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Reviewing The 2021 MLB Draft First Round One Year Later

Evaluators have long said that you can’t fully evaluate a draft class until many years have passed. There’s plenty of logic to that, because players do develop at different rates. A look at the 2012 first round seven years later in 2019 would have seen Kevin Gausman viewed as a well-traveled league-average starter. Now, he’s viewed as a front-of-the-rotation ace.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t get clues relatively quickly. Some players struggle to adapt to pro ball. Others seem even better than expected right away. When Mark Appel hit the minors, pro scouts quickly saw that he didn’t look like the No. 1 pick in a draft class. It wasn’t very long before evaluators were asking how Walker Buehler slipped to the back third of the 2015 first round.

So with that in mind, we’re taking a look at the past four first rounds this week. We’re not writing off any first-rounder’s potential completely this quickly (except for Kyler Murray since he’s playing football), but we can slot players into five categories: Better Than Expected, Do It All Over Again, Too Soon To Tell, Slight Concerns and Reasons To Worry.

If you missed any of our posts, we have looked at the 2018, 2019 and 2020 first rounds before today. Tomorrow we’ll wrap-up what we found from our look at all four first rounds.

Better Than Expected

Have performed at a level exceeding their draft slot/signing bonus. If the draft were done again, they would be picked significantly higher.

Gavin Williams, RHP, Guardians (AA) - Williams has outpitched most of the college pitchers selected above him, and he’s done so while showing better stuff than many of the pitchers picked ahead of him as well.

Colson Montgomery, SS, White Sox (HiA) - This has something to do with where Montgomery was picked, but it also has something to do with how quickly and confidently Montgomery has settled into pro ball.

Jackson Merrill, SS, Padres (LoA) - He hasn’t played that much this year, but Merrill has drawn raves for his well-rounded skill set.

Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies (HiA) - Painter has moved very quickly, and is drawing raves as a potential front-of-the-rotaton starter.

Do It All Over Again

Players who have lived up to expectations. If a team had it to do all over again, they’d consider picking them again.

Henry Davis, C, Pirates (AA) - His bat has been everything advertised. Defensively, he’s got more work to do according to scouts.

Jack Leiter, RHP, Rangers (AA) - He’s been less dominant than expected, but he was given an aggressive assignment to Double-A.

Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox (LoA) - One of a number of impressive prep shortstops from the 2021 class.

Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles (AA) - Cowser is hitting .299/.431/.451 in his brief career and has just reached Double-A. The Orioles paid him nearly $2 million less than the players picked above and below him.

Jordan Lawlar, SS, D-backs (HiA) - Lawlar has missed some time, but when he’s played, he’s hit. His current career slash line is a gaudy .335/.429/.573.

Benny Montgomery, OF, Rockies (LoA) - Prep hitters from Pennsylvania often take a little while to get going. That hasn’t been an issue for Montgomery so far. He’s hit well, but his free-swinging ways do cause some concerns.

Brady House, SS, Nationals (LoA) - House hasn’t hit for much impact yet this year, but it’s too early to say whether that’s a long-term concern or a short-term blip.

Harry Ford, C, Mariners (LoA) - He’s battled shoulder pain and is adjusting to the grind that is being an MiLB catcher, but Ford has been getting on base at a well above-average clip.

Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers (AA) - He only has four home runs in 58 games this year, but Frelick is hitting just as expected. He’s hitting .309/.387/.444 so far for his brief career.

Matt McLain, SS, Reds (AA) - McLain quickly sped to Double-A and has shown solid power and defense.

Michael McGreevy, RHP, Cardinals (AA) - McGreevy has impressed as a reliable, consistent starter.

Jordan Wicks, LHP, Cubs (HiA) - Wicks is bucking for a promotion to Double-A after showing above-average control and bat-missing stuff for High-A South Bend.

Max Muncy, SS, Athletics (LoA) - Muncy’s 15 home runs are third most in the California League this season. He’s looked more solid than spectacular according to scouts, but for a shortstop picked 25th, that’s not a slight.

Jay Allen, OF, Reds (HiA) - The final pick of the first round, Allen hasn’t matched his excellent Rookie-level 2021 debut in a jump to High-A Dayton. But he’s also not looked overmatched and his speed continues to stand out.

Carson Williams, SS, Rays (LoA) - Williams’ approach needs work, as he’s piling up strikeouts at a frightening rate. But his defense has been as advertised and he’s showing more than expected power.


2022 Arizona Fall League: Surprise Saguaros

The preliminary roster for the Arizona Fall League's 2022 Surprise Saguaros, which includes prospects from the Rangers, Royals, Astros, Phillies and Pirates.

Too Soon To Tell

Because of injuries or workload concerns, these players have not played enough to make a significant evaluation.

Jackson Jobe, RHP, Tigers (LoA) - High school pitchers are generally put on such limited workloads early on that it’s hard to make a full evaluation of them for a little while.

Frank Mozzicato, LHP, Royals (LoA) - See what was written about Jobe. Mozzicato has less than 30 pro innings.

Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Blue Jays (DNP) - The Blue Jays picked Hoglund knowing he’d be sidelined for the next year or more recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s yet to pitch in an official game, and was traded to the A's as part of the return for Matt Chapman.

Chase Petty, RHP, Twins - The Twins have already traded Petty to Cincinnati. He has thrown more innings than most of the 2021 first-round prep pitchers, but like them, his journey is just beginning.

Maddux Bruns, LHP, Dodgers - (LoA) He’s only thrown 27.2 innings as a pro. On the positive side, he has frontline starter stuff. On the negative side, so far he’s walking 8.74 batters per nine innings.

Slight Concerns

The initial returns are somewhat concerning, but it’s still early enough that you want to see how they make adjustments and respond to their struggles.

Will Bednar, RHP, Giants (LoA) - Bednar is the only healthy college pitcher picked in last year’s first round who isn’t pitching in High-A or Double-A. More concerning than that, his stuff has been largely described as vanilla this year.

Kahlil Watson, SS, Marlins (LoA) - Watson has shown flashes of what made him one of the higher-ceilinged prospects in the 2021 draft class. But those flashes have been surrounded by way too many swing-and-miss issues, defensive struggles and a suspension.

Trey Sweeney, SS, Yankees (HiA) - He’s hitting better lately, but High-A has been a tougher than expected test for Sweeney so far.

Ryan Cusick, RHP, Braves (AA) - Traded to the Athletics, Cusick has been one of the least effective pitchers in the Texas League when he’s been healthy this year. But he is already in Double-A less than a year after he was drafted and his velocity has been as expected.

Reasons To Worry

Players whose performance and tools had not lived up to their pre-draft expectations. Are not currently projected to have a significant big league role.

None yet. Maybe we’re being too soft, but it’s too soon to get too concerned over the struggles of any player less than a year after they first became a pro.

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