Six For the 6th: Dbacks College Edition

The 2021 MLB Draft will begin July 11th and the board is coming into focus. The Diamondbacks will pick sixth, with a chance at landing premium talent. A lot can still happen but let’s delve into draft targets to keep our eyes on the rest of this college season.

Of course, Mike Hazen, General Manager, Deric Ladnier, Director of Amateur Scouting, and company have options out of the high school/prep ranks, but we’ll save those looks for another day when the prep picture gets clearer. I have a six-pack in mind for that endeavor.

The 2021 draft class has the reputation of being heavier in college pitching and prep hitting, at least at the top, with college bats perhaps lacking 1st round depth. Formulating my shortlist of college prospect possibilities for the sixth pick, it’s possible we may not see many college bats go in the mid-to-late first round. The four college bats we will get into are looking like the cream of the crop.

I went ahead and eliminated Vanderbilt’s two-headed pitching monster Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker from our discussion. Barring unforeseen craziness these two won’t still be around at pick six. Sorry D’Back fans. So here are the six college players who could be there for the taking and worth it:

Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Age at time of draft: 21
2021 stats thru 30 games: .390/.514/.676, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 9 for 11 SB, 12 SO, 24 BB

D1 Baseball’s midseason top player may have boosted his draft stock more than anyone thus far. Always lauded for his off-the-charts arm, the other facets of his game have advanced during his three college seasons. An athletic 6’2″ 200 lb who moves well behind the plate and has become a proficient blocker. Offensively, he has been a threat since walking on campus, ascending to Golden Spikes heights with his advanced approach, high contact skills, and getting into more power this junior season.

Catcher may be the thinnest position in Arizona’s system, so the intersection of best player available and “need” could be here at six. I’m starting to wonder if he’ll last this long though.

Fantasy prognostication: I don’t think we are talking an offensive threat the likes of Adley Rutschman here, so in the world of fantasy catching prospects it’s tough to put a premium on Davis, but man…the way he’s trending, perhaps the offense is getting to another level. Most likely, he will need more seasoning than some of recent history’s top college catchers, but an eventual All-Star caliber player could be here. Yet, it’s still catcher, and it’s hard to spend large.

Matt McLain, SS, UCLA
Age at time of draft: 21
2021 stats thru 28 games: .310/.404/.535, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 4 for 4 SB, 20 SO, 18 BB

McLain’s hit tool is his most attractive asset although there are still more strikeouts than it seems there should be. Defensively he has the skills to stick at SS but he has played elsewhere and some question if he is better suited in the outfield exists. McLain will probably get tagged as a “floor” guy as his power may be average at best and he isn’t a burner, but he is the all-round package, “gamer” with the baseball IQ.

There is history here that makes the 5’11” 180 lb SS a possibility at six. Hazan and his crew selected McLain out of high school in 2018 with the 25th overall pick. After a rough freshman year, it’s been ascension ever since and if they coveted him that much out of high school I wonder what they think of him now?

Fantasy prognostication: McLain may have a higher chance of becoming a big leaguer, but the fantasy appeal may be lacking. With no big power projection nor speed for stolen bases, it’s seeming McLain’s real diamond value will surpass his fantasy. Given the prep bats and college pitching options to be had by dynasty owners, I fear McLain’s MLB draft slot will be much higher than his first-year player fantasy drafts.

Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss
Age at time of draft: 21
2021 stats thru 8 starts: 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 49 IP, 78 K, 16 BB, 6 HR, .185 AVG against

At 6’4″ 220 lb, Hoglund has the starter’s frame and command of a three-pitch arsenal advanced for even top-of-the-class college pitchers. Hoglund’s fastball has gained velocity touching high 90s, sitting mid, and his slider has sharpened. Hoglund also throws a changeup. The secondaries are behind his high spin fastball, but all three could get to above average.

Hazan has used a lot of high draft capital on pitching the last three years. Can’t rule out he won’t again at six, but I would be surprised if they passed on some of the prep and college bat talents for Hoglund, who may be the third most coveted arm after the two Vandy boys.

Fantasy prognostication: The K to BB ratio is eye-popping and going to appeal to dynasty owners, rightfully so. What I’m attracted to as a fantasy pitching prospect is the command. Hoglund might have the right blend of good stuff and great pitch-ability to make for a safer fantasy pitching prospect with a ceiling to get excited about potentially gaudy numbers, but refinement is needed.

Ty Madden, RHP, Texas
Age at time of draft: 21
2021 stats thru 8 starts: 1.69 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 53 IP, 57 K, 18 BB, 2 HR, .176 AVG against

Madden has the prototypical goods MLB teams love to seek early in drafts. 6’3″ 215 lbs with a high 90s fastball. Madden’s made huge gains in the control department this year and his changeup has devastated hitters at times. The slider may be behind, but the makings of a solid MLB starter are here.

Would Hazan add an arm like Madden after going Bryce Jarvis and Slade Cecconi with his top two 2020 picks?

Fantasy prognostication: Madden may offer dynasty owners a better shot at an elite fantasy starter than Hoglund because he has the bigger velocity, but he’s also going to come with more risk because of the questions surrounding a quality third offering. As my research into college pitchers drafted in the top 10 has shown, the real breakthrough fantasy pitching studs have been the righties with elite fastballs. Still, the odds are stacked and I don’t know if I’d bet on Madden. The third pitch development may be the difference between an alright fantasy option and a stud.

Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
Age at time of draft: 21
2021 stats thru 30 games: .360/.438/.576, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 8 for 11 SB, 15 SO, 16 BB

Frelick has been my favorite watch this season and another player who has made himself a lot of money with his 2021 improvements. Questions of where Frelick would play the field seem to be answering themselves as he’s played CF and RF and made big-time plays. Sticking in CF is questionable, but he has an arm and gets great reads…and he’s speedy. At 5’9″ 175 lb, his game is bigger than his frame with what feels like a 5-tool lite upside. Perhaps not super gaudy power/speed potential, but there nonetheless. His approach and contact skills have him in Golden Spikes territory.

It will be interesting to see how Frelick will match up with the elite prep prospects in the eyes of major league scouting departments. In a sense, Frelick feels a little like Garrett Mitchell to me, in that he’s a prospect with top 5 buzz but could lose out in organizations’ evaluations and fall down the board.

Fantasy prognostication: Of all our players listed here, Frelick has the most appeal with his wide range of fantasy contributions and upside, which will also give him a wider road to the bigs. Frelick will most likely be the top college bat on my board, which will always be in play for #1 overall.

Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
Age at time of draft: 20
2021 stats thru 31 games: .230/.333/.532, 11 HR, 29 RBI, 1 for 2 SB, 48 SO, 19 BB

Fabian was considered by some the top college bat coming into the season. The power is most definitely there and the high exit velocities are catching attention. 6’2″ 190 lb with bat speed for days and a pretty swing grooved for home runs, there are legit swing and miss concerns, and troubles with breaking balls, but don’t let the numbers above tell that whole story as there have been improvements made in these regards since a really bad start. The way Fabian ends his 2021 campaign will determine a lot in regards to his draft slot. Defensively he’s a good and rangy college centerfielder who will end up a corner outfielder as a pro.

Fabian is the wildcard of this draft. It may be far-fetched he goes as early as six as things are now, but a team believing the swing and miss stuff isn’t that concerning and loves the offensive upside of a middle-of-the-order run producer could very well be aggressive. Is that the Diamondbacks? I’m skeptical.

Fantasy prognostication: There are Fabian truthers out there who are going to push his price to a point I am not comfortable with. There will be plenty of power dreams to be had for dynasty owners, I don’t need to spend on one where I imagine Fabian believers will be gobbling him up. The power with swing and miss concern is not a profile I covet as they often fall well short of the dream with their very narrow path to the bigs.

Nate enjoys picking up the prospect scraps, turning over rocks to share what muddy treats he can find. Residing high up the Rocky Mountains with his wife and children, trying to stay cool, getting a broader view. A fan of the underappreciated, overlooked and disregarded. A true mud person trying to make informed mistakes.

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