It’s finally here!
After 11 months of excruciating waiting, college baseball fans will get to hear the two most magical words the English language has to offer: “Play Ball!” But it’s not just baseball fans who have been waiting with bated breath for College Baseball Opening Day (yes, at CBN we use all caps) to arrive. Pro scouts and other MLB executives have been anxiously biding their time since last June’s draft, hoping to finally get a look at all of this year’s draft eligible players, most of whom haven’t participated in an official game since mid-March of last year. As these scouts and execs settle into their box seats at the various stadiums throughout the country (or, due to COVID-19 restrictions that prohibit or limit their in-person attendance, squint at the streamed games on their computer screens), they’ll all be looking to answer the following questions in an effort to solve year’s MLB Draft riddle.
1) What will Vanderbilt RHP Jack Leiter do over a full season?
On the eve of the 2021 campaign, Leiter’s draft stock is slightly ahead of that of Vanderbilt teammate and fellow mound stud Kumar Rocker because of Leiter’s strong abbreviated 2020 season and an impressive fall, which saw him hit 97 MPH with his fastball. However, at least one prominent American League executive has cited the fact that Leiter’s entire college career has amounted to exactly 15.2 IP (due to his 21st birthday falling within 45 days of the July draft date, Leiter will be draft eligible this July after just two collegiate seasons). Thus, the eyes of the scouting community will be focused on the 6-00/190 righthander to see if he can sustain his excellence for the entire spring.
2) Will Florida CF Jud Fabian iron out his swing-and-miss issues?
Fabian is currently regarded as the most complete college position player, with his power and ability to stay in center field as a pro putting him in the running to go 1-01 in the draft. That said, some teams fear Fabian’s propensity to swing and miss may adversely affect his hit tool once he makes it to the bigs. Throughout his college career, Fabian has posted a K-rate of nearly 22%. His K-rate in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2019 was 26.3%, while last summer he whiffed in 21.8% of his 64 PAs in the Florida Collegiate Summer League.
3) Can LSU RHP Jaden Hill remain healthy for the entire season?
Hill’s stuff is so potent that he’s a popular sleeper pick to go 1-01. Yet, like Leiter, scouts currently have a small sample size to work from. Hill was limited to just 10 IP as a true freshman in 2019 as he battled elbow discomfort, which was followed by collarbone surgery. In sum, Hill has thrown 21.2 innings as a Tiger.
4) Can UCLA IF Matt McLain stick at SS?
Between his work on the Cape during the summer of 2019 (.274/.394/.425 in 139 PAs) and during the shortened 2020 campaign (.397/.422/.621), McLain did enough to atone for his offensive struggles as a freshman. But the question remains whether he’ll be able to stick at SS as a pro. If McLain demonstrates the necessary defensive chops to stay at “the Six,” he would be a near sure bet to be off the board within the first five picks come July.
5) Can Miami C Adrian Del Castillo stick behind the plate?
There’s a strong consensus among scouts that Del Castillo is the most complete hitter in the college draft class, yet the same scouts are also in agreement that the chances of Del Castillo remaining a backstop at the next level are less than 50-50. That’s said, Del Castillo has demonstrated marked improvement since arriving in Coral Cables two years ago and spent most of last spring and early summer working out with 5-time Gold Glove winner Salvador Perez. If clubs believe Del Castillo can stick behind the dish he could be selected within the top five picks; if not, he may not hear his name called until the mid-teens.
6) Was Louisville C Henry Davis’ 14-game offensive outburst in 2020 the real thing or just a mirage?
Davis was always known as a defense-first catcher with a decent bat, but that all changed thanks to one month’s worth of games last year. In 52 PAs, Davis raked to the tune of .372/.481/.698 with an even more impressive 8/4 BB/K ratio. Simply put, if Davis is really as good a hitter as his 2020 numbers attest, he won’t last an hour on draft night.
7) How good will Louisville 3B Alex Binelas be at the hot corner?
The track record of third sackers taken in the top 10 is impressive, and Binelas will join that hallowed fraternity if he shows improved range and footwork. Binelas certainly has the bat to warrant a top-of-the-first-round selection—according to former Baseball365 scribe Mason McRae, Binelas boasts launch angles typically in the 12-16 degree range and an average exit velocity of over 95 MPH.
8) How much will not getting any weekend ABs against top tier pitching hurt Southern Alabama OF Ethan Wilson?
Wilson will be an interesting follow this spring. His power rivals that of any other hitter in this year’s draft class and the rest of his game is well-rounded. However, by playing in the mid-major Sun Belt Conference, Wilson will not be facing the best arms the college game has to offer. This is exacerbated by the fact that Wilson has never played high-profile summer ball. Will this lack of experience against prime competition cause Wilson to slip or will a club picking high in the draft rely mostly on Wilson’s tools and take a chance on the 6-02/205 slugger.
9) Will Miami (OH) RHP Sam Bachman translate his tremendous pitch metrics to elite results?
As Lookout Landing’s Joe Doyle succinctly highlights here, the hard work Bachman put in last year following the onset of the pandemic allowed him to remold his body and finetune his power repertoire. Now armed with a heater he can run up to 99 MPH and first-class secondaries (all with elite characteristics), Bachman will be under increased scrutiny from scouts who’ll want to see whether his improved pitch data will carry over from workouts to games. If they’re satisfied, Bachman will be off the board no later than the middle of the first round.
10) Will losing weight boost FSU OF Robby Martin’s draft fortunes?
Since the day he arrived in Tallahassee, Martin has been known for his projected plus hit tool; however, after dropping about 15 pounds since last summer Martin appears to have rounded out his game. He’s reported to have increased range in the outfield, while the decrease in body mass has enhanced his bat speed and brought about more power. If Martin proves to be more than just a guy with a nice hit tool he could sneak into the first round.