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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Jordan LawlarDallas Jesuit HS SSVideoNotes:
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 185 | B-T: R-RBA Grade: 65 | Risk: Very High
Age At Draft: 19.0
Hit: 60 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Field: 60 | Arm: 55
Whichever team picks Lawlar will be selecting a prep shortstop with a long track record of success. Lawlar was the shortstop and three-hole hitter for Dallas Jesuit from his first game as a sophomore to the final game of his senior year. He left an inch taller (6-foot-2) and 25 pounds heavier (195 pounds) than he was when he arrived, but his performance was remarkably consistent. Lawlar hit over .400 all three seasons and was one of the best hitters on the summer showcase circuit in both 2019 and 2020. Because he’s coming out of Texas two years after Bobby Witt Jr. (and like Witt he’s nearly 19 on draft day), Lawlar draws understandable comparisons. Witt had louder tools almost across the board with the exception of the hit tool, but Lawlar has plenty of plus tools himself, with future 60 speed (he’ll turn in 70 times right now) to go with 60 hit, a 60 glove and an above-average arm and future power. Lawlar has a high likelihood of staying at shortstop. Witt (picked No. 2 in 2019) is the only Texas prep shortstop to ever go in the top-10 picks, and Lawlar should be the second. There were concerns when Lawlar showed more swing and miss early in the season, but he resolved that as the season wore on. He struck out in 20% of his plate appearances over the first 21 games of the season. In his final 15 games he struck out once in 55 plate appearances with no degradation in his power production. Lawlar’s swing is compact with above-average bat speed. Lawlar is a fast-twitch athlete. Projecting how his power develops separates those who see him as the best prospect in the draft class from those who see him as just a top-tier draft prospect. If his power catches up to his other tools in his 20s, he could be a regular all-star. If not, his hitting ability, speed and defense still would give him a solid path to being an MLB regular with defensive value. The Vanderbilt commit also impresses with his intelligence and maturity.More Less
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Robert GasserHouston LHPNotes:
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 190 | B-T: L-LBA Grade: 45 | Risk: High
Commit/Drafted: Never Drafted
Age At Draft: 22.1
Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 45 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 55
Talk about a transformation. Gasser was draft-eligible in 2020, but even if the draft had been much longer than five rounds, no one was going to select an 88-91 mph lefty reliever who allowed two baserunners per inning and had an 11.57 ERA in four relief appearances. This year, he’ll likely hear his name called before the end of the second round. Gasser was Houston’s ace this year, putting himself on the radar by matching Ty Madden pitch for pitch in an early-season start. He went 6-6, 2.63 overall with 11.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. Gasser spent his layoff in the weight room and on the field, long-tossing and lifting. It paid off as he showed up in 2021 throwing harder and with sharper secondaries. Gasser actually began his career at New Mexico, then transferred to Delta (Calif.) JC, where he went 14-0, 2.38. Along the way, he shortened his arm stroke. In 2021, that work paid off. Gasser sat 90-93 mph this year and could regularly reach back for 94-95 mph whenever he needed it. He’s added a pause in his delivery that seems to mess with hitters’ timing. His above-average slider improved as well. He can now bury it for swings and misses, but also can command it for strikes. He showed feel for spotting a mid-80s, below-average changeup, although that change lacks separation and late drop and fade to be a weapon. Gasser also has developed a big-breaking, mid-70s, fringe-average curveball that he uses almost entirely for early-count called strikes. Gasser projects as a back-of-the-rotation arm, but one with a high likelihood of success thanks to his work ethic and steady improvement.More Less
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Dylan DoddSoutheast Missouri LHPNotes:
Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 210 | B-T: L-LBA Grade: 40 | Risk: High
Commit/Drafted: Never Drafted
Age At Draft: 23.1
Fastball: 50 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50
Dodd has been consistently compared to Mets hurler Joey Lucchesi as a fellow southpaw out of Southeast Missouri State who added some velocity in college and was a JUCO transfer, and Lucchesi was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and made the big leagues two years later. A two-way player through his playing days at Kankakee (Ill.) CC, Dodd has shown impressive athleticism and competitiveness. He’s one of the older players in this year’s draft at 23 years old, and in 15 starts for the Redhawks this season, he posted a 3.17 ERA over 96.2 innings, walking 17 and striking out 120 while holding opponents to a .227 average. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound lefthander was up to 96 last year, though he sat in the low 90s this season. His metrics are good and his fastball gets a ton of ride, leading to a lot of his success. He flashes a plus changeup to go along with a curveball and slider that are both average pitches, the latter getting a ton of swings and misses. He throws all four pitches for strikes, rarely makes a mistake over the heart of the plate, and he’s a safe bet as a high-likelihood major leaguer.More Less
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Darren BakerCalifornia 2BVideoNotes:
Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 175 | B-T: L-RBA Grade: 40 | Risk: High
Commit/Drafted: Nationals '17 (27)
Age At Draft: 22.4
Hit: 50 | Power: 20 | Run: 60 | Field: 55 | Arm: 45
Baker is best known as the three-year old Giants batboy who ran onto the field during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series and was scooped up by J.T. Snow at home plate to save him from a potential collision. The son of then-Giants and current Astros manager Dusty Baker, Darren has worked to create a baseball legacy independent of his childhood fame. A 27th-round pick of the Nationals out of high school, Baker started four years at Cal, was a Cape Cod League all-star and had his best season this spring. He hit .327 with a .401 on-base percentage and was tied for eighth in the nation with 28 stolen bases through the end of the regular season. Baker is a smart, instinctive player who knows his game and doesn’t try to do too much. He stays in the strike zone, rarely swings and misses and sprays the ball to all fields with a contact-oriented swing. Baker is extraordinarily skinny and has almost no power (he hit only one home run in four years at Cal) but he began driving the ball harder this spring and has a chance to be an average hitter. Baker’s best tool is his speed. He is a borderline plus-plus runner and has the advanced instincts to be an efficient basestealer. He is an above-average defensive second baseman who moves quickly around the keystone, and some teams think his speed and instincts will allow him to play center field. His fringe-average arm precludes him from playing shortstop. Baker’s ability to hit, run and play up the middle have teams interested on the draft’s second day. His high baseball IQ gives him a chance to play above his pure tools.More Less
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Owen ShartsNevada RHPNotes:
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 190 | B-T: R-RThe question as to why Sharts struggled with his control in his third season at Nevada can likely now be answered by the fact that the junior righthander required Tommy John surgery after six starts. Because of how well he pitched in past years, the injury may actually boost his draft stock with the likelihood that he’ll revert to previous form after a successful rehab period. Sharts was seen as a third- to fifth-round talent coming out of high school in 2018, when he ranked as the No. 162 prospect in the 2018 class, and that may be where he fits in this draft. An athletic righthander who repeats his delivery well out of a 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, Sharts was up to 95 mph last fall but was mostly in the 89-92 mph range this spring, with an invisible fastball that plays up and gets ride up in the zone. He can spin a solid curveball at 77-80 mph, a plus pitch that’s wicked when it’s right but he sometimes gets on the side of it. His 80-83 mph changeup has progressed since high school, but it’s still a below-average pitch. His control and command were spotty all season—with 32 walks in just 31.2 innings—and the command of his pitches caused them to all play down. Because of the injury, Sharts could be viewed as a money-saving pick.
Commit/Drafted: Rangers '18 (32)
Age At Draft: 21.6More Less
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Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 185 | B-T: R-RThe Ivy League didn’t play this spring, making Hood an extremely challenging evaluation for scouts with little game action to go on the last two years. As a freshman in 2019, Hood made the All-Ivy first team and was the conference’s unanimous rookie of the year, hitting .331/.411/.580 with 20 walks and 21 strikeouts in 41 games. Some scouts liked what they saw from Hood then and in workouts since, but he’s in a difficult spot as the draft approaches. He's heading to North Carolina State next season, where he could take over for Jose Torres as the team's starting shortstop and raise his stock for the 2022 draft.
Commit/Drafted: Never Drafted
Age At Draft: 21.0More Less