MLB Mock Draft
By Carlos Collazo
With 2020 finally behind us, it's a good time to take an early look at the 2021 draft and forecast how the talent will line up on July 11.
As always with mock drafts this early, it’s important to note this is more of a guessing game and general preview of how the draft class is shaping up. We have spoken to scouts over the last few months to get a feel for which players are moving up and down boards during the fall and will soon have our first combined 2021 draft rankings.
Still, plenty will change between now and July, particularly with the added uncertainty scouting departments have with the college class due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For this mock draft, we have once again recruited an industry insider to make alternating picks—hopefully to add more real value to the process. Our scouting department official will make the first pick and select players for every odd numbered team. Baseball America will make the selections for every even numbered team.
- 1Vanderbilt RHPNotes:
This will be the fifth time the Pirates have had the No. 1 overall pick. In the previous four instances (1986, 1996, 2002, 2011) the organization selected a player from a four-year college. Arkansas 3B Jeff King, Clemson RHP Kris Benson, Ball State RHP Bryan Bullington and UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole were the team's picks at No. 1, and the 2021 class is set up for Pittsburgh to again pick from the college ranks.
While there’s no obvious No. 1 player in the 2021 class—a la Oregon State C Adley Rutschman in 2019—Vanderbilt RHP Kumar Rocker has long been the de facto top player in the class given the uncertainty scouting departments have to grapple with because of the lack of spring and summer looks in 2020. Rocker has power stuff, a starting track record in the SEC and high school pedigree. That trio of checkmarks is unmatched by any prospect in the class at the moment. If Rocker is the first player selected, he will join LHP David Price (2007) and SS Dansby Swanson (2015) as No. 1 overall picks out of Vanderbilt.More Less
You have to go back to the 1970s to find a draft where the Rangers picked as high as No. 2. Texas had the first overall pick in 1973 and the second pick in 1974. In both drafts the team took high school pitchers, opting for LHP David Clyde and RHP Tommy Boggs, respectively. It seems safe to say the Rangers are unlikely to choose from the prep pitching demographic in 2021.
This pick comes down to Del Castillo and prep Texas SS Jordan Lawlar, who now seems to be the top player in the prep class. Del Castillo has a great case as the best pure hitter in the class after posting a 1.001 OPS over his first two seasons at Miami, with more walks (43) and extra base hits (39) than strikeouts (32). There are some questions about his defensive ability behind the plate but 1) his bat will still be an asset if he needs to move from the position and 2) there might be a bigger gap between amateur and pro defensive evaluations at catcher than any other position. If selected here, Del Castillo would become the second-highest drafted player out of Miami, behind Pat Burrell—who went No. 1 to the Phillies in 1998—and ahead of players like Ryan Braun (5), Yonder Alonso (7), Zack Collins (10) and Yasmani Grandal (12).More Less
The Tigers have an elite, top-heavy group of prospects after picking high in the draft the last few years and taking players like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Casey Mize and Matt Manning. They’ll have a chance to add even more impact talent in 2021 and in this scenario they wind up with Lawlar, who has a strong all-around skillset with a chance for above-average tools across the board.
With this pick, Lawlar would become the second-highest drafted prep shortstop out of Texas, behind only Bobby Witt Jr., who went No. 2 to the Royals in 2019.More Less
This is the earliest the Red Sox have picked since the 1960s. Boston has been fairly high school heavy with its early picks in recent years after taking 3B Triston Casas and OF Nick Decker in the first two rounds in 2018, SS Matthew Lugo in the second round in 2019, and 2B Nick Yorke and 3B Blaze Jordan with its first two picks in 2020.
Many clubs believe Southern California shortstop Marcelo Mayer is the best pure high school hitter in the class, and it’s rare for the top prep hitter to last long in the draft. In recent years, the perceived best pure high school hitters have all been selected in the top 10 picks: OF Jarred Kelenic went No. 6 to the Mets in 2018, OF Riley Greene went No. 5 to the Tigers in 2019 and OF Robert Hassell went No. 8 to the Padres in 2020. Mayer has the superior defensive profile to all of them as a shortstop, which should elevate him into the top few picks.More Less
The Orioles have been hitter heavy in the draft under general manager Mike Elias. In 2019, the first eight players Baltimore selected were hitters. In the shortened 2020 draft, the team selected just one pitcher (RHP Carter Baumler) out of six total picks. Because of that, it’s hard to not at least consider players like Florida OF Jud Fabian, UCLA SS Matt McLain and Sam Houston State OF Colton Cowser. But the pick is Leiter, the No. 2 pitcher in the class.
Leiter is similar to his rotation mate Kumar Rocker in the sense that he has a similar high school pedigree and was seen as a first-round talent prior to making it to campus at Vanderbilt. However, he lacks Rocker's physicality, top-end velocity and collegiate track record. Because of that, Leiter’s realistic range could be wider than many of the players surrounding him. He also has additional leverage as being draft-eligible in his second year at school. If Leiter and Rocker are both selected in the first round, it will give Vanderbilt a fourth year with multiple first-round picks: 2017—RHP Kyle Wright and OF Jeren Kendall; 2015—SS Dansby Swanson, RHP Carson Fulmer and RHP Walker Buehler; 2007—LHP David Price and RHP Casey Weathers.More Less
- 6UCLA SSNotes:
The Diamondbacks drafted McLain 25th overall out of high school in 2018. He didn't sign, but it would be surprising if the same group of decision makers didn’t still like him in 2021 after he elevated his stock at UCLA. Arizona has a solid group of position player prospects in the lower levels of the minors and recently supplemented that with pitchers in the 2020 draft class, so a college bat could fit nicely.McLain is the top shortstop in the college class, and middle infielders with hitting ability and a track record of college performance are valued highly. While he doesn’t have the loudest tools in the class, he does everything at a high level and was off to a terrific start in the shortened 2020 season. If he hits like that all season in 2021, he might be gone by No. 6. If McLain goes in the first round as expected, he would give UCLA a first-rounder in three straight drafts—the longest stretch ever for the program.More Less
No team has invested in pitching in the draft more than the Royals in recent years. Even after taking nine pitchers in the top 10 rounds in 2018 and six more in the top 10 rounds in 2019, the Royals drafted pitchers with four of their six draft picks in 2020 and nabbed the top-ranked arm in the class in LHP Asa Lacy.
Prep RHP Andrew Painter was in consideration here—but the pick is Fabian. The center fielder has impressive power and speed, although he has the odd righthanded-hitting/lefthanded-throwing combination and has hit just .250 over 73 games with Florida with a 21.9% strikeout rate. His spring performance over a (hopefully) full season will be important.More Less
- 8IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. OFNotes:
There are shades of Zac Veen with this selection: a lefthanded-hitting high school outfielder out of Florida with a big frame and bigger power potential. Wood has more explosive tools and athleticism than Veen did at the same time, and a better shot to stick in center field, though his strike zone awareness and plate discipline aren't as polished as Veen’s.
IMG Academy has become a prospect pipeline in recent years and Wood has a chance to become the highest-drafted player in the program’s history—just two years after it produced six draftees in 2019. Louisiana State RHP Jaden Hill was also considered for this pick.More Less
- 9Louisville 3BNotes:
The Angels have taken a healthy mix of prep and college players in recent years, mixing in polished, safer profiles like LHP Reid Detmers and SS Will Wilson with more true upside plays like OFs Jordyn Adams and Jo Adell. They'll be picking in a spot where they could go in a variety of directions. For now, they are pegged with Binelas, one of the best power hitters in the class.
Binelas homered 14 times in his one full season with Louisville in 2019. That was the first time a Louisville freshman hit at least 10 home runs since Chris Dominguez in 2007. The track record for college third baseman selected among the first 10 picks is quite good, so Binelas would join strong company in a promising sign for his pro career.More Less
- 10Louisiana State RHPNotes:
The Mets have invested a lot of their early picks in high school players in recent years, though their draft philosophy could change under new ownership.
Hill would be a tremendous value for New York and realistically may be gone long before the 10th pick comes around. If he had more than 21.2 collegiate innings under his belt, he might be regularly talked about in the same range as Kumar Rocker. He has three potential plus pitches on top of a great frame and clean delivery. Now he just needs to go out and perform. Hill has a chance to become the fourth LSU righthander drafted in the top 10 picks, joining Ben McDonald, Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola.More Less
- 11Texas RHPNotes:
Madden had an intriguing arm out of high school and flashed a plus fastball but struggled to hold his velocity. He’s added strength and improved his stock at Texas, where he's learned how to better harness and control his exciting pure stuff. This would give the Longhorns their first player taken in the first round since 2011, when RHP Taylor Jungmann went 12th to the Brewers.
The Nationals have a penchant for pitching in the first round, particularly out of college, but we have solidly entered the range where players are going to have to prove it to go here. Other players considered were Sam Houston State OF Colton Cowser, Auburn RHP Richard Fitts and Kansas State LHP Jordan Wicks.More Less
If any team could challenge the Royals for going after college pitching in the draft, it would be the Mariners, who have taken three consecutive college righties in the first round. In 2019, the team drafted five consecutive college pitchers to kick off its draft and inked the top-ranked righthander in the 2020 class in Emerson Hancock. More other college arms would fit here, but with two going off the board in front of this pick, a college bat makes sense as well.
Cowser would become the highest-drafted player out of Sam Houston State and join 3B Glenn Wilson as the only first-round picks from the program. Analytically inclined teams like the Mariners could feel more comfortable with a player like Cowser after he was evaluated as a member of USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team as a freshman. He’s a complete hitter with power, speed and an ability to hit to all fields.More Less
- 13Calvary Christian HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. RHPNotes:
After three straight years of drafting college hitters, the Phillies went to the high school pitching demographic in 2020 under first-year scouting director Brian Barber. Mick Abel was the first prep pitcher off the board at No. 15 and Painter projects to be the first high school pitcher selected in 2021.
Painter established himself as the clear-cut top prep pitcher this summer with a complete all-around package. He has a strong, 6-foot-6 frame with more projection remaining, a fastball that regularly gets into the mid 90s, a feel for spinning two distinct breaking balls, good feel for a changeup and projects for above-average control. While teams are becoming more leery of taking high school righthanders in the first round, Painter has all the traits you want to see in one.More Less
- 14Boston College OFNotes:
College hitters have been the Giants M.O. in recent years. They selected C Joey Bart with the second overall pick in 2018, and in 2019 took OF Hunter Bishop and 1B Logan Wyatt in the first two rounds. San Francisco had seven picks in the shortened 2020 draft and six of the players they picked were collegians, led by C Patrick Bailey in the first round and 3B Casey Schmitt in the second.
Frelick is a dynamic athlete who has exciting tools and delivered solid production with Boston College in the ACC. He’s a plus-plus runner who should have the athleticism to play center field at the next level and has a solid line-drive stroke to go with good plate discipline. Frelick has a chance to become the first outfielder drafted out of Boston College in the first round. He would join four previous Boston College first-rounders—RHP Justin Dunn (2016), 1B Chris Shaw (2015), C Tony Sanchez (2004) and RHP Chris Lambert (2004). Another college hitter like Ethan Wilson or Georgia prep Brady House are other intriguing options in this range.More Less
House entered the summer as the top-ranked high school player in the class but wasn’t quite as dominant offensively on the showcase circuit as teams would have liked. He still has a chance to have plus hitting ability and power, and those are first-round tools regardless of where he best fits defensively.
The Brewers haven't hesitated to take famous players who slide during their draft year, including prep SS Brice Turang in 2018 and UCLA OF Garrett Mitchell in 2020. This selection continues that trend and would also mark the 15th straight year at least one Georgia high school player has been selected in the first round, dating back to 2007 when the Braves took OF Jason Heyward with the No. 14 pick.More Less
- 16South Alabama OFNotes:
The Marlins drafted five consecutive hitters to start the 2019 draft, but in 2020 pivoted entirely to pitchers—and mostly the four-year variety, with LHP Dax Fulton representing the team’s only high school selection. It’s hard to project which demographics will be available in the middle of the first round, but plenty of the pitchers remaining have enough question marks to make a bat feel like the better option.
Wilson has loud hit and power tools—his 17 home runs as a freshman in 2019 were second to only 1B Aaron Sabato—but profiles as a corner outfielder and plays in the mid-major Sun Belt Conference. Typically that might not have been a massive question mark, but without opportunities to perform in the Cape Cod League or with Team USA last summer, scouts may be more skeptical of his bat than they would be in previous years. Imagine if 2020 first-rounder Nick Gonzales never got the chance to prove his hitting ability in the Cape Cod League. In some respects, that’s Wilson’s situation, though South Alabama isn’t as hitter friendly as New Mexico State.More Less
- 17Wake Forest (N.C.) HS SSNotes:
The Reds have chased upside in recent drafts, including power-oriented prep hitters like OF Austin Hendrick and 3B Rece Hinds. Because of that, a player like Texas SS Izaac Pacheco is interesting, but Watson was one of the biggest risers in the prep class last summer.
The North Carolina product showed an advanced hit tool and approach against some of the better pitchers in the class, and has the plus running ability and solid actions defensively that should allow him to stick at shortstop. The prep shortstop class is stronger than in 2020, and if the draft unfolded like this in July, it would be just the third time since 2000 that four prep shortstops were taken in the first round. You have to go back to 1980 to find a draft where four prep shortstops were taken among the first 20 picks, so this year’s high school shortstop group has a chance to be elite.More Less
The Cardinals have also not hesitated to take upside-driven high school players in recent years, headlined by 3B Nolan Gorman, 3B Jordan Walker, SS/RHP Masyn Winn, SS Mateo Gil and OF Trejyn Fletcher in the top three rounds since 2018.
Pacheco is similar to Gorman and Walker as an offensive-oriented infielder, although he is ahead of the two defensively with perhaps a tick less usable power at the moment. Pacheco plays shortstop now, but his projectable, 6-foot-3 frame makes him a better fit for third base in the future, where his plus power potential should profile.More Less
- 19Auburn RHPNotes:
The Blue Jays have one of the best farm systems in baseball thanks mostly to an exciting group of hitters, including the steal of last year’s draft—SS Austin Martin—in addition to SS Jordan Groshans, C Alejandro Kirk and SS Orelvis Martinez.
Here they add a pitcher to that group with Fitts, who raised his profile this fall but, like many pitchers in this draft class, has limited starting track record. Fitts has a three-pitch mix including a fastball, splitter and slider, but he has started just six games in his career and will have to perform to go in the top 20 picks—though his pure stuff fits. Fitts has a chance to become the fourth Auburn righthander selected in the first round, joining Casey Mize (2018), Chris Bootcheck (2000) and Gregg Olson (1988).More Less
- 20Georgia RHPNotes:
The Yankees targeted hitters the last three years, with C Austin Wells (28), SS Anthony Volpe (30) and C Anthony Seigler (23), respectively. They will pick 20th overall in 2021, their highest selection since 2017, when they drafted South Carolina RHP Clarke Schmidt, despite the fact he had Tommy John surgery during the season.
The Yankees have a chance to go back to the SEC pitching well with this selection, taking Cannon and his exciting potential. He has a silky smooth, effortless delivery and a 6-foot-6 frame that screams upside. While he was used strictly as a reliever in the shortened 2020 season, he should take a prominent role in Georgia's rotation after RHPs Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox left for the draft. He’s thrown just 11.1 collegiate innings, but if he handles a starting role this spring, he could easily fit in the first round.More Less
- 21Louisville CNotes:
Collegiate catchers routinely get pushed up the draft, as teams have to navigate the extreme risk inherent with prep backstops. Davis is positioned well heading into 2021 after improving his hitting ability in two years at Louisville. He was known for his massive arm strength out of high school, but questions about his bat allowed him to reach campus, where he has been a .303/.381/.463 hitter with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
Like Louisville, the Cubs do an excellent job developing hitters. Davis and Binelas would give Louisville two first-round position players for the second time in program history, with the duo joining Corey Ray (5) and Will Smith (32) in a 2016 class that also produced RHP Zack Burdi from the program.More Less
- 22Wake Forest RHPNotes:
Last year, Wake Forest’s pitching lab helped produce a first-round pitcher (LHP Jared Shuster) for the first time since 2003, when the Tigers took RHP Kyle Sleeth with the third overall pick. Cusick is in position to follow Shuster in 2021 and make it back-to-back first-round arms for the Demon Deacons.
The White Sox have exclusively drafted college players in the first round since 2012 and Cusick fits the power-arm profile the team covets. He reaches 97 mph now and looks like the type of pitcher who will throw 100 mph in the future, but he will need to improve his control to give evaluators confidence he is a starter.More Less
The Indians have selected high school players with each of their last six first-round picks—the longest streak of any team in baseball. Three years after selecting Bo Naylor at the back of the first round, Cleveland has a chance to grab another prep catcher in Mack, who is one of three high school backstops with day one potential along with Ian Moller (Iowa) and Harry Ford (Ga.).
The Northeast is loaded this year, and Mack would represent the first high school player drafted from the region. Scouts didn’t get to see him last spring, but he was a consistent performer against the top pitchers in the class on the showcase circuit over the summer. He has a chance for plus power from the left side to go along with a plus arm behind the plate.More Less
- 24Kansas State LHPNotes:
Wicks shares similar traits with Shuster at the same time and trended up after an impressive summer in the Northwoods League. Wicks has a changeup that gets plus-plus grades from evaluators, and while his fastball isn’t overpowering in terms of velocity at 89-91 mph, hitters don't seem to pick it up. The industry does admire Wicks despite his middling velocity, and if he throws harder this spring, look out.More Less
The Athletics have drafted more hitters in the first round than pitchers over the last decade. You have to go all the way back to 2011 to get to the last righthander the team took (Sonny Gray) and eight of the other nine first-round picks since then have been hitters, with LHP A.J. Puk the lone exception.
Still, there could be a decent cluster of college arms in this range depending on how the spring unfolds and Hoglund has arguably the best command of any pitcher in the class. He was selected in the supplemental first round by the Pirates in 2018, but the two sides didn’t reach a deal after a high school season where he walked just two batters compared to 105 strikeouts. With Mississippi, Hoglund has struck out 90 batters while walking just 18 in 91.1 innings of work. If he can hold his mid-90s fastball velocity more frequently this spring, he may be gone well before this pick.More Less