2021 MLB draft rankings: There’s a No. 1 prospect ahead of Vanderbilt’s two aces

Sports

The 2020 MLB draft was obviously tricky for teams to navigate, with very limited information and a much shorter draft. This year it will be a little bit easier, but with a different set of limitations.

Because summer high school showcases still largely went on as planned, a number of prep prospects, particularly in the Southeast where the events happened, have been seen as much as they usually are, while college prospects are at a disadvantage. With almost no summer collegiate leagues and almost no 2020 season, the performance-heavy-profile college player simply has no performance on which to be evaluated. The biggest challenge clubs will have this spring is quickly identifying this year’s Justin Foscue: a big-time performer and first-round talent who doesn’t really look the part but grows on you over time with bulk performance against good competition. The mid-major prospect who had late helium, like Wright State/Marlins RF Peyton Burdick, might not be scouted at all by some teams’ high-level evaluators.

The college hitter crop is down a bit due to this and the fact that hitter evaluation in general is linear. A pitcher can have one good outing with better stuff and shoot up the board, whereas hitters improve more slowly and prove it over a longer period of time. This also means that the top tier of prep prospects will have as much or more data (and thus certainty for teams) than most college players, so they won’t be seen as a more risky subset of prospect as they usually are. Due to the lack of rising college players this early in the spring (I think it will change in a month or so), the 11-20 area of the list feels blank, and those players ranked there now feel like 21-30 overall type talents.

One other factor to keep an eye on is the shrinking of the minor leagues. Each club is losing something like 30 roster spots, and organizations will want to hold on to/not release players they haven’t seen for over a year, thus signing classes in the draft will be smaller than usual. With a likely 20-round draft and some clubs not signing close to 20 players, that means more money will be going to fewer players, which creates more demand for the top bonuses, with less demand for the low-six-figure types. Combine that with the likely diverse opinions on prospects with short histories and scouts will have plenty of opportunities to influence the draft board, since plenty of prospects can be undervalued without needing data to enter the equation.

Lastly, with so many college prospects not signing last year who normally would, there are more 22- and 23-year-old prospects, making draft-day age a more important factor than it normally is. That’s the number in parentheses after each name listed. Future value (FV) is, in short, the ranking system I use and will help you slot players in a top 100 for when they turn pro.

Here are my top 50 prospects for 2021 along with an early top 15 for 2022, featuring a particularly intriguing No. 1 player, and top 10 for 2023.

2021 rankings

See the 2021 MLB draft order here

1. Jordan Lawlar (19.0), SS, Jesuit HS (Texas), Vanderbilt commit, 55 FV

Lawlar is a little old for his prep class, but that’s about the only mark against him. He’s above average in all aspects and scouts mention similarities to Carlos Correa (bigger, righty-hitting shortstop with above-average tools) or Derek Jeter (all-fields approach, instincts). There isn’t a 70-grade tool and Lawlar doesn’t project as a superstar, but the last true shortstops with this kind of upside in the draft were Bobby Witt Jr. in 2019 and Dansby Swanson (maybe Alex Bregman) in 2015 — all of whom were No. 1 or No. 2 overall picks.

You’d have to go back to Correa in 2012 or Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez in 2011 for true shortstops in the draft who were obviously more talented than Lawlar. Other 55 FV shortstops already in the minors are my No. 31 overall prospect Jazz Chisholm (Marlins) and No. 39 Geraldo Perdomo (D-backs).

2. Jack Leiter (21.2), RHP, Vanderbilt, 50 FV

There was a growing consensus to rank Leiter (son of Al) above Rocker in the fall, and that’s now the consensus view after they’ve each made their first start of the season. Leiter works in the mid-90s, has an easy plus curveball and possesses the command, plan and execution you’d want to see given his power and mostly vertically oriented arsenal.

3. Kumar Rocker (21.6), RHP, Vanderbilt, 50 FV

You might be surprised to see Rocker here, but he has been largely the same since the summer after his junior year of high school. That’s not a bad thing, since that means sitting in the mid-90s (up to 98 mph) with a plus slider, usable changeup and solid control, but scouts want to see more precision in his command and execution.

4. Jaden Hill (21.6), RHP, LSU, 50 FV

Hill could move up a spot or two with another month or so of health and strong performances. He flashes three plus pitches, a high-90s heater and starter command at times, but has been hurt and hasn’t pitched much at LSU.

5. Matt McLain (21.9), SS, UCLA, 50 FV

McLain was a first-rounder out of high school and has been a little up-and-down at UCLA, but there’s plus hitting ability, above-average power potential, plus speed and a middle-of-the-field defensive fit.

6. Marcelo Mayer (18.6), SS, Eastlake HS (Calif.), USC commit, 50 FV

Mayer is silky smooth and above average in all aspects but wasn’t seen a ton this summer due to his location. He’s a high priority for clubs in the top 10 picks to get a look at early in the spring.

7. Brady House (18.1), SS, Winder Barrow HS (Ga.), Tennessee commit, 50 FV

House has been one of the top names in this class for years, and he has come out of the gates strong with a number of homers. He’s probably a third baseman long-term, but he’s better than expected at shortstop and projects for 70-grade raw power.

8. Gunnar Hoglund (21.6), RHP, Ole Miss, 45+ FV

Hoglund, who went No. 36 overall to Pittsburgh in 2018, was my pick to be drafted higher than consensus because he had everything going for him except for above-average stuff. Then he sat 93-96 mph with crisper, above-average stuff at the beginning of his first start of the year, and now he’s a clear top-10 candidate.

9. Adrian Del Castillo (21.8), C, Miami, 45+ FV

Del Castillo probably doesn’t have a plus tool, but he’s average behind the plate, can really hit, has a solid approach and has 20-homer type raw power.

10. Kahlil Watson (18.2), SS, Wake Forest HS (N.C.), North Carolina State commit, 45 FV

Watson had a solid summer, is younger than many of his peers, can hit, and there is above-average power projection to go with solid athleticism.

11. Richard Fitts (21.6), RHP, Auburn, 45 FV

Fitts took a big step forward this fall and came out of the gates strong this spring, pitching into the upper 90s with a mid-rotation look.

12. Harry Ford (18.4), C, North Cobb HS (Ga.), Georgia Tech commit, 45 FV

Prep catchers are a scary demographic, but Ford is above average across the board, with athleticism to give him some margin for error.

13. Jud Fabian (20.8), CF, Florida, 45 FV

Fabian has 65-grade raw power and is solid-average defensively in center field, with gaudy Cape numbers from two summers ago, but really struggled versus breaking stuff opening weekend.

14. Ty Madden (21.4), RHP, Texas, 45 FV

Madden is up to 98 mph, with a power slider and a solid chance to start.

15. Izaac Pacheco (18.6), 3B, Friendswood HS (Texas), Texas A&M commit, 45 FV

Multiple summers of performance and above-average offensive potential are the calling cards for Pacheco.

16. James Wood (18.8), RF, IMG Academy HS (Fla.), Mississippi State commit, 45 FV

Wood might end up at first base and he’s 6-foot-7, but he has big raw power and has hit everywhere. He’ll be easy to see this spring on a loaded IMG team.

17. Jackson Jobe (18.9), RHP, Heritage Hill HS (Okla.), Ole Miss commit, 45 FV

Jobe is a two-way athlete who looks like he will be better professionally on the mound, in the mid-90s and regularly flashing breaking ball RPMs well over 3000.

18. Jordan Wicks (21.9), LHP, Kansas State, 45 FV

Wicks has a solid average fastball into the mid-90s, a plus changeup and starter command. There’s a shot he ends up in the Reid Detmers area (10th overall last summer) by draft day.

19. Ethan Wilson (21.7), LF, South Alabama, 45 FV

Wilson is a solid athlete with plus raw power who has performed well.

20. Hunter Goodman (21.8), C, Memphis, 45 FV

Goodman is a fine receiver and has big raw power and some feel to get to it in games, but also a big swing that could lead to contact issues.

21. Sal Frelick (21.2), CF, Boston College, 45 FV

Frelick has a short track record but was a three-sport standout in high school and is a 70 runner with above-average bat speed.

22. Andrew Painter (18.3), RHP, Calvary Christian HS (Fla.), Florida commit, 45 FV

Painter had mid-first-round performances this summer, with above-average stuff and a mid-rotation look, but was hit around in his first outing of the spring.

23. Max Ferguson (21.9), 2B, Tennessee, 45 FV

Ferguson has a chance to be an above-average offensive threat while playing a solid second base.

24. Alex Binelas (21.1), 3B, Louisville, 45 FV

There’s a bit of a split camp on Binelas so far, with some questioning the overall impact and defensive fit, while others think he’s an advanced college bat who will go in the first round.

25. Jac Caglianone (18.4), LHP, Plant HS (Fla.), Florida commit, 45 FV

He was a solid two-way prospect this summer but came out this spring with a better delivery, command and a heater that was up to 96 mph.

26. Thatcher Hurd (18.6), RHP, Mira Costa HS (Calif.), UCLA commit, 45 FV

27. Nathan Hickey (21.6), C, Florida, 45 FV

28. Braden Montgomery (18.2), RF/RHP, Madison Central HS (Miss.), Stanford commit, 45 FV

29. Bubba Chandler (18.8), RHP, North Oconee HS (Ga.), Clemson commit, 45 FV

30. Joe Mack (18.5), C, Williamsville East HS (N.Y.), Clemson commit, 45 FV

31. Troy Melton (20.6), RHP, San Diego State, 45 FV

32. Eric Cerantola (21.2), RHP, Mississippi State, 45 FV

33. Sam Bachman (21.8), RHP, Miami Ohio, 45 FV

34. Tyree Reed (18.5), CF, American Canyon HS (Calif.), Oregon State commit, 45 FV

35. Henry Davis (21.8), C, Louisville, 45 FV

36. Colton Cowser (21.3), RF, Sam Houston State, 45 FV

37. Edwin Arroyo (17.9), SS, Central Pointe Academy HS (Fla.), Florida State commit, 45 FV

38. Jonathan Cannon (21.0), RHP, Georgia, 45 FV

39. Ben Kudrna (18.4), RHP, Blue Valley Southwest HS (Kan.), LSU commit, 40+ FV

40. Brock Selvidge (18.9), LHP, Hamilton HS (Ariz.), LSU commit, 40+ FV

41. Tommy Mace (22.7), RHP, Florida, 40+ FV

42. Tyler Whitaker (18.9), RF, Bishop Gorman HS (Nev.), Arizona commit, 40+ FV

43. Christian MacLeod (21.2), LHP, Mississippi State, 40+ FV

44. Ryan Cusick (21.7), RHP, Wake Forest, 40+ FV

45. Max Muncy (18.7), SS, Thousand Oaks HS (Calif.), Arkansas commit, 40+ FV

46. John Rhodes (20.9), CF, Kentucky, 40+ FV

47. Isaiah Thomas (21.2), CF, Vanderbilt, 40+ FV

48. Drew Gray (18.2), LHP, IMG Academy HS (Fla.), Arkansas commit, 40+ FV

49. Maddux Bruns (19.1), LHP, UMS-Wright Prep HS (Ala.), Mississippi State commit, 40+ FV

50. Cody Schrier (18.4), SS, JSerra Catholic HS (Calif.), UCLA commit, 40+ FV

15 others of note:

There are a ton of prep pitchers I could toss on here, some who have hit 100 mph, but I’ll let them sort themselves out over the next month.

Josh Baez (18.0), RF, Dexter Southfield HS (Mass.), Vanderbilt commit
Gage Jump (18.2), LHP, JSerra Catholic HS (Calif.), UCLA commit
Anthony Solometo (18.6), LHP, Gloucester Catholic HS (N.J.), North Carolina commit
Mason Albright (18.6), LHP, IMG Academy HS (Fla.), Virginia Tech commit
Colson Montgomery (19.4), SS, Southridge HS (Ind.), Indiana commit
Benny Montgomery (18.8), CF, Red Land HS (Pa.), Virginia commit
Tyler Black (21.0), 3B, Wright State
Joe Rock (21.0), LHP, Ohio
Connor Pavolony (21.7), C, Tennessee
Zack Gelof (21.7), 3B, Virginia
Luke Albright (21.6), RHP, Kent State
Cody Morissette (21.5), SS, Boston College
Shawn Guilliams (19.1), RHP, Central Florida JC, Florida commit
Levi Usher (21.0), CF, Louisville
Steven Hajjar (20.9), LHP, Michigan

You might have noticed that Lawlar and Elijah Green, below, are the only 55 FVs on these lists. It might surprise you that, for me and almost all of the scouts I’ve spoken with, Green is the best domestic amateur prospect in the country. It helps that being at IMG, clearly the most talented high school team in the country and maybe the best one in some time, means Green gets seen a lot more than the normal elite high school junior.

A 55 FV means, as a 17-year-old high school junior, he’d rank somewhere in the 30 to 40 range on a top 100. More than a few scouts joked that the Pirates should’ve convinced Green last summer to reclassify into the 2021 class so they could draft him first this summer. I saw Green play last week and will have more on him soon, but multiple scouts said the best comparison for his tools (60 hit, 70 raw power, 70 speed) is Ronald Acuna Jr.

2022 Rankings

1. Elijah Green (18.6), CF, IMG Academy HS (Fla.), Miami commit, 55 FV
2. Connor Prielipp (21.5), LHP, Alabama, 50 FV
3. Termarr Johnson (18.1), SS, Mays HS (Ga.), uncommitted, 50 FV
4. Josh Rivera (21.8), 3B, Florida, 45+ FV
5. Dylan Lesko (18.8), RHP, Buford HS (Ga.), Vanderbilt commit, 45+ FV
6. Nolan Schubart (18.2), RF, St. Mary’s Prep HS (Mich.), Michigan commit, 45 FV
7. Robert Moore (20.3), SS, Arkansas, 45 FV
8. Nate Savino (20.5), LHP, Virginia, 45 FV
9. Brandon Barriera (18.4), LHP, American Heritage HS (Fla.), Vanderbilt commit, 45 FV
10. Hunter Barco (21.6), LHP, Florida, 45 FV
11. Chris Newell (21.2), RF, Virginia, 45 FV
12. Peyton Pallette (21.2), RHP, Arkansas, 45 FV
13. Nazier Mule (17.7), SS/RHP, Passaic County Tech HS (N.J.), Miami commit, 45 FV
14. Brock Porter (19.1), RHP, St. Mary’s Prep HS (Mich.), Clemson commit, 45 FV
15. Bryce Osmond (21.9), RHP, Oklahoma State, 45 FV

2023 Rankings

1. Dylan Crews (21.4), RF, LSU, 45 FV
2. Christian Little (20.0), RHP, Vanderbilt, 45 FV
3. Tanner Witt (21.0), RHP, Texas, 45 FV
4. Thomas White (18.8), LHP, Phillips Academy HS (Mass.), uncommitted, 45 FV
5. Carson Montgomery (20.9), RHP, Florida State, 40+ FV
6. Corey Collins (21.8), C, Georgia, 40 FV
7. Cam Collier (18.6), 3B, Mt. Paran Christian HS (Ga.), Louisville commit, 40 FV
8. Aidan Miller (19.1), 3B, Mitchell HS (Fla.), Arkansas commit, 40 FV
9. Ryan Hagenow (21.1), RHP, Kentucky, 40 FV
10. Drew Bowser (21.8), 3B, Stanford, 40 FV

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