It is never too early to start thinking about the future. People are mostly referring to college or their retirement fund when they make a remark like that, but not me. Today, we’re looking at baseball’s future stars as we delve into the names that’ll be called early on in this year’s draft.
1. Jack Leiter
Jack is the son of former long-time pitcher Al Leiter and he fits the profile of a second-generation talent. Leiter is a polished pitcher with advanced secondary offerings and an understanding of how to pitch beyond his years. He was a potential first-round selection in the 2019 Draft, but he chooses to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt and it has turned out to be a great decision.
The question with Jack back in 2019 was his arsenal. He wasn’t the biggest guy in the world and some wondered if his pure stuff would be good enough to get guys out at the next level. No one has any doubt about that now as he’s been the best player in Division I baseball this year. Leiter has seen the velocity on his fastball jump since making his way to Nashville, Tennessee as he now possesses a heater that can get up to 98. The progression of his stuff coupled with how advanced he is on the mound makes him the top guy in this class.
In addition to the numero uno, Jack throws a curve, slider, and change. The Uncle Charlie is his best off-speed offering to date as he routinely freezes batters with the deuce. He’s shown the ability to throw is at the top of the zone as a devastating knee buckler or let it bottom out, generating plenty of whiffs and ugly swings. For as good as Leiter’s fastball is, his curveball is the best he has to offer.
While his changeup and slider both fall in line behind the two aforementioned offerings they are not bad pitches at all. Jack shows the ability to throw a very tight slider that looks more like a cutter at times and I think it will be very successful handcuffing lefties as he continues to develop. The change is a wonderful tertiary pitch as well as he throws it with deceptive arm action and a great late break. Realistically, Leiter has four above-average offerings now with a chance at all of them being plus in the not-so-distant future.
There isn’t anything negative to say about Jack. The only real point of contention is his size. He’s listed at 6’0” and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be having another growth spurt in the future. To think his frame may not hold up over the long haul seems nit-picky, but it’s the closest thing to a viable hole in his game right now. He’s a full year younger than his college contemporaries as he’s a draft-eligible sophomore with a repertoire that people dream of. There shouldn’t be anything that stops him from going 1:1 come July 11.
2. Jordan Lawler
Lawler comes in at number two here on my board thanks to how well-rounded he is at such a young age. The native Texan has garnered some comparisons to the second overall pick in the 2019 Draft, Bobby Witt Jr. They both hail from the Lone Star State and many believe they have the skills to stick at a premier position with a five-tool skill set to match. Seeing Jordan follow in Witt’s footsteps as the second pick in the upcoming draft isn’t completely out of the question.
The thing that immediately jumps off the page about Lawler in my opinion is his bat. Many evaluators see him as the best hitter in the high school ranks for this draft and I tend to agree with them. Jordan has quiet mechanics at the plate, but he delivers loud results as he consistently makes quality contact. Lawler has a simple setup at the plate with few moving parts. He gets himself into a terrific position with a pristine load and wallops the ball with picturesque swing mechanics. Jordan works gap-to-gap right now as he makes a ton of good contact; that should turn into more over-the-fence pop as he matures.
To go along with the offensive upside Lawler brings to the table, he also has great speed, good hands, and a strong arm. Jordan has been clocked in at speeds that garner 70-grade wheels, but that may not persist. As he gets older and adds strength, his speed may fall off a bit. Lawler should still be able to get after it even as he matures, giving him a 60-grade when he’s 28.
Many see the Dallas-area prep sticking at shortstop long-term given an arm that rates out to be well above average and athletic actions on the dirt. He needs to continue to work on his glove if he wishes to be at his best, but there is very little doubt about him being able to man the position well for years to come.
Everything about this young man screams Carlos Correa. The size, athleticism, and even swing are very reminiscent of the former number one pick for Lawler. He has a long way to go if he wishes to be a star the way Correa is, but he certainly has the makings of something special.
3. Kumar Rocker
The Vandy Boys have an embarrassment of pitching talent on their roster this season due to both Leiter and Rocker. Kumar made it known prior to the 2018 Draft that he would be going to play for the Commodores no matter what and just as it was for Jack, it proved to be a great move for Rocker.
Kumar is the embodiment of power on the mound. He’s an incredibly imposing figure given his stature and he has the stuff to back up that incredibly terrifying presence. The native of Georgia is armed with a fastball that comfortably sits in the mid-’90s with it flirting with triple-digits from time to time. It has a nice sink to it as he operates down in the zone but Kumar can throw it at the top of the zone as well, generating plenty of whiffs.
He pairs his heater with a devastating slider that rates out to be a plus pitch. Rocker threw a no-hitter against Duke in the 2019 Super Regionals as a freshman in which he struck out 19 batters. Every single one of those K’s came on the slide piece. It’s absolutely filthy and it pairs nicely with his fastball, giving Kumar two potential 70-grade pitches.
As dazzling as Rocker can be, there are some concerns with him going forward. His size is both impressive and worrisome as he’s shown to be a little winded at times. He’s in no way a bad athlete, but his conditioning could be improved. Kumar also has a tough time throwing a third pitch. He does have a changeup, but it isn’t something he uses all that often. Rocker doesn’t need to throw it much given the quality of his fastball and slider, but it is something he’ll need to develop if he wishes to be a quality starter.
Pedro Severino is the guy Rocker models himself after and he’s done a pretty good job of doing so. Sevy is the guy I would compare the young gun to most as he has amazing raw stuff with room to get better. There are some things he need to iron out if he wishes to be his best, but there’s little doubt about the Vanderbilt product going forward.
4. Henry Davis
Most people have the number four spot on the draft board reserved for Marcelo Mayer, but I’m going with Davis. I’ll admit this is high for the Louisville backstop but I tend to value guys who are going to be above-average catchers very highly. Davis has all the ingredients to be a premier catcher at the next level and he’s consistently shown that at a high level while with the Cardinals.
Davis has a big power profile as a catcher. He’s got a big arm and big-time pop at the plate. Most people believe Henry will be an above-average defensive catcher at the next level thanks to his 70-grade arm. There are other factors of course. He’s steadily improved at receiving and framing while he’s shown the ability to block well thanks to his athletic build but it is his rocket launcher of an arm that makes evaluators optimistic about Davis’ potential behind the plate.
As impressive as Henry is behind the dish, it’s his work as a hitter that has me so bullish on the guy. He has absolutely mashed since the start of the 2020 season and he hasn’t slowed down yet. Davis’ SLG in his abbreviated 2020 campaign was .698 and he’s once again flirting with that .700 plateau this time around. The hard hit% and average exit velocity he showed in 2020 was among the very best as he rivaled number one overall pick Spencer Torkelson for the best power hitter in college last year. Those numbers have held steady this year, making me think he could hit 30 homers down the line.
There is a lot to like about Henry’s bat outside of the immense power he’s shown. Davis has walked more than struck out in his college career while hitting nearly .400 since the beginning of last year. He shows a great feel for hitting beyond the power as he uses the middle of the field well and can lay off stuff outside the zone. There is some pause given his swing mechanics, but the results are undeniable.
Davis doesn’t have a picturesque swing as he seems to alligator arm it with a very flat bat through the zone. He needs to work on becoming more fluid in his swing and develop more of a launch angle. Changing up his mechanics may mess with him a bit and lessen his ability to hit, but someone with his power potential needs to put the ball in the air as often as possible.
Someone everyone is starting to become enamored with in the Majors is Sean Murphy of the A’s and I think he and Davis are a lot alike. The power arm and bat profile to be about the same with Davis being the superior hitter to this point. I imagine Davis being able to hit somewhere around .265/.340/.475 as an everyday backstop. If everything goes right for Henry, he could be a top-five catcher in the league for years.
5. Adrian Del Castillo
Position: C, 1B
Del Castillo comes in here at five because of how good of a hitter he is. There are some questions about his defensive home long-term, but very few wonder about his ability to hit at the next level. The Miami Hurricane catcher should get the chance to start his pro career behind the plate but the league seems to be split as to whether or not he’ll stay there.
Del Castillo has hit for a triple-slash line in his collegiate career of .332/.425/.555 from the left side and has rightly been awarded the monicker of “best hitter” for this year’s draft class. Adrian knows how to flat out hit and he does it while impacting the ball. He isn’t a power hitter, but rather a great hitter with power.
Many people adore him for how well he uses the whole field and makes repeated solid contact. Del Castillo is very balanced in the box as he doesn’t have any wildness in his swing. A simple load with quick hands and a still head is how the native of Miami operates and it’s been his key to success to this point. He did struggle a bit in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2019, but evaluators seem to like his ability to barrel up the ball enough that the small sample won’t impede his draft stock.
Adrian has mostly been a catcher during his time playing for the Hurricanes, but there are people among MLB organizations that believe he isn’t meant to catch. Del Castillo has reportedly been working hard on getting better behind the plate. He worked out with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez last summer in hopes of being able to improve his defense capabilities. If he can prove to be a solid, albeit unspectacular, defensive backstop I think that drastically improves his chances of being a top-five pick. If it isn’t meant to be, we could be looking at one of the better hitters in the league regardless of position.
6. Marcelo Mayer
Almost everyone has Marcelo above the two catchers I have at four and five, but I’m not as entirely sold on Mayer as most. He’s committed to USC, but there is virtually no way the stud shortstop ends up a Trojan come next spring.
Mayer does essentially everything well. I don’t know if I would call him a five-tool player, but every one of his skill rates out to be at least average with a few potentially being plus. The two things that really stick out about Marcelo are his ability to hit and the glove.
The California-born lefty reminds me a lot of Manny Machado in the field given his fluidity on the dirt. His size portends a move to the hot corner, but many scouts believe Mayer can ward that off given how sound he is with the glove. Everything about his defensive acumen screams smooth as he makes the challenging play look routine. Simply put, he’ll be a shortstop at the next level.
The offensive package Mayer brings to the table is maybe not the most exciting, but it is a very sound skill set. His approach at the plate has garnered a lot of comparisons to Corey Seager and I agree with that wholeheartedly. He makes a lot of solid contact as he has repeatedly barreled up the ball. Marcelo’s swing is very mechanically sound and should serve him well when going up against elite velocity as well as next-level breaking pitches.
The only thing holding Mayer back from being the best prep player in the class is his speed. He grades out to be an average runner once he’s fully matured and more than likely won’t make a huge impact with his wheels. He’s by no means a bad athlete or slow, but he just doesn’t quite match the all-around package of tools Lawler brings to the table. Regardless, Mayer should be a pro for a long time with the chance to be a star.
7. Sal Frelick
Frelick’s stock has really risen this year. People have looked at him as a first-round pick for quite some time now but he’s elevated his stock further given how good he’s been in 2021. The talent he shows to go along with the improvements Sal has made makes me think he’ll be hearing his name called very early in the upcoming draft.
Sal mans the right field position for Boston College and should be able to move to center at the next level. His speed, route running, and arm should keep him at the premier position for years to come. If he does need to be moved off the position, he can play either corner outfield spot with ease as all of the attributes mentioned above translate well. Frelick’s speed should serve him well on the base path as well as he clocks above-average to plus 60-times and has stolen 31 bases in 36 attempts at BC as of writing.
As for the bat, Sal carries a pretty good one. Frelick works the middle of the field well and makes repeated contact. His lower half seems to be a bit disengaged at times when he swings, so whoever drafts him will need to work on optimizing his mechanics a bit more. Frelick doesn’t look to go for power to his pull-side much either and that’ll more than likely need to change as well. He’s not very big and won’t ever produce great power, but being able to get the most out of his body will be important to him becoming an everyday player.
Sal seems to have an understanding of the zone as he’s walked more times than he’s struck out in college. The in-game video I’ve seen of Frelick is impressive. He doesn’t chase outside the zone all too often as he just waits on pitches he can do damage with. That’ll be tougher to do at the next level, but the approach bodes well going forward.
The small stature to go along with his all-out play style is very reminiscent of Adam Eaton. Sal should be someone that quickly moves through the lower levels and finds his way to the top of a lineup for a big league club for a long time.
8. Matt McLain
Position: SS, 2B, OF
Matt falls into rare company as he will be drafted in the first round twice. He was selected 25th overall in 2018 by the Diamondback out of high school but decided to honor his commitment to UCLA. After a rough freshman season, McLain’s been the guy people have expected and he will hear his name called once again.
Matt is intriguing given his ability to play multiple spots and the track record he has. McLain is a shortstop by trade but he moved to the outfield due the “6” being locked down early in his collegiate career. He is an athletic young man who has shown the ability to play multiple spots as a high level, giving him an added wrinkle. Evaluators think he may be destined for second long-term, but his ability to play so many other positions is valuable.
The native of southern California has been a steady hitter since his freshman year ended. He put on a show in the Cape Cod League a few years ago and hasn’t looked back since as Matt has lived up to the hype surrounding his bat. It’s a simple setup with minimal movement and a quick, flat bat. His stance and swing looks a bit like David Fletcher’s as he focuses primarily on making a lot of contact.
McLain uses his speed well in all facets of the game. He rates out to be a 60-grade runner as it is one of his biggest strengths and he shows it often. Matt had six triples as a frosh at UCLA, showing great wheels and an aggressive approach on the base paths. Whether he is in the outfield or on the dirt, McLain’s speed is an asset when on defense as well. His closing speed in the outfield should serve him well as well as the range he shows up the middle on the infield.
One adjustment I would like to see from Matt is him adding some loft to his swing. While he won’t ever be a big power threat, being able to drive the ball deep into the gaps and over the wall would add some serious value to his game. He can make the most out of his speed with the liner and grounder-heavy profile he has currently, but chicks (and scouts for that matter) dig the long ball.
9. Ty Madden
Madden had the pure stuff to be drafted early out of high school, but his choice to become a Longhorn has proved fruitful as he now projects to be a top-10 pick. Ty has steadily improved over his college career as he flashes serious upside at Texas.
Madden has a solid four pitch mix that should help him have a solid career in the Majors. There are some worries about his stuff, but the collection of pitches he has to offer to go along with the improved command makes people comfortable about him being a top-10 selection. Ty’s fastball can be a bit flat and hittable given the angle he attacks hitters with. He’s very over the top with his delivery and doesn’t get much ride on the heater.
The secondary stuff Madden shows has been good, but not great. The change and slider both flash plus at times and people are split as to which one is better. If Ty wishes to reach his ceiling, he needs to figure out which one of his off-speed pitches will be his go-to.
Another issue is the fluctuating velo on Madden’s fastball. He’s been anywhere between 88-98 with the fastball while playing for Texas which is something I find concerning. Ty held his velocity well in 2020 and has been able to do so this year, but neither season can be constituted as a full season to this point. If the speed on his numero uno dips as the year goes on, people may hit the pause button on Madden.
While there may be some yellow (or even red) flags on this guy, he belongs as the top of the draft class. The feel for pitching to go along with the improvements to his body and command make the majority of scouts believe in him. I’m not entirely sold quite yet, but I have to admit there are some very appealing qualities to this young righty.
10. James Wood
Wood is a behemoth of a teenager and he has the physical skills to match. The left-handed native of Maryland has standout tools and is looking to harness them at the next level. People who love high risk-reward type prospects will love this guy.
James has broad shoulders and a strong lower half that help him hit for some of the best power of anyone in the class. Wood has been able to produce exit velocities upwards of 100 mph more than just about anyone as he displays at least 60-grade power. To go along with that, Wood has a very strong arm and shows great athleticism. It’s a toolshed of pure stuff that you can dream on and envision a true star.
Wood currently plays centerfield for IMG Academy and seems to believe he can stick out there long-term. Most people don’t see that being a possibility given the very short list of players that have played center and approximated his size. What will more than likely happen is James will end up playing right where his arm will profile well. There’s a chance he ends up at first but I think whoever drafts him will want to take full advantage of Wood’s athleticism.
For as much as there is to like about the young man, there are some noticeable concerns. Wood’s swing needs a lot of work as he doesn’t seem to have a good understanding of how to use his body yet. People as young as James can have troubles operating such a large frame. Repeatedly getting yourself in proper position as a hitter is tough and that rings especially true for people of Wood’s stature. A swing overhaul is needed if he wishes to play in the Majors.
I’m not quite as high as the consensus when it comes to Wood, but the physical tools are too great to ignore. I think the work James has to do on his swing will take a while and may force him to wait an extra year or two before he reaches the Majors. Aristides Aquino is the guy that comes to mind when I watch Wood. If he can harness just enough of his talent, he should be a solid player. If Wood really clicks when he gets into a pro system, the outcome could be Aaron Judge-esque.