The 2021 amateur draft begins on July 11, and with the later date comes more time for analysis, predictions, smokescreens, rumors, and possible major changes up and down teams’ draft boards. With this in mind, there is naturally quite a bit of uncertainty over which prospects will land with which teams, as a real consensus has yet to develop in almost every single spot in the first round.
Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo, The Athletic’s Keith Law, MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, and ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel have all published new mock drafts within the last week, and one constant emerged between the four pundits — the Pirates taking California high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer with the first overall (1-1) pick. It isn’t a sure thing by any means, however, as the Pirates are said to be focused “only on position players at this point,” according to Law, so such candidates as Louisville catcher Henry Davis (Callis cites Davis as Pittsburgh’s apparent “Plan B”) or high school shortstops Jordan Lawlar and Khalil Watson could still be in the mix. Collazo also believes the Pirates are considering Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter.
The Pirates’ $14,394,000 draft bonus pool is the highest of any team, and they plan to maximize value by drafting a player at 1-1 who is thought to be less willing to insist on the full slot price $8,415,300 slot price for the first overall pick. “I think that’s what Pittsburgh’s pick will come down to: taking the one that is clearly cheaper to sign,” McDaniel writes, which certainly isn’t welcome news to Pirates fans long frustrated by the team’s unwillingness to spend.
That being said, many teams have deployed the strategy of spreading around their draft bonus money in the past. The most famous example was the Astros’ pick of Carlos Correa (seen as a slight reach at the time) first overall in 2012, and Houston signed Correa to a below-slot bonus and then using that saved money to sign 41st-overall pick Lance McCullers Jr. to an above-slot deal. It also isn’t like Mayer would be a controversial choice at 1-1, considering that MLB Pipeline ranks him first on their top 250 draft prospects list, and McDaniel’s most recent prospect ranking has Mayer second overall.
While Mayer looks like the favorite at the moment, it is quite possible the perceived price tags could still fluctuate in the next three weeks. For instance, the three pundits all note that the Tigers love Mayer, so he isn’t likely to fall beyond Detroit at the third overall pick if the Pirates and Rangers (who pick second) both pass. As McDaniel observes, this impacts Mayer’s leverage in potential negotiations with the Pirates, since the young shortstop can be reasonably certain of at least landing a bonus in range of the $7,221,200 slot price attached to the third overall pick.
There is no consensus whatsoever in the mock drafts after a hypothetical Pirates/Mayer 1-1 pick, so if Pittsburgh went in another direction, the draft boards would be entirely blown up. To give you an idea of the wide range of scenarios, here is the list of players cited by Callis, Collazo, Law and McDaniel as possibilities for each team drafting in the top eight, along with which pundit selected which prospect for each top-eight team in their mock draft.
- 1. Pirates: Mayer (Callis/Collazo/Law/McDaniel), Henry Davis, Jordan Lawlar, Khalil Watson, Jack Leiter
- 2. Rangers: Leiter (Callis), Lawlar (Collazo/Law), Davis (McDaniel), Kumar Rocker, Mayer, Watson….in a contrast to the other three pundits, Callis writes that Texas has Lawlar and Davis “on the back burner” behind Watson, Mayer, and Leiter. “Watson has real heat at this spot,” Collazo writes.
- 3. Tigers: Mayer, Jackson Jobe (Callis/Collazo), Leiter (Law), Brady House (McDaniel), Lawlar, Watson, possibly Rocker “as a big maybe” in Collazo’s words
- 4. Red Sox: Lawlar (Callis), Davis (Law), Leiter (Collazo/McDaniel)….Collazo doesn’t believe Leiter would fall beyond Boston at fourth overall,
- 5. Orioles: Davis (Callis), Colton Cowser (Law), Watson (Collazo/McDaniel), House, Harry Ford, either of Mayer/Lawler if they happened to fall….Baltimore is widely expected to take a college position player at an under-slot price, as a way of keeping money in reserve to go over-slot on other picks.
- 6. Diamondbacks: Rocker (Callis), Davis (Collazo), Watson (Law), Lawlor (McDaniel), Jobe
- 7. Royals: Watson (Callis), Rocker (Collazo/Law/McDaniel)….this is another minor consensus area, as Law and McDaniel believe that Rocker isn’t likely to fall beyond Kansas City. “The market for Rocker is weirdly specific,” Law writes, citing the Rangers, Red Sox, Royals, Nationals, and Mets as perhaps the only true interested parties. Of course, Callis projected the D’Backs to take Rocker at sixth overall, so Arizona could also be a candidate for the Vanderbilt righty.
- 8. Rockies: House (Callis/Collazo/Law), Benny Montgomery (McDaniel), Jobe
All four mock drafts are well worth reading in full, to get a sense of what the 29 teams with first-round picks are generally targeting this year or have historically looked for in past drafts. (The Astros aren’t included, as they lost their first-rounder as part of their punishment for the sign-stealing scandal.)
For more on the prospects themselves, you can check out the aforementioned lists from McDaniel and MLB Pipeline, Baseball America’s top 500 list, or some of the individual writeups from the Sports Info Solutions blog on such top college players as Florida outfielder Jud Fabian, Wake Forest right-hander Ryan Cusick, UCLA shortstop Matt McClain, and Mississippi right-hander Gunnar Hoglund.