2021 MLB Draft: 1 thing to know about the SEC's top 10 prospects
In college baseball, the SEC is king. Likewise, there’s no doubt that its stars are some of the brightest in the game. Moreover, they’re some of the most interesting. Ahead of Friday’s opening pitches around the league, we checked in with D1Baseball.com for its list of top 100 Major League Baseball Draft prospects, and then brought you something unusual, surprising, or sometimes just weird about each of the top 10 SEC draft prospects in 2021. Here’s something to learn about each:
1. Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt, P
There’s not a ton to learn about Rocker’s on-field game. We know he’s huge (6-4, 255 pounds), he throws hard (98 mph or so), he threw a no-hitter in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, he’s the son of former Auburn and NFL standout Tracy Rocker and he’s been projected as a can’t-miss star since he arrived in Nashville. But the guy ranked as the nation’s top prospect for 2021 does have an interesting back story. His name is Indian — but so is Rocker’s mother, Lalitha, whose parents came to America in 1965. Rocker’s mother chose the Indian first name “to honor her Indian roots and as a reminder that [Kumar] comes from two cultures.” Kumar did follow his dad’s footsteps in playing 2 years of high school football. Guess we’re lucky he didn’t choose cricket.
2. Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt, P
Again, Leiter is pretty familiar to anybody following the college game, despite only getting a handful of innings in his college career. He’s not as overpowering as Rocker, but the draft-eligible sophomore standout has devastating stuff and impressive lineage (father Al was a standout with the Yankees, Mets and Marlins), and will also be a candidate to be the top draft pick in the nation in a few short months. When pondering how a kid from New Jersey ended up in Nashville, don’t just stick to the usual theories of Vandy dominance. His high school bio indicated that Leiter’s hobbies were hot yoga and “singing with his country band.” If Vandy picks up another title, Leiter has to go the way of old school sports/music acts like the Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle.” Please?
3. Jaden Hill, LSU, P
Hill has more than a few similarities to Rocker. He’s also big (6-4, 233 pounds), also hits high numbers on the radar gun and will likely be a high MLB Draft pick. Like Rocker, Hill also played some football, but unlike Rocker, he more than dabbled in the game. As a pro-style quarterback in the class of 2018, Hill had offers from schools including Missouri and Illinois, according to 247sports. When he chose LSU, Ed Orgeron apparently tried to sell him on playing both sports. Hill missed much of the 2019 season with an arm injury, but if he’s healthy, he’ll be outstanding in 2021.
4. Jud Fabian, Florida, OF
Fabian is a solid five-tool outfielder who may not be elite at any one particular thing, but is above average in all areas of the game. He’ll be key to Florida trying to hang on to the top spot where they open the season in most major polls. One facet of Fabian’s game that is unusual is that he hits right-handed and throws left-handed. That might not seem unusual, but ESPN noted in 2015 that only 5 non-pitchers since 1900 who threw left and hit right had played in 1,000 MLB games. The five? Ryan Ludwick, Cody Ross, Cleon Jones, Hal Chase and some guy named Rickey Henderson, who worked out pretty well.
5. Richard Fitts, Auburn, P
Unlike most of the names on this list, Tigers ace Fitts wasn’t exactly highly sought after. In fact, he wasn’t offered a scholarship, and his college decision came down to whether to walk-on at Auburn or Mississippi State. The big right-hander has steadily improved since then, playing his way into elite prospect status. When COVID shut down the 2020 season, Fitts didn’t use it as a break. Unable to get into local ballparks due to COVID restrictions, Fitts commissioned his dad (“My dad loves having little projects”) to build him a backyard pitching mound, which he used for workouts throughout the baseball hiatus. If Fitts pitches Auburn to Omaha, that mound might be a holy shrine for the Tigers faithful.
6. Tommy Mace, Florida, P
The 6-6 junior wasn’t selected in the abbreviated 5-round draft in 2020, and so returned to Florida for 2021. Out of this group, Mace is the one who feels the most like an old man on campus—maybe even a little like a professor. A good friend of 2018 draft pick Brady Singer and Blue Jay prospect Nate Pearson, Mace has utilized the advanced computer programs like Edgertronic and Rapsodo to track everything from mechanics to spin rate and rotation. Mace told Baseball America that he’d been working on a changeup, a pitch he says he “threw … only a handful of times last year” but not thinks it could “one of the best pitches I have.” Student/athlete indeed!
7. Jonathan Cannon, Georgia, P
Baseball is not a game that rewards perfection. Excellence, yes. But perfection? Over the repeated slog of weekend conference games or MLB schedules, perfection just isn’t possible. Unless you’re Cannon. The aptly named Georgia hurler didn’t get a ton of innings in the shortened 2020 season. But in the 11 1/3 innings he worked, Cannon gave up 4 hits, 2 walks and had 12 strikeouts. Oh, and he gave up zero runs. The 6-6 hurler goes into his second season still with that sparkling 0.00 ERA. While it can’t last forever, Georgia fans will enjoy seeing how long Cannon can keep his perfect run going.
8. Christian Franklin, Arkansas, OF
The multi-tool Arkansas outfielder will be a player to watch in 2021. Off the field, Franklin seems like a pretty quiet, easy-going guy … aside from his passion for Barry Bonds. Franklin, who grew up in Kansas City, apparently is a big supporter of the Giants legend, despite the steroid issues that besmirch Bonds’s accomplishments.
Barry Bonds https://t.co/tCyc1bcAeW
— Christian Franklin (@CF13_) January 27, 2021
Vote him in, greatest hitter of all time. https://t.co/vhGbWNryiq
— Christian Franklin (@CF13_) January 18, 2020
9. Will Bednar, Mississippi State, P
While Bednar, a standout righty, will be a big contributor for the Bulldogs, MSU’s Bulldogs can’t hold a candle to the outstanding name of Bednar’s high school program in suburban Pittsburgh. Bednar went to Mars Area High School … where he pitched for the Fightin’ Planets. State will be hoping for some out-of-this-world results from Bednar in 2021.
10. Gunnar Hoglund, Ole Miss, P
Hoglund is in an odd spot with this list. Several players on this list are hoping to play their way into high MLB Draft slots and earn a huge signing bonus. Hoglund has already been there. In 2018, the Pirates drafted him 36th overall. The slot value for his draft spot (which usually provides a pretty fair estimate of the type of compensation in play) was just under $2 million. Hoglund turned it down to come to Oxford. In his second season with the Rebels, Hoglund was 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA when COVID shut down the season. With 37 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings last year, there was little reason to think Hoglund won’t earn his way to a second offered million-dollar MLB payday in 2021.