The 2021 MLB amateur draft is a little more than four weeks away. In an effort to better market the event, MLB has pushed the draft back to the All-Star break this season, rather than its usual first week of June. The three-day event begins Sunday, July 11.
MLB and the MLBPA resolved several pandemic-related issues last March, including those involving the annual amateur draft. Last year's draft was shortened to five rounds (from 40) to cut costs. This year's draft will be 20 rounds, the minimum allowed under last March's agreement, and bonus pools will remain at 2020 levels, which were the same as 2019.
Thanks to their 19-41 record during the shortened 60-game 2020 season, the Pirates hold the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft. MLB does not have a draft lottery. The draft order is set in the reverse order of the previous year's standings. This is the fifth time the Pirates have held the No. 1 pick, joining 1986 (Jeff King), 1996 (Kris Benson), 2002 (Bryan Bullington), and 2011 (Gerrit Cole).
"The truth is, we don't know (who we're going to take)," Pirates GM Ben Cherington said during an MLB.com podcast appearance in December. "We know there's a lot of good, talented players who will be eligible for the draft next year. We're going to take the time that we have to get to know them as well as we possibly can. Excited for that process."
These days all first-round picks are protected from free-agent compensation. Teams instead give up later draft picks (and international bonus money) to sign qualified free agents. Despite that, the Astros do not have a first- or second-round pick this year. They were stripped of their top two picks this year and last as part of their punishment for the sign-stealing scandal.
Each team is given a set bonus pool for draft spending each summer. The penalties for excessive spending are harsh enough (tax on overage, forfeiting a future first rounder, etc.) that the bonus pool effectively acts as a hard cap. The bonus pools are tied to picks in the top 10 rounds, and if you give one player a below-slot bonus, you can give the savings to another player(s).
The Rangers hold the No. 2 pick but have a smaller bonus pool than the Tigers, who hold the No. 3 pick, because Detroit received the No. 32 pick in the competitive balance lottery. Texas does not receive a competitive balance pick, which are extra picks given to lower revenue teams. The Astros have the smallest bonus pool at $2,940,600 as a result of their forfeited picks.
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Below is our first 2021 MLB amateur mock draft. We'll have mock draft updates every other Friday between now and draft day with the latest chatter, speculation, and rumors.
Pick: C Henry Davis, Louisville ($8,415,300 slot value)
There is no Bryce Harper, Adley Rutschman, or Stephen Strasburg in this draft class. That clear-cut No. 1 prospect. Because of that, the Pirates have cast a wider than usual net for the No. 1 pick. Davis, the top two high school shortstops (Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer), and the two Vanderbilt righties (Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker) are all in the mix.
GM Ben Cherington targeted high-upside players no matter how far away from the big leagues in the Josh Bell, Starling Marte, Joe Musgrove, and Jameson Taillon trades. Applying that strategy to the draft would suggest Lawlar or Mayer will be the pick here, though I'm instead going with the Davis, the draft's best hitter and a likely long-term catcher once MLB adopts the automated strike zone.
Davis is not Rutschman, though he's an advanced and powerful right-handed hitter who should arrive in Pittsburgh in fairly short order. A few months ago Davis going No. 1 would've been a surprise, but he's had a dominant spring (.370/.482/.663 with 15 home runs through 50 games) and checked every box.
Pick: SS Jordan Lawlar, Jesuit College Prep (Texas) ($7,789,900 slot value)
The Rangers have a very position-player-heavy farm system (MLB.com ranks only three pitchers among their top 15 prospects), though you don't draft for need, especially not with this high a pick. It's impossible to know what you'll need in a few years, when these players are MLB-ready. Just take the best, most talented player, and sort everyone out later.
Lawlar is a Dallas kid and the club's top decision-makers have been in to see him multiple times this spring. The tools are star-caliber and reminiscent of Royals prospect Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft. Like Witt, Lawlar will turn 19 soon after the draft, and older high school prospects don't have the greatest track record in pro ball. That said, it's hard to pass up a shortstop this talented and with a chance to have an impact on both sides of the ball.
Pick: SS Marcelo Mayer, Eastlake HS (California) ($7,221,200 slot value)
Rumor has it the Tigers are leaning shortstop here, and with Lawlar off the board in our mock draft, Mayer is the best available. He is a lefty hitting do-it-all shortstop with loud tools who makes the game look very easy. The Tigers have a known affinity for pitchers who perform well in the SEC (Casey Mize, Alex Faedo, etc.) and that could lead them to one of the Vanderbilt righties if Lawlar and Mayer go 1-2 in either order. The bet here is Detroit will go with the potential star shortstop, and hope to have Mayer alongside 2019 No. 5 pick Riley Greene and 2020 No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson in the lineup the next time they contend for a World Series.
Pick: RHP Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt ($6,664,000 slot value)
The Red Sox appear to be leaning college player, and they've been connected to Davis, Leiter, and Rocker in recent weeks. They have their pick of the two Vanderbilt righties here. Rocker's velocity has wavered the last few weeks and Leiter had a start skipped for workload reasons not too long ago, which is contributing to the two sliding down draft boards. Both are still excellent prospects, and my hunch is the Red Sox prefer Leiter's polish over Rocker's power.
Pick: OF Sal Frelick, Boston College ($6,180,700 slot value)
This the build-a-pitcher era and the Orioles have bought into it fully under GM Mike Elias. They selected five position players with their top five picks in 2020 and eight position players with their top eight picks in 2019. The thinking is you can use weighted ball training to improve velocity and high-speed cameras to alter grips and improve breaking balls, and thus turn a lower profile pitcher drafted in the later rounds into a more highly regarded prospect. So, take hitters early and find pitchers later.
Last year Baltimore cut a significant below-slot deal with outfielder Heston Kjerstad at the No. 2 pick (he signed for $5.2 million despite being slotted for $7.8 million), and used the savings on other players later in the draft. That is a practice Elias pioneered when he ran drafts for the Astros in the early to mid 2010s. The track record suggests the O's go back to that well with another position player this year. Frelick is the quintessential modern position player prospect as an undersized hitter (listed at 5-foot-9) with elite contact rates, a quick bat, and high-end athleticism.
Pick: OF Colton Cowser, Sam Houston State ($5,742,900 slot value)
The Diamondbacks definitely have a type, and that type is up-the-middle athletes with an innate feel for the barrel (think Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Daulton Varsho, etc.). Cowser is a popular target among teams that value track record and performance, and he fits Arizona's preferred profile almost perfectly. The D-Backs are rumored to have interest in high school shortstop Kahlil Watson, who figures to come off the board in the 6-10 range, and I think they'd take Frelick over Cowser if given the opportunity.
Pick: RHP Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt ($5,432,400 slot value)
With Witt the notable exception, the Royals have been very pitching-heavy early in the last few drafts. They've been connected to Watson and fellow high school shortstop Brady House the last few weeks, but I have a hard time believing Rocker will fall any further than this. If nothing else, he's the most well-known player in the draft, and his pure upside may be the highest in the draft as well. With the No. 7 pick, you don't worry about organizational need, and you simply take the best player. That's Rocker.
Pick: SS Brady House, Winder-Barrow HS (Georgia) ($5,176,900 slot value)
House and the Rockies, who tend to target premium athletes, have been a popular rumor the last few weeks. House is not without his red flags (at times he struggled against top competition in showcase events last summer), but he offers an exciting combination of power and speed, even if he is expected to move to third base long-term. In this mock draft, Colorado gets to pick between House and Watson, and they've also been connected to slider specialist Jackson Jobe this spring.
Pick: SS Kahlil Watson, Wake Forest HS (North Carolina) ($4,949,100 slot value)
Perry Minasian has been the general manager for a few months now, but Matt Swanson has been the scouting director since 2016, and he typically leans toward athletes with loud tools, like Jordyn Adams and Jo Adell. Watson fits the profile. He's had a tremendous spring and is climbing draft boards, so much so that he could figure into the top five picks by time the draft rolls around. The Angels have also been connected to prep shortstop-slash-righty Bubba Chandler, who they're said to prefer as a shortstop even though most teams seem to like him better on the mound. If MLB allowed draft pick trading, I imagine the Halos would be on the phone with the D-Backs trying to move up to have a shot at Rocker.
Pick: SS Matt McLain, UCLA ($4,739,900 slot value)
McLain declined to sign with the D-Backs as the No. 25 pick out of high school in 2018, and he's had an up-and-down career at UCLA, one that included a broken thumb earlier this spring. He is the best college infielder in the draft class by a pretty significant margin though, and those guys usually don't last long on draft day. The Mets have mostly been connected to college hitters the last few weeks, and could pivot toward Cowser or Frelick should they make it this far.
Pick: RHP Jackson Jobe, Heritage Hall HS (Oklahoma) ($4,547,500 slot value)
The Nationals are said to covet Jobe and Miami (Ohio) righty Sam Bachman, and in our mock draft, they get to pick between the two. All else being equal, taking the college pitcher over the high school pitcher makes sense given the historical risks, though Jobe is considered the most polished prep righty in quite some time, and his slider is a top of the line offering with elite spin rates. There's been enough buzz here to mock Jobe to Washington over Bachman.
Pick: RHP Sam Bachman, Miami (Ohio) ($4,366,400 slot value)
The Mariners have not used their first round pick on a high school player since taking Alex Jackson with the No. 6 pick in 2014, and I see no reason to think they'll zig this year after zagging for so long. College player it is. Bachman is one of the hardest throwers in the draft class (he has touched 102 mph this spring) and his slider is a vicious put-away pitch. There's reliever risk here because his control isn't great, but it's potential frontline stuff, and that's hard to pass up 12 picks into the draft.
Pick: OF Benny Montgomery, Red Land HS (Pennsylvania) ($4,197,300 slot value)
Montgomery is a somewhat local kid (he's from the Harrisburg area) and there's been a good amount of buzz connecting him to the Phillies. He's one of the best athletes in the draft class and he has explosive power, though there is some rigidity to his swing, creating concerns about his ability to handle higher level pitching. That said, Montgomery's upside is tremendous, and he's been compared to former Phillie Jayson Werth at the same age.
Pick: LHP Jordan Wicks, Kansas State ($4,036,800 slot value)
The Giants have been very college heavy the last few years and they're said to prefer hitters to pitchers this year. Cowser, Frelick, and McLain are all off the board in our mock draft though, and at this point it makes more sense to grab Wicks, one of the most advanced pitchers in the country, rather than reach for a bat. Wicks has excellent command and is a candidate to add velocity and improve his secondary stuff once he gets under pro instruction. San Francisco is said to like Montgomery and could jump on him should he still be available.
Pick: RHP Ryan Cusick, Wake Forest ($3,885,800 slot value)
The Brewers gravitate toward loud tools and Cusick fits their profile as a hard-thrower with a put-away breaking ball, though his control is not great, and he comes with reliever risk. Milwaukee has had a lot of success with this profile though (Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, most notably), and you might as well draft the type of players you're good at developing. They're unavailable in this mock draft, though the bet here is Milwaukee would jump on Cowser, Frelick, or McLain should they make it this far.
Pick: C Harry Ford, North Cobb HS (Georgia) ($3,745,500 slot value)
In the Derek Jeter/Bruce Sherman era, the Marlins have been all about plus athletes with electric tools, both in the draft (JJ Bleday) and in trades (Jazz Chisholm, Jesús Sánchez, etc.). Ford is an excellent athlete and not just for a catcher, so much so that moving to center field is a legitimate fallback plan. He has power, speed, an excellent arm, and he's shown aptitude for catching premium stuff in showcase events. High school catchers have a terrible track record in pro ball, but Ford is as talented and athletic as any in recent memory.
Pick: RHP Gunnar Hoglund, Mississippi ($3,609,700 slot value)
The draft starts to open up at this point and the Reds have extra picks at No. 30 (compensation for losing Trevor Bauer) and No. 35 (competitive balance lottery). That makes them a candidate to go below slot here, then use the savings to sign whichever top player(s) falls to those two picks. Hoglund was a consensus top-10 pick right up until May 7, when he exited a start with an injury, . He's still highly regarded enough to go in the first round, though the injury cuts into his negotiating leverage, giving the Reds a chance to get a top talent at a discount, setting them up nicely for their next two picks.
Pick: SS/RHP Bubba Chandler, North Oconee HS (Georgia) ($3,481,300 slot value)
The Cardinals are always difficult to project because they've been all over the place in recent drafts, and I don't mean that in a bad way. They're just as willing to go with the safer college player as they are the high-upside high school kid. St. Louis is open-minded rather than keyholed in on a preferred demographic. A case can be made Chandler is a first-round prospect as both a shortstop and a pitcher, though more clubs seem to prefer him on the mound. My guess is the Cardinals would love to get Hoglund here.
Pick: C Adrian Del Castillo, Miami ($3,359,000 slot value)
We're in guesswork territory, and the Blue Jays have skewed toward college players in the first round the last few drafts, and Del Castillo is arguably the top college bat still on the board. There were times he looked like a potential top-10 pick, but he's had an up-and-down spring, and there are questions about his ability to stay behind the plate. Del Castillo has big power and a disciplined approach, and catchers are often drafted higher than expected because of position scarcity.
Pick: OF Will Taylor, Dutch Fork HS (South Carolina) ($3,242,900 slot value)
Since 2018, the Yankees have picked only five pitchers in the top five rounds, and it is by design. They go bats early and pitchers late, and trust their player development folks to improve velocity and spin rates. New York has favored athletic up-the-middle types with strong hit tools rather than big power (Blake Rutherford, Anthony Seigler, Anthony Volpe, etc.), and Taylor fits the mold. He's committed to play baseball and football at Clemson, and he's shown he can hang with the draft's elite prospects in showcase events. Whichever team drafts Taylor will bank on him making big gains once he focuses on baseball full-time.
Pick: RHP Michael McGreevy, UC Santa Barbara ($3,132,300 slot value)
This has been a pretty consistent link the last few weeks. McGreevy gets a lot of Shane Bieber comps because he's a command over stuff prospect, and because Bieber also went to UC Santa Barbara. It's an unfair comparison though. Bieber made tremendous gains in pro ball to become a Cy Young winner. McGreevy locates exceptionally well, and a team that believes it can help him take his 93-96 mph fastball into the 96-98 mph range will call his name in the first round.
Pick: RHP Chase Petty, Mainland HS (New Jersey) ($3,027,000 slot value)
The White Sox march to the beat of their own drum on draft day and it's served them well. They'll take chances on undersized hitters (Nick Madrigal) or pitchers with funky deliveries (Garrett Crochet, Chris Sale, etc.). Petty fits into the latter category. He's the hardest throwing high school pitcher in the draft class -- he regularly touched 101 mph this spring -- and his slider and changeup are surprisingly advanced for a kid who hasn't needed them to dominate. It's an unconventional delivery and a lower arm slot, for sure, but the White Sox won't be scared away by that.
Pick: OF Joshua Baez, Dexter Southland HS (Massachusetts) ($2,926,800 slot value)
You have to go back to Bradley Zimmer in 2014 for the last time Cleveland used its top pick on a college player. There are no indications the club will change course now. Baez has enormous power and he sells out to get to it, leading to a lot of swing and miss, though the ability to flick your wrists and hit the ball out of the park is unteachable. Also, Cleveland skews toward players who are young for the draft class, and Baez will graduate at age 17.
Pick: SS/RHP Spencer Schwellenbach, Nebraska ($2,831,300 slot value)
The Braves have been connected to college pitchers the last few weeks, specifically Cusick and McGreevy. Neither is on the board here though, so we'll give them Schwellenbach, another player Atlanta been tied to this spring. Opinions are split on whether Schwellenbach will hit or pitch at the next level. He's a big time exit velocity guy with the athleticism to stay on the infield, but he's also shown three pitches and enough command to potentially start (Nebraska uses him at short, then puts him on the mound to close games).
Pick: SS Alex Mooney, St. Mary's Prep (Michigan) ($2,740,300 slot value)
It's been a while since the Athletics adhered to the Moneyball college performer profile. They've started to focus on players with premium athleticism and big upside (Austin Beck, Tyler Soderstrom, even Kyler Murray), and Mooney is climbing up draft boards as a legitimate shortstop with sneaky pop in his righty bat. The A's have mostly been connected to high school hitters this spring, including Taylor and Houston area third baseman Izaac Pacheco.
Pick: C Joe Mack, Williamsville East HS (New York) ($2,653,400 slot value)
The Twins are another team with a type, and that type is big exit velocity guys like Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker, and Aaron Sabato. Mack would be a coup at this spot given his all-around ability and lefty power, which isn't easy to find behind the plate. Given their preferences, I wonder whether Minnesota will take a chance on Florida outfielder Jud Fabian, who has enormous power but major swing-and-miss concerns. He came into the spring as a potential top-10 pick, swung and missed his way out of the first-round picture, and is now playing his way back up draft boards.
Pick: LHP Frank Mozzicato, East Catholic HS (Connecticut) ($2,570,100 slot value)
This is the first time the Padres have not had a top-10 pick since 2015, when they forfeited their first rounder (No. 13) to sign James Shields. Given what transpired after that, I'm guessing San Diego has no regrets about signing Shields. Anyway, Mozzicato threw four consecutive no-hitters recently, but his stock was on the rise even before that because he showed more velocity than in the past this spring. San Diego is said to be heavy on prospects from the Northeast this spring, including Baez, Mack, and New Jersey southpaw Anthony Solometo.
Pick: 2B Peyton Stovall, Haughton HS (Louisiana) ($2,493,900 slot value)
Within the last few years the Rays have really leaned into the advanced plate discipline/good contact skills profile, hoping those players will develop more power as they learn to elevate the ball (think Brandon Lowe). Stovall has that exact profile and is able to barrel the ball up consistently from the left side of the plate. That said, the track record of high school second basemen in pro ball isn't great. Tampa has a competitive balance lottery pick (No. 34) and could cut a below-slot deal here and spend the savings there.
Pick: RHP Jaden Hill, LSU ($2,424,600 slot value)
This is basically a shot in the dark. Hill had Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago and was considered a potential top-10 pick when healthy, and the Dodgers have not been afraid to select a talented pitcher who falls into their lap because of elbow woes (they did it with Walker Buehler in 2015). When healthy, Hill has upper-90s velocity and a knockout changeup. They might even be able to sign him to a below-slot bonus given the Tommy John surgery, giving them flexibility for later picks.