MLB Draft 2021 first-round takeaways: Pirates take Henry Davis; Royals make top-10 surprise; A's nab Max Muncy

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Major League Baseball launched its 2021 amateur draft on Sunday night. For the first time, the draft was pushed back from its usual June date and moved to Denver, Colorado to coincide with the All-Star Game.  The first round, plus Competitive Balance Round A, were conducted on Sunday and 36 picks were made. The Pirates took Louisville catcher Henry Davis with the top overall pick.

You can find every selection here, and below is the top five:  

  1. Henry Davis, C, Louisville
  2. Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
  3. Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS (OK)
  4. Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake HS (CA)
  5. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State

The draft will proceed through the 10th round on Monday before reaching its completion, with rounds 11 through 20, on Tuesday afternoon. 

Below, you'll find five big takeaways from the first night.

1. Pirates go with Davis over Mayer at No. 1

Coming down the home stretch, CBS Sports predicted that the Pirates would end up choosing between California prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer and Louisville catcher Henry Davis for the No. 1 spot. The determining factor, we figured, would be each player's financial ask, with the low man winning out.

It's to be seen if the second part proves true; the first part did, to the extent that the Pirates did take Davis with the fifth No. 1 pick in franchise history Here's what we wrote when we ranked him as the class's fourth best prospect:

Davis made the leap by hitting .370/.482/.663 this season with 15 home runs and seven more walks than strikeouts. The demand for two-way backstops always outpaces the supply, which is why Davis' upside is intriguing. He combines a low whiff rate with a high average exit velocity at the plate, and he's at least an adequate defender (with a strong arm) behind it. Some evaluators are concerned his strength-based swing won't work as well against advanced pitching. Fair enough, but he's the most accomplished collegiate bat in a class that doesn't have many of them.

While it seems cheap -- or, typical Pirates -- to draft based on the money aspect, there is a defensible strategy at play here. This class lacked an obvious No. 1 pick, à la Bryce Harper, meaning the Pirates likely had three-to-five players graded similarly. It makes sense, then, to draft the one who costs the least, that way the Pirates could use those savings later on, likely to land a player who slipped because of signability or injury-related concerns.

This portfolio approach, if you will, has been used frequently by the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles in recent years. The Astros, famously, used the $1.2 million they saved from drafting Carlos Correa over Byron Buxton to land Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz. The Pirates can only hope for a similar haul.

2. Prep shortstops slip

On paper, one of the strengths of this class was its supply of well-regarded prep shortstops. Between Mayer (Our No. 1 ranked player entering the draft), Jordan Lawlar (3), Kahlil Watson (5), and Brady House (9), it appeared that the top 10 would be chock full of 'em.

Alas, that didn't happen. Mayer was still the first shortstop to come off the board, but he slipped to the Boston Red Sox at No. 4. Lawlar then went to the Arizona Diamondbacks at No. 6, but both House (No. 11, Washington Nationals) and Watson (No. 16, Miami Marlins) fell out of the top 10. Heck, even Matt McLain, the top collegiate shortstop in the class, dipped to No. 17.

There's no obvious explanation for why those players slid down the board, but the group's collective tumble led to the destruction of many a mock draft.

3. Royals take leap of faith

By far the biggest surprise of the top 10 was when the Kansas City Royals selected Connecticut high school lefty Frank Mozzicato with the seventh pick. 

Mozzicato, who had been identified by league sources as a likely late first-round pick, checked in on CBS Sports' pre-draft list at No. 26. Here's what we wrote at the time:

Mozzicato was an under-the-radar sleeper until he reeled off four consecutive no-hitters this spring, including a 17-strikeout performance in the state championship game. (He went 3 for 4 at the plate in that contest as well.) Mozzicato has a tall, thin frame onto which he ought to add muscle over the coming years. (He turned 18 only a month ago, making him one of the younger players in this class.) That should enable him to gain a few ticks of velocity (he sits around 90 mph) to his fastball, in turn making his advanced curveball even more effective. His simple delivery, meanwhile, bodes well for his command projection.

The Royals are clearly banking on Mozzicato making the most of his promise. Still, there's a risk-reward element at play, and Kansas City could look quite foolish if Mozzicato fails to develop after being picked in front of Kumar Rocker, Kahlil Watson, Brady House, and other talents who were widely regarded as being the better prospects on draft night.

4. Rocker falls to Mets

Speaking of Rocker, his slide ended when the New York Mets made their selection at No. 10. While this may seem like a blunder by several other teams -- he was, after all, the most popular player in the class, as well as someone coming off a dominant collegiate career at one of the best programs in the country -- it shouldn't have come as a huge surprise.

Rather, Rocker's perception within the industry never matched how he's held publicly, as a can't-miss, fire-breathing dragon of a right-hander. CBS Sports even named him as one of the most polarizing players in the class. Here's why:

The most famous, and therefore the most scrutinized prospect in the class. Rocker is as physical as they come (he's listed at a Brad Keller- or Lance Lynn-like 6-foot-5, 245 pounds), and he possesses one of the draft's best chase pitches, in his trademark slider. Alas, there are several teams have concerns, beginning with a velocity dip he experienced earlier this year. Rocker's changeup is underbaked, and scouts are concerned that his arsenal will play lighter than it should against big-league hitters. His mechanics, specifically a high elbow and an oft-late arm, are worrisome as it pertains to his command and durability.

Perhaps Rocker proves to be a case where the industry overanalyzed one of the best collegiate pitchers in recent memory. If so, the Mets will have landed one of the best values of the draft.

5. Athletics take Max Muncy (no, not that one)

We'll end on an amusing note. The Athletics picked California prep infielder Maxwell Muncy -- or, yes, Max Muncy for short. That's notable in part because the Athletics were also the team who in 2012 drafted the original Max Muncy. The Dodgers star, by the way, shares the same exact birth date (not birth year) with the new model. Muncy was slotted in at No. 25 on our pre-draft list.

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Wicks' fastball has good spin and his changeup is one of the best in the class. Might come down to his breaking ball.

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Cubs grab Jordan Wicks. One of the safer pitchers in the draft and there's also upside there. Knows how to pitch, has command, could see an uptick in his stuff under pro instruction.

July 12, 2021, 1:31 AM
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Blue Jays are apparently taking Hoglund. Very nice get. The injury makes him risky, but he's a legit top 10 talent when healthy. Don't get many opportunities to draft someone like that at No. 19.

July 12, 2021, 1:15 AM
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Cardinals take UCLA RHP Michael McGreevy. Ignore the Shane Bieber comps. Same school, both command guys at the draft, but Bieber made enormous gains in pro ball and it's unfair to expect McGreevy to do the same. He's good though. Cardinals know what they're doing when it comes to developing pitchers.

July 12, 2021, 1:12 AM
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