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Draft Notes From NCAA Opening Weekend

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of thoughts after the first weekend of college baseball. Remember, draft rankings can be found on The Board.

Kevin’s Notes

Jud Fabian, OF, Florida: 3G, 1-for-13, 7 K

The 2021 draft class doesn’t exactly shine when it comes to college position players, but much of that is due to the situation everyone is in, as players heading into the season don’t have much of a 2020 showing to build on; an even larger contributing factor is last year’s cancellation of the Cape Cod League, which is where most players establish their initial spot on teams’ draft boards. Fabian has been well-known to scouts since his high school days in Ocala, Florida, and after opting into college early, he put up a .232/.353/.411 line as an everyday player while just an 18-year-old freshman. The stat line says it all. There were some hitting issues, but the approach and power were there. Last season was looking like a breakout sophomore campaign, with a 1.010 OPS in 17 games before the shutdown, and he entered this year ranked eighth on The Board. But during the opening weekend against Miami, Fabian looked rusty and overmatched, and questions about his ability to make consistent contact have the potential to persist all spring.

Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K

When you’re seen as a sure-fire single-digit pick entering the spring, there’s not much room to move up. While it will take more than four innings against a team better than Air Force to cement that view, Hill certainly impressed in his season debut. He’s a physical beast at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, with monstrous stuff highlighted by a fastball that frequently got into the upper 90s, a low 80s power breaking ball and a more refined changeup than had been seen in the past. Between a shoulder issue in 2019 and the pandemic last spring, Hill entered the season with fewer than 25 innings under his belt. Scouts want get past the questions about his command, but if he continues to throw strikes the way he did on Saturday, he will move up on boards despite there being little room to.

Tommy Mace, RHP, Florida: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K

In a normal world (whatever that means anymore), Mace would be getting ready for his first professional spring training, but a five-round draft and some aggressive posturing led to a fourth year in Florida in 2021. He’s expected to land anywhere from the comp round to the late-second in July, a range that lines up well with his current No. 62 ranking on The Board. Mace is more of a pure pitcher than someone who is going to blow away scouts with raw stuff, but in a rare opening weekend series against Miami that wasn’t a mismatch on paper, he showed an improved arsenal, led by a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a much improved breaking ball. His curve is still a bit light in terms of velo when graded against professional breakers, but he threw some real yakkers to keep the Hurricanes off balance. It will be tough for him to work his way into the first round, but the safety in the floor could get him comfortably into the seven-figure bonus range.

Matt McLain, SS, UCLA, 3 G, 5-for-11, 2 2B, 1 HR, 1 K

UCLA commits are the toughest of signs in any draft, as the Diamondbacks learned in 2018 when the 25th overall pick in the draft eschewed pro ball for the Bruins. Always seen as a player for whom the hit tool would lead the way, McLain struggled as a freshman in 2019, posting a paltry .203/.276/.355 line. But a solid showing in the Cape Cod League followed by an explosive (.397/.422/.621) if brief 13-game sophomore campaign had him entering the year as one of, if not the, top position players in the draft, including a number three ranking on The Board. While UCLA had an opening weekend to forget, dropping two of three to the San Francisco Dons, but you can’t blame McLain, who got off to a quick start at the plate. He’s on the small side, and the debate over his ability to stay at shortstop rages on, but he sure can rake. Read the rest of this entry »

How Will Teams Approach This Year’s Draft?

As we discussed at the site last week, the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt in the world of amateur scouting. And while the structure of this year’s draft will look a bit more like what we’re used to, last year’s shortened draft, truncated college season, and the ongoing challenges of scouting during the pandemic mean teams will have to adapt their approach to seeing players and building their boards. What follows is a conversation that we hope helps make sense of some of those dynamics.

Eric Longenhagen: I assume our readers know there’s a pandemic on, and that most of last year’s college baseball season was cancelled as a result. This year’s season will be messy and complex both from an NCAA perspective and for scouting. So, what’s missing at this point in time? At the start of a college season, how clearly defined is a team’s board? How clear was it at this time when you were in Houston?

Kevin Goldstein: Going into 2020?

EL: Yeah, if we’re about to start a new calendar year, how specific does a team’s draft board look at this point? The scouts I talk to have “groups.” They’ll put a sophomore in “Group 1,” or “Group A,” or different “follow buckets” to indicate priority to their cross-checker or director for the following year.

KG: A year ago, college baseball had started and the pandemic was seen more as something going on “over there,” as in Asia and Europe. Teams were ready to go. Most have draft meetings somewhere in the late November to early January timeframe to do just what you said: create groupings and talk about coverage. Some players need fewer looks because they are at a big school and there is going to be tons of video/data for them. Others are at schools with none of that, and of course, you need to see high school dudes. I think this year is different. Yes, there was some fall ball, and yes, there were some showcase events, but at the same time, there were way fewer of those. Teams lean on the Cape Cod League, but there wasn’t one in 2020. Plus, there is the larger issue — and we should get to it later — of just the sheer number of players to see because of last year’s shortened, five-round draft, which pissed off every team’s front office.

EL: Right, the Cape is weighed more heavily for some players than the following spring leading up to the draft. I think the single month of 2020 that we had was enough to uncover some college players for 2021’s draft, but there’s certainly a large swath of them (mostly hitters) whose names we don’t even know yet who are going to come out of the gates really hot and be tough to evaluate in the same way Andrew Benintendi was. Readers might remember that Benintendi was a draft-eligible sophomore who had a poor freshman year at Arkansas and then exploded as a sophomore. Track record is important for college hitters and in 2021 there will be lots of talented players with almost none to speak of because of the 2020 cancellations. So how long is long enough to know a college hitter is good? If we look to 2020 for some indication, maybe it is just a month? I’m thinking of Anthony Servideo specifically.

KG: You say that, but look at Zach Daniels, the Astros’ fourth-round pick last year. He does absolutely nothing as a freshman or sophomore, comes out of the gate wild, and you still don’t know. More conference games would have helped. I think for a guy like Benintendi, he starts hot, you say “Who’s this?”, and then he keeps it up in baseball’s best conference and you feel better about it. It’s tougher when they’re at a smaller school or program. Read the rest of this entry »

Picks to Click: Who We Expect to Make the 2022 Top 100

It’s common for our readers to want to know which of the players who aren’t on this year’s Top 100 might grace next year’s. Who has a chance to really break out? This is the piece for those readers, our “Picks to Click,” the gut-feel guys we think can be on the 2022 Top 100.

This is the fourth year we’ve conducted this exercise at FanGraphs, and there are some rules. First, none of the players you see below will have ever been a 50 FV or better in any of our write-ups or rankings. Second, we can’t pick players who we’ve picked in prior years. The two of us have decided to make this somewhat competitive to see which of us will end up being right about the most players. Here’s a brief rundown of how the site’s writers have done since this piece became a part of Prospects Week. You can click the year to go to that year’s list.

Historical Picks to Click
Year Writer(s) Picks to Click Hits Click Rate
2018 Longenhagen/McDaniel 62 15 24%
2019 Longenhagen/McDaniel 55 16 29%
2020 Longenhagen 46 14 30%
2021 Goldstein/Longenhagen 47 ? ?

We’re altering the “one-time selection” rule so that it applies only to each of us individually. So, even though Eric still thinks Blake Walston will be on next year’s list, he can’t re-mention him here (though he just did), but Kevin can (he doesn’t) if he wants. Our initials appear in parentheses after our players. Players we both nominated have an asterisk next to their name.

At the end of the piece, we have a list of potential high-leverage relievers who might move through the minors quickly, because readers seem to dig that category. On past Picks to Click, these were not part of the 50+ FV forecasting (and thus are not part of the historical data above), but based on how we think pitching is starting to be valued, it should now be looked at more like the other categories. Read the rest of this entry »