By: Mason McRae
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The PG National, Area Code Games, and Future games are all in the past, and the 2020 MLB regular season has hit the home stretch. When the draft will be, how long it’ll be and how the order is set up are all still up in the air, though I have a hunch the process behind creating order will stay the same, meaning reversed standings at the end of the year. Given it’s still early in September, the order will change, and the twenty-nine first picks will change, though the summer circuit and the release of collegiate data is helping us solidify the list of names who will likely be called early in next summer’s draft.
It’s still incredibly early in this cycle, but The War Room is beginning to take shape. One of the largest free draft boards available to the public, The 2021 War Room currently consists of 541 draft prospects, several of which have a report and data attached to their profile. Since it’s a live document, there will be many updates and changes in the coming weeks and months. I’d like to think it’s an incredibly valuable tool for anyone interested in the MLB Draft, so bookmark it and use it to your advantage moving forward. You can also read my first mock draft for the 2021 class by clicking here.
Note: The draft order below is a combination of the standings from August 27th and 28th. Let’s dive in.
Coming off an exciting 2020 draft, the Pirates will continue to follow their model to a tee, which would make Kumar Rocker the likely pick at this point in time. His data is model friendly, and the likelihood of four plus pitches is a strong possibility, as are two plus plus pitches. There’s little-to-no physical projection left, and he’s nearly half a year older than Jack Leiter with lesser fastball characteristics, so there’s room for debate at this pick. Jud Fabian’s model friendliness could be intriguing for assistant general manager Steve Sanders, and Jaden Hill’s combination of a plus breaker and physicality appeal to general manager Ben Cherrington and Sanders’ track record in Toronto and Boston.
The Angels get dinged for the lack of talent produced from within, but it’s far from a scouting issue as under Matt Swanson they’ve done a fantastic job of assessing risk/reward. One of the brighter minds in the scouting industry, Swanson is one of the stricter model guys. In a funky year – with a full college season this would change – the Angels are likely to be conservative like they were this summer (Reid Detmers, 10th Overall) unless the right opportunity arises. Ideal launch angles on BIP & EVs in the upper percentile at a premium position appeal to every scouting department and his youth will help his case. There’s already four 55 tools with the glove being a tick behind at 50. Approach issues have been overly chattered about, and the swing-and-miss can be tied into the steepness of his VBA that’s produced the gaudy results.
Projecting what Chaim Bloom will do is tough on its own as he’ll steer away from his model and take shots while simultaneously hitting on the majority of them, but projecting what he’ll do nearly a year is similar to blindly throwing darts. All of Leiter, House, Lawlar and maybe even Hill make some sense with this pick. In the end, Leiter’s five pitch mix and ridiculous fastball traits put him over the top. He’s added an above average cutter this offseason, and the slider has become noticeably tighter with less vertical movement. The changeup is his least effective option, but it flashes above average as does the steep curveball with a spin axis that’ll appeal to models. His kinetic sequencing is also reportedly off the charts, which makes him rather appealing for a progressive organization like Boston.
Texas has notably targeted college hitters under Kip Fagg. While the organization began using a model in 2019 to a certain degree before ramping up their emphasis on it in 2020, the employee who built the model was fired after the draft. The organization reportedly considered Justin Foscue, Nick Loftin and Aaron Sabato this summer with their 14th overall pick. Now with Del Castillo, Binelas, Wilson and McLain hypothetically on the board at 4th overall next summer, it’s likely they follow the trend and grab another college bat. If the front office shift means an ideology shift in the draft is on the horizon, Jordan Lawlar and his unoptimal age shouldn’t be of concern for the traditional Rangers, making him another plausible candidate at 4th overall. As it stands, Del Castillo is a bat first catcher who will likely move to 1B as a professional—similarly to Yankees first rounder Austin Wells. Del Castillo possesses a classic hitter’s profile with above average raw power to all fields, advanced bat-to-ball skills and a sublime batter’s eye.
The Royals love college arms who possess traditional traits, which makes Jaden Hill a perfect match at 5th overall. Known as a power-arm, Hill’s curveball has a combination of elite speed and some vMov, and his changeup has the making of another plus offering with heavy total break. His fastball is rather overrated by the industry; on average thrown at 93.2 mph, he’s usually down to 90-92 after an inning and dipped into the 80s later in his minimal stretched out outings. Hill missed time due to a non-baseball related shoulder issue, but he was set to break out in LSU’s rotation last spring prior to the shutdown. The Royals will also do heavy due diligence on a number of prep guys, making Lawlar, House and Mayer obvious options here, as are Ole Miss pitcher Gunnar Hoglund and Louisville third baseman Alex Binelas.
One of the rising scouting departments, Seattle is always an interesting team to monitor leading up to the draft. A model-driven, progressive organization, there are some funny stories about their model dinging every college arm, yet they’ve taken one with their last three first round selections. One of the more vocal proponents in pitch design as an organization, someone like Gunnar Hoglund is interesting because his release profile isn’t good, but he’s got well above average spin rates, and one of the more optimized slider movement profiles in the class. There’s some Emerson Hancock in the delivery as well (lead leg, closed front side). The current problem with Hoglund is velocity in the Reid Detmers range, but from the right side. Fortunately, his plus slider and changeup should move the needle, as would a bump in velocity. South Alabama’s Ethan Wilson would also figure to be an option here.
Likely to get the Austin Hendrick financial treatment, Lawlar is an intriguing option for the Reds. Selfishly I’d want to see Jackson Jobe in a system with Kyle Boddy, Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham, but I doubt he’s in play this early even with elite raw spin rates and mechanical issues that I’d envision would be relatively easy to fix. Lawlar is going to stay in the dirt and you can bet it’ll be shortstop. The teenager possesses plus hit and power tools with advanced feel for spin; some see a touch less power, but enough athleticism to add some lift into a swing that’s more oriented for the gaps opposed to fences. The Reds are a team I could see biting on Christian Franklin.
Washington is one of the more traditional teams, and I’ve even heard they don’t have a model, but Eddie Longosz is set to take over his sixth draft room and his first draft has already been a success. Seeing his first four selections (from the 2016 draft) make MLB debuts within the past year should instill faith and four others (from that same draft) making debuts is remarkable. With McLain slipping, he’s a fit. Old for the class with fringe power, he’s not everybody’s favorite profile, but an average glove at two premium positions and track record of hitting since his high school days makes the floor high. James Wood, and Andrew Painter could be interesting for Washington.
Quickly becoming a prominent draft organization, the Diamondbacks are as model friendly as they get. Because of that, Ethan Wilson makes a lot of sense with this pick. Already with pretty ideal LAs & well above average EVs, Wilson is pretty optimized, and the plus power from the left side adds some value. The last South Alabama outfielder who went this high was Travis Swaggerty in 2018, who doesn’t do Wilson any justice. Jumping from a twitchy prep outfielder in Corbin Carroll in 2019, to an old college arm in Bryce Jarvis this summer, to a mid major corner outfielder in 2021 would be quite the rollercoaster of demographics, but that’s a clear sign of following a model. Wilson’s hit/power tool will get plus (or at least close to) grades from models.
Under Michael Holmes, the Giants have taken a college player with both of their first round picks. Binelas is all over public boards, and concerns over his stiffness at the hot corner could push him to LF or 1B, but his batted ball profile is one of the class’ best and his power to all fields make him super intriguing. Fellow Cardinal Levi Usher is comparable to Hunter Bishop—the Giants’ 2019 1st Round Pick—who began his final collegiate season in second round talks before skyrocketing up boards. Usher could do the same and be in play around here as well.
Mocking a high schooler to the Tigers isn’t ideal if you’re a betting man, but the best SEC arm still on the board is arguably Ben Specht and it’s too early for him at 11th overall. The Tigers are traditional in the scouting world and just took a right-handed first baseman (not that it was the wrong pick) first overall, so positional flexibility—or lack thereof—shouldn’t be an issue with Brady House, who likely becomes an average to above average defender at third base, or maybe a Corey Seager type defender at shortstop (heavy shifting to cover lack of range). House could very well be gone earlier than this pick, and if the 2021 collegiate season is canceled, there’s a possibility he goes even higher as teams will have more feel for high schoolers and scouts are incredibly familiar with House, who’s been highly regarded since he played for the US development team as a rising junior.
Dating back to his days in Houston, general manager Mike Elias is one of the league’s biggest believers in pitch design. While he’s not the director of scouting, the emphasis on vertical movement and approach angle (there’s more than just these two numbers) has found its way through the organization and international scouting director Koby Perez puts just as much stock into pitch data. Why this is relevant is simple with this pick: Hajjar has plus vMov on a fastball that compares similarly to Asa Lacy’s, who was linked to Baltimore for these very reasons leading up to the 2020 draft. Baltimore’s scouting department has quickly become one of the best in baseball, so guys with appealing data and youth are early candidates to be Orioles. Christian Franklin – former teammate of Baltimore’s 2020 2nd overall pick Heston Kjerstad – is in play here with EVs in the upper percentile of college baseball last spring.
While it’s a little lazy to compare the two, there are some similarities between Cowser and 2020 Brewers first rounder Garrett Mitchell, namely their ideal body proportions, hit tools and raw power upside. One of many teams using a model – but one of the stricter followers – Milwaukee values batted ball profiles, movement profiles, etc. heavily. It’s clear they love their model as they’ve recently shown zero demographics they prefer to others, but their model does ding risk (prep arms, catchers) so while ridiculously talented, somebody with an elite batted ball profile like Ian Moller likely isn’t in play at 13th overall. Cowser’s success overseas for the US collegiate team has him high on many boards right now.
Next summer’s draft will be Randy Flores’ sixth at the helm of the Cardinals. His first draft has already seen two of his three first rounders make debuts (Dakota Hudson, Dylan Carlson), and he’s one of the more experienced amateur directors in baseball. Mayer has been a ghost on the showcase circuit this summer, and while the hype was real before the COVID-19 shutdown, the lack of live at-bats for scouts to see has dropped him a bit on boards. Even amidst the uncertainty, the infielder is ranked 8th in The War Room and the best player on my board still available. I’m tempted to mock James Wood here, but Mayer’s plus hit, plus speed and incredibly efficient left-handed swing gave him the edge.
Brian Barber taking a prep arm in his first draft as a director was both bold and awesome. He’s one of the smartest people in the scouting industry, and while the organization itself is not very progressive, Philadelphia’s recent track record in the draft is at least decent. Painter possesses well above average spin rates on the fastball, but he has a high-ish release height and lacks the extension you’d expect for the size. A ball of clay for player development staffs, the right-hander’s got the raw stuff to mold (velo, spin rate) and the projectability to build on.
The Mets have a type, and with the Jarred Kelenic pick from 2018 quickly becoming a huge success (for the amateur director, not the team) and the Pete Crow-Armstrong pick this summer largely drawing rave reviews, there’s no reason to buck the trend. Reed has been a ghost on the circuit like Mayer, but some boards still have him higher than where he’s being selected here. Prep Baseball Report even had him first prior to the summer. By all accounts an incredible person with great makeup, Reed is toolsy with plenty of athleticism. The frame is projectable, and his power could become plus at some point in time.
Taking Drew Romo in the Comp A round this summer and being one of the few teams that doesn’t always stick to their model, the Rockies will be one of the few landing spots for Moller in next summer’s first round thanks to being part of an ultra-risky demographic. Moller will be the same age (on draft day) as their 2020 1st Round pick Zac Veen, and his metrics on balls in play are just as appetizing. You can dream big on Moller’s upside. A swing with natural loft and incredible hip/torso separation have led to plus grades being placed on the hit and power tool already. Hypothetically speaking, if Moller was an average defender in a corner outfield spot, I’d be tempted to mock him within the first five or so picks. The bat is that good.
He probably could have and should have gone earlier, but Franklin is a fit I like for Miami. While the LAs aren’t exactly optimal—as I alluded to earlier—Franklin’s EVs are in the upper percentile of college baseball and the profile screams middle of the first round. A fringy defender in CF, he could stick or move to either corner spot, but there’s above average to possibly plus power with plus speed and above average hit within this profile. In comparison to Marlins prospect JJ Bleday – a former SEC outfielder – there’s less swing-and-miss but much less raw power.
Shane Farrell walked away with arguably the top prospect in last year’s draft while picking fifth overall. With the Jays quickly putting themselves into the playoff picture, the odds of getting the top player again are unlikely and they’ll have to depend on their model, which they follow as strictly as any team in baseball. I’m still unsure if the Jays value pitch design all that much, but their model does and Boone’s fastball could garner 70-grades even with it only being a high-80s pitch currently. His breaking ball (was slurvy in 2020, now looks like a sweeper) looks to be a possible above average pitch and the changeup has decent movement that flashes plus when at its best. The operation works, and his hand/ball positioning at foot strike is ideal (they won’t draft a player that’s not around 90°). I’m going on a massive hunch with this pick as the Jays are somewhere in between progressive and traditional and Boone is likely somebody Tampa Bay, Houston or Los Angeles would be grabbing in the first/sandwich round.
If Montgomery were five months younger he’d be off the board in the Milwaukee/St. Louis range, but the outfielder possesses one of the more interesting batted ball profiles (elite EVs, meh LAs) in this class. A lengthy outfielder with lots of moving parts, there are some swing concerns but they’ve been drowned out by the success he’s had and numbers he’s posted to this point. A plus runner with plus raw power, you could argue he might have five plus tools, but some have his hit tool around average because of the awkwardness. Damon Oppenheimer has been the Yankees director for nearly two decades now, and they’ve become one of the more progressive teams regarding amateur evaluation in the league during that time. While the success rates this early in the draft aren’t great for him, Oppenheimer is widely regarded as one of the better directors and his selection of Aaron Judge could end up in a museum with a Yankees World Series win.
The Cubs desperately need to add talent into the pipeline and are hoping the addition of hometown product Ed Howard can work in their favor. The top player on my board still available, Petty is risky as he’s part of one of the more scary draft demographics (teenage arms who touch triple digits). A New Jersey kid, Petty has been working out with top draft prospect Jack Leiter and already sits a few ticks higher than Leiter on the radar gun. Petty fastball sits 94-96 with heavy sink; he also drops in a sharp slider that will hopefully end up becoming more of a cutter in the future.
The Braves have taken a college player with their last three first round picks since the Carter Stewart mess, and I don’t see why things would change between now and next summer. Alex Anthopoulos is beloved in the scouting world, he completely revamped Toronto’s department and has done the same since taking over a rough situation (international free agent scandal) with the Braves. Atlanta is pretty traditional in the amateur scouting side and a college outfielder with Martin’s profile is certainly a fit. Some scouts see above average tools across-the-board within this profile, projecting the outfielder to be big league ready by the 2023 season. Mason Black would also be an interesting name here.
How James Wood is still available at 23rd overall is beyond me. Not your prototypical Preller profile (which would be lean built prep bats with elite hit tools), Wood is very unique. A massive kid with plus speed is so much fun, and some evaluators in the industry have thrown Judge comps on him. There’s a possibility for plus plus power and improving feel for the barrel. Michael Braswell would be a more Preller-esque pick here, and Christian Little would have been a fit had he not decided to graduate high school early to attend Vanderbilt. San Diego uses their model to a tee, so whoever they take will end being the best player on their board.
Chicago’s 2020 class was a rollercoaster of selections as they took some guys with incredible data (Kade Mechals, Garrett Crochet) but also spent the rest of their pool on a filled out prep righty who relies on a changeup. Chicago is a team I could see being in on Rodney Boone had he been here, but Bishop’s plus plus raw power (for some evaluators) from the left side is intriguing so late in the first round. Chicago’s type is typically college prospects with limited risk, but it’s August and the college talent still available this high leaves some to be desired.
This is my favorite part of the draft because all of the ridiculously progressive teams are selecting in this range (imagine that). This pick will give Indians fans a sense of déjà vu as the organization selected cold weather prep catcher Bo Naylor in this range of the first round in 2018. Mack, a product from Western New York, has jumped on boards this summer. A fringe receiver and blocker, Mack’s present arm/bat strength are the tools scouts love and his ability to hit for power from the left side (think Tyler Soderstrom to some extent) have him set to go a few rounds higher than his brother (Charlie Mack, Minnesota Twins) just a few years ago.
This is a match made in heaven and one of the few picks I can easily see happening this early in the draft cycle. Leto’s batted ball profile is extremely good, and his optimal LA/EVs fit everything the Twins covet in amateur bats. His future defensive home (likely shortstop or in the outfield) is largely beside the point when discussing a profile with Leto’s offensive prowess. He looked rough at the PG National in June, but his athleticism is advanced and he has yet to solely focus on baseball (he’s also a talented QB for his high school). Seeing Leto drop from a projected top-10 pick to a late first rounder is a blessing in disguise as he’ll end up in an organization with great player development that can mold him into a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Tampa Bay loves themselves a left-hander whose fastball has a flat approach angle, long extension, a short release height and elite vertical carry. Batcho is a unicorn if I’ve ever seen one; 6-foot-4 pitchers don’t typically have VAAs under 4.8 (should be lower as he’s been misused) and release heights under 5.6. There’s a chance Batcho blows up next spring and ends up going higher than this, which is crazy to think because he’s a bit off the beaten path within the draft community currently. Tampa Bay is probably the smartest team in baseball, so whoever they take will have some sort of model friendliness to him. Cody Schrier is also a fit with this pick, and Drew Gray and his elite raw spin rates would be such a Tampa Bay selection here.
Oakland is another model team, which should be obvious when you consider the analytical attachment they have as an organization. Seeing them take Tyler Soderstrom was so interesting last year given their strict avoidance of risky demographics, but it’s more of an indication of how model friendly Soderstrom was (batted ball profile, age, body proportions) and how likely it is he moves away from the position (catcher) that made his demographic risky. Ferguson would be a classic Athletics pick, and they would’ve probably taken a similar profile (Nick Loftin, Jordan Westburg) had Soderstrom been off the board at the end of the first round in June. Ferguson is your typical above average hit tool shortstop (maybe second baseman) with fringe power but an all fields approach. He’s old for the class and has an unspectacular batted ball profile, so he’s not much of a model darling compared to others discussed in this mock.
If Leto to Minnesota is a match made in heaven, this would be a match made in whatever you consider better than heaven. The teammate of their 2020 1st round pick Bobby Miller, Perkins has much better spin rates all-around and gets upwards of 3,000 rpm on his slider. Like Miller, Perkins also possesses similar relief risk; the duo are actually quite comparable at this point of their respective draft cycles. Perkins is mostly a fastball/slider guy and struggled to command the former this spring, though both pitches induced strong whiff numbers. The delivery is atypical and the arm action is a kinetic chain nightmare, but there’s been some signs of improvement via videos from bullpen sessions this summer. I could also see Drew Gray going in this general range.
Check out Mason McRae’s 2021 War Room by clicking here.
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