Detroit Tigers 2021 MLB Draft Preview: College Baseball Begins

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 25: Isaiah Thomas of the Vanderbilt Commodores jumps through the legs of teammate Walker Grisanti. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 25: Isaiah Thomas of the Vanderbilt Commodores jumps through the legs of teammate Walker Grisanti. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

Friday marks the beginning of the Division I college baseball season, which means it’s officially time for Detroit Tigers fans to start preparing for the 2021 MLB Draft.

Hardcore draftniks know preparation for the 2021 MLB Draft began years ago. They’ve likely been following last summer’s high-school showcase circuit, and the beginning of JuCo games and warm-weather prep ball this year.

But for Detroit Tigers fans with a mild-to-moderate interest in the Draft, now is the perfect time to pay attention. The Tigers own the 3rd pick overall this year, as well as the 32nd and 39th picks, and they have the 2nd largest bonus pool. The 2021 MLB Draft is another great chance for them to bolster their strong farm system.

2021 MLB Draft Basics

Let’s start with a very broad overview of this year’s draft. If we break down the available players into six groups we can get a better idea of how it stacks up in terms of overall quality. For the purposes of this exercise we are including catchers as infielders.

As of today, February 19th, this draft class looks a bit below average overall. Despite the relative fame of a few players, there’s no consensus top pick, and we may not see a true college shortstop selected until well into the 2nd round.

But every year there are players who shoot up draft boards, and the 2021 class promises to be one of the most volatile groups of all time.

The summer prior to the draft is the most important time for high-school players (who we will cover in a future post), and last year’s showcase circuit was relatively normal. So we probably won’t see too many new names appear, save from the usual handful of pitchers from California, Florida, and Texas who randomly pop up and touch triple-digits.

This college class is a different story. The Cape Cod League was canceled last summer, so the top rising juniors scattered to various wood-bat leagues across the country to face subpar competition. And the 2021 MLB Draft was moved back a month to coincide with the MLB All-Star Game, so dozens of players suddenly became draft-eligible sophomores.

On top of that, like all sports during a pandemic, college baseball in 2021 promises to be dumb and annoying. We’ve already seen multiple teams pause their programs or alter their weekend rotations because of COVID protocols, and, just for fun, nature threw us a nasty curveball in the form of a once-in-a-generation winter storm.

All of this is to say the college portion of the 2021 MLB Draft class is likely to look very different in a few months. The college pitching group, in particular, seems like it’s poised to rise in overall quality. So let’s begin our preview with them.

College Pitching in the 2021 MLB Draft

Names to Know

Kumar Rocker – The most famous name in this draft, Rocker has a mid-90s fastball, a nasty slider, and a track record of performance on the big stage. Still, there’s some concern about his changeup, his command, and a lack of ideal traits on his fastball.

Jack Leiter – The son of former All-Star Al, and nephew of Detroit Tigers legend Mark, Jack is undersized by traditional scouting standards and has few innings at the college level, but he has a broad arsenal of above-average stuff and solid command.

Jaden Hill – Hill probably has the best pure stuff in the draft, with a fastball that touches the upper 90s, a wipeout slider, and an above-average changeup. But he only has about 20 innings at the college level due to injuries and COVID, so there’s no guarantee he can stick as a starter.

Ty Madden – Madden was a bit wild as a freshman, but looked better last year, and has grown into his body now. He was supposedly touching the upper 90s this fall, and his slider and changeup both show above-average potential.

Richard Fitts – Fitts boasts the proverbial bulldog mentality to go with a low-90s fastball, an above-average split-change, and a developing slider. He’s mostly been a reliever, but he shows starter traits and could move up with performance.

Jordan Wicks – The top lefty in the class, Wicks has average fastball velocity but a truly outstanding changeup. His breaking balls need work, but he’s shows a smooth delivery and he throws a ton of strikes.

Gunnar Hoglund – Hoglund is a sum-of-his-parts starter who lacks plus stuff but shows solid command of four average or above-average offerings.

College Infielders in the 2021 MLB Draft

Names to Know

Adrian Del Castillo – Del Castillo projects to be an above-average or plus hitter with good plate discipline and above-average power from the left side. Scouts are skeptical of his ability to stick at catcher, but he’s an accurate thrower and could fit nicely in a world with automated strike zones.

Matt McLain -McLain was a first-round pick a few years ago and struggled as a freshman, but he flashed his potential plus hit tool last year. He’s a bit undersized and doesn’t project for more than average pop, but he’s an above-average runner and he has a shot to stick at shortstop, though second base or center field seem more likely.

Alex Binelas – There’s big pop in Binelas’ bat and he produced as a freshman in 2019 before missing time last year with a broken hamate bone. He isn’t the smoothest defender at third, but his arm an athleticism should work in an outfield corner, and his bat could be good enough to profile at first.

Henry Davis – A teammate of Binelas, Henry Davis stands out most for his huge arm behind the dish, but he also shows average offensive potential. His blocking and receiving need a bit of work, but he’s athletic enough to improve or potentially handle a move to the outfield.

Cody Morissette – Morissette doesn’t flash any one plus skill, but he’s solid across the board. He likely fits best at second or third base, but some teams may view him as a potential shortstop, which could help him rise.

College Outfielders in the 2021 MLB Draft

Names to Know

Jud Fabian – One of the youngest players in the draft class, Fabian has a track record of performance and above-average tools across the board. There are some mild concerns about strikeouts, and most pro teams will probably have a better option in center field, but he should be able to stick at the position.

Colton Cowser – Cowser was outstanding as a freshman and with Team USA, and he could be a plus hitter with strong plate discipline and the chance to play center field. He doesn’t show much power now, but he may grow into more and move to an outfield corner.

Ethan Wilson – Another small-school outfielder who had a monster freshman season, Wilson could be an above-average hitter with plus game power. He’s an average athlete who won’t be a plus on defense, but he should at least be solid in left field.

Sal Frelick – Frelick is a fireplug of a player whose tools are much bigger than his size indicates. He’s got a chance to be an average hitter with above-average power and at least plus speed, and he should be able to handle center field in pro ball.

Levi Usher – Usher shows enough speed to likely handle center field in pro ball, and he has a chance to hit for a decent average and get close to average power. He has a limited track record and will need to answer some questions during the season.

Christian Franklin – Franklin shows a very intriguing mix of plus power and speed, and he should be able to man center field in pro ball, but he has some swing-and-miss issues and may never be more than a fringe-average hitter.

John Rhodes – Rhodes is one of the players who suddenly became draft eligible this year, so it will be interesting to follow his performance this season. He hit the cover off the ball in a small sample last year, but he also moved from third base to the outfield, and he may not own a true plus tool.