Written by: Mason McRae (@mason_mcrae)
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To say the 2020 and 2022 draft classes are light years ahead of the 2021 draft class talent wise would be an understatement. There’s an overlying lack of starpower in the 2021 class, but that certainly shouldn’t be a problem in 2022. With the likes of Elijah Green, Dylan Lesko and Termarr Johnson lighting up the Twittersphere from the prep side and Nate Savino, Connor Prielipp, Hayden Dunhurst and others putting up incredible numbers from the college side, I suspect the industry will be more than happy to turn the page on draft classes following next summer’s MLB Draft.
Here’s a look at fifteen prospects near the top of my board for the 2022 draft class.
Elijah Green, OF, TNXL Academy (HS)
Green is about as good as they come amongst draft prospects. Quite literally the prime example of a perfectly optimized prep bat, he’s already had exit velos in the triple-digits and generally has launch angles in the 18-20° range. An easy plus runner who also possesses a plus arm in the outfield, Green is without a single tool that doesn’t grade plus or better. You can slap a 6 on the arm, run, field, but the power should reach a 7—if not more. The teenager possesses a relatively low maintenance swing compared to year’s past power hitters. Creating natural loft (maximized by his body tilt) in the highly optimized swing, Green’s bat gets to ideal points at launch and contact, including a relatively steep vertical bat angle. There’s not much more to say about him. He’s the best high school hitter in the country right now and if it were possible, reclassifying into 2021 and coming out draft eligible as a 17-year-old with his tools has the capability to break Bobby Witt Jr’s high school record signing bonus of $7,787,400. The draft and dynasty world will be drooling over Green throughout the next 18 months and beyond.
Termarr Johnson, SS, Mays (HS)
If Johnson were in the 2021 class via reclassification, he’d be ahead of Brady House and very clearly the top prep prospect in my opinion. Johnson’s size (filling up a little too much) has been a bit of a concern if he wants to play shortstop long-term, which currently seems more unlikely than likely, but the arm is above average and he’s athletic enough to stick if his frame permits it. From a mechanical standpoint, Johnson is absolutely ridiculous; I’m not sure I’ve seen a better swing. He’s got fantastic torque and arm bend, but his lower half explosion and sublime hands are incredible. His swing has drawn a wide variety of comps including Javier Baez and David Ortiz, with one scout mentioning a less twitchy version of Bo Bichette.
Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama
Throwing a plus—possibly double plus—slider with upwards of 3,150 rpm from the left side is a quick way to grab my heart. Working anywhere from 92-94 (touched 95 three times) as a freshman, Prielipp posted a 0.00 ERA and 0.52 WHIP in four starts during the college season prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. The absurdity of his freshman year didn’t stop there; the southpaw induced upwards of a 20.0 SwStr% on all three pitches (FB: 22.3%, SL: 25.0%, CH: 23.8%). If end results are your thing, a 47.9 K% should grab everybody’s attention. Mechanically, Prielipp is a carbon copy version of Mike Soroka from the opposite side, with similar body tilt to his right side because of his arm-slot. Prielipp’s timing can be off at times and his stiff front leg is a bit of a turn off. The current data on the fastball is less than ideal, the approach angle is steep (5.35) and the release height is around 6.1. Prielipp works quickly and gets good sinkage in his hips, prolonging his shoulder separation and in turn creating hard-hitting velocity. Part of a deep LHP class, Prielipp already stands out as one of the top follows next year.
Nate Savino, LHP, Virginia
Widely regarded as the 2020 draft’s top prep left-handed pitcher, Savino pulled a Mike Vasil and early enrolled into UVA. His ‘20 spring didn’t reach Connor Prielipp or Hunter Barco’s levels of dominance, but the stuff was predominantly great throughout all of his four freshman outings. Savino’s numbers aren’t public because of UVA doing UVA things, but he’s likely a prototypical sinkerballer – to a lesser degree then Barco – with a somewhat flat vertical approach angle and elite characteristics on a sweeping breaker. He’s massive, and the body is traditional for a top-of-the-line starter. He’ll be young for the class (20-years-old) and likely to battle Prielipp and Barco for the top southpaw spot in the 2021 class.
Dylan Lesko, RHP, Buford (HS)
Lesko is in the same boat as Mick Abel, a mechanically advanced prep arm with fantastic scap rotation and hip/shoulder separation – there’s some Jacob deGrom in his delivery. His secondaries are alright for the age, and his slider is likely to tighten up as the draft approaches, but it can be more of a slurve at times. His changeup has fantastic dive and the pitch can play off the fastball well, but his underlying data isn’t fantastic (fringe spin rates & movement). Lesko is still uncommitted, but he’s rumored to be potentially reclassifying into the 2021 class, which would put him between Marcelo Mayer and Alex Binelas in the #6 spot on my board, so the talent is obvious.
Owen Diodati, OF, Alabama
Canada’s top prospect in 2019, Diodati turned down close to seven figures and opted to join fellow highly regarded prep bat Miles Austin in Tuscaloosa. Diodati is the prime example of a model darling, he’s young for the class (would be 20-years-old) and fantastic batted ball data should draw interest. The outfielder’s launch angle is generally around 19° with exit velocities touching triple-digits, but usually in the low-90s. There’s a lot to like offensively, which should at least partially overshadow a bleak defensive outlook. Already a corner outfield guy, his pro position is likely at 1B or LF as the speed is well below average, as are the instincts. Even with his defensive inefficiencies, power from the left side coupled with youth and obvious elite metrics will shine some light on this profile moving forward. While his teammate Connor Prielipp is an obvious first rounder, Diodati should slot in right around the sandwich round as progressive teams who use a model will be highly intrigued by him. Think Minnesota, New York and Oakland.
Hunter Barco, LHP, Florida
Barco was an obvious first rounder out of high school for me, and he came as advertised during his first spring at Florida. Likely to be in the same general area as Brady Singer, but from the left side – Barco is a sinkerballer with heavy horizontal run from a low slot. Relative to size, Barco’s extension is well below average; coming off some shoulder soreness that hindered his 2019 draft profile, his velo was down a little (91.9 average FB) though still above average. He’s got a sweeping slider that’s fantastic when thrown to the back legs of right-handed hitters, but it’s more of a BIP out pitch opposed to a swing and miss offering to lefties. His stuff plays well off each other, and Barco is a very typical college prospect with traits coveted by all organizations.
Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida
Sproat is an early personal favorite of mine. He’s got ridiculous scap rotation, but underlying issues in his delivery (lack of pelvis tilt in hip hinge) that could help improve the command that has waxed and waned. His stuff is electric, throwing a slider in the upper-80s and a changeup a few ticks below. The fastball is in the 93-94 range, touching 97 at times from a lowish release height. His slider is intriguing as it’s still a loose spinning pitch, so killing some of the transverse spin could lead to a more effective pitch moving forward. With Mace and Leftwich back in the Gators’ rotation, and Barco/Specht both appealing options, Sproat will likely be the mid week guy or weekend closer, so his reps will be limited unless he can rapidly improve the command and jump Barco for the final weekend spot.
Spencer Jones, LHP, Vanderbilt
The opinions on Jones are night and day apart depending on who you talk to. He’s a two-way guy that received more interest on the mound out of high school before spending his entire freshman year at first base, partially because of the loaded ‘Dore staff. Jones was up to 97 as a senior in high school with present arm strength and a sweeping curveball that got some whiffs. The going is still out on him, but with Vanderbilt losing Hickman and Eder from its rotation, I’m hoping he gets a go at the midweek spot in 2021.
Peyton Graham, 3B, Oklahoma
Graham’s entire pre-swing load is eerily similar to Christian Yelich with practically identical arm bend and leg lifts, but his swing can get flat and there’s some concerns in his underlying data. Fortunately, he’s a freshman, so there’s not much stock being put into it yet. The third baseman was an under-the-radar prep bat out of high school in 2019. A shortstop in HS, Graham shifted to the hot corner because of his size and the body proportions are pretty ideal for the position. His freshman season was loud. He’s in first round talks with an above average glove at third base and improving in-game power.
Maurice Hampton Jr., OF, LSU
A WR/CB on LSU’s football team, Hampton’s development on the baseball field has backtracked and there’s some concerns in whether or not he’ll actually try to play baseball professionally, but the interest in Hampton out of high school was abundant and he received seven figure offers. A bleak freshman year with well below average exit velocities and a poor batter’s eye left little to talk about, but the two sport athlete has supreme athleticism and can play center field at the next level if his feel for the game can improve. Joining Hampton as a two-sporter is Jerrion Ealy, who plays both baseball and football at Ole Miss.
Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly
The son of Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee, Brooks turned down upwards of $2M out of high school in 2019 and some numbers were north of $3M. He had surgery on his knee prior to Cal Poly’s 2020 season and missed the majority of fall ball, so the data on him is limited and the rawness in his swing is still present. A switch-hitter, Lee has an above average hit tool from both sides though it’s more visually appealing from the left side where he seems to have more raw power (as of now, it’s only average). Lee will probably stick at shortstop for Cal Poly in his time there as he hopes to join alum Spencer Howard in the big leagues someday.
Hayden Dunhurst, C, Ole Miss
I absolutely love Dunhurst to the same capacity of my affinity for Patrick Bailey this past draft. Across the board he’s solid with pretty optimal data and above average power/hit. He’s probably a plus defender at the next level with a plus arm and above average receiving. Dunhurst was highly regarded out of high school in 2019 and got a second round grade from me (as did fellow 2022 eligible catcher Jonathon French). There’s an argument for Dunhurst being the top catcher in the country in 2021 with Bailey and Austin Wells now professionals, though Del Castillo is also remarkable.
Robert Moore, SS, Arkansas
Son of Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, Robert early enrolled into Arkansas – like Nate Savino – and quickly made an impact in the middle of Arkansas’ star-studded lineup. I’ve been wrong about Moore numerous times, and seriously underrated his incredible baseball IQ. He’s a remarkable student with a plus work ethic. The shortstop’s swing seemed a bit flat to out of high school to the naked eye, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. He’s got pretty good bat angles at contact and launch with impressive exit velocities on his BIP, especially for his size. Whether or not Moore shifts to shortstop with Casey Martin gone will be a huge part of his draft stock, but Cayden Wallace (2022 eligible as sophomore) could battle him for that spot leading up to next spring.
Chris Newell, OF, Virginia
Newell’s hit tool is a thing of beauty. The product of a cold weather high school went under-the-radar in 2019 because of the lack of pitching he faced, so the hit tool’s abilities were widely overshadowed. Newell’s statistics from his shortened freshman season were out of this world, and the left-hander took Nick Swiney (a notably hard pitcher for LHH’s, especially for a freshman) deep once, and then doubled later in the same game off him. One of the more attractive profiles, he’s a plus runner in center field with above average raw power and a plus hit tool that could get into 65/70 grade talks with a longer track record. Newell is one of my favorite prospects early on, and a few of his teammates have raved about his work ethic and non-stop destruction on the fall ball circuit.
Follow P365 MLB Draft Analyst Mason McRae on Twitter! @mason_mcrae
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Featured image courtesy of the respective photographer and Prospect Wire