Year after year, Florida is one of the nation’s biggest hotbeds for amateur baseball talent, stacked with high level prep competition and home to some of the college game’s biggest powerhouses. The pipeline is running as strong as ever heading into the 2021 draft. Given that teams have a tendency to mine their own backyards a bit in the draft, it’s a good place to start for any Marlins fan looking to break down the class and anticipate the Marlins’ haul. Here’s a look at some of the state’s top prospects as things stand right now.
Jud Fabian, OF, University of Florida
A righty hitter and lefty thrower, Fabian was a notable prep prospect who enrolled early with the Gators back in 2018 to get his college career underway early. Though without any individual standout tool, Fabian shows big-league level ability across his athletic profile, with the potential for five tools in the 50-55 range on the 20-80 scouting scale. This type of well-rounded profile is similar to that of some other recent top-5 selections from the SEC- Nick Senzel, Dansby Swanson and fellow gator Jonathan India. While each of those players were primarily infielders in the college game, their athletic profiles all line up pretty favorably with Fabian’s, who has speed and power that fall somewhere between solid average and above average to go with very advanced hitting ability.
From a performance standpoint, Fabian still has a bit more to prove, but had some serious momentum halted by the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the 2020 NCAA baseball season. After a so-so freshman year in which he hit .232/.353/.411 in 56 games, Fabian really put himself on the map with his 2019 Cape Cod League performance, where he ranked as one of the league’s best hitters while participating as one of the youngest. In 35 CCBL contests, Fabian accumulated 137 PAs and a .290/.350/.500 slash line, racking up 6 homers in the process. In 2020’s brief NCAA action, he was building on that success with a .294/.407/.603 line in the Gators’ early schedule before things shut down for good, at which point most evaluators’ questions about him had been answered.
As it stands now, Fabian is seen universally as a top half of the first round talent, with some ranking him as highly as the top 5 and a dark horse 1.1 candidate. Fabian’s profile is incredibly balanced and difficult to nitpick, but if there are any concerns to monitor here they are of the contact variety, as he has tended to strike out a bit more than average in the college game. Fabian’s swing is one of the prettier righty cuts you’ll see at the college level, though, and it comes packaged with premium bat speed and a solid approach. Keeping all that in mind, most are confident that Fabian will make more than enough contact for the tools to play, even if he’s not an elite hitter for average. The icing on the cake for the profile is that his speed, which rates as roughly above average, plays up in the outfield thanks to his instincts and clean actions. As a result, most evaluators come away with positive impressions of his play in center field and give him a strong chance to stick there.
Barring an offensive implosion (which feels exceedingly unlikely because of his upward trajectory to date), Fabian should go in the top 10 selections and is the odds-on favorite to be the first college bat off the board next June.
Adrian Del Castillo, C, University of Miami
A Miami kid and graduate of Gulliver Prep just outside the city, Del Castillo is a highly decorated young player with a long track record of hitting at high levels of play. He was a top five round talent out of high school in 2018, with one of the more advanced bats in the prep class, but had a strong commitment to his hometown Hurricanes and wasn’t selected until the 36th round by the White Sox. As expected, he headed to college, where he has done nothing but build on his reputation since.
As a freshman in 2019, Del Castillo set the ACC ablaze with a .331/.418/.576 slash line in 61 games, accumulating 12 bombs while walking 32 times against just 24 strikeouts. With all the momentum in the world, he’d head to the Cape, where he managed a .261/.311/.420 line, showing significantly less power with the wood bats and also striking out more in 148 plate appearances (32) than he had in 282 regular season trips. This was a significant downturn in performance, but that says more about how good he’d been in NCAA play than anything. When play got underway in 2020, he was better than ever for the Canes, slashing .358/.478/.547 with a pair of homers and 11 walks against 8 Ks before the season ended prematurely.
Del Castillo’s profile hasn’t changed so much as crystalized since his prep days—he’s a plus hitter for contact with average raw power that he is able to maximize in a game setting, taking his biggest swings when he recognizes mistake pitches and lofting them to the pull side, while taking a more all fields line drive approach generally. It’s been a recipe for success for him at all levels of play thus far, and there’s no reason to believe that couldn’t continue to the highest levels. Evaluators aren’t in love with his defensive skills behind the plate, but most still project him as a catcher long term. His receiving skills are solid, and while his arm strength isn’t premium he comes out of his crouch pretty well and delivers on target throws most of the time. He’s not going to be a gold glover back there and could split time between catcher and first base, but most are hopeful he can at least soak up some starts there in the pros, and there are those that see him as a primary backstop.
Look for Del Castillo to go somewhere in the top half of the first round in 2021, with the top-5 within the realm of possibility.
Andrew Painter, RHP, Calvary Christian HS (Fort Lauderdale)
Painter has both an ideal name and an ideal body for pitching, and a strong piece of evidence in favor of nominal determinism. Standing 6’6” with projection remaining despite already tipping the scales at 230 lbs., Painter has unreal feel for pitching for his age, with a pretty delivery and advanced strike throwing ability to go with command of a legitimate four-pitch mix that includes a pair of breaking balls and a developing changeup. He’s been a high level performer against the upper echelons of prep competition, and is very difficult to find holes in at this stage.
If Painter’s fastball velocity tracks into the mid-90s as expected, he could be a truly scary matchup at the highest level, and he carries a top of the rotation ceiling and further possible rotation outcomes. It’s hard to believe that such an effortless delivery produces low-90s heat already, and it’s hard to imagine his fastball won’t be solidly plus in time. Combine that with his deep arsenal and advanced strike throwing ability, and you have a special package.
Prep arms have gotten a bit less popular at the very top of the draft in recent years with clubs seemingly shying away from the risk a bit at the highest-dollar selections. Even so, a profile like Painter’s should still safely find a home in the top-20 selections if not higher.
Robby Martin, COF, Florida State University
A big-bodied, slugging lefty, Martin shares similarities with Twins 2018 first round pick Trevor Larnach, who was a top-20 selection out of Oregon State. Standing 6’3” with a broad build, Martin has plus raw power and a discerning approach, giving him a classic middle-of-the-order profile. As a freshman starter for the Noles in 2019, Martin immediately made himself at home in the ACC, registering 257 plate appearances with a .315/.398/.449 line and four home runs. He decided to try to carry the momentum into the offseason in the Cape Cod League, but didn’t end up getting much playing time, recording just 34 trips to the dish in 14 games. In those contests, he struggled to the tune of a .167/.265/.233 line with 11 strikeouts, but it’s difficult to glean much from such a small sample.
Heading into 2020, Martin projected as a central cog in the FSU offense, and started the season on a torrid pace, reaching base at a .439 clip in 82 PAs. If there was a blemish on his line before the season was shut down, it was that he didn’t manage a home run, and his overall power production was below what would be expected of him. Martin’s swing is clean and easy with a simple load and footwork and above average bat speed, with few questioning his ability to make contact and reach base. If there’s a question about Martin’s profile as of now, it pertains to how much of his raw power he will get to in games, but given his proclivity for hard liners and his natural strength, I’d expect that he’ll end up getting to a good amount of it. Martin projects long term as a right fielder who could be a 5-hole type hitter, or more of a fourth outfielder type if the power doesn’t fully blossom.
He projects to be picked somewhere between the top 20 and the top 50 depending on how his 2021 season goes.
James Wood, OF, IMG Academy
Wood has emerged as one of the top prep prospects in the country on the back of a mammoth 2020 summer, during which he showcased his monster tools and growing hitting ability. A projectable 6’6”, Wood moves like a smaller man, making it unsurprising that he has a strong basketball background. As you might expect, his raw power is among the best in the class, rating in plus-plus territory. With that said, Wood isn’t a pure slugger and is has handled the highest level of prep pitching with aplomb. Wood’s swing is bigger than average, but that’s more a product of his long levers than anything. His cut is almost effortless, with a quick trigger, and many evaluators are optimistic about his chances to hit for average and power.
In addition to the tantalizing offensive upside, Wood gets strong reviews in center field. His arm strength is every bit as big as you’d expect, and he’s shockingly fast for his size with a 6.7 second 60 yard dash time. All in all, the profile shares quite a bit with 2020 top-10 selection Riley Greene’s, with Wood trading a bit of hit for a bit of power.
The range of outcomes here is wide, but those at the right tail are simply too big to ignore, and should keep Wood’s stock in the top-20 selections at a minimum, if not the top-10.
Irving Carter, RHP, Calvary Christian HS (Fort Lauderdale)
Yes, there’s another Calvary Christian hurler on this list. Carter, alongside staff ace Andrew Painter, form what is perhaps the best prep 1-2 punch since Lucas Giolito and Max Fried were at Harvard-Westlake. At 6’4”, 210 lbs, Carter has an ideal frame and big now stuff headlined by a mid-90s heater, most often a two-seam. His breaking stuff is impressive for his age, with a power slider in the mid-80s that projects as a plus pitch. Carter has thrown a curveball in the past as well, and while he has seemingly shelved it for now it might be worth revisiting in the pros.
Carter’s delivery isn’t quite as picturesque as his teammate’s, with a very long arm circle and a higher level of effort, but he repeats very well and looks controlled throughout, so it isn’t something that I’d ding him for. He’ll even play with his timing to try to keep hitters off balance, which can be a very beneficial wrinkle in a pitcher’s profile, and it could be important for Carter, who really doesn’t hide the ball much at all in his delivery as of now. While he really only takes a two pitch approach right now, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll fill out his arsenal in time, and could either choose to get to work on a changeup or revive his old curveball to complement the fastball/slider combination. He’s also praised for his mentality and aggression on the mound, which should serve him well in the pro game. Compared to Painter, Carter’s arsenal is a bit more narrow and it’s more difficult to project impact command, if you happen to find yourself nearby, the trip to Cavalry Christian could be well worth it this spring.
Tommy Mace, RHP, University of Florida
It was expected that Mace would sign in the 2020 draft, but he ultimately didn’t get the offer he was looking for and opted to go back to Florida to try to further improve his stock. At 6’7” with a big fastball, Mace has been on the radar for awhile, and while he’s been a solid performer for the Gators his statistical profile has never quite lined up with what scouts thought was possible for him at the college level. While he’s already a big guy, Mace still has some room to grow into his body, and there’s potential for his mid-90s heater to get even firmer at maturity.
Mace has very pretty delivery that produces good location, and a deep arsenal to go with it. While he’s a fastball first hurler, Mace also brings a pair of breaking balls and a changeup to the mound. His biggest issue to date has been difficulty missing bats, as his heater doesn’t have a ton of movement and his offspeed offerings tend to produce more weak contact than whiffs, with his strikeout totals at UF being a bit underwhelming. If Mace is able to tweak the spin axis on his fastball to create better life, or find a new angle on one of his offspeed pitches, he could begin to look like a mid-rotation arm, but for now he looks like a safe, solid #4 starter type.
Tommy White, 3B, IMG Academy
Tommy White looks like he hits dingers. If that doesn’t immediately make sense, it probably will when you take a look at him in the box. A rotund 6’2”, 240 lbs., it goes without saying that there’s not much projection left in White’s body, but that isn’t an issue when you have now power like his. White’s raw power is big, but on top of that he takes absolutely massive cuts.
The immediate reaction of many is concern around the hit tool, and while that’s fair, White does show some really impressive feel for the barrel. It’s probably true that he’ll strike out at an above average clip, but if there’s one thing you can be confident in with White it’s that the quality of contact should be about as good as it gets.
The idea of White playing third base long term is probably a pipe dream unless his body changes, but you’re drafting this kid for his bat, and if he hits like his biggest supporters expect, it’ll play at DH. His power rates in plus-plus territory, and almost all of it projects as usable pop. With the ability to mishit balls for extra bases and drive pitches into the seats the other way, White has all the makings of a potential cleanup slugger if he’s able to keep things in enough control to make contact. He’s almost like an incredibly large Keston Hiura in the way he approaches hitting, and I like his odds.
If you can’t tell already, it’s a strong year for Florida, even by the state’s consistently high standards. The above list is far from complete, with most of the Gators’ rotation rating as potential top 5 rounders, and several more highly intriguing prep players to monitor over the next few months. For those living in the state with some time on their hands, there will be endless opportunity to get eyes on future pros in the lead up to the 2021 draft.