Unlike last year with Spencer Torkelson and 2019 with Adley Rutschman, there’s no surefire candidate to go first overall (or “1-01” in baseball parlance) in the 2021 MLB’s First-Year Player Draft, which is scheduled to begin July 11th. Given this uncertainty at the top and teams’ strong desire to manipulate the strictly slotted bonus money to their advantage, expect a wild ride from the first minute.
In College Baseball Nation’s second mock draft, we provide an inside look at all the machinations that could occur on draft night.
As of 7:00 PM Eastern there’s still no word on whom the Pirates will select 1-01. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel has tweeted that the Pirates are still negotiating feverishly with California prep SS Marcelo Mayer and Louisville catcher Henry Davis. At 7:11, Jon Mayo of MLB Network announces on the air he’s heard the Pirates will select North Carolina HS SS Kahlil Watson in a well-below-slot deal. Baseball Twitter goes nuts, and Tigers’ GM Al Avila, who’s fantasized for months about Mayer playing SS and hitting in the middle of the Tigers’ order, happily pours himself a little scotch. It’s time to celebrate. Then, at 7:34, little-known @MLBMarathon, with fewer than 4,500 followers, tweets that a deal between the Pirates and Mayer has been confirmed. Most of the Twitterverse scoffs at such nonsense.
1) Pittsburgh Pirates; Marcelo Mayer, SS, Chula Vista, CA (HS)—The Pirates are on the clock! GM Ben Cherington has slowly but surely put his stamp on this franchise by acquiring high-end talents like Hudson Head and Roansy Contreras in trades, and the draft is his carte blanche to continue the fun. Unbeknownst to many, the Pirates’ list is down to three guys: Mayer, Dallas area HS prep SS Jordan Lawlar, and Davis. The Detroit Tigers’ affection for Mayer is a poorly kept secret, and because of their long history with his advisor John Boggs, many believe they’ve already reached a pre-draft deal with the San Diego-based agent that’s higher than the slot value of the third pick. To further complicate matters, Boggs has made clear that Mayer won’t accept a discount. Cherington is aware of all this and realizes that a selection of Mayer means the Pirates will burn up more of their allotted $8.4 million than he’d like, giving them less to use on subsequent picks. Cherington doesn’t care. His scouting and baseball ops guys have been on Mayer like white on rice the last six weeks and there’s wide consensus in the room that he’s the best guy available. Cherington pulls the trigger. “Man, that felt good,” he tells himself as the pick is submitted.
Avila curses to himself at the head of the table in the Tigers’ Comerica Park war room. He thought he had Mayer in the bag. He and Boggs go back decades and Avila was the Marlins’ scouting director when the club took Boggs’ client Adrian Gonzalez 1-01 back in 2000. Gonzalez’ high school? Eastlake, also the same as Mayer. For months, Avila and his staff had been certain they’d be able to steer Mayer to Detroit. They’d offered the kid $8 million—nearly $600,000 over Detroit’s allotted amount—in an essential dare to the Pirates, who had been rumored to be loath to exceed $7 million with the pick.
Now Detroit has to pivot and pivot fast.
2) Texas Rangers; Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest, NC (HS)—Though the Rangers had been in on Vanderbilt ace Jack Leiter since the start of the college season in February, their preference has all along been a bat and one that was ready to make a deal. Enter Watson, an NC State recruit who had enjoyed a steady march up draft boards since torching the showcase circuit last summer. Despite his excellent play, Watson’s lack of size and some doubt surrounding his ability to stick at the six long term have kept him lower on teams’ boards than one might expect. The Rangers have never been deterred by what they feel are petty concerns and are happy to save nearly $1.4 million with a $6.4 million agreement.
3) Detroit Tigers; Jackson Jobe, RHP, Oklahoma City, OK (HS)—Despite their disappointment at losing Mayer, the Detroit brass has quickly pivoted to Plan B, which is Jobe. Avila, already under attack in Detroit baseball circles for piloting a rebuild that is on its way to producing five consecutive sub-.400 seasons, knows he will endure even more rancor once he makes this pick. But, as he sees it, Jobe is the best kid on the board—even with all the risks prep hurlers bring to the table. They brought Georgia prep slugger Brady House into Lakeland for a two-day workout, and although they were impressed by his power and assorted physical gifts, they detected too much rawness as well as the strong possibility he may one day have to move off the dirt. Avila & Co also harbor strong reservations about Leiter’s 6-00/195 frame and his ability to maintain his elite fastball deep into his pro career.
Because Jobe isn’t in play again until the Angels at 1-09 (slot amount of almost $5 million), Detroit is able to get Jobe to sign on the dotted line for $5.5 million, giving the club more than $1.7 million it’ll be able to use later. Given Avila’s ambitious plan, he’ll need every cent.
4) Boston Red Sox; Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt—Boston GM Chaim Bloom just laughs at the lunacy that’s already occurred. “Let the others pinch pennies,” he tells his staff, “because we’re all in.” With that, he makes the pick for Leiter, the player who’s firmly entrenched at the top of the Red Sox’ board. Leiter won’t be cheap, however. The guy many analysts view as the best college righthander since Gerrit Cole in 2011 has “floated” a price commensurate with the top of the draft. The Red Sox are willing to go nearly a million bucks higher than their allotted $6.7 million for a guy their manager Joey Cora recently compared to Roy Oswalt.
5) Baltimore Orioles, Jordan Lawlar, SS, Irving, TX (HS)—Lawlar has not been tied to the Orioles this spring because most thought he’d be selected first or second. But his high price tag and concerns about swing-and-miss issues have caused him to “drop.” While there have been rumors about Baltimore doing a below-slot deal with a college hitter like Sal Frelick or Colton Cowser, O’s GM Mike Elias realizes the good fortune staring him in the face. He takes the plunge, even if it will force Baltimore to go over slot at 1-05 and make up the difference later.
Royals GM Dayton Moore has always preferred to lurk in the weeds. Like a snake. With five picks already in the books and Vanderbilt stud righthander Kumar Rocker still in play, Moore can’t believe his luck. This all reminds him of 2018, when Brady Singer fell to the Royals at 18 and Jackson Kowar was ripe for the picking at 33. Though Rocker, who began the 2021 season as many people’s pick to go 1-01, has shown several chinks in his armor, he’s still viewed as a future workhorse good for 200 innings at a time when starters are throwing less than ever. The snake is ready.
6) Arizona Diamondbacks; Henry Davis, C, Louisville—Arizona has had success with short, hit tool-oriented outfielders like Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll and have entertained taking that route again with Frelick. However, Davis’ refined approach at the plate and cannon arm behind it have evoked comparisons with current D-Banks catcher Carson Kelly and are too enticing to resist.
7) Kansas City Royals; Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt—Moore finishes the last of his Diet Dr. Pepper, licks his lips, and takes a deep breath before giving the green light for the Rocker pick. Taking Rocker will be the easy part. Paying for the 6-05/245 behemoth will be another matter. Rocker and his agent, the notorious Scott Boras, have made it clear all along that they want top-3 money. Slot for 1-07 is $5.4 million—about $2 million short of what the Rocker camp has asked for. Because the Royals’ total bonus pool is $10.9 million and teams are allowed 5% overage without forfeiting next year’s 1st round pick, Moore realizes that he only needs to pare $1.5 million of bonus money from subsequent picks. It won’t be easy or ideal, but for a shot at a guy like Rocker, it’s well worth it.
8) Colorado Rockies; Brady House, SS, Winder, GA (HS)—Acting GM Bill Schmidt nearly had a conniption when Detroit had House in last month for a long tryout, but his fears are assuaged when the Tigers pulled the trigger on Jobe. Much like last year’s 1st rounder Zac Veen, Colorado views House as a tools monster and believes he’ll put up arcade-like numbers when he makes it to Coors Field.
9) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (OH)—Everyone knows about the 11th Commandment “Thou shalt not draft for need.” Everyone that is, except Angels GM Perry Minasian. With the Angels on the fringes of contention and their main trade piece, young OF Jo Adell, having trouble making consistent contact at Triple A, Minasian realizes he’ll have to do something radical to address LAA’s thin pitching. Enter Bachman, who has perhaps the most metric friendly stuff of any college hurler. While the Angels have also been closely linked to UCLA SS Matt McLain, high school outfielders Will Taylor and Benny Montgomery, and prep arms Jobe and Bubba Chandler, Minasian’s belief that Bachman will be major league ready as early as this summer tips the scales.
With the Angels’ selection of Bachman, Bubba Chandler has some serious thinking to do. The Bogart, GA native not only is a 1st round caliber talent in baseball, but also has a scholarship to Clemson to quarterback for legendary coach Dabo Swinney. With the Angels, one of the few teams willing to meet Chandler’s lofty price, now out of the picture it’s looking increasingly likely that Chandler will become a two-sport star at Clemson.
10) New York Mets; Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State—Although the Mets have in recent weeks flirted with the idea of Colson Montgomery as the prep’s stock has skyrocketed, they instead will opt for an underslot deal with Cowser. McLain and Texas righty Ty Madden had also been under strong consideration.
11) Washington Nationals; Ty Madden, RHP, Texas—The Nationals, who have never been afraid of arms and the associated risks, were all in on Jobe and pull the trigger on Madden despite the latter’s unconventional pitch metrics.
12) Seattle Mariners; Matt McLain, SS, UCLA—Much like the Mets, the Mariners have been looking almost exclusively at college performers—McLain, Cowser, Madden and Frelick have all received a lot of interest here—and McLain’s excellent play after returning from a thumb injury sways the M’s decision.
13) Philadelphia Phillies; Benny Montgomery, OF, Lewisberry, PA (HS)—While President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski’s modus operandi has always been to target hard throwers who could freeze bats come October, the veteran GM, to his credit, realizes the game has changed and that velocity is no longer the precious commodity it once was. Instead, teams have become enamored with kids who possess vast toolsets and can stick in the middle of the diamond. Montgomery falls squarely under this genre and is the first multi-tooled HS OF to fall off the board.
14) San Francisco Giants; Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College—The Giants have been linked to a wide array of players from almost every demographic this spring—Chandler, Taylor, and Kansas State southpaw Jordan Wicks quickly come to mind—but will choose Frelick, who by this point could be considered somewhat of a value play.
Chandler just got off the phone with Dabo Swinney, having told his future coach of his plans to further his gridiron career at Clemson. While Chandler is thrilled to have the opportunity to follow in Trevor Lawrence’s footsteps, part of him wonders what would have happened had he entered pro baseball this summer. Suddenly, the phone rings. It’s Reds Scouting Director Brad Meador, and he wants to talk shop.
15) Milwaukee Brewers; Harry Ford, C, Kennesaw, GA (HS)—Though the Brewers have played it safe the past two drafts by taking college players in the 1st round, they roll the dice with Ford, a premier athlete who’d be just as capable in CF as he would behind the dish. Milwaukee was also interested to see if Cowser would make it this far.
The Reds’ war room is in a frenzy. Like everyone else, Cincinnati’s baseball ops and scouting guys thought Chandler to the Angels was a fait accompli, but when LAA instead went for Bachman, the Reds’ calculus suddenly changed. The Reds had been tracking Chandler all spring and realize they’d have to go well over their slot amount at 1-17 of $3.6 million to land him. Luckily, however, they have extra money due to comp picks at 30 and 35. As one Reds area scout talks to Chandler and his representation on the phone, Meador, the regional crosschecker and two guys from baseball ops are looking at the most recent footage they have of Chandler. Finally, GM Nick Krall taps Meador on the shoulder and says, “Let’s get him.”
16) Miami Marlins; Will Taylor, OF, Irmo, SC (HS)—The Marlins strategy in the 1st round has always been to pursue upside and Taylor is a premier athlete who had a banner spring.
17) Cincinnati Reds; Bubba Chandler, RHP, Bogart, GA (HS)—Cincinnati has turned into Spincinnati in recent years as the Reds have implemented a massive overhaul of their pitching development program. Chandler, who made great strides this spring, is viewed by the front office as an excellent fit. This will be a significant overslot deal for the Reds, and as soon as the pick is made, Krall and his colleagues start lining up guys who would be willing to take haircuts at 30 and 35.
18) St. Louis Cardinals; Gavin Williams, RHP, ECU—The Cardinals were all over Williams late in the season as he pitched masterpiece after masterpiece. Elements of the St. Louis front office are also intrigued by Will Bednar, who has even more helium than Williams following his gem in Omaha. Williams’ status as a 4-year athlete and the fact that he’ll be 22 next month have left him more “open-minded” in terms of a bonus, a development that is not lost on the Cardinals’ brass.
19) Toronto Blue Jays; Joe Mack, C, Williamsville, NY (HS)—Club president Mark Shapiro and friends always like to play things close to the vest when it comes to the draft, but the Jays had a heavy scouting contingent at many of Mack’s games. Toronto had also been out in full force to see Wicks.
20) New York Yankees; Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss—GM Brian Cashman and his minions can hardly contain their excitement as this pick is made. Getting Hoglund, arguably the third best college arm at 1-20, is a coup, they believe. It’s important to note that the Bombers took Tommy John patient Clarke Schmidt right after he’d had the procedure in 2017. The Yankees brass have also flirted with Benny Montgomery and Taylor for most of the spring.
21) Chicago Cubs; Will Bednar, RHP, Mississippi State—The Cubs’ choice was made exponentially easier in late June when Bednar pitched the game of his life in Omaha. The Cubs had been on him all season but had still been undecided between the MSU flamethrower, prep arm Andrew Painter and Colson Montgomery. That all changed the evening of June 20th when Bednar K’d 15 Texas Longhorns en route to one of the most dominating performances in CWS history.
22) Chicago White Sox; Colson Montgomery, SS, Holland, IN (HS)—The mood in the White Sox’ war room is pure euphoria as its inhabitants can’t believe the good fortune that has befallen them. Montgomery, a kid some of the Chisox scouts have likened to Corey Seager because of his long frame, turbocharged lefty bat, and ability to stick at SS, is still available. Scouting Director Mike Shirley stammers as he calls in the pick.
Al Avila is not in a good place. His underarms are drenched with sweat and he’s forgotten about his scotch. That’s OK—Yamile’s been on him to drop the stuff anyway. Back to business. The object of Detroit’s affection is now Michigan HS infielder Alex Mooney. Landing Mooney won’t be a picnic, however. A great student and already 19, Mooney has a scholarship to Duke to fall back on if a number of supposed interested teams in the 20’s don’t pop him. And, by virtue of his early birthday, he’d be able to re-enter the draft again in 2023. Avila and his chief lieutenant David Chadd were never known as good poker players, but this is their time to shine. Avila summons Chadd, Scouting Director Scott Pleis, and the rest of the “Brat Pack” to his table. He then turns to his guys, “OK, here’s what we’re gonna do….”
23) Cleveland Indians; Joshua Baez, OF, Boston, MA (HS)—While most of baseball thinks Cleveland will take UC Santa Barbara righthander Michael McGreevy, the Tribe’s brass suddenly call an audible and take Baez. Baez, a 6-03/220 specimen, offers all the attributes coveted by Cleveland’s draft model, especially youth relative to his class. This is a shock to many as McGreevy is nearly a dead ringer for current Indians ace Shane Bieber. On the MLB Network set, longtime analyst Jim Callis is speechless.
24) Atlanta Braves; Michael McGreevy, RHP, UC Santa Barbara—What a pleasant surprise. That’s the sentiment in the Braves’ war room. Atlanta’s scouting department has always been impressed by McGreevy’s pitch characteristics and command, and his recent velo spike has made him one of the draft’s more intriguing arms.
The A’s are on the clock. That evil genius Billy Beane, Oakland’s Executive Vice President, makes Avila nervous. Always has. Detroit has eight picks until it’s up at 32. Detroit’s allotment at that slot is just under $2.3 million, and Mooney’s camp has let it be known he’ll want a sum greater than $3 million. Avila has authorized the Tigers to spend up to $3.5 million to get it done.
25) Oakland A’s; Tyler Whitaker, OF, Las Vegas, NV (HS)—It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Mooney’s bonus expectations of well in excess of $3 million would be a tall order for a team whose total allotment is just over $6 million. “Hard pass,” says Beane as he glances over at his consigliere David Forst. The A’s look elsewhere and agree on Whitaker, another multi-faceted high schooler who made huge strides this spring.
“Whew, that was close!” Avila thinks to himself as soon as the A’s pick is announced. Next up are the Twins, who everyone knows will grab a college outfielder. But the Rays at 28 and the Dodgers right behind them have rolled heavy at Mooney’s games. “Another bunch of evil geniuses.”
26) Minnesota Twins; Ethan Wilson, OF, South Alabama—The Twins have a type and they’re not ashamed of it—outfielders with a well-honed hit tool. Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker, and Trevor Larnach all fit into that demographic and now they are joined by Wilson. Wilson had a massive uptick in his contact rates this spring, and the Twins’ front office wouldn’t be shocked if he flies through the minors and is at Target Field by 2023.
27) San Diego Padres; Anthony Solometo, LHP, Sicklerville, NJ (HS)—A.J. Preller and his posse have never been afraid to take a gamble on a high school arm, and, once again, San Diego’s finest are up to their tricks. Solometo narrowly edges out fellow prep southpaw Frank Mozzicato.
28) Tampa Bay Rays; Peyton Stovall, SS, Haughton, LA—While the Rays are indeed interested in Mooney, as well as slugging HS 3B Wes Kath and Eastern Illinois SS Trey Sweeney, the most value-oriented club feels it will get the most bang for the buck with Stovall. Despite an inevitable move across the keystone to 2B, Stovall’s projected 60 hit tool can’t be ignored.
29) Los Angeles Dodgers; Jud Fabian, OF, Florida—There isn’t a player as polarizing as Fabian in this draft class. He entered this season as the top-ranked college hitter, but a K-rate closing in on 30 percent scared away many suitors. The Dodgers, baseball's richest team with the sport’s best development track record, believe that with a couple tweaks Fabian can evolve into a George Springer-type performer. He did hit 20 HR this spring while playing a world-class CF.
Avila lets out a huge sigh of relief that’s audible throughout the Tigers’ entire war room. He eyes his scotch. Everything will be alright…
Competitive Balance Round A
30) Cincinnati Reds; Brendan Beck, RHP, Stanford—After a strong 4th year at The Farm, Beck’s stuff ticked all the way up in the CWS and he enhanced his profile considerably. But with his 23rd birthday in October, time is not on Beck’s side. He’ll gladly agree to the draft’s most underslot deal, thus enabling Cincinnati to recoup much of the overage from nabbing Chandler earlier in the night.
31) Miami Marlins; Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest—The Marlins are addicted to velocity just like everyone else in today’s game, and are therefore thrilled when the Wake Forest flamethrower falls into their laps.
32) Detroit Tigers; Alex Mooney, SS, Rochester Hills, MI (HS)—Avila gets his guy. Well, sort of. At any rate, Mooney, who’s garnered comps to Mark Loretta, instantly becomes Detroit’s best SS prospect when he agrees to a deal more than $1.2 million over Detroit’s slot amount at 32.
33) Milwaukee Brewers; Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State—Multiple teams, including Milwaukee, are stunned that Wicks, a workhorse lefty with a proven track record, is still on the board. The Brewers have an enviable record at developing college pitchers and believe Wicks will fit well into their program.
34) Tampa Bay Rays; Trey Sweeney, SS, Eastern Illinois—While EIU doesn’t exactly play in a power conference, Sweeney’s 14 home runs and 46/24 BB/K ratio caught the Rays’ attention long before draft night. Had Stovall been off the board prior to 1-28, Sweeney very well might have gone to Tampa six picks earlier.
35) Cincinnati Reds; Ryan Holgate, OF, Arizona—What the Beck pick didn’t recoup, the Holgate selection will. However, Krall and others in the Reds organization will point to Holgate’s exceptional exit velocities in insisting this wasn’t purely a money-saving move.
36) Minnesota Twins; Aaron Zavala, OF, Oregon—The Twins go into Oregon and grab another polished OF bat in Zavala.