2021 MLB Draft: Dark Horse Candidates To Go First Overall

Written by: Mason McRae (@mason_mcrae)

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

A year ago, Georgia ace Emerson Hancock and Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson separated themselves as the early candidates to go to Detroit with the first overall selection of the 2020 MLB Draft, with Vanderbilt utility player Austin Martin nipping at their heels.

At this point in the draft cycle, the top spot is still largely up for question, but Jack Leiter (Vanderbilt), Jud Fabian (Florida), Brady House (Winder-Barrow HS) and, most importantly, Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt) have all separated themselves from the rest. However, with the 2021 Draft eleven months away, things are sure to change in the coming months. Here’s a look at some sleeper candidates that could climb boards in the upcoming calendar year.

Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake (HS)

Mayer is highly regarded amongst Californians. No player has been asked about more from the high school ranks than the shortstop, and Padre fans seem excited about the San Diego product’s possible contribution to the completion of his hometown team’s rebuild. Mayer’s presence on the showcase circuit has been quiet thus far as he’s joined Tyree Reed in missing the majority of high profile events including the PG National. Mayer already has 5’s across the board, with the hit tool earning plus grades and the speed/arm getting 55’s. He’s the most likable prospect from the prep side, even more so than House, because of his ability to play a premium spot at a high level moving forward. Because of the question marks at the top, and lack of top-end, position-playing talent, Mayer could be in play at 1-1, especially with a Mickey Moniak-like financial scenario.

Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss

Hoglund’s data is great, but the teams picking first overall will likely lean more so towards overall, evident talent than an underrated prospect with fantastic analytics. The right-hander should induce soft contact at an elite rate while also generating swings-and-misses up in the zone thanks to the sublime raw spin rates, though his average extension and vertical approach angle are nitpicks. With the teams typically picking at the top of the draft usually more traditional organizations (imagine that), Hoglund could jump Leiter (more data-friendly as opposed to the eye test) and Rocker (questions regarding command) with improved velocity and continued success, though it seems to be a long shot for now. He’s a noted brilliant student and hard worker, so he certainly checks all the boxes from a makeup perspective.

Jordan Lawler, SS, Jesuit College Prep (HS)

He’s old for the class, but so was Bobby Witt Jr., though the latter was a better prospect at this point in the duo’s pre-draft development. Lawler would probably be in my top-10 if not for the age (18.9 in June of 2021), but he’s likely to stay at short and should have above average in-game power at the next level with advanced feel for combatting spin. He’s a lesser athlete than Mayer, but the shortstop brings more from a hitting perspective with all fields power and one of the better approaches from the prep ranks this year. 

Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU

Hill is basically Kumar Rocker (physicality, power stuff) but with an injury history and a steeper approach angle. The eye test guys are in love with Hill for the very similar reasons they rank Rocker ahead of Leiter, which is why he could jump if his data improves (small sample size on current numbers) and he takes Cole Henry’s spot atop the Tigers rotation. The right-hander boasts a power curveball with fantastic characteristics, though there’s apparently some discrepancies between whether he considers the pitch a curveball or a slider. His ‘slider’ is more of a cutter, which is another pitch he throws with hard-hitting velo behind it. The majority of Hill’s pitches have supreme velo (FB: 93-95, CT: 88-89, SL: 86-87, CB: 80-82), which is why his changeup is so effective, not even factoring in the already great numbers behind it. Hill’s raw spin rates are well below average, but so are Rocker’s and Leiter’s.

Braylon Bishop, OF, Arkansas (HS)

Bishop’s skillset is reminiscent of Austin Hendrick, with just as much excitement and similar holes in the swing. He’ll swing-and-miss too much for comfort, but if the team picking first buys into the raw power and trusts their player development staff, he could be selected high despite a lackluster track record this summer. Bishop’s run tool largely goes undiscussed, but the havoc he’s caused at premier showcases has garnered everyone’s attention lately, and he’s a possible 55 defender in center field with plus speed and a possible 7 power tool. How can a team not fall in love with that if everything clicks during his senior spring? 

Christian Franklin, OF, Arkansas

Franklin’s batted ball profile is better than that of Austin Martin, and his average exit velocity was higher than Spencer Torkelson, Heston Kjerstad and Aaron Sabato (in a microscopic sample) this past spring. For now, the outfielder’s problem is his suboptimal launch angle, which has minimized the high hard ball rates into generating the surface numbers of a Torkelson, Kjerstad or Sabato. A better defender than those three, possibly at a premium position, Franklin could jump into 1-1 talks with a Kjerstad-like junior season in 2021. 

Follow P365 MLB Draft Analyst Mason McRae on Twitter! @mason_mcrae

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of Ole Miss athletics

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