Detroit Tigers Weekly 2021 MLB Draft Update: Leiter Fluid

Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Brown and catcher CJ Rodriguez, left, congratulate freshman pitcher Jack Leiter (22) after he strike out all three South Alabama batters during the first inning at Hawkins Field Feb. 18, 2020.Nas Vandy Baseball Home Opener 019
Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Brown and catcher CJ Rodriguez, left, congratulate freshman pitcher Jack Leiter (22) after he strike out all three South Alabama batters during the first inning at Hawkins Field Feb. 18, 2020.Nas Vandy Baseball Home Opener 019 /

The 2021 MLB Draft is still four months away, but college baseball is in full swing, so it’s time to begin our weekly updates to keep Detroit Tigers fans informed.

We’ve already done our college and high school previews, but things can change quickly once the season starts. We speculated the college pitching class might eventually look stronger, and it already does, with many of the top arms adding velocity.

We’ve also seen some huge early performances from catchers, and the first of what figures to be a handful of breakout seasons from under-the-radar players. This one comes from an exciting outfielder at a blue blood school.

So let’s take a look at the top names and some big performers from last week, beginning with the pitchers.

Note: stats do not include Friday, February 26th.

2021 MLB Draft College Pitchers

The biggest names in the class all showed big stuff last week. Kumar Rocker looked like himself, with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider giving Wright State batters little chance, but his control was a bit shaky. Rocker’s teammate Jack Leiter stole the show, showing plus command of a fastball that touched 98 mph and sat in the 92-94 range, while backing it up three solid secondary offerings. Jaden Hill looked very promising in his first start since 2019, with an athletic delivery, a fastball that sat in the mid-90s, and a slider and changeup that both show above-average potential. Ty Madden struck out the side in his first innings with a fastball up to 97 and a sharp slider, but a talented Mississippi State team got to him later. And Richard Fitts overpowered Presbyterian batters with a fastball that reached 97 mph.

This group forms something of a second tier of starters, though several of them could end up as top-20 picks. Hoglund boasts some of the best command in college baseball, so his three walks were a bit of a surprise, but his stuff looked strong, with a fastball that touched 96 and a slider with above-average potential, all from an easy delivery. Wicks is another terrific strike thrower, and he dominated a solid Oregon State club with his outstanding changeup. Ryan Cusick had one of the loudest outings of the week, frequently touching the upper 90s and flashing an above-average curve. Joe Rock took the loss against Radford, but he’s a 6’6 lefty with a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus slider. Tommy Mace is a veteran arm who seems like a safe bet to go in the 2nd round, while Sam Bachman is a sturdy righty with deception, a fastball that creeps into the upper 90s, and an above-average slider.

2021 MLB Draft College Infielders

It was a rough week for some of the top bats in the college class. Adrian Del Castillo didn’t have much of an impact in Miami’s big series win against rival Florida, and while UCLA’s Matt McLain got off to a good start, that wasn’t enough to help his Bruins win their series against San Francisco. Few had a worse first week than Louisville’s Alex Binelas, but his teammate Henry Davis had an outstanding first week and could be pushing his way into the top half of the first round. Boston College’s multi-positional infielder Cody Morissette homered in his first game but didn’t do much afterward. But the hottest hitter on the planet right now is South Carolina backstop Wes Clark, who went an absurd 10-for-13 with two doubles, six home runs (!!), and seven walks to zero strikeouts. He may not be able to stick behind the plate in pro ball, but if he hits like that it won’t matter.

2021 MLB Draft College Outfielders

Jud Fabian struggled mightily in Florida’s opening series against Miami, going just 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts. He turned things around in the mid-week, but questions about his strikeouts will remain until he settles them. Sal Frelick and Levi Usher both looked like catalytic top-of-the-order hitters last week, while Christian Franklin couldn’t quite his plus speed to great use, though he did hit a big game-tying triple against TCU on Monday. Colton Cowser of Sam Houston State, Ethan Wilson of South Alabama, and John Rhodes of Kentucky have hardly played due to a mix of COVID, injuries, and bad weather.

But the story of the week was North Carolina center fielder Justice Thompson, who spent 2019 and 2020 at Northwest Florida College. A relative unknown, Thompson is built like Cody Bellinger and burst onto the scene with power, speed, and defense. Scouts will be bearing down on him this spring to see if he has the skills to match his tools, which are strong enough to see him go in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft.