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Rays 2021 MLB draft preview: College pitchers

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The Rays have taken a college pitcher in the top 100 in four straight drafts.

NCAA Baseball Regional - Fayetteville
Spencer Schwellenbach is a two-way player
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The draft is now less than a week from starting, and there are still players to preview.

In the last four drafts, the Rays have selected Drew Rasmussen, Shane McClanahan, Tanner Dodson, Seth Johnson, John Doxakis, and Ian Seymour in the top 100. They have four picks in the top 100 this month and could look to college pitching for one of those picks.

Like our previous previews, some of these have been Rays picks in mock drafts, but some haven’t.

High school pitchers preview
Up-the-middle bats preview

LHP Ky Bush, St. Mary’s (6’6 240, 21 years old)

78 13 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 19 BB, 112 K

The Athletic rank: not in top 100
Baseball America rank: 46
FanGraphs rank: not in top 71
MLB.com rank: 67

When Bush hears his name called during next week’s draft, he’ll likely become the highest-drafted player from St. Mary’s since the Rays took Drew Strotman with the No. 109 pick in 2017.

His stuff has reportedly improved throughout the spring, so he could be selected higher than the public rankings indicate. With his improved velocity, his fastball is now viewed as a plus pitch. With his size, the pitch has movement too. He complements it with an above-average slider but needs a better changeup.

Early in his career, he struggled to throw strikes, but his walk rate was down to 5.9% in 2021.

RHP Ryan Cusick, Wake Forest (6’6 235, 21 years old)

70 IP, 4.24 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 32 BB, 108 K

The Athletic rank: 12
Baseball America rank: 37
FanGraphs rank: 20
MLB.com rank: 26

Cusick has some of the best stuff in the draft, but there is significant risk that he has to become a reliever. An organization that has shown success making sure similar pitchers remain in the rotation would be a good fit for him.

Few pitchers in this draft — if any — have a fastball that can match his. He has touched triple digits, and the pitch reportedly has a high spin rate. It’s easily his best pitch, but his breaking ball has shown improvement this season and could be a plus pitch. He needs to improve his changeup.

Strike throwing has been an issue. His 10.5% walk rate this season was an improvement over the dreadful 17.5% from the pandemic-shortened season, but he still has work to do.

RHP Tommy Mace, Florida (6’6 230, 22 years old)

90 13 IP, 4.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 21 BB, 113 K

The Athletic rank: 26
Baseball America rank: 65
FanGraphs rank: 46
MLB.com rank: 45

Mace doesn’t offer the upside that other pitchers with similar ranks offer, but solid performances in the toughest conference suggest he could be a dependable starter.

In his fourth season with the Gators, his performance improved. His strikeout rate improved to a career-high 29%, and he maintained his low walk rate. His fastball and curveball both showed improvement, although whether any of his pitches project as above average is a question.

A team with multiple picks might value the opportunity to draft him, pay him a little bit below the recommended value, and get more aggressive with their other selections.

Video is from 2080 Baseball.

LHP Matt Mikulski, Fordham (6’4 205, 22 years old)

68 13 IP, 1.45 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 27 BB, 124 K

The Athletic rank: 39
Baseball America rank: 39
FanGraphs rank: 36
MLB.com rank: 50

Like Mace, Mikulski has pitched in college for four seasons, so he might be taken by a team with multiple picks looking to cut a deal.

Unlike Mace, his stuff stands out. Mechanical changes this season have improved his chances of remaining in the rotation and improved his stuff. His fastball now sits in the mid 90s and has touched the high 90s. His slider and changeup are both potential above-average pitches.

His 10.2% walk rate this season was still too high, but he has shown improvement. There is still reportedly some effort in his delivery, so he could end up in the bullpen. However, a team will want to take a chance on his stuff and the improvements he’s made.

RHP Spencer Schwellenbach, Nebraska (6’1 200, 21 years old)

31 23 IP, 0.57 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 8 BB, 34 K

The Athletic rank: 29
Baseball America rank: 51
FanGraphs rank: not in top 71
MLB.com rank: 54

The Rays may be finished adding two-way players, but I am not finished writing about them.

Schwellenbach won the John Olerud Award as college baseball’s top two-way player this season, joining a club that includes Brendan McKay and seven players the Rays didn’t draft.

Due to elbow surgery, he’s only pitched one season in college as the team’s closer, but there’s reason to believe he can start. His three pitches can all be above average or better, led by his fastball that has touched the high 90s. He also throws a lot of strikes.

With an average hit tool, potentially average power and enough athleticism to offer versatility in the infield, he could also be drafted as a hitter.

RHP Gavin Williams, ECU (6’6 238, 21 years old)

81 13 IP, 1.88 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 21 BB, 130 K

The Athletic rank: 54
Baseball America rank: 30
FanGraphs rank: 19
MLB.com rank: 31

There are four players on Baseball America’s top 500 that were once drafted by the Rays. Williams is by far the most prominent and will likely be drafted significantly earlier than the 30th round this time around.

In his fourth season with ECU, he became one of the country’s best pitchers. His fastball velocity has increased as expected, and he’s touched triple digits. He has a pair of breaking balls of similar quality, and his changeup shows promise.

His stuff has improved this season, but the improvements in his control may be more important. Prior to this season, he walked 11.1% of batters, but in 2021, his walk rate was down to 6.4%

Video is from Perfect Game.