean that as a compliment. He has no trouble squaring up advanced pitching with a very steady hit tool and emerging power, and he’s been extremely consistent at BC. It may seem like a high-floor, low-ceiling projection, but that consistent bat has shown more and more impact over time and he could be ready for a very loud 2021 campaign. At six feet tall, the New Hampshire native doesn’t have a big frame but isn’t the smallest guy on the field either, so the hope is that he could end up with a 15-20 home run bat down the line.
Defensively, Morissette won’t wow anybody, looking more than capable at second base but probably a bit stretched at shortstop. If he doesn’t generate enough impact to start, he could handle the prime position on a part time basis, and his experience all over the diamond aids him in the shifting era. Personally, I see some Keston Hiura here (albeit in the other batters box), though Hiura had that huge junior season going for him and Morissette looks to be the slightly better defender. Hiura went ninth overall out of UC Irvine in 2017, so don’t sleep on Morissette’s draft ceiling if he can put together a big junior year like he’s capable of.
7. OF Robby Martin, Florida State – ACC
Bat: L. Throw: R. 6’3″, 210 lbs. Born 8/17/1999. Hometown: Tampa, FL
2019-2020: 4 HR, .317/.408/.440, 3 SB, 76/45 K/BB in 80 games.
The bats just keep on coming. Leading the way in one of the most talented outfields in the country is Florida State’s Robby Martin, a steady .317/.408/.440 hitter during his time in Tallahassee. A highly touted prep outfielder coming from the Tampa area, Martin has steadily improved at FSU and now has evaluators excitedly pegging him for a breakout.
More about projection as a high schooler, Martin now has legitimate tools across the board and can impact the game in many ways. He’s maintained the above average speed and strong hit tool from high school, but with lots of added strength and a track record of hitting in college, he’s a much more complete prospect. Martin uses and opposite field approach that results in a lot of line drives and otherwise hard contact, which has enabled him to produce at FSU and in the Florida Collegiate Summer League (.313/.397/.417).
To this point, he hasn’t shown much in-game power, but he has really tacked on strength in Tallahassee and filled out his 6’3″ frame. Though his power isn’t quite as robust, he finds himself in a similar position to where Vanderbilt’s JJ Bleday was heading into the 2019 season, and a more power conscious and launch angle-conscious swing could have him headed for a breakout. If so, we could be talking straight 55 grades across almost every tool and a first round selection.
8. 3B Zack Gelof, Virginia – ACC
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’3″, 205 lbs. Born 10/19/1999. Hometown: Lewes, DE.
2019-2020: 7 HR, .321/.399/.472, 20 SB, 70/37 K/BB in 74 games.
As someone who played a lot of baseball on the Delmarva Peninsula growing up, it’s cool to see the region’s first big name draft prospect since Tyler Webb (via South Carolina in 2013). While they’re not the best at cranking out reliable pitching, UVA has a nice track record of producing competent, disciplined hitters like Pavin Smith, Adam Haseley, and Matt Thaiss in recent years, and Zack Gelof is one of two big bats they’re sending out this year. He adapted to college pitching well as a freshman (.313/.377/.396), hit well in the Northwoods League over the summer (.349/.426/.490), and was off to an exceptional start in 2020 with a .349/.469/.746 line and five home runs in eighteen games.
Gelof does not have one standout tool, but shows well across the board. He’s smoothed out his right handed swing since high school and has produced plenty of hard contact in college, using Davenport Field’s spacious gaps to his advantage for plenty of extra base hits. He started turning those gappers into home runs in 2020, and evaluators are excited to see if he can maintain that power surge in 2021. If so, it would help alleviate some questions about his hit tool, as he is very adept at finding the barrel but has not shown the great K/BB ratio’s seen with many of his predecessors in Charlottesville. In 2020, he upped his walk rate to a nice 15.9%, but still struck out 22% of the time after showing similar strikeout rates throughout his career.
Gelof finds himself in a good spot heading into 2020. By either maintaining his power surge or lowering his strikeout rate, he could easily find himself in the first round. However, if he can’t do either, I think most evaluators would feel more comfortable pegging a 50 hit, 50 power third baseman in the second. His glove should help him, as he’s proven very capable at third base and will easily handle shifting. There are a lot of 50’s and 55’s in his profile, not too dissimilar to Robby Martin above him on this list, though Martin is just a little bit toolsier. Gelof is praised for his feel for the game and ability to play above his tools.
9. OF Levi Usher, Louisville – ACC
Bat: L. Throw: R. 6′, 210 lbs. Born 6/25/2000. Hometown: Fairfax, IA
2020: 2 HR, .411/.484/.571, 11 SB, 14/7 K/BB in 16 games.
The last three players on this list (Cody Morissette, Robby Martin, and Zack Gelof) did a lot of things well, but didn’t flash individual “wow” tools. Levi Usher, the third member of the Louisville lineup on this list, has wow tools. He put up some eye popping numbers at Iowa’s Kirkwood CC, slashing .409/.493/.538 with 36 stolen bases in 53 games, then kept on hitting with a similar .411/.484/.571 line and eleven stolen bases for Louisville in 2020. Together, that makes for one exciting player heading into 2021.
Usher is the prototypical “raw, toolsy athlete.” He has a very loose, athletic left handed swing and a line drive approach that has served him exceptionally well so far, absolutely beating up on weaker opponents throughout his career. Given his strength and operation, you can project some power as well, likely enough for 15-20 home runs a year in the big leagues. He does come with some strikeout concerns, but he’s done so much damage on balls in play that it’s easy to overlook those for now. Then we have the plus to plus-plus speed that has given him 47 stolen bases in 69 games between Kirkwood and Louisville, which will serve him very well on both sides of the ball. Combine “raw and toolsy” with on-base percentages near .500, and you’re in business.
The one main knock on Usher is not really his fault. He didn’t face strong competition in the Iowa JUCO ranks, and while he combined to go 10-22 against Ole Miss and Wake Forest in 2020, there hasn’t been much sample size against legitimate pitching staffs. Over two summers in the Northwoods League, he’s slashed just .261/.337/.373 with a 46/17 strikeout to walk ratio, leading to some questions as to how his approach will play against advanced pitching and how his power will play with wood bats. Still, you can’t deny the production he’s had with metal bats and the tools are outstanding, so another strong season in the Cardinals’ lineup could make him an easy first round pick. Scouts will be watching his run through ACC play very closely in 2021.
10. RHP Jack Perkins, Louisville
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’1″, 200 lbs. Born 12/26/1999. Hometown: Kokomo, IN
2019: 3-0, 4.18 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 37/18 K/BB in 32.1 IP.
Our fourth member of the Louisville program to crack this top ten list, Jack Perkins is somewhat similar to Levi Usher in that he lacks much of a track record. He put up a 4.18 ERA and struck out 37 batters as a freshman reliever in 2019, but he also walked 18 in 32.1 innings and went down with Tommy John surgery in June of that year. After missing the 2020 college season, he got on the mound for 18.1 more innings in summer ball with more of the same – 2.45 ERA, 23/14 K/BB. Now a redshirt sophomore, he heads into 2021 with as much to prove as anybody.
The 6’1″ righty shows electric stuff from the right side. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s and tops out at 97 in relief, while his slider flashes plus and can miss bats in bunches. We also have a curveball and changeup, but those two pitches are well behind the fastball and slider. Perkins gets some deception from a bit of a crossfire deliver, but there is some effort there as well, which is more concerning combined with his surgery. If Perkins wants to start in pro ball, he’ll also have to improve his command considerably, as the jerk in his delivery can cause him to lose his release point.
We’re talking about a high ceiling and a low floor for Perkins, clearly. Tommy John surgery is commonplace these days and he’s fully healthy now, so if he can just get some innings under his belt, it might be all he needs to improve that command and his curve or changeup. Smoothing out his delivery would help as well, as it could be the root of his command problems. There’s a good chance he’s forced to the bullpen, where his fastball/slider combination could really play up, but teams would like to send him out as a starter if possible.
Other ACC Interesting Options
Sal Frelick and Cody Morissette provide the most exciting prospect duo the Eagles have seen in recent memory, but we’re also excited for Friday nights in Chestnut Hill. Mason Pelio is BC’s best pitching prospect since Justin Dunn, having put up a 3.73 ERA and an 81/47 strikeout to walk ratio over 94 innings for his career. He lacks the explosive stuff seen in top ten ACC prospects Ryan Cusick and Jack Perkins, but he’s much more pro-ready than either of them.
He has a big, durable frame at 6’3″ and has averaged five and a half innings per start, deploying a cutting low 90’s fastball and an above average changeup. His cutter means he has been adept at missing barrels, but the lack of a good breaking ball has limited his bat-missing ability and at this point he projects as a #4 or #5 starter. Improving his breaking ball to at least average would be the biggest thing he could do. With slightly above average command, fine tuning that just a little into a true 55 could take pressure off his breaking ball.
The Tigers didn’t put a single player in the top ten, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of draft talent. Davis Sharpe is the ACC’s best two-way prospect, having hit .276/.392/.431 with seven home runs at Clemson while putting up a 3.33 ERA and a 104/37 strikeout to walk ratio over 102.2 innings on the mound. Though he shows power and patience at the plate, his bat is probably a little light for first base, so his future is likely on the mound. His fastball sits around 90 but can touch 95, and his slider flashes above average to even plus at times. The 6’4″ righty has some effort in his delivery but does a good job of throwing strikes, and could be a breakout candidate for 2021.
Neither Carter Raffield nor Mack Anglin have much in the way of track record, but both can hit the mid 90’s with their fastballs and could take big steps forward in 2021. Lastly, Adam Hackenberg was a highly touted name coming out of the Virginia high school ranks, but he’s still looking for a breakout. His cannon arm will help him stick behind the plate, taking pressure off his bat. He’s shown plus raw power in batting practice but it comes at the expense of his hit tool, with an aggressive approach and a lot of swing and miss. Any improvement in his offensive game will make him a priority for area scouts.
A year after producing first rounder Bryce Jarvis, the Blue Devils have two names that just missed the top ten. Cooper Stinson is the younger brother of former Blue Devil and current Rays prospect Graeme Stinson, and he has momentum heading into 2021. Stinson finished 2020 with a 0.42 ERA and a 24/4 strikeout to walk ratio in 21.2 innings against a schedule that included Minnesota and Florida State. He sits around 90 with his fastball but tends to pitch above that number more than below, and his quick right arm puts nice angle on the ball. The 6’6″ righty also shows a good slider and a changeup, with his control improving in 2020 as well. Command can still be a bit shaky, but he’s one of the most complete pitchers in the ACC.
We also have Ethan Murray, a career .293/.394/.434 hitter in Durham. He’s one of those guys with no standout tool but no weaknesses either, showing great plate discipline and a consistent, line drive approach at the plate. There isn’t much power at this point, but he should produce enough doubles and triples to keep pitchers honest. As with his bat, his feel for the game stands out more than his physical tools on defense, with the polish to handle shortstop but perhaps not the arm strength and athleticism. Sticking there would give him a better chance to play full time, but his most likely role is as a utility infielder who can impact the game in a lot of ways.
Joey Loperfido is behind Stinson and Murray on draft boards, showing lots of average tools but having yet to put it together. A likely outfielder who has played almost everywhere, he has some power, some speed, and solid plate discipline, but he’ll need to find a way to impact the game consistently in pro ball.
Robby Martin is easily the best prospect in Tallahassee, but he’s part of one of the most talented outfields in college baseball with Reese Albert and Elijah Cabell. Albert was eligible in 2020 but withdrew from the draft, and now carries a career .270/.381/.491 slash line into 2021. Albert is a pretty basic “college performer” type who has shown some power, the ability to get to it in games, a patient approach, and steady overall performance. With a July birthday, he’s not much older than most first time eligible players, and brings a track record that many cannot match. He’s a bit of a sleeper to become a useful platoon or full time bat down the road.
Cabell, meanwhile, was also draft eligible in 2020, but went undrafted despite a hot .263/.488/.649 start to the season. Despite being a class below Albert, he’s actually slightly older, and shows louder tools. Cabell has huge raw power and some surprising speed, but has also struck out in nearly 40% (!) of his plate appearances. Because of this, evaluators have serious questions as to whether he’ll reach that power in pro ball, coming into the 2021 draft with a similar profile to Bobby Dalbec. On the mound, Jack Anderson is a breakout candidate with a low 90’s fastball and a solid breaking ball. To this point, he’s struggled to find innings on that crowded FSU pitching staff.
GT is another school loaded with prospects who just missed the top ten list. Luke Waddell returns a career .308/.410/.409 hitter, an extremely polished bat with great consistency. At a stocky 5’9″, he doesn’t profile for much power, and has just four career home runs for the Yellow Jackets, so the upside is limited. Given that he’ll turn 23 during the 2021 draft, he has a pretty clear high floor, utility profile. He profiles best at second base but can handle shortstop if needed. Brant Hurter is listed at 6’6″, 250 pounds, and was also eligible in 2020. He was dominant as a sophomore in 2019 (2.42 ERA, 58/14 K/BB) but missed 2020 with Tommy John surgery, and is now healthy. Hurter effectively commands a low 90’s fastball and a sharp slider, giving him a chance to start despite turning 23 shortly after the draft. He’s a bit of a sleeper.
Luke Bartnicki and Cort Roedig bring more exciting stuff, but both can be enigmatic. Bartnicki was a well-known draft prospect as a high schooler and has shown flashes of dominance in Midtown Atlanta, but hasn’t put it together quite yet. His low 90’s fastball can touch 94-95 without much effort, and his low three quarters arm slot makes him tough on lefties. The 6’3″ lefty also shows a good slider that can elicit chases and miss bats when he’s ahead in the count, but his command has made everything play down so far.
Roedig, meanwhile, has an unconventional windup in which he crouches, quickly replaces his feet as fast as he can, then slows up again to deliver the ball. His fastball can touch 97 with high spin rates, and his high spin slider flashes above average as well. To this point, he’s been around the strike zone but everything has been inconsistent, and he might need to settle down just a little bit to take full advantage of his stuff. He profiles as a reliever at this point but if he just calms down a little, he might be able to surprise some people.
The Cardinals put four names in the top ten and we’ve got even more to talk about. Michael Kirian was eligible in 2020 but went undrafted, and now with Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller out of his way, he has a chance to prove himself as a starter. The 6’6″ lefty has been untouchable with a 1.41 ERA and a 53/10 strikeout to walk ratio over 38.1 innings the last two seasons, all in relief. He has a low 90’s fastball that touches 95 as well as a good curveball, and as a starter in 2021 he’ll get to show off his less used cutter and changeup. If he can maintain his velocity in a starting role, he’ll fly up boards, because I always thought the stuff was a little light for relief.
Jared Poland can challenge Davis Sharpe as the best two-way prospect in the ACC, though I still prefer Sharpe. Poland hasn’t performed much at the plate or on the mound yet for Louisville, showing a low 90’s fastball and a nice changeup on the mound combined with a good hit tool at the plate. He looked good on the Cape as a pitcher, and refining his breaking ball a little could make him a legitimate #3/#4 starter prospect. At the plate, he has started to tap some power and needs to continue that to profile as more than a utility infielder.
We also have Glenn Albanese, a pure relief prospect with a mid 90’s fastball and a curveball that flashes plus. He struck out 18 of the 37 batters he faced in 2020 and more of the same could make him one of the top relief names in the draft.
The Hurricanes pulled in a fantastic incoming recruiting class, giving Adrian Del Castillo lots of high octane arms to work with. One of those is JUCO transfer Jake Smith, who had a 1.59 ERA and a 59/8 strikeout to walk ratio at State College of Florida last year. The 6’5″ righty is a breakout candidate on the back of a plus fastball that can hit 97 with solid command. He’ll need to refine his offspeed pitches a bit more but could fly up boards if he does.
6’1″ lefty JP Gates is another breakout candidate who should see more innings in 2021, currently showing an above average fastball/slider combination in relief. Any uptick in velocity should make him a legitimate late inning weapon. It’s a relief projection on the surface, but with the whole weekend rotation gone from last year, he could have a chance to start, though he’ll need to refine his changeup considerably.
Lastly, Alex Toral‘s name has been thrown around for a while now, and he blasted 24 home runs in 61 games in 2019. Obviously, he’s a power hitter, and he also shows nice patience at the plate that should help him tap it in pro ball. The swing is a bit grooved and gives me some Matt Adams vibes.
By far, UNC’s best draft prospect is infielder Danny Serretti. The New Jersey native will get plenty of comps to crosstown rival Ethan Murray over at Duke, showing a steady profile rather than a toolsy one. He doesn’t have much power in his 6’1″ frame but did hit 18 doubles as a freshman, showing a line drive bat and a knack for getting on base. He has a chance to stick at shortstop, which will make his bat more attractive, but he didn’t show much impact on the Cape in 2019. Scouts will be looking for more gap power to project more impact in pro ball.
We also have the unproven Joe Charles, who has touched 97 with his fastball but is otherwise a one tool player. He’ll need significant refinement in his command and added power to his slurvy breaking balls, which do have potential.
North Carolina State:
The Wolfpack get back Tyler McDonough, who was undrafted in 2020 despite a career .327/.407/.473 line. He’s a college performer with strong plate discipline and some ambush power, a bit of a sleeper given his 5’10” frame. He’ll be 22 before draft day but could quietly hit his way up the ranks.
Jose Torres is the Pack’s top draft prospect, a glove-first shortstop who can get to any ball he wants. His bat was considered very light coming out of high school near Baltimore, but he burst onto the scene with a .333/.369/.533 line and three home runs as a freshman in 2020. Draft eligible with a 1999 birthday, he’s very skinny at six feet tall but could grow into some power if he starts generating more leverage with his swing. His plate discipline is very raw at this point, so cleaning it up will be a big priority for 2021, but that glove buys his bat plenty of slack and if he continues the hot hitting he showed in 2020, look out.
Joining Zack Gelof in that strong UVA lineup will be Nic Kent, who just missed the top ten list. Kent has hit everywhere he’s gone, including .335/.426/.450 in Charlottesville and .373/.420/.464 in the Northwoods League. He has a simple, line drive swing that produces hard contact to all fields, and he rarely swings and misses. That hit tool is clearly his best attribute, but if he can a) tap some more power from his 6’2″ frame or b) prove he can stick at shortstop, he has first round aspirations.
Andrew Abbott is one of the top returning undrafted arms, and looks to be one of the top relievers in the class. He’s a smaller lefty at 6′, but makes up for it with a bulldog mentality on the mound and a strong fastball/curveball combination. The fastball sits in the low 90’s, nothing crazy, but the curveball is a true weapon and he goes right after hitters.
We also have Mike Vasil, who was a top draft prospect coming out of the Boston area high school ranks in 2018, but he has not developed as expected. After hitting 96 in high school, he’s been closer to 90 in college and dips below that number fairly often. His breaking balls haven’t really come along and lack finish to this point, but his changeup his lone above average pitch. Vasil has a great body at 6’4″ and plenty of arm strength, so scouts will be watching closely to see if he can regain that old form. The talent is absolutely there and if he can add a tick or two back to his fastball, he might have some similarities to last year’s Tommy Mace.
The Demon Deacons bring a couple of big bats back who were draft eligible last year. Bobby Seymour hit .377/.439/.576 as a sophomore in 2019, but otherwise has been more solid than great, which isn’t quite enough for a first baseman. He’ll look to tap more power from his big 6’4″, 250 pound frame.
Meanwhile, Chris Lanzilli has a fairly similar profile, having hit .347/.409/.620 in a big sophomore season in 2019 with a career .314/.394/.594 line and 31 home runs. He’s a big power bat, more so than Seymour, but scouts see him more as a college performer than a pro masher. He’s plenty strong enough to project for above average pop, but he’s not quite as explosive as some of the other power hitters in this class and will be 23 on draft day.