Ian Smith’s 2021 MLB Draft Big Board v1.0

Written by: Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty)

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First things first, I want to start this article by apologizing to my followers for my lack of coverage since we completed the 2020 draft. From dealing with some trials and tribulations with my day job to dealing with this unprecedented time we are currently living in, I let my content suffer. That changes today. 

It’s time to talk about the future, and that means the upcoming 2021 MLB Draft.

This week brought us the final high school showcase of the summer with the Perfect Game All American game in Oklahoma City, which closed out an impressive run of showcases and tournaments across the United States this summer. The majority of the high school players came into this summer after not seeing live pitching for months due to the COVID pandemic, and a few names like Jordan Lawlar and Josh Baez (to name a couple) have stolen the show in recent showcases. Overall, it’s been an interesting summer of prep scouting to say the least. 

2020 was also a year where we didn’t get to see a college baseball season or even a Cape Cod league this summer, so that has proven to be difficult as well. Thankfully, we saw a few summer leagues be played across the country for college players and saw some stocks go even higher for some top names like Jud Fabian and Matt McClain. 

This summer—and especially the last month—I’ve watched more film then I have in possibly my entire life. I’ve really tried to take advantage of the immense amount of resources we have nowadays to scout, and I’ve started to really dive into understanding the pitch data and advanced analytics tied to these players. It’s only helped my understanding of how to project these players going forward while also enhancing the trust I have in my scouting abilities. Today, I wanted to bring you my Top 50 for the 2021 MLB Draft as we stand about 10 months away. Underneath the list, I’ll be breaking down some of my top follows over the next year while giving you an insight of why I have them ranked where I do. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

Here are a handful of my favorite prospects from the 2021 draft class, along with some of the methodology behind the first version of my 2021 Big Board. Let’s dive in!

Let’s just jump right in with my favorite prep in the 2021 draft class in Texas shortstop Jordan Lawlar. The first word in my notebook when I saw the Vandy commit at the PG National in June was “advanced”. He brings above average to plus tools across the board with an extremely high baseball IQ. He shows the ability to make adjustments at the plate that you just don’t see from players his age. In my eyes, he has the best hands in the prep class by wide margin. His feel for the barrel is evident and he works the ball to all fields, including two opposite field hits in this past week’s PG All American game against advanced competition. The shortstop really has dominated at every showcase this summer. As a right handed hitter, Lawlar is extremely short to the ball and can produce MLB level exit velocities with a smooth, simple swing. I don’t think he will ever be a 30 home run hitter, but 18-20 is definitely not far fetched. The defensive side of things is where he really separates himself from the remainder of this prep class. He can make any throw from short and presents some of the softest hands I’ve seen. His foot speed is kind of sneaky as he moves so effortlessly, but this is an easy plus runner as he’s posted some 6.5 60 times this summer as well. There is no doubt in my mind Lawlar is a long term shortstop with some untapped offensive potential moving forward. Could get dinged by some teams for being old for the class (18.10 on draft day), but this is a 1.1 type of talent in this class. 

Fresh off a day where he was on base in all five of his plate appearances (including a triple) while winning the MVP of the biggest showcase of the summer, let’s talk about a Duke commit who has shined bright this summer. Mooney is another player who does everything well. A right-handed hitter who gets great extension and natural loft to his swing with elite level bat speed. A simple, small leg kick gets everything on time, and Mooney hunts with the barrel. It’s very easy to see plus power potential as he continues to grow into his frame. Mooney has shown up to every showcase this summer and performed, and he plays on one of the best travel teams in the country in Canes National. I believe Mooney’s bat has really opened some scouts’ eyes this summer. Another standout defensive shortstop similar to Lawlar, Mooney might have the strongest arm from the prep class this year. He can make any throw, from any angle on the diamond. It’s extremely fun to watch. His footwork and mechanics combined with the plus arm strength shows me he can stick at shortstop long term. An above average runner currently and I believe at peak as well. This is a player who’s not going to hurt you in any facet of his game with the potential to be a 25+ HR middle infielder down the line. Sign me up. 

Ford is the highest mover on my board over the past month, and he’s one of the most tooled-up players in this entire 2021 prep class. I’m disappointed in myself that I haven’t been talking about Ford all summer long. This is a freaky type of athlete that doesn’t come around very often, especially with the tools and body to be a long term catcher like Ford. A legit plus runner who’s put up 6.5 numbers in the 60 packed in a stocky 5-foot-11 frame. A high level receiver behind the plate showing elite lateral quickness and movements. He’s done nothing but post sub 1.85 pop times all summer long, thanks to the aforementioned movements and an above-average-or-better arm. Coming into the summer the biggest question mark with Ford’s game was his bat, but those concerns have since disappeared. The backstop finished this summer with an OPS north of 1.300 in 100+ plate appearances in Perfect Game events this summer, and overall I believe he hit 8 home runs, including an impressive shot to left center this past week on a 77 mph curve at the bottom of the zone during the PG All American game. This is plus power every day of the week, and he does so with a very unorthodox setup at the plate where he gets nearly zero bat whip but generates ridiculous hand speed. The folks at Diamond Kinetics ran some great advanced bat testing over the summer events measuring things like barrel speed and max acceleration, and Ford has consistently tested in the Top 5 in the class all summer long. When you look at this skill set—and I mentioned it on Twitter the other day—you can easily see shades of JT Realmuto in this young man’s ceiling. 

Jack Leftwich has always been a tough evaluation for me. He looked like a sure-fire first rounder in the 2018 draft, but he ended up making it to Florida where he’s had mixed results. What I saw briefly to start this college season—and in the Florida college league this summer—is a completely different pitcher. Primarily a fastball/slider arsenal for the right-hander who traditionally sat 92-95, Leftwich was down to 90-92 in 2019 with mediocre spin, which led to understandable worry. This spring, the right-hander displayed a revamped fastball that’s sitting 94-96 and touching 97 with borderline elite raw spin numbers. The slider gained velocity and even more movement, making it almost unhittable at 85-87 playing off the fastball. A high release point allows Leftwich to work off the heater by burying the slider out of the zone, but what is going to take his game to the level is the new addition of a changeup that showed flashes of immense promise during the Florida League this summer. The right-hander had toyed with the changeup previously, but the lack of movement and control made the pitch largely ineffective. Leftwich now seems to have a new found feel for the pitch at the bottom of the zone, and it plays up due to the fact he’s added velocity to the rest of his arsenal. Heading into the 2021 season, Leftwich will once again be back with a loaded Florida Gators roster with college World Series aspirations. He’s a prime candidate to raise his stock back to first round status next spring. 

Holton was originally closer to the backend of my (unpublished) top-100 in the first draft of my big board, but a deeper film dive made me feel as though I’ve been asleep at the wheel. A long term name in the prep circuit after committing to Vanderbilt after his freshman prep season, Holton is now looking like a top arm in this overall class. Adding 30 pounds of muscle over the past six months, the lefty now has a fastball sitting in the 94-96 out of a 5-foot-11 frame with a low release. He pairs his heater with a plus slider and a quickly-improving changeup that he shows confidence in throwing in any count. The southpaw’s command is plus, and he gets himself in great position with an extremely repeatable delivery. He has a slight top flick before foot stomp, and I can’t get enough of it. Holton has done nothing but perform throughout his prep career including allowing 0 HR as a high school pitcher. This summer while pitching for Team Elite, he threw up a 0.00 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 26 innings. In probably the biggest game setting of his career in the All American game this week, Holton flashed one of the loudest innings of the night putting up a zero and getting swinging strikeouts of both Jordan Lawlar and Ian Moller, who may just be the best prep bats in the class. This young man just might be my number one follow over the next 10 months; if his stuff keeps on this upward trend, we may be looking at a first round talent. 

Well there you have five of my favorite players in this year’s class, and possibly some of your favorites too. This board will be forever changing as we get closer to the 2021 draft, and I might expand my big board to 100 sooner rather than later. This 2021 group is a lot of fun, and I think it’s being underrated right now. I’m going to be here to make sure that’s not the case moving forward. 

Follow P365 Prospect Analyst Ian Smith on Twitter! @FlaSmitty

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of Harry Ford’s Instagram




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