The minor leagues got their first major overhaul since 1963, resulting in the contraction of the lower levels. Fewer teams in the league means fewer roster slots for young baseball players to develop their skills.
While there’s less opportunity in the minors, the major league franchises still need ball players that are closer to big-show ready. Division I college baseball has always generated a number of top prospects, but in 2021 that number is sure to increase. When you take a look at the top 25 teams in D1 baseball and the division on a whole, there are definitely a few stars worth checking out.
Check out the D1 baseball players that have stood out to us this season:
- Kumar Rocker
- Jack Leiter
- Matt McLain
- Colton Cowser
- Adrian Del Castillo
- Jordan Wicks
- Mo Hanley
- Steven Hajjar
D1 Baseball Players Destined for the MLB
It is absolutely impossible to start this list anywhere other than Nashville, Tennessee. The Vanderbilt Commodores are second in the D1 baseball ranks right ahead of the College World Series. When it comes to the Vandy Boys, it’s all about the one-two punch of Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.
Rocker, who is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, was the 2019 College World Series Most Outstanding Player and the first pitcher to hurl a no-hitter in NCAA Super Regional competition.
The other Music City wonder is Jack Leiter. Leiter was considered a top-prospect straight out of high school, but chose to attend Vanderbilt instead. After two seasons pitching in the SEC, Leiter looks ready to re-enter the draft. Like Rocker, Leiter is also the son of a professional athlete; his dad is former professional baseball left-handed starting pitcher Al Leiter.
Matt McLain, a UCLA Bruin, is the top infield prospect. A first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, McLain is batting .325 this season. Playing short-stop for the Bruins, McLain currently boasts a .957 fielding percentage. He has nearly equaled his number of RBIs as walks this season. McLain is a tough out and he pushes runs across the plate as well.
Colton Cowser is considered by many scouts to be the best outfielder on the board. The Sam Houston State Bearcat bats from the left side, hitting 13 home runs and 40 runs batted in with a .354 average. Although not drafted when he came out of high school, Cowser was on the preseason Golden Spikes watch list.
Adrian Del Castillo
Behind the plate, Adrian Del Castillo, out of the University of Miami, is considered the top catching prospect. Del Castillo is in his sophomore year and entered the season with an armful of preseason honors. In his freshman year, Del Castillo spent time in right field, behind the plate as a catcher, and as the designated hitter as well. Head coach Gino DiMare made an effort to get the versatile Del Castillo in the line up throughout his collegiate career.
Though his batting average is down a bit this season, his lifetime numbers are very respectable. Only 25 runners have attempted to steal on Del Castillo and he’s thrown out 12 of them.
Kansas State Wildcat Jordan Wicks is the top left-handed pitching prospect in college baseball this year. Wicks has been racking up the honors since 2019, when he was a unanimous Big 12 All-Freshman Team selection. This season, Wicks has fanned 102 in 79 innings pitched, including 11 strike-outs in a 7-inning effort against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
If you’re looking for a prospect that your friends haven’t heard of yet, you need to check out Mo Hanley from Adrian College, a Division III school in Adrian, Michigan. Originally from Tampa, Hanley is a dominant left-handed pitcher. Hanley is averaging more than 11 strike-outs per game in conference play. Knowing just how rare an overpowering leftie can be, Hanley, with a gaudy .142 batting average against, might just find himself as a first-round pick.
Steven Hajjar is considered the top prospect out of the Big-10. Hajjar, a leftie from Andover, Massachusetts, opened this season with 8 strike-outs in 6 and ⅔ innings of work. Hajjar has remained remarkably consistent this season, amassing a total of 88 strike-outs in 62 and ⅔ innings.
Junior College Impressive Players
There are also a number of solid pitchers in the junior college ranks that are considered top prospects. Josh Swales and Kris Bow, both out of Southern Nevada, and Christian McGowan from Eastern Oklahoma State are all right-handers that have shown great promise.
Top College Baseball Programs in 2021
Obviously, the defending National Champion (2019) Vanderbilt Commodores have the most top 100 prospects in college baseball in 2021, which is a distinction they share with other traditional NCAA powerhouse baseball programs like UCLA and Louisville. Each team has four players on most respected prospect lists for this season.
Perhaps the most improved program is South Carolina. The South Carolina Gamecocks have historically produced major-leaguers with great consistency. Names like Jackie Bradley Jr., Jordan Montgomery, and Christian Walker are familiar to MLB fans, and this year the Gamecocks have three top prospects in the top 100. It appears that second-year head coach Mark Kingston is reinvigorating the proud program.
The 2021 MLB Draft
The regular season is closing for Division I college baseball, and for many teams the postseason is not going to happen. Many players will need to hang some nasty stats if they hope to get drafted.
Major League Baseball did add 15 more rounds, after last year’s truncated five-round draft, but that is still half the usual, modern 40-round draft. This is a combined result of the minor league realignment and the post-pandemic realities. Scouts do have a few more weeks to work with, since the 2021 MLB Draft will take place in mid-July.