The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and unlike in 2020, this will be a twenty round draft — shorter than the forty rounds the draft has been in the most recent years prior to 2020, but longer than last year’s five round version. The Rangers’ top three picks are at #2, #38, and #73.
In the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks, looking both at players who are in the mix at #2 and players who would be candidates to be picked in the second or third rounds. Today we are looking Nebraska pitcher/shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach.
Spencer Schwellenbach is a 6’1”, 200 lb. righthanded hitter and thrower who plays shortstop and pitches for the University of Nebraska. Schwellenbach checked in at #458 on the Baseball America 2018 pre-draft rankings, when he was graded as a pitcher coming out of high school in Saginaw, Michigan. Cleveland drafted him in the 34th round that year but he didn’t sign, and went to Nebraska instead.
Schwellenbach has mostly played shortstop for the Cornhuskers. He has been a starter all three seasons there, with an aggregate slash line of .282/.405/.423 with 96 Ks against 66 walks in 493 plate appearances. He also was a position player in the Northwoods League in the summer of 2020, when he slashed .356/.462/.448.
Schwellenbach didn’t pitch in college until this year, when Nebraska started using him in a relief role. Schwellenbach had not pitched prior to that because of concerns about his elbow, which he injured in high school and which resulted in surgery to repair the UCL (though not Tommy John surgery) after the 2019 season at Nebraska. This year, Schwellenbach threw 31.2 innings in 18 games, allowing two runs on 22 hits, striking out 34 and walking eight.
The scouting report on Schwellenbach as a hitter is that puts up “huge exit velocities” (as MLB Pipeline puts it) and while he hasn’t had much game power, BA says the “analytics are promising.” He’s not seen as a shortstop long-term, though the arm would easily play at third base.
The general consensus is that Schwellenbach has more value as a pitcher than a hitter. He can hit 99 and sits mid- to upper-90s with his fastball, though BA says the movement on it is “generic.” He also has a slider and a changeup that MLB Pipeline is more bullish on than BA is, but which grade out at as least average. He gets good marks for throwing strikes and commanding all three of his pitches.
Baseball America has Schwellenbach at #51 on their current top 500 draft list. MLB Pipeline has Schwellenbach at #54 on their board. Over at ESPN Kiley McDaniel has Schwellenbach at #53 on his current board. Keith Law has Schwellenbach at #29 on his list. Baseball Prospectus’s rankings of the top 50 draft prospects don’t include Schwellenbach. Fangraphs has also omitted him from their list.
Jonathan Mayo does not have Schwellenbach going or mentioned in his latest mock draft. Jim Callis’s latest mock draft mentions the Cardinals and Braves as being in on Schwellenbach, but doesn’t have him going in the first round. Kiley McDaniel doesn’t have Schwellenbach going in the first round in his most recent mock draft, but mentions him with the Braves, as well as with the Yankees at #20. BA mentions Schwellenbach as being a named tied to the Braves in their latest mock, though they don’t have him going in the first round. Keith Law has McGreevy mocked to the Braves at #24. Fangraphs doesn’t have any mention of Schwellenbach in their latest mock draft.
In the Baseball America two round “staff draft” that went up yesterday, Schwellebach goes to Texas at #38, which is why I decided to write about him today.
I don’t know what to think about Schwellenbach and the Rangers. I’m not even sure if they’d prefer him as a hitter or a pitcher — Atlanta, for example, was mentioned as a team that might prefer him as a hitter. The analytics data being high on his bat would make him potentially higher on the Rangers board than some other teams’ boards, though the swing and miss would seem to be a potential issue.
As for pitching, you can see all the components of a terrific pitcher in Schwellenbach. What you can’t see is a track record of actually doing it. And the fact that he had UCL repair surgery is going to be a concern as well.
One of the reports I saw said that Jacob deGrom has been brought up as someone who was in a similar situation coming out of college to Schwellenbach — a two-way player who didn’t really pitch until his final season. deGrom, though, started 12 games for Stetson as a junior, along with appearing in five games as the closer, and his 82.1 innings of work that year is more than twice what Schwellenbach has under his belt. deGrom, of course, was also a ninth round pick who didn’t have a lot of success on the mound that year anyway, so it is not exactly the best comparison.
Schwellenbach as a pitcher seems similar to Jaden Hill — there’s a ton of upside, but also a ton of uncertainty and a lot of risk. I have no idea what to think about him, or what the Rangers will think about him if he’s on the board when they pick in the second (or third) round.