Evaluating college players for the next year's Draft has never been more difficult than it has this summer. The coronavirus shutdown ended the spring college season early and led to cancellations of top proving grounds such as the Cape Cod League and the U.S. collegiate national team. While the high school showcase circuit was up and running for the most part, teams have gotten precious few looks at top college talent.
"The industry has never had a worse feel for the college class due to the reduced spring and nonexistent summer for many of the top collegians," a scouting official with an American League club said. "For top college pitchers, we’re down 75-100 innings. For hitters, we’re probably down 200-350 plate appearances.
"In addition to quantity, we’re also down dramatically in quality without having conference play in the spring or highly competitive environments like the Cape or Team USA. In short, we’re all throwing our hands up to a certain extent."
The consensus among scouting directors is that they know which players are supposed to be the cream of the college crop but have precious little data on them. The most famous prospect and the current front-runner to go No. 1 overall is Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker. But Rocker pitched just 15 innings during the spring and none during the summer, so the comfort level taking him at the top of the 2021 Draft -- and paying him a bonus of $7.5 million or more -- is not what it normally would be.
Below, we've ranked the top 15 college prospects for 2021. Most of the players listed are entering their third college season and have two more years of eligibility remaining. The exceptions are right-handers Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt) and Jonathan Cannon (Georgia) and left-hander Steven Hajjar (Michigan), who are beginning their second college seasons and have three additional years of eligibility.
1. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Rocker was lights out at the end of the 2019 season, throwing a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the NCAA super regionals and winning Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series as Vanderbilt won the national title. The son of former NFL defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, he wasn't as dominant during his brief encore, though he is still a 6-foot-4, 255-pound right-hander with a mid-90s fastball that can hit 99 mph and a slider that's a wipeout pitch at its best. His changeup, delivery and control all could use improvement, but he's the clear favorite to go No. 1 overall next June.
2. Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Fabian graduated a semester early from high school so he could join the Gators in the spring of 2019, and he has acquitted himself well with wood bats in the Cape Cod and Florida Collegiate leagues the last two summers. A rare bats-right/throws-left guy, Fabian's bat speed and strength produce power to all fields, and he draws a healthy amount of walks, though he has some swing-and-miss issues at times. He's a solid-to-plus runner who should be able to stick in center field.
3. Matt McLain, SS, UCLA
McLain turned down the D-backs as a first-round pick in 2018 and struggled as a freshman, but he has performed very well since in the Cape Cod League, as a sophomore and with the National Baseball Congress World Series champion Santa Barbara Foresters this summer. As a smaller middle infielder (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) with perhaps the best bat-to-ball skills in his college class and flashes of well-above-average speed, he's similar to Nick Madrigal, who went fourth overall in the 2018 Draft. He has more sneaky power, a stronger arm and a better chance to stay at shortstop than Madrigal did.
4. Adrian del Castillo, C, Miami
Del Castillo combines power and plate discipline better than anyone in the 2021 college pool, having provided more extra-base hits (39) and walks (43) than strikeouts (32) in 77 games during his first two seasons at Miami. Scouts are sold on his left-handed bat and power, though his fringy arm strength and receiving will have to improve if he's going to remain behind the plate.
5. Jaden Hill, RHP, Louisiana State
Hill has worked just 21 2/3 innings in two years of college because he missed most of his freshman year with an elbow strain. While he lacks track record, he does offer an enticing combination of physicality (6-foot-4, 233 pounds), athleticism (He was a three-star quarterback recruit in high school), a fastball that sat in the upper 90s when he came out of the bullpen last spring and a nasty mid-80s slider.
6. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
Some evaluators like Leiter more than his teammate Rocker because he has a deeper repertoire (a 90-95 mph fastball, two distinct quality breaking balls, and a solid changeup he barely used as a freshman) and a better feel for pitching. He's a bit undersized for a starter at 6 feet and 195 pounds, and scouts would like to see the son of two-time All-Star Al Leiter add some velocity and pound the strike zone more consistently.
7. Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
Another in an increasing number of top prospects coming out of the Wisconsin high school ranks, Binelas slammed 14 homers as a freshman but played just two games last spring before needing surgery to repair a broken hamate in his right hand. He rivals del Castillo as the best lefty power hitter in the college crop and has the strong arm needed for the hot corner, but there are some swing-and-miss concerns and his lack of quickness may push him to right field or first base.
8. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
The first Sam Houston State player to make the U.S. collegiate team, Cowser could surpass former All-Star Glenn Wilson (18th overall, 1980) as the highest pick in Bearkats history. He has a knack for barreling the ball from the left side of the plate, developing power, solid speed and the instincts to remain in center field.
9. Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama
Wilson broke a South Alabama freshman record with 17 homers while hitting .345/.453/.686 in 2019, and there's debate as to which tool is better -- his hitting ability or his left-handed power. He's an average-to-solid runner with fringy arm strength, so he'll likely remain in left field when he transitions to pro ball.
10. Jonathan Cannon, RHP, Georgia
Cannon is the next strong-armed pitcher from a Georgia program that saw Emerson Hancock (Mariners) and Cole Wilcox (Padres) sign for a combined $9 million this summer. He didn't allow a run in 11 2/3 relief innings last spring, sitting in the mid-90s and showing signs of a plus slider and changeup, and there's plenty of projection remaining in his 6-foot-6, 207-pound frame.
11. Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
Cowser's best friend and his teammate at Cypress (Texas) Ranch High, Madden cracked Texas' weekend rotation as a freshman and saw his stuff tick up as a sophomore. He has a strong 6-foot-3 frame and throws strikes with four pitches, the best of which are a 92-97 mph fastball, a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup with fade.
12. Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Davis had a breakout if brief sophomore season, hitting .372/.481/.698 with twice as many walks as strikeouts in 14 games last spring, while continuing to show off a plus arm behind the plate. He has displayed more offensive upside at Louisville than former first-rounder Will Smith did, but he's not nearly as advanced a receiver and will need to clean up his defense.
13. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
Gatorade's Massachusetts High School Football Player of the Year in 2017, Frelick also starred in baseball and hockey as a prepster. While he's not overly physical at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, he could have three plus tools in his bat, speed and center-field defense, and he might develop average power.
14. Steven Hajjar, LHP, Michigan
After missing Michigan's surprising run to the 2019 College World Series finals because he blew out the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing pickup basketball, Hajjar returned last spring to entice scouts with a projectable 6-foot-5 frame, good extension in his delivery and the makings of a solid three-pitch repertoire. He sits in the low 90s with his fastball and backs it up with an improving curveball and a sinking changeup.
15. Christian Franklin, OF, Arkansas
Franklin comes with more upside and more risk than the other position players on this list. He's a center fielder with plus raw power, speed and arm strength, and while there are some questions about his bat, he cut his strikeout rate from 28 percent as a freshman to 19 percent last spring.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.