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.

Joe Rock, LHP, Ohio: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 12 K

Ohio is a not-great program in a mid-major conference, and it was against a Radford club that doesn’t exactly have a lineup that scares anyone, but no matter the situation, when 80% of you outs are of the strikeout variety, you’re going to generate some attention. If you are into projection, Rock is your man. Long-levered, 6-foot-6, and still skinny despite putting on 20 pounds since his high school days, Rock generated little interest as a prep player in Pennsylvania, but he’s starting to come on strong for the Bobcats after missing 2020 as a redshirt. Once unable to get out of the 80s with his fastball, he’s now consistently in the low-90s and can touch the mid-range when he rears back, while his low-80s slider is a present big league playable pitch. He needs to prove he can throw more strikes and improve his overall pitch efficiency, but he has a chance to inspire some big scouting heat to try to figure out the best way to get to Athens, Ohio this spring.

Eric’s Notes

Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K

Wicks squared off against Oregon State righty Kevin Abel in one of the higher-profile matches of the entire weekend. Wicks was as advertised, commanding his fastball and changeup to his arm side with remarkable consistency. The changeup is plus and is Wicks’ ticket to the big leagues. It careens off of his fingertips with tumbling action and plays nicely off of his two-seamer. He mixed four- and two-seamers throughout the outing and knows how to pitch with each of them, running the four-seamer up the ladder and setting up the change with the sinker. Wick’s slider is location-dependent and he wasn’t as good at locating his stuff to his glove-side. I think a recent broad strokes comp for Wicks is Kris Bubic (a college lefty with a plus changeup, a playable fastball, and a tertiary breaking ball), but there are relevant differences: Bubic’s curveball had first-pitch utility that Wicks’ slider does not, while Wicks’ command is better than Bubic’s was at points leading up to his draft. I think Wick is likely to go somewhere in the first round, though.

Kevin Abel, RHP, Oregon State: 4.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K

Abel was the hero of the 2018 College World Series, throwing a 129-pitch complete game to beat Arkansas and clinch the title for the Beavers. Then he blew out early in 2019 and needed Tommy John surgery, which meant he’d only be back later during the 2020 season, if at all. The pandemic eliminated that possibility entirely. Finally back for the start of 2021, Abel looked his usual self early in his outing, sitting 88-89 and living off of angle, while both his changeup and curveball were excellent. Abel has a “disco ball” changeup in the style of Devin Williams, and it’s a potential plus-plus pitch he can utilize in any count. His curveball has power and depth, and plays well off his fastball’s angle. I don’t know if the heater will play against pro pitching but some scouts left the Abel/Wicks matchup favoring Abel because they think he has two bat-missing weapons in his secondaries, while they think Wicks has one. Abel deserves time to build late-game stamina and the industry deserves time to more precisely evaluate him.

Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga (2022 Draft): 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K

I had initially planned to leave the Wicks/Abel duel and head elsewhere in the Valley for the rest of the day, but a scout suggested I stay in Surprise to watch Gonzaga sophomore righty Gabriel Hughes rather than try to double up at Grand Canyon or Arizona State. They were right. Hughes sat 93-95 and touched 96 early, sustaining that range for much of his outing, and his height helps create difficult angle for hitters. His slider was often curt, but really hard, in the 87-90 mph range. Some of the longer ones were plus. Of his few changes, some were average. It’s a very promising package for a sophomore two-way guy with a strapping, 6-foot-4 frame. He’s now on the 2022 Board.

Victor Mederos, RHP, Miami: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Mederos pitched on Sunday against Florida and helped the Hurricanes take their first series from the Gators since 2014. He was up to 97 early, but that’s not new: Mederos has routinely lived in the 93-96 range since his sophomore year of high school. What’s different now is Mederos’ body (which is now more trim), his delivery (which has less of a head whack now than in high school), and his changeup, which is now a power action, upper-80s offering. He still has limited fastball command and can really only locate to his arm side, but there are three bat-missing offerings here and a real leap in the body and delivery. He’ll be a very high-ceiling eligible sophomore in 2022.

Ephemera: Kevin Parada and Cade Horton moved from the 2023 class to the 2022 class, as they’ll now be sophomore eligible assuming the MLB draft date remains in mid-July in perpetuity. This has now been reflected on The Board.

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1 year ago

i’ve had Hill as a darkhorse #1 since glancing at the Board a few months ago, esp if his bonus demands are below the top two pitchers. to my dumb eyes, he looked to be locating the ball a lot better than Rocker from the highlights i saw of both.

To me, a dummy on the internet, he seems like the prospect equivalent of if 2015 Glasnow had a changeup. which is….. a really really nice prospect. perhaps even better if he now has command that looks better than 40.