The 2021 MLB Draft will be held later than normal this season, from July 11-13, as baseball times up its premier amateur event with the College World Series and new minor league landscape.
Each of the last three No. 1 overall draft picks has come from college (Spencer Torkelson, Adley Rutschmann, and Casey Mize), and odds are that the streak will continue. Vanderbilt pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, as well as Miami catcher Adrian Del Castillo, are the early favorites to go 1-1.
Here's a look at the top 50 college prospects (as of March 2021), courtesy of Baseball America's JJ Cooper:
1. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Rocker was the best pitching prospect to make it to college in 2019, and he immediately proved it with a dominating season that included the first-ever no-hitter in a Super Regional game. He has a nearly MLB-ready fastball/slider pairing that should make him the ace of the Vanderbilt staff and a potential No. 1 pick.
2. Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
Del Castillo was one of the better players from the 2018 draft class to make it to college. He's only improved his stock since then thanks to outstanding offensive production (.336/.430/.571 in two years at Miami) and steadily improving defense.
3. Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
One of the youngest college players in the draft class, Fabian is a center fielder who can use the whole field, hitting for average and power. He had an excellent 2019 in the Cape Cod League and is one of the top hitters in the 2021 draft.
4. Matt McLain, SS/OF, UCLA
McLain had an awful freshman season, but everything clicked in a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, and he was one of the best hitters in the country during the abbreviated 2020 season. McLain has played everywhere in the infield and center field, but he should be able to stick at shortstop as a pro.
5. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
A year after Rocker made it to Vanderbilt, the Commodores landed the most polished pitcher in the 2020 freshman class. He didn't face much competition in 2020, but he dominated in mid-week starts thanks to one of the best curveballs in college.
6. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
Cowser was one of the most productive freshmen in the country in 2019, but it was his following summer with the Collegiate National Team that confirmed that his bat is one to watch. A power-hitting lefthander, Cowser may slide from center field to a corner, but he runs well enough to give center a shot.
7. Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU
Hill has an elite 95-98 mph fastball. That alone would make him an intriguing prospect, but his changeup and hard slider are both potential plus pitches as well. Hill has barely pitched so far, so he has a lot of work to do to convince evaluators that he can handle a starter's workload.
8. Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
Louisville has had at least one player taken in the top 100 picks in every draft since 2013. It's hard to imagine that Binelas won't keep that streak going. One of the best power hitters in the class, Binelas hit 14 home runs as a freshman in 2019. He may end up moving to first base as a pro, but his power production means he should be able to handle a position switch.
9. Steven Hajjar, LHP, Michigan
Thanks in part to now-Detroit Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter, Michigan has become a pitching powerhouse. Hajjar is the one to watch as he's filled out his 6'5" frame and improved his slider and changeup to better complement his low-90s fastball.
10. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
This is going to be an excellent year for draft prospects from the Northeast. An athletic, speedy center fielder, Frelick is short (5'9"), but that's proven to be an asset as he has excellent plate coverage and draws walks to go with some sneaky power.
11. Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama
Wilson hits for power and draws plenty of walks, but he will battle the questions of playing in the Sun Belt Conference. The only other first-round pick in school history is Travis Swaggerty, who has struggled since being picked 10th overall in 2018.
12. Robby Martin, OF, Florida State
He's bigger and more imposing physically than he was coming out of high school, but his swing and approach at the plate have been more about getting on base than driving the ball for home runs. Scouts will look to see if that changes in 2021.
13. Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Davis is an excellent catcher defensively, with a plus-plus arm and athleticism and flexibility. His blocking needed work when he arrived at Louisville, but it has improved. His bat has taken a step forward as he's started to get to his pull-side power.
14. Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss
Hoglund was the Pirates' supplemental first-round pick in 2018, but he opted to head to Ole Miss. The projectable 6'4" righthander has steadily grown into a durable and reliable starter, as he has above-average control to go with an 88-96 mph fastball and a potentially above-average slider.
15. Hunter Goodman, C/OF, Memphis
Goodman has work to do to prove himself defensively. His bat gives him several options, as he has plus power potential and solid athleticism. Defensively, he has work to do on his blocking and receiving if he’s going to stay behind the plate.
16. Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
Madden has filled out a lot as a Longhorn, which has allowed his impressive 90-96 mph fastball and hard mid-80s slider to get better and better. Now he just needs to show he can throw strikes over a full season after an abbreviated 2020.
17. Christian Franklin, OF, Arkansas
Franklin has more work to do to show that his speed plays in center. He also has solid power potential thanks to plenty of bat speed.
18. Cody Morissette, SS, Boston College
Morissette is more well rounded than exceptional at any one thing. He most likely will slide to second base eventually in pro ball, but if he can show louder shortstop tools in 2021, he could move up draft boards.
19. Jonathan Cannon, RHP, Georgia
Georgia saw righthander Emerson Hancock picked in the first round, and Cole Wilcox received first-round money in the third round last year. Cannon should follow in their footsteps in 2021. He has a chance to have three above-average or better pitches.
20. Tommy Mace, RHP, Florida
Mace was seen as a potential draftee in 2020 but opted to head back to school after a down year. His 6'6" frame has not kept him from throwing strikes, but his stuff is good, not great.
21. Mason Pelio, RHP, Boston College
Pelio is a stout righthander who gets to his 90-94 mph velocity quite easily. He needs to improve his breaking ball, but his changeup is already a solid above-average pitch.
22. Christian MacLeod, LHP, Miss. State
He has yet to show that he can maintain 90-93 mph over the course of longer outings, but his fastball, changeup, and breaking ball are all good enough to keep hitters off balance. He gets plenty of strikeouts despite his somewhat average stuff.
23. Zack Gelof, 3B, Virginia
Gelof has proven himself to be a solid third baseman defensively and a consistent hitter who has produced both at Virginia and with a wood bat in the summer Northwoods League. Gelof runs relatively well and has a chance to have average power.
24. Levi Usher, OF, Louisville
Usher had a loud season at Kirwood (Iowa) CC and followed it up with an excellent .411 start to his first year at Louisville before the pandemic shutdown. He runs well enough to give him a chance to play center field, and he's produced, but he needs to show he can do it over a full Division I season.
25. Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest
Cusick is yet another Wake Forest pitcher to benefit from their high-tech pitching lab. The big righthander now sits 93-97 mph and spins a promising if inconsistent slider. Now he just needs to fine-tune control and usage of that pitch.
26. Jonathan Childress, LHP, Texas A&M
Childress missed most of his freshman season in 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. He doesn't overwhelm with velocity (88-92 mph), but he throws an excellent curveball and a solid changeup.
27. Jack Perkins, RHP, Louisville
Perkins should step into Louisville's rotation this spring. His athleticism, solid 92-95 mph fastball, and hard slider are promising but undeveloped.
28. Mason Black, RHP, Lehigh
Black's pure stuff helps him overcome questions about the stiffness of his delivery, his long arm action, and his risk of being a future reliever. He's performed in the Cape Cod League and has three potential plus pitches.
29. Noah Cardenas, C, UCLA
Considered a glove-first catcher in high school, Cardenas has done a good job of exceeding expectations. He doesn't have much power, but if he can be even an average hitter, his defensive ability will make him a valuable pro.
30. Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State
Wicks has arguably the best changeup in the class. What concerns scouts is whether his 88-92 mph fastball will be good enough for his changeup to play against advanced hitters.
31. Kevin Abel, RHP, Oregon State
Abel has not pitched in an official game since 2019, and until teams see him pitch regularly, it's hard to assess whether he can return to the dominant form he once showed.
32. Ben Specht, RHP, Florida
The Gators have a long track record of developing pitchers and keeping them healthy, but one drawback is that the team has so many arms that even promising prospects end up in the bullpen. Specht will hopefully get to show teams that he can start in 2021 and that he can find more consistency.
33. Sean Burke, RHP, Maryland
Burke is one of the players who could rise up boards quickly. He missed the 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery, but his 92-95 mph fastball and excellent curveball give him the building blocks of a mid-rotation starter.
34. Eric Cerantola, RHP, Mississippi State
MLB has become more and more dominated by pitchers who can work up in the zone with a swing-and-miss fastball and at the bottom of the zone with a big breaking curveball. Cerantola has shown his ability to do both at his best.
35. Landon Marceaux, RHP, LSU
Marceaux is not overpowering, but the short (6'0") righthander locates his 89-93 mph fastball and has feel for a changeup. Improving his curve and slider will help him climb up draft boards.
36. Cooper Stinson, RHP, Duke
Stinson has shown steady improvement in his once very shaky control. He faces concerns over whether he can start, but his 88-92 mph fastball and hard, biting slider have potential.
37. Doug Nikhazy, LHP, Ole Miss
His feel could entice teams who think they can help him find a little more arm strength. His 89-91 mph fastball, 12-to-6 curve, and changeup would benefit from a bump in velocity.
38. Seth Lonsway, LHP, Ohio State
Lonsway likely would not still be at Ohio State if not for the shortened 2020 season. He has had plenty of control issues, but his mid-90s fastball, plus curveball, and promising slider and changeup give him a lot of weapons if he can throw more strikes.
39. Nic Kent, SS, Virginia
Kent's fringe-average arm means he'll likely slide over to second base in pro ball, but the rest of his game (above-average speed, solid contact ability, and consistent college production) makes him a pretty safe bet to be picked in the first two to three rounds.
40. Tyler Thornton, RHP, Arizona State
He has a track record of production at Saint Mary's and Arizona State, but if he doesn't start throwing a little harder than the 88-91 mph he sits at right now, he'll potentially slide down this list. If he does throw a little harder, he could just as easily move up.
41. Gavin Williams, RHP, East Carolina
Williams is a flamethrower who has touched 101 mph. He's most likely a reliever eventually, but a team could give him a shot at starting to see if his inconsistent but intriguing changeup and solid breaking ball could work in longer stints.
42. Brant Hurter, LHP, Georgia Tech
Hurter is coming back from Tommy John surgery, but if he can make a full recovery in 2021, he has an intriguing mix of size (6'6"), funky angle, and an effortful delivery that adds deception. His fastball and slider both are effective.
43. Pete Hansen, LHP, Texas
Hansen did not allow an earned run during the shortened 2020 season. His 90-93 mph fastball and above-average slider give him starter traits, but now he just has to show he can do it over a much longer, more involved 2021 season.
44. Will Bednar, RHP, Mississippi State
Bednar has demonstrated average control to go with a useful four-pitch mix. None of his pitches are plus, but his fastball, slider, curve, and change all have average potential.
45. Max Ferguson, 2B, Tennessee
A plus runner who could slide over to shortstop in a pinch, Ferguson looked like he was making a breakthrough as a sophomore in 2020. If he can keep that up, he has a shot to be an above-average defender who does a good job of making contact.
46. Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (Ohio)
Bachman has a funky, low-three-quarters arm slot. It's worked very well for him so far, as he baffles hitters with a 92-96 mph sinker and a hard mid-80s slider.
47. Carson Seymour, RHP, Kansas State
Seymour has touched 97-99 mph at times. His slider can be just as good, and he's flashed above average with his downer curveball. Now he just needs to settle into a starting role this year and show he can do it all consistently.
48. Luke Bartnicki, LHP, Georgia Tech
A funky lefty, Bartnicki has been largely a reliever at Tech, but this year should give him a chance to start and to throw more strikes. His 90-94 mph fastball and slider are deadly to lefties.
49. Luke Waddell, SS, Georgia Tech
Waddell is most notable for being a well-rounded infielder who does everything reasonably well. He draws plenty of walks and makes contact, and he can play anywhere in the infield.
50. Jerrion Ealy, OF, Ole Miss
Ealy's baseball career so far has been limited to 28 plate appearances, while he's been a productive running back over two seasons in football. But his speed and athleticism in center field make him a very interesting draft-eligible sophomore.
— Compiled by JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) for the Athlon Sports 2021 Baseball ANnual. At 224 pages, it's the largest on the newsstand and the most complete preview available today. Click here to get your copy.
(Kumar Rocker photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University)