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Previewing Texas players and the 2021 MLB Draft

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Ty Madden is projected to become the first Longhorns player selected in the first round since 2011.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Mississippi State v Texas Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 MLB Draft starts on Sunday at 6 p.m. Central on MLB Network and ESPN, running for 20 rounds, shortened from the typical 40 rounds, and lasting through Tuesday.

The Texas Longhorns should see right-hander Ty Madden selected in the first round — he’s the No. 19 prospect overall by ESPN. A Texas starting pitcher has not gone in the first round since Taylor Jungmann and the Longhorns haven’t had any player selected that highly since reliever Cory Knebel was picked No. 39 in 2013.

Here’s a look at how the draft could shake out for Texas and its small group of 2021 signees.

RHP Ty Madden — No. 19

At 6’3, 215 pounds with a fastball that can reach into the high 90s and a devastating slider, Madden has the prototypical size for a power pitcher and an excellent two-pitch combination backed by strong production, including a 2.45 ERA in 2021 while holding opponents to a .188 batting average. Madden struck out 137 batters over 113.2 innings, but there are several concerns about him.

Most significantly, Madden doesn’t have a reliable third pitch to use against left-handed hitters, so his upside depends to some extent on developing a serviceable changeup. The Big 12 Pitcher of the Year also allowed seven home runs in 2021 — while his fastball has good angle, it doesn’t have a lot of life to it, unlike Mississippi State’s Will Bednar for instance.

Still, Madden is considered one of the top college pitchers in the draft, and for good reason.

Signing odds: 100%

RHP Josh Stewart (Texas commit) — No. 156

The St. Dominic Savio product has seen his stock take off over the last year after his fastball reached into the mid-90s. An inconsistent spring by Stewart increased the chances of Stewart following through on his signing with Texas, but the projectability of his high-spin rate fastball, a flashing slider, and sinking changeup, he could go as high as the third round.

For high school prospects, signability is always a major factor, so if Stewart slips, it’s likely a sign that his asking price is above what major league organizations want to play or he simply told teams that he intends to go to college, as Tanner Witt did last season.

The bottom line — Texas didn’t sign Stewart with the belief that he would be this difficult to get on campus, but his trajectory took off enough since last October that there’s now a strong possibility he never makes it to the Forty Acres.

Signing odds: 75%

DH Ivan Melendez — No. 184

The April home run binge by Melendez put him squarely on the radar of scouts as he flashed his tremendous raw power. As pitchers started to avoid leaving pitches up in the zone or out over the plate where the El Paso slugger could get extension, Melendez showed patience at the plate in drawing 34 walks. In addition to the 13 home runs, Melendez hit for average, too, finishing at .319, but reaching as high as .385 during his torrid April.

But Melendez only played three games at first base, raising questions about his glove, and struggled with strikeouts, particularly during his May slump, culminating in a day off as Texas was eliminated from the Big 12 Tournament. Melendez went out of the strike zone too often during that stretch and clearly allowed his confidence to drop, resulting in at bats that didn’t feature his most competitive approach.

The raw power makes him an extremely appealing prospect, though — he’ll almost certainly hear his name called in the first five rounds. Returning to school and playing well in the field next season, along with maintaining a higher level of consistency could help his stock and it’s worth noting that Melendez wouldn’t lose any leverage since he has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Texas head coach David Pierce seemed confident about Melendez returning when he discussed the subject after the Longhorns were eliminated from the College World Series. The next several weeks will determine Melendez actually comes back, arguably the most key decision in the draft for Texas.

Signing odds: 55%

RHP Cole Quintanilla

Quintanilla has already dealt with Tommy John surgery coming out of Cedar Park and sat out the 2018 season, adding some incentive for him to make the jump to the professional level rather than risking another season on the Forty Acres.

The 6’5, 220-pounder is another Texas pitcher with a big frame and big-time fastball, reaching as well as 98 mph this year as he posted a 1.35 ERA in a stellar season. In the College World Series, his ability to get out of a bases-loaded jam after entering the game with no outs in the inning showcased Quintanilla performing in a pressure-packed situation on the biggest stage in college baseball.

Quintanilla could get a shot as a starter at the next level with his three-pitch mix, although he only started one game among his 53 appearances for the Horns. He’s almost certainly gone.

Signing odds: 90%

RHP Tristan Stevens

Stevens scuffled a bit late in the postseason before recovering with a solid performance against Mississippi State to finish a remarkable year that featured a 3.31 ERA with only 23 walks in 111.1 innings.

Previously, Stevens was effective in the 2020 pandemic-shortened season as a reliever with a 1.50 ERA over eight appearances. His ability to get ground balls with his power sinker could make him an appealing option to start or work out of the bullpen. His fastball doesn’t have overwhelming velocity, but the Missouri product was capable of pitching to contact and willing to do so, aided by his strong slider.

As another pitcher who has previously undergone Tommy John surgery, Stevens is also an older prospect as a 2016 high school graduate — it’s in his best interest to move on after his outstanding season.

Signing odds: 95%

1B Zach Zubia

At 24 years old, Zubia is also an older side for a prospect looking to start their professional career, but his vast improvement as a fielder, his opposite-field power, and his ability to work the count all make him appealing. Zubia hit .286 with 11 home runs and 61 RBI with 49 walks this season.

Zubia seemed like he had more power than showed up on the field at Texas despite 30 home runs, though it’s questionable how much upside he has left there given his age. The Houston product also frustrated Pierce at times by not being more aggressive early in counts, passing up some hittable pitches. It’s also questionable whether Zubia can change his approach substantially at this point — or if that would even benefit him overall — but he’s a draftable prospect who could help an organization’s overall compensation pool by signing for less than slot money.

Signing odds: 95%

3B Cam Williams

Another older prospect at 24 who is almost certain to get drafted and sign, Williams performed well in his first extended action at Texas this season, hitting .295 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI. Known as a hard worker, Williams improved his throwing accuracy and his quick hands translate from the plate into the field. His power from both sides sides makes him an attractive prospect, although because he likes to get so much lift, his bat doesn’t always stay in the hitting zone long and he can have swing-and-miss issues early in counts when it gets too long. Williams could be a budget signing, too.

Signing odds: 95%

LF Eric Kennedy

Kennedy has some raw power he’s flashed at times during his three-year Texas career and has plenty of speed and bat-handling ability, but he probably hasn’t shown enough consistent power to stick in left field and may not have the arm to play in right field. He also heavily relied on infield singles to boost his batting average in 2021.

Like Melendez, he could choose to return with two years of eligibility remaining without losing his leverage.

Signing odds: 33%

LHP Pete Hansen

Hansen is narrowly draft eligible following his second season as Texas, so there is some risk that he could leave. Despite Hansen posting a 1.88 ERA and transitioning seamlessly to the weekend, the velocity concerns with Hansen should keep him in school for another season as his velocity dipped following a preseason bout with COVID-19.

If Hansen can come close to maintaining his level of production next year, when he projects as the Friday or Saturday starter for the Longhorns, while getting his velocity back, he stands to make a significant amount of money at this time in 2022.

Signing odds: 25%

Other Longhorns

Junior college right-hander Jace Hutchins and high school corner infielder Gavin Kash could also hear their names called in the MLB Draft, but it’s possible that Hutchins could sign, but no other signees are likely to get drafted. Center fielder Mike Antico likely profiles as a free agent signee, though his speed and power from the left side combined with proving himself at a higher level could help him sneak into the end of the draft.