Written by: Mason McRae (@mason_mcrae)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
With the top showcase of the summer (Perfect Game National in Hoover, Alabama) now officially in the rearview mirror, we can begin to piece together the headliners of next summer’s MLB Draft class.
While the goal of any mock draft should be to project certain prospects to certain teams with as much accuracy as possible, the main objective of this article is to raise awareness of several players who should be on your radar as we turn the page to next year’s prep and collegiate classes.
With the order of the 2021 draft obviously still up in the air, I decided to use Baseball Reference & Out of The Park Baseball’s simulated season standings as the determination for the order. While it’s highly unlikely the 2021 draft order resembles the order you’ll see below (the Mariners draft 26th, for crying out loud), it’s important to be aware of the prospects (assuming good health) who might be available at different ranges of the first round.
With next year’s draft nearly a year away, let’s throw a dart at how the first round might unfold.
Earlier this month, I spoke to a scout about the 1-1 contenders at this point in the process It was only one man’s opinion, but he spoke of a two-man race between both Commodore arms. The physicality of Rocker as well as the track record of success at Vanderbilt is exactly the type of combination that goes 1-1. But last year at this point, Emerson Hancock was head-to-head with Spencer Torkelson at the top and he fell all the way to the sixth pick, so the volatile stock of a college pitcher is drastic and not even Rocker is a lock to go this high. With Jack Leiter’s pitch data, I could see a team taking him first overall even with a less-than-desired frame.
At this point in the process, whoever the team picking first overall doesn’t take should go second overall. Leiter’s advanced stuff and fantastic pitch data are what could give him the edge over Rocker, but his size will be a knock on him throughout this process. We know Detroit loves their SEC pitchers, and they’ll likely be tied to Rocker and Leiter throughout the cycle. If you’re looking for a prep connection, look no further than Detroit-area product Luke Leto, who’s currently the top prep player on my board.
The second tier of prospects in this class is mostly highlighted by high schoolers, and the Royals are more college driven. Fabian early enrolled at Florida and isn’t even 20-years-old yet. He’ll be a serious breakout candidate next spring, and he’s already shown the ability to hit for power from a premium position. The present tools aren’t quite there, but you can project some success next season as he showed growth in his shortened sophomore year in 2020.
It’s likely San Diego won’t be on the board at 4th overall, but you can assume they’d take the top prep guy in the class at this spot. AJ Preller cherishes upside, and both Leto and Braylon Bishop are both currently strong contenders for the title of ‘first prep off the board’ in this class. The rawness of Bishop’s present cut isn’t ideal within the top-5, and the all-around skillset of Leto makes him a perfect match here. More college players—such as Matt McLain—could also be in play this high.
McLain already has a first round history (as a prep), and there was drastic growth in his offensive profile this spring. He’s a center field/shortstop type and could have somewhat of an Austin Martin defensive outlook, but he’ll likely project better with the glove while also possessing a superior arm. McClain is a plus-runner and uber-athlete with one of the cleaner swings you’ll see. The Cubs love their college performers, so Alex Binelas or Adrian Del Castillo could go around here too.
Bishop’s upside and how it manifests itself between now and next summer means his current draft range is incredibly wide, but the pure talent and bat speed are extremely desirable traits from a prep standpoint. He’s a center fielder with a lengthy frame and projectable body. Since Baltimore trends college, Jaden Hill or Matt McLain could also go here if they pick this high.
The Giants lean heavily on the Best Player Available mindset, and that’s exactly what Hill is right now. Had the season not ended, the right-hander likely would have likely transitioned into a starting role in Baton Rouge, but instead his season was shortened as he only threw multiple innings in relief as a swingman. Alex Binelas could rise here with a bounceback 2021 spring, and we know the Giants love catchers, so Adrian Del Castillo is an option as well.
House’s value is up for discrepancy, some see a seriously advanced hitter who’s performed everywhere, others see a below average defender at third base who will rely heavily on his offensive output. House hits everywhere he goes; if you’ve seen him live, he probably dominated at the plate. He’s one of the more advanced offensive prospects I’ve seen out of high school, and could go in the first round as a hitter or a pitcher (most—if not all—prefer him in the dirt and at the plate).
Thanks to hamate surgery, Binelas missed most of the COVID-19 shortened spring in 2020, leaving injured in the second game of the season. Assuming there are no long-term effects on the way the third baseman impacts the ball, this injury is of little concern moving forward. Binelas’ all-fields approach is great, and he’s got raw power. But as a scout told me “he looks older then me, and I don’t see the ceiling”. Another industry concern is that “he hits average pitching, but better velocity beats him”. Binelas needs to have a solid showing next spring, but his past is a solid indicator of continued success as long as he’s fully healthy.
Toronto loved Zac Veen in 2020, and Reed could jump into top-5 talks with a summer like Veen’s from 2019. Toronto hasn’t been too attached to high schoolers in general in recent memory, but the lack of top-end, collegiate starpower in this class could leave them targeting a prep player to round off the top-10.
Little could be the highest prep arm selected tin 2021, and he’s already added a massive amount of strength the past few months. The right-hander seems on the same schedule as Mick Abel (who the Phillies just selected in the first round) was in this past class. Little could go earlier, but his demographic is obviously volatile.
College catchers are so valuable due largely to the scarcity of prep catchers who make the MLB, and Del Castillo’s advanced approach and offensive profile are a perfect indication of what a first round backstop typically looks like.
Martin has a weird profile as he projects best from right field, he hasn’t hit for much power (as of yet) and he’s a fringe runner. The outfielder’s biggest proponents think he could eventually boast above average hit and power tools. Others see a corner guy with mostly average tools and only adequate raw power. With a breakout spring, Martin could ascend inside the top-10.
Likewise to Robby Martin, Wilson is limited defensively and only played left field this spring. Two years ago, Travis Swaggerty came out of South Alabama as an outfielder with power, being selected by the Pirates in the first round. Tampa could do the same here, but they might be tempted to take advantage of the tremendous depth amongst prep shortstops in this class.
Some believe Mooney is the top high school shortstop in the class. He’s a bit old for his demographic, but you can slap a 6 on the hit tool and and a 5 on the current power, with more projected as he develops physically. Mooney is also solid at short with some mobility.
Hoglund has already graduated with his Bachelors degree from Ole Miss, and he has a first round track record after being selected in the sandwich round by the Pirates out of high school. He could very well go higher with a solid spring in 2021, but his secondaries are behind and the velo was just 92-93 during the shortened 2020 collegiate season.
By now, you should be able to see the depth of prep shortstops in this class, and they just keep coming here. Mayer has a sweet stroke, and could very well move into the top-10 overall before everything is said and done. The Diamondbacks love their high-upside, middle of the diamond players, and Mayer fits that to a tee.
Another high school shortstop. Lawler is certainly another name to remember from that demographic this year; he’s a solid hitter with feel for all fields and enough glove to stick it in the dirt. There’s some speed as well.
Another Commodore in a mock draft in which two went in the first two selections. Vanderbilt is going to be wicked good in 2021. Similarly to Jack Leiter (in a bit of a lesser way), Rodriguez will be sophomore eligible and played a third of a season in front of scouts in 2020. He was fantastic in all aspects, but his track record is a bit shorter than most of the collegiate players included in this mock, so he’ll have to rake for the entirety of the 2021 season to be selected inside the top-20.
When in doubt, take a high school shortstop. The Angels went safe in 2020 and took Reid Detmers, but one look at their top prospects and you’ll notice a bunch of high schoolers they have drafted recently (Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, Jordyn Adams, Jeremiah Jackson). Turning it back to a high risk/high reward prep prospect makes sense when you lay out the hypothetical first round within this class.
In 2018, Vasil was considered a slam dunk, home run talent. He turned down millions and chose to attend Virginia, which has backfired so far. In his final start of 2020, the right-hander’s fastball sat 88-89, touching 90 just a handful of times. If he wants to go this high, he’ll have to regain his Opening Day velocity (93-94, T95); until then, he’ll mostly be considered a high-floor, pitchability college arm.
The Twins went ultra safe in 2020, taking Aaron Sabato and a prep arm in this years class would be a massive pivot, but the prep side of this draft is much deeper and if you want upside, the safe college side shouldn’t be the option this early. Morales has feel for three pitches and can throw them all for strikes.
Placing Moller is tough, he’s much better than Drew Romo last year, but his stick isn’t as good as Tyler Soderstrom, who went 26th. He’s somewhere in between, and the risk of his demographic makes it tough, but he can flat out hit, and he’s gotta be in play around here.
Familiar face indeed, Mace was 34th on my board for the 2020 draft and was the last name I expected to forgo seven figures and go through the process again. He’s eligible as a redshirt junior and is 22.6, so this could be a massive money saving pick, which we know the Braves have targeted in the last two drafts (Shewmake, Shuster).
The Yankees were connected to Carson Tucker in 2020, but he went off the board to Arizona (18th overall) before New York went on the clock. With more availability in this class, why not snatch one or two of the top tier shortstops early in the draft? Braswell could go much higher than this with continued success on the showcase circuit, but for now, his talent suits this spot.
Some put Cowser in the same general area as Ethan Wilson because of their corner outfield role and power-oriented offensive profile. He’s a mid-major prospect like Wilson, and he’ll have to hit next spring to cement himself in first round discussions. Cowser has plus raw power and an above average hit tool presently.
Black will likely draw comparisons to George Kirby throughout this draft cycle, especially if he pieces together a solid 2021 campaign. I’ve seen the right-hander live, and there’s feel for three pitches. Black’s margin for error will be a bit more narrow than other college players in this mock, but his stock could climb into the teens of he dominates next season as a mid-major.
Pacheco is similar to Brady House in the sense that his frame and lack of skills at short are better suited at third, where his bat profiles well. He’s presently an approach-over-power prospect and makes loud contact into the gaps for extra bases. I’m really interested in Pacheco, mostly because in the time I’ve watched him at shortstop, he was weak in areas he could quickly improve on and strong in areas that are tough to teach. I’d say a strong, current comparable is Drew Bowser.
Typically, prep arms that are selected in the first round have some combination of massive velocity, physical projectability and fantastic pitch data. Jobe certainly possesses the last of those three qualities, throwing a slider with upwards of 3,000 ROM and a fastball right around 2,500 RPM. The right-hander has been a two-way guy his whole life and hasn’t had the time to entirely focus on pitching, but you can expect him to start polishing his stuff in the near future. Jobe is the exact type of prep arm that goes at the backend of the first (or the sandwich round); think Justin Lange. With an improved changeup, he could jump into top-20 talks.
Exactly one year ago, Bobby Miller found himself in the exact same situation (aside from TJS) as Perkins’ current state. The right-hander possesses a plus slider, mechanics that carry relief risk and velocity that holds-up deep into appearances. With Detmers and Miller now professionals, Louisville’s starting rotation is suddenly quite shallow. The Cardinals will need innings from Perkins in a starter’s role, and the sample he provides next spring should determine whether he’s a first round talent or not.
Follow P365 MLB Draft Analyst Mason McRae on Twitter! @mason_mcrae
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Wade Payne and the Associated Press