Steals, Surprises And Storylines: Breaking Down Day 1 Of The MLB Draft
Carlos Collazo and JJ Cooper break down four of the most notable storylines of the first day of the draft.
A Modern Record For Prep Shortstops
We wrote back in March that this year’s draft class had a chance to be historic for the prep shortstop demographic and that played out very obviously on Day One.
Eight high school shortstops were selected in the first round, matching the all-time record set in 1971. This year’s group is more impressive when you consider the context of the draft in the 70s and how little college players were valued collectively by the industry.
Perhaps it’s also fair to consider the context of a down college bat year in 2021 that likely allowed some of the later-drafted first round prep shortstops to slip inside, but we’ve long thought the currency of this year’s draft class was in the toolsy, athletic shortstops from the high school ranks.
Entering the draft we thought there was a good chance we would see the second year ever to have four prep shortstops taken among the top 10 picks, but Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar—the top two players on the BA 500—were the only two to fit in that range.
Brady House and Kahlil Watson slipped into the middle of the first round, but those four players alone still matched the previous all-time mark for prep shortstops in the Baseball America era (from 1981 onward).
At least four high school shortstops have been selected in the first round in the draft on just two previous occasions since the turn of the century—in 2016 and 2019.
The selections of Colson Montgomery (22), Max Muncy (25), Jackson Merrill (27) and Carson Williams (28) in the final third of the first round meant the 2021 class blew any other modern draft class out of the water when it comes to the demographic.
In several years, it’s possible the 2021 class will be remembered for a player or players who have gone on to excel at the major league level, but for now 2021 seems like the year of the prep shortstop.
Kahlil Watson — The Steal of the Draft?
Speaking of prep shortstops, how about that Marlins pick?
Before the draft got started, it seemed like Kahlil Watson had a better chance to become the first overall pick than to slide all the way down the board to No. 16. That is to Miami’s benefit, as it landed a top-six talent in the class and far and away the toolsiest player in that range of the first round.
Marlins scouting director DJ Svihlik summed up our own thoughts nicely when asked about whether or not he expected Watson to be available at No. 16.
“I would have said you’re crazy, no way, not going to happen,” Svihlik said. “Players move around the board for a number of different reasons. Like I said when we were on the call last time, the draft, very dynamic, this was a really, really challenging draft. Teams manage their drafts in different ways. You don’t understand how everybody does it, how everybody has their own unique style.
“So I think when you add all those things together, players just tend to move around, and a player that’s supposed to go No. 4, he goes No. 8, and a player who’s supposed to go eighth might go 16th, and so on and so forth. For the most part, you look at the names that came off the board, all the right names came off the board, but it’s very, very difficult to predict the exact order. And if you look at the top 14 or 15 picks, that’s where you saw a lot of variety and changing of positions. So we just always take the best player that we have on the board at the time, and that’s just how it fell.”
It shouldn’t be too surprising that the Marlins were able to land a talent that fit higher on the board, as they did have a pick in the competitive balance round and the 11th largest bonus pool, but still—it is surprising a player of the caliber of Watson made it that far.
He was solidly among the group of eight or so players who most teams expected to go among the top 10 picks, in some order or another.
“He was absolutely one of (the players we didn’t expect to be available),” Svihlik said. “And I spent the last week down here with my staff and they probably got really tired of listening to me do it, but we constantly stress test our lists and our order, and we constantly ask the question of the whole fair catch. We did it again this morning. We went through our top of our board and said who are we going to fair catch? We know that a player is going to fall, who’s it going to be? Is he too high? So we evaluate all the way to the very end, as more and more information comes in, and he was not a player that we anticipated was going to fall. I guess he would have been second maybe, or third, but he was not a player that we anticipated to fall.”
While Watson falling to the Marlins was decided just as much by the teams in front of Miami, it’s hard to not think the Marlins scouting department just walked away with the best pick of the draft after day one.
-- Carlos Collazo
2021 Kansas City Royals Instructional League Roster
Frank Mozzicato headlines the Royals' instructional league roster.
Frank Mozzicato Leaps To Pick No. 7
There were plenty of surprises in the top 15 picks, but none came close to matching the jaw-dropping nature of Mozzicato, ranked 42nd on Baseball America’s Top 500 Draft Rankings.
Mozzicato had plenty of helium this spring thanks to his ability to consistently spin a plus curve. While his spring performance was sensational, it was expected to push him more into the mid to late first round consideration at best.
Instead he was the third pitcher off the board, ahead of all but one college pitcher.
“I’m speechless right now. I couldn’t be more excited,” Mozzicato said. “It was a little surprising. Six months ago I didn’t think I’d be in this position.”
The MLB draft does not allow teams to trade first-round picks, so if the Royals really liked Mozzicato, their only realistic shot to get him was with the seventh pick, as there was a chance he could be gone before Kansas City picked in the second round.
“Every draft is unique. They are all different,” Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "We felt that going in, that if it fell the way it did up top it may be beneficial for us to factor in looking at all 20 rounds. The value that a lot of players put on themselves economically, it may be a wise strategy to not only take the best upside but also maximize what we can do later on with the other 19 selections."
So the answer to why the Royals took Mozzicato as high as they did very well will likely be answered on Monday. The Royals did something similar in 2013 when they took Hunter Dozier with the 13th pick. Dozier signed for $2.2 million, taking less money than the eight first-round picks who were picked after him. That year, the Royals selected Sean Manaea with their supplemental first-round pick and paid him $3.3 million.
It’s no guarantee that the Royals will do something exactly like that this year, but Moore made a point of noting that he didn’t want to explain everything yet for strategic reasons with the draft still underway.
-- JJ Cooper
Why Ty Madden Fell and Why The Tigers Stand To Benefit
The streak continues. Madden slid to the competitive balance round. The Tigers eventually ended his drop at pick 32.
Madden came into the draft with fastball metrics that don’t fit what teams are looking for in 2021. He has plenty of velocity, but as we wrote last week, he struggles to beat hitters at the top of the zone.
Apparently that turned off enough teams that Madden fell out of the first round. It also means that the Tigers pulled off quite a first day of the draft. Detroit drafted Jackson Jobe, the consensus top high school arm in the draft class, with the No. 3 pick, and then added a college pitcher with a very long track record of success in the competitive balance round.
Despite picking No. 3 and No. 32, Detroit landed two of the top four pitchers in the class and was the only team that managed to land not one, but multiple top-12 talents.
-- JJ Cooper