College Baseball Nation 2021 Preseason All-Americans

As we rapidly approach spring, it’s becoming evident that although normalcy is still far away, we should have something remotely resembling a complete 2021 college baseball season. That said, it’s high time we delve into who the best players in the nation are by rolling out College Baseball Nation's inaugural All-America teams. Much like last year, the talent across the US appears well balanced, with 20 of the 30 first and second team College Baseball Nation All-Americans draft eligible and the remainder available in 2022. Considering some of the arms that didn’t make either squad—Michigan’s Steven Hajjar, Mississippi State’s Eric Cerantola, Oklahoma State’s Bryce Osmond, and Florida’s Brandon Sproat—it’s easy to see that the strength of this year’s college talent crop is starting pitching.


While we certainly pay attention to each player’s performance in selecting both squads, we base our picks predominantly on each candidate’s projected upside and big-league potential.


Please join us again in two weeks when we introduce College Baseball Nation's Freshman All-America Teams.

1st Team



Catcher

Adrian Del Castillo (2021 draft eligible), LHH, Miami (FL)—Despite his status as a surefire 1st Team All-American, Del Castillo’s draft stock has been somewhat difficult to nail down due to positional uncertainty. A catcher throughout his collegiate career, many scouts have reservations whether he’ll be able to stick behind the plate as a pro. They believe he will have to shift to LF or 1B, where he projects as average at best. However, there are no such questions regarding Del Castillo’s offense. He is widely considered the consensus top pure hitter on this list as he combines a great feel for the barrel and discerning eye with enough power to all fields to make 25 HR a year a reality.

First Base

JT Schwartz (2021), LHH, UCLA—Schwartz is by far the biggest “reach” pick of all College Baseball Nation All-Americans, but if he clicks it will be a thing of beauty. Schwartz’ hit tool is currently his best attribute. He has exhibited sound barrel awareness everywhere he has played, including the summer of 2019 in the competitive Northwoods League when he hit .378 with a .464 OBP in 238 PAs with a K-rate under 10%. With plenty of room to fill out his 6-04/195 frame, it’s not inconceivable that Schwartz’ power will increase dramatically should he join an organization that is successful in preaching the launch angle (LA) gospel. Firmly entrenched as the Bruins 1B, Schwartz did show well in a brief 3B stint in the Northwoods League.


Second Base

Matt McLain (2021), RHH, UCLA—The second-highest 2018 draftee to spurn a professional contract, McLain had some growing pains as a freshman but busted out during last year’s abbreviated college season and continued his stellar play through the summer with the independent Santa Barbara Foresters. McLain boasts elite athleticism with astonishing pop for a guy 5-10/175. While McLain will serve as the Bruins’ starting SS this year, he may move across the keystone as a pro and develop into a Brian Dozier type offensive 2B.


Shortstop

Brooks Lee (2022), SH, Cal Poly—Lee’s college career got off to a rough start when he required complex leg surgery in the fall of 2020 and was only able to garner a handful of at bats prior to the COVID-induced shutdown. The young switch hitter did enjoy a banner summer for Wilmar in the Northwoods League, demonstrating a plus hit tool and power from both sides of the plate with a K-rate of well under 15%. Lee should be able to stay at SS. He is sure-handed with more than enough arm for the position and keen instincts.


Third Base

Alex Binelas (2021), LHH, Louisville—Binelas burst upon the scene as a freshman in 2019 when he belted 14 HR and put up exceptional exit velocities (EVs). He has improved markedly at 3B and multiple scouts believe he will remain there as a pro. He has a strong arm and soft hands. The Wisconsin native will be rebounding in 2021 after a broken hamate cost him virtually all of 2020.


Outfield

Colton Cowser (2021), LHH, Sam Houston State—Cowser’s profile is interesting, if not a throwback. He’s a hit-over-power guy with solid contact metrics who plays a solid CF. If he is able to add more loft to his swing and enhance his power, the team that selects him in July would hit paydirt.


Jud Fabian (2021), RHH, Florida—While there have been “sexier” 1-01 picks in recent years, Fabian is our early favorite for that distinction as we head into the 2021 season. Simply put, the 6-01/195 Fabian checks all the boxes—he’s uncommonly young for his class, has had success with wood, and doesn’t have a tool under 55. Comps range from Mitch Haniger to a young Kevin McReynolds to Ryan Braun. After returning from an ankle injury, Fabian enjoyed a monster fall, displaying elite level bat speed.


Ethan Wilson (2021), LHH, South Alabama—Wilson compares favorably to Heston Kjerstad, the left-handed slugger taken 2nd overall by the Orioles last June. Like Kjerstad, Wilson’s high EVs and loft in his swing combine to give him at least 60 power combined with a potential average hit tool. He is more athletic and fleet afoot than Kjerstad, earning above average grades in LF with many scouts convinced his strong arm would enable him to make a seamless transition to the other corner if necessary.


Designated Hitter

Zack Gelof (2021), RHH, Virginia—Gelof has torched the ball since arriving on campus, posting a .321 average and .871 OPS in 346 PAs. He also slashed .349/.426/.490 as a rising sophomore in the Northwoords League. Like many young hitters, Gelof still must iron out some swing-and-miss issues, but his solid walk rate and EVs point to a high ceiling. When Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor spoke with College Baseball Nation, he emphasized that Gelof's athleticism will ultimately allow Gelof to remain at the hot corner in the pros.

Starting Pitching

Jack Leiter (2021), RHP, Vanderbilt— With just 15 college innings under his belt, Leiter won’t be able to equal the lengthy track record of many of his peers from the 2021 draft class but that won’t matter. He has superb command of five plus pitches, including a fastball that can reach 97 MPH, and flawless mechanics. This arsenal and his compact frame have evoked comparisons to fellow Commodore Sonny Gray, Mike Mussina, and Roy Oswalt.


Kumar Rocker (2021), RHP, Vanderbilt—A 6-04/255 man-child, Rocker has been on scouts’ radar since his early high school days. As devastating as Rocker’s mid-90’s fastball is, it’s his high-80’s slider and its gyro-like qualities that have everyone salivating. If there’s any chink in Rocker’s armor, it’s that his fastball command may be lacking.


Ty Madden (2021), RHP, Texas—Madden and his projectability will be watched closely this spring. His durable build, pure velocity on his fastball (up to 99 MPH last fall), and impressive metrics on his slider (87-88 MPH with above average spin rates) should catapult him into the top-10 discussion. Madden shot up teams’ draft boards during the offseason, and he is one of the more electric arms in the nation.


Jaden Hill (2021), RHP, LSU—Hill remains the popular preseason sleeper pick for 1-01 because he was unhittable last season before the onset of COVID-19 and his fastball pushes triple digits. Given his checkered medical past (just 22 total college innings due to elbow discomfort followed by collarbone surgery in the spring of 2019), Hill will be out to prove his durability this season.


Connor Prielipp (2022), LHP, Alabama—Prielipp, another native of cold-weather Wisconsin, has really hit his stride after arriving in Tuscaloosa. In addition to growing two inches and adding 30 pounds of good weight, the 6-03/200 southpaw has rounded out his repertoire and put himself in pole position to be the first pitcher drafted in 2022. While his fastball sits at 92-94 MPH with an above-average spin rate, it’s overshadowed by his 85-86 MPH slider that boasts a spin rate well in excess of 3100 RPM (MLB average is just shy of 2500 RPM). Further evidence of the toxicity of Prielipp’s stuff is his swinging strike rates, which, according to former Prospects365 scribe Mason McRae, are all greater than 20% on his fastball, slider, and changeup.


Relief Pitching

Hugh Fisher (2021), LHP, Vanderbilt—If you squint, you may see a little Josh Hader or Garrett Crochet in the 6-05/190 Fisher. He has the same gangly physique and low ¾ left-handed delivery as Hader and Crochet, and his fastball can also reach the high 90’s. If he can harness his command and continue to fine tune his slider, some team will view him as a late inning weapon and pop him in the latter half of Day One. Fisher missed all of 2020 recovering from Tommy John Surgery.

2nd Team


Catcher

Henry Davis (2021), RHH, Louisville—Davis is not unlike former Ohio State backstop (and Detroit Tigers 2020 2nd round pick) Dillon Dingler—an athletic catcher with deluxe defensive skills who’s starting to make inroads offensively. Davis has a plus-plus arm with a quick release who moves well behind the dish, although he has encountered problems blocking pitches in the dirt. At the plate, Davis offers keen pitch recognition with burgeoning power.


First Base

Owen Diodati (2022), LHH, Alabama—Young for his class, Diodati has posted excellent EVs during his brief college career with the uncanny ability to get the ball in the air. He has also demonstrated an expert understanding of the strike zone. Diodati, a Canadian national, has solid athleticism and speed, and his arm would play in either OF corner.


Second Base

Cade Doughty (2022), RHH, LSU—Doughty enjoyed a monster 2020. First, he won LSU’s starting 2B job as a true freshman and slashed a respectable .278/.365/.407 with an outstanding 12.6% K-rate in the ultra-competitive SEC. Then he demolished the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League to the tune of .429/.527/.626. Although Doughty may begin to see more action at the hot corner for the Tigers, he profiles best long-term as an offensive-minded 2B.


Shortstop

Robert Moore (2022), SH, Arkansas—Undersized at 5-09/165, Moore has first-rate barrel awareness and plate discipline and has been able to incorporate more loft into his swing. Listed as a SS on our Second All-American Team, there’s a good chance Moore will remain at 2B, where his range and sure handedness will play up. Moore’s father is Kansas City Royals’ GM Dayton Moore.


Third Base

Peyton Graham (2022), RHH, Oklahoma—Oklahoma will be pockmarked with premier underclass talent at a variety of positions, and Graham is the leader of the pack. He is a freakish athlete who made a successful transition from high school SS to college 3B, where his quick actions, reliable hands, and howitzer arm served him well. At the plate, Graham features good bat speed and bat-to-ball skills and should improve his EVs as he fills out his 6-03/180 frame and gains strength.

Outfield

Levi Usher (2021), LHH, Louisville—A junior college transfer, Usher was off to a blazing start last spring before the season was interrupted. At this point, Usher is hit tool over power—he has a quick, simple swing from a flat bat path and rarely chases out of the zone. The Iowa native is a sure bet to spend the first half of his pro career in CF. He has above average speed and gets excellent reads. He has an accurate arm with his throws getting plenty of carry.


Chris Newell (2022), LHH, Virginia—Don’t be surprised if Newell is the top college bat a year from now. The Pennsylvania native has raked since arriving in Charlottesville and put up an Atari-like .407/.545/.729 slash line with 4 HR and 10 XBHs in just 78 PAs prior to the pandemic. The highlight of Newell’s brief season came on March 7, when he homered and doubled off NC State junior southpaw and future second rounder Nick Swiney. Newell’s more than just a one-trick pony. His speed grades out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he swiped eight bags in the same number of attempts last year. He boasts the range to remain in CF well into his pro career and his arm is easily a plus tool.


Christian Franklin (2021), RHH, Arkansas—A bit undersized, Franklin is a high-voltage athlete coming off a banner summer with the Foresters, followed by a strong showing in fall ball. His hit and power tools have improved drastically, while his speed and defense in CF have always been exemplary.


Designated Hitter

Brennan Milone (2022), RHH, South Carolina—Milone, who was highly coveted by MLB clubs out of a Georgia high school, had an injury-plagued abbreviated spring in 2020. He then slashed .365/.452/.750 with 9 HR in 115 PAs in the Coastal Plains League last summer. Milone generates plenty of torque from a compact right-handed swing that is geared towards the pull side, but he is susceptible to outside breaking pitches. Milone has enough of an arm and lateral quickness to remain at 3B.


Starting Pitching

Jonathan Cannon (2021), RHP, Georgia—Cannon has just 11.1 college innings—all in scoreless relief—on his ledger, and at this point is probably the biggest “project” on either of our All-America teams. That said, Cannon’s size, arm strength, and electric arsenal have him on scouts’ radar this spring. Cannon has evoked numerous Michael Wacha comparisons. His fastball sits in the mid-90’s and is buoyed by a changeup that’s already considered big league average. If he is able to develop his slider, he could emerge as a top-20 overall pick in July.


Hunter Barco (2022), LHP, Florida—Barco made waves last spring when he made Florida’s vaunted weekend rotation as a true freshman. Barco, heavily scouted out of a Jacksonville high school, comes at hitters with a traditional three-pitch mix—fastball, slider, and changeup. His fastball can hit the mid-90’s, his slider is an effective weapon against both righties and lefties, and his changeup has splitter qualities with an exceptionally low spin rate.


Nate Savino (2022), LHP, Virginia—Savino made waves when he matriculated early and earned a spot on UVA’s weekend rotation as a freshman. Savino showcases a hearty fastball that creeps into the mid-90’s, as well as impressive secondary offerings. His relative youth, ideal pitcher’s build, and particularly interesting pitch metrics on his slider have him lined up to be an early first round selection next year.


Sam Bachman (2021), RHP, Miami (OH)—Bachman has had the most meteoric rise of any pitcher in the nation over the past 12 months. His stuff was always solid, but after streamlining his body last summer and revamping his entire operation and repertoire, he owns the starter kit for a top-10 pick. As Joe Doyle at Lookout Landing succinctly describes here, the 6-01/220 Bachman throws a nuclear fastball in the upper 90’s, which he backs up with an equally venomous slider and improving changeup, and his individual pitch metrics and mechanics are sterling.


Mason Black (2021), RHP, Lehigh—Black, a 6-03/220 flamethrower, is squarely in the conversation for 1st round consideration this July. As Lookout Landing’s Doyle once again succinctly explains, Black’s size, explosive arm, and pitch metrics have excited the scouting community. Black currently throws a heavy fastball that has hit 99 MPH, which is complemented by a mid-80’s slider that offers an above-average spin rate. His changeup is a legitimate third pitch with sufficient separation from his fastball and plenty of late fade. Pitching for the same Boca Raton Blazer team that Doughty starred for in the SFCBL, Black posted an otherworldly 42/10 K/BB rate with an 0.64 ERA in 28 IP.


Relief Pitching

Ben Specht (2021), RHP, Florida—In most other programs Specht would have a key spot on the weekend rotation, yet with the pitching-rich Gators Specht is “just” the closer. Compact at 6-01/210, Specht throws easy mid-90’s heat, which he augments with a tight slider. If he can improve a seldom-used changeup, he may get a look as a starter in pro ball.

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