Written By: Zack Silverman
Follow Him on Twitter: @ZackMatt4
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
We’ve completed the Power Five conferences, so now it’s time to move into some low-mid major schools. There are plenty of powerhouse programs in the east that don’t fall into the ACC, SEC, or Big Ten, including a Coastal Carolina team that won the College World Series in 2016. Some of MLB’s brightest stars came from these smaller eastern conferences, including Justin Verlander (Old Dominion), Jacob deGrom (Stetson), Corey Kluber (Stetson), Kyle Hendricks (Dartmouth), George Springer (Connecticut), and Kyle Lewis (Mercer), among many many others. Here we find a ton of interesting arms, including quite a few with first round aspirations, as well as a group of bats driven by big raw power.
1. OF Ethan Wilson, South Alabama
Bat: L. Throw: L. 6’2″, 210 lbs. Born 11/7/1999. Hometown: Andalusia, AL
2019-2020: 20 HR, .330/.425/.632, 12 SB, 65/40 K/BB in 74 games.
In 2018, South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty closed out an exceptional Jaguars career with a tenth overall selection to the Pirates. Three years later, Ethan Wilson has a chance to match him. The Andalusia native burst onto the scene with a massive freshman season in 2019, slashing .345/.453/.686 with 17 home runs and a 45/36 strikeout to walk ratio in 56 games, but dropped to a more pedestrian .282/.329/.465 with three home runs and a 20/4 K/BB in the shortened 2020 season. In a class that’s shallow on college bats, Wilson is a proven commodity with some of the best in-season track record around.
Wilson is a hitter, no question about it. He produces plus raw and game power with an explosive, leveraged, and controlled left handed swing that has no problem catching up to velocity. He shows great feel for the barrel and has never actually struggled at any point in his career. To this point, he has shown some swing and miss against offspeed stuff, but scouts aren’t all that worried. As a mediocre defender who will likely end up in left field, his bat will have to carry him and few doubt that it will.
Given Wilson’s lack of defensive value, scouts need to see him continue to produce in 2021. The Sun Belt has plenty of talent, but it’s not the SEC or ACC and without ever having appeared in a major summer wood bat league, he’s fairly unproven against great pitching. Given his high swing and miss rates against offspeed stuff, that’s slightly concerning, but he can answer all those questions against South Alabama’s non-conference slate in 2021 or against schools like Coastal Carolina and Louisiana in conference play. Given that he won’t require much swing change in pro ball, he can also focus on that aspect of his game heavily once in there. Overall, it’s easy to envision a true impact hitter with 25+ home run potential and good on-base percentages, one that fits firmly in the first round.
2. RHP Sam Bachman, Miami (OH)
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’1″, 235 lbs. Born 9/30/1999. Hometown: Fishers, IN
2019-2020: 8-3, 3.81 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 106/45 K/BB in 99.1 IP.
Southern Ohio is filled with interesting mid-major arms, but none is more interesting nor a better prospect at this point than Sam Bachman. He was solid as a freshman (3.93 ERA, 75/39 K/BB), then after getting shelled by Texas A&M to open 2020, he had a 1.71 ERA and a 28/2 K/BB across the next 21 innings to close out the season. Bachman was a solid Day One prospect at that point, but he’s had one of the loudest falls in the country and has rocketed into the first round conversation.
Bachman is unique if nothing else. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and tops out around 96 in games, but he’s been up to 99 in fall practice and his pitch data is astounding. After some stabbing motion in the back, he crouches down in his delivery and releases the ball from sidearm height despite throwing from a three quarters slot, putting absolutely tremendous ride and carry on the pitch. It’s one of the most unique fastballs in the class and is extremely difficult to square up. After that, he adds a short slider that almost functions more like a cutter, a pitch that’s above average now but could get to plus with more refinement. His changeup looks like an above average pitch as well with nice running action to the arm side.
So far, the Indianapolis-area native hasn’t gotten much in terms of big results, but as he continues to optimize his stuff, he could get there in 2021. Bachman’s command has improved from 45 in 2019 to 50 in 2020 to 55 in fall practice, and if he can stay in that above average range over a full season, he could push way up boards. His fastball, slider, and changeup all play off each other extremely well, with the unique arm slot making them very difficult to tell apart. As he refines his command, that will only get tougher. Otherwise, continued refinement of his slider is on the docket for 2021, as he could get even more effective by learning to add and subtract depth to what’s currently a pretty short breaker.
3. RHP Mason Black, Lehigh
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’3″, 210 lbs. Born 12/10/1999. Hometown: Archbald, PA
2019-2020: 4-2, 4.09 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 57/20 K/BB in 55 IP.
The best college arm in the Northeast is not at a traditional power like Maryland, Boston College, UConn, or Bryant. Rather, Lehigh’s Mason Black has used two exceptional summers to rocket himself into the first round conversation. His numbers against Lehigh’s weaker schedule have been decent (4.09 ERA, 57/20 K/BB), but he really broke out in the Cape Cod League in 2019 with a 1.43 ERA and a 39/12 strikeout to walk ratio over 37.2 innings as a rising sophomore. He backed that up with another fantastic run through the South Florida Collegiate League in 2020, with a 0.64 ERA, just a 0.71 WHIP, and a 42/10 strikeout to walk ratio over 28 innings.
Black hasn’t quite gotten it done in the Patriot League, but there’s every reason to believe he will in 2021. His three pitch arsenal is highlighted by a low to mid 90’s fastball that has peaked at 97-99 in short stints, playing up further because he gets good extension and downward plane on it. His breaking ball can fluctuate between a slider and a curveball, but it’s best when it’s more of a true slider and flashes plus potential. Lastly, his changeup is advanced as well, showing nice vertical drop and giving him a third swing and miss offering. Together with solid-average command, Black can dominate anybody at his best.
In 2021, Black will have to put up better numbers in the Patriot League. His loud summers have him firmly in the first round, but to stay there, he can’t have a third consecutive “solid” college season against mediocre competition. He needs to mow his opponents down. His inconsistency does create some reliever risk, but with a long 6’3″ frame, three potential plus pitches, and good-enough command, he has every chance to not only start, but pitch near the top of a rotation. A smart kid as well, the Scranton-area native is majoring in bioengineering and has floated the idea of medical school if baseball doesn’t work out.
4. C Hunter Goodman, Memphis
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’1″, 210 lbs. Born 10/8/1999. Hometown: Arlington, TN
2019-2020: 21 HR, .333/.378/.612, 13 SB, 71/14 K/BB in 72 games.
Hunter Goodman gets a tough draw coming in fourth on this list, getting stuck behind an offensive stud and a couple of electric arms. Still, we’re talking about a very exciting profile here. Goodman has absolutely raked at Memphis, slashing .333/.378/.612 with 21 home runs in 72 games, including eight in sixteen games in 2020. He also showed well in the Cape Cod League in 2019, where he hit .272/.287/.487 with eight home runs in 44 games. From a catcher, that’s a track record of in-game power that you’ll take eleven times out of ten, but we do have some questions.
Any conversation around Goodman begins with his power. He shows plus to even plus-plus raw power in his 6’1″ frame, and to this point, that has played up to true plus power in games as well. He has a smooth, leveraged right handed swing that makes the ball jump off his bat, though in games he can stray away from it time to time and get choppy. The hit tool is more of a question. He has struck out in north of 20% of his plate appearances in college, and on the Cape, it was up to 27.5%. The Memphis-area native is also a very aggressive hitter that rarely walks, just 4.2% at Memphis and 1.8% (!) on the Cape. It says a lot about Goodman’s feel for the barrel that he’s produced like he’s had with such a hyper-aggressive approach, even on the Cape, but it still has to worry you a bit for pro ball.
Defensively, there are more questions. Nobody questions his cannon arm that can shut down the running game when he’s accurate, and that alone gives him every chance to stick back there. The glove is still a work in progress, as he’s not the most athletic back there and lacks overall feel for the position. If Goodman can stick behind the plate, his bat is very, very attractive in the first round, but if he’s forced to first base or the outfield, the offensive bar rises. An optimist might look at Goodman’s power and see Joey Bart, who made strides with his plate discipline and defense as a junior and went second overall out of Georgia Tech in 2018. Meanwhile, a pessimist might worry about his defense and ability to get to his power and see more of Bart’s teammate, Kyle McCann, who was a much more patient (and left handed) hitter than Goodman and went in the fourth round a year later.
5. RHP Gavin Williams, East Carolina
Bat: L. Throw: R. 6’6″, 255 lbs. Born 7/26/1999. Hometown: Fayetteville, NC
2018-2020: 1-4, 3.57 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 70/32 K/BB in 68 IP.
I’ve written a lot of words about Gavin Williams over the years. He was one of the most projectable high school arms in the country coming out of Fayetteville, North Carolina back in 2017, but headed just up the road to East Carolina instead. There, he’s added a few ticks to his fastball as promised, but has never quite put it together with a 3.57 ERA and a 70/32 strikeout to walk ratio across 68 innings, missing time with various injuries including a finger issue that limited him to three innings in 2020. He went undrafted that year, instead choosing to price himself out and bet on his natural ability.
Williams a skinny 6’5″ string bean coming out of high school, and four years later he’s listed at 6’6″, 255 pounds. He’s a big man with a big fastball to match, sitting in the low to mid 90’s with minimal effort and consistently hitting the upper 90’s. When he does reach back, he’s hit 101 in the past. That fastball comes with an above average changeup with great sink and fade, coming in with mid 80’s velocity. His curveball brings great depth, but with mid 70’s velocity that could stand to add a tick or two. His control is actually solid average, but has been inconsistent throughout his career.
Some evaluators, myself included, look at the big 6’6″ right hander and think he just needs more consistent innings. If he can stay on the mound for longer stretches at a time, I could see more consistent command and perhaps some added power on his breaking ball, but he threw just 15.2, 49.1, and 3 innings, respectively, in his three years in Greenville. At this point, it’s probably safer to project him as a reliever and let his stuff tick up from there, but I haven’t given up on him as a starter. I wouldn’t bank on it if I drafted him, but it could happen with three big league pitches and the building blocks for solid command. With a July birthday, he was young for his class last year and isn’t much older than many first-time eligible players.
6. LHP Evan Shawver, Cincinnati
Bat: R. Throw: L. 6′, 175 lbs. Born 9/11/1999. Hometown: Amherst, OH
2019-2020: 5-8, 5.66 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 104/57 K/BB in 84.1 IP.
Sam Bachman isn’t the only fast-rising mid major arm in Southwest Ohio. Cincinnati’s Evan Shawver’s stock isn’t rocketing at warp speed like Bachman’s, but the more evaluators see of him, the more they like. He was very inconsistent as a freshman, putting up a 7.15 ERA and a 69/48 strikeout to walk ratio in 61.2 innings, but looked much sharper in the shortened 2020 season: 1.59 ERA, 35/9 K/BB in 22.2 IP. Between his freshman season/short Cape run and his sophomore season/junior fall, the Cleveland-area native has dramatically reduced the baserunners around him both by limiting walks and avoiding barrels. In 2021, he’ll have a full season to show that he’s for real and here to stay.
Shawver starts with a low 90’s fastball that tops out around 97. He throws two secondaries in a slider and a changeup, both of which could be above average to plus pitches. His slider is extremely difficult to pick up out of his hand with late diving action, routinely running under right handed hitters’ hands or disappearing away from lefties. The changeup itself brings late fade, and it too is tough to pick up. Shawver had problems finding the strike zone at times as a freshman, but he dropped his walk rate from 16.6% in 2019 to 10.2% in 2020 while simultaneously cutting his opponents’ batting average nearly in half from .234 to .128.
In 2021, scouts want to see that his transition from fringy to solid average command can hold up over a full season. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, listed at a skinny six feet tall, and needs to continue to prove his durability as well, though it hasn’t been an issue yet. With three pitches that can grade out as 55 or better in addition to improving command, he has a chance to overtake Kansas State’s Jordan Wicks as the top lefty college arm in the class.
7. LHP Drake Batcho, Cincinnati
Bat: L. Throw: L. 6’4″, 215 lbs. Born 4/17/2000. Hometown: Warren, OH
2019-2020: 3-5, 6.89 ERA, 2.09 WHIP, 53/55 K/BB in 49.2 IP.
It’s not just Sam Bachman and Evan Shawver ready to break out in Southwest Ohio. Shawver’s teammate, Drake Batcho, is a very different prospect but comes with perhaps more upside. He arrived on campus a very raw product, and it showed; as a freshman, he ran up a 9.27 ERA and an ugly 29/39 strikeout to walk ratio in 33 innings, looking like a complete liability on the mound. He refined his stuff and command somewhat as a sophomore, and the results were considerably better: 2.16 ERA, 24/16 K/BB in 16.2 innings. Heading into 2021, if he keeps trending in this direction, he could find himself a Day One selection.
At this point, evaluators are honed in on Batcho for one big reason, and that’s his fastball. It’s a true plus pitch that sits in the low 90’s from the left side, playing up due to elite extension from a 6’4″ frame that makes it look like he’s releasing the ball right in front of your face. He also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup, though none is a finished product. Further refinement there will be critical for his ability to stick as a starter, as is the case with his command. Batcho’s command is presently a 40 at best, with a 21.7% walk rate for his career, another big problem.
Any team drafting Batcho needs to understand they might be getting a reliever. Presently, he has the fastball, frame, and durability to start, but he’ll need significant improvement in at least one if not two of his offspeed pitches to stick, as well as in his command. The good news is he’s young, as he was still just 19 years old when the season shut down in March. Given the true plus fastball, if he can refine even one of his offspeed pitches and get to 45 command this year, he’s a Day One prospect with a real shot at the rotation. If he doesn’t, his fastball will play extremely well out of the bullpen and he can pick one secondary pitch to work on.
8. OF Parker Chavers, Coastal Carolina
Bat: L. Throw: R. 5’11”, 190 lbs. Born 7/25/1998. Hometown: Montgomery, AL
2018-2019: 22 HR, .319/.435/.554, 19 SB, 101/78 K/BB in 119 games.
The top undrafted college position player in 2020, Parker Chavers already has plenty of track record. He raked to the tune of a .319/.435/.554 line with 22 home runs and 19 stolen bases over his first two seasons at Coastal Carolina, then showed well in the Cape Cod League with a .274/.354/.478 line and seven home runs in 44 games in 2019. Shoulder problems kept him out of the shortened 2020 season, so evaluators were not willing to meet his asking price and he went undrafted. Already relatively old for the 2020 class, he’ll turn 23 shortly after the 2021 draft.
Chavers is a proverbial toolbox with an exciting combination of power, speed, and track record. Despite only standing 5’11”, he produces above average raw power that he gets to consistently in games, a product of raw strength and athleticism in addition to feel for the barrel. He also brings plus speed to the table, enabling him to stick in center field even without plus instincts. A relatively patient hitter, the Montgomery native has also walked in 14.9% of his plate appearances in Conway.
The main concern with Chavers is the consistency of his hit tool. He’s gotten to his power consistently at Coastal and on the Cape, but he also swings and misses, with a 19.3% strikeout rate at Coastal and 24.3% on the Cape. Now that he’ll be over 22 and a half for the whole 2021 season, evaluators will want to see that come down considerably. If he can get that strikeout rate down and maintain his big production, he can push himself back into the top 100 picks, but continued strikeout concerns could push him farther down in the draft given his age.
9. SS Josh Hood, Pennsylvania
Bat: R. Throw: R. 6’1″, 185 lbs. Born 7/21/2000. Hometown: Vineland, NJ
2019-2020: 8 HR, .320/.386/.539, 1 SB, 30/20 K/BB in 49 games
No Ivy Leaguer has gone in the top eight rounds since the Diamondbacks picked Brent Jones out of Cornell in the fourth round in 2014, but Penn’s Josh Hood has a good chance to do just that. After homering off Jack Leiter at the end of his senior year of high school, he burst onto the scene in Philadelphia with a .331/.411/.580 line, eight home runs, and a sharp 21/20 strikeout to walk ratio as a freshman in 2019. He dropped to a quiet .263/.256/.342 with nine strikeouts and no walks in eight games as a sophomore, then rebounded in the Coastal Plain League this summer to hit .280/.343/.495 with five home runs in 26 games.
Hood’s huge freshman season was driven by his feel to hit. The South Jersey native has great bat to ball skills that helped him strike out in just 10.1% of his plate appearances that year, but he’s not just a slap hitter, showing the ability to consistently barrel the ball into the gaps and even over fences. He’s not the most physical hitter in the world at 6’1″, but his power has played up with wood bats and he looks to have room to grow into some more. Hood has gotten more aggressive as his career has progressed, but he has shown more than enough plate discipline in the past to help him tap average or better power.
As a college shortstop who will stick in the dirt, there isn’t much to dislike in Hood’s game. Between his feel to hit and burgeoning power, he has more than enough bat to start if he reaches his ceiling. If the power stalls and he winds up closer to a 45 in that regard, he still has the pure hitting ability to project as a utility man. Hood, who grew up one town over from Mike Trout‘s hometown, offers an intriguing combination of floor and ceiling once you get into Day Two. Throw in the fact that he won’t turn 21 until after the draft, and you’ll have a lot of teams interested.
10. LHP Matt Mikulski, Fordham
Bat: L. Throw: L. 6’2″, 200 lbs. Born 5/8/1999. Hometown: Mohegan Lake, NY
2018-2020: 12-12, 3.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 148/65 K/BB in 144.2 IP.
Matt Mikulski, like Parker Chavers, went undrafted as a junior in 2020, but he’s more than nine months younger than his Coastal Carolina counterpart and will only turn 22 two months before the 2021 draft. Mikulski has been used in a starting role at Fordham, where he has been solid (3.98 ERA, 148/65 K/BB in 144.2 IP), and he showed really well in a swingman role in the Cape Cod League in 2019 (1.77 ERA, 28/13 K/BB in 20.1 IP). Returning to the Bronx for his senior year, he has a chance to go early on Day Two with just a little more consistency.
Mikulski has a lot going for him, especially considering he’s a 6’2″ lefty. His fastball currently sits in the low 90’s and can bump the mid 90’s even in a starting role, topping out around 96. There are two good breaking balls in a curveball and slider, both of which are usually average and can flash above average regularly. He also throws a changeup, but it’s his fourth pitch. The New Yorker can fill the strike zone, but his strikes are often scattered and he can go through bouts of well below average command when he isn’t feeling it.
Mikulski’s delivery was pretty choppy early in his Fordham career, and though he’s smoothed it out some, it still features some head whack and jerky arm action. For that reason, combined with the inconsistency in his strikes, he might profile better as a reliever. There, he could sit more consistently in the mid 90’s with his fastball, sharpen his breaking balls a bit, and ditch the changeup, and his 45 command won’t be as much of an issue. He still has a chance to be a back-end starter if he refines the changeup and command to about a 50.
Other Interesting Small/Mid Major Options in the East
The last man out from the above list was UConn’s Pat Winkel, who actually ranked #10 until Evan Shawver’s rise up the board. Winkel had a huge freshman season for the Huskies (.318/.361/.486, 7 HR), but struggled on the Cape (.194/.243/.337, 4 HR) and missed 2020 with Tommy John surgery. He’s a solid all-around defender behind the plate, which takes significant pressure off his bat and makes that freshman season look much better. The New Haven-area native maximizes his power with raw strength and an optimal, smooth swing from the left side, though his bat speed is ordinary and the power was non-existent on the Cape until he homered three times in his last four games. He’s also very aggressive at the plate with strikeout rates well north of 20% and walk rates around 6%, and will need to tighten that up considerably in 2020. If he can, he has a chance to be a power hitting starting catcher.
Another 2019 freshman star was Manhattan’s Nick Cimillo, who hit .350/.417/.498 with seven home runs in 59 games that year. He wasn’t quite as loud in 2020 (.259/.365/.370), but there is still a lot to like. The New Yorker has above average bat to ball skills that enable him to make a lot of line drive contact, and there is some power in his 6’3″ frame as well. However, as a likely corner outfielder, he’ll need to tap that power more to move up, and his likely ceiling is as a right handed platoon bat.
On the mound, I’m most interested in Bryant’s Tyler Mattison, who was eligible as a junior in 2020. He went 14-3 with a 3.44 ERA from 2018-2019, but regressed to an 8.53 ERA in 2020 as his velocity dipped. At his best, the righty from far Upstate New York can get into the mid 90’s with run and show solid average command. At other times, though, his fastball can dip into the upper 80’s and his command can elude him, while his fringy secondary stuff isn’t enough to make up for it. For that reason, despite a 6’4″, 235 pound frame, he probably fits better in the bullpen, where his fastball could play up.
Two additional Midwest bats stand out to me. One is Wright State’s Tyler Black, who ripped .348/.465/.614 with seven home runs and a ridiculous 15/35 strikeout to walk ratio as a freshman in 2019. That dropped to .239/.340/.370 as a sophomore, but we still have an interesting one here. The Toronto native has a gerat approach at the plate, attacking hittable pitches with very little swing and miss while still drawing his walks. He also has some power in his 6’2″ frame and has tapped it in games, though the bat can be a bit streaky. He projects as a bat-first second baseman that could play full time if he taps his power more consistently.
Blake Dunn was eligible in 2020, but despite a very successful career at Western Michigan (.338/.423/.460, 7 HR, 47 SB), he went undrafted. He flashes above average raw power with a compact right handed swing, though he hasn’t tapped it much in games and didn’t hit for much impact on the Cape in 2019 (.227/.335/.287, 2 HR, 16 SB). The western Michigan native also shows plus speed and a cannon arm, making him a plus defender in center field even if his instincts play closer to average. There is upside if he can learn to tap his power more often in games, but he’ll be nearly 23 on draft day and there are plenty of younger players with upside.
Miami of Ohio’s Sam Bachman and Cincinnati’s Evan Shawver and Drake Batcho all ranked in the top seven, but Ohio has still more to give. Ohio University’s Joe Rock is another fast-rising name, bringing mid 90’s heat and quickly improving secondaries from the left side. That will capture anyone’s attention, especially given he’s 6’6″. Rock was uneven as a freshman (5.19 ERA, 41/37 K/BB in 59 IP) but struck out five of the fourteen hitters he faced on the Cape that summer while allowing just one baserunner, then missed the 2020 season. He has more to prove than most in 2021, but he’ll still be 20 on draft day and has enormous upside.
Kent State’s Max Rippl hasn’t had eye popping numbers yet (5.59 ERA, 25/20 K/BB in 29 IP), but he does have the stuff. His fastball can touch the mid 90’s in short stints and he flashes an above average downer slider, though with fringy command he probably fits best in the bullpen. His June birthday also makes him young for the class.
South Alabama’s Ethan Wilson, Memphis’ Hunter Goodman, and Coastal’s Parker Chavers are probably the consensus one, two, and three in this category, but I have an interesting sleeper behind them. James Madison’s Kyle Novak was a freshman on my high school baseball team when I was a senior, and the exceptional feel to hit he showed at the time has carried over to his college career. In two years in Harrisonburg, he owns a .307/.382/.398 line with three home runs and a nice 28/26 strikeout to walk ratio. Novak rarely ever swings and misses and finds the barrel consistently, though at a stocky 5’8″, he’s unlikely to grow into more than 45 power. He’s a man without a position for now, having spent time at DH, first base, and second base, the latter of which is probably his only route to pro ball, so he’ll need to improve his fringy defense there. With great feel for the barrel, though, he has the most important tool.
I’ll spend one more paragraph promoting my former high school teammates. Catcher Kyle Hayes is a grad transfer at George Mason after spending four years at James Madison, and the COVID shutdown and shortened draft likely kept him from being a Day Three selection. Hayes is a defense-first catcher who blocks everything thrown in his vicinity while working well with pitchers to bring the best out of them. He always showed strong plate discipline and feel for the barrel, but a lack of power meant he slashed just .186/.314/.202 over his first three years in Harrisonburg. 2020 was looking like a different story, returning from injury to slash .385/.467/.846 with a pair of home runs in five games. If the power surge had been for real, it likely would have combined with his plus defense to make for a depth piece later in the draft. Though he turned 23 in October, he has a chance to prove his bat in 2021.
A number of arms from the South just missed this list. Gabe Shepard was eligible as a sophomore last year as he was a full year older than much of his class, bringing a career 2.79 ERA and a 62/21 K/BB in 42 innings at Southern Miss. He’s just 5’10” but can hit the mid 90’s with his fastball, getting nice run on the pitch with long arm action. The Mobile native also shows great feel to manipulate his breaking ball, working between a shorter cutter and a slurvier slider. His control has been inconsistent but he still has a chance to start. The Campbell Camels’ Cam Cowan (say that five times fast) was also eligible in 2020, but went undrafted despite a hot start to the season (3.00 ERA, 36/4 K/BB in 24 IP). The 6’5″, 245 pound Iowa native can hit the mid 90’s with his fastball and gets great ride on the pitch, while his average changeup and slurvy slider are less exciting. With a plus fastball, big frame, and good command, he could be a back-end starter with some refinement of his offspeed stuff.
Next we have two arms who saw an uptick in velocity. Bryce McGowan hasn’t gotten results at Charlotte yet (5.75 ERA, 63/49 K/BB in 76.2 IP), but his low 90’s fastball has crept into the mid 90’s more often this fall and has climbed as high as 97-98. McGowan’s slider also flashes above average and his changeup is coming along. The command has been fringy so far, but he has a loose, athletic delivery that could be refined enough to get him to average. Jacksonville State’s Christian Edwards is yet another arm returning from eligibility in 2020, having recently touched 99 with his fastball. He adds a good slider and projects as a power reliever.
Samford’s Samuel Strickland was also eligible in 2020, bringing and exceptional career at 18-5 with a 2.85 ERA and a sharp 174/36 strikeout to walk ratio in 173.2 innings. The 6’2″ lefty lacks big stuff, sitting around 90 and topping out around 92-93 with his fastball, adding a set of fringy secondaries. He has been enormously effective in Birmingham due to above average command as well as an innate ability to change speeds and keep hitters off balance, so any step forward with his velocity or secondary stuff could make him a hot commodity very quickly.
Lastly, Austin Vernon might be the biggest draft prospect I’ve ever written about. The NC Central righty is listed at 6’8″ (!) and 295 pounds (!!), but went undrafted in 2020 after missing the season recovering from arm surgery. He shows a vicious mid 90’s fastball coming from a violent delivery with head whack and long hair flying everywhere, adding in both a slider and a curveball that flash above average with late bite. The Raleigh native is almost certainly a reliever with inconsistent command that ranges from well below average to fringe average, but if he can stay healthy, he has late inning potential.
Down in the Sunshine State, we have two more arms to watch, though they’re very different. I am very, very intrigued by Jermaine Vanheyningen, who was draft eligible last year. The New Jersey native began his career at Campbell, but redshirted his only season and transferred to Florence-Darlington Tech for 2019-2020. Now, he’s at FIU and could break out in 2021. Vanheyningen stands 6’7″ and has steadily added velocity, now sitting in the low to mid 90’s as a starter and topping out at 102 (!) in bullpens. Throw in plus extension, and you have a plus-plus pitch. The secondary stuff is fringier, with an average splitter and fringy breaking balls. He struggles with command as well, and for that reason he’s almost definitely a reliever in pro ball, where he could sit in the upper 90’s and work in his splitter. If Vanheyningen gets to even 45 command, he has closer upside.
Stetson brings us Daniel Paret, who has a 3.36 ERA and a 113/49 strikeout to walk ratio over 101.2 innings in DeLand. The stuff is average overall, with a fastball around 90 and an average slider and changeup. His advanced instincts and solid average command make it play up from the left side, and he projects as a back-end starter.
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