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How MLB Scouting Departments Grade The 2021 Draft Class

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(Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)

Today, Baseball America released its first combined draft list for the 2021 class, lining up the top college and high school players in the country.

While it is fun to dive into the weeds at a player-by-player level, it’s also instructive to get a bird’s eye view of the class. Like the 2020 class, the 2021 group is a unique bunch with less consensus at this point than in a typical year and inflated depth after a five-round draft in 2020 that sent plenty of talented players back to school.

So how do scouting departments view the 2021 class at this point? While opinions are certain to change as the college season unfolds, let’s see what the experts think of the class right now. 

BA surveyed major league scouting departments and asked teams to grade the class on a 20-80 scale in a number of different categories. Fourteen teams responded. Here are the results.

Overall Talent

Average Grade: 56
Range: 30-70
Majority: 60

This question was left intentionally vague to get a sense of the class, generally, and to see the overall excitement level for the group. Outside of two votes at the extremes (one 70 and one 30), most of the industry seems to think this class is average or plus, overall.

Impact Talent 

Average Grade: 50
Range: 30-70
Plurality: 50

What’s more important for a draft class? Impact talent at the top or depth? That’s up to teams—and you—to decide, but it seems like the excitement for the 2021 class doesn’t come from the top-end, elite talent.

This is where you can also see how difficult it is to establish a consensus opinion for the 2021 draft class. There were five different grades with a wide range and no majority opinion, though most votes were clustered in the 40-60 range.

This wide distribution of opinions is telling. Typically the top-end players would be the most collectively understood group, but there’s plenty of uncertainty still as we head toward the college season.

Overall Depth

Average Grade: 59
Range: 30-80
Plurality: 60

Depth appears to be the carrying tool for the 2021 group, which makes sense. A five-round draft in 2020 meant only 160 players were drafted—significantly less than in a typical year. The 2020 class itself was already lauded for its depth of talent, and much of that has been pushed over into the 2021 class.

The only surprise here might be the fact that only one team graded the depth out as an 80 (the only 80 grade the 2021 class received in any category). It’s hard to see a scenario where future draft classes get as much inflated depth as this one, barring another five-round draft.

College Pitching

Average Grade: 56
Range: 40-70
Majority: 60

The college pitching had the highest floor of any category, with the lowest grade a 40 from just one team. Outside of that, 13 teams saw the college pitching as average or better, with most settling in on the plus range.

An interesting wrinkle to this grade is that while scouting departments acknowledge the overall talent of the college pitching, almost every arm in the class has significant questions to answer, from Kumar Rocker down to returning 2020-eligible players like Seth Lonsway. There are few, bonafide starters who check off every box. That could lead to plenty of movement this spring.

College Hitting

Average Grade: 44
Range: 30-60
Plurality: 50

The college hitting demographic is the group has the potential to take the 2021 class from merely a good draft class to a great one. At the moment, scouting departments are more skeptical of college hitting than any other category.

As is usually the case, college bats should move up draft boards as the college season unfolds, but how many premium bats will there be? There isn’t a single college hitter at the moment without significant questions.

Miami catcher Adrian Del Castillo, Louisville third baseman Alex Binelas, Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser and UCLA shortstop Matt McLain all have an argument as the best pure hitter in the country. All have questions. Del Castillo and Binelas have positional questions that could hurt how they profile, Cowser has center field/corner outfield questions to go along with impact and small school nitpicks. McLain has power question marks, mixed results in college, and—for some teams—long term positional questions.

Florida outfielder Jud Fabian has exciting power and speed tools, but his pure hitting ability needs to be proven this spring. Boston College outfielder Sal Frelick has size questions he will have to overcome, while South Alabama outfielder Ethan Wilson has small school concerns and never got a chance to prove his bat during the summer.

How players like these and the second-tier bats (Cody Morissette, Levi Usher, Hunter Goodman, Christian Franklin, Max Ferguson, Zack Gelof, etc.) perform this spring could drastically shape the makeup of the 2021 class.

If there’s one group to watch closely, it’s this one.

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High School Pitching

Average Grade: 49
Range: 30-60
No Plurality: 50 and 60 tied

After the college hitting group, this is the most questionable demographic of the class. Like the college hitters, no team graded this group as better than a 60, but the votes were more tightly clustered in the 50-60 range than the college bats.

Florida righthander Andrew Painter has established himself as the only 1A tier pitcher of the group and has some similarities to Phillies first-rounder Mick Abel from 2020 in terms of a well-rounded skillset with few questions. After that, there’s a 1B group that includes righthanders Chase Petty, Chase Burns, Jackson Jobe and lefthander Joshua Hartle—each of whom has first-round talent but is less polished than Painter.

Beyond the 1A and 1B tier of prep pitchers, there is quality depth of lefthanders who have plenty of talent, including Maddux Bruns, Anthony Solometo, Brock Selvidge, Philip Abner, Mason Albright and Gage Jump. Recent drafts have been more limited than this with southpaw arms.

High School Hitting

Average Grade: 58
Range: 30-70
Majority: 60

As evidenced by the voting, this group has the most consensus of any. Eleven separate teams graded the high school hitters out as a 60 with three other votes being a 30, 50 and 70. Teams likely have more confidence in their evaluations of the high school hitters than any other demographic because of a fairly typical evaluation period for the preps last summer.

The class is filled with athletic, up-the-middle position players who have tools, hitting ability and power. Prep shortstops are typically the most coveted position group of a high school class, and the 2021 group has that in spades.

Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer seem to have separated themselves from the group and appear to be safe top-10 picks. Brady House and Izaac Pacheco might eventually move to third base, but they have the tools to be above-average defenders at the position with the power to profile well. Khalil Watson is among the better athletes in the class, with electric bat speed. Beyond the current top-30 shortstops are players who could easily move into this range, like Maxwell Muncy, Cody Schrier, Alex Mooney and Jordan McCants—to name just a few.

In the outfield there are massively tooled-up athletes with tantalizing upside, led by Florida outfielder James Wood, Massachusetts outfielder Joshua Baez and Alabama outfielder Benny Montgomery. It doesn’t end with them, as Braylon Bishop, Tyree Reed, Will Taylor, Malakhi Knight and Thomas DiLandri also offer an upside blend of tools and athleticism. On top of that are pure hitting profiles that Daylen Lile and Braden Montgomery bring and we haven’t even touched on a strong prep catching group.

It’s a risky demographic, but Joe Mack, Harry Ford, Ian Moller and Carter Jensen will make it difficult for teams to pass on them given their various combinations of power (Mack, Moller), freak athleticism (Ford), pure hitting ability (Mack, Jensen) and defensive chops (all of the above, to varying degrees).

Altogether, it’s an exciting and deep group of high school bats.

In Conclusion

Putting everything together, how does the class look? We’ll take each grade and round to the nearest half-grade to see.

Overall: 55 (above-average)
Impact: 50 (average)
Depth: 60 (plus)
College Pitching: 55 (above-average)
College Hitting: 45 (fringe-average)
High School Pitching: 50 (average)
High School Hitting: 60 (plus)

With just one area of weakness at the moment, the 2021 group looks like a solidly above-average class now, with a chance for average or better tools across the board on July 11 depending on the college bats.

Buckle up, this draft season is going to be a fun one.

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