As Opening Day dawns on MLB, the hope is for the familiarity of years past to return. However, 2021 will represent a merge of new and old. 162 games and five postseason teams per league will coexist with seven-inning double headers and runners on second base in extra innings. The 2021 MLB Draft falls into this category.
For a decade the draft was held in June at MLB Network in Secaucus, NJ. The 2021 MLB Draft will be held in Denver, CO during All-Star weekend in July.
One of several opportunities that pushing the draft back creates is the NCAA season being completed during the draft. No matter how the rest of the season plays out, it appears likely that Vanderbilt University star pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter will be taken at the top of the draft.
The duo has been the talk of college baseball through March and rightfully so. Still, while they have been nothing short of dominant, they are not the only prospects generating excitement ahead of the draft.
The right arm of Jaden Hill brings lots of potential for the fifth-best prospect out of LSU. Hill was a top prospect among Arkansas prep prospect in high school, but only pitched 21 2/3 innings in his first two collegiate seasons because of elbow issues in 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic shortening 2020.
Hill has pitched both as a starter and reliever for LSU. He touches the upper-90s mph range while relieving, and he sat in the 95-97 mph range in the fall while starting. He also possesses good off-speed and breaking pitches. His athleticism is another plus to his profile, as he was a three-sport star in high school that got recruited by mid-level college programs.
His draft stock will take a hit after he suffered torn ligament in his elbow, but when he is healthy, his command and ability to maintain his stuff over a full season are the biggest concerns.
The University of Texas has premium starting pitcher leading their staff with Ty Madden. The right-handed pitcher has a fastball-slider combination that scouts grade 60/80, and his changeup also grades out as an above-average pitch.
Madden is currently the 10th-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, and it is likely he becomes the highest-drafted pitcher from his high school starting staff, which featured supplemental pick JJ Goss and second-rounder Matt Thompson, both from 2019. Madden was projected to be a top-three-rounds pick that year, but opted for college. Since then, he has added 35 pounds to his frame and his fastball now sits 93-96 mph to sink.
The potential for history is present in Jordan Wicks’s left arm ahead of the 2021 MLB Draft. Kansas State has never had a first-round draft pick or a pitcher get drafted in the top-three rounds of a draft. Currently ranked as the 16th-best prospect, Wicks may be the first. The lefty’s delivery does not have tremendous effort in it.
His velocity is not overpowering, topping out at 95 mph, but he generates good spin to get riding life on the pitch. However, his changeup is considered the best in the draft. Sitting in the low-80s, he gets enough separation between the pitch and his fastball to fool batters. Wicks is the top available left-handed pitcher in the draft.
College Position Players
Although Matt McLain was a first-round draft pick in 2018, he did not garner that sort of consideration until closer to draft day. After passing on the Arizona Diamondbacks, the undersized shortstop has developed physically at UCLA, landing him third on MLB.com’s preseason rankings.
McLain excels at making contact, and his physical maturity over three years has produced more power in his game. His biggest concern is his defense although scouts think his hard work in the field will allow him to stick at shortstop long term.
Adrian Del Castillo
Power hitting catchers are hard to come by in MLB. That is why the University of Miami’s Adrian Del Castillo is the fourth-ranked prospect in the draft. His bat is the big draw to MLB scouts.
Del Castillo’s receiving skills leave a lot to be desired, but his arm is strong and accurate. Still, what he lacks behind the plate, he makes up for in the batters’ box. His strong bat-to-ball skills and ability to barrel the baseball have produced more walks than strikeouts and a lot of power.
The 2021 MLB Draft will be the first for Fabian, who graduated high school early to enroll at the University of Florida. Fabian, an outfielder, has picked up his performance after a tough freshman year. His game has some swing and miss to it, but he has managed to make better contact recently.
As he makes better contact, his 60/80-grade power becomes more of a factor. His power tool stands out the most, but he does not have a weak tool, with his other four tools graded at either 50/80 or 55/80. Scouts expect him to stay in centerfield long term, and he should make an impact up the middle as a MLB player.
High School Pitchers
Andrew Painter possesses several notable characteristics. Physically, he is imposing. He stands tall on the mound at 6’6″ tall, and he is athletic to repeat his mechanics. On the mound, his four-pitch mix is described as ‘legitimate’ by scouts. Painter is the rare prospect that combines raw stuff with a feel for pitching that is not normally seen out of high school pitchers.
These aspects stand out, and he is expected to be the first high school pitcher off the board in July. He throws strikes with his fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, and there is a chance that he has plus control and command in the long term. Additionally, he still has projection in his frame that makes him even more desirable come draft day.
When it comes to Chase Petty, the 22nd-ranked prospect, the question is not about stuff. His fastball has touched 100 mph, and it regularly sits in the upper-90 mph range. He also features a plus slider in the high-80s, and he has showed depth with his changeup, sitting at 90 mph.
The concerns for the Mainland, NJ native are in his size and delivery. His low-three-quarters delivery is not smooth, showing clear effort. His 6′ frame and trouble with command lead some to think he may be best suited as a reliever in the long term.
Although he is one of the best high school pitchers in the 2021 MLB Draft class, Jackson Jobe plays shortstop well, too. On the mound, he features a slider with tremendous spin that he locates well. He complements that with his fastball that has riding life and good spin, as well. It sits in the low-to-mid-90 mph range.
For now, he is listed strictly as a right-handed pitcher. However, there is upside at shortstop. He has a strong arm and projects to be an average hitter with good power and bat speed.
High School Position Players
As Leiter climbs up draft boards, the conversation becomes whether he or Rocker will go first overall. Prior to the NCAA season, the speculation was whether Jordan Lawlar may leap Rocker as the top pick.
Lawlar is a five-tool short stop from the Dallas, TX area. He entered the season as MLB.com’s second-best draft prospect. Scouts compare Lawlar to Bobby Witt Jr., the second-overall pick in 2019 who impressed during Spring Training with the Kansas City Royals. His hitting is considered to be a notch above where Witt was at this stage. He doesn’t turn 19 until a week after the draft. There is plenty of time to develop and project more strength and power in his game.
Although Brady House is a high school shortstop, he should move to third base for the long term. He has hit 96 mph as a pitcher, so his arm is strong enough to make good throws from third base, and his range will not be hindered as much by his average-at-best speed. The best part of his game is his bat. He has shown the ability to crush good velocity and breaking balls. Scouts have specifically taken note of his power, which is considered at least raw and above average to all fields.
The downfall to House is his recent struggles at showcase events. It appears his success at the plate has effected him mentally. As a result, he became overaggressive at these events, leading to longer, slower swings. Currently the 12th-ranked prospect, his draft stock will plummet some as a result. Still, most teams still see him as a mid-first-round pick.
Athleticism is in James Wood’s genetics. His father played professional basketball in Europe, and his sister plays basketball for Northwestern University. Wood, himself, was a basketball standout, but he opted to attend IMG Academy and focus solely on baseball. The outfielder is considered to have the highest upside of any Florida draft prospect. His arm is his best tool, and it profiles well in center field or right field. His speed helps him cover ground in centerfield, and he runs plus times in the 60-yard dash.
He has some adjustments he will need to make to a swing that is considered very handsy right now. As he learns to use his lower half, he will be able to better stay back on pitches. That will help him tap into his power, and scouts think he can hit 25-30 home runs once he figures that out.
Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter have dominated 2021 MLB Draft talk. Still, there are still plenty of talented young prospects available in the first round for the teams who will not have a chance at the Vanderbilt University duo.
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