The first round of the MLB Draft always feels pretty heavy on right-handed pitching, but this year’s draft class feels particularly full of right-handed talent. While there’s not a righty who is a sure thing to go within the top five, the right-handed pitching class is just incredibly deep: MLB Pipeline and CBS Sports each have 18 right-handed pitchers among their top 50 draft prospects, while FanGraphs has an incredible 21.
Here are five right-handed pitching prospects you should know heading into this week’s draft:
Emerson Hancock, Georgia
Hancock is a big, hard-throwing righty with an impressive repertoire and an innate ability to fool hitters. While he hasn’t always been dominant — he threw for a 5.10 ERA while striking out 75 and walking 34 in 77.2 innings as a freshman at Georgia — he has the composure and poise of a veteran and fools hitters with an unusual release point that’s closer to his right ear than those of most righties.
He had a spectacular sophomore season with the Bulldogs, posting a 1.99 ERA with 97 strikeouts and just 18 walks over 90.1 frames, then he took a bit of a step back in four starts this year before the season was cancelled, throwing for a 3.75 ERA with 34 Ks and three free passes in 24 innings. He still has work to do and needs to become more consistent, but the 6-foot-4, 213-pound Hancock’s upside is undeniable. He has an overpowering fastball that is capable of reaching 100 MPH, three above-average breaking pitches (a slider, curveball, and changeup) and improving command that could very well be elite by the time he’s a finished product. He has a greater chance of becoming a dominant big-league starter than anyone else in this draft class.
Max Meyer, Minnesota
Meyer’s combination of elite fastball velocity, underwhelming size, and relative lack of starting experience is going to cause many to believe that he’ll end up as a reliever in the big leagues, and that’s certainly a possibility. But Meyer has the chance to carve out a Marcus Stroman or Carlos Martínez-like career as a major-league starter, and even if he doesn’t he has the stuff to be one of the best relievers in the game.
The 6-foot, 185 pounder has been exceptionally consistent throughout his career at Minnesota, whether starting or pitching out of the bullpen. In two-plus seasons, he had a 2.13 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP, 187 Ks, and 41 BBs over 148 frames. He started 15 games but was exclusively a reliever during his freshman season and came out of the bullpen five times as a sophomore, earning 18 career saves.
Meyer’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and reaches 100 MPH, but his best pitch is a slider that exceeds 90 MPH. Meyer’s upside isn’t as high as Hancock’s, but he may be the safest option for a team that’s looking to add a righty arm in the first round.
Mick Abel, Jesuit High School (Oregon)
High school right-handers are always risky in the first round, but the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Abel is the top prep righty in this year’s draft class and has an exceptionally developed repertoire for an 18-year-old. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his slider and curveball do a great job of complementing his heater. His changeup isn’t as close to being a finished product yet, but scouts expect it to be another plus offering once he gains more experience. Abel has a long way to go, but since he already has such a strong pitch arsenal and a big frame that will fill out more as he gets into his 20s, the possibilities are sky-high for the Oregon State commit.
Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks High School East (Pennsylvania)
Bitsko, who re-classified into this year’s high school graduating class and won’t even turn 18 years old until next week, has sky-high potential and an impressive 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He throws a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and obviously has the potential to touch triple digits as he matures, and his curveball is already elite. Bitsko is a bit more mysterious than Abel just because he was being scouted as a junior rather than a senior until rather recently and missed out on most of his senior high school season, but he may have the most upside of any high-school righty in this class. He needs to mix in his changeup more and probably should develop a fourth pitch if he’s going to have success as a big-league starter, but it’s very easy to envision him developing into at least a mid-rotation option if he’s brought along by the right organization.
Cade Cavalli, Oklahoma
There’s one thing that’s unquestionable about Cavalli: He’s a project, and the team that takes him is going to have to be patient with him. He didn’t devote his full attention to pitching at OU — he was actually better as a hitter, posting a .757 OPS with 10 homers over two-plus seasons — and he has a weird delivery that’s almost exaggeratedly overhand and may need to be rebuilt at the professional level. Though Cavalli didn’t have a great college career on the mound — a 4.35 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP with 114 strikeouts and 53 walks over 101 innings — he has elite size (6-foot-4 and 226 pounds) and stuff (a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and an above-average curveball and slider), and that will likely be enough to earn him a mid-to-late first-round selection.
Cavalli health history may turn some teams off — he dealt with a back injury in high school and suffered a stress reaction in his pitching arm last spring. But he has a ton of upside, and for a team confident in its ability to develop pitchers at the minor-league level, Cavalli is essentially a ball of clay waiting to be shaped into a frontline starter.