2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: A Historic High School Shortstop Class?
Welcome to Baseball America’s 2021 Draft Stock Watch. A recurring feature throughout draft season, we’ll use this space to explore rising and falling prospects in the 2021 draft class and also dive into different themes and topics at greater length. In today’s edition, we’re taking a look at this year’s high school shortstop class. You can see previous Stock Watch installments below:
The currency of any high school draft class is in up-the-middle, toolsy hitters.
Beyond that, what really excites scouting departments are shortstops. And when you add premium offensive tools to a player who looks like a sure-fire shortstop at the next level—now you’re talking about a profile that is sure to fly off the board on draft day.
“The supply of really good defenders at a premium position who can also provide huge offensive impact—it’s just exceptionally rare,” said one scouting director. “That’s why these guys, the Bobby Witt’s and the CJ Abrams’ of the world, don’t get out of the top six or seven picks. They’re a commodity.
“If you are a slam dunk offensive impact and you’re sticking at that position, in my mind you are going in the top five picks.”
A year after just two high school shortstops were taken in the first round—with the first not coming off the board until the 16th pick—the 2021 class is shaping up to be a much better year for prep shortstops.
Dallas Jesuit High shortstop Jordan Lawlar and Eastlake High (Chula Vista, Calif.) shortstop Marcelo Mayer are the top-ranked prep players in the class, slotting in at No. 2 and No. 5 overall on the preseason BA top 200 list. Major league scouts see the sort of impact offensive and defensive tools in both players that should have them picked before teams with a double-digit pick head to the podium.
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Lawlar was voted as the best pure hitter in the prep class, with Mayer checking in at No. 2 right behind him. On the glove side, Mayer earned the top defensive infielder accolade with Lawlar coming in second.
While neither Lawlar nor Mayer seem to possess the gaudy individual tools that Witt and Abrams showcased in their power and speed, respectively, evaluators seem to view the 2021 pair in a similar talent range overall.
“Knowing what CJ Abrams did in his debut and seeing Bobby Witt in big league camp hitting 500-foot homers I think it’s tough to separate yourself from those thoughts,” the scouting director said. “But I think if we are really, really honest with ourselves they are very, very comparable. I think anyone that feels adamantly one way or the other probably has some agenda that is behind the thought process.
“I think what it comes down to is they're just different types of players and athletes. Like, Witt is this power athlete, that you look at the amount of force he just generates from getting into the ground either in his swing or running—whatever—he's just powerful. Then you have Lawlar who's really loose and smooth and athletic. Then you have Mayer who's not necessarily twitchy, but just does everything super easy and smooth.”
The depth beyond Lawlar and Mayer is where the 2021 class has a chance to become special, perhaps even historic. Because on paper, the quantity and quality of the high school shortstop class is incredibly strong.
Winder-Barrow High (Winder, Ga.) shortstop Brady House checks in at No. 13 on the BA 200, followed by Wake Forest (N.C.) High shortstop Kahlil Watson at No. 14 and Friendswood (Texas) High shortstop Izaac Pacheco at No. 21.
Five prep shortstops ranking inside the first round might not sound like a big number, but it’s rare for that many to actually wind up being drafted in the first. In fact, you have to go back to the 1970s to find draft classes where five or more prep shortstops went in the first round—an era where college players were simply not in demand in the same way they are now.
Below are the draft years with the most high school shortstops selected in the first round.
|Year||# of HS SS||Headliner|
|1971||8||Tommy Bianco (No. 3)|
|1972||6||Rick Manning (No. 2)|
|1977||5||David Hibner (No. 9)|
|1973||5||Robin Young (No. 3)|
|1978||5||Phil Lansford (No. 10)|
|1994||4||Josh Booty (No. 5)|
|1970||4||Jim Browning (No. 11)|
|2019||4||Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2)|
|2016||4||Gavin Lux (No. 20)|
|1969||4||Alan Bannister (No. 5)|
|1980||4||Garry Harris (No. 2)|
|1975||4||Art Miles (No. 10)|
In the Baseball America era (from 1981 onward), where college players became more of a factor in the draft, there have been no more than four high school players selected in the first round—and just three years (2019, 2016 and 1994) have managed four.
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Notable standouts that should give a good overview of the top high school players to watch for next year's draft.
“I think (this class) is above all those groups,” said the scouting director, referring to the prep shortstop draft classes that produced four first-rounders.
With five currently ranked prepsters in first-round territory, it doesn’t seem crazy to wonder if the 2021 class will make history. With the caveat that our rankings will change as we near the draft, here is how the 2021 class stacks up with every draft class since 2000, according to Baseball America draft prospect rankings.
|Year||Top 30 HS SS||Players|
Lawlar, Mayer, House, Watson, Pacheco
|2019||3||Bobby Witt Jr., CJ Abrams, Gunnar Henderson|
|2017||3||Hunter Greene, Royce Lewis, Nick Allen|
|2012||3||Carlos Correa, Gavin Cecchini, Addison Russell|
|2005||3||Justin Upton, CJ Henry, Brandon Snyder|
|2002||3||BJ Upton, Scott Moore, Sergio Santos|
|2000||3||Luis Montanez, David Espinosa, Corey Smith|
|2018||2||Brice Turang, Nander De Sedas|
|2016||2||Delvin Perez, Nolan Jones|
|2015||2||Brendan Rodgers, Cornelius Randolph|
|2014||2||Nick Gordon, Jake Gatewood|
|2011||2||Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez|
|2010||2||Manny Machado, Yordy Cabrera|
|2008||2||Tim Beckham, Casey Kelley|
|2004||2||Chris Nelson, Matt Bush|
*Moustakas was listed as a 3B/1B on the BA rankings but was drafted as a SS
With most classes tallying between two and three high school shortstops ranked among the top 30 prospects—and none getting to four—it’s safe to say the 2021 group with five is a strong outlier. It’s also worth noting that only in two years in this span did major league teams draft fewer first round high school shortstops than the number of Baseball America pre-draft first round high school shortstop talents.
In 2005, Baseball America ranked three prep shortstops among the top 30 but only two—Justin Upton, C.J. Henry—were drafted there. In 2017, Baseball America ranked three prep shortstops among the top 50 but only two—Royce Lewis, Chris Seise—were drafted there. And in 2017 Greene was also a two-way prospect as a SS/RHP who was drafted as a pitcher.
In 19 of the 21 drafts in this sample, big league teams have selected as many or more high school shortstops in the first round as Baseball America ranked in that range in the first place.
Essentially, it seems unwise to bet the under on high school shortstops in the first round if you’re going off of Baseball America rankings. Other shortstops who are currently ranked outside of the first round but could wind up being drafted there include: Max Muncy (Calif.), Cody Schrier (Calif.), Peyton Stovall (La.) Cameron Cauley (Texas) and Bubba Chandler (Ga.), who is a two-way player and has impressed scouts with his bat and shortstop defense this spring.
It's also worth highlighting the unusual dynamics of the 2021 draft that could be boosting the perception of the prep draft class. With a shortened 2020 spring season and typical summer events like the Cape Cod League and US National team eliminated due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams saw the high school class significantly more than their college counterparts.
“College evaluations could be way off as of now,” one scouting director said before the season. “We lost so much time on this class due to COVID, that it is hard to say right now how this class will shake out. Right now it feels like the HS class is better than college, especially position players, but I am sure that will shake out differently by July.”
While most clubs view the college hitting as a weakness of the 2021 class, would that have been the case with a typical 2020 spring and summer season, where players had more time to establish an offensive track record? It’s a difficult question to pose and impossible to know with any certainty.
Regardless of the circumstances, this 2021 high school shortstop class looks like an incredibly strong one—with a chance to be one of the best ever in the Baseball America era.