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An Early Look at the Pac-12: 2021 MLB Draft

Written By: Zack Silverman
Follow Him on Twitter: @ZackMatt4
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW


We round out our Power Five conferences with a look at the Pac-12, but don’t worry, two low and mid major overviews are coming out next. The Pac-12 is an interesting conference that lacks much firepower at the top behind UCLA’s Matt McLain, but the deeper you look into the back of Day One/early Day Two, the more the conference’s depth is apparent. UCLA, as always, is absolutely loaded, and five Bruins are among the conference’s top ten prospects. Behind them, Arizona is loaded up with bats and Arizona State has a fantastic assortment of arms.

Looking back, we saw themes apparent in other conferences – the Big Ten was filled with projectable arms, the ACC was loaded with bats, and the Big 12 was devoid of them. The Pac-12, meanwhile, finds itself balanced not only between bats and arms, but with a variety of skill sets as well. Geographically speaking, though, eight of our ten players are from Southern California, including five from the Los Angeles area and three from the San Diego area. Only Ryan Holgate (Davis, CA near Sacramento) and Chase Silseth (Farmington, NM) hail from elsewhere.

1. SS Matt McLain, UCLA

Bat: R. Throw: R. 5’11”, 170 lbs. Born 8/6/1999. Hometown: Tustin, CA
2019-2020: 7 HR, .244/.306/.411, 7 SB, 77/21 K/BB in 74 games.

This is perhaps the clearest number one prospect in any of the Power Five conferences. Matt McLain was a first round pick out of the Los Angeles-area high school ranks in 2018, but didn’t sign with the Diamondbacks and instead headed to UCLA. Three years later, he has a chance to go even higher. McLain struggled to just a .203/.276/.355 line as a freshman, doing a good job of putting the ball in the gaps but not making enough contact overall. After a solid run through the Cape Cod League after the season (.270/.392/.410), he exploded to a .397/.422/.621 line with three home runs in 13 games in his shortened sophomore season. That spilled over into summer ball in the California Collegiate League, where he hit a ridiculous .436/.536/.773 with seven home runs, 17 stolen bases, and a 22/22 strikeout to walk ratio in 30 games. That’ll play.

McLain is interesting because he does a lot of things well, but also has a few holes in his game. First and foremost, he’s an exceptional athlete who packs a lot of strength and speed into his skinny, 5’11” frame. That athleticism helps him tremendously on both sides of the ball, and he has every chance to stick at shortstop because of it. Though he looks slight in stature, he makes a ton of hard contact all over the field, flashing average power with the chance to get above average if he keeps trending in this direction. His quick right handed swing also gives him the chance for a plus hit tool, though it plays closer to 55 at this point because he can be susceptible to offspeed stuff.

Tightening up his plate discipline will be the most important item on the to-do list in 2021, as he can get aggressive. He’s a great fastball hitter and makes such easy contact with velocity that he rarely walks, but because he can swing through offspeed stuff, pro pitchers will have a very clear plan to get him out. He’s trending in the right direction there, and an increased walk rate and lower offspeed whiff rate in 2021 will make a huge difference. Projecting at shortstop automatically makes his offensive profile more attractive, right now projecting for perhaps 15-25 home runs per season and middling on-base percentages to go with a handful of stolen bases.

2. RHP Kevin Abel, Oregon State

Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’2″, 195 lbs. Born 2/19/1999. Hometown: San Diego, CA
2018-2019: 10-1, 3.04 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 133/55 K/BB in 97.2 IP.

The story of Kevin Abel is well documented at this point, to say the least. An absolute superstar as a true freshman for the Oregon State Beavers, he had a 0.62 ERA across 29 innings in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, including a complete game, two hit shutout in the championship clincher against Arkansas (video above). However, we haven’t seen much of him since. Abel lasted just 16.1 innings in 2019 before going down with back problems and eventually Tommy John surgery, then the 2020 season shut down before he was able to work his way back onto the mound. A potential second to third round pick anyways, he priced himself out of the draft and was the fourth best college prospect to return to school.

Way back in 2018, when “social distancing” was what I did at parties in my fraternity’s basement and minor leaguer Pete Alonso still went by “Peter,” Abel impressed scouts in a lot of ways. His fastball sat in the low 90’s, and it played up because he could fill the strike zone with it. His curveball graded as average but showed above average to plus potential with great depth, just needing to add a little power. Lastly, his changeup was easily his best pitch, a plus fader that functioned as his putaway pitch and made much older batters look silly. Everything played up for a multitude of reasons, including his solid average command, above average control, sturdy frame, and big game mentality.

Two and a half years later, we’re left wondering what Abel will look like now. Average command as a freshman is impressive in its own right and usually bodes well for above average or even plus command a few years later. That would really tie his three pitch arsenal together nicely, especially given all of his other starter traits. He has the true plus pitch, he has the frame, and he has the intangibles. What scouts now need to see is proof that it’s still there after all this time. If he comes back strong, look for him to come off the board in the top two rounds even though he’ll be nearly 22 and a half on draft day.

3. RHP Nick Nastrini, UCLA

Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’3″, 205 lbs. Born 2/18/2000. Hometown: San Diego, CA
2019-2020: 3-1, 2.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 47/17 K/BB in 35.1 IP.

Matt McLain is the clear #1 prospect in the Pac-12, and it was pretty easy for me to slot Kevin Abel at #2. Now that we’re past those two, the competition will get much stiffer, and it’s really a testament to the depth of te Pac-12. Nick Nastrini doesn’t have much of a track record with 2019 thoracic outlet syndrome and the 2020 shutdown keeping him off the mound, but still, he’s shown enough in the Cape Cod League and in 35.1 innings in LA to make a legitimate Day One draft case. He has a 2.80 ERA and a strong 47/17 strikeout to walk ratio for the Bruins, and on the Cape in 2019, he was lights out as a teenager with a 2.18 ERA and a 38/11 strikeout to walk ratio across 33 innings. Now, he finds himself in an interesting spot somewhere between projectable, polished, and unproven.

The San Diego native throws three pitches, but none stand out as plus. His fastball sits in the low 90’s, while he mixes in an average (but high spin) curveball and an above average changeup. The three pitches play up because he can effectively work them around the plate and play them off each other, and hopes are that his walk rates will come down even further as he gets more consistent innings. Standing 6’3″ and well built, he also has a durable frame that should help him remain in the rotation, and his delivery is pretty easy and simple.

The end result is not a flashy profile, but a pitcher who simply knows how to get the job done. His stuff won’t jump off the page in a scouting report, but perhaps more consistent innings could help it take a small jump. Even as is, three at least average pitches and above average command, combined with a good frame and feel for pitching, give him a nice floor as a back-end starter. Nastrini has a chance to pitch himself into the top fifty or so picks with a consistent spring, or he could pitch himself out of Day One entirely with any missed time, as it would be hard to sell a “high floor” arm with a track record of injuries.

4. 1B/OF JT Schwartz, UCLA

Bat: L. Throw: R. 6’4″, 210 lbs. Born 12/17/1999. Hometown: Newport Beach, CA
2020: 0 HR, .328/.380/.391, 2 SB, 13/4 K/BB in 15 games.

Here’s our third UCLA Bruin in four names, just to give you an idea of the talent in that program. JT Schwartz is one of the Pac-12 more polarizing prospects, bringing a short, mixed bag of a track record to go with a high ceiling. He redshirted his freshman season but showed extremely well in the Northwoods League that summer, slashing .378/.464/.480 with more walks (25) than strikeouts (23), then was off to a hot .328/.380/.391 start for UCLA in 2020 before the season shut down. In 2021, he’ll look to build on that while fielding Matt McLain throws at first base.

The first thing that stands out for the Los Angeles-area native is his power…potential. He’s a lanky kid at 6’4″, with long arms and legs that are just begging to drive the ball out of the park. However, to this point, his power has mostly played to the gaps with just one home run combined in 67 games between UCLA and the Northwoods League. Schwartz can find the barrel no problem and is universally praised for his hitting ability, but scouts are just waiting for him to deploy his power in games. While he’s worked to get a better base and that has led to plenty of doubles power, he still has a line drive approach that doesn’t put the ball over the fence. Going forward, he should be willing to accept more swing and miss in order to drive the ball in the air – something he should be capable of.

Defensively, Schwartz has gradually moved down the defensive spectrum and mans first base for UCLA. A decent athlete, he should be able to handle left field and could be adequate in right or even at third base with some work, but no matter where he ends up, his bat will have to carry him. He’s a 55 hitter that has no trouble handling advanced pitching, but his current power output won’t cut it at first base or in left field. If he uses his lanky frame to generate more leverage and drive the ball in the air more, Schwartz has a chance to fly up boards in 2021.

5. OF Ryan Holgate, Arizona

Bat: L. Throw: L. 6’1″, 205 lbs. Born 6/8/2000. Hometown: Davis, CA
2019-2020: 8 HR, .273/.396/.464, 1 SB, 67/42 K/BB in 68 games.

Ryan Holgate actually has a pretty similar outlook to JT Schwartz, but for now, he’s a very different player. He had an up and down freshman season in 2019 (.240/.378/.437, 7 HR), then showed very well in the Northwoods League with 13 home runs and a .297/.392/.554 line in 58 games. In 2020, he beat up on a weak schedule for an exceptional .377/.459/.547 line across 15 games, setting himself up as one of the more established power bats in the 2021 class.

Unlike Schwartz, you don’t have to project on Holgate’s power. It’s here, and it’s very real. The Central Valley native has a beautiful swing from the left side that brings tremendous leverage and enables him to drive the baseball impressive distances. By hammering 13 home runs in the Northwoods League in 2019, he also proved that his power plays up with wood bats. However, scouts are less confident in Holgate’s hit tool. He struck out at a 26.3% rate as a freshman, 18.5% in the Northwoods League, and even 19.7% against weaker competition in his short but loud 2020 campaign. A patient hitter, he regularly finds himself in deep counts, which enables him to draw walks but which also often sends him back to the bench empty handed.

As a below average runner without a great arm, he projects best in left field. That means the 6’1″ slugger will have to hit his way to the majors, so tightening up his two strike approach will be a must. All eyes will be on Holgate during Arizona’s weekend series against the Pac-12 powers, where he will have a chance to prove he can hammer advanced pitching. If he continues to post high strikeout rates north of 15-20%, it will be hard to justify drafting him on Day One, but any improvement in plate discipline could lock him in. The fact that he won’t need any kind of swing changes in pro ball bodes well for the continued development of his hit tool after that.

6. RHP Jesse Bergin, UCLA

Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’4″, 200 lbs. Born 10/8/1999. Hometown: Studio City, CA
2019-2020: 9-0, 3.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 103/32 K/BB in 88.1 IP.

Back in sunny Los Angeles, UCLA has yet another name to watch. Jesse Bergin is a product of the Harvard-Westlake School, the elite Hollywood Hills program that has churned out big leaguers Lucas Giolito, Max Fried, and Jack Flaherty, plus 2020 Mets first-rounder Pete Crow-Armstrong and Stanford freshman Drew Bowser, himself a potential first-round pick in 2023. Bergin held his own as a freshman in the Bruins rotation in 2019, putting up a 4.43 ERA and a 76/25 K/BB in 67 innings, then started off red hot with a 1.27 ERA and 27/7 K/BB in 21.1 innings in 2020. Heading into 2021, he’ll look to build on his strong track record with fellow draft prospects Nick Nastrini and Zach Pettway in one of the best weekend rotations in the country.

Bergin is mostly a two pitch pitcher for now, relying on his above average fastball and slider. The fastball sits in the low 90’s and gets good carry up in the zone, and he shows the feel to work it to all four quadrants. The slider fluctuates between 45 and 55, but it’s usually towards the upper end with good three quarters shape and finish. At times it can pop out of his hand a little, but overall it could be a plus pitch in time. Bergin doesn’t show much of a changeup. He’s an above average strike thrower and repeats his delivery well, and with a sturdy but projectable 6’4″ frame, he has plenty of starter traits.

Bergin is a bit of a sleeper to pitch his way into Day One consideration. With two above average pitches, good command, and a starter’s frame, there is a lot to like. In 2021, the best thing he can do for his stock would be to work in his changeup more often, which would make evaluators much more comfortable projecting him as a starter. Considering all the talent around him, he certainly won’t have a shortage of people there to watch.

7. RHP Sean Sullivan, California

Bat: S. Throw: R. 6’1″, 170 lbs. Born 10/2/2000. Hometown: Woodland Hills, CA
2019-2020: 2-2, 5.12 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 32/20 K/BB in 31.2 IP.

If you look at his stats in Berkeley, Sean Sullivan doesn’t have much to go off of. He had a 5.88 ERA as a freshman, then walked more batters (4) than he struck out (3) in 5.2 innings in 2020. However, scouts love Cape performers, and Sullivan is a Cape sensation. While most players in the Cape Cod League are at least 19-20 years old, Sullivan showed up at 18 in 2019 and flat out shoved; over 43.1 innings, the LA native had a 2.08 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 48/7 strikeout to walk ratio, absolutely dominating his older and already elite competition.

Sullivan is yet to replicate that success at Cal. On the Cape, he sat consistently in the low 90’s with his fastball and rattled off a sharp lateral slider, an average curveball, and an average changeup. However, at Cal, the fastball sits closer to 90 or perhaps a tick below, while his slider plays closer to average and his curveball earns 40-45 grades. Sullivan also has a slight build and an uptempo delivery, giving some Carson Fulmer vibes. Having missed time with back problems in high school and with an unspecified injury at the start of his sophomore year, he is far from proven durable.

There is considerable upside to tap into here if he can harness his Cape form more consistently. That right arm can be electric at times, at his best showing the ability to command four pitches. But given that he has otherwise been very inconsistent, has missed time with injury, and doesn’t have a starter’s build, there is very significant relief risk. He absolutely has to have better results in 2021 if he wants to be drafted on Day One, but the good news is we know he has that in him. Also going for Sullivan is his age, as he won’t turn 21 until October, making him one of the youngest college arms available.

8. RHP Tyler Thornton, Arizona State

Bat: L. Throw: R. 6’3″, 180 lbs. Born 7/2000. Hometown: Solana Beach, CA
2019 (SMC)-2020: 12-2, 2.87 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 119/34 K/BB in 100.1 IP.

If we’re talking track record, then Tyler Thornton has by far the best one on this list. He was sensational as a freshman at St. Mary’s College, where he put up a 2.71 ERA and a 94/27 strikeout to walk ratio across 76.1 innings en route to earning numerous Freshman of the Year accolades around the industry. He transferred to Arizona State in 2020 and continued to show well with a 3.38 ERA and 25/7 K/BB across 24 innings. While his stuff is perhaps the quietest on this list, you simply can’t argue with the results he’s gotten at a time when many of his contemporaries are unproven.

Thornton comes from a low three quarters release point that could almost be called sidearm, putting a tough diagonal angle on the baseball. His fastball usually sits in the upper 80’s, but he’s slowly been tacking on velocity and has been peaking into the low 90’s more and more regularly. That low arm slot not only puts angle on his fastball, but also some run, and he does a very nice job of commanding it to both sides of the plate. He adds a solid average changeup that fades to his arm side, while his curveball is presently below average. Going forward, I’d be interested to see what happened if he tinkered with a slider.

Standing 6’3″ with a great pitcher’s frame, many scouts are unsurprised that his velocity is trending up. However, despite his track record and command, the San Diego native does have a to-do list for 2021. It would really help his stock to maintain that low 90’s velocity throughout the season, and finding a reliable breaking ball is a must if he wants to start in pro ball. For that reason, he presently projects as a long reliever, but he’s young for the class and has every chance to change that projection this spring.

9. RHP Chase Silseth, Arizona

Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’0, 205 lbs. Born 5/18/2000. Hometown: Farmington, NM
2019 (Tenn.)-2020 (CSN): 4-4, 3.00 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 79/16 K/BB in 51 IP.

I am very, very interested in this sleeper. Chase Silseth is the only player on this list not from California, and he’s easily the most travelled. Originally from Farmington, New Mexico, he began his college career at Tennessee and held his own with a 4.35 ERA and a sharp 24/6 K/BB in 20.2 innings out of the bullpen. Transferring to the College of Southern Nevada in 2020, he got more innings than most Division I arms and dominated the western JUCO ranks to the tune of a 2.08 ERA and a 55/10 K/BB in 30.1 innings. Now transferring once more to Arizona, he’s looking to really make a name for himself. I’m a believer that he’ll do just that.

Silseth has quite a few things going for him. With a power arm, he sits in the low 90’s without a ton of effort, but when he does reach back in short stints, he can touch 96-97. His slider can be inconsistent, but when it’s on, it’s an above average pitch with late vertical bite. He also shows an average changeup. When he stays within himself, he shows above average command and can really control the strike zone, though his arm slot can occasionally wander when he overthrows. Is a stocky six footer, so he doesn’t have a classic starter’s build, but has proven durable thus far.

The well-travelled new Wildcat will have some things to work on in Tucson, but he’s not far from a Day One product. Getting a little more consistent with his offspeed stuff while also learning to trust himself and not rush his delivery would put him in a great spot: commanding three big league pitches. I think he could sneak up on some people, and if starting doesn’t work out, his power fastball/slider combination will play up in the bullpen. With a May birthday, he’s also relatively young for the class.

10. C Noah Cardenas, UCLA

Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’1″, 190 lbs. Born 9/10/1999. Hometown: Saugus, CA
2019-2020: 3 HR, .345/.451/.454, 0 SB, 23/23 K/BB in 69 games.

The tenth and final name on the list is Noah Cardenas, our sixth UCLA Bruin. He might rank higher on some other lists, but I’m wary of light hitting catchers and that drops him for me. Cardenas was always known for his glove, but he surprised many in the industry by taking immediately to Pac-12 pitching as a freshman and slashing .375/.476/.500 with three home runs and more walks (17) than strikeouts (14). That summer on the Cape, he continued to perform, slashing .297/.423/.344 with seven strikeouts to eight walks. However, that lopsided line highlights some concerns with Cardenas’ power, and he was off to a slow start in 2020 at .237/.367/.289.

Cardenas is universally praised for his work behind the plate. He combines soft hands and reliable arm with great agility to block balls in the dirt, with the overall feel for the craft that will make him an asset back there. Despite his strong freshman season, though, I’m not sold on his bat. The Southern California native is an adept contact hitter who struck out in just 8.4% of his plate appearances as a freshman and just 9% on the Cape (though that number was up to 18% as a sophomore), regularly putting the bat on the ball against advanced pitching. He makes such easy contact that he doesn’t draw a ton of walks, but he stands in at the plate and is more than willing to get hit. The flaw is with his power. While Cardenas catches the ball out front and sprays it around the field, but he lacks the loft and the strength to get the ball deep into the gaps, let alone over the fence. Over 94 games between UCLA and the Cape, he has 64 singles but just 15 extra base hits.

The glove gives Cardenas an extremely high floor, which is only bolstered by his natural feel to make contact. At the very least, he has a great shot at being a big league backup. In 2021, I would like to see him not only continue hitting .300+, but start to add more extra base and over the fence power as well. If he doesn’t, I find it difficult to project him as a full time starter. I’m sure some team that values catcher defense and is bought into his pure hit tool will grab him on Day One though.

Other Pac-12 Interesting Options

Arizona

Ryan Holgate is the headliner, but this Arizona lineup is loaded around him. Branden Boissiere is a career .333/.406/.461 hitter in Tucson, so he certainly has the track record. His left handed swing is loose and athletic and sprays singles around the field, but he’s limited defensively so he’ll want to add power to his game in 2021. I believe he could get to average in that regard. Tony Bullard hit .301/.412/.482 as a freshman, but slumped to .133/.372/.133 as a sophomore. There is innate power in his lank 6’4″ frame, and he can put nice loft on the ball at times, but his swing can get grooved at others. A likely first baseman, adding strength and consistency will be his key in 2021. We also have Mac Bingham, a draft-eligible sophomore who hit .361/.478/.500 last year. A compact 5’10”, he’s an ex-high school football player with some upside. His compact swing and strong plate discipline make his bat even more attractive. Dayton Dooney has followed a similar trajectory to Bullard, hitting .323/.417/.596 as a freshman but slumping to .146/.260/.317 as a sophomore. He’s not a big guy at 5’11” but the switch hitter generates at least average power from both sides of the plate with a loose but powerful swing. There is some swing and miss and he has spells where he struggles to make contact, so there will be a lot of eyes on him in 2021. Dooney has played all over the infield in Tucson.

Outfielder Donta’ Williams brings more experience than the above group, having consistently improved over three years in Tucson. He popped for a .348/.527/.500 line in the shortened 2020 season, adding to his reputation as an on-base machine who draws walks, takes his HBP’s, and rarely strikes out. A polished hitter, he cut down his swing at Arizona to achieve that low strikeout rate. He went undrafted in 2020, due in large part to a very weak Cape Cod run (.205/.287/.289) that left evaluators wondering just how much impact he’ll hit for. He plays a plus center field. While the focus will be on the offense, Chase Silseth is joined in the rotation by Dawson Netz, a draft-eligible sophomore that is a popular sleeper in the region. The 6’1″ righty put up a 2.45 ERA and a 12/3 K/BB in 11 innings last year, flashing a low 90’s fastball and a curveball with great depth. However, he doesn’t always hold that velocity and the curve can lack power at times. A dogged competitor, he has a chance to leap forward in 2021.

Arizona State

While Arizona brings the firepower on offense, Arizona State is loaded with interesting arms. Behind Tyler Thornton, my favorite is 6’6″, 240 pound lefty Justin Fall. A New Jersey native, Fall transferred from Brookdale CC but went undrafted after posting a 5.68 ERA and a 17/13 K/BB in 19 innings in 2020. At this point, he’s kind of a one tool player, but that one tool is a good one. His plus fastball sits in the low 90’s with minimal effort, and if he reaches back, he can hit the mid 90’s whenever he wants. With that big frame, he gets extension and puts run and sink on the ball that makes it really tough to square up. However, with mediocre offspeed stuff and spotty command, he probably fits in the bullpen. Lefty Erik Tolman was also eligible in 2020, and although he’s smaller, he’s more complete than Fall. Tolman has been strong in Tempe (3.14 ERA, 79/48 K/BB in 66 IP), working with a quality three pitch mix from the left side. His fastball usually sits in the upper 80’s and bumps 90-92 at best, thrown without much effort. He manipulates the shape on his slider from a frisbee pitch to a more vertical breaker, and shows a solid changeup. The 6’2″ lefty can lose the zone at times, but any bump in velocity could move him up boards in a hurry.

Righty Seth Tomczak has thrown just 3.2 innings so far, but I’m interested. He’s a string bean at 6’4″, and he has a lot of work to do. His fastball sits anywhere from the upper 80’s to the mid 90’s and the slider flashes above average, but his mechanics need an overhaul. There is considerable upside to be unlocked here as he gets stronger and more polished. Boyd Vander Kooi has one of the most unique names in college baseball, and he’s been a mainstay in Tempe with 156.2 innings under his belt since 2018. He was at his best in 2020 with a 0.70 ERA and a 20/2 K/BB across 25.2 innings, but went undrafted. The fastball occasionally creeps into the low 90’s but usually sits in the upper 80’s, and he adds an average curveball and below average changeup. It’s not the most exciting profile, but he fills the strike zone and has proven durable with a big 6’5″ frame.

Oregon

Oregon might not have quite the collection of arms that Arizona State possesses, but there are some interesting ones here nonetheless. Two of their top righties are actually very similar. Cullen Kafka was eligible in 2020, but his track record was too inconsistent to warrant a selection in the five round draft. Mostly used as a starter in Eugene, his riding fastball sits in the low 90’s when he’s stretched out, but he’s shown the ability to hover around 94-95 in shorter stints. His slider flashes above average at times, but can also lose its bite at times and look well below average. With below average command, the 6’4″ Bay Area native probably fits in the bullpen, where his stuff could tick up considerably. Hunter Breault was also draft-eligible in 2020, but he too was passed over due to his inconsistent track record. Used mostly in relief for the Ducks, his fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s and tops out around 97. We also have a slider and a splitter that flash above average, usually settling around average. With similar command questions to Kafka, the 6’2″ Hawaiian probably does not have a chance to start in pro ball, and his velocity can dip when he’s used in longer stints.

Oregon State

Behind the experienced Kevin Abel, Oregon State has a couple of young guns that could break out this year. Will Frisch is draft-eligible as a sophomore, having put up a 2.61 ERA and a 12/6 K/BB in 10.1 innings as a freshman. I’ve seen him listed everywhere from 5’10” to 6’1″, but however tall he actually is, he’s not the biggest guy in the world. Still, he can run his fastball into the mid 90’s and brings an above average changeup, giving him two pitches right there to work with. He would drop his arm at times on his slider in high school, but in limited looks in 2020, it seems like he did a better job holding the slot. Steps forward with his command or slider, which are not uncommon for underclassmen, would really help his stock. Jake Pfennigs, meanwhile, is very different. The 6’7″ Idahoan showed up to campus with long hair and a sloppy delivery, and since then he’s cleaned up both his hair and his delivery. A full time member of the Beaver rotation in 2020, he performed well against a tough schedule (3.57 ERA, 14/10 K/BB in 17.2 IP), but never got a chance to really get rolling. His low 90’s fastball has touched 95 and his curveball has steadily improved from fringy to average, though the command is still inconsistent. As he continues to polish his game, he could be a riser in 2021.

Stanford

Stanford doesn’t boast any elite talent for this year’s draft, with most of their draft talent coming from their veteran core and seasoned rotation. The top prospect in that group is Jacob Palisch, a 6’4″ lefty who went to high school just a few miles from where I currently live in the Dallas area. He was eligible in 2020, but minor lat problems delayed the start of his season and he didn’t get into a game. Palisch absolutely dominated the Cape Cod League in 2019 (1.29 ERA, 44/7 K/BB in 42 IP) but has been more good than great at Stanford (3.40 ERA, 84/33 K/BB in 103.1 IP). His fastball sits in the upper 80’s and his breaking ball is below average, but he can carve up lineups with an above average to plus changeup, above average command, and great overall feel for pitching. He’ll turn 23 shortly after the draft, so there’s not much projection remaining and he figures to be a #5 starter or long reliever. Brandon Beck, younger brother of Giants farmhand Tristan, is another polished veteran. He’s been a mainstay in the Cardinal rotation since 2018, putting up a 3.09 ERA and a 146/43 K/BB over 180.2 innings in three seasons. He mixes in four below average pitches in an upper 80’s fastball, a pair of breaking balls that lack power finish, and a changeup, but like Palisch, he has tremendous feel for pitching. He profiles as a back-end starter or long reliever, like Palisch. Alex Williams is a little younger than Palisch and Beck, and he’s off to a hot start to his Stanford career with a 2.11 ERA and a 61/12 K/BB in 81 innings from 2019-2020. As with Palisch and Beck, his fastball sits in the upper 80’s and scrapes 90-91, and like Palisch, he shows an above average changeup. He manipulates the shape on his breaking ball and flashes a few above average benders, but for now it’s usually slurvy. His above average command works well in his favor.

Southern California

The Trojans’ top prospect this year is Jamal O’Guinn, who might have gone in the sixth round last year had there been one. The Fresno native has improved in all three slash categories every year at USC, averaging out to a .282/.420/.411 line with five home runs over 94 games. He’s a big dude at a listed 6’4″ and 220 pounds, and he can really drive the ball with authority. However, a choppy right handed swing has kept him from turning that above average raw power into game power this far, despite good feel for the strike zone and the barrel. He’s a swing change candidate in pro ball, which isn’t ideal for a 22 year old, but that feel for the barrel should help him not miss a beat. He plays third base in Los Angeles but he’s a little stiff over there and would be stretched in the shifting era. If he moves over to first base, that power will have to come.

UCLA

The Bruins put six players into our top ten list, and there’s still more to talk about. Zach Pettway was eligible in 2020 but went undrafted despite a ridiculous shortened junior season (1.05 ERA, 29/1 K/BB in 25.2 IP). He’s a fascinating prospect that only sits in the upper 80’s with his fastball, topping out at 91, but he messes with hitters’ timing and then releases the ball right in front of your face with excellent extension despite a 6’1″ frame. His above average changeup tunnels extremely well off his fastball. The Long Beach native works his slider and curveball on a spectrum rather than a binary, but both earn 45 grades. It’s hard to project him as a starter with subpar velocity and breaking balls, but that’s true plus command and I wouldn’t count him out. He would have been #11 had this list gone that far.

Righty Jack Filby is really talented and may be able to start, but he’s been buried on that UCLA pitching staff and has been a reliever so far. His fastball sits 93-94 in relief, and it plays up because he puts great carry and run on the ball. His curveball is inconsistent but flashes above average, and it should become a more consistent putaway pitch in time. To this point, he’s been around the zone, but it’s hard to project him as a starter without seeing him in that role. Sean Mullen, to me, is a really interesting one. The Bakersfield native has been lights out in a small sample, putting up a 0.56 ERA and a 16/11 K/BB over 16 innings. He’s springy and athletic on the mound, driving hard off his back leg to deliver low 90’s fastballs. His slider is presently below average, but flashes well above average at its best with nasty, late bite. His game is raw overall, and for that reason he looks like a reliever, but I think he could be a sleeper to start.

Washington

We’ll talk about Braiden Ward here, a speedy outfielder with a career .309/.403/.403 line and 55 stolen bases over 124 games in Seattle. He was eligible in 2020 but lacked the impact hitting ability to earn a selection. Ward has a loose left handed swing and steadily improving plate discipline that enables him to make line drive contact to all fields, though he’s hit just one home run in three years and his power is exclusively to the gaps. A plus-plus runner, he is an asset in center field and adds an unremarkable but accurate arm. With a little bit of added strength, he could be comped to Jarren Duran.

Washington State

We’ll finish this long article off with a sleeper pick. Kyle Manzardo is the second northern Idaho native to crack this article, joining Oregon State’s Jake Pfennigs, and the kid can hit. After a respectable .272/.335/.364 freshman season, he exploded in his shortened sophomore season for a .435/.500/.694 line and three home runs in 16 games, albeit against a weak schedule. Manzardo backed up that hot 2020 with a strong run through the Northwoods League (.297/.408/.534, 7 HR, 23/21 K/BB), and could build on his breakout in 2021. He is a disciplined hitter who generates plenty of leverage in his left handed swing, bringing above average raw power. The swing can get long at times, so he’ll need to continue to prove his hit tool, especially since he’s confined to first base. If you squint, you can kind of see a poor man’s Triston Casas.


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2021 MLB Draft Top Prospects BIG 12
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2021 MLB Draft Top Prospects BIG Ten
2021 MLB Draft Top Prospects Low-Mid Majors (East Schools)

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