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2021 MLB Draft 2nd through 20th Round Primer: Current Players

Which of our current players are likely to be drafted? Which will sign? Which will return?

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Players Who Might Hear Their Name Called on Day Two (Rounds 2-10):

#8 Jr. OF Isaiah “I.T.” Thomas

2021 Stats: .305/.361/.583 with 13 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, 40 RBI, and 12-12 Stolen Bases.

Here’s his scouting report:

Though the two best pitchers in the Draft (Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker) were the main attraction when scouts went to Vanderbilt this fall, it was Thomas who stole the show. He went 7-for-10 with two doubles and two homers in a three-game Black and Gold World Series, revealing himself as a potential second-round pick. A cousin of NBA great Tim Duncan, he was a speed-oriented player when he arrived in Nashville but now stands out most with his power.

With a quick right-handed swing and considerable strength gains in college, Thomas has grown into well above-average raw pop to all fields. He can get overly aggressive at the plate and will have to prove he can make consistent contact, but he generates high exit velocities when he connects and could have solid or better tools across the board if he hits. A well above-average runner in high school, he has slowed down as he has added muscle but still has better than average speed.

Thomas could further enhance his profile if he shows that he can play center field. Vanderbilt has faster outfielders so it has deployed him in right field, where his quickness and strong arm fit nicely. The club that drafts him likely will give him a chance to play up the middle.

Range: Rounds 3-10. Top 250 Ranking: #97.

Prediction: Will be chosen some time in the beginning of Day 2. Let’s go with before the end of Round 5.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 99.99%.

#12 Jr. 1B Dominic “Dom Bomb” Keegan

2021 Stats: .345/.427/.638 with 17 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 57 RBI, and 0-1 Stolen Bases.

Here’s his scouting report:

A reserve catcher on Vanderbilt’s 2019 College World Series championship as a freshman, Keegan might have taken over behind the plate for the Commodores last year if offseason surgery to remove a rib and a complicated recovery hadn’t left him at less than full strength to begin 2020. After getting just 55 at-bats in his first two years, he led the Futures Collegiate League with 19 extra-base hits in 32 games last summer and opened 2021 by batting .500 with four homers in his first 10 contests. Though he wasn’t as dominant after missing two weeks in March when he contracted the coronavirus, he still was the most dangerous hitter on Vandy’s CWS runner-up team and finished with a .345/.427/.638 line.

Keegan’s prodigious strength allows the ball to jump off his bat despite what appears to be an effortless right-handed stroke. He has plus raw power but will need to get more consistent at the plate to make the most of it. His swing can get long at times, and while he can catch up to good velocity, he struggles with offspeed pitches.

Keegan would offer more value if he were a viable catcher, but that remains to be seen because he caught just one game in the first three months of this season. He has solid arm strength but a slow release that enabled North Alabama to steal five bases against him, and his receiving is a work in progress. A below-average runner, he projects as an average defender at first base and might merit a look at an outfield corner or third base.

Range: Rounds 5-20. Top 250 Ranking: #177.

Prediction: Had Keegan stayed as red hot as he was in the beginning of the year, he could have put himself in contention for the first couple of rounds. As a right handed first baseman (though, of course, he could play corner IF, corner OF, or possibly catcher), Keegan will be drafted for his bat only. As such, I would not be surprised if he’s gone in the Round 5-10 area. Of course, if teams think he’s a first base prospect only, there is a chance—albeit a small chance—that they pass on him this year, and he returns for his senior year. It has happened to SEC first basemen sluggers in the past.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 75%.

#29 So. RHP Nick “Maldo” Maldonado

2021 Stats: 1-2, 2.31 ERA, 50 & 23 IP, 9 SV, 10.48 K/9, 1.24 BB/9

Here’s his scouting report:

Maldonado is part of a Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) to Vanderbilt pipeline that also includes big leaguer Nick Christiani and 2014 College World Series hero John Norwood. Along with Jack Leiter and C.J. Rodriguez, he’s one of three second-year freshmen on the Commodores who could factor in the first five rounds of the 2021 Draft. He emerged as Vanderbilt’s closer midway through this season and saved clinchers in the regionals and super regionals.

Maldonado’s main strikeout weapon is a plus mid-80s slider with depth that he can land in the zone or use as a chase pitch. He sets it up with a 90-94 mph four-seam fastball that tops out at 96 and features some armside run. He’ll also mix in an upper-70s curveball to give left-handers a different look.

Recruited as a two-way player who was also a shortstop, Maldonado is a quality athlete and repeats his simple delivery well. Easily the most consistent strike thrower on the Commodores, he could get a chance to work out of the rotation if he returns for a third college season. He’s undersized for a starter at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, however, and his warrior mentality fits well in a bullpen role.

Range: Rounds 5-20. Top 250 Ranking: #216.

Prediction: I’m not entirely sure how to predict where Maldo will be drafted. I think, similar to Tyler Brown last year, if he’s offered somewhere in the 500K range, he’ll sign, but as a draft-eligible sophomore, Maldo might raise his price tag even higher than that, and come back for his junior year as either the every day closer, or competing for a starting role. If you hear his name on Day 2, he’s gone. If not, I would expect him to come back. To be clear, he 100% has the talent to be a Day 2 draft pick (even a top 5 round draft pick in my opinion) this year, but if he’s not, it’s for the signing bonus/betting on himself reasons listed above.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 50%.

#50 Jr. RHP Luke “The Law” Murphy

2021 Stats: 4-1, 2.40 ERA, 41 & 1⁄3 IP, 9 SV, 13.28 K/9, 3.27 BB/9

Here’s his scouting report:

A rare third-year freshman, Murphy blew out his elbow after his senior season in high school and redshirted at Vanderbilt in 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He issued nine walks in two innings during the shortened 2020 season before emerging as one of the Commodores’ top relievers this spring. He won the decisive game of the regionals against Georgia Tech and earned a save in the super regionals against East Carolina.

Murphy’s fastball sat around 90 mph in high school but now ranges from 93-96 and peaks at 99 with riding action up in the zone. His power curveball operates in the low 80s and can be a plus pitch at its best but can flatten out when he overthrows it. He also uses a mid-80s changeup with some fade and sink against left-handers, though he has trouble throwing it for strikes.

Murphy utilizes his 6-foot-5 frame and high three-quarters arm slot to stay on top of his curveball and create plane on his pitches. He has the athleticism to throw more strikes, but he has just fringy control and can get into trouble when he doesn’t locate his offerings where he wants. He’s likely limited to a bullpen role but could be a high-leverage option at the next level if he develops more consistency.

Range: Rounds 5-20. Top 250 Ranking: #220.

Prediction: Though Murphy does have the “extra Covid year” leverage, I suspect what we saw from him this past year represents his ceiling as a college pitcher. That’s not a criticism, by the way. It’s just an honest opinion that while Maldo might have the ability to turn himself into a starting pitcher in 2022, Murphy is without a doubt a reliever. He’s a hard-throwing, ice-water in the veins, future MLB late inning reliever. As such, teams will devalue him a bit (as they do for all relievers), but he’ll be taken by the end of Day 2 (I’ll say between rounds 5 and 10), and will sign for around slot value.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 99.99%.

#5 So. C CJ “Chi Chi” Rodriguez

2021 Stats: .249/.393/.378 with 9 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 36 RBI, and 1-1 Stolen Bases.

On the Defensive end, Chi Chi gunned down 65% of would be base stealers. That’s really really good. Oh, and if I have to tell you how unbelievable Chi Chi “The Frame God” Rodriguez is at stealing strikes and managing a pitching staff, I would have to assume you didn’t watch him play.

Here’s his scouting report:

With Ty Duvall and Dominic Keegan sidelined at the start of the 2020 season, Rodriguez suddenly became Vanderbilt’s regular catcher as a freshman. He showed the ability to handle college baseball’s most talented pitching staff and has boosted his profile by providing more offense this spring. Most teams project him as a quality backup, though a club that thinks he can hit enough to be regular could take him in the top four rounds.

Rodriguez has soft hands and does a nice job of receiving and blocking pitches, and he moves fine behind the plate despite bottom-of-the-scale speed. His arm earns average-to-solid grades and plays up because he makes accurate throws. He has strong leadership skills and earns praise for his ability to manage a game and his pitchers.

Rodriguez focuses on making contact with a simple right-handed swing. He’s rarely fooled at the plate, controls the strike zone and hits the ball where it’s pitched. He’s walking more often and driving the ball more consistently in 2021 after rarely doing so a year ago, but he still figures to top out at 10-12 home runs annually.

Range: Rounds 5-20. Top 250 Ranking: #236.

Prediction: I think Chi Chi is coming back. As a draft-eligible sophomore, Rodriguez could come back, put in work with Astronaut Mike Baxter and in the weight room, and raise his offensive profile for MLB Scouts in ‘22. Some may see this situation as similar to Phil “The Hitman” Clarke, who was drafted in 2019 as a draft-eligible sophomore catcher out of Vanderbilt in the 9th round by the Toronto Blue Jays (and signed for an above slot deal), but I don’t see it that way. Clarke was drafted because of his bat. Full stop. That bat can play, and if he doesn’t stick at catcher, he could transition to a corner OF/corner IF role, and still make the pros. If Clarke is able to stick at catcher, that’s a boon.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, would be drafted for his defense... and... well... MLB teams don’t often do that unless someone is tooled out beyond belief. Chi Chi The Frame God’s defensive chops are more skill than tool-based. He’s a framing savant, who has worked diligently to refine every aspect of his catching defense. As such, even his 65% gunning down of would-be-base-stealers is more the product of hard work to get his pop time down, and the intangibles of his Yadier Molina-style catcher’s IQ, than due to a flat-out arm cannon. I absolutely think Chi Chi will catch on the major league level by the time he’s 25. I absolutely think tools-over-ability type scouting is dumb. Still, that’s what I think will happen. Teams will not hit CJ’s signing bonus number, and he will be Vanderbilt’s Captain in 2022.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 25%.

Players Who Might Hear Their Name Called on Day Three (Rounds 11-20):

#32 Sr. LHP Hugh “Big Fish” Fisher

2021 Stats: 0-0, 2.45 ERA, 11 IP, 0 SV, 10.64 K/9, 9.00 BB/9

Big Fish returned from Tommy John surgery for his senior year with the hopes of being the set-up man or closer in Vanderbilt’s bullpen. He throws high 90s heat from a 34 arm angle and has a lethal wipeout slider. Batting against him from the left hand side is inadvisable. How is someone with tools as loud as that likely available on Day 3, you ask? Well, he was so wild (11 BB in 11 IP on the year) that Brownie just couldn’t trust him in key situations. Still, he’s going to be chosen, as big lefties who can throw that hard and bend a slider that disgustingly do not exactly grow on trees. If a team can get him to harness it all in and control his pitches better, he’s a major league reliever. You should be happy if your team takes him, but you should also expect at least 3-4 years in the minors to try to help him locate the strike zone.

Range: Rounds 5-20. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: Chosen on Day 3. He will sign with the team that drafts him.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 99.99%.

#27 Jr. RHP Ethan Smith

2021 Stats: 1-0, 3.55 ERA, 12 & 23 IP, 2 SV, 12.79 K/9, 2.13 BB/9

Range: Day 3 to Undrafted. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: I have no earthly idea what will happen with Ethan Smith in this year’s draft. He went undrafted as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2020 (remember, the draft was only 5 rounds), and I was a bit shocked by that, as I had him as a Top 100 prospect. This year, he was the odd’s on pick to be Vanderbilt’s closer. Then health and injury concerns kept plaguing him all year, and even though he looked great in 2 & 23 IP of shutout ball against LSU in the SEC Tourney, and had 2 Ks in a shutout inning against Presby in Regionals, he was strangely left off the Omaha roster. No, I still haven’t heard why that happened.

He’s certainly talented enough to be drafted, and even might begin as a starter in the lower levels of the minors, but will he even be taken this year?

With all of that in mind, my bet is that Smith returns for his senior year, competes for a spot in the starting rotation, and barring that, becomes either the closer or set-up man in 2022. He could easily take Luke Murphy’s innings.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 5%.

#99 Sr. 3B Jayson “Gonzo” Gonzalez

2021 Stats: .280/.391/.497 with 9 2B, 3 3B, 9 HR, 41 RBI, and 2-3 Stolen Bases.

Though Gonzo batted in the 9 hole for most of his senior season, he was a key component in the offense, and came up big multiple times in the postseason. He had to fight for playing time his entire Vanderbilt career, and even though he was not on the team in 2020, fought even harder to be an important part of the 2021 squad. He’s got crazy power potential, so you have to think a team will select him at some point on Day 3.

Range: Rounds 11-20. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: Chosen on Day 3. He will sign with the team that drafts him.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 99.99%.

#6 Jr. 2B Tate “Tater” Kolwyck

2021 Stats: .290/.371/.507 with 10 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 25 RBI, and 2-2 Stolen Bases.

Though not as rough as Coop’s 2021, the Tater also felt snake bit for most of the year. He opened the year like a house on fire, with 5 HR, 5 2B, 1 3B, and 17 RBI in his first 19 games before breaking a hamate bone in his hand in a mid-week game against The Bisons. As happens with everyone who breaks that particular bone, though Tater was able to return, he was sapped of his power. He would only hit 1 more HR the rest of the season.

The good news is that you can rebuild your grip strength in the offseason. I fully expect the Tater to return to his early 2021 season form both in terms of his power bat and excellent defense at 2nd base in 2022.

Range: Day 3 to Undrafted. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: I’m pretty convinced the Tater is coming back. I don’t expect to hear his name called this year, but I do expect him to be drafted after his senior year.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 5%.

Players Who Are Unlikely to be Drafted:

#3 Sr. OF Cooper “The Ontario Barrel-Maker” Davis

2021 Stats: .248/.339/.294 with 2 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, and 3-6 Stolen Bases.

I had huge hopes for Coop’s senior season. I thought he would be a top of the lineup OBP and base-stealing machine, and be part of the Three Center Fielder Outfield of Death alongside Bradfield and Thomas all season. Then, in the February 22nd season opener against the Wright State Freds, Coop fouled a ball into his face so hard, I thought his head exploded. Though he fought back into the lineup just two weeks later, he really was never the same. Still, there’s a chance a MLB team looks at his early Vanderbilt career and becomes intrigued with him as a potential defense and speed forward lead-off CF. If he’s not drafted by the end of Day 3, someone will offer him the $20K as an undrafted free agent, and it is my opinion that that would be a risk worth taking. 2021 was just not his year, but there’s no reason 2022 couldn’t be.

Range: Undrafted Free Agent. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: UFA signing.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 99.99%.

#19 SO. OF/DH Troy “LaLong Ball” LaNeve

2021 Stats: .286/.326/.583 with 7 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, 22 RBI, and 0-0 Stolen Bases.

LaNeve got hot towards the end of the season, and basically played like the senior version of Stephen Scott at the plate once he forced his way into the lineup. Unfortunately, he was not the 2019 postseason version of Stephen Scott in the 2021 postseason. Still, you have to pencil him in as the starting LF or DH for us in 2022.

Range: Day 3 to Undrafted. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: Like the Tater, I’m convinced the LaNeve is coming back. I don’t expect to hear his name called this year, but I do expect him to be drafted after his junior or senior year.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 5%.

#2 Jr. UTL Javier “Cloney Kemp” Vaz

2021 Stats: .238/.396/.286 with 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 1 RBI, and 5-5 Stolen Bases.

Cloney Kemp was a revelation in the postseason. Many, yours truly included, thought he might with the second base job in the beginning of the season, but that was not to be. As such, Vaz struggled to find playing time. Once Corbs went to him in the Regionals against Atlanta, Vaz made sure he stayed in the lineup. He is potentially a second lead-off hitter, excellent base runner, and Tony Kemp style Swiss Army Knife Utility Man in the field. I don’t care where he plays on defense in 2022, but he should absolutely be in the lineup every damned game. He more than earned that with his postseason run.

Range: Undrafted. Top 250 Ranking: N/A

Prediction: I would be shocked if Vaz was drafted. Not because he lacks the talent, but more because he didn’t play enough in 2021. I don’t expect to hear his name called this year, but I do expect him to be drafted after his senior year.

Chance He Signs With The Team Who Drafts Him: 0%.