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.
- 50Last: 51Florida State CNotes:
Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 209 | B-T: R-RBA Grade: 50 | Risk: High
Commit/Drafted: Phillies 2018 (39)
Age At Draft: 22.5
Hit: 45 | Power: 55 | Run: 30 | Field: 55 | Arm: 60
Nelson ranked squarely in the middle of the BA 500 in the 2020 class, at No. 250, thanks to an all-around profile with a compact swing and solid arm strength, but no obvious carrying tools. A year later, Nelson has dramatically shifted his profile and improved his draft stock, thanks to one of the better offensive seasons of any Power 5 Conference player. Through 52 games, Nelson was tied for the Division I lead with 23 home runs, while putting up a .330/.436/.773 slash line. Nelson has a compact and strong frame, listed at 5-foot-11, 209 pounds, and his homers this season have been scattered from the left-field line to the right-center gap, with a majority of them coming off of fastballs. There is some swing and miss to Nelson’s game, and he also struggled with pitches on the inner third and with spin, but when he’s able to get his hands extended he has shown an ability to do plenty of damage. He has the defensive tools to stick behind the plate, with some scouts saying he is one of the better catch-and-throw backstops in the country in a class where most of the top college backstops are bat-first types. He has easy, plus arm strength and has shown an ability to throw quickly and with good carry from his knees, with solid blocking and receiving ability as well. Nelson is old for the class but has a chance to be an everyday catcher with some power.More Less
- 246Last: 247South Carolina C/1BNotes:
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 224 | B-T: R-RNo hitter in college baseball was off to a better start this spring than Clarke, who homered eight times in his first six games of the season and finished the year tied for first in the nation with 23 home runs—along with Florida State catcher Matheu Nelson. Clarke has plenty of strength in his 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame and a track record of hitting for power at South Carolina and in summer collegiate leagues. Clarke has the natural strength and hand power to hit balls out of the park from pole to pole and will occasionally mis-hit balls or just get under pitches that he’s still able to drive over the fence. Power is clearly Clarke’s calling card, but it did come with a 28% strikeout rate this spring. That’s notable, but probably not a deal-breaker because Clarke is more than capable of drawing a walk and his 19.5% walk rate was among the best of all SEC hitters. Clarke was a much better hitter against fastballs this spring than breaking or offspeed offerings, and because of that some scouts wonder what sort of hitter he’ll be at the next level when pitchers can more consistently throw those pitches for strikes. He hammered fastballs and had no problem with 93-plus mph velocity, but there are scouts who think he has below-average bat speed, and his numbers steadily declined throughout SEC play—with 15 of his 23 homers coming against non-SEC teams. Clarke has a limited defensive profile and will probably be suited for just first base in pro ball. He’s caught infrequently at South Carolina, but the industry doesn’t seem to view him as a candidate to play there in pro ball.
Commit/Drafted: Brewers '18 (40)
Age At Draft: 21.8
RapScore: 61More Less