Top Four High School Shortstops Could Make MLB Draft History In 2021
The 2021 draft will be remembered for the quality and quantity of its high school shortstops.
Four could be drafted among the top 10 picks, which has remarkably happened only once before in draft history.
It has been equally rare for multiple prep shortstops to be drafted among the top five picks. That has happened only once before in 56 previous drafts, despite the attractiveness of the demographic.
This year’s prep shortstop fab four is composed of Marcelo Mayer of California, Jordan Lawlar of Texas, Brady House of Georgia and Kahlil Watson of North Carolina.
RELATED: See Baseball America's MLB Draft prospect rankings
Thanks to those four players, the 2021 draft could see double the number of high school shortstops drafted among the top 10 picks compared with what is considered typical in a strong year for the demographic. Some recent examples of strong years for high school shortstops include 2011 with Francisco Lindor (eighth overall) and Javier Baez (ninth) or 2019 with Bobby Witt Jr. (second) and CJ Abrams (sixth).
This year Mayer, Lawlar, House and Watson all rank inside the top 10 for Baseball America draft prospects. The BA mock draft projects all four going off the board within the top six picks as of early June.
Thrice As Nice
Four times in draft history have at least three high school shortstops been drafted among the top 10 picks. It happened three times in the first decade of the draft—in 1968, 1971 and 1973—then again in 1980 but not once since then.
That end date is important. The 1981 draft marked the first time in which more college players were drafted among the top 50 picks than high school ones. That means that for the first time in 1981, collegians were properly valued by major league clubs. A lot of their appeal was derived from proximity value as big league front offices learned to adapt to the new reality of free agency.
In the past 40 years, as college players have been prioritized even more in the first round, high school players have tended to be pushed down the board. The opposite is true in 2021 because few college hitters have established their credentials, in part because the juniors lost their summer wood bat opportunity in 2020, when the Cape Cod League and Team USA were casualties of the pandemic.
Since 1981, the year BA launched, the highest number of prep shortstops drafted among the top 10 picks was two, which has happened eight times, most recently in 2019 with Witt and Abrams.
The 2021 class should double that total. It’s even possible that Mayer, Lawlar, House and Watson all will be drafted within the top six picks, which would establish a record that would likely never be broken.
Let’s take a closer look at the historic high school shortstop draft classes of the past.
Tim Foli (first overall, Mets), Michael Weaver (sixth, Indians) and Junior Kennedy (10th, Orioles)
Foli put in 16 years in the majors as a glove-first shortstop, while Kennedy kicked around as a utility infielder for a few years. Cleveland released Weaver in 1974 after he had played just 20 games above Class A.
Tom Bianco (third overall, Brewers), Condredge Holloway (fourth, Expos) and Taylor Duncan (10th, Braves)
Not one member of this trio impacted the big leagues, even though it is the only draft in history to have two prep shortstops drafted among the top five picks. Bianco and Duncan made brief MLB appearances, while Condredge never signed. Instead he became the first Black starting quarterback in Southeastern Conference history and later played in the Canadian Football League.
Robin Yount (third overall, Brewers), Johnnie LeMaster (sixth, Giants), Gary Roenicke (eighth, Expos) and Pat Rockett (10th, Braves)
This draft holds the record for most high school shortstops drafted in the top 10 picks. All four reached the majors, headlined by Hall of Famer Yount who debuted at age 18, racked up 3,142 hits and won two MVP awards. Roenicke spent 12 years in the majors as a powerful platoon outfielder. LeMaster also spent 12 years in the bigs but as a light-hitting shortstop, while Rockett reached Atlanta for parts of three seasons but made no impact.
Garry Harris (second overall, Blue Jays), Darnell Coles (sixth, Mariners) and Kelly Gruber (10th, Indians)
Coles and Gruber enjoyed long big league careers, primarily as third basemen. Coles showed some power but played enough to qualify for a batting title in just two seasons. Gruber, one of several astute Rule 5 draft picks by Toronto during this period, made a pair of all-star teams, hit 31 homers in 1990 and started for the 1992 World Series-champion Blue Jays. Harris topped out at Double-A.