This time of year, it’s always difficult to project what next year’s Draft class will look like. Normally, the summer showcase circuit, along with college summer leagues, is just getting going, so scouts' follow lists are in the nascent stages of being built.
It’s even cloudier now given the lack of a spring season and considering how many summer leagues and events have been cancelled. Perfect Game National is going on this week, and is being streamed on MLB.com, so we’ll start getting more info on the top high school players.
There is some consensus over who the top players in the Class of 2021 appear to be, based on past performance or what they did in the abbreviated 2020 season. From that, we’ve put together this early Top 20 of talent to keep an eye on for next June.
1. Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Rocker was ranked No. 23 on our Draft Top 200 in 2018 as a Georgia prepster with a ton of arm strength. There were command issues and that, along with a strong commitment to Vandy, pushed him to the 38th round. A dominant freshman year and strong start to his sophomore year, with the same high octane fastball-slider combination but with better command, makes him the clear choice atop this list.
2. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
No. 33 on the 2019 Draft Top 200 as a New Jersey prepster with an advanced feel to pitch, Al’s kid was taken in the 20th round by the Yankees last year, but everyone knew he was headed to Vandy. He pitched in just four games before the shutdown, but quickly vaulted to the top of the 2021 list as a Draft-eligible sophomore with a fastball that averaged around 92 mph and touched 96, to go along with good feel for a curve, slider and changeup.
3. Brady House, 3B/RHP, Winder-Barrow HS (Ga.)
Depending on who you talk to, House is either a power-hitting future third baseman or a right-handed pitching prospect with a ton of arm strength. At the plate, he has 60-grade raw power with good feel to hit. House plays shortstop now but will likely need to slide over at the next level. On the mound, the Tennessee recruit has a 92-95 mph fastball with a good changeup and decent breaking ball.
4. Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Fabian had a very strong Cape Cod League last summer as an 18-year-old (he enrolled at Florida a year early) and it carried over into a strong start to his 2020 campaign. He makes a ton of hard contact and the power started showing up on the Cape; that continued this spring, with more to come. He has good speed and should be able to play center long-term.
5. Christian Little, RHP, Christian Brothers HS (Mo.)
Little, who is one of many top high school players at this week’s Perfect Game National Showcase, is a super-athletic and projectable right-hander committed to Vanderbilt. He has an exciting three-pitch mix with a lively fastball up to 94 mph, a solid breaking ball with good depth and a very good feel for a changeup.
6. Braylon Bishop, OF, Arkansas HS (Ark.)
The Arkansas commit might be the most athletic and toolsy player in the class and will show off those tools at PG National. The center fielder has incredible speed that will work on both sides of the ball. Bishop has outstanding bat speed from the left side of the plate with the ability to impact the ball and the potential to grow into excellent power.
7. Matt McLain, SS/OF, UCLA
In 2018, McLain was ranked No. 54 on our Draft Top 200 and was taken at the end of the first round by the D-backs, but he opted to head to UCLA. After an All-Star turn in the Cape Cod League, his bat seemed to take a big step forward this spring. He’s always had a knack for making contact, but it was louder this year, with more extra-base thump, to go along with his plus speed and the potential for him to play up the middle somewhere defensively.
8. Luke Leto, SS/RHP, Portage Central HS (Mich.)
The LSU recruit will get the chance to show off at the plate and on the mound at PG National and might be the best high schooler from Michigan since Drew Henson created buzz back in the 1990s. He’s a left-handed hitter with the ability to drive the ball to all fields. His speed and athleticism make him a threat on the basepaths and he has the actions to stick at shortstop. He also has a low-90s fastball with a good hard breaking ball on the mound.
9. Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
Del Castillo snuck into the back end of our Top 200 in 2018, at No. 198, as a Miami area prepster with a strong commitment to attend his hometown school. Since he joined the Hurricanes, he’s done nothing but hit from the left side -- for average and power and with more walks than strikeouts. Whether he can stick behind the plate remains to be seen, but he’s also shown he can capably handle an outfield corner.
10. Tyree Reed, OF, American Canyon HS (Calif.)
This Northern California standout is committed to attend Oregon State should the 2021 Draft not work out. The left-handed hitter has long limbs and a projectable frame, one that should continue to add strength and allow him to grow into even more power with excellent bat speed. Reed runs well and is a threat on the basepaths while also showing the ability to play center field long-term.
11. Izaac Pacheco, SS/3B, Friendswood HS (Tex.)
Another PG National participant, Pacheco has long stood out because of the damage he can do from the left side of the plate. There’s a ton of present, and even more future, power with excellent bat speed. He has smooth and athletic actions defensively, with plenty of arm, giving him the chance to play short. If the Texas A&M recruit outgrows shortstop, he could be an outstanding fit at third base with the offensive profile to match.
12. Alex Binelas, 3B, Louisville
The Wisconsin high school ranks produced first-rounder Jarred Kelenic in 2018, but it also included Binelas, who was a 35th-round pick of the Nationals before heading to Louisville. He put up excellent power numbers as a freshman, though he played in just two games this spring because of a hand injury. The pop from the left side is legit; whether he shows it off as a third baseman, where he’s played almost exclusively at Louisville, remains to be seen.
13. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (Calif.)
This Southern Cal commit is the best player in the San Diego area for 2021 and the top prep prospect in all of Southern California. He has a pretty left-handed swing and makes a ton of hard contact, with power to come. The 6-foot-3 infielder has all the tools to play shortstop long-term, with good actions and hands to go along with a strong arm.
14. Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss
Ranked No. 66 on our 2018 Draft Top 200, Hoglund was selected in Competitive Balance Round A by the Pirates that June as a bit of a pop-up guy from the Florida high school ranks. He scuffled as a freshman, but was dominant out of the gate as a sophomore, with a fastball that touches the mid-90s with very good breaking stuff and a changeup that has improved.
15. Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU
Tall and athletic, Hill was No. 78 on our Draft Top 200 in 2018 as a high schooler who was a two-sport star and was drafted by the Cardinals in the 38th round before heading to LSU. Based on pure stuff and upside, he belongs higher on this list, with a low-90s fastball, an outstanding changeup and an improving slider. But he was shut down with an elbow strain in his freshman year and while he was dominant this spring, it was in a relief role and he’ll have to show he’s healthy to move up boards in 2021.
16. Ian Moller, C, Wahlert HS (Iowa)
The history of high schoolers from Iowa doing well in the Draft is sparse, but Moller is hoping to buck that trend. The LSU recruit who will be at PG National is a strong and powerful backstop who has shown the ability to barrel up the baseball against good competition, with pop to all fields. He also had good catch and throw skills, showing athleticism behind the plate and a quick release.
17. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
Cowser hails from a slightly smaller program and conference than many other college players on this list, but jumped on the map with a big freshman season at Sam Houston State, then performed well for the U.S. Collegiate National Team last summer. He has a knack for barreling up the baseball; how much power he shows next year could impact his Draft stock.
18. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
Frelick played multiple sports as a high schooler in Massachusetts and went undrafted in high school. He had a huge freshman season at Boston College, showing the ability to make consistent contact with an advanced approach from the left side of the plate that has led to him drawing more walks than strikeouts so far in his career. He has plus speed and has already shown a knack for stealing bases.
19. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Jesuit Prep HS (Texas)
Committed to Vanderbilt, Lawlar is also currently at PG National showing off his tools. He’s a premium athlete who has every chance to stay up the middle at shortstop. He has good first-step quickness and enough arm to play the premium position. He can really run and has shown power potential and a solid approach from the right side of the plate.
20. Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama
Wilson was an under-the-radar high school player who was a multi-sport standout in Alabama and went undrafted before heading to South Alabama. He served notice that he’ll be worth tracking for the 2021 Draft when he hit 17 homers as a freshman. He has legitimate power from the left side of the plate and fits best in an outfield corner.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.