2021 BA 500 Draft Rankings
The BA 500 is an attempt to capture the industry’s consensus on the talent of the 2021 draft class—not to predict where players will be selected. The list was compiled in consultation with major league scouts, front office executives, scouting directors, college coaches and other professional evaluators. Ben Badler, Alexis Brudnicki, Teddy Cahill, JJ Cooper, Kyle Glaser, Joe Healy, Bill Mitchell, Chris Trenkle and Carlos Collazo contributed to the reporting and writing. Mark Chiarelli, Josh Norris and Chris Trenkle contributed to editing.
By Carlos Collazo
Well, it’s finally here—the 2021 BA 500!
No, we’re not late, but this is the deepest into the calendar year we have ever released the BA 500, as the 2021 draft is the first to be moved into July and tied to the MLB All-Star Break.
Baseball has largely put Covid-19 behind it this spring, but the 2021 draft class has still felt the ripple effects of the pandemic. While it won’t be remembered as the Covid draft in the same way the five-round 2020 draft last year will be, there’s an argument to be made that the 2021 draft class is equally impacted by the virus—if not more so.
Scouts wondered if that would be the case a year ago, as Covid largely blew up the summer evaluation period for scouts and players alike, especially amongst the college ranks. No Collegiate National Team. No Cape Cod League. No 18U National Team. While many high school events took place in the South, players from the West Coast were more limited in their options and scouts themselves had to miss events entirely due to personnel restrictions (and in some cases layoffs) and further step into the world of video scouting by writing reports remotely.
That dynamic has led to plenty of volatility during the season as players who previously didn't have a chance to establish a track record or baseline of performance stood out, and others with some history struggled. Teams are now left to try and sort out the signal from the noise by more heavily relying on area scouts and their history and/or adjusting their models to incorporate a much smaller sample of college stats.
Those factors—on top of the exceptional depth of the 2021 class thanks to the five-round draft last year that brought back many players who would have been drafted in a typical year—have led to less consensus on the class than ever.
“This year I have no expectations because it is so wide open,” said one scouting director. “When I walk into that draft room the night of the draft I wouldn’t be surprised if it was completely all over the place in terms of where guys go. Just not a lot of consensus.”
There’s not a consensus No. 1 player in the class and instead a group of five players are generally seen as the top tier of talent. That group includes toolsy prep shortstops Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer, renowned Vanderbilt righthanders Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker and Louisville catcher Henry Davis, who was one of the best performers of the season.
After a full spring, the high school class looks more impressive than the college group. The 2021 class has a chance to be one of the best prep shortstop classes we’ve ever seen, with four potential top-10 picks at the position and a slew of intriguing depth options as well. Outside of the shortstops there is a bounty of up-the-middle position players with unusually impressive athleticism and tools.
The high school pitching group, led by righthanders Jackson Jobe and Andrew Painter, seems close to average, with several legitimate first-round talents and perhaps more lefthanded pitching depth than in an average class.
Scouting departments were worried about the college hitting class entering the year, but there was hope that throughout the spring players would step forward and make it at least average. That doesn’t appear to have been the case. Most evaluators see the college hitters as the weakest demographic of the group—with a notable absence of shortstops and corner profiles with power—and it’s a solidly below-average college hitting class overall.
The college pitching saw attrition during the season as potential top-10 players like Gunnar Hoglund and Jaden Hill suffered season-ending injuries, but the group seems solid or a tick above-average on talent—but significantly below-average in terms of innings and established track record.
Overall, the 2021 class seems weaker than teams would prefer at the very top, but with elite depth that might leave organizations more excited with their draftees on Days Two and Three than in a typical year.
We will continue to make tweaks and adjust the BA 500 as necessary as we get closer to draft day.
*BA Grades and Tool Grades — We’re excited to roll out BA Grades and tool grades for the top 200 players in the class for the first time. BA readers familiar with the Prospect Handbook should be familiar with these grades, which are based on the 20-80 scouting scale. Our attempt is to provide a deeper understanding of the class in a quantifiable manner and to also make it easier for readers to have a rough estimate of where a player might rank within a team’s Top 30 once they are drafted. Please note that all player grades and tool grades are future grades, not present grades.
**Rapscores — 85% of Baseball America’s Top 500 MLB prospects use Rapsodo data for player development and evaluation. In collaboration with Driveline Baseball, Rapsodo developed RapScore as a standard scale for scouting and recruiting. Utilizing the principles of the 20-80 scale and the verified data collected by Rapsodo’s technology, RapScore provides a quantifiable way to compare athletes of all ages. Players that complete a Rapsodo Certified Assessment receive a RapScore and are listed on the Rapsodo National Player Database.
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James WoodIMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. OFVideoNotes:
Ht: 6-6 | Wt: 230 | B-T: L-RBA Grade: 55 | Risk: Extreme
Commit/Drafted: Mississippi State
Age At Draft: 18.8
Hit: 45 | Power: 65 | Run: 55 | Field: 55 | Arm: 55
It would be difficult to find a player in the 2021 class with more overall upside than IMG Academy outfielder James Wood. The son of a college and professional basketball player, Wood has a unique collection of traits and tools packed into a massive, 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame. Like his father, Wood was also a talented basketball player but began focusing exclusively on baseball after transferring from Maryland to IMG. He has some of the best raw power in the class—which some scouts have given a future 70 grade—he moves exceptionally well for his size and has played an impressive center field, he can throw and he showed impressive bat-to-ball skills with a smooth and leveraged lefthanded swing last spring. However, for as good as Wood was a year ago, he struggled this spring while playing for perhaps the most scrutinized and heavily-scouted high school team in the nation. While Wood did show some swing-and-miss tendencies over the summer, he struck out at a significantly higher rate this spring which raised questions about how much the long-levered slugger would be able to make contact at the next level. Wood has used a very low handset in his setup at the plate, and when he’s on time it hasn’t been an issue with more than enough bat speed to get on plane and catch velocity out in front. However, Wood has recently tweaked his setup with a wider base and a higher handset to try and simplify the process and let himself simply react and use his hands naturally. It’s most likely that Wood winds up in a corner outfield spot, simply because players of his size so rarely stick in center field at the big league level, but he does have the speed and route-running ability to handle the position. Wood might be a bit of a split-camp player at the top of the draft because some teams will shy away from his long levers and swing-and-miss tendencies, but for teams unafraid to take a shot on massive upside, his tool set easily fits in the first round. Wood is committed to Mississippi State.More Less
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James TriantosMadison HS, Vienna, Va. SSNotes:
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 195 | B-T: B-RBA Grade: 55 | Risk: Extreme
Commit/Drafted: North Carolina
Age At Draft: 18.5
Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Field: 50 | Arm: 60
Triantos wasn’t scouted heavily last summer because at the time he was a member of the 2022 high school class, ranking as a top-50 prospect in the prep group. In the fall, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound shortstop reclassified for 2021 and he’s had an excellent season for an impressive Madison High club in Vienna, Va. Triantos is a North Carolina commit, but there’s a chance he doesn’t make it to Chapel Hill given his performance this spring, though the industry does seem a bit split on him, perhaps because of his more limited scouting history. Triantos is a bat-first infielder whom scouts think could develop into a plus hitter with solid power potential. He swings with intent, has solid bat speed and has improved his body over the offseason, though he’s filled out at the moment and doesn’t project for a ton more physically. He’s a solid athlete and a plus runner now, though that run grade could back up as he continues to mature. Defensively, he has plus arm strength that would work for shortstop, but most scouts seem to think he’ll be a better fit at second or third base, where he’ll provide solid glovework. Triantos has touched 96 mph on the mound with a good breaking ball and below-average changeup and cutter, but most teams prefer his upside as a hitter. For teams high on his bat, he could be picked among the top-two rounds.More Less
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Mason AlbrightIMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. LHPNotes:
Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 190 | B-T: L-LBA Grade: 45 | Risk: Extreme
Commit/Drafted: Virginia Tech
Age At Draft: 18.6
Fastball: 50 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50
Albright transferred from the Midwest to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for his senior season, joining players like outfielder James Wood and lefthander Drew Gray as high-profile transfers to the Florida powerhouse. At his best, Albright dominates opposing hitters with his fastball from the left side, though there are many pitchers in the class who throw harder than the 93-94 mph he frequently tops out at. Scouts frequently call Albright’s heater an “invisiball” and he routinely racks up whiff after whiff with the pitch, even against some of the better hitters in the class. The pure spin rates aren’t outrageous (1900-2200 rpm), but something about Albright’s fastball routinely sneaks over the bats of hitters. Albright also throws a curveball and a changeup, though scouts have described his secondaries as fringe-average pitches. Albright has an extended, one-piece arm action that gets lengthy and inverted in the back, which isn’t always conducive to ripping off hard breaking balls, and he’s been slurvy in the mid 70s with decent shape. While Albright has shown fairly advanced command despite that long arm action, there are some scouts who think he’ll need to shorten it up to get to a more consistent curveball—but that change could also impact the life on his fastball. Albright is listed at just 6 feet, 190 pounds, so there’s not a ton of physical projection left and because of that some teams might want to see him perform at Virginia Tech, unless he’s signable on Day Two.More Less
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James Peyton SmithEast Robertson HS, Cross Plains, Tenn. RHPVideoNotes:
Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 225 | B-T: R-RBA Grade: 45 | Risk: Extreme
Age At Draft: 18.1
Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 45 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 40
When Smith committed to Vanderbilt, he was throwing in the 88-91 mph range with impressive feel for his changeup and solid control and command. He’s changed his profile over the past year or so, and now has one of the livelier fastballs in the high school class, a pitch that has been up into the 97-98 mph range at its best, with arm-side running action that comes from a lower, three-quarter arm slot. A big and physical righthander listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Smith attacks hitters with a lot of moving parts, with a long and inverted arm action in the back and a crossfire landing on his finish with significant effort. That has led to questions about his strike throwing and control and leads some scouts to think he’s ultimately best suited for a bullpen role. Smith has thrown multiple breaking balls, a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curve, and scouts think those pitches play up thanks to the life of his fastball, but they both need further refinement and consistency, and some scouts wonder if his arm action will prevent him from getting to an above-average breaking ball. He does have good feel for his changeup, which has a chance to be an above-average pitch. Smith’s arm talent is legit, and he has starter upside if he can iron out some of the moving parts in his delivery, but he could be a tough sign out of Vanderbilt.More Less
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Chayce McDermottBall State RHPNotes:
Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 197 | B-T: L-RBA Grade: 45 | Risk: Extreme
Commit/Drafted: Never Drafted
Age At Draft: 22.9
Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 45
Ball State has been something of a pitching factory in recent years and has had at least one arm drafted in each of the past five drafts, most recently righthanders Kyle Nicolas (2020) and Drey Jameson (2019). McDermott looks to be next in that line of arms after posting a 3.27 ERA over 15 starts and 82.2 innings in his most extended season on the mound since getting to college. McDermott has been limited by injuries at times and missed his 2018 season thanks to recovering from Tommy John surgery. This spring he looked plenty healthy, with loud stuff headlined by an above-average fastball that sits in the 93-95 mph range and has been up to 98. He also throws two breaking balls. A mid-70s curve with 12-to-6 shape is his primary breaking pitch, but he also throws a low-80s slider that shows solid tilt and is more of a chase offering when he can land it down and to his glove side. Both pitches have above-average potential. McDermott has also infrequently thrown a mid-80s changeup, but he lacks feel for the pitch at the moment. McDermott’s medical history and an arm stroke that is lengthy with deep plunging action in the back raise some concerns and add reliever risk, but the 6-foot-3, 197-pound righthander has always shown bat-missing stuff when on the mound. His brother, Sean, played 18 games for the Grizzlies this season and his mother, Kim, played basketball at Indiana State.More Less
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James TibbsPope HS, Marietta, Ga. OFNotes:
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 195 | B-T: L-LGeorgia never fails to produce plenty of high school talent, both in terms of impact prospects at the top and with intriguing depth options throughout the class. Tibbs certainly has a bat that helps make the state more exciting, with plenty of strength in a 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame. Scouts see above-average power with Tibbs and he has a clean, lefthanded stroke that’s geared for power. He has a unique timing mechanism with an early stride and foot plant that’s disconnected from his upper half, but the operation seems to create a lot of torque and power, and he’s shown solid ability to keep his bat in the zone and on plane. He could be a tough pick out of high school because he has a limited defensive profile as a fringy runner now who looks like he’ll continue to add strength and power at the cost of more foot speed in the future. He has a chance to stick in a corner outfield spot, but there are some scouts who think he might wind up at first base in the long run, where there will be plenty of pressure on his bat. Tibbs is committed to Florida State.
Commit/Drafted: Florida State
Age At Draft: 18.8
RapScore: 55More Less