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.
- 44Last: 45Notes:
Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 205 | B-T: R-RBA Grade: 55 | Risk: Extreme
Age At Draft: 18.6
Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60
Hurd was primarily a catcher as an underclassman at Acalanes High in Northern California, but he switched to pitching and jumped on scouts’ radars with a star turn at the Perfect Game National Showcase last summer. He transferred to Mira Costa High outside of Los Angeles for his senior year and separated himself as one of the top prep pitchers in Southern California, starring at showcases throughout the fall and winter before turning in a strong senior spring. Hurd is a projectable 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander with a chance for four above-average or better pitches. His fastball sits 88-92 mph and touches 94 out of a clean delivery and arm action and should tick up as he fills out his frame. He complements his fastball with a plus curveball in the mid 70s with downer action and a 78-80 mph slider that shows the potential to be a swing-and-miss pitch as he adds finish to it. He rounds out his arsenal with an above-average changeup. Hurd will fall in love with his breaking balls too much at times, but when he pitches off of his fastball, he cruises. Despite being relatively new to pitching, Hurd shows exceptional command and locates all of his pitches in the strike zone. He’s an astute and inquisitive learner who constantly seeks information on how to get better. Hurd will command a sizable bonus to forgo his UCLA commitment. With four solid pitches, a projectable frame, advanced command and a fresh arm, most teams are willing to pay it.More Less
- 72Last: 73Marysville-Getchell HS, Marysville, Wash. OFNotes:
Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 187 | B-T: R-RBA Grade: 50 | Risk: Extreme
Age At Draft: 18.8
Hit: 40 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Field: 55 | Arm: 55
The top-ranked prep hitter in the Pacific Northwest in the 2021 class, Knight was on the same 3D Sweets travel ball team with 2021 prospects Thatcher Hurd and Max Debiec that spent a month this spring playing games in Arizona against local high schools. Knight is an impressive athlete who also excels on the basketball court, and there are few players in the class with better raw tools. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound outfielder had an excellent summer showcase circuit and shot up draft boards, but his stock has dropped slightly this spring due to concerns with his swing that have led some scouts to believe he will need to rework his overall approach at the plate. He sets up with his front shoulder tucked in and his hands pushed into his chest, freeing him to keep his hands inside the ball. When Knight is on plane, he has the ability to hit the ball to all fields, but he’s shown some swing-and-miss issues with both fastball velocity and offspeed pitches. Knight does well in a workout setting, with above-average raw power that could grow into more as he gets stronger, and he showed off his plus speed with a 6.4-second 60-yard dash time at the Perfect Game National showcase. Defensively, Knight makes reads and breaks that are advanced for a high school center fielder, with an above-average arm and the running ability to stick at the position. Due to concerns with his hit tool, Knight could drop in the draft and decide to honor his commitment to UCLA, but a strong showing at the pre-draft combine could lead teams to forget about the toolsy outfielder’s swing.More Less
- 161Last: 162O'Dea HS, Seattle RHPNotes:
Ht: 6-7 | Wt: 200 | B-T: R-RBA Grade: 45 | Risk: Extreme
Age At Draft: 18.4
Fastball: 50 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 40
Debiec was on the same 3D Sweets team with Malakhi Knight and Thatcher Hurd that stayed in Arizona for a month playing local high schools and impressed on the circuit. He was considered the top prep pitcher in the Northwest heading into the spring after showing a fastball that sat 91-94 mph throughout the summer and topped out at 96-98 with high spin rates, with the ability to throw consistent strikes. This spring, while still ranking as the top prep hurler in the region, he’s looked like a different pitcher, with an effortful delivery that evaluators feel needs to be reworked and a fastball that went from sitting 90-94 mph in April down to 86-89 mph and topping out at 91 in May. His power breaking ball, which blends between a slider and curveball in shape and velocity, hasn’t shown its usual snap or power and his low-80s changeup, considered a weapon coming into the spring, has also struggled. Some evaluators believe Debiec’s regression could be due to fatigue from playing both basketball and baseball late into the spring, and a strong performance in the West Coast League in June could raise his stock. Debiec has great size at 6-foot-7, 200 pounds with some projectability left, but his decreased fastball velocity has added to concerns that he might need to move to the bullpen. Debiec underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of his season.More Less