It’s been a little more than 11 months since the last time we saw college baseball in action. After the previous season stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this college class faced disruptions the rest of the year. Without Cape Cod League or Team USA, there were not many opportunities for players with aspirations of playing professionally to showcase their talents.
That last point makes this upcoming season interesting with regards to how teams will grade players, especially for a team like the Chicago White Sox. Teams today have a database keeping track of scouting reports on players they’ve seen on national showcases. The top tier of talent has been on the radar since they turned 15, but now we have a sizable gap with data missing in 2020. From a numbers perspective, all we have to work with is a full freshman season, 14 to 16 games of a sophomore year, and now the junior year campaign.
For a player like Vanderbilt right-handed starter Kumar Rocker, that’s not much of an issue. as he captured everyone’s attention his freshman season. For everyone else, it’s a different story. Scouts like players who have a multi-year track record of progress playing in college. Those scouts won’t have that information, so what players do this upcoming season carries more weight than a typical junior season.
Despite all of the uncertainty, it’s great to see college baseball back playing. It’s also time to start developing a watch list of prospects that the Chicago White Sox could draft with the 22nd overall pick.
JOSH’S 2021 PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN TEAM
|Catcher||Adrian Del Castillo||Miami|
|First Base||Maxwell Costes||Maryland|
|Middle Infield||Matt McLain||UCLA|
|Middle Infield||Cody Morissette||Boston College|
|Third Base||Alex Binelas||Louisville|
|Outfield||Colton Cowser||Sam Houston State|
2021 MLB DRAFT WATCH LIST 1.0
Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest
If there is one player who I think could raise their profile from being a fringe first-rounder to a Top 15 pick, it’s Wake Forest RHP Ryan Cusick. He has a big arm with a fastball sitting at 95 mph (60-grade) and has TrackMan in-game readings maxing out at 97.9 mph. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Cusick paired his four-seamer with a sweeping slider.
Cusick changed his primary breaking pitch to a power curve during the offseason, aiming for a 12-6 drop to tunnel better with his fastball. Also being added to Cusick’s arsenal is a changeup with sidespin that he worked on with former teammate and 2019 first-rounder Jared Shuster.
With a body frame that teams love (6’6”, 225 pounds), if Cusick shows dramatic improvement with all three pitches, his stock will continue to rise. If there are hiccups along the way, his fastball may be enough for a team to use their late first-round pick on to help Cusick develop the secondary offerings.
Games to Watch: March 5 vs. Boston College; March 12 vs. Miami; April 2 vs. Louisville.
Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Catchers with good contact skills (50-grade) and plus-plus arms (70-grade) don’t usually fall late to the first round, but if Henry Davis does, the White Sox could be the benefactors. Offensively, Davis’s exit velocity readings in 14 games last season impressed scouts while he hit .372/.481/.698. Defensively, Davis has some work to improve on his receiving while reducing the number of passed balls.
Games to Watch: March 12-14 vs. Boston College; April 2 vs. Wake Forest; May 20-22 vs. Miami
Jonathan Cannon, RHP, Georgia
Draft eligible in his second season, Jonathan Cannon has a small resume, only pitching 11 innings in 2020. They were good outings; Cannon didn’t allow a run giving up only four hits while walking two, and he struck out 12 batters. Moving into the starting rotation in 2021, Cannon will be stretched out and consistently throw 70-plus pitches to start the season.
Cannon has a four-pitch arsenal, starting with a four-seam fastball that sits at 93-94 mph and touches 96-97 mph in some outings. Out of the two breaking pitches, Cannon has more confidence in his slider that’s 86-87 mph. The curveball has more velocity separation at 81-82 mph from his fastball. Cannon uses a pitchfork grip for his changeup that matches his slider’s velocity.
Suppose Cannon can find a velocity bump with his fastball and prove he has the endurance to start. In that case, many teams will consider selecting the Georgia Bulldog late in the first round.
Games to Watch: April 8-10 vs. Vanderbilt; May 7-8 vs. Arkansas; May 14-15 vs. Florida
Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss
Selected 36th overall by Pittsburgh in the 2018 MLB Draft, Gunnar Hoglund didn’t have the immediate impact his freshman season at Ole Miss that many thought he could. In 17 appearances (16 starts), Hoglund pitched 68 innings with a 5.29 ERA and racked up 53 strikeouts to 14 walks. Once touted as having a 96-mph four-seam fastball, Hoglund was closer to 93 mph in his four starts last year. Hoglund did display better executions of his pitches, posting a 1.16 ERA with 37 strikeouts to just four walks in 23.1 innings.
Even though Hoglund doesn’t light up the radar gun, he does have a four-pitch mix (4S, SL, CV, CHG) with good command (50-grade). Once SEC play begins, Hoglund will get the opportunity to prove his mettle against some of the best talents in college baseball.
Games to Watch: April 1 vs. Florida; April 22 vs. LSU; May 14 vs. Vanderbilt
Christian Franklin, OF, Arkansas
Christian Franklin was poised to have a big 2020 campaign after hitting .381/.467/.619 in 16 games. Moving from left to center field, Franklin has a chance in 2021 to show scouts he can stick at the position. Franklin will move up the draft boards for teams that covet college hitters if he displays good range and ball-tracking abilities.
Games to Watch: April 1-3 vs. Auburn; April 30-May 2 vs. LSU; May 20-22 vs. Florida
NCBWA PRESEASON TOP 25
|14||UC Santa Barbara|
JIMMY OSBORN “GOOD LOOKING KID” PREP WATCH LIST
This first MLB Draft Watch List release is bittersweet. We lost our good friend Jimmy Osborn this past fall, and I miss his emails listing off 15 prep players the White Sox should take. To honor him, we’ll keep track of the top prep players weekly in the Jimmy Osborn “Good Looking Kid” Watch List.
Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (CA)
Marcelo Mayer was Jimmy’s guy coming into this year’s MLB draft, and for a good reason. Mayer is a very smooth defender displaying good range, soft hands, and an accurate arm no matter which angle he throws. There is no question about sticking as a shortstop long-term.
Offensively, Mayer has a comfortable, repeatable swing. There are not a lot of moving pieces, and he does an excellent job of getting lift when making contact. Long-term, Mayer might be a 50-grade power (20 home runs), but at 6’3”, there is plenty of frame for him to continue building strength as he progresses through the minors. I have Mayer as a top-five pick in this year’s draft class.
Izaac Pacheco, SS, Friendswood HS (TX)
Suppose the Chicago White Sox want to make another investment in a Texan prep player after selecting Jared Kelley in 2020. In that case, Izaac Pacheco could be a target. Currently a shortstop, Pacheco may eventually move to third base as he fills out more, impacting his range. There’s no question about his arm strength to stick on that side of the infield.
Where Pacheco impresses is the power he generates from his swing. There’s 60-grade potential (30+ home runs) for Pacheco in the power department. In some ways, he reminds me of 2019 first rounder Nolan Gorman. Because some think Pacheco will not be a long-term shortstop, he is one of the prep players who might be available after Pick 20.
Malakhi Knight, OF, Archbishop Murphy HS (WA)
Malakhi Knight has the athleticism and tools scouts drool over. His Perfect Game 60-yard dash was shy of 6.7 seconds (60-grade), he displays good range in center, and he has a strong enough throwing arm if a team moves him to RF. Knight’s swing is patterned off of Nolan Arenado. When watching film, it’s apparent that Knight needs more development time to refine his swing. He’s currently working with the same advisor and hitting coach as 2019 first-rounder Corbin Caroll.
Knight is committed to UCLA and is looking at being a late first-round, early second-round pick before the prep season starts in Washington. If the White Sox aim to duplicate their strategy of paying first-round money for a prep player in the second round, Knight could be a potential target.
Harry Ford, C, North Cobb HS (GA)
The track record of prep catchers having success in the majors is dismal. With that said, Harry Ford is worth a look in the first round. He’s got a strong, accurate arm behind home plate with a quick transition. Speaking with those who saw him at the Area Code games in August, they think Ford can move to second base or outfield, too.
Offensively, Ford’s swing is more conducive to line drives than big flies. His hands are set lower than typical hitters are, but Ford has excellent bat speed. Ford’s sprint speed times at the showcases suggest he’s a plus-runner (60-grade). That type of athleticism is why some are not worried if Ford doesn’t stick at catcher long-term.
Future 2021 MLB Draft Watch reports recapping weekend NCAA action and notes from the prep fields will appear every Wednesday exclusively for Sox Machine Patreon supporters. New users can sign up at patreon.com/soxmachine.
(Photo by jpellgen / Flickr)
Big Indiana baseball fan here. Any idea where Grant Richardson is projected to fall in the 2021 draft?
Hey, Brian. Grant Richardson is for sure a Top 100 Draft Prospect, which puts him in Round 2-3 range.
What game(s) are you watching today, Josh?
I will have Florida and Miami on one screen (2 pm CT)
I will be recording clips and film of Wake Forest vs. Northeastern (3 pm CT, ACC Network). Ryan Cusick is starting.
Great idea to honor Jimmy by naming the list of top prep players after him.