The annual Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will be held July 11-13, 2021, in Atlanta. It will be held in conjunction with this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The draft order is based on team records from last year, going from worst to World Series champions. Teams who lose qualifying free agents and teams from which players did not sign from last year’s draft will receive compensation picks. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league and the players association agreed that the draft would be 20 rounds, up from five rounds in 2020. The Pittsburgh Pirates will have the top overall selection.
(Note that the Houston Astros have to forfeit their first two round picks due to their sign-stealing scandal.)
The difficulty for teams approaching the draft this season is that the season last year was severely shortened. This means less time to look at collegiate players and limited travel to watch fall baseball. Nevertheless, a list of potential top picks has been made, so here are our top five prospects for the MLB draft 2021.
1 – Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Rocker displays great size at 6’5” and 250 pounds. The 21-year-old went 12-5 as a freshman in 2018 with a 3.25 ERA, striking out 114 in 99.2 innings. In limited play in 2020, he struck out 28 in only 15 innings, and over his first three appearances this season he is 3-0 with 25 strikeouts and six hits allowed in 15 innings. He features a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s that can run or sink.
2 – Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami
Ranked 12th in the country among catchers in 2018, Del Castillo was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 36th round but opted to attend the University of Miami. As a freshman in 2019, Del Castillo hit .331 with 12 home runs in 61 games. He showed versatility by playing 31 games in the outfield, 12 behind the plate, 16 at designated hitter and, and two at third base. In the shortened 2020 season, Del Castillo hit .358 with two home runs in 16 games. He shows great ability to make contact, striking out only about 10 percent of the time, while drawing more walks than strikeouts.
3 – Jordan Lawlar, SS, Jesuit Prep (Texas)
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Lawlar has the frame of a major league shortstop. He could even add 20 pounds of muscle without altering his talents in the field or his overall athleticism. Lawlar has been compared to a young Derek Jeter by a couple of front office executives in scouting from major league franchises. Lawlar has continually gotten stronger and that should only continue. Statistically, Lawlar has posted a .434 batting average over the past two seasons with six home runs, 40 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .859.
4 – Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt
Leiter’s father, Al Leiter, won 162 games over 19 major league seasons. Jack has shown consistency at a young age. He has been followed by scouts since he was a junior at Delbarton School in New Jersey and has increased his stock to first round status. Leiter has only appeared in seven collegiate games due to the pandemic but has been impressive, posting an ERA of 1.17 with 48 strikeouts and only 10 hits allowed in 30.2 innings.
5 – Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU
As a freshman in 2019, Hill struck out 11 in 10 innings while reaching 96 on the radar gun with his fastball. His season was cut short due to a forearm injury. Back on the mound in the abbreviated 2020 season, Hill pitched in four games, striking out 17 in 11.2 innings, allowing just one hit. He has struggled some this season, allowing eight earned runs on nine hits in 10.1 innings, but has shown an overpowering fastball that has reached 98 on the radar gun.